The Only Way to Save Analog Photography - A Far Fetched or Out of the Box Solution
The intended purpose of photography is documentation. Anything else beyond that is secondary. For too long, analog photographers seem to miss that point. The argument in favor for film has always minimized that fact. Film is better. Digital is soulless. Film is more unique. Digital is ubiquitous. Yet despite the usual arguments, none of it is relevant. The only criteria material in this discussion is whether film is better than digital in doing what it's made to do. Is film better than digital at documentation?
Long story short - it isn't.
Predictably, this bitter pill will not go down well with analog photographers. However, their reluctance to accept it will serve no benefit. At stake is the fate of analog photography in this so-called hostile landscape of digital photography. In refusing to accept what's generally accepted, analog photographers fail to address the root cause of the problem leading to film's demise.
To resolve any problem, one must find the root cause of it. Fundamentally, digital is better than film in what they're both made to do. Digital makes photographic images faster than film. The moment an image is captured on a digital camera, that image can be seen right away. Furthermore, that image can be uploaded and shared without significant effort. With film, you can't. Before you can see the image - let alone publish or share it - you still have to develop it, and scan the negatives, which in itself requires considerable additional effort and resourcefulness.
None of that is new. It's common knowledge and generally accepted by the majority.
But then, what about the argument that film is better because of it's uniqueness in trait. Again, that argument is immaterial in resolving the root cause of film's demise. In the end of the day, most people who take pictures are not photographers. They could care less about rendering or film grain. All they care about is convenience, ease of use, and whether the image capture is good enough to share.
Yes, the fate of photography lies in the opinion of people who are not photographers. Laziness in people is the root cause of analog photography's demise. One might find that ridiculous - but is it?
Manufacturers in photographic imaging are not people - and certainly, they're not passionate photographers. They're corporations. And perhaps at one time, these corporations were founded by passionate photographers. Though through the course of many business cycles, the founding ideals of these manufacturers became supplanted by corporate objectives. In other words, photographic principles ceased to be the determining factor in making decisions. Rather, management decisions were influenced by investors seeking profit incentives to bolster their shareholders' interest.
What this all means is that analog photography is not financially appealing from a business perspective, given the root cause of lazy people. There just isn't enough popularity in the market for investors to compel management at these photographic imaging companies to manufacture analog cameras, film, or processing equipment. And just because there is a loyal niche following, it doesn't mean that this niche following will convert into actual sales. There isn't any established concomitant sales data to demonstrate that relationship. At best it's just a hunch, based on anecdotal testimonials, and small scale data. In contrast, it's just so much easier to manufacture mediocre digital cameras for people sharing selfies, despite lost market shares to smartphones.
But for the sake of argument, let us assume that a camera manufacturer will mass produce an analog camera. To do that, they will need to set up a new department, hire new people, design a new camera, source parts, find production space, tool new factories, train line workers, convince retailers to carry the product, and begin a new marketing campaign to convince consumers to shoot film over digital. That is a considerable amount of effort and investment, with no guarantee of profitability in return.
Still, as an analog photographer, you probably think it's worth it. But from a corporate perspective, it isn't. It doesn't address the root cause of the problem. The lazy masses will not develop their film, given a convenient digital option. I'm not saying that corporate decisions are right. Often times they're not. But management decisions are made on the basis of proven data - and one data that stands out more than any is that analog photography is no longer a worthwhile revenue stream.
There is also the issue of processing film. It's not as if camera manufacturers have control over that process. Without convenient access to film developing and negative scanning facilities, no camera manufacture would risk investing time, effort, and money in making film cameras. And conversely, no photo processing manufacturer would risk investing time, effort, and money if camera makers don't manufacture analog cameras. It is a vicious cycle.
Now that we've isolated the root cause of the problem and accepted what's generally accepted, the question now is whether it's possible to save analog photography? From an economic supply and demand perspective, it seems unlikely with existing capabilities. Perhaps with social media or even Kickstarter campaigns, analog photography may enjoy a short term reprieve. But when we speak of survival, what's at stake is the issue of perpetuity. For that to happen, there must be a change in technology. In other words, analog photography must evolve.
