When a legacy is forgotten…

28May18

What happens when a company forgets about its legacy and what helped build it up.

It happens quite a lot really, most people unless they are users/followers of the companies products or services are not aware of things.

Most photographers have an awareness of photography’s well know brands, but mention to photographers legacy brands such as  Mamiya, Rollei, Minolta, Contax, Yashica, and many of those who are young enough to have only used digital will look at you blankly, but those who grew up and were into photography pre digital, or those young hipsters who have gotten into the analogue photography because it is retro cool to use old film cameras will give you a little wry smile, or lovingly tell you about a camera that got away.

Same goes with film, mention a brand like Kodak,  Fujifilm, Ilford to a photographer and they will have most likely shot one of many many films and have some fond memories or smile when they tell you they still shoot this emulsion that emulsion. Mention other brands like Agfa, Konica, Ferrania, and other smaller companies, and many will have a think and a story about a film they used to shoot and why they liked to shoot it.
Sure the digital revolution in photography has forced mergers, seen many legacy photographic companies disappear entirely. Names such as Minolta,  Yashica,  Mamiya, have all but disappeared due to the fast change of technology and not being able to keep up. Probably the most famous photography company to suffer this was Kodak, who filed for bankruptcy protection in the mid 2000’s because at the time many of the exec’s in the company did not believe that digital imaging would take off and become as common place as it did. Why did they not believe?  Film had been the staple of photographers for well over a century. Heck Kodak engineers are the ones who actually created digital imaging, but the execs did not want to disturb the cash cow of film, most people had cameras, and they put film in it, went and got the film processed at a lab using most likely kodak paper and chemicals,  and replaced the exposed film with a Kodak film. The board at the time felt that this captive market could be jepordised by these fancy digital cameras so Kodak never really pursued it.

Fast forward a few years, and Kodak despite releasing a plethora of cameras, then accessories such as printers and sharing docks, never were really a major force in the digital world, and as film sales plummeted and the new digital cameras never became a major success Kodak’s golden ways turned sour.  Sure Kodak did have some hits during this time, making sensors/backs  for Medium format systems such as Contax, Mamiya and Hassleblad,  and even their own DSLR’s with the Pro 14 series which were pretty good cameras that used either a Nikon F or Canon EF lens mount, they weren’t enough to protect from years of losses.

As Digital cameras took over, especially in the pro world,  Kodak discontinued many popular and well loved film emulsions. Emulsions such as EktaChrome, EliteChrome, AeroChrome and others stopped being produced because the demand for them virtually dried up overnight, or in the case of KodaChrome, the processing method used to develop the film was tricky, and not very friendly to the environment, and as demand for it dried up labs closed the line down and got rid of the equipment to process it. The last lab in the world closed down its KodaChrome processor at the end of 2010 ending a near 75 year run, that was popular with famous photographers, and even spawned a hit record in Paul Simon’s KodaChrome. This left only a few films, mainly consumer grade films such as the popular Kodak Gold range, and Black & White films such as Tri-X & T-Max on the market when Kodak Filed for Bankruptcy.

5 years after declaring bankruptcy, Kodak emerged from Bankruptcy protection, with several different divisions.

Kodak’s film division, although they had stopped producing many emulsions,  kept the recipie’s and as people began to rediscover analogue photography, emulsions such as Ektar and Portra have been reformulated and continued to be produced in a way that retains all the charm of why they were popular films, plus the added value of they are now are easier to be scanned and produce beautiful digital files.

One of the big surprises has been a group of major Hollywood directors, who after shooting some of the biggest movies in memory completely on digital formats, went to Kodak and asked for motion picture film stocks, and lots of it.

Digital motion picture making while fantastic, you get left with masses of data, and in technology where data languages and formats change regularly, the ability to transfer Petaflops of data for a major motion picture from one format to another and from one storage medium to another is always a risk that something will get corrupted.

