With a combination of almost 10,000 participants from 100+ countries in both 2017 and 2020, the #SaveAnalogCameras surveys unveiled how the film photography market has changed and evolved from the perspective of its community. In addition to other market research, A hopeful Future for Analog aims to present a comprehensive overview of the global and local state of film photography as well as their future outlook. This is published in 3 parts, discussing five areas:
The film community at large and its optimism towards the future (1/3)
The accessibility & availability of repairing services (3/3)
The state of processing services (3/3)
I’d recommend you to go check the first two parts of this big article before jumping to this one. This final article will analyse the last two areas: the state of repairing and processing services for film photography.
4. Accessibility & availability of repairing services
As discussed in the previous part of this article, repairing services are the key to sustain a healthy and reliable supply of used analog gear. As old analog gear usually requires maintenance, it is important that analog enthusiasts have good access to a repairing service provider, whether it’s an online hobbyist or a local store.
“66% of all respondents have at least one camera-related issue.”
The survey results revealed a relatively high chance of buying a film camera that does not function properly or smoothly. 66% of all respondents have at least one camera-related issue. This means that a large number of film cameras available for sale on the market has not gone through proper testing, cleaning, and repairing before being listed on the market.
This eventually resulted in a lack of trust commonly seen in analog enthusiasts when shopping for analog gear on online marketplaces as they find the actual product does not look the same or function as described.
As mentioned previously, even the sellers themselves cannot be 100% certain about the condition of the gear without specialised camera testing equipment, leading to false evaluation of a film camera performance.
In addition, this can potentially lead to other problems such as financial loss as you have to test the film camera by yourself at your own cost of film, developing and scanning. More importantly, this can cause an unpleasant experience and perceived risks associated with film cameras and we don’t want it to put off anyone with a fresh excitement for film.
Therefore, the maintenance of used film cameras are very crucial for a growing analog community. When being asked, the availability of qualified CLA/repair services is among the top 3 difficulties for the analog community (41%) just behind price of film (63%) and price of lab services (48%).
Among the open-field survey responses, many people also emphasized the need for more high-skilled technicians for servicing the analog gear as most of the current technicians will retire in the near future. This was somewhat reflected in the reduced total number of places, from individuals to stores, where analog enthusiasts can send their gear for repair (-23%).
For such reason, Camera Rescue is opening the first school for training young camera technicians. In addition, news is spreading that Leica might even bring back their in-house maintenance for the Leica R film cameras if the increased demand for them continues
From the survey data, we could clearly see that more people also started to pick up fixing their own cameras in 2020 (+10%) as the availability or accessibility to local physical repair stores were more limited and notably reduced since 2017 (-26%). With more people managed to fix their own cameras, it is also a bit easier to find them online and asked for help.
To some extent, this was also a consequence of the pandemic and lockdown in 2020. But also, repairing film cameras is neither simple nor cheap due to the lack of spare parts and expertise in the field. Thus, most people would rather fix their own cameras if they can.
In addition, in-house 3-D printing has been adopted to produce new spare parts, with the example of Camera Makers, the superman behind the repair of film cameras that were rescued by Camera Rescue.
Suggestion for an open-source of film camera part designs would help make repairing film cameras easier and more accessible. However, such a thing currently does not exist, yet! If you know of such a project, please let me know so I can share it with the rest of the community.
In the meantime, if you know a repair service provider in your area, you can help by submitting or updating its information to the open-source list of global repair centers on Camera Rescue, which currently has 256 verified places.
5. The state of processing services (scan & development)
The demand in processing services for films have witnessed stable increase in volume that eventually exceeds the capacity of certain existing labs. From what I’ve seen in Paris, Nation Photo has had a busy year as everytime I visited their central Paris store, it was packed with people in line and huge stacks of orders accumulating in their mini space. They have made some improvements in their operation to make it more efficient.
Carmencita Lab based in Spain/Portugal also saw their business expansion in the upcoming years. They also said that over half of their volume was kept in motion in 2020 thanks to the hobbyist film enthusiasts. In addition, more and more small-scale and artisanal labs are popping up around the world, especially in the US.
In 2020, there were 54% of all surveyed respondents who sent their films to a lab for developing, which was more or less the same in 2017. This was supposed to be a bit higher due to the fact that many film enthusiasts home-develop their B&W films but send their color films to the lab.
Interestingly, only 36% chose a local lab for their film development. The other 17% had their films developed in another city of their country, largely because they live in a rather distant area outside large cities that doesn’t have any lab or in some cases, the local lab doesn’t match their expectation of quality and price.