Actually, analog photography has evolved. It's called digital photography. Okay, I'm sorry. I couldn't resist the bad joke. The solution is definitely not digital. However, it does involve the medium of capture.
Throughout the argument of saving analog photography, much of the focus has been placed on camera manufacturers. What seems to be left out of focus are film manufacturers. On first glance, that might appear counterintuitive, since they are still producing film. However, upon further consideration, it does make sense. If analog photography is to be saved, the root cause must be resolved. Film must be more convenient. The only way to satisfy this is by evolving film technology to become self developing. From the perspective of instant film like Polaroids or Fuji Instax, is it really that far fetched to suggest it?
If the main reason to chose film is for the sake of rendering, and if the main reason to chose digital is because of convenience, then the logical solution is to eliminate film's disadvantage while keeping its advantage in rendering. In other words, make film self developing. Once that happens, outside photo finishing is no longer necessary. And with a ready supply of film that requires no photo finishing, camera manufacturers may consider making new analog cameras. It would be less of a risk, since this solution addresses the root cause of the problem.
All this isn't as far fetched as it appears. In the 1980s, Polaroid came out with Polavision, which was an instant motion camera system. From Polavision, Polaroid intruduced 135 instant film. It wasn't perfect, given low sensitivity to light and the need of a hand held developing module. But the fact is, self developing 135 film did exist. It demonstrate what's possible. That was over thirty years ago. With our present day technology, I'm sure that 1980s technology can be improved.
Already companies like Fujifilm are experiencing an increase in popularity with their Instax cameras and films. The reason why it's selling is because instant film doesn't need developing. If the same can be done to 135/120 film, I see no reason why consumers wouldn't give it a try. And the best part is - instant 135/120 film wouldn't replace normal film. It is complementary, and can be used along side your selection of Kodak Portra or Fujifilm Velvia. So if you insist on developing your Ilford Delta or Agfapan, you still can.
At this point, I know what you're saying. I'm not being reasonable. But am I? Given that these decisions are made by corporate bean counters, do you think it's more probable that camera manufacturers would risk making a new analog camera in a world of lazy people where photo finishing labs are disappearing? Or do you think it's more probable that Fujifilm, experiencing profitability from their instant film business, would invest R&D to expand their product line with instant 135/120 film, for the sake of profitability? And at the very least, reclaim some market shares from smartphone makers?
More over, Fujifilm is a camera manufacturer. Wouldn't it make sense for them to make new analog cameras too, if they actually introduced an instant 120/135 film into the market. The possibilities are endless. They could even make this technology proprietary, to only function with new Fujifilm analog cameras, and then license it out to other camera manufacturers too, while still allow these cameras to be compatible with existing film stock.
If I were Fujifilm, I would start out by making instant 120 slide film and 6x6 Instant 120 film cameras with 5 axis image stabilization. If hipsters are satisfied with credit card sized instant film prints from the Leica Sofort, a proposed instant 120 slide film should be similarly accepted by that target market. Fuji could even start manufacturing slide projectors that can scan negatives too. I mean, wouldn't that be cool! Alternatively, they could even make the instant slide film to accommodate cropped sensors lenses, so it would only work with Fujifilm X-series lenses.
Admittedly, all this is just armchair speculation with a sprinkling of fantasy. However, saving analog photography will require a measure of imagination and technological evolution. Otherwise, the fate of analog photography will rely on temporary patches implemented by passionate photographers at a much smaller scale. I applaud the exhaustive effort of the analog camera community. But like I said, for any meaningful form of survival to take hold, the root cause must be resolved and perpetuity must be satisfied. And that can only be done if large players commit themselves to saving analog photography. But they will only do that if it makes corporate sense to them.
Admittedly, I could be wrong. But I've worked with large corporations and investors before, so I have an inside understanding of their inner workings. Management decisions are made on the basis of market research, internal sales data, and production synergies. It's for this reason that ill conceived products like the Nikon Df or the Leica X Vario were ever approved. Perhaps a camera manufacturer may still produce an analog camera, but it would likely be a small scale anniversary run that won't satisfy the condition of perpetuity, and priced out of range for most analog photographers.
Trust me, the solution is to make self developing film. You might find the solution far fetched, but it is by far the most logical solution around, given corporate realities.