2017 will be the year that film makes its big return

Feb 18, 2017

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

2017 will be the year that film makes its big return

Feb 18, 2017

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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I just came across a very interesting set of interviews posted on Zorki Photo. In the post, photographer Stephen Dowling talks with the bigwigs at Ilford, Kodak, Film Ferrania and others. He wanted their thoughts on the current world of film potography. They all agree, the market is definitely growing. Of course, they sell film, so they’re bound to be naturally optimistic. But, we’ve seen an upsurge in interest for film related content recently here on DIYP, too.

Kodak have just announced a re-release of Ektachrome. Film Ferrania have released a P30 reinvention. Bergger have released an entirely new black & white film. They wouldn’t be doing that if there wasn’t a genuine interest. Especially in an age when some manufacturers are killing them off like there’s no tomorrow.

One thing I found particularly interesting Stephen’s discussion with Ilford is that it’s not just those who grew up with film that are returning to it.

Traditionally our core users has been those that grew up using film, but now we are seeing a brand new generation of enthusiasts in the 24-to-35 age bracket, as well as those more established customers. This trend is also reflected in things like our social media followers and many of those using our products now grew up in the digital age and have actively chosen to use film.

– Ilford Photo

So, there’s a lot of younger photographers getting into film for the first time, having been raised on digital. Ilford also say that their sales have indicated this resurgence has been predicted for quite a while. It would seem now, though, that interest is really starting to peak.

Film Ferrania believe in this great comeback, too. Ferrania was the 4th largest film manufacturer until they went out of business in 2009. After an extremely successful Kickstarter campaign to restart the company, they’ve been working toward bringing back those much loved film stocks. Kodak, too, were all but dead in the water at one point. Yet here they are, too, still producing TMAX and Tri-X with Ektachrome on the way back.

They also noticed trends similar to those observed by Ilford.

We’ve seen a number of photographers come back to shooting film due to aesthetics, workflow or simply to differentiate themselves from other photographers.

We are also seeing a younger, creative crowd that grew up with digital now experiencing film for the first time. So we are definitely seeing a bit of a resurgence.

– Dennis Olbrich, Kodak Alaris

Perhaps we’re now seeing exactly what we saw in the early 2000s but in the opposite direction. That was when most film shooters started switching to digital because it was new and shiny and different. To those who were raised on digital, film is now new and shiny for them. It’s something they haven’t done before. For those who left film and then returned to it, maybe it’s just the change of pace that’s attractive.

I’m one of those who did shoot film way back when. Then I switched to digital in 2002 with a pair of Nikon D100 bodies, then went back to film a decade later alongside digital. I’d never developed my own film before I switched to digital. So I thought, screw it, and started researching how to do it. I figured, if nothing else it would be a fun experience. It did feel a little weird shooting film again, but when I developed my own for the first time, I was hooked all over again.

And it’s certainly adds some interesting variety to the workflow.

If you get chance, pull up a chair, grab a drink and read the full article at Zorki Photo. It’s well worth reading the insights from the manufacturers themselves as well as Stephen’s thoughts.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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22 responses to “2017 will be the year that film makes its big return”

  1. Ralph Hightower Avatar
    Ralph Hightower

    I continue to shoot film, not because it’s hip and cool, but because my 1980 Canon A-1 camera still works; I added a Canon New F-1 in July 2013 so I could share lenses. December 2013 was when I bought a DSLR. I use all three cameras.

  2. Hector Macias Avatar
    Hector Macias

    Pffft. No.

  3. relinquis . Avatar
    relinquis .

    i like that film still exists. It’s a different aesthetic that’s nice to have access to.

  4. Laurent Roy Avatar
    Laurent Roy

    I won’t get back to film

  5. Robby Hoke Avatar
    Robby Hoke

    I certainly hope so, I have cases in my freezer

    1. DaughteroftheConfederacy Avatar

      Me too.

  6. Steven Naranjo Avatar
    Steven Naranjo

    When I got my first DSLR I was never going to waist money by considering film. Then I got my second DSLR and was growing my love for photography as a whole. Then I was bouncing around the idea of film. I’m already a Nikon shooter. Because I was talking about wanting to try film but only if I got something I wasn’t going to throw away, I was gifted a Nikon f3. I love that thing. Wither I put much or really any money I can see why there’s a growing nostalgia.