Film stock on the other hand, offers a well known ability to survive, and with modern temperature and humidity controlled storage facilites, the shelf life of film is measured in decades,  and you just have to look at how many times classic films have been re-released on different formats over the years as technology improves.  Classics such as Gone with the Wind have been remastered and released on VHS, DVD, BluRay and has even been remastered in 4K UHD recently. Lets see if an all digital movie that was shot in Full HD or 4k get remastered in 75 years in a better resolution…..

Recent major motion pictures such as the last 3 Star Wars films, La La Land have been shot on film stock then digitized for distribution.

One of the side benefits of this resurgance in film has been Kodak’s  embracing of their legacy, and as the motion picture makers demand for film goes up again, and the look that a director wants, films are being recreated, Kodak made the announcement in mid 2017 that they are reviving the classic EktaChrome transparency film, and may bring back KodaChrome in the future if they can reformulate it in todays tougher environmental conditions.

It’s not just Kodak bringing films back to market either,  There are numerous small companies who have purchased formulations for classic films, and have started to reproduce films again as well.  Some companies like Lomography, who started producing the Holga & Diana cameras years ago, have expanded to film as well, with Color, Black and white, even transparency films in classic 35mm & 120 PLUS the compact 110 cartridge formats too.  Crowd funding has seen Italian Legend Film Ferrania survive and films are being developed again as we speak. Plus there are a whole heap of small independent companies releasing films such as CineStill,  and popular analogue photographers such as Bellamy Hunt aka the Japan Camera Hunter or Kosmo Photo’s Stephen Dowling have released film under their own brands proving that like Vinyl records, Film Photography is growing again.

BUT…….
On the other side of this coin, the other major film producer left after the digital revolution, Fujifilm,  have discontinued a large number of films in 35mm, 120, 220, 4×5  not only in their pro ranges, but also in their consumer market films.

Well liked film stocks such as Natura 1600, Superia Venus 800,  ‘pro packs’ such as the 5 roll packs of Velvia 50, Velvia 100, Provia 400, Pro 160NH, Pro 400,  most of the consumer Superior ranges in multi packs, leaving single roll packs of most emulsions.

But Fuji have also confirmed rumors that they are exiting Black & White photography with the announcement that by October 2018 they will cease production of B+W papers, and the popular Acros 100ASA B+W film in 35mm and 120 formats.

Fuji’s films have always been well loved, and their heritage and legacy films are still in demand ( i have purchased 110 cartridge film that is discontinued and expired several years ago because it was so nice)  but Fujifilm seem to be hellbent on forgetting their legacy in film and are moving to discontinued as many films as possible to focus on the Instax instant films and Digital lines, and they do not seem to care that people want to shoot emulsions such as Velvia, Acros & Provia.

Its amazing to see what different companies see in their heritage, and the differences in cultures.  Kodak, the quintessential American company, have huge pride and respect for their heritage and want to keep it alive as long as they can, and by listening to their customer bases are doing just that and growing again.
Where Fujifilm, have a completely different view, to me, it seems that while they acknowledge the legacy of their past, they see no point in clinging on to it and keeping it alive, and are laser focused on the the road in front of them and past successes are just that, in the past, and despite the growing rumbles from their customers who use these legacy products, are ending them.
I think that being able to use older methods and use film is a blessing for photographers learning as you have to be careful, and look for things that may not work,. and also be careful with your exposure and aperture settings as it is not so easy to correct in post processing. Plus it also gives a tangible result, you have that negative/transparency that will with care last a long long time.

Personally, I learned photography 20+ years ago shooting film cameras. I went totally digital in 2006 and shot exclusively digital for 8 years. Now I shoot film AND digital. My main film camera is a 1985 Pentax 645 Medium Format SLR camera, it is manual focus, tops out at 1.1 frames a second for speed, its a slow process to make an image, AND i only get 16 frames from a roll of film, but shooting modern film in it, then scanning that negative with a little care, i can generate a negative that is over 100 megapixels in size that i can work with and print beautiful images from.

I have used my film camera while on a paid job, as the client wanted what the film stock delivered and it compliments the digital workflow i use.

I never forgot my legacy while shooting digital, and now that i shoot both, i have embraced it as well as looking to the future, and Many companies in today’s current world should do the same too….

 

 

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