The End Of Film? Or… The End Of Digital?

Click on the audio play button to listen to this 14 minute discussion on the future of photography by Stephen Schaub.


How Much Longer Can Photographic Film Hold On?

Traditional Camera Film Makes A Come Back

27 thoughts on “The End Of Film? Or… The End Of Digital?

  1. Stephen, I completely agree. I certainly hope that we as film photographers can continue to press forward with what film is capable of and not turn our backs due to skepticism of the ‘digital’ age. I am such of a fan of keeping things simple: shoot film, no major edits which leave to time away from the computer, and capture moments without having to always look down at the screen thinking did I get it?

    Thank you for the post and look forward to more of your work and thoughts.

  2. Great take on the chaos from yesterday’s article. Film isn’t dying anytime soon.
    Interesting comments on digital’s future. It does seem like HD video is all most people are buying dSLR cameras for now. Well it seems like it’s more of a selling point rather than the camera’s ability to take still images.

    Viva la figital revolution,

  3. Smart commentary. I love the vinyl record analogy: I use that one all the time to explain.

    I would actually say my biggest concern right now in some ways is the current fetishization of film by photographers desperately seeking the next gimmick. I see lots of folks now who think that the fact that they shoot film BY ITSELF makes their work good. I worry that the current trend will have many people viewing film as a gimmick, rather than as a legitimate alternative process….

  4. Nice listen Stephen and sums up how I feel, I just wish that the marketing men would finally, once and for all drop this *buzz word* digital as that is all it is …. it frankly say’s and means nothing in 2011 of any true meaning.

    I would much rather see the terms photography and “traditional” photography used (or something similar) and I’m sure in time many more photographers who’ve never tried film would try it out. This “digital is better because it’s new” rubbish preached by so many is farcical – As you so rightly said … “They’re just different” and the old adage horses for courses certainly applies.

  5. I like the fact that film is currently a little bit trendy because only by using it will some find out about it. A lot of photographers need to see that film has a roll to play and that it offers a different experience to digital capture.

  6. hi Stephen, great podcast, it kind of soothed my growing panic a bit. i think you are right about the digital bussines model, i still shoot with my nikon d200 and do the PP with CS3 and get the strange upgrade itch all the time, even though i get very useable resaults – the whole thing just doesn’t make sense. with a model that is built mainley on the upgrade factor, how long would it last if people are tired/unwilling to get the latest stuff all the time. i feel people are getting tired with this rollercoaster (i sure am). anyways, the last two years i have changed my ways from digital working professional to a film hobbiest, post processing other people stuff for a living. i am looking bewildered at how everyone is going down for the digital lure, and miss the whole point – how can creative minds don’t see the depth that film have, which strongly conrastswith the flatness of the digital medium? my hope is that the winds are changing and the point of saturatinon has arrived and will slow the digital madness down.
    you’re invinted to check out my film photography blog here on wordpress, it’s in Hebrew, but the photos all speaks the international dialect.
    viva la revolucion!

  7. Hello!

    I do love film. In the last year, I’ve bought five film cameras. This was partly due to nostalgia, and the wish to acquire things I had wanted long ago and couldn’t afford, but I also USE the cameras and make photographs. That said, film will not make a big comeback, now or in the future. Sales of equipment and media are dependent on the mass market, and the mass market is digital.

    Claiming that digital is more expensive than film is disingenuous at best. It may be so for high-end professionals, who have to have the latest MF backs, but for the average shooter–and certainly for the amateur/soccer mom–it is far cheaper and easier than film.

  8. I also agree with Stephen, the current DSLR seems to be moving towards the HD camcorder market.

    Thanks to digital cameras flooding the market I can now afford some excellent film cameras that sell for bargain prices. I am the proud owner of a Nikon fm3a, Nikonos V and a Toyo 45AX all purchased during the last five years.
    My cameras require a thought process and the end result on film is much more gratifying than the shoot and delete method of the digital camera user.

    As for film this will always be a niche market and hopefully there will be enough interest in film to keep it profitable for business.
    I am encouraged to see Kodak and Fuji still producing their prime films, letโ€™s hope they continue for many years.

  9. IMHO during the next Olympic Games, photographers will set their DSLRs to video and pick out the appropriate/best frames. 1,080 lines of resolution is pretty good for their needs. It might be a good thing, too – video capture is completely silent!