  7. Duncan Gallagher Avatar
    Duncan Gallagher

    NO WAY!

  8. Šimun Ruščić Avatar
    Šimun Ruščić

    In some cases even now when is needed l shoot with 120mm and when it comes to printing on large scale there’s still the king except a hassy with 100Mp back

  9. Nelly Zagloba Van Cleeff Avatar
    Nelly Zagloba Van Cleeff

    For the first time this year? LMFAO ! Is this supposed to make me feeling old or something ?

  10. jet Avatar

    no it won´t.

  11. Kevin Kemper Avatar
    Kevin Kemper

    I’ve shot a little film but I don’t understand why shooting film is any different from digial at the end of day. Can’t we already replicate the look of fill digitally? I get that the economics of large format film vs digital still might make it more accessible for very large prints but a bad composition is a bad composition. I suspect that people who shoot 35mm film simply enjoy the ritual of processing film. I’ve often heard the fact that they can’t chimp as a way to help stay “connected” with what they’re shooting but that seems to be a bit of a red herring since nothing is forcing you to look at the back of the camera. I also suspect that people feel a greater attachment or believe their pictures are “better” simply because it was harder to process them.

    Long story short, I think you can create awesome works in either medium but I think modern digital can encompass all of the aesthetics of film so why would you invest in the hard way nowadays?

    1. Jimmy Harris Avatar
      Jimmy Harris

      Film has a look to it that digital can’t quite match. It has to do with the randomness of grain versus the order of pixels. A granule on a sheet of film can’t reasonably be controlled to fall along an ordered pattern, nor can it be entirely consistent in size. It’s location and size is somewhat subject to random chance. Whereas a pixel can’t be randomized. Computers can never create truly random numbers, but rather just approximate them. A computerized “grain” must fall somewhere along the grid pattern and in come a pre determined size dictated by the software involved. So even if you add “grain” to a photograph in software, the grain won’t be the same and won’t have the same look. Whether or not that matters to you, or if you can even tell the difference, is a different story. But it is something that matters to some people, and I for one love the aesthetics of film grain, and really do not like the aesthetics of “grain” added to digital photography. I prefer to leave my digital photographs free of added grain, and enjoy digital specifically for it’s lack of grain.

      Also, with film there’s more of a struggle involved. Photography as an art form, like all art forms, can often benefit from struggle (at least with some people). Plus, other’s are aware of the struggle associated with film and tend to place more reverence on a photograph that was made with old film techniques over a nearly identical photo made with more forgiving, modern, digital techniques. Much like how in the art world a photorealistic painting of a scene will often be more revered than a photograph of the same scene. The two may look nearly identical, but the degree of difficulty is obviously higher in the painted scene and thus tends to command more respect. Plus the process itself is different, and some may find one process over the other more pleasing or therapeutic to create. Whether or not this matters to you, is again, a different story.

      In the end, they’re all just tools. Just because you have power tools doesn’t mean that you should abandon all of your hand tools. You’ll get the best results the easiest by knowing your craft and using the right tool for the job. I personally use film, digital, and hybrid methods depending on what I’m looking for in my final piece. One does not replace the other in my mind.

    2. FilmAmmo Avatar

      My skills as a photographer grew by leaps and bounds as soon as I got back into film 3 years ago. Photography has been a serious hobby for me since the late 90s. When digital got cheap in the early 00’s I made the transition (who didn’t?). Fast forward several years, I grew extremely tired of digital post processing—so I made the leap in a sort of tangential way.

      I can’t see myself wanting to shoot digital again!

      You speak of this “connection” when you brought of chimping. I really agree with this connection… between me, the subject/scene, and the film/camera itself. It sounds silly or cliche, but you really do need to shoot film for a while before all these connections start occurring at a conscious level. Another way of interpreting this “connection” is simply the word ‘Confidence’. I have confidence that I can picture (in my head) what a scene will most likely look like without needing an LCD screen—while using whichever film stock. This ability, along with using classic high-quality glass and camera equipment have made myself into a much more capable photographer.

      A film shooter has SO MANY OPTIONS to get whatever look they’re after. With digital, it’s really up to only software—and these programs can get real boring while using.

      You should really look into film. A collection of film cameras—and several film stocks—will give you far greater creativity than a DSLR and any amount of lenses.


