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Updated: Jan 19, 2023

“Stay broke, shoot film” has never been as true as lately.

Once upon a time, you could buy a roll of Kodak Color Plus 200, or Fujifilm FUJICOLOR C200, for as little as $3, now they can sell for up to $18 online, that is if you find it…

Film prices keep skyrocketing and its stocks low, despite the growing niche hype for film photography or the revival of films like 35mm Ektachrome, or the launch of the new Kodak Gold in 120mm.The reality remains the same: most film enthusiasts lack Sam Levinson’s (“Euphoria”) or Taylor Swift’s (“All Too Well - Taylor’s Version”) budgets to shoot in 35mm Ektachrome. Low-cost 35mm films, once easily available at drugstores, have now become scavanger’s hunt items.

However, this film inflation is a mysterious phenomenon and no one seems to know quite why. Because of this we invited the team of Safelight Berlin for an interview. Safelight is a small camera shop and lab business in the district of Prenzlauer Berg, in Berlin, Germany.

There are a lot of urban myths surrounding film price inflation: the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and its effect on gas prices, or finally the digital age is killing film. According to Safelight, “the reasons are a bit of all those listed, a mix of problems due to the pandemic and thus the inevitable stalemate in raw supplies, the war in Ukraine, Fuji's policies regarding film production, and the fact that Kodak is not the Kodak of the 1980s.” Safelight also points out film manufacturing companies venture into other fields, “both Kodak and Fuji signed contracts to broaden their horizons to pharmaceuticals).”

For example, Kodak’s detour into pharmaceuticals did not happen in a vacuum. Historically, Kodak had already manufactured medical components such as blood analyzers, x-rays, and pharmaceuticals. However, this side business became its main profit during the pandemic. In 2020, prompted by the COVID-19 crisis, the United States Government under the Trump administration announced to give a $765 million loan to Eastman Kodak to launch Kodak Pharmaceuticals to manufacture drug ingredients. This initiative was part of Trump’s administration efforts to make the United States less dependent on foreign manufacturers for the purchase of active pharmaceutical ingredients. At the time, it was estimated that Kodak’s facility would produce “25% of the (active pharmaceutical ingredients) for generics needed in the U.S.”

It is tempting to think that low stocks are part of a Big Film speculation scheme but the inflation is the result of a larger crisis in the entire film industry.

Safelight’s team points out diverse factors that affect the price point of film, “in general if you go and look at the price ratio of rolls/salary in the golden years of photography well or poorly the prices are at what we are paying.” Additionally, Safelight points out that shortage of raw materials and production problems are influential factors behind the inflation.

The viral analog photo dump reels on Instagram and TikTok seem to be proof of a growing trend of young hobbyists and photographers going back to film. But can this trend be enough of a demand to sustain this nostalgic market?

“Yes and no. I think the problem is not the demand but the offer. If Kodak and Fuji (and the other companies) would produce films with more affordable prices for people who want to start getting into analog photography it would be a win-win for everyone, producers, retailers and customers.”

They also pointed out the risk of analog photography becoming a bourgeois activity if the market fails to keep affordable prices. “If [film manufacturing companies] don't entice people to try a particular product by making it affordable, their curiosity of trying it will remain that way creating a kind of elitist product.

Still, the rising prices have not dissuaded film consumers from loading and shooting. To do so, some have adopted DIY alternatives such as home developing and using low cost scanning tools. However, according to Safelight’s team, “there hasn't been this big change,” and a demand for lab services is still present. So I was able to confirm when I visited their shop earlier this year and saw people coming in and out of their pink showroom to drop off or pick up their pictures.

Regardless of the panorama, at Safelight, they are optimistic.

“I don't think [the price of film] will continue to grow, it's not in the interest of the major production companies because even they know that if this happens they will have to close down or make drastic decisions that are not in their interests.” In the meantime, there is little film consumers can do to find film other than subscribing to stock updates and wait patiently. “Unfortunately, if the source doesn't produce enough and the distributors have to distribute it equally among the different retailers, the end customer can do little except be quick to buy it when available,” admits Safelight’s team.

Will the inflation end anytime soon? “We have no idea,” they admit, “in the last few years the trend has always been upward.”

It is also important to remember that expensive film is a small inconvenience against the world’s many humanitarian and environmental crises.

“With the problems the world is facing (definitely more serious than finding photographic film) we can only hope that in general things will get better.”

Want to save money on film? Ditch the film and learn camera-less process here

Author: Ana Sofia Camarga

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