Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Momma Eastman Don't Take My Kodachrome Away

They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the worlds a sunny day, oh yeah
I got a nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So mama dont take my kodachrome away
-Paul Simon

A lot of people, without ever using a roll of Kodachrome, are going to be blogging about the demise of another film emulsion. Either they'll be happy (for unknown reasons, but most likely because they revel in the potential for film to be extinct, and have an excuse to write a bunch of nonsense), or terribly saddened and terrified that THIS is the death of film, as their iconic favorite emulsion bites the dust.

I sort of grew up on Kodachrome. By that I mean I shot that most often early on, and essentially learned photography on it. I never liked Velvia because it was too "punchy" with all the colors from the vibrant section of the crayola box. I also loved the etched in glass look of a K64 slide versus the E6 emulsions which are vibrant and beautiful on a light box but lack that etched look. Beyond that, Kodachrome is lauded for it's archival qualities, which are significantly better than other film emulsions.

The first roll of slide film I ever shot was Kodachrome 64, and I shot many rolls of that emulsion along with an occasional roll of K200. It was easy for me to expose, and seemed to do much better for me under varied lighting than Velvia, which had very precise needs for proper exposure. You can't shoot people with Velvia, you can't shoot in contrasty lighting, and Velvia was really an ISO 40 film rather than a 50.

Kodachrome 64 and 200 were very fine grained, high resolution films with a natural color palette. They could shoot people, wildlife and landscapes all on the same roll. The processing was more tightly controlled than other professional slide emulsions because Kodachrome was a K14 process. Pushing Kodachrome 64 to EI100 yielded very good results with no real loss of quality.

The K14 process which most likely created that "etched in glass look" is what in my opinion killed Kodachrome. In the late 1990s there were at least a handful of labs in the US that processed K14, film was also processed at Kodak in Rochester. I believe my K64 and K200 was sent out to NJ for processing. Then one by one the labs dried up across the world. At first it was just a matter of sending it to a different region. If you were in Europe your Swiss K14 lab might now be in Germany, and in the US you might send it to NJ from Mississippi, but it was still easy enough. Then one day it was just Dwayne's in Kansas for the entire world. Yes, 1 lab in the entire world to process K14 films. Since Kodak was the only manufacturer that I know of to use the K14 process, it meant there was a small market for it, unlike E6 slide films which had many films and could support more labs.

Imagine shooting Kodachrome 64 religiously and having to pay $25 to ship it each way to Dwayne's from Europe? You are out $50 before the film cost and the processing cost. Only the most loyal Kodachrome shooter is going to go through that expense and hassle for the love of an emulsion.

Once I realized I was at the mercy of a single lab to process my film, and also realized Kodachrome emulsions were at best OK, and at worst poorly designed for scanning and no longer fit into my hybrid film/digital work flow, I decided to find a new emulsion. That emulsion was Fuji Provia 100F. Provia is another well rounded film that was designed with the hybrid "shoot to scan" photographer like myself in mind. Provia is a beautiful film, and better for my needs, but Kodachrome K14 films are still something that has never been reproduced when directly printed from or viewed on a light box. Provia on the other hand can be processed at home, or any lab that does standard E6 processing. If you get a good lab, your results should be as consistent as Kodachrome, although probably not as archival.

Despite some of the rampant complaining on these internets, Kodak didn't kill Kodachrome, why would it? Kodak wants to sell film and sell a lot of it. Sure Kodak makes digital camera sensors, and digital photo frames, and Kodak is a world leader in all sorts of imaging technology from medical, to document scanning, to the technologies that aren't even main stream yet (think OLED among many others), but film and paper are still the core of Kodak's name, and it's business.

There is still a strong market for film, but it's a reduced market fueled by enthusiast and disgruntled digital shooters. Film isn't the must have of a few decades ago, it's now largely a niche market. If a product isn't pulling it's weight, it needs to be discontinued for the financial health of the company. The bottom line is Kodak could go down with Kodachrome or cut the dead weight and produce films that it can sell.

Kodak, in my opinion, has never caught up to Fuji since Fuji released Velvia and changed the color film game. Part of Kodak's problem (again in my opinion) is it tried and tried to reproduce Velvia but never could prove it had an emulsion that was better, and thus had no stability in it's film lineup. One Kodak film after another challenged Velvia, but none were Velvia, even Fuji couldn't reproduce Velvia and eventually had to reintroduce it's discontinued Velvia. However, Kodak has produced many fine films before, and most importantly after it went from #1 to #2 in the race for the best emulsions. Kodak films have gotten better at being scanned, and improved in resolution and tonality. Over the last few years Kodak has released several entirely new or reformulated films.

So 6 months shy of Kodachromes 75th anniversary it's been announced Kodak is discontinuing Kodachrome, something only the most naive could claim they didn't see coming. 75 years is a long time in the modern world to produce any product, and K64 will still be on shelves and will still be processed on that 75th anniversary. I would say use this as an opportunity to shoot as much K64 as you can, and also as an opportunity to realize you can't shoot a roll or two of film a year and expect it to be produced. Personally, I won't be buying any K64, but I am supporting black and white film and my current favorite Provia 100F in 120 format.

If you like film, if you are interested in film, or if you just want to see your favorite emulsion survive, you need to shoot a few rolls a month. If you like developing your own film you need to process enough to keep the chemicals in production. I know a lot of people are like me, we like film, almost prefer it, but don't like the hassle of processing and scanning it. Unfortunately, the hassle will be gone all too soon if we don't suck it up and start shooting our favorites!


Sorry, Paul Simon, Kodak's taking Kodachrome away

Sorry, Paul Simon, Kodak is taking your Kodachrome away.

The Eastman Kodak Co. announced Monday it's retiring its oldest film stock because of declining customer demand in an increasingly digital age.

The world's first commercially successful color film, immortalized in song by Simon, spent 74 years in Kodak's portfolio. It enjoyed its heyday in the 1950s and '60s but in recent years has nudged closer to obscurity: Sales of Kodachrome are now just a fraction of 1 percent of the company's total sales of still-picture films, and only one commercial lab in the world still processes it.

Those numbers and the unique materials needed to make it convinced Kodak to call its most recent manufacturing run the last, said Mary Jane Hellyar, the outgoing president of Kodak's Film, Photofinishing and Entertainment Group.

"Kodachrome is particularly difficult (to retire) because it really has become kind of an icon," Hellyar said.

The company now gets about 70 percent of its revenue from its digital business, but plans to stay in the film business "as far into the future as possible," Hellyar said. She points to the seven new professional still films and several new motion picture films introduced in the last few years and to a strategy that emphasizes efficiency.

"Anywhere where we can have common components and common design and common chemistry that let us build multiple films off of those same components, then we're in a much stronger position to be able to continue to meet customers' needs," she said.

Kodachrome, because of a unique formula, didn't fit in with the philosophy and was made only about once a year.

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1 comment:

  1. >>I know a lot of people are like me, we like film, almost prefer it, but don't like the hassle of processing and scanning it.

    Hmm, scanning Kodachrome isn't that big issue it priorly was, here's a nice article by shutterbug photographer :

    SilverFast has some great Kodachrome features you should try for digitizing your collection.