A hopeful Future for Analog is published in 3 parts, discussing five areas:
- The film community at large and its optimism towards the future (1/3)
- The state of photographic film market (2/3)
- The state of analog gear supply (2/3)
- The accessibility & availability of repairing services (3/3)
- The state of processing services (3/3)
If you haven’t checked the first part of this article, I’d recommend starting from there to grab a look at the global perspective of our analog community as well as your local one. This article continues to examine the second and third subjects: the state of photographic film market and analog gear supply.
A glance at the general appeal for photographic films and film cameras worldwide within the past decade via Google Search revealed that:
- 35mm and 120 film was the most notorious for their sales crisis during 2010 to 2012 when the news broke out on the internet with several films being discontinued. Since then, pivotal blogs were born to cherish and keep the medium alive. However, the interest in 120 film remained relatively low ever since.
- 35mm film and film cameras has gradually gained popularity again since 2016/2017 for a rather positive reason: retro aesthetics were in vogue, the Contax T2 suddenly became a coveted item with its celebrity status, and most importantly, young people were getting into film photography. There was a plummet in interest during March-April 2020 due to the pandemic outbreak but it seems to get back on the upward trend again.
2. The state of photographic film market
There are more and more distributors of films across the world, particularly online stores. In 2020, the majority of analog enthusiasts (81%) easily got their films from online stores or marketplaces, which was 8% higher than in 2017. Among them, 42% also shopped for films from local stores. The rest 39% bought films solely online.
People chose to buy film online for several reasons. Analog enthusiasts living outside big cities might have no access to any local store that sells film. In the context of the pandemic, many places were also forced to close during the lockdown, leaving many film photographers no other choice but to buy films online.
Besides, there’s always a wider range of film stocks available online. Whereas it’s more limited to common films at the local shops. Thus, the shop either lacks what they want or a good online presence, or it’s pricier in a few case.
In contrast, only 20% have good access to a local store(s) and feel satisfied with its offering of films that they don’t bother to look up online.
“The photographic film market is growing and shifting to a more dynamic future as new brands emerged along with new emulsions and subsequently new film stocks to replace the dead ones.”
When being asked, availability of film is considered as an obstacle for shooting film by 30% of all surveyed analog enthusiasts. Unfortunately, most of the film stocks available 20 years ago are no longer produced today (R.I.P Fuji Pro 400H!). In addition, many films were out of stock in 2020, largely due to high demand plus the impact of the pandemic in 2020.
However, the good news is that the photographic film market is growing and shifting to a more dynamic future as new brands emerged along with new emulsions and subsequently new film stocks to replace the dead ones.
In the past 3 years, Lomography has continually released new film stocks, Ferrania reopened with plans for new film stocks, Kodak reintroduced Ektachrome, Ilford launched Ortho Plus 80, Fujifilm also made Fujifilm Neopan 100 ACROS II, etc.
Take a quick look at Analogue Wonderland, the current largest selection of films available, and you would see at least 35 brands of film offering over 200 different film stocks in different formats. Although put in mind that 2/3 of these film brands are less accessible and can mostly found online.
Plus, Kodak recently hinted at a possible reintroduction of one film stock and a potential launch of a completely new film stock. That makes us all excited and look forward to. Even if it doesn’t happen this year due to the prolonged COVID impacts, we know that it is planned and will happen at some point in the future.
“The price of film rolls is the biggest challenge for the film community.”
The current issue with photographic films lies at their affordability rather than availability or accessibility. The price of film rolls spiralled in 2020 and it is the biggest challenge for the film community as recorded by 63% of all respondents.
Yes, long gone are the days when I could buy a Fuji C200 for under 2 euros. Making film is way more expensive and complex than how it used to be. As a matter of fact, chemicals, raw materials, and the overall production cost have all gone up for film brands and the pandemic has only made it worse to the point that they can no longer bear the high cost themselves.
Given the current circumstance, the price of films will certainly stay high in the near future. Unfortunately, this has increased the entry level for new film photographers and constrained current analog hobbyists from shooting more film.
In the end, it all boils down to the law of supply/demand and economy of scale. Basically, the more we shoot film and consume film, the more likely the cost of film would decrease. We are currently at a shortage as our rising demand is outpacing production capacity and film manufacturers couldn’t have adapted as fast.
But the great news is that the manufacture of film is expected to grow and evolve as the industry now sees a steady demand for photographic films and motion picture films alike. Therefore, if more people continue to shoot film and film consumption continues to rise, and if “the future of micro-factories that make film stocks almost on the same basis as print-on-demand” comes true as expected by Emulsive, we can hopefully see the price of films to go down in the long run (even though it won’t be as cheap as it used to be).
