FILM REVIEW – FIVE STARS
EVERY SO OFTEN here at Camera we like to check the pulse of so-called ‘analog’ to check that the patient is still alive and breathing. The last time we did this, it was starting to look like a move to intensive care might be necessary, but things have improved quite dramatically in the first half of 2017 to the extent that the vital signs are starting to look quite encouraging.
The big shot in the arm, of course, has been the announcement from Kodak Alaris that Ektachrome 100 colour transparency film will return towards the end of this year. Kodak may be a shadow of its former self, but it’s still a pretty big operation (now split into UK and US arms) and it wouldn’t be reviving the iconic E6 film if it didn’t feel that there was money to be made. The Kodak announcement has clearly re-invigorated others because, subsequently, Italian film maker, Ferrania, has announced it is back in business while ADOX has revealed plans to double the size of its production facility in Germany.
FILM Ferrania was established in 2013 and is independent of the original company, which continues to operate in other fields. FILM Ferrania has purchased and recommissioned a production facility at the original Ferrania site in Cairo Montenotte near Genoa in Italy, even restoring old equipment from as early as the 1920s. From the mid-1960s until 1999, the original company was owned by 3M and this facility produced Scotchbranded films, some of which the new company plans to revive, including Scotch Chrome 100 transparency film. However, the first new product is a limited-edition ‘Alpha’ revival run of its famous P80 panchromatic B&W film in 35mm which was very popular during the 1960s. P80 was actually originally a motion picture stock, but its ultra-fine grain structure and high silver content made it very attractive to photographers.
The Europeans are certainly at the forefront of film’s renaissance because in addition to Ferrania and ADOX, there’s AgfaPhoto (Germany), Bergger (France), Foma (Czech Republic) and, of course, Ilford (UK) which is now very actively promoting B&W silver-halide photography. The Impossible Project in The Netherlands continues to refine and expand its recreated Polaroid self-developing print products and, in this sector, the Fujifilm Instax juggernaut rolls on. Instax is at the heart of current Polaroid, Lomo and Leica ‘instant’ cameras, while Fujifilm has just launched a new Polaroid-esque Instax Square format. However, Fujifilm continues to reduce its offerings of conventional films, recently paring down its colour negative range to just a couple of products. That said, there doesn’t appear to be any cause for alarm here as Fujifilm is maintaining the important Fujichrome stocks (Velvia and Provia in 35mm and 120 rollfilm) and the Neopan B&W films.
On the hardware side, things have still to pick up with the current demand mostly being met by second-hand film cameras. The various ‘plastic fantastics’ continue to be available from Lomography (Diana, Holga, Lomo, etc.) and, at the other end of the price scale, Leica will happily sell you an MP or M7 35mm rangefinder camera. In the middle, though, it’s a bit of a desert and, unless the film revival really takes off in a big way, it’s hard to see anybody committing to building a new camera given the huge costs involved. The Cosina-made Voigtländer Bessa R2M – the budget alternative to the Leicas – appears to be still available in some markets (notably the USA), despite supposedly being discontinued two years ago. Get it while stocks last, as it doesn’t appear that production has actually recommenced. And buy now too, if you’re looking for a preloved film camera… prices can only go up from here.