Is Film Going Away? by Ken Rockwell

Discussion in '35mm Cameras' started by ., Jan 22, 2008.

  1. .

    . Guest

    Film is not going away. When radio became popular in the 1920s people
    knew that newspapers would evaporate, when FM radio became common in
    the 1960s everyone knew AM was doomed, and when TV became practical in
    the 1950s everyone knew movie theatres were history, too. The Internet
    was supposed to kill TV in the late 1990s, and will soon be killing
    your telephone in the 2000s with Skype that lets you phone people for
    free with your computer. Skype's been around for years, but I still
    use my phone.

    In every one of these cases the new media was a zillion times better
    and faster and more convenient than the old, yet today we still have
    movie theaters, TV, telephones, AM radio and newspapers. I know people
    who still master new vinyl records. Why is that?

    Experience shows us that every time a new, better, cheaper medium,
    like digital cameras, is invented that the older media survive
    continuing to do whatever they did best and get better at it, even if
    they sucked all along. Did you know AM radio went stereo in 1985?
    Probably not, but the radio in my 1988 Mercedes picks it up just fine,
    even on news stations on which only the jingles play in stereo.

    Although older media may no longer be as popular as before they remain
    commercially viable. Digital and film are completely different media,
    just as oils differ from watercolor, macrame, Prismacolor or bead art.
    Non-artists misguidedly waste their time comparing meaningless specs
    like resolution and bit depth when they really should just stand back
    and look at the images.

    Even awful media like LP vinyl records still have their followers. I
    know; I still get hate mail from these folks all the time for my
    previous sentence. Hello people: LPs sucked then, they still suck
    today, but people still use them and love them. I personally know
    people who still master vinyl LPs, and other people still buy them. My
    point isn't that vinyl records suck, it's that almost no one buys them
    anymore yet you can still get them brand new if you want and people
    still cut them.

    You still think I'm kidding? Pick up the May 31st, 2005 edition of the
    New York Times. I was amazed that they report that Kodak still makes
    Kodachrome - in SUPER 8mm MOVIE CARTRIDGES! You may be able to read
    the article here. Not only that, they still run a plant in Switzerland
    which will be processing it until at least 2007! That's December,

    The NY Times article was about people whining because Kodak may stop
    making Kodachrome in Super-8, in which case people will have to
    content themselves with Ektachrome and black-and-white which Kodak is
    still making with no end in sight in Super-8. Kodachrome is in no
    danger in 16mm and 35mm sizes. Yes, you can still buy Tri-X, which was
    introduced in 1955, in Super-8, right here at Amazon.

    For those of you too young to remember Super-8, they were film
    cartridges that held 50 feet of film. Super-8 cameras and film were
    not sensitive to light: you needed to use 500 Watt movie lights
    indoors to get anything. The cartridges cost $10 to $15 each and cost
    as much to process. They only ran for five minutes, and you can't
    erase them. Compare this to a camcorder that shoots better images in
    any (or no) light and runs for at least two hours on a $3 tape, which
    you can erase and use again.

    Personally I know of no one who shoots 8mm, yet you or I easily can
    order it up from Amazon. With this being the case I wouldn't worry
    about 35mm or other formats of still photography going away any time
    in my lifetime, and I have a lot of decades left.

    My point isn't that 8mm sucks. My point is that even though almost no
    one uses 8mm compared to the 1960s that you can still buy all you
    want. Because of this, don't ever worry that 35mm, 120 or 4 x 5" film
    will become unavailable in our lifetime.

    I get so many readers that professionals who shoot Super-8 on purpose
    for a deliberate look take offence to me poking fun of it as a limited-
    use medium. You can read more about Super-8 and the people who use it
    at and As you can see there will always
    be a vibrant core who shoots probably any format you can imagine, so
    if Super-8 still thrives, 35 mm always will. Do know that most of what
    comes out of Hollywood, even if shot just for TV, is shot on the 35 mm
    film from which 35 mm still film evolved. Even if 35 mm still film
    evaporated, 35 mm cine film could be spooled into your still camera
    just as it was 100 years ago.

