Biyeun Buczyk's 8x10 camera, nicknamed "Zaphod." Photo by Graham Ramsey from mitadmissions.org
Sal Santamaura confirmed yesterday that Eastman Kodak, as rumored, has indeed discontinued both T-MAX 400 and T-MAX 100 T-grain films in 5x7- and 8x10-inch sizes. They will continue to be available as special order products, subject to specific minimum quantities.
There are more ways to analyze this news than the knee-jerk "film is dying," however. First of all, the T-grain films will continue to be available for 4x5, which is by far the sheet-film size in widest use. And Kodak will continue to make TXP (Tri-X 320 sheet film) available in the larger sizes. TXP has traditionally been the most popular Kodak film for view cameras because it's what Ansel Adams used and it's what most Zone System gurus most often write about.
Furthermore, this kind of thing can be seen as being in the nature of a realignment. Two related facts: Kodak long ago discontinued black-and-white paper, a category in which it had not led the market in many a moon; and, unless I'm wrong, I believe the T-MAX films were available in larger sizes only in 10-sheet boxes that made them significantly more expensive than the 25-sheet boxes its competitors sell.
Finally, I recall something Ian Brightman, the late CEO of Beseler, once said to my then-boss S. Tinsley Preston III: "In a down market, the last man standing makes out like a bandit." I heard it argued, during the Federal bailout of GM and Chrysler several years ago, that the biggest loser in the bailout was Ford, which at the time was more competitive and considerably healthier than the other two of the "Big Three" and didn't take Federal funds. Because if GM or Chrysler had been allowed to fail, it would have meant a bigger market share for Ford, which arguably deserved just such a reward.
Similarly—although admittedly on a far, far smaller scale—Harman Technology, which trades as Ilford in the B&W film and paper market, has enthusiastically staked out B&W products as its chosen market. Once a year, for instance, Harman accepts orders for odd-sized sheet films such as the hugely popular* 6.5x8.5 whole plate and 14x17 sizes. Clearly not a market in which Kodak cares to participate. And less competition for 5x7 and 8x10 film means more sales for Harman/Ilford, making them that much more healthy, not less so.
Film isn't dying; film is re-aligning, finding its new level in a post-digital world. As vinyl records did, it might go from a 95% market share** to a 4% market share, eventually; but propsperous trade for at least one company (and continued availability for aficionados) is still possible for a medium that has a single-digit percentage of a large market.
(Thanks to Oren Grad and Sal Santamaura)
*I kid. These are niches within niches within niches.
**I believe vinyl records had something like this much of a monopoly in the 1960s, when the only competition from tape came from reel-to-reel tapes. Film's market share must have been closer to 100% at some point, before the advent of Polaroid. I haven't looked up or substantiated any of these actual numbers I'm throwing around, however, so don't quote me.
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Sal: "A couple of clarifications, Mike. First, sheets of Tri-X are officially known as 320TXP. The TXT designation went away last time Kodak reformulated that film (some years ago). 5x7 TMAX 400 was previously discontinued as a stock item. This new action teminates 5x7 TMAX 100, as well as 8x10 TMAX 100 and TMAX 400. In recent years, the 8x10 films were packaged in 10-sheet boxes. 5x7 TMAX 100, however, has continued to be sold in 50-sheet boxes. The remaining 320TXP products will be 10-sheet boxes of 8x10 and 50-sheet boxes of 5x7. Since Ilford has been so responsive, I'll probably be purchasing HP5 Plus for all my needs, but also look forward to the introduction of ADOX PAN 400 (née Agfa APX400) at some point next year."