Smells like… “Film” Spirit…!!

Back in the very first days of this decade, the professional photographic market left behind the film analogue days as we knew them… until now.

Things would never be the same again.

Digital cameras, next to digital workflow, were something very new and attractive, and at the time, offering and promising a whole brand new world.

Today, in the year 2017, we are less than 20 full years into the digital era. Everything has changed, and on the other hand, everything seems to be the same. As digital is a part of the photographic “status quo”, suddenly and unexpectedly something on the air smells like “film” spirit.

But is it really “suddenly,” or is there a story behind all this?

And if there is a story — what’s really the future of a “story” coming from the past?

Let’s look at things from the beginning.

In the very first days of the digital era, maybe the most exciting thing was the very fast and fancy procedure of the time. Another exciting element, was simplicity. Viewing an image was so fast and so inexpensive, at the same time. The most unusual practice we see today is the time spent looking at the “back” of the camera. What used to be the blank film card “sleeve holder” has now been replaced by a fancy and “colourful” high resolution LCD screen. But beyond this… something was lost in time.

And that was what we used to call… The Magic!!

However that “Magic” was not just a matter of speed, or a matter of screen, but much more than that. It was the “little thing” that would seperate a real professional — with a deep knowledge of using light — from a “point-and-shoot” amateur. It was that “little thing” that you had to be 100% dedicated to the art of photography rather than to use it as extra income from your day job, in your spare time. It was that “little thing” that you could distinguish a snapshot from a masterpiece.

You may say that I am a dreamer… but I am not the only one, for sure.

So, let’s find out what’s really happening today.

The beginning commenced some years ago, not with “hardware” but with “software”. Companies such as Nik Software (today owned by Google and supplied for free) decided that it would be a good idea to include — and offer to photographers — some kind of retro/vintage filters, making the digital files/images look like film prints.

Of course at first, the “faux” was more than visible at first look. But it was enough to see that the market had ample space for film lovers. Improving the whole idea has allowed some really great players to come into the game. The application of Instagram, especially in the early days, was really one of the most important advancements that happened and many more users were hooked on it, just for its vintage photo filters giving a completely different look to their profiles.

Adobe is the most important player of all, and of course is still remains the market leader. The company for the past years, also had a “second” player standing in the shadow of Photoshop, now has turned it in to a main player in the game: Lightroom.

Lightroom seems to be the “just right” platform to serve the new “filmlike” look of the images, mainly because of the “easy to share” presets. Maybe we are talking about the absolute perfect platform because of its detailed color grading, powerful tools, vignettes, and so many other specifications, ready to use by someone who wants to come close to the classic, vintage film image.

It was only a matter of time before big and small companies got involved in filmlike presets. But the biggest PART of this success was that everyone could make their own personal preset by just changing some parameters to an already existing preset. Soon enough we had “brand new”, old school film lovers, but with entirely digital equipment. Kodak presets, Fuji presets, Ilford… etc, etc, even the “always” annoying film dust, became popular for some reason, and not only to amateurs but also to the professional photographic community.

But what is this really all about? Some kind of presets and that’s all?

The answer is very easy: not at all! The story is endless. Let’s remember what I said at the beginning, analogue cameras, lenses and films were on the field for almost 200 years, and on the other hand the digital era is upon us for not even 20 years. Look at the difference: 200 years versus less than 20 years. Imagine how many cameras and lenses have been produced and sold over the decades, and how many are still are collecting dust in the attic. Personally I can’t even imagine the number. Trillions maybe… billions… and of course, after all millions of those oldies but goodies are probably still functional, without being even used nowdays. So what happened? Was it more than just software with film like presets?

I can only assume that it was something very important, like the very first mirrorless cameras on the market, and it was not just a matter of luck. With the introduction of these cameras, for some reason, we all discovered that our very old manual lenses were not useless anymore. A lot of adapters came out and it was really a piece of cake to use even 50’s and 60’s Nikkors with the high end SONY Alpha series, and even the Leica or Canon FD manual lenses, with a high end Fujifilm mirrorless cameras. What a surprise! Suddenly we have brand new camera models that looked like classic retro rangefinders! Take a look at the very first Fujifilm X-Pro1 camera; doesn’t it look like a classic Leica M series rangefinder?

