Jump to content

Investment in film equipment worth it?

Jonathan Bel

Recommended Posts

I know many of us have had discussions about this, more specifically on the future state of film and it's manufacturing. I want to start a conversation about film usage, not a film v.s digital broohaha. My wish isn't to stir up film buffs because I am a strict film user myself. I just want to have a healthy discussion about it.


When I heard roger deakins recently say that he doesn't expect or see a reason to ever use film again after his experiance with the alexa, and the fact that studios want all theatre chains to convert to digital projectors, I started asking myself how far off it would be before the whole film process would become regarded as a "unnecessary costly expenditure" and consequently become a "no option" for bigwig filmmakers. Some say not for another decade, some say a century, but it's not possible for anyone to know the timing or it even ever happening. There are many factors to all of this.


My question is to anyone out there. How bad would it need to be for kodak and fuji to bring film manufacturing to a halt? I don't know how massive or how complex the making of the stuff is for them and how their revenues look at the moment. Could they ever operate a smaller production if the numbers dropped drastically or would they have to stop completely? would the prices go through the roof or come down?


And this is for anyone in hollywood. How digital has lala land become at this point? I know almost all features are still shooting 35mm all over the globe, but more and more, dropping the celluloid for the new gyzmos to save money and avoid the "film process inconveniences". Not that that has improved the quality of films in any way.


So to go back to the topic title, would it be unwise to invest in a very expensive film camera package at this point in time or in a few years? Nothing seems to indicate there is, film is still the only real reliable "perfected technology" for cinema.



any comments?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Premium Member

Nobody can possibly know the timing. All I'll say is that the switch is happening fast, as many of us expected it to, with little or no warning. We can probably expect the end to happen just as suddenly.


I suspect ten to fifteen years but it's really just a wild guess. Expect things to become rarer - less stocks available, etc - in that time.


It is a source of frustration that Kodak could probably have chosen to reduce prices and didn't.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Premium Member

As has been pointed out quite a few times here and elsewhere, the money is in print stock, not camera negative.


Most of the release prints made are exported to developing countries, whose cinema chains are unlikely to be converting to digital projection anytime soon.


And if prints are still available, there's an enormous number of smaller cinemas in the wealthier countries whose owners are also going to be perfectly happy with those, and not particularly willing to spend money on new projectors.


And if you have the chemical infrastructure to mass-produce release prints, it's not much of an extra burden to have a negative processing chain as well.


So probably, film will die when digital cinema projectors get a lot cheaper to both buy and operate, and a lot more reliable. There's no particular reason to think that's going to happen anytime soon.


FM radio was invented in 1935; it was confidently predicted that by 1950 AM broadcasting would be a thing of the past.... etc etc

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Premium Member
Phil, I am puzzled by this statement...if there was little or no warning, how did many of you expect it?

Well, I personally expected that the tipping point would be rather abrupt, but I was never that sure when it was going to happen.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Premium Member

I was very recently told that Fuji has no intention of stopping film production in the foreseeable future. I heard something close to this, "We are a large company that makes a lot of different media products and motion picture film is a small part of that. We'll keep making it as time goes on; if nothing else it's a prestige thing and easy for us to keep doing.".


Investing in camera gear is a whole other topic. People who bought first gen. reds are now begging people to rent them out for $300/day or less and lots of indie guys (esp producers) hate that camera now when one or two years ago, it was the only camera in existence. They like DSLR's for the same gigs, more often than not, and now with the F3 and AF100... The current Alexa will be outdated in a year or two since it doesn't shoot 4K (as of 2011) and this game will just go on and on. A film camera won't need updates but will anyone pay to process in 5 years? It will be more rare for sure. Investing in a film camera, or any camera, makes little sense to me as an individual these days. Unless you are one of those fairly rare map-hopping "shooters" that has great connections for constant video/film gigs, you will lose money on any pro camera investment I would bet.


And this is why rental houses stay alive. They will update for you as well as keep older cameras around.


If you think buying a film camera and then trying to find some work with it is a good idea, I think you'll be in for a huge disappointment.


Now if only someone would build a poor man's Spirit machine for $10K. Kodak should do this, actually.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Premium Member

Consider how film is made. They start with a really big roll of plastic, 54 inches wide by I don't know how many thousands of feet long. They mix up and coat dozens of layers of emulsion on it, then slit and perforate. The result is a batch of 52xx and 72xx negative.


