People are not idiots if they buy color film at its current prices

I follow a bunch of film-photography groups on Facebook. I’m regularly blown away by people who say unkind things in response to posts there. Film photographers share their images, or ask earnest questions, or write about something that excites and interests them, and jerks come out of the woodwork to criticize them for it. Sometimes, unfortunately, I see a little of this pop up in the comments on this blog. The comments all boil down to “If you don’t believe and practice like I do, you are clearly an idiot.”

Lately it’s color negative film that is in some of the jerks’ crosshairs. We all know that prices have absolutely skyrocketed over the last year. The week before Christmas I was in Chicago, and visited Central Camera. Check out their hair-raising prices for consumer color films.

I see jerks on Facebook telling people who happily shoot these films that they are idiots for spending the money.

Well, I’m spending the money. I’m able to afford these films, and I want to shoot them. I am hardly an idiot.

I can often buy Fujifilm color film in stores near my home. Meijer, a big-box store, sometimes has three-packs of Fujicolor 200 for $18.99. I buy it every time I find it there. They have a place on the shelf for Superia X-tra 400 three-packs for $21.99, but it’s always out of stock.

Once in a while, CVS, a US pharmacy chain, has Superia X-tra 400 three-packs for $29.99. That’s a little harder for me to swallow, but ISO 400 color film is useful on gray days and so I’ve bought some there a time or two.

Central Camera had CineStill 400D in stock at $14.95 a roll. I was intrigued by John Smith’s good results with this film and wanted to try it myself, so I bought two rolls.

Of course I miss buying Fujicolor 200 at three bucks in a roll and Superia X-tra 400 at four bucks a roll. Of course I think current prices are way too high. Of course I hope film prices become reasonable again soon. And of course I feel for people who want to shoot these films but can’t afford them.

There are a number of likely causes for skyrocketing film prices. Supply and demand. Inflation. Economies-of-scale problems. Raw material availability. Supply-chain issues. Good old-fashioned profiteering. Welcome to this sick, sad world. There’s not much we can do about any of this except choose whether to participate, and hope that all of this doesn’t kill color film, or film in general.

But when we are unkind to fellow film photographers for their choices, it makes this community unwelcoming and erodes the joy we experience in it. To the jerks: cut it out.

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Comments

44 responses to “People are not idiots if they buy color film at its current prices”

  1. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    I don’t think you’re an idiot any more than I would think a person buying a new Leica is an idiot. If you like shooting color negative film, and you have the where-with-all to buy color negative film, you should be able to buy what you want, unmolested.

    Of course, people can be upset by what I refer to the “Luxing” of film, wherein the market is charging what the consumer will bare, with no relationship to the actual cost of the base product, but this has been going on for years all over the board. When frat boys, back in the 90s, thought it was cool to smoke cigars, I watched a cigar I loved to smoke, at 33 dollars a box, go to 150 bucks a box, in a very short period of time. Of course, that fad went away, but the pricing didn’t. Now the vendors and manufacturers are probably making the same yearly profit they made pre fad, with much less work and sales. What did I do? Smoke way fewer cigars…

    Right now, I cannot tell what it costs to produce a roll of film, so I cannot be mad at the pricing. I don’t know if the vendors are gouging, or the manufacturers. I don’t know who to be mad at. I hate to say it, but for decades the amateur, semipro, and even in some cases, the pro, was riding the wave of inexpensive film based on the fact that volume users where shooting tons of it. I managed a regional department store, and we were shooting thousands of rolls a year. Places like ours were making it possible for you to buy cheap film and keep those manufacturing plants running. That also made us the type of place most likely to go digital early, as it would most impact our expenses.

    Right now, I’m not shooting anything. Don’t care for the process of digital, and even tho I can afford a few rolls of film, I have zero pro places near me to process it, and an apartment too small and sooty to process it myself. Can’t afford film? I can’t afford ten plus dollars in each direction to send it to a professional lab either! ,synergy I just don’t do it any more. Sad….

    I will say I’ve read interviews with two different musicians I respect in the jazz field just recently. Both haven’t been playing for a few years, one for a decade. Both emoted that the industry changed so much, it just wasn’t a positive experience any more. Made me feel better for not being able to financially afford to work the way I want to, so it’s ok that it’s over….

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve had a similar experience with bourbon as you’ve had with cigars. Some bourbons that I used to buy at the corner liquor store for $35 got popular, and scarce, and now the bottles are $95. Some of the distilleries have even decided to “allocate” some of those bourbons, which means they’re on special release only, to limited stores, with jacked-up prices.

      My brother was in the right place at the right time the Christmas before last and scored me a bottle of Blanton’s. That’s one of the formerly $35 bottles. Blanton’s is very nice, but it is worth precisely $35.