    Unlike many of the bad formats and media I've mentioned which still
    survive in spite of themselves, film images, especially in larger
    formats, have some real technical advantages over digital cameras.
    That's why Hollywood movies and commercials are still shot on film,
    even though for decades we could have been using video for a lot less
    money. Thus if the three people left on the planet who shoot super-8
    in Kodachrome can still get film I doubt we'll ever have a problem in
    still formats. Remember that still films have always been discontinued
    as the market moves on; just no one in 1958 thought film was going
    away when Kodak discontinued Super-XX Pan, for instance.

    Even when film makers no longer make film in decades old sizes, others
    step in to make it, like Film for Classics, for ancient cameras.
    ., Jan 22, 2008
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  2. And may I add that I have a digital recorder that I can't use, and even my
    teenage grandchildren can't use it. If I want to record my community band's
    practice session, I still have to use an "old fashioned" tape
    recorder....The digital thingie is impossible to use......You can't know if
    you recorded anything by playing it back.....It records in some format or
    other that is unintelligible to ordinary human beings ears, and needs a
    computer and special software in order to "interpret" it and convert it into
    ordinary sound, and in general, it is so complicated that even a teenager
    can't do it. So it just sits on my studio's countertop and stares at me
    while I use analog equipment to do my thing. I leave it there just to remind
    myself not to spend any more money on such devices.....
    William Graham, Jan 22, 2008
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  3. .

    JimKramer Guest

    Wax cylinders? Clay tablets?
    JimKramer, Jan 22, 2008
  4. Long before December 2007, the Swiss plant was closed. It may have been
    closed before the article was published. Kodak accepted mail at the
    old plants and forwarded them to wherever they actually processed
    the film.

    Now there are NO Kodak plants processing Kodachrome, the ONLY place
    that does it is Duane's, which is privately owned. Duane's has
    been the only plant for a relatively long time. As long as Kodak
    sells Kodachrome in a country, they will still accept mail in
    that country and forward the film.
    They don't actually make it. They take film, cut it down to size and
    insert it into paper backing and spools. I don't know if they make
    spools or only use existing ones.

    Kodak has been eliminating the production of products that do not
    sell enough to justify their making them. They have also consolidated
    production of products to manufacturing facilties that did not make
    them before, but so far have continued to make similar products.

    However Agfa and Konica, two other large film manufacturers have gone
    out of business.

    I'm not saying that you won't be able to buy film next week, or
    possibly even in 100 years, but it won't be the same film you
    buy now and it won't be made by the big companies, you know now.

    All sorts of "long dead" products are still made and sold, for example
    morse code keys, leaded gasoline (or add-ons to make unleaded
    gasoline leaded), home canning supplies, and so on.

    So if you are worried about your camera, especially a 35mm camera
    permanently running out of film, I would not. If you are worried
    about running out of a specifc film, I would stock up.

    Geoffrey S. Mendelson, Jan 22, 2008
  5. .

    Michael Guest


    Well yes, But why on January 21, 2008 post something about the May 31,
    2005 edition of the NYT? He tells us to pick it up. OK, I'll go to my
    library and dig it out, then pick it up. And Switzerland will be
    processing Super 8 Kodachrome all the way into the future of.... last

    An interesting post but a liitle bit late, don't you think?

    Michael, Jan 22, 2008
  6. Wax cylinders? Clay tablets?

    Wax Cylinders are cool I've seen one close up, Sounds just like the old News reel clips. The Tech TV clip is funny and sad,
    in that one was destroyed.

    Martin Riddle, Jan 22, 2008
  7. .

    Kinon O'Cann Guest

    Look, if you're going to post articles by imbeciles, post something more
    recent. This is amazingly stupid, even by Rockwell's extremely low
    Kinon O'Cann, Jan 22, 2008
  8. .

