No one expected a return of a silver film as emblematic as Ektachrome. And yet, this is what the American company Kodak announced at the CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Los Angeles in January 2017. After more than a year waiting and an important teaser campaign, it is back on the market. And it is announced in the coming days.
After the more discreet return of the black and white silver film T-Max P3200 a few months ago, Kodak is about to release one of its film that was once most popular. Put at risk by the arrival of digital technology in the early 2000s, the company found itself on the verge of financial bankruptcy. It now hopes to capitalize on the popularity of the analogue process and regain an important place in the sector.
Indeed, the American brand did not anticipate the turning point that photography would take with the advent of digital technology. However, it was the first to take an interest in digital photography, thanks to one of its engineers, Steve Sasson, in 1973. But the project of this camera capable of transforming a luminous flux into electrical signals was shelved by Kodak's management, who feared that through its release, their sales of silver film would fall. It was not until the mid-1990s that the project was reviewed and commercialized, but other manufacturers had also just put it on the market. He did not make much of an impression on the public, and this commercial failure marked the beginning of a certain bankruptcy of the firm, which forced it to withdraw from the photographic market and discontinue the production of some of its products, including Ektachrome, which stopped at the end of 2012. The reason for this is the very low consumer demand for this film and higher production costs than for the rest of the consumables manufactured by Kodak Alaris.
One of the test photos taken by Kodak with the Ektachrome
A somewhat special silver film
It took Kodak only 5 years to get the production machines back up and running for its emblematic silver film, the Ektachrome. Appeared in the 1940s, this film has the particularity of giving, once developed, a positive result on light sensitive material. The image is therefore already observable with the right colours. Unlike the negative process, where each hue is represented on the film by its complement in the RGB chromatic circle and thus gives a photo negative. These films are commonly referred to as slides or reversal films.
In the days of silver photography, reversal films were much more popular than negative films, mainly because the latter have a defect in their composition that more or less distorts the colour rendering. Photographers, technicians in charge of reproducing images or texts for the press, advertising and fashion, only accepted to work with reversal films, because visualisation on positive films allowed them to determine the tonality and contrast quickly. The positive film was therefore more suitable and used in a professional context.
One of the test photos taken by Kodak with the Ektachrome
An encouraging comeback
The announcement of the Ektachrome's return has aroused great enthusiasm among silver photographers. It revives both the nostalgia of those who knew it before and allows the younger generations to use a photographic film that we never expected to see again. But its comeback is no coincidence. For about 5 years, the analogue photography sector has been doing a little better. A niche market is forming around this medium, creating a new and growing demand. Silver photography is no longer opposed to digital photography, it has become a complementary practice to it.
This is not the first time that a manufacturer has announced the commercialisation of a photographic film, some 15 years after the digital boom. The return of an emblematic silver film is surely the sign of a photographic medium that is recovering after having been on track to disappear.
3 types of silver films available, including 2 video formats
For fans of Super 8 and 16 mm, the Ektachrome can be found in these two formats, in addition to the 24x36 silver. An opportunity to discover or rediscover silver video.
However, no news about a photo film release for medium and large formats. The Kodachrome, which Kodak had also mentioned as a possible comeback when the Ektachrome was announced, is certainly only an announcement effect since the current environmental constraints prevent its great comeback, the chemical process of this particular film being extremely polluting.
Kodak's Teaser announcing the return of the Ektachrome in photo and video
A potentially strategic release
Shipped on September 26th to suppliers, Ektachrome has been sold in France since the end of October in the main photographic equipment sales outlets. It is found at around 15 euros in 135 mm, i.e. 1 euro more expensive than its equivalent at the other emblematic silver market manufacturer, Fujifilm. The latter has also issued an ambiguous communication concerning the discontinuation of production of certain films, including some reversal films. The Japanese brand may very well stop manufacturing positive films in the coming months and years. This would make Kodak Alaris the last company to still produce them.
The return of the Ektachrome could ensure that silver photographers could use reversal films even if the Japanese brand decided to withdraw completely from the market. In this context, Kodak could reaffirm its leading position on the silver consumable market.
However, this remains a difficult challenge, especially since the development of an reversal film is quite expensive and the laboratories offering this service are becoming increasingly rare.It should also be noted that this announcement is somewhat incomplete since there are no longer any companies manufacturing paper to print images with the enlarger. The use of a positive film is only possible digitally using scanners adapted to the analogue medium. We can always hope, if the enthusiasm for Ektachrome does not run out of steam, the return of positive silver paper, such as Cibachrome also produced by Kodak. This particular film could then be fully exploited.