Film Photography News — January 2024 Recap

Analogue Photography to Last 1,000 Years + New Film & Cameras for 2024

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

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What’s new?

Despite the prices (which are going up), film photography is on the rise. Photographers who can afford it, shoot it: Leica sold 10 times more film cameras last year than they did in 2015. Two new film cameras are nearing debut: Mint Rollei 25 AF and the Pentax series. And a new colour film!

In any case, the analogue photographic method is priceless in the context of history. Just look at this camera made to last 1,000 years.

🆕 You may’ve also noticed that the blog’s design is now a little slicker. Hit “Refresh” in your browser to make sure you’ve got the latest update.

My modest collection.

Film photography’s 10x growth in popularity.

Someone quoted my 2024 film price report with a note saying “It’s over.” I’m here to tell you that it’s not.

Film price inflation graph for Nov 2018 — Jan 2024.

It’s no secret that film prices have gone up significantly in the past few years. The average cost of 35mm film has been outpacing inflation since 2022. Yet the demand for analogue photography is still growing.

Kosmo Foto kicked off the year with a report saying that Leica sold 10 times as many film cameras in 2023 than in 2015. Another German film manufacturer said that the demand for their project colour film Adox Color Mission was 10x more than expected, which pushed them to prep their first attempt at recreating Adox Color Mission as “Adox Color Mission Helios.” I wrote more on this story in this comment.

There aren’t many studies published about the trends in the film photography marketplace. But the numbers that do get published all show growth, like this New York Times report in 2022 that highlights a 50-80% increase in searches for film SLRs on eBay and Etsy.

Is film photography a hobby for the rich?

Shooting any amount of film on any camera has always been a privilege.

When I launched Analog.Cafe in 2017, I was earning less than $10K per year. It was a decent foreign English teacher salary in Thailand where rent was $200 for two people in a good area. Spending on film felt pricey but I could afford about a roll per month comfortably. The local labs developed and scanned it for around $3-5 per 135/36exp., where I met tons of students, artists, and ex-pats with film cameras.

I’ve since moved to Vancouver, where I earn significantly more as a software engineer. Film prices were low then but I still get visits to my Labs in Chiang Mai.

As the new film manufactures are coming online, some drop prices. Lomography and Kodak reduced theirs on the 120 film. Kodak is selling its popular ColorPlus 200 film for a dollar less than it did in 2023.

MiNT’s new Rollei 35AF film camera.

I think/hope that the new film cameras from MiNT and Pentax that are nearing launch have the potential to restrain the prices of some premium vintage Japanese film cameras. In any case, there are still plenty of outstanding camera kits for under $50 that will have all kinds of advantages over the new products.

It’s probably safe to say that film photography is not beyond reach for most readers. Some of us will understandably pause or stop shooting film for the foreseeable future in response to the higher prices. But as a whole, the film photographer ranks are growing.

Looks like this nearly 200-year-old analogue process is worth the additional expense and effort in this another year of AR, AI, and the “Extremely Online” generation.

☝︎ Further reading: See this article on how to save money on film in 2024, the Film Price Tracker app, and “How Much Does It Cost to Shoot Film in 2023-2024?”

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The first premium article for GOLD subscribers is all about saving money on film with insights worth a lot more than five bucks.

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1,000 years of analogue photography.

The first attempts at making permanent photographs were made in the early 1800s. The first surviving photograph will celebrate its 200th anniversary in 2026.

“View from the Window at Le Gras” by Nicéphore Niépce . This is the oldest surviving photograph, taken in late 1826/early 1827. Wikimedia Commons.

That first image ever to be fixed is blurry and hard to parse. It feels like a scratch on a cave wall, akin to the earliest evidence of human artistry. And yet, the relative simplicity of the process (when compared to digital photography) is its ultimate advantage when it comes to the chances of it surviving in the distant future.

Software and microchip outputs have to be decoded to be viewable. We can’t guarantee that the ones and zeroes written today will be readable a hundred years from now. We’ve already lost scores of file formats in just a few decades, and that doesn’t even include bit rot.

It’s no surprise, then, that the premiere time-stable archival method for digital photos today is film.

The researchers at the University of Arizona took the robust nature of analogue photography to its extreme this month with an announcement of a Millennium Camera, made to last 1,000 years.

The solorgraph: a five-month-long exposure on photographic paper.

The Millennium Camera works similarly to a solargraph, where a piece of photosensitive material is exposed to ambient light over a long period of time through a pinhole.

I tried solargraphy with Solarcan, having captured a five-month-long exposure of Fraser Valley plains near Surrey in British Columbia. Interestingly, this chemical process is slightly different from the typical exposure you’d get on photographic paper when printing (see: lumen printing).

The Millennium Camera team souped up their solargraphy cameras with gold as the pinhole base and a pigment that can last the test of time in a thick copper enclosure:

Pierced through a thin sheet of gold, a minuscule pinhole focuses light onto colored pigment, such that the color fades most where the light is brightest, very slowly imprinting a unique positive image. The thousand-year-long photographic exposure not only shows the view in front of the camera, but also records how the viewshed shifts over time, revealing dynamics ranging from urban development to climate change.

The Millennium Camera (actually, there will be a few of them) will capture exposures that will last hundreds of years, instead of hundredths of a second.

Suppose we open one of those cameras in the year 3024; what we’ll see may look like a smudge with only some features remaining as defined. For example, the mountain peaks may look sharp as they would change the least over time, but the cities may look transparent with the most defined monuments being the ones that lasted a few hundred years.

Millenium Camera (on top of the metal post) mounted near Star Pass, Arizona.

It should be possible then to study this image to determine the history of the photographed region with certainty that written records can not provide.

A Millennium Camera could never be a digital camera. The intricate microchips and the data they store would be wiped away by solar storms, heat, moisture, or a good whack. Only simple, stable materials can last this long.

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