What’s going on with photographic film in this day and age, given that the vinyl comeback is now more accurately described as a victorious return? The record store that recently opened in my hometown is a throwback to simpler times, and its operator claims that business has been booming ever since it opened its doors.
In point of fact, he operates not one but two retail locations: one for selling the used goods that he purchases, and the other for selling brand-new items, reissues, and extremely rare CDs. Turntables, a fine line of Italian-made valve amplifiers (yep, valves are back too), and custom loudspeakers are some of the other products that he sells in this store.
There is almost ever more than a week that goes by without a customer coming into his business to purchase a few albums and a system that costs $10,000 to play them on. There is now furniture that is designed specifically for the purpose of keeping records and displaying your own hi-fi system.
It’s almost as though vinyl never went out of style… except that everything is now considerably more costly than it was before. Put those 20-cent finds from the thrift store or garage sale out of your mind… AU$20 is today considered to be a bargain for anything that is in a state that is at least passable, and it is really more likely to be priced closer to AU$50; yet, they are still selling like hotcakes, as are remastered reissues that cost twice as much or more.
How did it happen? I don’t recall seeing any advertisements or marketing, but these days, vinyl record sales are far higher than downloads in quite a few countries.
There are a few key areas, and the turntable industry is doing just as well, if not better than it was in 1972. The audiophiles, as far as I can tell, steadfastly stuck with analog and raged against the ills of digital compression until everyone else started listening to them… and, more crucially, to the quality of the musical reproduction. This continued until everyone else started listening to them. Now that it’s popular, it goes without saying that everyone is interested in it.
The film industry is still a long way from reaching this position, but there is little question that momentum is picking up speed. There are currently a large number of ’boutique film’ brands available for black and white photography, both Kodak and Ilford are fairly active in the production of new film products, at least a couple of books on film photography have been published in recent years, and there is an abundance of ‘plastic fantastic’ cameras. But, what exactly is it that’s lacking?
I argue that the return of numerous popular companies to the production of turntables—including Sony, Yamaha, Denon, Marantz, and Technics—was what verified the legitimacy of vinyl’s resurrection as a viable format for music distribution and consumption (aka Panasonic).
Of course, there have always been smaller specialist brands like Rega, but the presence of the industry’s major players is what inspires confidence in consumers and investors.
At the very least, one of the big camera manufacturers needs to come through with a new 35mm camera that is not a toy and does not cost as much as the re-released Leica M6 (as desirable as it is).
However, I do believe that the rangefinder design is probably the greatest alternative because it is less expensive to construct than a reflex, and it is a totally manual design, with the exception of an integrated exposure metering system, which I consider to be an absolute need.
Even while there are a number of choices for shooting 35mm film that has been used before, those solutions really don’t cut it, especially for photographers whose only experience has been with digital photography, which is a lot of you.
Since dependability and results are now vital, purchasing a new camera that comes with a guarantee, can be serviced, and has replacement parts available is necessary. In addition, neither film nor the processing of it is inexpensive anymore, which is another reason why many people who are interested in experimenting are not prepared to take chances with older cameras, even if they are regarded to be masterpieces.
How challenging is it to carry out? My suggestion would be to get the Bessa R tooling from Cosina and then construct a new R2M or R3M; the only distinction between the two is the viewfinder. These cameras have a straightforward yet dependable mechanical design that is at once modern and traditional. Because of the Leica M mount, not only is there still a respectable selection of news lenses available but also purchasing used lenses isn’t as fraught with possible difficulties.
Then, in order to maintain interest and sales, I would begin producing a large number of limited editions, much as Leica does, but obviously at a price that is far more reasonable. Because this is mostly about people getting their heads around utilizing a whole new medium, I genuinely believe that taking a basic approach, but not one that is too basic, is the ideal way, and certainly nothing that is too gimmicky. In light of this, I think it’s important that the experience is as “pure” as it can possibly be.
A new and credible 35mm camera from a recognized brand is going to be the catalyst for any real progress in the revival of film photography beyond the dedicated enthusiasts. This is the case regardless of how it actually happens.