Is Film Dead?

Film Noir
Creative Commons License photo credit: ~*Leah*~

Sure, digital photography is king right now… but is film photography really a thing of the past? Will film have nothing but a cult following, or is it actually back on the rise?

There may not be a straightforward answer to these questions, but I’m curious to hear the thoughts of other photographers. As I stated in a recent PhotoNetCast episode, film is probably more popular in the artistic community rather than stock, wedding, corporate, family snapshots, etc. So I’m sure we’ll get a lot of different answers based on each photographer’s niche and experience.

But, in general, is film dead? Is it completely out the door as of right now? Or is it on it’s death bed? Perhaps you feel it’s come to a steady equilibrium. Or maybe you’re seeing an increase in film use. Let us know…

Final Destination
Creative Commons License photo credit: RO-BOT

And if you haven’t seen the results from the last poll on Defining Fine Art Photography, it’s definitely worth a look. We had 14 very insightful comments about this foggy topic.

20 thoughts on “Is Film Dead?

  1. c3l5o

    I don’t want to seem like on of those guys saying that the apocalypse is near, but film will tend to disappear more and more, there are some photographers going back to film, but the numbers I think are smaller that of those moving to digital.

    I guess film companies will have to decrease the production over time and with that costs will increase making film less and less appealing to others.

    I think in a 5 to 10 year time, film will be a lot more expensive, maybe turning it into something only used by the so called “elites”… I don’t know, and I sure hope not…

  2. My camera World

    I think traditional film for the general consumer will be dead soon.

    There is still a niche market for specialty films such as IR and UV.

    The large format film shooters will t have some support for the next 20 years until sensor cost are able to handle this format.

    120 films maybe 10 years. The sensors are still a bit pricey

    I am now pursuing a 8×10 view camera and I am in the process of learning how to make my own glass negatives. That way as long as the chemicals are available I will always have real film at least for B&W. Colour ouch!!

    My brothers adopted father used to make is own 8 x10 glass negatives well into the 1970s

    Niels Henriksen

  3. Silverhalide

    No, no, it’s not dead, it’s restin’! Remarkable film, that Kodachrome, idn’it, ay? Beautiful colours! … Oooh, and now you stunned it, just as it was waking up. … It’s not dead, it’s pining for the fjords.

    ‘E’s not pinin’! ‘E’s passed on! Film is no more! It has ceased to be! Expired and gone to meet its maker! ‘E’s a stiff! Bereft of life, ‘e rests in peace! If it wasn’t nailed to the shelf it’d be pushing up the daisies! ‘Is metabolic processes are now ‘istory! ‘E’s off the twig! ‘E’s kicked the bucket, ‘e’s shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisibile!! THIS IS AN EX-MEDIUM!!

    Sorry, couldn’t resist.

  4. Uwe Mayer

    A funny question. Film survived 160 years and is still used in photography. Right, the number of people using film today is still decreasing and this trend will hold on for years.
    But remember: the first photographers, travelling with tons of equipment, exposing the film for minutes if not hours and having their darkroom tent on location. Know what: even some (very few of course) are still using the exact same processes today.
    A minority of course, but dead? Don’t forget that there are photographers out there not only interested in the pictures, but enjoying the process of making photographs.
    Of course: some painters will use similar work to explain their love for their craft.

    It survived 160 years and I’ve got the feeling it won’t disappear that soon.

  5. Erez

    Remember vinyl records ? Replaced by CDs faster than anyone thought ? Film is going that way. It will become the tool of nostalgic photographers.
    Even now, buying and developing film is so expensive compared to the cost of basic digital camera the average user will not buy one.
    For 120 film, it’s even worse unless you can develop at home, and not many people can or want to do that.

  6. Gregg

    It does seem like there is a shrinking market for consumer grade film. Cheap digital cameras are becoming easier to use and less intimidating. On the other hand, I don’t see that the demand and use of professional grade film is going to go away any time soon. There will always be a demand for it. I know of two pro labs in the Portland area that have actually expanded their film processing and sales in the last few months. And I’ve heard rumors of two or three others that are doing the same.

    Digital photography is a different medium than film. It can’t and won’t replace it. There is plenty of room in the world for both.

  7. Luis Aguilar


    I believe, as so far most of your readers do, that film is neither dead, dying, or “the next big thing”. Film has its place: I use it far more than digital (at the expense of my wallet), for a few reasons. Primarily, this is because I do not own a DSLR: whilst my Fujifilm S5700 is a very nice point-and-shoot, it’s not SLR, and manual focus is very difficult.

