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Monday, 16 May 2016

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Bad film certainly brings back a memory about a bad batch of Kodak film.

Back when Kodak was the "Great Yellow Father", this would be about 20-30 years ago, Kodak had a reputation for never admitting to mistakes in film manufacture. When a friend of mine and I noticed a serious problem with a batch of special order film we had we got a very different and very good response from Kodak. We noticed that the most recent batch of film we had gotten seemed to have irregular light-strike artifacts, some very serious.

The film in question was Vericolor (a really awful film I must say) and an unusual and therefore special order size, 10"x6' Cirkut. The minimum order was something like 100 rolls at something over $40 per, so in today's money over $10,000 per order.

The film had been light-struck at the ends and edges in a somewhat irregular and inconsistent way. After phone calls from both of us (and maybe we sent samples of prints and film ends) the Kodak Rep immediately admitted that Kodak was at fault and said they would replace the film. However that would take some time as they had none in stock (special order time schedule)

He suggested we find a supply of film to tide us over until the replacement film could be produced. Of course there was no film available for sale.

So for the next 6 weeks we photographed our jobs not knowing if the flashed film would ruin out work. We did shoot two shots of each image and try not to get the image area near the ends of the rolls of film (a 10'x6' roll gives just one exposure, but since the image is less than 5' long the trick was to center it on the roll) And hope for the best.

All this said, it might be helpful for John Sexton or someone to explain where on the roll this problem happens. But maybe if there is plenty of non affected film available (you guys can feel lucky about that) the simpler answer is to just not use these batches.

Back to the special order problem. It became evident as we used the film exactly what had happened. Some bright new film loader had decided that he could load these roll faster by cutting all the 6' lengths of film and only then start rolling them. He let them stack up on a table, or similar, forgetting that under the very dim safelight the film could only sit safely for a couple minutes. Had he kept the stack squared up that would have been alright, but it was messy stack with sides and ends sticking out. Those parts of the film became light-struck by the safelight.

But as much as the problem bedeviled us, our customers never noticed or at least never mentioned it. There are prints out there with shadows and black areas that were green instead of black, but I guess that's a subtle enough error.

Numbers printing through isn't subtle enough.

Today there is a lot of film based equipment of all sizes and formats from 35mm to large format equipment that is for sale with no buyers in sight.

I placed several 35mm SLR cameras with lenses on consignment with a dealer and picked them back up six months later when they had not been sold. They were Nikon, Pentax and Olympus models all priced between $60 and $100.

I usually go to the Photography Shows in town and each year the buyers and sellers are getting older and the overall show attendance is steadily declining. Regrettably there are very few young people today that have an interest in film photography.

Most large format cameras and lenses are built for a lifetime of use and so once you have one you are set for life. I too am set for life with my Sinar Norma and Speed Graphic. It is no surprise that there is no market for new equipment of this sort and even the used market has lots of equipment that remains unsold.

Kodak, Deardorff, Graflex and many others have ceased to make large format equipment but it is a buyer's market for this equipment in the used marketplace.

...sad end to a nicely made camera...always was out of my price range, but that's just one less player...difficult to speculate if Chinese cameras are taking over, or we are all just running out of money?

I admonish my young staff all the time by telling them to calculate the cost of things against their income, instead of against what it cost in the past. It hits home for them then. A bottom of the line Toyota was one-sixth of my gross in 1977, now it would be about half. That's happened to everything, and that's going to impact luxury goods targeted at a shrinking market. Photographers have gone from an average of 38K a year in 2014, to 28K today; and every time I get a raise at work, the criminal landlords raise my lease about 2 months later, and I take home less after rent than I was the previous year (happened 2 years in a row now). None of that helps me buy cameras...

Not to mention that when it comes to film, there are probably enough Hasselblads, Leicas, and view cameras for everyone that wants one in the future (My Deardorff needs new bellows, tho). I don't think anyone is going to get wealthy repairing film cameras, but I know some people that are good at it and making a tidy sum with little stress, and will be able to accomplish that for years to come.

I'm dying to know what caused the film problems. Since 120 is not packed 'open' but in foil bags, it'd be hard to think it was light coming through the backing. More like extended bombardment by some kind of radiation!

People are losing their "film lore". I cringe every time I find a processor and he puts my open rolls of 120 down on a light table while he's counting them. I always have to say: "...hey genius, that film does fog through the edges between the paper and the reel, ya, know...". They look at me like I'm speaking a foreign language...

Sad but lets be totally honest. Even living box camera greats are dabbling or outright changing over to digital. Clyde Butcher immediately comes to mind. He now has a "Digital" among the pulldown selection options of his web page... and they're extraordinary of course. shrug..

Yeah, there's a huge stock of great film cameras out there, more than there is demand for by a few orders of magnitude, so I'm not surprised the manufacturers of new equipment of that type are dropping like flies.

I just got back a roll of photos with numbers on them too. I shot them on a Bronica that I haven't had issues with, and was going to blame the camera!

Now I'll check the rest of my stock. Thanks for the heads up!

These cameras have always been waaaay too expensive. Even when film was widely used their pricing was exaggerated.
No wonder they would be adversely hit with competition from el-cheapo China stuff or ex-CCCP gear.

