Kodak has a long history as a leader in the film market and then caused its demise. I would argue that this graph tells us that Kodak is back on the path to self-destruct and (some) other film makers are following suit.
Film photography has been almost exclusively a luxury hobby in recent years. Did Kodak let the premium get out of hand? Yes. What about Fuji? Absolutely. What about the smaller manufacturers? Depends on. In this article, I’m referring to film awards over a period that doesn’t even span three years (April 2019 to January 2022). Since I couldn’t get official data from B&H on movie prices and the days when prices changed (they didn’t have it to give), I went to the Wayback Machine and looked up a bunch of different movie stocks. All of them are 36 exposure 35mm film, as B&H Portra 400 no longer sells in individual rolls I have priced each roll at one fifth the price of a pro pack. For some movie stocks, especially more obscure movies, there wasn’t enough information there to include them in my list, although I wanted to. I also didn’t include an Ilford film because while their prices have increased over the past five years, the jump hasn’t been that big and there wasn’t much data to pull from between 2017 and 2022.
where we are now
The last time I seriously drove out to buy film (seriously I drove across town to every place that sells it to look for the color negative film) I was confronted with two facts that hit me hard. The film’s prices had skyrocketed and there was very little to buy. I spent so much time shooting the film I bought before the COVID-19 hit that I had no real reason to pay attention to the price or the availability of new stock. In the COVID-19 world we now live in, things have gotten even crazier. Of course, that’s not to say that before COVID-19 it was all sunshine and rainbows; the writing was on the wall long before COVID-19. The shortage of supply and labor over the past two years has only accelerated the course the film world has already taken.
Film awards 2019 compared to film awards 2022
The film’s prices have risen unusually sharply, far more than any other new product market I’m aware of. Even the car market, which is currently attracting a lot of attention because it is affected by COVID-19, has not seen such a drastic price increase for new cars. I’ll provide some specific comparisons to the automotive industry in a moment.
As you’ll see in the chart above, since April 2019 (less than three years ago) the film’s prices have skyrocketed so much that it’s hard to even remember a time when the film’s prices were not astronomical. Take Kodak Ektachrome, for example, a wonderful slide film that is now the only color positive film Kodak makes. This film is currently priced at $20. Mind you, Ektachrome has always been premium footage with a premium price tag. However, when you consider that this film was only $13 less than it was three years ago, it can hurt a little. That’s a price increase of 53.8%! What hurts even more is the fact that it’s the film that had the smallest price increase of the amount I was considering. Yes, you read that correctly. Of the seven movie stocks I considered, the 53.8% price increase was the smallest! If you’re wondering how much worse the others were, you’re in for a real treat.
Arguably the most popular film stock available today, the Kodak Portra 400 (read my review of it here) saw a (relatively) modest price increase of 64.1% ($7.80 vs. $12.80). I was expecting Portra to lead the pack when it comes to pumping up the price, but here we are. The next biggest increase in Kodak’s films comes from Kodak TMax 400, my favorite black and white film (and the only black and white film I looked up based on data availability and interest), which has more than doubled in price in less than three years. A 35mm, 36-shot reel was $5 in April 2019 and is now $11, a price increase of 120%. The next and last two Kodak films are the hardest pills to swallow for me as they were my two most frequently shot color negative films: Kodak Ektar and Kodak Gold. Kodak Ektar has fantastic color, amazing exposure latitude, and was (past tense emphasizing) an affordable film. At the beginning of 2019, a 35mm roll was only $6.75, which wasn’t much considering the size of the stock. As of January 2022, it now costs $16 — a whopping 137% price increase. You can’t see me now, but I’m shaking my head as I type this. This brings us to our last Kodak film I shot, Kodak Gold. What’s not to love about gold? It is the only non-professional film on this list of Kodak films and as such was only available in 35mm. For years, for me and many of my friends, Gold was the film of choice because while it didn’t have the same level of performance as Ektar or Portra, the colors were great and it was frankly a real bargain comparatively speaking. Today, however, you’ll be spending almost 2.5 times what you were spending less than three years ago at $11 versus $4.50, a price increase of 144.4%.
That’s not to say Kodak is the only manufacturer taking the same steps. In fact, Fujifilm did the same. Fujichrome Provia, my personal favorite color positive film, increased its cost by 66.7% from $12 to $20. And Fujifilm’s budget film meant to compete with Kodak Gold, the Fujicolor Superia X-TRA 400, has also more than doubled its price. They were available for $3.33 per roll in April 2019 while they are now priced at $7.33.
I’m already seeing the comments: “COVID-19 is affecting the prices of everything” or something like that. So let’s compare the price hikes to another industry that we know has been badly hit since the pandemic began: the automotive industry. Since film has always been a kind of luxury purchase, we will compare it to luxury cars: the BMW 3 Series, Audi A3 and Mercedes Benz CLA Class. To start us, the base model price of a BMW 3 Series increased a whopping 2.9% ($41,245 vs. $42,445). More than double the proportional increase on the BMW, we have the Audi A3, which increased its base model price by 6.1% ($32,925 vs. $34,945). The Benz took a dramatic turn compared to the other two, going from $34,095 to $39,250, a 15.1% price increase for a base CLA-Class model. Of course it’s the new car market and the used car market is crazy, but it can’t be compared to the price hikes of movies and it’s an unfair comparison anyway. A fairer comparison to the used car market would be Fuji Pro 400-H after Fuji announced it was discontinuing it. The secondary market drove prices to dizzying heights.
Did you know that Kodak invented the digital camera? Well, if you didn’t know before, now you know. Do you know what they’ve done with their technology and their patents? Not a single thing, at least not if it made a difference. They stuck their heads in the sand while simultaneously doubling down on film, only to eventually go bankrupt because digital cameras are one thing. Whatever justification anyone might want to give for Kodak and film production in general, I see little to no reason for prices to go up so drastically, other than simply “because they can,” which seems very short-sighted. Once upon a time, long before COVID-19 hit, Kodak said they would raise their prices to invest in R&D and more machinery to increase their production. It was all about the price hikes back then, but in recent years, when I’ve been hoping for greater availability of their films and more film supplies, neither really seemed to pay off, and Kodak and Fuji’s prices have just gotten out of control. You seem hell-bent on discouraging people from buying movies. Thank goodness pixl-latr offers an affordable way to digitize film (assuming you already own a digital camera), and The Darkroom Lab has kept their prices pretty much the same over the past few years, arguably making your film processing and digitizing cheaper than it was before
I love film and will continue to use it for almost all of my most personal and meaningful photos. My sincerest wish is that at some point Kodak or Fuji will back down from their price hikes and that Kodak or Fuji, Pentax, Nikon or anyone else will make reasonably affordable and high quality 35mm and medium format cameras, because let’s face it, no matter how much film is shot, the aging and shrinking inventory of working cameras is the limiting factor to continue filming.