Projects and ponderings for film photographers

“Is this old film camera worth anything?” A Handy Visual Guide

When you see some fancy-looking camera, it’s a natural reaction to think, “this must be valuable!” And especially so if you remember once spending hundreds of dollars on one.

A cute but very dated Minolta A

Will you be my friend?

But the sad truth is that in 2015, there are not a lot of people around who still want a film camera. If you check on eBay, most film-camera listings close with no buyers.

Cell-phone cams are everywhere today, and are adequate for most people’s casual snapshot needs. Enthusiast digital cameras have evolved tremendously. In fact, lots of cities don’t have a place to buy or develop film any more. So almost nobody needs a film camera now. (I wrote a bit more about that here.)

Yet you sometimes hear about a film camera fetching a freakish amount of money.

So which is it? Is your late Uncle Hubert’s dusty old Minolta a valuable heirloom—or obsolete junk?

Well… it depends. Yes, a few of us weirdos do still have an interest in film cameras. But you have to think through who and why.

Read the rest of this entry »

2015: The Fragile State of Film Photography

Sorry it’s been a few years since my last post here. I’m momentarily de-lurking, because in the past year I’ve sensed that once again the ground is shifting in the world of silverbased photography.

Kodak Advertisement, 1958

Fragment of a 1958 Kodak advertisement

• The number one change: Even late adopters who didn’t want to buy a digital camera now have one forced upon them—any time they get a new cell phone. And their phone-cams have turned out to be perfectly adequate for the kinds of record shots and family snaps most people take. Even “serious” photographers are finding they can do usable work with the newest generation of phone cameras.

• As economies of scale shrivel, the price of film has gone up noticeably over the past 6-8 years. The days of $1.80 for a roll of 120 film are never coming back. (Fortunately, I have a large freezer!)

• Thus it’s no surprise that the shakeout for film retailers and processors has reached critical levels. The last local storefront near me who sold and developed film closed down this January—it was the last one in the whole county, population ~350,000. So outside of a few large cities, anyone wanting to use film is now obligated to buy it via mail order; and either DIY-develop, or use a mail-out service (like Dwayne’s, NCPS, Blue Moon Camera, or Read the rest of this entry »

The End of Plus-X, and other Kodak Worries

When the end came for Kodachrome, even mainstream news outlets published reminiscences about the legendary film. But Paul Simon never wrote a song about Plus-X, a venerable black & white emulsion which Kodak has just discontinued. So, its finale has met with a quieter response—only a few sighs and grumbles appearing in nerdy photography forums.

Perhaps that’s understandable, since Plus-X was merely one of numerous B&W films which Kodak has made over the years. And even Kodak’s own advertising rarely highlighted the film. Compared to Tri-X, the 125-speed Plus-X offered finer grain; but T-Max 100 (which remains available) uses tabular crystals with a grain structure even smoother still. So some may scarcely notice when Plus-X disappears.

1950s Plus-X box

1950s Plus-X packaging. Image courtesy Tony Delgrosso

Yet Plus-X is even older than Tri-X. In fact its production run was almost as long as Kodachrome’s—just one year briefer, if my math is right.  Plus-X first reached the market in 1938, originally (like Kodachrome) as a stock for movie cameras, not snapshots. By 1939, Plus-X was offered for still cameras in 35mm and 828 sizes; and the Weston Electrical Instrument Corp. rated it as “50″ on their own film-speed scale (the ASA standard did not even exist then).  It was a finer-grained, panchromatic film aimed at enthusiast users of “minature” cameras.

But when Kodak axed the cine version of Plus-X in April 2010, speculation began that the still-camera version was next. Now that’s happened.

Kodak has been pummeled by bad press throughout the fall of 2011. They’ve only made money in one year out of the last seven. And as Kodak discontinues more emulsions, photographers are becoming jittery—even wondering whether Kodak might drop film entirely. New markets like inkjet and commercial printing seem to be where the company sees its salvation. Read the rest of this entry »