But the whole film thing is completely distorted of late.
Pardon my simple, non-marketing-genius mind but isn't it a BASIC marketing principle that price is directly proportional to demand?
Then, may I ask WHY has all film material (roll, 35mm, LF) increased in price tremendously in the last 3 years?
There MUST be a HUGE demand for it!
Or else someone is out to bleed film users dry while they still can, as usual!...
No, manufacturing costs are MOST DEFINITELY not relevant here: the gear that makes film has been in place for eons and has been amortized AGES ago and costs next to nothing to operate!
Until some sort of rationality is returned to the film market, it's very hard to believe any statements related to "marketing".

Personally, I'm not using film as much as I used to, mostly because of the greatly increased prices. But it's still a very large component of my photography.

And no, I am NOT a "pro" - whatever that means - and I wouldn't ever have the slightest intention of becoming one. Hence why I don't "recycle" myself with digital gear every 14 months and why I don't care one iota what "pros" are using!

There is indeed a stock of extremely well built classic film cameras to satisfy demand from this user for the rest of time.

I know this because they are in my cabinet, since I failed to sell them in a timely manner—the digital revolution happened too darn fast.

Noons,

...virtually all photography technology is priced based on volume. It's not the cost of the amortized equipment, it's having 20 chemists around to make sure the emulsion mix is correct, having the mechanics around to make sure the machines are in good repair, and packaging equipment to package it, and people around to test the batches, etc., etc., all against maybe 10,000. rolls of 120 per year vs. 1,000,000. rolls of 120 per year in the past.

Every single professional transparency film lab closed in my town in the early 2000's, not because they weren't getting work from pros, artists, and advanced amateurs, but because the volume of that work wasn't enough to pay to keep the places open! When the two catalog houses went digital, it took 90% of the film processing out of the market!

Regardless of demand vs. supply, there ARE fixed costs associated with production that minimally have to be divided between rolls and sheets, regardless of whether you're making 100 of something or a 1,000,000. You can see where falling film production would raise prices..

Robert Hudyma said: "I usually go to the Photography Shows in town and each year the buyers and sellers are getting older and the overall show attendance is steadily declining. Regrettably there are very few young people today that have an interest in film photography."

I don't want to labor this point, it goes round and round, but as someone who uses both film and digital, I find I'm the oldest guy in the room when I'm with the film crowd, and the youngest guy when I'm with the digital crowd.

Having said that, none of the young film-users I've met have the money or even interest to buy new, large format cameras. So the disappearance of companies like Ebony doesn't really tell us anything about the health of film as a (niche) photographic medium.

"Then, may I ask WHY has all film material (roll, 35mm, LF) increased in price tremendously in the last 3 years?
There MUST be a HUGE demand for it!"

Not being much of a film consumer I don't know the accuracy of your claim. But lack of demand will also spike prices, particularly in a shrinking niche market such as chemical photography.

It is interesting reading these comments from Asia, where you can't swing a cat without bumping into someone (usually young looking, or at least looking younger than me!) shooting film. And then there is instant -- from memory Instax is the most profitable segment in Fujifilm's Imaging Solutions business.

One of the reasons behind the rise in film prices is the fixed costs of manufacturing: the electric bill for the factory, the testing of chemical stock with limited lifespans, the calibration of whatever measurement system controls the emulsion thickness. As sales numbers decline, these fixed costs must be borne by fewer and fewer customers.

So happy to find out about numbers on Kodak. I had that problem and was baffled. Was going to blame the lab and decided to bite my tongue. Glad I did.

Any opinions as to Kodak vs. Ilford on quality control?

As for film costs, anybody know if it's related to the costs of the chemicals involved or tooling up for shorter production runs?

There is extensive discussion of the Kodak 120 backing paper problem at APUG:

http://www.apug.org/forum/index.php?threads/backing-paper-numbers-show-on-negatives.127971/

http://www.apug.org/forum/index.php?threads/tmax400-120-watermark-defect-current-status.135814/

http://www.apug.org/forum/index.php?threads/kodak-120-film-backing-paper-problems-emulsions-affected.137251/

Noons,

In the luxury good market, higher prices increase the value of the brand and can increase sales in the long term. The Ebony is like a fine watch - it is both a luxury good, and a beautiful, functional tool. I love using mine, but I realize it has been a year since I shot a sheet of film. Digital is now so good that I cannot pretend that I get better technical images from 4x5 for what I like to do - I shoot architecture, so I can do multiple exposures for both dynamic range and resolution. No amount of Zone magic can deal with difficult problems like the sun through stained glass in a dark church the way that you can with three bracketed exposures in digital.

So LF becomes a niche art world that you do for the process and discipline, not for the money as a working photog or even just to get the "best" images as an amateur. With so much wonderful equipment in the used market, I am just happy Ebony lasted as long as it did. (Might be time to buy a spare bellows.)

Noons, I think you're making the classic microeconomics student's error of confusing the demand with the quantity demanded. Quantity demand in simple terms is the intersection of price and qty purchased on the demand line. Demand is where the line is on the chart.