In addition, the rest 1% who posted their films to a foreign lab are mainly from France, Sweden, and a few 1-2 people coming from other countries including Vietnam, UK, Switzerland, Singapore, Mexico, Austria, etc. As there’re local labs available in these countries, the choice of a foreign lab could just be a personal preference or it suits their needs more than local labs. For example, my friend occasionally send her films to a lab in Tallinn (Estonia) instead of using the ones in Helsinki (Finland) because it’d be cheaper.
“2020 witnessed 11% increase in the number of film enthusiasts who self-develop their rolls of film.”
In the midst of lockdown and changing restrictions, many analog photographers and hobbyists were seen motivated to learn new skills such as developing film at home when having extra time on their hands. Subsequently, 2020 witnessed 11% increase in the number of film enthusiasts who self-develop their rolls of film.
This was also facilitated thanks to the increased availability of more developing equipment, chemicals, and kits-made-easy. We saw a strong comeback of Tetenal with its online store relaunching, a new chemistry kit from Cinestill, and a tick in sales from JOBO despite the COVID impact.
In addition to the existing processor system, there’s also innovative development project on the horizon such as the Chromabox by Midtone Machines, a new system for automatic film processing that aims for both individual and professional labs.
“The majority of the surveyed analog enthusiasts have their negatives digitized in 2020. 59% scanned their films by themselves.”
In terms of scanning, the majority (94%) of the surveyed analog enthusiasts have their negatives digitized in 2020. More specifically, labs were the primary choice of only 35% audience, a bit lower than in 2017 (-7%). These are usually the same place where analog enthusiasts send their film for developing.
“The price of lab services was recorded as the second biggest barrier for the surveyed respondents (48%) to keep shooting film.”
When it comes to affordability, the price of lab services was recorded as the second biggest barrier for the surveyed respondents (48%) to keep shooting film. Depending on where you live, it can be incredibly expensive when it comes to high-res scan in certain labs. Perhaps that’s part of the reasons why 59% scanned their films by themselves, which was 9% higher than in 2019.
This was also hugely owing to the improvement in the scanning process and supporting softwares and hardwares, particularly for DSLR scanning. Besides the existing system such as Negative Supply and pixl-latr, there are now more automated film scanning options:
the speedy CAMERADACTYL MONGOOSE for 35mm film by Ethan Moses
the elegant Valoi 360 system and its supporting Raleno 104 light source adapter by our friend Arild Edvard Båsmo
Both of them were successfully-funded on Kickstarters last fall-winter by our amazing community. The CAMERADACTYL MONGOOSE is already being delivered while the Valoi 360 is currently in production with a webshop soon open for pre-order.
This new process with accessible range of supporting products have improved the workflow of film photography and encouraged many professionals and enthusiasts to get more involved in their creative process.
As for professional labs, they are no less important as being the shortcut entrance to film photography and introducing the medium to more people. At the same time, labs will remain as a valuable creative partner that helps save time and efforts in producing high-quality pictures for professionals and artists alike.
However, if the number of people shifting to home-processing their images keeps growing while the number of those getting into film somewhat decreases (e.g due to its high cost), the price for lab services is projected to stay the same if not higher in the future. Unless there’s an innovation of a more optimized and cost-efficient workflow for labs and they start to reposition themselves. And luckily, the little birds are telling me that development on professional lab scanner is under way!
Some of you must be wondering “What about the darkroom?”.
While admitting that the darkroom is where the magic of film photography lies, it’s unfortunate that the survey could not cover this aspect due to its limited scope. The darkroom is a whole world in and of itself that could not fit into just one survey question. Luckily, there’s already an annual survey made by Harman Technology focusing on the darkroom practice that you can read here.
Now, let’s take a look at the localized results below! Let us know if you notice a different trend in your country or region.
It’s time we acknowledged that the debate over the resurgence of film photography is outdated. Statistics has repeatedly proven a subtle growth in the global interest in analog photography, specifically from the younger audiences. More than a revival, the film photography market has evolved into a new ecosystem of integrated digitalization with upcoming innovations and new projects to fuel the growing community.
Although the pandemic has certainly casted a shadow on the majority of analog businesses, the overall film community is hopeful for the future and so does our industry. Because of the shared passion among analog enthusiasts and businesses alike, film had once survived the hardship of digitalization. Thus, we are positive that it will recover from this pandemic again. Especially when it has found its feet among a younger analog community.
The analog community also sees more of its members getting involved into the image-making process, from self-development to self-scanning. And soon, with more access to local darkrooms, printing is also expected to be adapted more by the curious youngsters.
Moreover, as the price tag associated with film photography goes up, it is becoming a rather expensive investment. While this can put off a minority of current film enthusiasts and level up the entry for newcomers, it can also mean that those who get into it are more committed and as such, ensuring a more stable market demand.
If you enjoy this article and find it interesting or useful, please help me share it with other people via social media!