Look at the Nikon Df camera; doesn’t it remind you of an 80’s Nikon F3 workhorse? These are just some of the examples, but the most exciting thing was not their retro look, not the old design — it was their huge commercial success! So what do we have here? maybe something, but the story can’t be told in just a few words.

2-3 years ago web market places such as Ebay were offering really low priced deals for old lenses and equipment, because their owners wanted just to get over them and not to make a real profit from their sales. For less than 70-100 pounds or euro’s you could have a nice Nikon or Canon manual prime lens in very good condition. But not anymore! Day by day, more and more prices look higher and higher. What is also surprising is that we can see many examples today where a prime autofocus lens such LIKE Nikon 85mm f1,8 costs less than its predecessor, a 30 year old manual Nikkor 85mm f1,8.

So what is really going on here? The surprises don’t stop here. For the very first time, Nikon USA and the Nikon Japan, are selling via their website, NOS (New Old Stock) Nikkor manual lenses. Of course all of them are boxed and brand new!! ( Actually we have already found 9 manual focus Nikkor lenses (!/tag:XFw:Manual Focus) already being sold! Nikon itself is not the only seller. Brand names sellers like B&H ( ), and even local stores in some cases, have started these new-old stock sales.

More surprises to come:

1. Local high tech stores have been stocking classic camera equipment.
2. There are many more online shops for classic film cameras, lenses and films.
3. Traditional companies such as Kodak have already announced the rebirth of classic films and slide films, for later this year.
4. Professional photographers are starting to organize seminars for film shooters.
5. Rumours, (yes, still rumours) say that leaders such as Canon and Nikon are getting ready to present brand new film cameras, maybe by the end of this year.

Let’s not forget that, officially, Nikon has never announced the end of production of its last film camera… the gorgeous Nikon F6. And today, on Ebay you have to spend over £2,000 to find a really a good conditioned F6 body.

With all these parameters we cannot ignore hundreds of worldwide groups and blogs, exclusively for film shooters with thousands of members posting their film work every day. At the same time we also see many professionals who advertise proudly that they are film shooters! For the very first time I have heard of requests from customers/couples for photographers shooting film on their weddings! And the “back to the future” continues….

Professionals, companies, resellers, even the film scanner industry looks like it will enjoy the “rebirth”, and I don’t think that it is a matter of fun or even luck. For the first time a “small” company — unknown TO many — called Plustek, is already placing over 8 different film scanners into the photographic market.

As a CEO of it is the first time that I have received SO many requests for film processing and negative scanning in many years. I can tell you for sure that the increase of this section is 100% up from 2016. Something is really happening, is it just some sort of a sequel remake, unless of course we’re about to face a more permanent trend.
If I had to make a guess, I would fail for sure. It is too early and being a prophet is almost impossible.

So, let’s not arrive at simplistic, premature conclusions. So once more: haters are going to hate, and… lovers are going to love, but that’s not the point. The fact is that something is happening. Something that is bursting out of the good old days, but with a kind of fresh breath feeling to it. For one, I am definitely sure, film is not dead and we are no longer seeing its death, day AFTER day. We cannot call it a rebirth yet, but also no mention of the words “THE END” after all.

No one should be afraid or worry about a thing. I would dare say — it’s a take it or leave it. Nothing less and nothing more. If I had to choose one, and only guess, or give advice, for me if someone has chosen that direction, they have to face it like something completely new. Like an old game with a new playground and definitely with brand new rules!
For me, the only ones that have to be concerned are the opportunists in photography. The people that use everything new in a bad way, thinking of it as a good chance to make a quick buck.
And believe you me: “shooting with film” is not kids play.

At least… Not anymore!


A portrait from Pier Paolo Morra

Film camera: Pentax 6x7
Film: Kodak TriX 400 at 200 iso
Developer: Rodinal
He retouched the negative with a pencil and then scanned it with an Epson 850
Many Thanks to Pier Paolo Morra for his portrait we include in this article.

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