I'm fairly confident in guessing that the total demand today at any price for film would be less than 1% of volume at film's sales peak.

Patrick

I think that it's worth being a little wary of the term 'knock-off' with its rather derogatory implications about the bad driving out the good: quite often, in fact, the reverse is true.

When I started playing the guitar in the mid 1970s, Japanese guitars were beginning to make serious inroads into the market. It was fashionable to deride them as knock-offs of far superior American originals. They were certainly *copies* of American originals, but by the late 70s they were, in fact, often considerably superior to the contemporary instruments being produced in the US, which had really terrible quality-control problems. And, of course, everyone secretly knew this, although few would admit it while sober. Even today this is fairly true: I have three fairly expensive American guitars (I won't say how expensive, but two of them were made in Kalamazoo, and those are the cheaper two), and a Yamaha which was a third of the price of the cheapest of the three and is basically a Telecaster copy. I am very sentimentally attached to the American guitars and they are lovely instruments, especially to look at, but if I had to have only one guitar, it would not be one of them.

There are large numbers of goods where similar stories can be told: unfortunately many of the stories are obscured by nationalist/protectionist rhetoric, particularly relevant in the US just now of course.

I haven't used an Ebony other than to play briefly with one, but I own a Chamonix and use it extensively, and I would be rather surprised if I found the Ebony better made, because the Chamonix is superb. It may be a copy (which American/European field camera did Ebony start as copies of, I wonder?) but it's not a knock-off. And cameras are tools: originality in art is interesting, but I don't want it in my tools. Instead I want quality and function: if copies are as good or better than the originals then I'll use the copy, thanks.

(Note I am *not* suggesting that stealing IPR is OK: I assume Chamonix are above board in that respect.)

This is my new 4x5, should be coming in end of next week. I might need to sell my Chamonix F1 to help fund it.

http://richardmanphoto.com/PICS/gibellini.jpg

Just shot ~70 sheets of Portra 160 4x5 for one of my projects this weekend. Love it...

Just an update:
I went to my refrigerator and discovered that I had a five pack of the affected film. I emailed Kodak. Within 15 minutes they replied asking for my address. The NEXT DAY (this morning) UPS delivered a replacement five pack of film.

Exceptional customer service.

My two terms of college economics were 40 years ago, but the very basics of micro-economics haven't I think been revolutionized since then. The market will generally (eventually) settle at a price around where the supply and demand curves intersect.

It's cheaper to produce things in large volumes than small, and that effects the supply curve (price at various quantities).

So it's not as simple as "more demand equals higher prices". Moving the whole interaction significantly towards higher volumes can result in cheaper prices—and, relevant to the current situation with film, the converse as well, moving the whole interaction significantly towards lower volumes can result in higher prices (after a brief period of low prices to clear excess production).

(Also, when these rules don't seem to be working, something I learned much more recently in the financial industry: the market can stay "irrational" longer than you can stay solvent!)

"When I started playing the guitar in the mid 1970s, Japanese guitars were beginning to make serious inroads into the market. It was fashionable to deride them as knock-offs of far superior American originals. They were certainly *copies* of American originals, but by the late 70s they were, in fact, often considerably superior to the contemporary instruments being produced in the US, which had really terrible quality-control problems."

The closest Ebony knockoffs come from Shen-Hao. I've not handled one, but just looking at the HZX57-IIA images and specifications on line, materials and construction do seem inferior to my Ebony SV57 that served as the basis for it.

I have owned a Chamonix. While its wood finish and appearance were nice, my Phillips cameras (on which Chamonix's models are based) are far superior in terms of real functional usability.

In my opinion, the guitar analogy doesn't work for these camera knockoffs.

"...nationalist/protectionist rhetoric, particularly relevant in the US just now of course."

Perhaps for some, but I'm completely product driven. It matters not to me where a camera comes from.

"I haven't used an Ebony other than to play briefly with one, but I own a Chamonix and use it extensively, and I would be rather surprised if I found the Ebony better made, because the Chamonix is superb."

Having owned both Chamonix and Ebony cameras, I can unequivocally state that Chamonix isn't in the same league. For example, check the so-called levels on a Chamonix against the camera's actual orientation. It's not wise to rely on them. On an Ebony, they're dead accurate in all axes. Try pointing your Chamonix down with a heavy lens mounted. You'll be looking for a positive focus lock, and won't find one. No problem for an Ebony. At the most mundane level, Chamonix cameras don't even have handles to lift them with.

"Note I am *not* suggesting that stealing IPR is OK: I assume Chamonix are above board in that respect."

I recall Dick Phillips saying he didn't think it worthwhile to get involved in patent litigation and, therefore, never went that route. He told me last summer that, at a conference / trade show when Chamonix first introduced its cameras in the US, they presented him with one, which he still has. He echoed my critique concerning lack of a handle and focus lock. :-)

I was fortunate enough to handle a few of the Ebony camera models in a store in Tokyo sixteen years ago, when the company and the LF hobby were at their peak.

The craftsmanship and finish was to die for, simply as manufactured objects. My only regret is not to have bought a 5x7 model in those years.

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