Film prices are skyrocketing, which is news to no one. On one hand, I hate this. On the other hand, looking back, perhaps I’m overreacting. Consider this: In June 1976, I bought my first Minolta, an SR-T 101. It was the bicentennial year, and I spent the summer in Washington, DC, doing a research project that paid a stipend of 140.00/week. I shared an apartment on M street that cost 400.00/month with three friends. To save money, I ate a lot of Hamburger Helper and Shake N Bake chicken. Chicken was 29 cents per pound, and generic color film cost less than 2.00/roll. Last week I looked up apartments in the same location, and they cost nearly 3700/month; Perdue chickens are 2.29 a pound, and UltraMax costs 10.99. Everything is about ten times the 1976 cost. When one accounts for inflation, film has been underpriced for a while. My observations about film prices are borne out by this post from Silvergrain Classics.
Of course, that does not alter the reality that those shooting film are dealing with significant cost increases. Also, telling people that film has been underpriced in no way lessens the impact film prices have on film budgets. For my part, I accept that film is a luxury. Used digital cameras are cheap enough that nearly anyone can afford one, and nearly everyone has a smartphone. I have a smartphone and four vintage digital cameras (8-10MP) that make beautiful images, and no camera was more than 60.00. I don’t need any film gear to do photography. Photography with a film camera is a niche activity done solely for my enjoyment. Would I like film to be cheaper? Yes! However, that is very unlikely. I hope I’m wrong. But at least for now, I can buy Fuji 200 for about eight dollars a roll. And from my point of view, paying eight dollars for a roll is better than Fuji closing down production entirely.
One thing higher prices have forced me to do is shop around. In July 2022, I paid 8.99 for a 36-frame roll of UltraMax. In December, I paid 10.99 while some stores were advertising it for 13.99 or more. Obviously, some sellers are padding the price. The thing is, even at these higher prices, UltraMax can be tough to find. Portra and Ektar are now reserved for special projects, so I don’t need to buy any for a while. As the cost of each increases, the definition of a “special project” will change accordingly.
Since digging around for color film seems to be my thing these days, I was struck by Santa Color 100, a film said to have extended red sensitivity. The reds look candy-ish. Naturally, I want to try some. Meanwhile, I decided to blow 15.00 on Washi X Color 100 (which is now sitting in my on-deck box). I found a seller in Florida offering SantaColor 100 and was about to order a few rolls when I discovered SantaColor 100 is Kodak AeroColor IV (as is, possibly, Washi X Color 100). I have no problem with rebranded film. In fact, I like that boutique film companies are releasing stocks that would otherwise be unavailable. However, I don’t like buying the same thing twice while thinking I am buying something different. At least two other companies are selling rebranded Kodak AeroColor IV (Luminaire, Elektra 100).
In that vein, I applaud the Atlanta Film Company for releasing Kodak 5222 (Double X) at a great price, along with Kodak Vision films. Maybe they will do AeroColor IV next. For sure, I will use my dollars with companies that opt for transparency.
CatLabs, which used to rebrand Double X, now has a new emulsion, X 320, which does not appear to be Fomapan or Kentmere, despite its low price, so I bought a few rolls. I jumped for joy to see Ilford release Kentmere in 120 format. Now, I can stop mourning Ultrafine Xtreme. Which raises another question: What is Ultrafine Finesse? PhotoWarehouse is mum on the topic.
I’ve tried Fomapan (Arista) in 120 and 35mm. When shot at box speed, both 35mm and 120 gave good results, especially the 120. Here is my question: Why does the ISO 200 in 120 format turn my developer a deep green while the 35mm ISO 200 does not?
Last July, I ordered ORWO NC500, expecting to receive it by August. I’m still waiting. At first, I was okay with waiting, but now it is appearing for sale from online stores. I wrote to ORWO three weeks ago and was told my order would be filled soon. The entire reason for pre-ordering was to get the film before it got to retailers. Now, the film is readily available, the shipping is LESS than what I paid to ORWO, and my order is nowhere in sight!!! I will not order from ORWO again.
The reviews are the final injury. NC500 reviews have been far from flattering. The colors are said to be muted, and the images very grainy. Reviewers’ examples look nothing like the sample photos on the ORWO site. Sheesh. I wish I could cancel the order—but that doesn’t seem possible.
On a brighter note…my Konica Pearl II is begging to go out for a stroll. It’s loaded with Lomo 100 CN, but the weather has not fit my schedule. I need a nice, sunny day, but mostly it has been cloudy or rainy. Also, I’m hoping to shoot my first roll of Lomo’s Potsdam Kino (100 ISO) in 120 format in the Minolta Semi P.
Now that I’ve finished testing new-to-me cameras, my film needs have lessened. Accordingly, the days when I burn through three rolls of film in a couple of hours are over. With this change, I can readily accept the cost of doing a few rolls of flower portraits each season on Ektar or Portra while using less costly emulsions when wandering about the city. How high must film prices be before I reconsider my shooting habits? I have no idea, but should a reckoning occur, even then, it is unlikely I will go digital-only. Perhaps future-me will see things differently. But, for now, as someone who longs to return to making darkroom prints, digital is a much less satisfying experience.
To quite this week’s analogue.cafe newsletter:
> Price increases are not-so-good news, though you’ve probably suspected that already. We’ve had a significant jump in costs during the past six months: 10.39% for the average 35mm/36exp. film — as surveyed across multiple stores and locations. This is more than the inflation rate in the US, which is already quite bad.
Yeah, I saw this. The places where I got UltraMax for 10.99 in December are now selling it for 11.99. That’s 10% in a month, and it’s still selling out!
Film will get more expensive still, because it is becoming a luxury item. I wonder how long it will be until Fuji completely exits the market.