Every so often I like to take the pulse of film photography in the light of the fact that its death has been apparently a certainty for at least the last ten years. I still keep hearing these claims, but frankly they’re becoming steadily more ridiculous in the light of what’s really happening.
Of course, the casual snapper moved on a long time ago (many have even moved on from using dedicated cameras), but that’s old news and film has now comfortably moved from mainstream to niche. This has inevitably meant a lot of changes in terms of the availability of both products and services (such as film processing), but the supply situation has now stabilised and the dedicated enthusiasts know where to look. It’s not all online either with specialist suppliers still operating from retail outlets and, it has to be said, mostly doing very well as they have little in the way of competition and a very dedicated bunch of customers.
So, if you were keen to start shooting film, where would you start? Well, the ‘plastic fantastic’ community is still enjoying a high level of popularity among both amateurs and professionals. The Lomography Society (visit www.lomography.com.au) is the main purveyor of these cameras along with film and, these days, an extensive array of merchandising. New and unusual cameras keep coming such as the Spinner 360º we reviewed a few issues ago (and which, it has to be said, was a whole heap of fun) and a wide-angle version of the original Lomo 35mm compact which has a 17mm lens. If you’re looking for something a bit more serious Cosina continues to expand the Voigtländer Bessa 35mm rangefinder camera system which is surprisingly affordable given the exceptional quality of the lenses (visit www. mainlinephoto.com.au). If there’s a bit more to play with in the kitty then you can still buy a Leica M7 or the more traditional, mechanical MP. Likewise, the Zeiss Ikon and the ZMseries of Zeiss lenses. It’s a bit harder if you want to buy a new 35mm SLR, but Nikon will still build you an F6 if you’re happy to wait and the Australian Website also lists the Cosinabuilt FM10 which isn’t quite in the same league, but is a new F-mount nonetheless. Both Zeiss and Voigtländer also offer a range of superb manual focus prime lenses with the F-mount, the Canon EF mount and the Pentax K-bayonet. Of course, you can fit these to a D-SLR as the optics are optimised for digital capture, but the point here is that these are classic lenses available new. On the medium format front, the Bessa III 6x6/6x7cm dual format RF camera is now available from Voigtländer, but it’s worth noting that this started life as a Fujifilm camera launched at
the 2010 Photokina... yes, last year, not last decade. If you want a rollfilm SLR Hasselblad will happily sell you the 6x6cm 503CW (visit www.hasselblad.com.au) and both the 6x7cm format Mamiya models – RB67 and RZ67 – are still in production. However, medium format film equipment is quite plentiful on the second-hand market and values, especially of lenses, are holding up reasonably well. Mechanical cameras like the Hasselblad 500-series are essentially ‘ageless’ as there isn’t any technology to fail and rangefinder models like the Mamiya 6 and 7 remain in high demand because there isn’t anything in the digital world that comes close. For the same reason, the Hasselblad XPan is also keeping its value on the second-hand market and good examples don’t stay on the shelves for long.
Despite dire predictions that film would soon become hard to source this really only applies to the sheet formats and even then there’s still a reasonable range to choose from. Kodak continues to introduce new emulsions, mostly in the area of professional colour negative films as, particularly in the USA, there remains a reasonable number of wedding and portrait photographers doing things the traditional way. However, you can also buy the popular Kodak professional B&W and colour transparencies films online in both the 35mm and 120 formats (visit http://store. kodak.com.au). Likewise, old rival Fujifilm is still making Velvia, Provia, Neopan and its colour neg films. Of course, Fujifilm is also still making instant print cameras and films with its Instax system recently relaunched in Australia. There’s a Polaroid badged version too, but the original SX70 and 600-series films have also been revived (visit www.theimpossible- project.com).
So, how are we looking? In pretty good shape, I’d say. Now there just isn’t any reason for film or film usage to die out completely. Digital imaging has won the war (and the conveniences of digital capture are undeniable), but film has successfully defended a little bit of territory which it’s going to hang onto for the foreseeable future. And it’s not just the diehard traditionalists manning the defences either, plenty of digitalera photographers are discovering that film’s differences and deliberations are an equally enjoyable way of making pictures. Film is never going to make a come-back, but it’s not going to go away either.
Paul Burrows, Editor