    While it’s true that older DSLRs which cost thousands of dollars are a complete joke compared to film, modern ones are not a joke. What is a joke is the way people use their DSLRs: all this resolution and they’re hand-holding with so-so lenses. It’s the lens, dummy, not the pixel count!

    I’m not just a hybrid photographer, I’m a ‘dualist’ if that term can be used. I use both media. In fact, contrary to the naive opinions of some, digital cameras are a far better learning tool for beginners than film could ever hope to be. You hear it quite a lot: “The best way to learn is with a manual SLR and film.” Logic dictates otherwise.

    I agree with Les that digital is “far cheaper and easier than film” for a lot of people. Well, maybe not easier…

    Keep up the good work. I’m hoping for that $500 135/120 scanner, too. ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. It’s interesting that Kodak actually made the first digital camera in the early 80’s as a proof of concept. It took over 10 years and Moore’s law [number of transistors on a chip doubles every 18 mo or something like that] to make a consumer camera viable. It is actually Canon and Nikon and others who benefited financially by vertically integrating the imaging system into proprietary products.

    Commercial clients like the fact that the photographer no longer has complete creative control and can be directed real time. These clients like the immediacy and [in their mind] productivity, because of the myth that digital is cheaper. The truth is that artistic photographers didn’t know how to price the new technology and services. Professionals are just now figuring out how to price and preserve their copyrights in the digital age distribution model.

    Seth Resnick puts out an interesting comparison. A state of the art FILM camera outfit with two cameras costs approximately $30,000 and film is $4-5 per roll for 135 format up to $2.50 a sheet for 4×5 format. A state of the art digital system with the same number of cameras [which have to be replaced or updated every 18 months to 2 years] and all the peripherals to support a quality color matched image is approximately $90,000. That’s a 3 or 4 : 1 cost disadvantage that photographers have been eating.

    The real issue will continue to be the camera companies humping the product development curve for consumers and professional photographers seizing on new technology, at any cost to promote their business. Old media has done a terrible job at pricing their value [information, analysis] against the internet barons of Silicon Valley who’s failed business model of give it away to capture mind share and destroy competition and then sell the company before you make a profit has failed.

    As the US economy changes and the gap between haves and have-nots widens, digital will have to be cheaper to get wider market penetration. The high dollar market is probably shrinking, at least in the USA. If what you’re saying is true, time to invest in film scanning technology and software for hybrid work flow, because commercial clients won’t give up the speed of digital deliveries unless they have to, or something better comes along.

    The news people like to draw sensational conclusions from a few facts. Until there is a stable, archivable digital format, wise people will have a roll or two of film to put into a cherished camera. I do.

    Thanks for you pod cast, some good points. Be careful of sounding defensive.

  11. You pretty much summed up everything I have been thinking.
    The funny part is that if you look at all of these doomsday articles and read the comments, there seems to be a groundswell of people that disagree and do not want this to happen!
    Could it be that companies just aren’t interested in having film continue on? After all, wouldn’t you rather consumers drop 3 Grand every couple of years on digital gear than a few hundred bucks on film? Digital, after all, is gear-oriented.
    Keep up the good work.
    @iheartfilmphoto (Twitter)

  12. TRue about dropping a lot of money on digital gear that will be upgraded in a few years! What a waste of cash.

    I’m all for the hybrid workflow and am trying to figure out what scanner to buy for 120 & 35mm film. I hear that there will be a new 120 scanner coming out soon.

    I wonder in 10 years where my digital files will be, or if they’ll “be”.

  13. Thank-you for the encouraging word.
    I’ve been ready to throw in the towel on film despite my absolute adoration for the results.
    The $$ on processing and film itself, the frustrating results from many a lab….can bring a good man down.
    It seems that more and more people are shooting film. It’s not mainstream by a long shot but it’s definitely on the radar for many. And let’s not forget the hipsters! I hope they keep burning that 120 in the Holga’s and Diana’s for a long time to come.
    Yours in solidarity.


  14. I love film. I have many film cameras. I love the cameras because they are easier to use, more intuitive and I can change the “sensor” whenever I want. But …

    The digital photography industry is like The Borg. It will absorb us, even it if kills them.