    Recently, I have been taking most of my photos on various films – experimenting with xpro, b/w, and different ISO ranges – with a nice Minolta XD-5. The winding mechanism has since broken (looking to eBay), but I’ve been trying to make the best photos as possible with disposable cameras [sadly, it's very difficult to find a place round here to process E-6 film, or to xpro C-41 as E-6]. This forces me to do my best with composition: here, film is in its prime. Whereas digital allows the photographer to take thousands of shots, choose the best, and become snap-happy, feckless, film forces the shooter to think before pulling the trigger; and not only for economic reasons. I also like the tactility of film: the entire process is more real, including the wait for development.

    However, that’s not to say that digital does not have its advantages: it could be seen as much more within creative reach, especially since software like the GIMP makes effects that could once only be done in the dark room available to everyone. It’s also often useful to be able to take very many shots, and store them very cheaply. I’m off to Venezuela at the end of the month, and don’t expect to be spending much time in towns, and it is very handy to have my solar charger, and eight gig of memory.

    I’m very tired, and that last paragraph was nowhere near as coherent as I would have liked, but that’s my brief evaluation of film vs digital: just everything you’ve heard before.

  8. Janne

    As it happens, I got to ask this question at two smaller photography stores just last month, one in Osaka, japan and one in Stockholm, Sweden. In both cases they stated that 35mm equipment is losing ground fast. But medium format (and large format, though base volumes are too small to really say) has been increasing as a result of digital. With digital cameras instead of polaroid for testing; cheap, capable scanners (that do a better job with large medium-format negatives than 35mm) and easy, powerful digital postprocessing and printing it’s actually a lot easier an cheaper to use medium format than it used to be.

    And also as it happens, yesterday I posted my first impressions and pictures from my recently bought 6×6 format Yashica Mat:

    In short, I find a camera like that to be a very good complement to my digital SLR.

  9. Matt

    Film, unlike oil painting on canvas, does not produce different results than the digital technology that is replacing it. At the end of the day you have an image on a computer screen, in a publication or on a wall. And you really can’t tell how it got there just by looking at it.

    I don’t see any reason to think that film technology will stick around.

  10. the_wolf_brigade

    3 words: Lomography. Disposable cameras.

    The Lomographic Society, while ripping people off, has brought film (including 35mm) back into fashion.

    There will never be a digital disposable camera. These will always be needed by people who arrive somewhere and want a photo without risking the loss of a cheapish digital camera that they could easily buy for the occasion.

    Oh, and a scanned transparency of any size (35mm right up to 8×10) still contains more detail that the digital equivalent. A lot of magazines are still using slide.

  11. Cody Redmon

    I know several people who have recently purchased film cameras after using digital for a number of years. In addition, I know lots of folks how have never made the switch to digital.

    It’s my thought that it will never die. Sure, we have digital watches these days, but many prefer the old handed-analog. We have Prius cars, but people are still collecting Mustangs. We have MP3s, but LP sales have skyrocketed in the last few years. Film won’t go away, ever. Even if all the big companies dump film in the name of revenue growth, the tradition will be carried on by smaller specialty companies who understand passion above dollar signs.

  12. Brian Auer Post author

    Holy cow… I figured this topic would get a few comments… Next week we’ll have a “discussion” about Canon vs. Nikon (I’m kidding).

    @c3l5o You may be right, but I hope you’re not. Right now, the film isn’t too expensive — I can get most 135 and 120 rolls for about $5 each if I buy singles at the camera store. I’m curious how this cost compares to, say, 20 years ago. I’d say that as long as somebody is producing the film, I don’t see the prices jumping up like they have with Polaroid (which is up to $3 per shot for my particular camera).

    @Niels I’ve been wondering about glass plates lately. I see some really neat medium and large format cameras that use them, but I don’t see anybody selling them. If you figure out the process, let me know and I might jump in with you!

    @Silverhalide LOL!

    @Mustanir Good point, and yet oil painting still exists.

    @Uwe You may be right… film photography will probably continue to become more of a niche craft or trade rather than the standard way of doing things.

    @Erez I don’t know… at least where I go, 120 film isn’t any more expensive than 135. The rolls are about the same price, and developing is the same price. Then again, you get 1/3 the shots as you do with 135, so you could argue it’s 3 times as expensive.

    @Gregg That’s cool to hear that some local shops have been experiencing a growth in film. I’ll have to ask my local shop and see what their thoughts are too.

    @Luis Even the typical dSLR is quite different from a film SLR — especially the old manual equipment. You’ve gotta love the feeling of going for a shoot with a camera that has no batteries. It’s an interesting feeling when you know that you won’t run out of batteries… ever.

    @Janne I’m right there with you when it comes to a good TLR — it’s such a different piece of equipment than a dSLR (or a film SLR for that matter).

    @Matt I’d have to disagree. Film DOES produce a different result than digital. Real grain, less “tack” sharpness, various colors and tones produced by different films, the effects of different processing and cross processing. These are all things that can be mimicked with digital, but digital can’t produce the same thing. And people who have have many film photos pass before their eyes… they CAN tell the difference just by looking at a photo. Even with my own limited film experience, I can usually spot film photos versus digital photos on places like Flickr and such.

