April 26, 2022
The signs are not so good for the future of Shooting and production of color images based on silver halide. A lack of commitment from Fujifilm; the corporate dystopia on the Kodak side of the silver halide world; reduced economies of scale and increased associated costs; threats to the continued supply of films and key chemical ingredients; skyrocketing shipping costs; stricter dangerous goods transport codes; and a sharp rise in the price of silver are all raining down on the parade of analog photography enthusiasts.
In this article, we will focus on the color film market, with more in-depth examination of the silver halide paper and fast-shrink chemical segments in our next issue:
The range of roller fills available shrinks every year and has recently been subject to skyrocketing annual price increases. Kodak film is at least 50% more expensive than 2 years ago. Fujifilm has increased its film prices every April for the past few years. In what is becoming an annual tradition, Fujifilm cites higher raw supply prices, increased transportation expenses and lower demand as reasons for the price increase. (A drop in demand, isn’t that what Kodak is telling us?)
More than Kodak Alaris-Eastman Kodak, Fujifilm seems to have lost interest in filmmaking. Last year, he announced a major change in management, under the title of VISION 2023“invest 1.2 trillion yen over three years to accelerate growth primarily in the healthcare and highly functional materials sectors.”
Fujifilm’s photography business plays a part in this new vision, with the popular X-series and Instax instant cameras mentioned in dispatches, but irony of ironies there’s no place for film at Fuji.film’the future.
Kodak seems a little more keen to persevere in the filmstrip market – witness the relaunch of Ektachrome a few years ago. Kodak Alaris, which survives only thanks to the indulgence of its owner, the UK Pensioners Protection Fund, even mentions cinema as a positive contributor to its 2021 results: ‘The renewed interest in cinema photography in combination with selective price increases
ensured that revenues exceeded the previous year.
Separating the film business from paper and photochemistry before handing it over to Chinese paper finisher Sino Promise says Kodak Alaris, the current trademark licensee for the film, views the business as part of its coming.
But with one company holding the rights to the film brands (Kodak Alaris, UK), another holding the rights to the silver halide paper and chemical brands (Sino Promise, China – for l instant), a third (Eastman Kodak, USA) making the film, and yet another company that does the “carefully processed” part of papermaking (Carestream Health, USA), it all became a bit confused.
And speaking of elaborate processing (as opposed to Byzantine business structures!), while now considered a semi-obsolete technology, photographic film coating is an extremely sophisticated manufacturing process – with tolerances similar to those of the semiconductor industry. Here is a detailed overview of the first part of the process:
So while it’s relatively easy to make bad film, the quality and tolerances consistently achieved by Fujifim and Eastman Kodak, after decades of development, remain a feat of modern manufacturing. It’s not easy and it’s not cheap.
Without economies of scale, the unit cost of film reels will continue to rise. With that in mind, continued outsourcing of manufacturing to Eastman Kodak is likely the future of Fujifilm color film, if it has to be.
Here are some responses to Fujifilm’s latest global announcement of film price hikes of between 20-60%:
“Well, that’s the end of color film photography for me. The price hikes of the last two years, many products almost always out of stock. I’ve decided not to do color filming for myself anymore. J I still have about a dozen color rollers in the freezer and a set of unused chemicals, I’ll be using them over the next two years and that’s it.
‘…if the film gets expensive…it will be too much to sustain what is a secondary hobby in my photography. I hope they know what they’re doing, that the movie is still niche and can only sustain a certain maximum price, after which very few will want to use it.
“I hope enough people stop filming Fujifilm because of the price increases. I would love nothing more than to be able to purchase the products instead of dealing with endless backorders.
– But while those moviegoers might be at their wits end, Phil Gresham, whose Brisbane-based retail and online operation FotoFast specializes in selling movies and D&S (Develop & Scan) said Interior Imaging that rising film prices have so far not led to lower sales among its mostly young customers.
“It’s crazy but the kids are paying for it,” he said. “There has been no price resistance so far,” he said.
Its biggest problem is supply, with local distributors often only able to fill about a quarter or a given film order. When we spoke to him, he had $40,000 worth of Kodak products out of stock.
As a result, FotoFast only retailed films over the counter rather than online, preserving them for its walk-in customers, who also tend to return to have the film processed.
(This film supply issue may be more critical in the Australian market. Overlap with US giant Adorama website, there seemed to be a lot more popular film ranges in stock. Still, out of 357 movie product SKUs on the Adorama website, only 196 were in stock this week. Comments on various photo enthusiast forums indicate that the patchy supply is chronic around the world.)
The film business is also subject to new competition for raw materials. The big one is the money itself. In 2003, the photo industry consumed about a third of all silver used in manufacturing. It is now less than 10 percent.
The solar panel industry is a major new contender for silver. According to werecyclesolar.com/ “an average solar panel of about 2 square meters can use up to 20 grams of silver”. This is a contributing factor to the sharp rise in silver prices from 2020 and adds some credence to claims by Fujifilm and Kodak that they need to raise prices.
Industrial demand for silver is at an all-time high and, according to The silver instituteis likely to go even higher this year, up another 5%.