    Annika1980 Guest

    I still have a working 8-track player so the 8-track industry is alive
    and well, according to my buddy Ken.
    Annika1980, Jan 22, 2008
  9. I'm responding to this only because I just discovered that my local
    Wal-Mart discontinued on-site film processing.
    Movie Theaters -- The social experience of seeing a movie, the lack
    of distractions present in a typical home setting, and those yummy
    movie snacks :).
    TV -- Cost effectiveness and picture quality.
    Telephones -- Reliability and sound quality.
    AM Radio -- Geographic Reach and scarcity of FM bandwidth.
    Newspapers -- Page counts and circulation steadily decreasing.
    Vinyl Records -- Two words. "Analog snobbery." The RIAA shows that
    vinyl records have retained a market share of about 0.7% for the last
    decade. In 2006, audio cassettes fell below 1% as well:
    Disproved by counterexample -- 8 track tapes, Kodak Disc Film. A
    number of other media are moribund, such as open-reel audio tape,
    LaserDisc, and BetaMax.
    Now discontinued. Kodachrome survives, barely, in 35mm format only.
    Super-8 film was not sensitive to light?
    But could you get it processed? ECN-II processing is not something
    easily done at home.

    Film and film processing is rapidly becoming a boutique business.
    While I expect to use film for the rest of my life, even today
    I have to make a special trip to get it processed. It will
    continue to get less convenient (and likely more expensive) to
    do so.

    In closing, consider the following utterly boring shot:

    My wife asked me to shoot this as a "before and after" shot
    prior to a snowstorm. I did so with my trusty D200...

    .... and lit it a with an M2 flashbulb in a Nikon BC-7 flashgun.

    While I plan on trying to do some 1950's style portraits
    with my remaining bulbs, trust me. There are very good reasons
    flash bulbs are no longer a mainstream item.
    Michael Benveniste, Jan 22, 2008
  10. I spent my entire life as an electronics technician fixing
    electrical/physical devices, and the first thing I always did was to fully
    understand any machine that I was responsible for, and that meant I had to
    know exactly how it worked before I could hope to be able to fix it. Today,
    I notice that the people who fix these things don't actually know how they
    work. They just replace PC cards and/or chips that each house thousands of
    individual circuits, and hope that the bad circuit is the one they
    replace. - I used to call this process, "Shotgunning" and it was always a
    very poor way to fix anything, because, even when it worked, you didn't have
    the faintest idea why it worked, or what, exactly, was wrong with the
    machine to begin with. IOW, you learned nothing, and learning something was
    the path to becoming a better and better tech, and to making more and more
    money at doing what you did.
    Today we are in a situation where everyone just shotguns everything, and no
    one has the faintest idea why it works or not. IOW, it is impossible to
    troubleshoot to the component level anymore, and that's a scary thing to me.
    It seems that it is the beginning of the end. The end being where the
    machines will know more than we do, and perhaps, someday, will take over
    control of the world from us.
    William Graham, Jan 23, 2008
  11. .

    Ken Hart Guest

    Very good point. Suppose for example, that an edge connector had an
    intermittant bad solder connection. If you replace the circuit card that
    plugs into it, you might flex the connector in such a way that the
    connection will be good... until it gets bumped the wrong way. Knowing how
    to trace a signal and what each part of the system does to the signal can
    make quality repairs (or improvements) easier. Amazing how much
    troubleshooting I've done with a heat gun, a can of Insta-Chill, and a
    rubber mallet!

    Bringing it on topic: If you know what each chemical does, you can diagnose
    processing problems better. If you pull a roll of film out of the tank and
    it's _completely_ blank, odds are that you never developed it, only fixed
    it. If it's blank except for the edge numbers, odds are that it wasn't
    exposed and there's a camera problem.

    As for the "control of the world" part, isn't that the job of those apes
    we've been domesticating? Or was Charleton Heston lying to us?!
    Ken Hart, Jan 23, 2008
  12. .

    Matthew Winn Guest

    :) Perhaps someone was running leader through the camera.

    It wasn't very sensitive to light. The standard cartridge was 40 ASA
    tungsten-balanced, so at 18fps with an f/1.8 lens it could manage down
    to a light value of around 8. However, there were 500 ASA cartridges
    available so Super-8 could be used under domestic lighting.

    I used to use standard-8 until a few years ago, but that has the
    advantage that it's trivial to create by reperforating 16mm stock.
    It was expensive, though: black and white worked out at about £10
    per minute once development costs were added in, while colour was
    over £20 per minute.
    Matthew Winn, Jan 23, 2008
  13. .