3. The state of analog gear supply
The same as films, analog gear are also easily found online through a variety of channels on the internet. In 2020, over half of all survey participants got their gear from both online and local places. 40% found their gear uniquely online and only 6% of all respondents sourced the gear entirely from local places.
In particular, eBay or similar marketplace (Amazon, etc.) gained 13% increase in audience since 2017, hence remaining as the most common place for finding analog gear deals. In addition, professional online stores such as KEH, Kamerastore, etc. were chosen by over 1/3 of the respondents in 2020, 16% more than in 2017.
Meanwhile, local physical stores got 13% less visitors compared to 2017, possibly as a consequence of the COVID. Also ranked in the top 4 places to find analog gear in 2020, flea markets were chosen a by 1/3 of all respondents.
Besides, less people got their analog gear from a forum or a FB/online-hobbyist group in 2020. Instead, they tended to purchase from online local classifieds (Craiglist, leboncoin, etc.) as well as a growing number of small social businesses on Instagram, FB, Depop, Etsy, which were mostly preferred by younger analog enthusiasts.
As showed above, the majority analog gear market relies on the supply of a wide range of used film camera bodies and lenses that are still of very good quality. However, that is when the gear is well serviced before getting to your hands. And unfortunately, that’s not usually the case. Apart from trusted local and online professional stores, there is no way to know for sure whether the gear condition is exactly as described.
“I mostly buy used “””Mint””” condition gear on eBay but it is never like the description said.” – said one analog enthusiast.
Although eBay often offers return service, buyers normally bears the return shipping cost. Thus, the sellers’ trustworthiness and available information on the gear condition are the top concerns for the majority of analog enthusiasts when buying gear online.
And the fact is, even the seller is not always aware of the hidden defects of a film camera. It requires certain equipment to examine the precise condition of a gear in terms of its shutter speed, light meter, optical condition, etc.
In addition, factors such as shipping cost, payment safety, warranty, VAT/customs/duty, return policy, delivery speed, and others also have varying significance for analog enthusiasts when buying gear online depending on the regions. Buying used analog gear can be tricky, especially for newcomers. Thus, we’ll get into this matter in more detail in another occasion.
Availability of stores selling adequate equipment is one of the problems for one fourth of all surveyed analog enthusiasts. However, it’s particularly considered as a bigger concern in Latin America & the Caribbean as seen by half of the participants who live there. There are a few professional online retailers but it’s logistically not viable due to international shipping, import tax and custom duties.
On the other hand, only 8% of surveyed analog enthusiasts bought new analog gear directly from brands online (This number was unknown in 2017). Most of those available today range from plastic disposables, reusable point & shoots, to instant film cameras and a few SLRs from Lomography, Ilford, Kodak, Fujifilm as well as small-scale new players such as Mint, Polaroid Now (The Impossible Project), Dubblefilm, Reto3D, etc.
Regarding professional film cameras, since Nikon recently ceased their production of the Nikon F6, the only new SLR film camera until then, Leica is now the last standing producer of two rangefinder film cameras: Leica M-A and MP. Good news is, they are committed to making analog cameras in the future.
For large format, we also have the brand-new Intrepid camera for 4×5, 5×7, 8×10 formats as well as the JOBO CHAMONIX.
Furthermore, we are also seeing small-scale new solutions for the supporting hardwares, camera parts, and accessories from Goodman One, Chroma, CAMERADACTYL, to Reveni Labs light meter, and I’ve probably missed a few others.
As regards to the affordability of analog gear, it is a barrier for the minority 22% of the surveyed film community. In the past years, a rising demand for film cameras has pushed the overall price up. The cheapest point & shoot on eBay today costs nearly twice as much as it used to be a year ago. Particularly when the condition of the analog gear isn’t as advertised, it is certainly not worth the price and the hassle.
Personally, this has made me rethink our relationship with our analog cameras, which we used to find it cheaper to get another film camera than fixing our broken one.
Moreover, with the exception of certain cameras being overhyped because of its popularity and “celebrity” status, there is still a wide selection of lesser-known film cameras of good value that waits for you to explore and try.
In the long run, the market can’t depend solely on the finite supply of old gear and there’s clearly an interest for new reliable film cameras from serious photographers. We all look forward to the emergence of new projects and solutions or involvement of camera manufacturers to produce new reliable film cameras at an affordable price.
In order for that to happen, there must be sufficient interest for it, which is frankly not enough at the current moment since the majority is still happy with the existing selection of used analog gear. However, I believe that this setback can give us a good preparation time for the incubation of new ideas, research and development of a feasible film camera system.
Until then, the repair services are needed more than ever to maintain a good supply of used analog gear. This is going to be discussed in the final part of this article along with the state of processing services, which you can read here.
Finally, you can take a look at the state of film and analog gear market at your local community below.
Don’t forget to share with us your findings! 😉