Film shooters pretty much everywhere have found it increasingly difficult to find color film available for purchase, both in stores and online. When they do find it, they find prices have jumped significantly.
I’ve checked around. B&H, Adorama, Freestyle Photo, the Film Photography Store, even Analogue Wonderland in the UK — everyone has low or no stock of most common color negative films. What films they do have are available at surprisingly elevated prices compared to the same time last year. Check out the screen grab I made from Freestyle Photo recently, above. Workaday Fujicolor 200 costs $7.49 for a single roll! A three-pack of the film is a slightly better value at $18.99, which works out to $6.33 per roll. Not long ago this film cost about 3 bucks a roll everywhere.
This shortage affects both consumer color films like Fujicolor 200 and Kodak Ultramax 400, as well as “professional” color films like Kodak Portra 400 and Kodak Ektar 100.
I don’t pretend to understand all of the factors that have led us here. I do know that Fujifilm has discontinued film after film over the last 5-7 years, and when the pandemic hit they stopped rollfilm production altogether. It’s not clear when or whether they will restart production. They may have even started selling Kodak film inside their familiar green boxes. All of this might have depleted stocks of Kodak color negative films faster than Kodak anticipated, resulting in shortages. Kodak itself might be streamlining its offerings; recently, they stopped offering their popular Ultramax 400 color negative film in 24-exposure rolls, leaving only 36-exposure rolls on the market.
When I returned to film photography in 2006, it seemed certain that film was on borrowed time. Digital was king, and only a small number of diehards still shot film. We expected that film stocks would be discontinued one by one over the years. We foresaw our wonderful cameras one day becoming doorstops because films were no longer available to load into them.
Then in about 2015, to our surprise, young people discovered film. They started buying old cameras, driving up their prices. We all hoped that this would mean that film would live on.
This renewed interest in film has secured film’s future, at least for a while longer. But it hasn’t been enough to elevate film back into the mainstream. Demand is not driving production anywhere near pre-digital levels. Film manufacturers are responding to the demand as it is.
Moreover, Fujifilm is making money in so many ways that film is no more than a sideline for them. Rollfilm, anyway; instant Instax film is insanely profitable for them. It’s no wonder that they have discontinued films left and right for years now.
Kodak, as Kodak Alaris, is not so diversified. Film is all they do. But Kodak Alaris may finally be rationalizing its film offerings to meet demand.
I fear that the days of inexpensive color negative film have come to an end. Could color negative film now be a niche, luxury item?