As demand dwindles, the question is, how many of these batches do they have to make per year to make it worth keeping the staff employed and the plant up and running? There are some products, Infra Red, B&W, that they only do as special orders. Perhaps we'll see more of the camera stocks go to special order only. Then there'll be a tipping point when they pull the plug on the coating plant.


Labs, of course, will fold and merge. But there are a lot more of them than coating plants. Lab capacity will ramp down following coating volume.





-- J.S.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It's like 5000 or 6000 feet long.


And they don't make Iinfrared anymore John. Those products were getting down to one master roll per year (forget the math, something like 1/4 or 1/2 a million linear feet of 35mm equivalent)



Problem is, that was to make one PRODUCT. When they loose 6 billion feet of ECP, they loose TWO THIRDS of the work. Already, they have (perhaps anticipating this) a wonderfully automated facility. There are basically a dozen people sitting in a room in Rochester who are responsible for one half of the world's color photographic film . A well-placed Tornado or other similar act of God could take it all out.



Anyway, they have robots basically doing everything, the human beings just do the thinking, inspecting, interpretation.



But, again, 2/3 of the volume means (simplistically) 2/3 of the money. Granted Kodak makes a hell of a lot more per linear foot of 35mm camera neg, or even more for still film in terms of markup, but the company is hungry for money to sell ink jet to people thanks to the HP idiocy they've inherited, err, um hired.




Anyway, I don't know the situation with the coating plant as to how far upside-down it is, anything like that, but at least they've basically eliminated the component of human labor costs (never thought I'd hear myself saying that)


It's utility bills, upkeep on the robots, equipment, and cost of raw materials coming in. To Kodak's credit, and I don't often credit their decision-making, they have gotten the process as efficient as humanly (inhumanly?) possible.




But, God, I never thought I'd see them down to 5 ECN stocks in 2011. Talked to someone the other day, worked for Kodak until December of 2010. They've got a billion cash left, $1.5 billion in liabilities. They are selling their PATENT portfolio. STock is at $2.20 (before this massive selloff, may be below $2 now). They could be bankrupt before the end of the year. They are HEMORRHAGING money right now. Film's about the only thing that IS making htem money right now, but their upper eschelon don't even know what the hell it is/want it to die. They wanted AgX photographic paper dead, laid off their staff, no new R&D. It's declined but one of their biggest profit makers this year.



I'm worried it is going down with a sinking ship, idiots at the helm. They haven't been able to make a single, God-damned thing make money for them outside of AgX in the 21st century, sold everything else offf that did, are selling their patents that make them money. What's left that's good to buy when film profits bottom out and the company is underwater, and they pump all the money that film DOES make into endless other dead-end digital avenues?

Link to comment
Share on other sites


Just going to throw out thoughts here. This has been front of my mind (I've been re-watching Lawrence of Arabia, and drooling over Freddie Young's immaculate 65mm images).


Yesterday, found Kodak has a youtube channel called

. It's 9 chapters, shot as little testimonials.


There were some great points made, such as...


We really don’t have a quality way to archive digital imagery. The best way to archive digital imagery is on film. -- Bill Dill


So, there's that.


And film doesn't require one of a dozen changing codecs to read it! You just hold it up to the light!


Have you noticed that when they bring out a new digital camera, they introduce another codec!?


I'm yet to put my own films out there, so i can't speak from having shot on anything more than 8mm way back when when I was a teenager. The upcoming shorts are more than likely going to be shot digital, only because that's what the immediate resources allow. As an independent filmmaker that's no surprise, I guess.


But i so want to shoot my stuff on film, and screen it in a theater!


You ask if equipment cost is justified. Is my wish a futile and foolish one?


I guess it comes down to How many of us are there?


For me, i can see my near future: at least (with a sufficient budget) originating on film.


--Dave Olden

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Premium Member

STock is at $2.20 (before this massive selloff, may be below $2 now). They could be bankrupt before the end of the year.


Shares of EK are $1.77 as of today after an almost 10% drop in one day. The only thing that has kept their shares even this high for the last year is lawsuits they have filed against other corps. That's pretty sad when you need to sue someone to get your equities up. Then again, Apple, which is the world's most stable blue chip is still tanking like the titanic due to investor panic, the European debt crisis, and the United States credit downgrade. If Apple is slipping, what hope does EK have?


Thankfully for the die-hard film shooters is that silver hasn't moved upward as much as gold because if it had, film would just have a commodity price that makes it absurd to even produce at all.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It's mind blowing Kodak could be near a penny stock. Think about how the mighty have fallen. The writing is on the walls. Should they fail, just imagine what that will do to filmmakers and filmmaking around the world. Obviously Fuji would benefit, but it would be the final push into digital.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Cameras in general (I only ever bought one camera new) depreciate like crazy, even the latest and greatest film cameras before all this digital garbage with the 3 year life cycle built in.