      1. Andy Umbo Avatar
        Andy Umbo

        Yep! I remember when the small bottle of Knob Creek went from $18 to $40 overnight! I was happy to find Evan Williams…

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Evan Williams Bottled in Bond is mighty good for under $20.

        2. Andy Umbo Avatar
          Andy Umbo

          I’ve had to switch over to rye for health reasons (less sugars), but I have to say I liked all of Evan Williams 4 offerings! I give them a lot of credit for making quality products for those of us a little light in the wallet!

      2. Jerome Avatar

        I’ve suffered the same with Booker’s Bourbon. Used to be 48.00 a bottle, then it was 75.00, and now it’s fashionable, well over 100.00, and you have to know a guy to buy a bottle.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          And Booker’s is just a barrel-proof, extra-aged version of Jim Beam. JIM BEAM. That under-$20 bottle.

          1. adventurepdx Avatar

            I feel that there’s a factor of “diminishing returns” when it comes to bourbon–$40 or $50 is as much as I want to spend on a fifth, after that it’s more about marketing and hype than quality of the bourbon. I agree with everyone above on Evan Williams, it’s become my fave “budget” bourbon.

            1. Jim Grey Avatar

              I’ve been dabbling in the $50-100 bourbon space. 70% of the ones I’ve tried are $30-50 bourbons with a marketing story. The rest are actually a cut above.

              1. adventurepdx Avatar

                Please let me know which ones make the cut! (It can even be a separate post.)

        2. Andy Umbo Avatar
          Andy Umbo

          BTW, when Knob Creek doubled in price, and I hit on Evan Williams, it was not by any recommendation at my local provider. I compared the bourbons on the shelf in my price range, with Knob Creek, in terms of aging, and then I took them up to the window and compared them for color and density of color, assuming they would have similar aging and have been aged in a similar way, in similar barrels. Evan Williams was the closest, and I’ve never been disappointed! Their award winning single barrel offering is less than 30 bucks! We talk anymore about this, and we may have to run out and buy a few cases, before Evan Williams gets “discovered”, and the price gets driven up!

  2. Marc Beebe Avatar

    Other people are always so good at telling us how we should spend our money, aren’t they? As long as the bills are met, discretionary income is just that.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m in a few hobby communities and none of them have as many people eager to tell you you’re doing it wrong as in the film-photography community.

      1. Marc Beebe Avatar

        And that’s why I’m not in any groups.

  3. seatacphoto1951 Avatar

    Shooting film is still not expensive when you consider the hours of pleasure shooting one roll of film can bring,

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Ah! What a good way to look at it. The pleasure ROI!

  4. fotosharp3820ea7ebf Avatar
    fotosharp3820ea7ebf

    As if buying a new $1,000-$5,000 mirrorless camera every couple years and a few $1,000 lenses to “keep up with improving technology” ain’t even more expensive. Not to mention the cost of computers, monitors, photo editing software subscription fees …

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Great point!

    2. Kodachromeguy Avatar

      But it’s not about keeping up with improving technology, it’s keeping up with the photographic Joneses, whether real or virtual.

  5. Kodachromeguy Avatar

    The financial “experts” ooze all over the big D reviewing site like cockroaches in a cesspool. They especially direct their bile at film, Leica, and medium format. I deleted my account there years ago.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Bile. The unfortunate lifeblood of the Internet.

  6. Theron Avatar
    Theron

    There’s a saying on the Appalachian Trail among the thru-hikers – I believe it’s “Hike your own hike”. Point being, you do it your way, I’ll do it mine, and if I want your advice I’ll ask for it.

    I find myself mentally telling lots of people to go hike their own hike these days. It’s like the only way they can justify their stuff is by saying “Well, but mine’s better than yours!”

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yes! Man, I wish more people understood that concept.

  7. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    I follow quite a few film photography groups on Facebook as well and am disappointed in how critical and downright cruel some people can be when someone asks a legitimate question. These digital forums should be a place for people to gather and share their enthusiasm for photography…not make someone feel bad.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Right. I wish the admins of those groups were more ruthless about banning people.

  8. Mike Connealy Avatar

    I’m only on Facebook for a couple film photography groups including NM Film Photographers where I have never seen any mean exchanges. I suppose it helps that it is a private group, so there are less opportunities for drive-by trolling. Film photographers with a soft spot for New Mexico are welcome to participate regardless of where they live.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I promote my blog’s articles through the Facebook groups to which I belong. If I didn’t want to do that, I’d probably drop several of them to get away from the negativity. Facebook sharing is a significant source of traffic, unfortunately.

