Film Prices Up by 10.39% Since July 20225 min read by
2022 brought us steep global inflation. In July, the cost of living went up by more than 9% in the US. The cost of raw materials for film manufacturing also went up; silver — an essential component — nearly doubled in price between 2020 and 2021. Yet throughout 2020 and 2021, we’ve enjoyed cheaper than usual film prices.
The 2020-2021 film prices went down despite numerous announcements by the manufacturers that firmly predicted the opposite. Each time, the community revolted having read the news from Kodak, Ilford, and Fujifilm. The same thing happened this year — except, the film prices did go up. And they will probably go up again (but perhaps not as fast).
➜ Free Download: Average film price index graph 2018-2023 (JPG)
Why do film prices change?
When manufacturers announce a price hike, they base their price on the cost of the materials, manufacturing, and profit margins.
Numerous components go into making film. Some chemicals’ prices depend on the cost of oil, as they are a product of the petrochemical industry. Others, like silver, depend on mining and financial markets. The price that Kodak, Ilford, and Fujifilm get on those materials depends on the quantity ordered and the efficiency of the supply chain.
Even though the demand for film has skyrocketed over the past few years, the makers may not have gained much advantage in wholesale pricing. The supply chain disruptions that lasted throughout the entire 2021 and some of 2022 made buying materials a more expensive venture. The massive wave of inflation that we are still dealing with caused those prices to go up additionally — together with the wages and the general cost of doing business.
But the journey of film does not end on the manufacturing floor. The emulsions are first shipped to warehouses in various countries and states. From there, they make their way to the retailers’ shelves and stockrooms. And of course, along the way charges accumulate for shipping, storage, wages, and profit margins of the companies that perform those services.
Certain costs — like the price of fuel and electricity — fluctuate based on the market and supply. Others, like the profit margin at the sales counter, are based on the balance the store sets between the number of sales and earnings per sale.
It’s not uncommon for stores to sell film at measly or negative margins to let go of old stock, avoid sticker price shock, or use discounts to get new customers in. Of course, those charges can also go up once the retailer sees an opportunity and demand.
It should be plain then that Kodak, Fujifilm, and Ilford have limited control over the price you and I pay at a store.
How will the film prices change in 2023?
This year, we are witnessing retailers catching up with the manufacturers’ price increases.
All the major brands made price increase announcements throughout 2020 and 2021 — but the market and the sellers did not seem to budge. The shops (probably) ate their profits and offered film at roughly the same cost as in 2019. But alas, 2022 was the time for film makers and suppliers to increase costs as the demand skyrocketed and we began to notice significant colour film shortages.
Last year, Kodak hired over 300 people in an attempt to keep up with the exploding film demand. And yet, there’s not enough.
There’s certainly a lot that can easily push the prices further up. But there is also good news. Last year, two new manufacturers began selling colour film that is neither expired nor produced by Kodak or Fujifilm. The inflation may be finally slowing down and the brands could adjust to the demand by the end of the year. 🤞
☝︎ Further reading: “A Look Back at the Prices of Film” — Mike Eckman. In this article, Mike gives a brief overview of the volatile film pricing history from the 1880s to the 2020s.
How to save money on film.
It’s not fun to be reminded of the turmoil and challenges our world faces. But if you’ve got a budget, you can still shoot film.
One way to save money on film is to use a manual film camera instead of a point-and-shoot — especially the kinds with motorized transport. With practice, you may still capture quick, serendipitous shots while the average rate at which you go through rolls is likely to slow.
Half-frame cameras yield 72 (or more) frames per roll, effectively halving the cost per frame. My favourite is Olympus PEN FV; it has an extensive list of compatible lenses, including telephoto, ultrafast, fancy portrait, and a very cool pancake. With such cameras, you have the option to embrace the grain or opt for more resolution with finer-grained emulsions and high-res scans.
Use cheaper film brands, try expired emulsions, and shoot more in black and white. Kodak Gold 200 and Ilford’s Kentmere stocks have recently become available in 120 — both budget, community-loved emulsions that you can squeeze a lot more resolution out of in medium format.
Try developing film at home. There’s an initial cost (you’ll need chemicals, a film tank, and a few more tools) but in the long run, you’ll be saving on travel time/shipping costs and lab fees. You can still support your favourite technicians by ordering prints and making other purchases that fit your budget.
Try scanning film at home. You’ll need a scanner or a DSLR rig though the savings are almost immediate and the quality you get with the right tools may supersede most labs’ capabilities.
Use an app to shop smarter. Over the years, I found that film shops can price their films differently based on their location, stock levels, and regional demand. Knowing the average price of an emulsion helps; it’s much easier to find a deal or stop and shop around if the cost is higher than expected. Try Film Price Tracker on your next emulsive shopping venture.
Perhaps you’ve got a tip of your own? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
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