They're a stupid investment in all but the most specialized situations. Rent them and you will save money 99 times out of 100.





I forgot to mention: Kodak is NOT doing well in the suits; they're expected to be thrown out.


I heard this at the ACVL conference and I agree: At this stage in the game, any bad rap that anyone in the film industry gives film hurts EVERYONE. Any lab screwup, supplier screwup, price increase, quality decrease, disruption in supply chain, delay in product makes EVERYONE LOOK BAD.


So Kodak dying will destroy confidence in Fuji as well, and just give them a faster way to race to the bottom, compromise their own product. I think three film companies would be far preferable to just two. They can both get away with an awful lot now. Compromise this, discontinue that, and the other company can follow suit!


Raise prices? The other company will follow suit.




Film is still quite profitable, one of Kodak's only money-makers. Their other poorly-implemented technologies, focus on affordable consumer inkjet printing (that is the only mainstream Kodak advertisement I've seen or heard outside of specialized movie film / lab marketing in the past seven years), is dragging film down with them.



Unfortunately, Kodak sold off all of their well diversified side industries in a gamble that simply has not paid off.


Professional digital cameras, sensors (still make these but very limited), tapes, consumables, medical imaging, digital servers, film scanners, have all fallen by the wayside. They are milking their cash cow, film, and making half-hearted attempts to compete with other companies who are years ahead of them in very competitive, low profit margin markets.


They are using the profits they make off of film in a manner that is akin to robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Premium Member

I think another thing that is killing film are certain colleges that have "film" programs. I did an audio gig a couple days ago for a student film where I talked to the director and he said his professor talks about film like its already dead. He mentions to his students that it is the old way and the reason it died is because of its grain structure compared to clean images from digital. He also cited a slower and costlier workflow as other reasons. Goes to show that they will let any amateur teach at colleges these days.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There's no arguing the slower, costlier workflow.



That's why 16mm isn't used for *newsgathering* anymore though. Kind of hard to say overnight dailies that have been an industry standard for 60 years are "too slow."



Grain structure, pfft!


I like how no one complains about the way that digital is made "clean" by sharpening edges and softening everything else. One could just as easily write a program that did the same "cleaning" to film on a scanner head.



If anything, resolution requirements are in freefall. Everything but television has gone backwards in the past decade.


The only thing manufacturers are "improving" is their bottom lines.




I still can't wrap my head around how, at $12+ per movie ticket, exhibitors can't spare $1500 for a print. Where is the equivalent of widescreen, color, cinerama, 70mm now that 3D is dying a natural death? If anything ticket prices have gotten far worse, far exceeded inflation. What possible reason is there to go to a movie you can own for less with shrinking windows? Haven't I heard some 3 mo. windows between theatrical release and Bluray? The bluray, for all practical intents and purposes will look better than the film print, will probably look better than the 2K with focus, dirty glass issues, operator-less booths.


Where's the value in the theatrical experience?




There's a practical reason not to offer film though when the nearest lab is 500 mi. (800 km) away. It simply isn't practical to offer film programs with access to 16mm processing being so limited outside of the big cities. There is a valid point to not offering film when the infrastructure isn't entirely there to support it. . .

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Premium Member

You're right about that Karl. But at this point, isnt it a chicken and the egg thing? I mean, labs cant make it unless people are using their services and students wont film without lab being near by. So how would anyone break the pattern? At this point, I dont think students would shoot film even if a lab was next door. They have already drank the digital kool-aid. Running around with DSLRs claiming to be filmmakers.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yeah, but I could have an IMAX camera and not be a filmmaker either.



It's never been about the equipment.


I think we're getting way off topic.




Cameras as an investment? Never been a good idea, not with hand cranked 35mm, not with Mitchells, not with 16mm news cameras, not with S8 not with digital. Too much depreciation, too many moving parts, too much that can go wrong.


Even the RENTAL HOUSES are having trouble with it now the lifecycle is 3 years. . .


I'm worried filmmakers will get into a situation where there ARE NO RENTAL HOUSES in the not-so-distant future. Maybe the studios will go back to having their own camera departments.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There are a lot of good points here, on both sides of the issue.

But for us "old timers" here, a lot of this sounds old & stale (having heard of the imminent demise of film literally our entire lives), and yet film is still here.