      1. Kevin Kemper Avatar
        Kevin Kemper

        I guess part of the problem for me is that I see film as simply chemistry and digital as electrical/software and thus just tools to achieve some aesthetics. I won’t argue that the process of developing film isn’t therapeutic or interesting on it’s own. I personally love math and programming so digital processing is more comfortable to me; I have pretty reasonable understand what’s going on from beginning to end. Ultimately, I think people lump printing with film processing but that isn’t really the case. Couldn’t you do the same classic dodge and burn with digital projection to simulate the enlargement process and all the traditional techniques associated with traditional printing?

        What I’m trying to understand is if this interest in film is related to the process more than the result. @disqus_HXITT2I4kF:disqus touches on this a bit down below but randomness in the process (e.g. film grain) is still just part of the creative process toward the final picture (and I disagree about the lack of randomness in digital – modern technology relies on good random/psudoramdom number generators but I suppose photoshop may not). I think Jimmy’s final summary is close but I want to know what “jobs” (not literally, I’m not a working photographer) that digital can’t “solve”. In other words, where would the venn diagram of the two technologies not overlap for the 35mm format?

        On a related note, I think this film vs digital debate has interesting parallels. I personally like to think of it in the context of 3d printing vs. machining (Additive vs subtractive manufacturing) but I think this debate happens whenever there becomes a new way to do things. Programming languages is also another good example of where you see this kind of debate.

        1. FilmAmmo Avatar

          I respect each photographer’s medium of choice so I try not to get bogged down in the digital/film debate. However, I have years of experience in each. Also, by being a graphic designer by trade, I’m extremely well versed in Photoshop and color management. I switched back to film because I recognize the power of “the look” of film. I can argue confidently that all film people shoot it simply because of this organic quality that digital just can’t quite replicate.

          There are many jobs that film can excel at just as much as digital—it just depends on how much the client or photographer wants to wait. My opinion, portraits in films far exceeds those of digital. That organic look of film grain breathes so much more life into people than ones and zeros. Just search for “Medium Format” tagged groups in Flickr and you’ll quickly find out how superb the shots look. That look is completely in the film base, the lens, and the camera—with little or no color pushing in post.

          By the way, I have not processed film for well over 10 years! I send out each roll through mail. After about 2 weeks they come back. Then I scan in the best negs and process each frame in a professional program called ColorPerfect.

          I have so much fun in film because I use this Hybrid Method. I still get to use all of my digital know-how, but now I apply these skills to harness film rather than digital.

          Here’s something to consider: Ironically, film is in a golden age simply because of computer and scanner technology. All the subtle nuances of film can now be harnessed using scanners and software. It may seem counter intuitive, but scanning film negs—then processing with digital means—is an effective path to thoroughly enjoy photography.

          1. Joe Clay Avatar
            Joe Clay

            Your own argument destroys itself. You’re telling someone to research scanned in images from medium format to show the life that can’t be encoded into 1s and 0s in a format that can only be viewed as 1s and 0s.

            I agree that film has a life to it. And seeing prints in person is amazing, especially from medium format or larger. But I do think we’re finally able to match it even compared side by side in the same medium (printed or on-screen). If we couldn’t Hollywood would still be using it vs RED or ARRI Alexa. More important for a look at this point, I find, is lens choice.

            Now sure, if you print a digital image and you grab a magnifying glass to compare, they’ll look different. But these days it’s a preference. We can replicate the look especially using vintage lenses. I guess that’s my opinion, but I’d say it’s verifiable.

            Good discussion. I think more importantly, what I like about shooting film is not being able to check that I got the shot. But what I find is more important than that is that you’re limited. You can’t shoot a billion shots and delete them. You don’t want to waste the film you brought along, so you’re selective. You might not shoot something you would on digital because it might not be worth blowing a shot on it. With digital, who cares? Shoot 80 of the same exact thing. Shoot 5 angles with 80 shots each. That value in shooting film, and what makes great shots, is being selective about what you shoot—taking the time to think about it before you click the shutter and making sure everything is perfect before you take the shot. It makes you a better photographer, so of course your images will be better.

