There’ve been a lot of complaints about film prices on Twitter. Understandable. This pandemic has caused all kinds of issues, one of which is inflation. Film photography has exploded in popularity, undoubtedly contributing to the empty inventories and further price hikes.
How bad is it? That’s up to you to decide; however, I’ve got some insights that you may want to consider.
Back in 2018, I’ve built Film Price Tracker, an app I used to find the best deals on film from my favourite stores. Whenever I shopped, I searched for the film stock I was about to purchase using the app to find its average market price. This helped me discard items that were priced too high and add a few extras that were priced better than average.
The price history data that I’ve gathered during the past four years while updating the film prices every six months is enough to generate a neat graph and give insights into the real price inflation. I’ve also discovered a few hidden trends.
The first major price hike on 35mm film since April 2020.
The average price of 36exp. 35mm film, according to my sample of 29 films, is USD $12.77. Last year, it was USD $12.25; however, I had to remove some film stocks from the list, adjusting for which last year’s average film price becomes USD $11.64. This translates into a 9.3% average price increase across all stocks surveyed.
First, I would like to acknowledge that this is not good news. However, this increase could’ve been worse: Kodak, Fujifilm, and Ilford have been announcing price hikes upwards of 30% during the past two years. The reasons for these increases have been discussed and explained by manufacturers and people working closely with them.
Adjusted for inflation, film prices went up by no more than 3%.
While nobody wants to pay more for film, it’s only fair to acknowledge that the 9.3% hike follows a series of slight price drops (see graph above). Spread that over the two years, the cost of shooting 35mm film went up by about 3.5% annually since the start of the pandemic.
Given that the average inflation rate of a healthy economy is somewhere between 1% and 3%, one could argue that the price of shooting film went up by about 1-3% in the past two years (when adjusted for inflation and including the recent 9.3% jump in costs).
I think it’s incredible how gentle the cost increases look if you stand back a bit. In fact, it is unfortunate to see the community react so strongly today. Consider the price hike between November 2018 and December 2020, when the costs of shooting 35mm film shot up by a whopping 42.6%! Yet I do not remember folks complaining as loudly back then.
Why is film so expensive?
Film Price Tracker is a database of dozens of film prices across diverse film manufacturers: CineStill, Ilford, Fujifilm, Kodak, Fomapan, JCH, Kosmo Foto, and Lomography. Additionally, those prices are averaged across six major film distributors. However, these numbers may not translate to your local store’s inventory or your favourite film brand.
Kodak film, for example, shot up by 8-20% in the past six months. As shipping supply chain issues translate directly into film manufacturing and distribution, an increased number of “out of stock” items appeared this year during my research. This may cause some smaller businesses to increase their prices further and limit the number of rolls per order to avoid having empty shelves.
If this concerns you, a good approach would be to pick brands that haven’t increased their prices as much this year. CineStill, despite being a Kodak emulsion at its base, went up by about 6% this year — a sizeable increase but still less than that of Kodak films. Lomography films seem to have gotten cheaper or stayed the same. Ilford’s selection of monochrome emulsions has also either gone down or remained the same in price.
Film Price Tracker can help you identify a few more stocks that are trending down and avoid those that aren’t.
Finally, with ORWO and Adox announcing their intention to develop and sell colour films in the coming years, there’s a good chance of increased competition. Aside from giving more choice to the photographers, these developments could mean that the prices may even go down as we exit the pandemic.
You may also want to subscribe to the free semi-annual email reports on film prices.
Film price data sources and methods.
I visited and copied prices from Analogue Wonderland, Film Photography Project, Adorama, BH Photo, Freestyle Photo, Macodirect, and Camera Film Photo by hand. I did not use a bot to do the dirty work for me because that would be against some of these stores’ policies.
I only looked at 35mm (36exp.) film to save time and preserve sanity. I used the lowest ticket price. I also used prices listed on out-of-stock items. I did not record prices on film packs (packages with more than one canister). I used the default currency the website listed their items in for my locale and converted that using today’s stock market index.
This year I had to cut four stocks from my list because they were no longer sold at most stores surveyed. I’ve also removed Walmart and Buy Film Canada stores from the list of data sources. I’ve realized that Walmart works like a marketplace (like Amazon or eBay), which isn’t great for consistency. And Buy Film Canada has too few items in stock to be a reliable source.
Next time, I will be adding a few more stores to the survey and, hopefully, new films as well. As always, your support and feedback are appreciated!