I heard all of this stuff when Blair Witch Project came out (it doesn't matter what you shoot on anymore, it's all about the story!!!), and that wasn't even digital - it was Hi8 analog tape!

And yet here we are, a multitude of 'film-killing' formats later, with everything still NOT standing up to film in quality.


There are pro's & cons to shooting any particular format, but EVERY electronic imaging format has major problems that film does not.

And pretty much nobody 10 years ago thought film would still be going strong, yet it is.


One thing I've noticed, is that every format that comes out seems to be considered 'dated' or 'no longer hot' in about 2-3 years time... except film.

I think most of this is driven by the marketing cycles of the manufacturers, and not in any way based on what's best, etc.

We're all responding to the same marketing propaganda that is used to get us to buy new cars every few years - the new ones are going to change our lives, then in a couple years, those same companies are telling us how stale and outdated the last product is, and we MUST buy the newer model to be cool.


Matt Pacini

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Film is NOT going strong anymore. It has lost almost FIFTY PERCENT of its print stock customers, mostly over the course of this past year!



Look at still photography. The quality of digital *still* not being up to the medium format film that used to dominate there did nothing to stop an almost complete conversion to the former. A lot of "labs" don't even offer film processing anymore, and now the digital juggernauts have their sites set on ridding the world of pesky "chemical" photographic paper, even though it is cheaper, and of an overall higher quality! Again, emphasis on "chemical" "analog" paper. Good thing all these heavy metals and pigments used for inkjet, computers are good for the environment, and they are so energy friendly! BTW, the professional standard of 300DPI bottlenecks the resolution of an 8x10" print to 7.2MP, very effectively less than what you could do with chemical, celluloid, analog film. Much the same abortion of image quality is happening with bold new two THOUSAND line digital projection. Practically every bea up 35mm print could offer you better except S35 blowups ten years ago.


We are entering into a bold new era where everything has to be on your smartphone. No more pesky dedicated devices, solid glass optics, heavy (more than 1 lb.) cameras, thank God!



There is a massive, concerted effort to steal every last cent of the photographic industry's profits. God forbid anyone do anything without a goddamn chip planted somewhere in the process.


A lot of the "improvements" I hear touted for why "I'll never shoot film again," are laughable, too. Almost every single one is a paraphrased sales pitch or marketing slogan. People love to spend all of their money on "new" and "easy" and "better" for some reason, not for a second stopping to look at the big picture, or the bottom line! Why actually compare the product you are about to buy to what you've been using, either? Why not just buy into the "common knowledge" that everything digital is great, new, fun, happy, a beautiful sunset on the beach with your drink in your hand and the low tide coming in, and everything analog is sh__.


Not that film companies don't have their moments of sales brilliance. Kodak loves to tout itself as the "King" of the industry the "best." Their films still have the same horrible color fading problems, half the stability of FujiFilm, but Kodak is "premium" more exensive, all the big boys use it, so it must be better. A lot of ways this is like Coca Cola. The funny thing is. . . BOTH of them will often undercut the competition (FujiFilm Pepsi) with the big boys, undercut on price to the people that don't need it. They then turn around and use this "proof" that they are the best, and charge a premium to the little guy.


Kodak then turns around and basically burns their AgX profits on the front lawn. At least Fuji seems to be in a position to survive. I hope the big K gets its act together or gets the F out and lets the dozen brave souls who are basically responsible for almost ALL of their yearly profits, go down with a fighting chance and some dignity. The way they are milked like a cash cow until the teats are sore and worn out is despicable. They're slashing and burning all the stock selections of their only segment that's in the black!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I invested in a digital cinema camera in 2006. It will never come close to making it's money back in rentals. It has had value as a marketing tool and I've gotten enough projects to more than pay for the investment through salary. I'm now shooting a project that is a direct result of the relationships I made owning the camera. So, it might not be a crazy idea if you can afford it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Diversifying your portfolio, sure Bruce, I can see that. Businesses almost all have to have loss leaders. And if you're renting equipment it's definitely a wise idea to offer both sorts of equipment in the big markets (film - either 16 or 35 or both depending on where you are - digital - RED HDSLR Pany)


Shooting your own independent films with ANY equipment (film, digital, analog) it just ain't gonna happen.



If you have more than 100 days of shooting independently every year or so, then owning is worth it. How many cinematographers, cameramen actually do that though? They DREAM of doing it. Owning the equipment is not the impediment that prevents their getting there.


I'd sooner own LIGHTS than cameras. You'll need them on every shoot unless you are going with "12,800" on your DSLR ;-)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...