    Paul Furman Guest

    I shotgun even knowing what the equipment is doing just because it's
    more intuitive to see the results on the LCD (rather than pull out a
    calculator so I only have to take one shot). I take a first-stab shot &
    inspect it, then I know what needs to be adjusted, try another, etc.
    With time, I learn more and it takes fewer stabs. The instant feedback
    is a great way to learn.
    Paul Furman, Jan 23, 2008
  14. .

    Draco Guest

    I have no problem with the shotgun approach to resolving a problem
    with a electronic device. The twelve gage does wonders on a Mac. Just
    the replacement costs are getting a bit high.

    ...and what do you mean "someday"? That time is here now. Mankind
    would be in a sorry state if the machines All stopped working.

    Of course this is my two cents worth of retoric.

    Draco, Jan 23, 2008
  15. .

    Scott W Guest

    For a product that is in production this might be true but when
    bringing up a new product for the first time you pretty much need to
    understand at the component level why something is not working. It
    is not so much the complexity of things that make this harder to do
    today then say 20 years ago, but the size of the leads on the parts.
    And if you are working with a ball grid array package life gets very
    hard very fast.

    Scott W, Jan 23, 2008
  16. When I first went to work for IBM many years ago, they put me with a tech
    specialist for the first few weeks I was on the job. When we went out on a
    call, while he was inspecting the circuit diagram of the machine, I pulled a
    relay and proceeded to clean it. "What are you doing?" He asked. Well, I
    said, "The trouble might very well be in this relay". "And if it is, (he
    said) I will never know it, because you have messed with it. - This guy
    taught me some valuable lessons. He was afraid to touch a machine unless he
    knew exactly what he was doing and why. When he fixed something, he knew
    that he had fixed it, and exactly what was wrong with it. Or, if he didn't,
    he was unsatisfied, and knew that he would have to eventually come back.
    Before he actually fixed anything, he would put a scope on one side of the
    failure and then the other side, and prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that
    that exact spot was the cause of the failure. Or, at least, this was his
    ideal, and what he strove to do. Unfortunately, with highly intermittent
    problems, one can't always do this. But shotgunning was something he never
    did, and the longer I worked there, the less shotgunning I did too. There is
    nothing quite like the knowledge that you have really found the problem, and
    would never have to come back and work on it again.
    William Graham, Jan 23, 2008
  17. For a product that is in production this might be true but when
    bringing up a new product for the first time you pretty much need to
    understand at the component level why something is not working. It
    is not so much the complexity of things that make this harder to do
    today then say 20 years ago, but the size of the leads on the parts.
    And if you are working with a ball grid array package life gets very
    hard very fast.

    Yes, sometimes you have no choice but to replace a whole bunch of circuits
    at one time. But even then, it is good if you can send the group back to the
    factory, or to some bench tech that can acertain just what the problem is
    within the array and feed that information back to the designers so they
    will know what went wrong.....IOW. there should be some closure of the
    accountability loop. I can remember my specialist friend stomping on a
    circuit card and then throwing it in the trash. When I asked him why he
    didn't send it back to the factory for rebuild, (which was the current
    policy) he said. "I have been troubleshooting this highly intermittant
    problem for over a month now. When I toured the factory, they put these
    modules on a machine and checked them out for about 30 seconds. When they
    didn't fail during that half-minute, they put them back in a new box, and
    shipped them out to someone else as new parts. What I am doing now is making
    sure that doesn't happen with this particular module."
    William Graham, Jan 23, 2008
  18. .

    Paul Furman Guest

    Reboot fixes most things :)
    Paul Furman, Jan 23, 2008
  19. .

    Tony Polson Guest

    You didn't finish that sentence. I think you meant to say:

    "Reboot fixes most things that should never have needed fixing in the
    first place. But that's Microsoft for you." :)
    Tony Polson, Jan 23, 2008
  20. .

    Noons Guest

    Akshally, Kodak just came out with a new film
    for super 8. But that little detail will of course go
    unnoticed in the general "digital is clean, film
    is dirty" bullshit in this ng...

    Oh, BTW: Ken published that article in 2005, so his
    text is up to date. Of course, the OP only noticed it now,
    so the problem is perhaps with the OP?
    Noons, Jan 24, 2008
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