We have been particularly interested in the future of film manufacture since our exclusive interview with Fujifilm Europe executives earlier this year where the distilled message was – ‘The photographic community can count on Fujifilm to be totally committed to the continued manufacture of photographic colour paper and chemistry. Film manufacture, on the other hand, maybe not so much.’
Fortunately, Eastman Kodak continues to make positive statements about sticking with film manufacture so long as there is demand. Analogue specialist website Kosmofoto just last month reported comments from Eastman Kodak CEO Jim Continenza to that effect: ‘We recently renewed our supply agreement for film with our long-term customer, Kodak Alaris in a deal that will run through 2028,’ he said. ‘We are committed to manufacturing film as long as there is demand from the filmmakers and photographers worldwide.’
Eastman Kodak can count on Kodak Alaris as a customer so long as it remains a going concern, as film sales are injecting much-needed profitability into the photo-facing ‘Kodak Moments’ part of its operations.
Kosmofoto also reported recently that Fujifilm may not be entirely done with film manufacture, although its six-monthly price hikes – the most recent last one up to a punishing 88 percent – might see film enthusiasts done with Fujifilm!
So with Fujifilm apparently scaling down in-house film manufacture and outsourcing popular colour neg emulsions to Eastman Kodak, where are all these weird and wonderful, not-quite-right emulsions from the likes of Lomo, Dubblefilm, etc, coming from?
And is there any chance of another company emerging to actually manufacture still colour film in its own right, rather than re-purposing film emulsions made for other applications?
There are a number of black and white emulsion coating lines around the world still operating – mainly in Europe. Things looks a lot more sketchy when it comes to colour film, which is an order of magnitude more complex to make – as complex and precise as semiconductor chip manufacturing.
There is a plethora of film ‘remanufacturers’ who are making a virtue out of the mostly in-built imperfections of whatever emulsions they are adapting.
For instance, in the USA Cinestill converts a selection of Eastman Kodak motion picture stocks into 135 and 120 formats. It’s probably supplied from Kodak without the normal Remjet backing, a protective layer on the base of motion picture film that protects from light piping, base scratches, static, and halation of highlights in exposure. As a consequence Cinestill films have a ‘glow’ in highlights.
Kono! a Cologne-based remanufacturer (originally from Vienna) started out in 2014 when it developed and built a remjet-removal machine, enabling it to repurpose motion picture film. Next year it came up with something it calls a ‘Film Reanimator’, with which it began to turn out a range of ‘creative’ 35mm films.
Whether the resulting files and prints are an abomination or a special effect is in the eye of the beholder. As another player in the quirky film business, Dubblefilm has it: ‘For perfection you have digital, for an alternative, view try our films!’ While there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with film ‘remanufacturing’, the whole segment depends on the equipment and know-how to actually manufacture highly sophisticated emulsions in the first place.
Readers will notice quite a few ‘probablies’ ‘possiblies’ and ‘perhapses’ in this story. It’s impossible to be definitive. The film manufacturers and their ‘remanufacturer’ customers make the Chinese Communist Party seem like a paragon of transparency. They think their arrogant refusal to inform customers where their products originate is acceptable – cute even. Fujifilm won’t even concede that these days, Kodak makes some of its films. Why is it okay to not be honest with your long-suffering, paying-through-the nose film customers?
Lucky or not?
…And speaking of the CCP leads to speculation about China Lucky Film. Back in the 1990s, Eastman Kodak entered into a partnership with the China-based Lucky Film. It shared its old Kodak 1980s-era VR emulsion recipe (replaced by the Kodak Gold range in the late 1990s) with Lucky film. The arrangement petered out around 2007. Lucky Film then merged with the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation in 2011. It’s a possibility that the Lucky film plant is still coating a version of that Kodak VR emulsion, which might explain all these retro-style films with Made in China printed on the box. An entry about Lucky Film in Wikipedia states: ‘In 2017, a new offshoot company Lucky Film started a production of Lucky New SHD100 in 35mm and 4×5.’ The same entry lists half a dozen Lucky colour films.
Lomo Colour films 100, 400, 800 are ‘thought to be based’ on Kodacolor VR formulations from the mid-1980s. Presumably manufactured by Kodak in USA, but who knows? Some state ‘Made in China’. When it comes to informing customers where the base emulsion comes from, Lomo goes all coy. You get something similar from cameras manufacturers when it comes to imaging sensors manufactured by Sony.
Here’s a patronising statement from Lomo to a customer enquiring about the provenance of one of its colour films: ‘It is always quite interesting and entertaining to see all the theories brewing between film photography enthusiasts! We cannot give out any details for obvious reasons, but I can confirm that we developed and produced this new film for Lomography, it is not based on cine or motion picture film nor expired film stock.’ (For ‘obvious reasons’? And what would those obvious reasons be, pray tell?)