    @the_wolf_brigade gosh… who the heck would throw a camera away? And yeah, the resolution thing is painfully clear when you scan in a 6×6 from a roll of 120 –> 50+ MegaPixels.

    @Cody I like the comparisons you’ve introduced… they really put things into perspective. Some people are always going to find new ways to enjoy old technologies.

  13. jerry

    I am seeing a resurgence around my area, especially in younger kids. Which, I must say, surprises me. I know quite a few people who are majoring in photography who shoot and develop their own film. And they say that they have no urge to pick up their digitals anymore.

    As for me, I am starting to move back into it a little, More as a hobby than anything overly serious. But, I tend to be a zealot about things, so I am sure I’ll be a fim whore soon. :)

    Great discussion.

  14. Susheel Chandradhas

    I’m going to say film is dead… I doubt i’ll ever use it again, except for novelty’s sake…

    But would I recommend it?
    To a beginner, definitely (and would remove his lightmeter to boot). To a hobbyist, maybe. To a professional photographer? Certainly not.

    There are huge benefits that a professional photographer will find by moving to digital. Quality, for sure. Ease of use, Definitely. Quick turn-around, always. Ease of use again, and once more for good measure.

  15. Ken Stewart

    Film’s not dead, that’s the just the processing chemicals you can smell …

    I believe that, for all commercial intents and purposes, the “film” industry is dead. But, like vinyl records and (soon) real corks in wine bottles, film will linger on, probably forever, to be pursued by a small group of enthusiasts and flat-earthers. While it’s true today that (most) film is capable of exceeding the dynamic range of (most) digital sensors, that’s not axiomatic, and technology will eventually remove even this differentiator. Eventually, the decision to use film will be one of pure aesthetics and nostalgia.

  16. Cody Redmon

    @Susheel – I really like how you broke down the tiers of photography into beginner, hobbyist and professional. It’s so logical it…makes sense! :-) My only ‘clarification’ would be under the category of professional photographers. Likely a debate in itself, I would say that digital is definitely the way to go for commercial photography, but not necessarily when it comes to fine art…say landscape. Large format film cameras blow every digital on the market away without even trying. Even 39 megapixel medium format digital backs fall short (though there’s a couple new 50 megapixel backs coming out now). For commercial work, speed and quality are essential – it’s all about your client…go digital. But for fine art, just processing and developing your own negatives is part of the intrinsic value of each piece. That being said, I’m a landscape photographer and shoot digital. But I know that what I’m producing is sub-par to what I’d be getting from a medium or large format film setup. The eternal battle that encompasses ‘convenience’ continues…who doesn’t sacrifice quality for convenience these days? Great comment, Susheel, thanks for stirring some thoughts.

  17. T. Linde

    Film will survive due to the intrinsic value of the silver halide process. The everyday consumer
    will not be using it but the fine art photographer will. Most people only look an image
    and rarely look into it. Just as the artists that still work with the platinum palladium and alternative
    processes for the sheer beauty of the print, so too is the direction of film. A digital image is a collection
    of pixels. . . a silver halide print just seems to have more value due to the process and materials that
    go into its creation.

  18. Mattias Wirf

    Actually, I’m one of those people thats just found my way back to film. And old cameras and lenses also! If you get interested in photography nowadays, dont you wan’t to try film out? I do. If you get a passion for something, you want to learn everything about it, don’t you?

    I think film is dead for tourist snapshots, for people not interested in photography. But for the growing (I think/guess) number of people that has photography has a mayor interest I think film is NOT dead. Film and digital can live with eachother! :)

  19. William Geist

    For the journalism field: newspapers, magazines, etc, film is dead. There is not an editor in even the smallest town today that would use film now. I taught photography at the high school level for 34 years and saw film go from king to a novelty. I also saw the rise and fall of…the kodak instamatic, the Cibachrome home color system, the disc camera, advantix film, and anything polaroid. I also witnessed a curious renewed interest in black and white photography by the grandkids of my early students. Yes, film will be a minor player in image making from now on, never to regain its former stature but if they make it I will buy it. You can find 35mm cameras dirt cheap these days. I digitize all my print images on the computer and it works great. You have the best of both worlds: a hard copy image backed up with a physical negative and stored digitally. It doesn’t get anymore secure than that. As far as the image quality goes, its the best. The real problem is finding a decent photo processing facility. I go through my local pharmacy but I send the images ‘out’, I never use their machines or personnel for several reasons. One of which is that the person doing the ‘one hour’ service is usually someone who knows nothing to little about good image quality. Also that person is asked to divide time between the photo processing area and the fragrance counter. Film is far from dead. At least one photographer plans to use it.

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