There’s been a lot of noise on social media regarding the ever-rising costs of film photography. Some of it is attention seeking; click-bait from the keyboard warriors. Some of it is genuine concern at the way prices in many cases seem to be far outstripping the headline inflation figures. Very little of it is evidence-based, much indeed is just rehashing what others have already parroted. Some of it though is well-informed, considered and a reasonably sober consideration of the situation.
Some of the noise I, rightly or wrongly, feel I can dismiss as simply attention seeking – I’M DONE WITH FILM! NO MORE FILM FOR ME! I’M GOING DIGITAL! FILM IS DEAD! [insert company name] ARE KILLING FILM PHOTOGRAPHY! FILM’S DEATH KNELL! THE END IS NIGH!
I’ve absorbed multiple price rises in the last few years and being honest these latest will mean a slight change in my behaviour (more on this later). Much of this change though is driven by factors other than price.
Take colour photography. For many years I’ve mainly used digital for colour photography. Yes. Digital. I’m a photographer and I don’t feel the need to differentiate between film and digital; it’s the end result that matters. In truth I don’t choose to use film because I think it’s the easiest choice. I probably do it partly because it’s not the easiest; I’m a born contrarian as my family will attest. I use film because I enjoy the whole process, from choosing which camera, which film and because I mainly use manual cameras (I’ve never seen a fully automatic wooden pinhole camera) choosing which aperture and shutter speed settings. I find film cameras more tactile, the act of winding on seems like a full stop to each individual exposure. I enjoy experimenting with different developers and find developing films a very therapeutic activity. I don’t enjoy digitising the files but do enjoy occasional darkroom time.
But. Colour. Sorry, rant over, I distracted myself there. I am by inclination and as an aesthetic choice primarily a black and white photographer. Film lends itself well to this aesthetic. I am also slightly colour blind and occasionally have difficulty in judging accurately the colours in an image added to which my eyesight is deteriorating too. Take the two considerations together, aesthetic choice and eyesight, add in how much I enjoy using my film cameras and then it’s no surprise that 90% of my photography over the last few years had been with black and white film. I do enjoy using colour occasionally, indeed I used to develop my own C41 colour films, but these days I send colour films away for processing.
Looking at my developing book for last year I see that I exposed 135 rolls of film. A considerable reduction on previous years but we’ll return to that. Of these 135 just 10, or 7%, were colour. 2022 saw a 35% reduction in my film usage overall compared to 2021. This trend is likely to continue partly because of financial considerations but largely because my way of working has been evolving. I’m not alone either it seems.
“I am now extremely comfortable in the realisation that I no longer feel the need to be constantly exposing film. Selective, thoughtful, darkroom and cheaper. It may be a phase I’m going through or an evolution.”Andrew B on Twitter
Evolution. Definitely. It’s been creeping up on me slowly and stealthily yet steadily too. As time goes by I’m being fussier about pressing the shutter release. Be it film or digital. Whereas a few years ago I would measure the success of a trip by the number of rolls of film in my to-be-developed bag, these days I’m more concerned about what images I’ve made and not how many frames I’ve exposed. It applies equally to digital and film which has surprised me. I recently spent a day out with a DSLR and on getting home found I had made just 40 images. In the past 400 digital files would have been a minimum but the 40 I made that day is spookily close to the number of images on a 36-exposure roll of 35mm film.
So, how will the latest price increases affect me? Well, I will probably make the final switch to fully digital for my colour photography. But not immediately as I’ve around fifteen rolls of medium format colour film in my cellar. This is simply a continuation of an ongoing trend as I’ve already mentioned and whilst it may hasten the transition it is by no means the primary factor influencing the change.
I will definitely buy less Kodak film. Ironic, as one of the reasons cited for the increases is so they can expand to meet demand. Whether the price increases will shrink demand sufficiently for them to meet it without further investment though is not something I’m going to attempt to speculate on! On a practical level I am very happy with my go-to Ilford films and the price increases mean I will now use less Kodak black and white film, specifically Tri-X and T-Max, both film stocks that I’ve recently only bought when there’s been a price promotion if I’m honest. Back in the day Kodak Tri-X was my go-to black and white film and price-wise it was on a par with my current day choice of Ilford HP5+. In addition to using less Kodak black and white I probably won’t get to try Portra 800, a film that’s been on my “one-day-I-will-try-it” list for a while now.
But, in the final analysis, my current trend of using less film each year is likely to continue and that in itself will shield me in a sense from price increases; I will spend the same in monetary terms but will purchase and therefore use less film for that budget. For that matter, I’ve enough film in my cellar to see me safely through 2023 without bothering my wallet if things became tight though.
So, in the short term I’m not getting anxious about price increases. Pragmatically, I will further adjust my behaviour if required although ironically it seems I’ve been slowly changing my behaviour already. Based on current usage my 2023 totals will again be lower than in the preceding year and talking to some of my online friends this is a trend many of them are reporting too.
Anyway. It’s not often I publish an opinion piece but I hope this has been of some interest. If nothing else it’s been a vehicle for sharing a few recent images, both film and digital, colour and black & white.
2 thoughts on “Times they are a-changin’”
I buy my Ilford film from Mathers of Lancashire who seem to have kept their prices reasonable. I stopped buying Kodak years ago as I felt they were way too expensive for me.
As for digital, my Pentax K3II sits cold and unused, waiting for the day that’s still so hard for me to imagine. It seems that using film is crucial to my photography, for so many reasons. With film in my camera, and that limited number of shots available , each exposure feels so special. The act of examining the scene feels like a tension building introduction. Setting up the tripod and camera, like the story unfolding in in first paragraph. Then, as I squeeze the shutter release, it feels like the big reveal. Ultimately, and as you so perceptively write, “the act of winding on seems like a full stop to each individual exposure.”
You capture my feelings well. I do like good punctuation!
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Thanks John – appreciated.
I shall check Mathers out too!