  9. Bryan C Avatar

    I’ve given up on most forums because of this sort of posturing. Complaining doesn’t really bother me, though I think we’re all on the same page about rising prices. What does bother me is the mentality where people decide to be offended on behalf of other people, and then act betrayed when everyone else is not as sputteringly furious as they insist we ought to be. It’s very tedious. People are allowed to make their own decisions based on their own priorities. And thank God for that, or the same scolds would’ve taken away all our “idiotic” hobbies for our own good.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      If I didn’t publicize this blog in those groups, I’d probably quit them. I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life! You’re right, it’s very tedious.

  10. brandib1977 Avatar

    Yikes. People like that don’t deserve a minute of your attention or energy.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Clearly, I invested a good amount of energy writing this rebuttal. 😠

      1. brandib1977 Avatar

        Haha. Yes….. but do you feel better?

  11. Khürt Williams Avatar

    I don’t think you’re an idiot for continuing to purchase film stock. I think you’re a fanatic. Please hear me out. A fanatic is a person who is highly enthusiastic about and devoted to some interest or activity.

    Keep doing you.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Fortunately, I’ve never figured out how to “do” anyone else. I gotta be meeeeeeeee!

  12. P Avatar
    P

    Hmm. Jim, I can’t help but think this post is in part directed at me. Despite not belonging to any Facebook photography groups, I am pretty much the only commenter on your blog I’m aware of who semi-regularly talks about the lunacy of today’s exponentially rising film costs and what it’s done/doing to the health of the community and long-term viability of film itself. And, yes, I’m sorry, but it is lunacy. At least you conceded the possibility “profiteering” may be occurring and that high prices could lead to film’s demise. I appreciate the acknowledgement of such, even if it does seem like an afterthought in what you wrote here, not really of any major concern. And there are a couple of others who seem, at least to a certain extent, to get where I’ve been coming from over the years. For example, Andy, with his comments about what he calls “luxing,” which is a good description of precisely what I’ve been talking about for a long, long time. But overall, most of your audience very clearly does not share my opinions or concerns about what’s happening and will happen to film. That’s become abundantly clear.

    If not, ignore this, but if indeed this post was in part directed at me, let me point out that while I’ve certainly been vocal with my opinions—I admit even in ways that came off rather harsh at times (even though it may not have been intended)—I’ve never, to my recollection, called anyone an idiot even if I personally find their actions idiotic. And to that effect, people can do idiotic or moronic things and not universally be idiots and morons in all aspects of their lives. Additionally, I have always said everyone is 100% free to both believe and do as they please. I’ve never told anyone that they had to to do what I say, nor have I ever said people had to agree with me. Rather, I’ve only ever warned them of the potential ramifications to the film community at large, as well as their own, personal ability to continue to shoot film (even if they’re independently wealthy) their actions would likely have on the future viability and sustainability of film as a medium. Even if they could care less about the former, I figured surely some people’s own selfishness might make them consider the latter.

    Now, all that said, for years I have stated my opinions—all based on historical facts and sound economic principles—on what would happen if a substantial portion of people kept paying ever-increasing film prices. I stated what I believed the consequences would be for the community as a whole. And, at this point, I really don’t even have to argue this anymore; what I warned about has become an undeniable reality, although plenty continue to deny it. Enough people signaled (and continue to signal) to the film manufacturers and retailers that they would/will pay asinine prices, and asinine prices is what we’ve got as a result. Simply put, collectively, these people have given and continue to give manufacturers/retailers permission to screw us all (some, amazingly, have even praised them for it). People can try to defend it with asinine arguments about it being an acceptable (or even “good”) business practice to charge “what the market will bear.” They can also make other inane arguments about “perceived value,” and so on and so forth. I’ve heard it all. These are nothing but brainwashed justifications for dishonest, amoral, exploitative behavior. It’s this nonsense that has landed us where we are. And none of this blatant exploitation shows any signs of stopping or even slowing, nor will it ever as long as people keep paying up. And, yes, if they do keep paying up, I believe it will kill film for good. If this continues, the only question in my mind is when exactly that will occur, not if.

    To this end, all I’ve ever tried to do is get people to consider “voting with their dollars,” even if they’re well-off and able to afford any price tag they’re presented with.

    Regarding a whole lot of the other comments here—people saying some version of “you do you”—I’m not even going to bother pointing out the irony and outright hypocrisy of many of them making such statements, given a lot of the things a portion of these individuals have posted in the past about other issues. Frankly, it’s laughable, but I’m not even going to go there.