Here’s a (partial) run-down of companies still in the colour film business. It’s a fairly long list, which might contribute to the conclusion that there’s nothing to worry about, that competition in the film market is robust. However, when we dig a little deeper, it’s clear that there is only one still film manufacturer – Eastman Kodak – which has publicly committed to manufacturing colour film, and only two actually making the stuff. The vast majority of brands are adapting photographic emulsions from either aerial, motion picture, scientific or industrial applications.
ADOX: While German-based ADOX (Fotoimpex) is perhaps the most likely company to start up a new colour film coating line, it currently has one (currently out-of-stock) colour film, Color Mission 200, which is both a capabilities statement and a fund-raiser for ‘fully independent R&D for color film, which requires significant investments…All the sales profits from this product will be going specifically to film research – not chemistry, not paper emulsion – film. Realistically, a new film is not coming next year – in four years, perhaps. The supply of Color Mission will be enough for this time, and possibly a bit longer.
‘The ADOX team is excited to be starting a journey to a completely new product for the analog community, while already making a unique color film available for their amazing supporters.’
ADOX has access to the old Ilford (Ciba-Geigy) emulsion coating line, an obvious prerequisite to film manufacture. It is also reported to be doubling the size of its film factory in Bad Saarow, Germany, adding a small coating line adapted from Agfa equipment.
CINESTILL: (Los Angles, USA). Sells film from repacked or respooled Kodak motion picture film stocks. Started selling film in 2012.
DUBBLEFILM: Another range of ‘creative’ colour films with their very own Dubble app. Used to be tied up with KONO! and now with Revelog.
FILM PHOTOGRAPHY PROJECT: This US-based business has a small range of Kodak-based colour emulsions, based on Kodak Vision motion picture films, or super low-speed motion picture duplicating film or film for making contact prints in motion picture post production. Several of its films can’t be processed in commercial C-41 processors as they still have the remjet layer intact.
FUJIFILM: (Japan) As mentioned, Fujifilm has been steadily reducing its film range and outsourcing manufacture of more common emulsions to Eastman Kodak. Nonetheless it still manufactures a range of colour negative and slide film in Japan.
ILFORD IMAGING: Ilford Imaging is a joint venture between Australia’s CR Kennedy and Chugai Photo Chemical Company, Japan. It is totally separate from the UK-based business Harmon Technology, trading as Ilford Photo, which manufactures Ilford black and white film. Ilford Imaging offers an Ilfocolor single use camera (recently launching a half-frame version) and more recently a Ilfocolor Retro 400 speed colour film in rolls. There’s speculation that these products are based on a Kodak emulsion.
INOVISCOAT: (Monheim, Germany) Manufactures still and industrial films in Monheim using an old Agfa film coating line. It’s business-to-business – it doesn’t market a brand direct to the consumer. Inoviscoat is probably the source for many of the special effects film referenced here, repurposed from its cinefilm coating line which manufactures a film stock based on Agfa XT320 cinefilm.
KODAK: (Rochester, USA) Manufactures still and motion picture films in the US, worldwide still film distribution by brand licensee Kodak Alaris (UK)
KONO!: KONO! (Austria, Germany) takes motion picture and other colour films and loads 24-exposure lengths into 35mm film cassettes. It launched in 2014 when it developed a machine to remove the protective remjet layer ‘of a legendary motion picture stock’. Films are pre-exposed with special effects. It also offers some super slow (Like ISO 3!) films, probably derived from industrial applications.
LOMOGRAPHY: (Vienna, Austria) Sources colour film from Kodak and maybe Inoviscoat. Range is ‘enhanced’ with strong colour casts, etc.
1SHOT: 1Shot (Xiamen XiangJiang Plasticity Co) has up until recently manufactured single use cameras, for itself and other brands, but recently released rolls of 1Shot 400-speed film. Thought to be a Kodak emulsion.
ORWO (Germany) Orwo, once part of Agfa, and now under ownership of Inoviscoat and Filmotec, coats its own black and white still films, and began coating an all-new colour motion picture film last year. It markets one colour negative still film, Wolfen NC 500, from colour negative film stock based on Agfa XT320 cinefilm without remjet.
Along with ADOX, ORWO would be the other existing film manufacturer with the technological smarts and the coating equipment to revive manufacture of a colour negative still film. Inoviscoat has an emulsion making/coating plant, while Filmotec has slitting/ packaging ability;
REVOLOG: (Vienna, Austria) Pimps up (‘remanufactures’) 200-speed colour neg film from somewhere or another to offer a weird and wonderful range of more than 10 options such as Revolog Kosmos (‘Blue stardust will make little galaxies appear on your images’) and Tesla 1 ‘Unexpected bluish-white lightning bolts effect.’
ROLLEI: (Stapelfeld, Germany) Rollei brand is licenced by Maco Photo Products. From colour films originally for aerial photography produced by Agfa-Gevaert in Germany and converted by Maco for still camera use.
SILBERRA (St Petersburg, Russia) Small range of colour neg films from Kodak motion picture film.
YODICA (Milan, Italy). A range of pre-exposed creative ‘special effects’ still camera films based on ISO 400 speed film.