            And to the original point, you can shoot that way. You just need to force yourself to do so. You have options with digital you don’t with film. You need to use willpower to ignore them. With film, it forces you to ignore them because you don’t have the option. :)

          2. FilmAmmo Avatar

            No, my argument far from destroys itself. Sure, the only way to distribute and share images of film is to scan and transmit them digitally. I’m arguing that the very essence of film can be intricately and accurately captured by modern digital means. Sorry, but you sound rather ignorant of this idea with your own history of shooting film. Scanning and digitally processing film is a fantastic way to be a film photographer.

            And no, I firmly disagree that using vintage glass on a digital body will capture the exact same look as a roll of film. I have extensive history in both analogue and digital photography and the softwares that complement them. If you want to mimic film you can only get a facsimile with programs and presets. If you’ve worked with film as long as I have you could easily determine weather a particular shot was digital or film. Digital is inherently precise in the way it captures. This “surgical precision” is quite easy to spot after a while working with film.

            “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful
            Eight” were both shot with film and then scanned digitally. If the
            directors could easily replicate the look wouldn’t you think that they
            would have choose digital?

          3. Joe Clay Avatar
            Joe Clay

            First of all, your new argument destroys itself too. If you’re taking Tarantino’s word that film is better, you must also take his word that digital projection is the death of cinema. He adamantly disagrees that film can retain its look through scanning.

            I think he’s a hold out (and that’s fine if he wants to be, I’m not saying 35mm or 65mm isn’t good).

            Second, most pro photographers scanned film initially to retain the control of the darkroom at a lower cost and effort, while needing a higher resolution than was available or commercially viable at the time. When the resolution hurdle was cleared, most pros jumped away from film.

            Third, film’s look is in the dynamic range, the rolloff of highlights, and the grain. And I’d say RED and Arri have both conquered those hurdles. Most films these days shot on actual film and digital modify grain. It’s usually removed and added back in on film, and just added on digital.

            I do think you could tell the difference on an analog projected 35mm vs a digitally projected 35mm, or a digitally projected digital film. But once you’ve made that digital conversion and processed it, it’s nearly impossible these days. If you can make that argument, you can say you can tell what camera everything came from too, since they’re all quite different as well. Or what lens. And the truth is, and it pains me to even admit it, these days you can’t. Sure, you can tell before anything is done to it, but after? Nope. If this were a few years ago, I’d agree. But now? Nope.

            We don’t have to agree (there are many people in better paid positions than you or I that don’t agree), but you don’t have to resort to saying I sound ignorant because of my opinion about your argument. You’re right, I do have plenty of experience. I’ve developed film and prints with chemicals since I was 13. I’ve worked on film and digital sets, I’ve worked with sets of Cookes as expensive as my house. I own and operate a RED camera. I’ve been on both sides of the game for quite a bit so I think that even if we disagree, my opinion is a valid one. Anyway, I’m out. I’ve said all I need to say. Have a good night.

    3. redrocket Avatar

      I respect your view, I’m seventy years old and have been shooting film in an old Minolta SRT-101 since the late sixties. I was in the U.S. Navy on an aircraft carrier and went around the world twice and the Mediterranean once. During those cruises a saw a lot of the world as it really was. I believe most of us view the 35mm camera as a hobby we are most familiar with its capabilities. That said some cameras are very collectable and it makes using them even more fun to us. I really miss shooting slide film like the old Etachrome and Kodachrome with there vibrant color, wow were they great for best results.

  12. osc707 Avatar

    I’m really excited for this because I have been using primarily film over the past 20 months and love the process. I still own my Nikon D610, like it, but don’t jive with it like I do with my F100 or F6. Digital and film both have their places, I love film, always have but shot with digital because it was cheaper. I usually found myself using those expensive film replicating presets (both big named ones) and was NEVER happy with the results. Ended up just giving up trying to replicate the film look and shoot film. Film is fun, it’s a challenge, every time. Enjoy both! Do you enjoy Coca-Cola or Pepsi?

  13. Joe Clay Avatar
    Joe Clay

    Not quite sure where Ilford got its 24-35 numbers but I’ll be 33 this year and I used their film and developer before I even saw a digital camera. Granted I started early with photography, but even disposables were available into the 2000s and that would’ve been many people’s first introduction to photography. I would think most people would have to be at least 8-10 years younger than me to have never used film or been around it.

    I have darkroom equipment I still need to set up, but as soon as I can I’m going to get into wet plate. That sounds so hipster, but it’s a cool process and one that might not be at the whim of manufacturers and markets because I think you can make everything yourself relatively easily.