The revival of 35mm film is one thing, but what I really want are new film cameras

The vinyl revival isn’t so much a revival as a triumphant return, so what’s going on with photographic film? My local town now has a record store just like the good old days and, according to its owner, it’s the proverbial license to print money.

In fact, he actually has two outlets – one for the used stock he acquires, and one for new releases and reissues, as well as truly collectible albums. In this store he also sells turntables, a nice range of Italian-made tube amps (yes, tubes are back too) and custom-made speakers.

Hardly a week goes by that someone doesn’t walk into his shop to buy a few records and a $10,000 Australian system to listen to them. There are now specially designed cabinets to store your records and display your bespoke hi-fi system. It’s like vinyl never went away… except everything is now way more expensive. Forget those bargains at operation shops or 20 cent garage sales… AU$20 is now cheap for anything in half decent condition and it’s actually more likely to be closer in price AU$50, but they come out just like the remastered reissues at twice the price or more.

How did it happen? I don’t recall seeing any promotions or marketing, but now vinyl record sales are exceeding downloads by enough

a few markets and the turntable business is as healthy as it was in 1972, if not better. From what I could see, audio aficionados stuck staunchly in analog and railed against the evils of digital compression until everyone started listening to them…and especially the quality of the musical reproduction. Now, of course, it’s fashionable so everyone is into it.

The cinema is far from being there yet, but the momentum is definitely accelerating. There are now many “boutique film” brands for B&W, Kodak and Ilford are quite active with new film products, at least a few books on film photography have appeared recently, and there is no shortage of “plastic fantasy” cameras . What is missing though?

Leica M6 2022

The 2022 Leica M6 is a revival of the 35mm film camera – but I want to see a much more affordable option (Image credit: Leica)

I argue that what validated the credibility of the vinyl comeback was the return of many mainstream brands to manufacturing turntables… like Sony, Yamaha, Denon, Marantz and Technics (aka Panasonic). Of course, small dedicated brands like Rega never disappeared, but it is the presence of big calibers that gives confidence to the market.

At least one of the major camera makers has to step in with a new 35mm camera that’s not a toy and not as expensive as the reissued Leica M6 (opens in a new tab) (however desirable). However, I think the rangefinder design is probably the better option – being cheaper to manufacture than an SLR – and a completely manual design, except for the built-in exposure metering which I think is essential .

While there are plenty of second-hand options for shooting 35mm, they really fall short, especially with photographers whose only experience has been digital… which many do. of you. Reliability and results are now important, which means a new camera with warranty, service and spare parts. Moreover, neither the film nor its processing are cheap any more, which is another reason why many would-be experimenters are unwilling to take risks with old cameras, even if they are considered classics. .

A camera based on the Voigtlander Bessa R2M is my idea of ​​an ideal camera to bring back for the 35mm film revival (Image credit: Alamy)

How hard is it to do? Well my idea would be to buy the Bessa R tooling from Cosina and build a new R2M or R3M – the only difference is the sight – which is a basic but reliable mechanical design, both contemporary and classic. The Leica M mount means there’s always a reasonable choice of new lenses available, but also buying second-hand isn’t that potentially problematic.

Then I would start making a lot of limited editions – like Leica but obviously much more affordable – to keep driving interest and sales. I really think basic – but not too basic – is the best approach, and certainly nothing too fancy as it’s mostly people getting to grips with a completely new medium. So I believe that the experience should be as “pure” as possible.

Regardless of how it actually happens, a credible new 35mm camera from a recognized brand will be the catalyst for any real progress in the rebirth of film photography beyond dedicated enthusiasts. As interest continues to grow, albeit slowly, we have to come closer…right?

• This article first appeared in the September/October edition of Australian Camera magazine (opens in a new tab)

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About Debra D. Johnson

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