Let’s think about what we know of the film look. Besides the tones, film is often a lot softer. It’s very difficult for someone to look bad when you’re shooting them with film. We love the look of film photography and what it does. Years ago, photographer Frank W. Ockenfels III discussed how digital is too sharp and clear. But as scanners are replaced with dedicated cameras, film is going to face a problem.
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If you look at how Fujifilm and Kodak marketed their recently released films you see they discuss how the results are nice and sharp. As film continues to develop, it’s bound to get sharper. With that said, the “film look” is going to fade away. Manufacturers will tell us we should use UV filters to soften the look. But consumers are bound to not buy the film, and we’ll be in a massive problematic circle.
Did you know that when Kodak Portra 160 and 400’s newest variants were marketed, they were developed for scanning? Kodak Portra 800 has a more classic, attractive look that’s difficult to find. It renders in a way many photographers love.
For this article, I’d like to shout out one of my new favorite black and white films: KONO Monolit 100. It’s not as sharp as ACROS II, nor is it as clean and grain-free. It instead embraces what photographers have wanted with film: grain and softness. If photographers wanted sharp photos and zero grain, they’d shoot digital. We live in a time where film and digital can easily co-exist. KONO is embodying what film photography should be. There’s innovation and the look is different from what digital. But, the big companies are chasing the look digital cameras can do. I mean, why shoot ACROS 100 II for the look when their X-series and GF cameras can do it just fine? Sure, there’s the whole romance of the process. But if you care about the look, then you’d appreciate something different.
My fear is that film photography will eventually reach the level of clinical staleness of digital photography. That’s bound to be the case with the big companies. I’ve got more faith in KONO, Lomography, and CineStill since it’s not their thing to do that.
We’re very aware that Kodak and Fujifilm read this site. So, please, consider this a call for innovations of some sort. The decisions on how film looks probably shouldn’t lean into what former film photographers want. I’d be shocked if the people who wanted ACROS to come back from the dead wanted it as sharp as it is.
So instead, here are some ideas:
- Pre-exposed film
- Reviving an old emulsion
- Bringing back Infrared films that are long gone
- Tinted film
- Film that isn’t balanced to Daylight or Tungsten
- More slide films
Now, here’s the bigger thing; learn from Nikon’s mistakes. Nikon came out with the ZFc and more or less treated it like a red-headed stepchild when all photographers wanted it. If you’re going to make film, don’t half-ass it. Make a product the film community really wants.