By Jason Schneider
Not long ago pundits were predicting that film was doomed, that analog image capture would decline precipitously until silver-halide film manufacturing would no longer be commercially viable. Certainly, the digital revolution, which began in earnest just prior to the millennium, was swift and sudden, and by 2005 digital imaging had virtually eclipsed film. Except for a few holdouts like Leica and view camera companies, film cameras were being discontinued in droves, countless film shooters switched to digital, often selling their high-end film camera outfits for a pittance, and you could buy a Hasselblad 500C/M on eBay complete with lens and film back for a mere 400 bucks. Needless to say, film sales plummeted and many slow-selling film types bit the dust. What a difference a decade makes!
Film photography is now experiencing a genuine renaissance. Film sales, used and new analog camera sales (and prices), as well as processing, scanning, and printing services have all been on the upswing over the last 2 years. Despite these many encouraging signs, it is highly unlikely film will ever again become the dominant image capture medium; however, instead of dying with a whimper, it is likely to continue as a robust niche for the foreseeable future. Indeed, it’s now considered cool to shoot film, not only by geezers afflicted with seller’s remorse after ditching their analog gear but also by thousands of millennials who were born into a digital world and are now seeking new ways to express their creative vision. Film photography is attractive for a host of reasons: it provides a direct connection to a venerable tradition; it produces a physical end product (a negative, a print, a transparency) rather than an image file stored on a hard drive or a memory card, and above all, film images have character, that distinctive look and feel that can be simulated, but not quite duplicated, using digital film emulation apps.
Part of the reason for film’s unique qualities is that images shot on film have actual grain—essentially luminance noise due to slight variations in brightness between adjacent silver-halide crystals or clumps. Many photographers find grain more attractive and natural looking than digital noise, which typically appears as speckles of color or other artifacts, and is due primarily to variations in chroma. Black-and-white films, in particular, can convey a sense of gritty reality with unmatched authenticity, and can capture portraits and street scenes that have that elusive quality of gravitas—“images made for the ages.” While some color films, notably Kodachrome, have disappeared in the wake of the digital revolution, there’s still an impressive array of superb color negative and color transparency films available, each one capable of capturing brilliant colors and superb detail with a unique look and color palette that un-manipulated digital images can’t quite match.
The return of Ektachrome, a classic E-6-process film stock for cinematography as well as a popular 35mm slide film, is certainly great news for film fans because it’s a clear indication that the marketing gurus have determined that there’s sufficient demand to justify the huge capital investment required. Announced at the Las Vegas CES show in early January, Kodak stated that over the next several months it will be working to “reformulate and manufacture Kodak Ektachrome film for both motion picture and still photography applications,” with initial availability expected in the fourth quarter of 2017. The choice of many professional cinematographers before it was discontinued in 2012 Ektachrome has a distinctive look and is acclaimed for its extremely fine grain, clean colors, pleasing tonality and good contrast. “We are seeing a broad resurgence of excitement about capturing images on film,” said Steven Overman, Kodak’s chief marketing officer and president of the Consumer and Film Division. “Kodak is committed to continuing to manufacture film as an irreplaceable medium for image creators to capture their artistic vision. ”
Kodak will produce Ektachrome at its film factory in Rochester, N.Y., and will market and distribute the Super 8 motion picture film version directly. Kodak Alaris, an independent company since 2013, also plans to offer a still format Kodak Professional Ektachrome for photographers in the 35mm, 36-exposure format. Unlike other Kodak Professional Films, all color negative films, Ektachrome generates a positive image that can be viewed or projected once it’s exposed and processed, making it ideal for high-resolution projection or presentations. It’s also well suited for scanning, and printing onto a range of professional-grade photographic media.