  15. Everyone remembers the picture of John Travolta in his white disco suit, the shot of Nastassja Kinski with the serpent, the Afghan girl with the green eyes, Farrah Fawcett in her red bathing suit, Marilyn Monroe holding down her skirt… those were all film shots.

    Now name a Digital picture everyone remembers… There aren’t any. Digital has been around long enough to produce some Iconic pictures if it were capable of doing so.

    Digital is wonderful at recording the mundane – but for producing the great shot everyone remembers… not so much.

  16. I mumble the same stuff every day, usually to myself.

    One point you should have mentioned regarding vinyl: ironically, it would appear, it will outlive the very technology that “killed” it: compact discs. CDs certainly have no future because the information on them does not need the physical medium. Consumers have figured this out and do not buy CDs anymore. Vinyl is no longer a mass market medium but it is probably sustainable whereas CDs probably are not. Thus, vinyl will surely outlive CDs.

    I think the same will be true with film. I have no idea what is to become of digital, but the ubiquity of good imaging devices calls the whole past 10-15 years into question. Digital has become a victim of its own success. Camera companies need to do more than sell a device that will record an image only marginally better than what the consumer can get from their iPhone. Thus video, and whatever newfangled devices will surely come along to raise the ante, and the prices for dedicated equipment. In short, the move will be away from the static two-dimensional image, which will seem old fashioned and yet still a source of power and awe amongst the cognoscenti.

    Lastly, the cool thing about analog technologies is that they are open source; the technology is in the public domain so, if I want, I can coat my own plates and paper if I wish. Now, I’d rather Kodak did that for me, but the magic of analog photography is always going to be available and accessible as a wonder before ones eyes. So much of this fundamental truth gets lost in the rhetoric of digital vs film. Now, I own a digital camera that I don’t love shooting with, necessarily, but which is very useful and I’m glad I have it. If I had the means, a 50+ medium format Hasselblad might ween me off film, but since that is not the case I’m happy to be able to shoot, when I want an information-rich image, my $150 4×5 Crown Graphic which can give me equivalent, or better, results.

    In short, the pluralism of choice we have is a good thing and we live in a golden age right now. Any attempt to limit this choice, and reduce the variety and quality we enjoy today, would be shortsighted and plain dumb. And yet, to my dismay and infuriation, people do just that.

  17. Stephan, get your head out of the clouds. Film is not dead, but on life support. When a company has to spend 100 million to make a 10 million dollar profit, that’s when you will see a huge drop in film production & we are coming to that point. This from the mouth of Kodak executive. Only in emerging markets will there still be large film sales. As far as how much you need to invest in equipment $20,000+ will get you the best pro 35 Dslr & 4-5 lenses. Another $4-6K will get you the best computers & monitors available. Cameras are so good now & produce such great pictures, that there is no need to change every 1-2 years. And for the person that thinks there have been no great photos taken with Dslr’s, you must live in isolation or don’t look at much of what is being shot today. Most well known advertising is now shot digital. Look at the book Respreto, all digital & most of Steve McCurry’s latest work is digita. Almost all the lastest top fashion photos have been shoot in the digital medium.There are things that one can do in digital that could only have been dreamed about in film. Film is just different, not better & in almost all respects worse. For those that do not like digital, you haven’t taken the time required to master it & are fooling yourself into thinking that film is a better medium. When was the last time you shot a magazine assignment of old temples in Taiwan with no tripod allowed, no flash allowed & as dark as a cave. I did & it had to be shot at 7000 ISO. Beautiful results were obtained for the double page spread. Try shooting that with film.

  18. As a photographer that started with an Argus 35 and wen’t to a
    Rollei and a 4×5 Speed graphic I still love film. The problem here is getting it developed. slide film is tough but 35 print film is still being done at alot of places. Black and white is still hard. I am going to have to do my own black and white unless someone starts doing it soon. My Epson scanner does a great job on making digital images from film but the files are huge. Bought a new Mac to handle it.

