As the final days of 2018 click down, I find myself feeling very optimistic about the state of analog photography. That certainly was not the case back in 2010 when I was getting serious again about film and cameras. Seemed at the time every week brought another sign that film photography was nearing rapid extinction.
I watched videos of construction crews imploding the massive factories at Kodak Park and a CBS Sunday Morning story on the last roll of Kodachrome. Fujifilm was pulling the plugs on this film and that. And some crazy ex-Polaroid employees were trying, in what at the time appeared to be a futile effort, to resurrect the recipes for instant film.
Over at my local camera shop, they moved the mostly empty film display cabinet from its place of importance at the main counter to an obscure corner of the store near the picture frames and eliminated the darkroom department altogether. Online, you had to dig real deep on B&H Photo’s web site to find the place to order film. It was hidden behind a symbol of a memory card.
In 2010, I honestly thought I’d shoot my way through a few great cameras until fresh film was no longer available. Then, just as Dwayne’s Photo Lab in Kansas processed the last roll of Kodachrome, I’d send my final rolls off to one a few remaining labs, put my classic cameras on a shelf and feel grateful that I was able to enjoy the last gasps of the analog film era.
And then, something wonderful began happening.
I had wrapped my head around the notion that most analog photographers were like me—aging baby boomers who were trying to revisit their youth by using old cameras and listening to vinyl records. As I started to poke around the internet, I discovered photography blogs written by all sort of people young and old. There were You Tube videos with camera reviews and user experience videos, produced mostly by folks decades younger than me and with an excitement for film photography that was intoxicating! There’s something very fun about watching a millennial discovering a Canon A-1 for the first time! Flickr film groups were multiplying rapidly.
As I became more connected to the online analog photography community, I discovered camera repair technicians dedicated to keeping film cameras working as new. And over the last eight years, those technicians have gotten far busier. When I sent my first Nikon F2 off to Sover Wong in the UK for repair, I had it back in a bit over a month. Now, Sover has so many Nikons in line for repair he has started a ticketing system! Pentax guru Eric Hendrickson has Spotmatics and ME Supers lined up in queue too. I even read he has a young assistant he is mentoring in the fine art of mechanical camera repair.
Back in 2010, eBay was the best source for buying old film cameras. Now, there are dedicated Facebook groups as well as great online camera shops like Victory Camera, fStop Cameras and Blue Moon Camera & Machine. Blue Moon also has a great in-house repair department that I highly recommend. KEH Camera has been around for years and they’re still one of the biggest and best sources of used gear. And last time I ordered film from B&H Photo, the film canister icon was back on the home page!
And even as Fuji pulls the plug on my beloved Acros black and white film, Kodak has brought back Ektachrome slide film and introduced Tmax 3200 black and white. And the instant film folks I mentioned earlier proved everyone wrong by bringing back Polaroid film and even a new Polaroid camera with the Impossible Project, now renamed Polaroid Originals.
My local camera shop hasn't moved the film display cabinet back to front and center, but it’s full of film now. 35mm, 120…even Fuji and Polaroid Originals instant. And my friend behind the counter tells me their stock sells briskly.
Digital imaging has replaced film for consumers and most professional photographers, but film has not met the quick demise people were forecasting in 2010. Instead, analog photography is settling into its own little niche that appears to be growing at a slow but healthy pace. I am pleased by this and happy to be part of a diverse and growing community of analog shooters.