Projects and ponderings for film photographers

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 »

Worldwide Pinhole Day

I wanted to make a quick post and remind everyone that Sunday, 24 April 2011 is Worldwide Pinhole Day. This is a celebration of pinhole photography, where you (and thousands of others) get out and make a pinhole-camera image on one particular day; then submit it to the WWPD website. (There is also a less active Flickr group, too.)

Perky Pinhole

The “perky pinhole.” Yes, it really works.

Longtime readers of will know that pinhole photography is dear to my heart. (You can see some of my own pinhole images here. I have to admit that the pinhole mood strikes me randomly; I’ve been a bit erratic at observing the “official” date over the years.)

The other evening I saw some very beautiful work that a friend made using the Holga wide-angle pinhole camera. Still, I can’t help finding it preposterous that a hollow plastic box should cost almost sixty dollars. The whole beauty of pinhole cameras is that they’re so simple anyone can build one for themselves. All kinds of designs are possible, and Flickr’s Homemade Pinhole group will give you more inspiration. The only possibly-tricky aspect to building a camera is poking the pinhole itself, but my own how-to instructions should get you over that part if need be.

As part of my new activities, I had a chance to completely revise our wiki article “Pinhole camera,” and add a new one, “Homemade pinhole camera.” The second article gives some general design guidance for pinhole cameras, but isn’t a step-by-step project like my posts here on Silverbased.

A few folks have seen the Pin-O-Rama design I did for MAKE magazine a few years ago. This is a pinhole camera which wraps 120 film around a curved film gate, giving an image 6×12 cm and more than 100° wide—the resulting photos are pretty entertaining. For some mysterious copyright-violating reason, the entire article is available as a PDF file here. But be sure to check out the errata on MAKE’s talkback page.

But whether you build something from scratch, hack up some old unused camera, or just go buy one of the commercial pinhole cameras now on the market, I hope this year you’ll give pinhole photography a whirl.