  19. Stephen:

    I am teaching a class this Fall at our local Community College entitled Hybrid Photography. The targeted audience is those who have never shot film. We’ll actually be developing film in class (possibly with Caffenol) and at the end of the course each student will present a photo-essay or a piece of artwork using digital and film photographs. The idea was heartily endorsed by the college’s continuing ed director as “unique”, “innovative” and “beneficial” compared to their usual “Intro to Digital Photography” course whose enrollment is dropping. I am expecting it to reach maximum enrollment shortly after registration begins next month. Thanks for continuing to advocate for film and for all your research. I am a Diafine convert because of your series a few years back. Viva la Revolution!


  20. I shoot digital but I love film and believe there is nothing in the digital world that can compare to a black and white frame shot on a Mamiya 7 or similar equipment – which brings up my long term concern: film can survive as long as we have film cameras. Unfortunately, except for a few manufacturers, there are no new film cameras. We are forced to work with used equipment. My question is what happens when these cameras die, as they must, when we are no longer able to repair them? Will Nikon and the other big manufacturers see their way clear to produce new versions of these old classics? Will we ever see new film cameras of the quality of the old Contax RTS and RX cameras, or the Olympus OM4 or the Leica R8’s? So, we of this generation are okay but I wonder if film can continue to survive in a world without new film cameras.

    1. There are many issues with sustainability for film shooters and I agree that film camera production is a large one but there are vast resources of used ones available that should keep us going for quite sometime.

  21. @Al, I also started with an Argus 35 rangefinder. I would encourage you to develop your own film,. You will save money in the short and long term. Figital Revolution Comandante Stephen did a great series on using Diafine which is one of the most versatile and inexpensive developers. A dark bathroom or changing bag, a developing tank , a few inexpensive chemicals, some rope and a few clothes pins and you’re in business. I wrote a blog post a while back on a no defunct site entitled “Getting Started in Film Photography for Under $150 (Nice Camera Included)” If you had a camera, the equipment and chemical costs were about $75. Given the cost to develop B&W via mailer is about $10-$15 per roll (with shipping), you recoup your costs with just a few rolls. You may have a local place that does it for less but they are fewer and fewer so home dark room is the way to go.

    @Stephen, I totally agree with @figitalrevolution. I have a stock of cameras for this purpose. I made sure I had a supply for my life and the life of my daughter who is also a photographer. It’s not hard to do. The key is to get them overhauled by someone who really knows what they are doing and store them properly.

    @Maynard, my Kodak source tells me that film production will likely move offshore but there will be ample supply worldwide. Kodak (and Fuji) already do this with some of their consumer films. Lower offshore production costs will help recoup R&D and hardware costs as margin’s shrink.

  22. Thanks for this! I’m so over digital, never REALLY liked it in the first place. Selling my DSLR and browsing medium format cameras right now, cant wait to be reunited with what first made me fall in love with photography.

  23. WOW this hit home! I’m a “new industry photographer” to where I was told digital is the way to go, and thats that. The school I went to refused to let us shoot film for projects and the teachers never told us ANY thing about film. I began shooting on kodachrome slide film when I was 11 and digital was just BLAH to me. It lacks depth and that fire you see in film pictures. I’ve tried to prefect digital in my workflow for three years of working as a professional, and the solution……kodak portra and ektar films. I’m more confident in my work and I respect it more now. I think you’re 100% correct in saying that digital is fractured and it is breaking. It’s making people want film more.

  24. I completely agree with what you are saying and it’s really nice to hear someone giving the arguments in such a clear and insightful way.

    Now I come from the standpoint of cinematography (as well as still photography) where this argumentation is maybe even more heated because so much money is involved each time one makes the decision. One of my biggest issues currently whilst attending my film school is that I can’t help feeling that the quality of the work we are allowed to do has regressed the last decade. Very few people would argue that broadcast video cameras as well as the new DSLRs are anywhere near the quality of shooting film, but most would also argue that it’s pointless to compare them because the difference in cost is so great. But the cost has skyrocketed because of the lack of demand and competition between the few labs that are left. So the bottom line is that because of this ‘digital revolution’ we have poorer tools to work with now than they had just a decade ago. This doesn’t make sense to me.

    Also there is likely to be a larger sense of difference in quality of the digital productions because as you say new digital cameras will come out (for motion picture as well) and they will get more and more expensive so that only the major films can use them, whereas the 35mm stock that indie film makers use is the same as hollywood uses. It brings to mind that andy warhol quote about how coca-cola is democratic because the president cannot get a better bottle of coke than the man on the corner of the street can.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s