When photography became accessible to the average citizen it was said that painting would become obsolete. Why would anyone need to spend time mixing paints on canvas when a realistic image could be captured in a second? Yet painting has persisted and still plays an important role in the worlds of art and media today.
Then colour photography threatened to make black and white photographs a thing of the past, and yet still today many people want to at least render their images in monochrome if not shoot with monochrome film. And has 3D imaging threatened to make 2D photography obsolete at any time soon? I don’t think so.
So, by considering how these above technical innovations were said to make their predecessors obsolete but still haven’t, I always believed that there would be a place for film photography no matter how far digital photography advanced. However, disconcerting change is in the air.
Several weeks ago, I went to a photo shop that I used to frequent when I used to live in the area. I wanted to get prints made from some digital captures of my children, have prints made from slides, and get some slides scanned. The digital images were printed in about five minutes. But the prints from slides were not so easy. The service I had been using for a decade or more was no longer available. That particular shop could not take my order. Asking about the scans they had only one service to offer and it was not a really good one (small size files from the scans) yet still a bit expensive (210 yen per 25mm scan).
I went to another shop, actually a different branch of the same chain, and was able to order my scans from slides without too much trouble. But the prints from slides continued to be an issue. That shop said they used another service though the direct print service was discontinued. Getting prints from 35mm slides was not so difficult then. But one slide was a 6×7 and getting that one printed was a possible concern. The clerk had to call the lab and verify that they could make a print from my medium format slide.
At last the orders were placed and I went home wondering why it had to be so difficult. But my troubles were not to end there. Two weeks ago I went to buy frames at another big chain store in Japan and as I passed the film section I happened to notice the Fuji Quick Load film I use for my 4×5 camera was not on the shelf. There was regular 4×5 sheet film that you have to load into film holders, but the Quick Load type which is inside an envelope that you put in a holder was not. This film is more convenient to carry when you are going away for a few days or more because you only need one holder and then you can carry as many envelopes of sheet film as you like (I think I took about 40 with me to Utah and Nevada in 2010). Regular sheet film has to be loaded in holders that can only take two sheets at a time. For day trips you might only need to take along three or four holders to get six to eight shots. But if you are traveling for several days or more you have to take a caseload of holders.
I asked the clerk about the film and she said it was discontinued. I followed up with a check on the Internet and learned that Fuji announced the end of production in December, 2010, just after I had returned from the U.S. Had I known at the time I would have bought a few more boxes. But even though they know me at that shop and I told them to alert me of specials, no one said a thing about it when I came in the shop a few months later to develop some Quick Load sheet film I had shot. And since I still had leftover stock from my trip to the U.S. and my time for outdoor photography is rare and precious now, I haven’t been in need of restocking my supply. So by now there is no more Quick Load film to buy and it seems I’ll have to look into picking up some regular film holders if I want to keep using my 4×5 camera for a few more years to come.
That is if they don’t decide to quit making sheet film altogether. On one web site, the author reported that Fuji had justified the discontinuation of the film by pointing out low sales. However, film sales have been dropping across the board, not just in Quick Load film. The web site author encouraged us film users to ensure film survives by continuing to use it. For my own preference, I like that I get all the right colour and everything in one shot and I don’t have to spend time at my computer touching up and changing a load of digitally captured images as I know many people do. I don’t have PhotoShop and can’t imagine spending money every time a new version comes out or buying a new computer every few years to keep up with the processing power required to run the software. As it is, my DSLR is not top-of-the-line quality and I find I am rarely pleased with the colour in the resulting images I shoot. My film scans look much better. And who can argue with a good 4×5 transparency?
I will admit though, the idea of using just one camera again (like I did way back when) and a set of lenses and filters does appeal to me. What if I had everything I needed in one kit rather than carrying three formats of cameras and their lenses up a mountain? One camera, two lenses, and a few good filters – how simple that would be. But at the moment I have no desire to retire my Tachihara 4×5. I still feel there is a certain honour in using it. It should last decades if properly cared for. Even the best digital camera these days doesn’t have such a promising lifespan.