Film Photography News — August 2020 Recap

Kodak’s $765,000,000 Story, Lenses, Pixels, and Photo Essays

6 min read by Dmitri.
Published on . Updated on .

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This Letter tells Kodak’s $765,000,000 story (Fujifilm, Bitcoin, and hydroxychloroquine are in it too). It then quotes Leica’s commitment to film, talks about variable-shape pixels and links to the fantastic short history of fast prime lenses.

Also: do not miss these two fantastic photo essays from the New York Times and CBS.

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2020 is a unique, crazy year. Knowing this, I try to keep a camera on my person on most outings, making 35mm format a fantastic choice for casually snapping stills of our strange new world. This is an approx. 4x crop from my 50mm Ultron 2.0 with Rollei RPX 25.

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Kodak’s $765,000,000 story, featuring Fujifilm, hydroxychloroquine, and Bitcoin.

The largest colour film manufacturer in the world, Kodak, made the news this month by signing a deal for $765,000,000 loan from the US government and having its stock price consequently shoot up over 2,000%. This development is certainly unexpected, even fishy — according to Slate.

The story of Kodak getting to this point begins after the analogue photography market’s collapse, during its consequent bankruptcy in 2012. The company underwent restructuring, having sold off many of its assets — some as recent as last month. The brand had mostly been forgotten, though its film division had been doing much better following the recent renewed interest in the analogue medium.

Ektar 100. While there are still great sources of monochrome emulsion other than Kodak, fresh colour negatives and slide film may be in trouble.

Kodak is an important brand for film photography and cinema. The company sells Portra — an incredibly complex and accurate C-41 emulsion. It has recently brought back Ektachrome — a slide film with incredible exposure latitude. And it pumps out miles of colour film for Hollywood. As someone who relies on Kodak’s products, I am somewhat excited to learn that the brand is able to generate national-level attention and large cash-for-debt moves. Still, I am concerned with the risky business decisions that threaten the entire supply of this remarkable creative medium.

The concern is based on the opinion that the conditions of the massive government loan are likely damaging to Kodak’s film manufacturing.

Kodak Ektachrome.

Given that Kodak’s “dubiouscryptocurrency ambitions — the company’s other pivot attempt — aren’t really working out suggests the company’s inability to dominate any market other than imaging. The risk of failure is not low. If the drug-making flops, Kodak ends up with another billion dollars of debt. The company may restructure, and we could lose some or all of the Kodak film.

To further complicate the prospect of success, Kodak may be forced to produce hydroxychloroquine, which is directly related to Trump’s weird preoccupation with promoting the drug as a cure for COVID-19 even though it has been proven to have no effect on the disease.

On the other hand, should Kodak miraculously dodge the politics and turn its business around on a dime, it may yet become a household name again. At which point, film may turn out to be an afterthought or even an obstacle.

But wait, there’s more!

A third possible outcome had materialized just over a week after the initial announcement: the loan is now put on hold, pending the investigation of how the original deal got disclosed. Should the US International Development Finance Corporation find dirt, there will not be any Kodak pills and, possibly, a shake-up in the upper management.

To add to the uncertainty, the pandemic has already put stress on Hollywood, Kodak’s major film consumer, and, surely, on many other aspects of the company’s business.

Sidenote: The new cash is meant for pharmaceutical output by a company intimate with chemical manufacturing for a very different purpose. This is remarkably timed, given that the $265,000,000 Trump’s order placed to Fujifilm for coronavirus vaccine manufacturing had been announced just two days ahead of Kodak’s. Recall that Fujifilm managed to remain relevant after the film market has collapsed by pivoting to producing makeup and pills. Looks like someone at the office had an “aha!” moment having connected the dots between film and drugs, thanks to Shigetaka Komori.

Leica’s commitment to continue making expensive film cameras.

Have you noticed film prices creeping up lately? Last time I checked, they rose by 18% in just four months. The decaying, out-of-production analogue cameras aren’t getting cheaper either, as more people are getting interested. Leica, a brand that’s notorious for being expensive, had it’s rep confirm the growing demand. He added that they indeed plan to continue producing and servicing their own lineup of rangefinders though it’s no relief for cost-conscious photographers as those bodies will set you back by more than $5K.

Variable pixel shapes and their inventor.

The pixel’s inventor, Russell Kirsch, died this month. His creation is a sixty-three-years-old square-shaped unit of visual information used to form all of the digital images today. Remarkably, Russel suggested using variable pixel shapes to smooth out lines. Alas, we’re stuck with the boring squares and the software to anti-alias them.

“A Short History of Fast Normal Lenses.”

I’ve been waiting for this sort of info to surface for a while, and it’s finally here. This forum post includes detailed descriptions and schematics of most notable modern designs and their predecessors.

Don’t miss these photo essays.

A Season of Grief and Release: 5 Months of the Virus in New York City,” written by Dodai Stewart and photographed by Daniel Arnold is a must-read. This is a well-composed story that brought me closer to the city and its ongoing struggle. It made me feel sad and inspired all at once.

Andre D. Wagner’s essayOn Being a Black Photographer is a narrated video with photo selections by the modern street prodigy who makes a living shooting NYC on film.

Two Bridges, NYC.