    Sure, everyone, “you do you.” But perhaps—and, again, this is just a suggestion, not me telling you you must do what I’ve said—you should start asking yourself what you value more: buying film today at ludicrous prices simply because “you want it now, and can afford it without issue” (short-term), or voting with your dollars so that film remains a viable medium and still exists for you to continue to buy, use, and enjoy tomorrow (long-term). Because it may very well come down to that, and I believe it will. Regardless of the trash they teach in colleges/universities today, real economic history (and common sense) is squarely in favor of that belief. I obviously advocate for the latter, as anyone who has ever read anything I’ve ever written should be fully aware by now.

    Finally, as I’ve always said, these are my opinions, even if I find them inarguable. Everyone is free to do with them as they please. Ignore them, get mad at them, take a dump on them, whatever—that’s your right. And, given Jim’s overall audience today (at least those that comment), most people reading this will, I’m sad to say, disagree with me. As I said above, that’s become abundantly clear over the last three to five years, and it has only gotten worse as the purge of diehard film amateurs has continued to occur for precisely the reasons being discussed. Most of these people have already been forced out of the community. They’re already gone, meaning even though they agree with me, they’re simply no longer around to express such. There’s exceedingly few of us remaining at this point. But it’s fine that I pretty much stand alone now, at least here in Jim’s blog comments. Everyone has the right to disagree with others and make their position known. Everyone has the right to try to get others to see where they’re coming from and why they hold to their positions on topics being discussed. That includes me, even if I’m the minority voice amongst Jim’s readers. And, if people post (on their blogs, in blog comments, in social media groups, etcetera) only to hear the praises of those who believe/think/do exactly as them, I have to ask what, then, is the point of any method that exists which allows people to interact with each other? Simply put, there isn’t any…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      This isn’t directed at you, as it’s really about the sometimes-toxic Facebook groups. But you were in my mind somewhere as I wrote this because of your strident position on this topic. You’ve not called anyone an idiot, but some of the jerks on Facebook have.

      I’m not convinced that if we all stop buying film at its current prices that it will ensure film’s future. It might just as well kill film, as the manufacturers will shrink production to meet demand, and they might just conclude that demand is permanently waning.

      What makes you say that diehard film amateurs are being purged? I know some diehards just can’t afford film today and that blocks them. But the word purge suggests en masse and, frankly, I don’t see it.

    2. Andy Umbo Avatar
      Andy Umbo

      Unfortunately, P, although I’m pissed off at the “luxing” of film, it seems to be one of those products that is at a tipping point. Unlike cigars and bourbon (with their history, and far more universal volume), and with the imaging technology change, no one “needs” film. We might love film, and love to use film, in fact, I’m retired and not struggling to take pictures with digital because as a person that did professional photography all his life, I loved the whole film work flow, and hate digital forcing me to spend more hours on a computer. So I don’t….

      Having said that, I really have zero idea of what it costs to produce a roll of film, nor what it costs to keep coating, slitting, and packaging equipment running at far less volume than what is optimal. For all I know, Ilford is charging exactly what they need to stay in business. I ran a photography department in a retailer for ten years, and my salary spend for 20 people, with marginal benefits, was well over a million dollars. The tipping point is not that if we refuse to buy film, they’ll lower the price to reasonable, it’s that if we refuse to buy film, and demand drops even more; they’ll quit making film…period! There is no need for it, with professional imaging being accomplished with a thousand dollar digital cameras. Most film companies, especially Kodak, make most of their money in other things, and film is the little gnat buzzing around their head they can’t seem to wave away. Most of the tiny film companies, need the money. Having been self employed In photograph for a number of years, as well as working for large corporations; I can visualize someone sitting over the excel files at some of these smaller euro film companies, wondering if they’re going to turn on the coating machine today. What’s a telling thing, is that when film companies close, or Polaroid closed, they broke up the machinery, so there could be no going back. They are burning their boats on the beach….

      I argue with my investment friends all the time on how classic business “think” and economics theory isn’t accurate anymore and hasn’t been since the 80’s. The stock market is wildly overpriced and doesn’t reflect the value of most companies. The supply and demand theory is a joke. Due to what I call “serendipitous collusion”, one company doesn’t think they can gain market by dropping price; they might be perfectly happy with their price and market share, and other companies may look at that and charge the same. You don’t need to secretly sit down at a table somewhere to collude on pricing…

      There are literally thousands of things I don’t do anymore based on wildly rising pricing, including having trouble renting apartments I can afford. I live in a city where the average household income is easily ten thousand dollars under the national average, but there hasn’t been an apartment project built since 2018, where the average apartment rent isn’t between 1600 and 2000 dollars a month! Many are not fully rented, or are rented by 3 or 4 college kids in a two bedroom apartment! And yet they still keep building them at that price point in mind. For every person that rises up out of the middle class into the high end, they are about three, or four that drop to the lowest middle class, or poor. Even a 2 or 3 percent rise in the wealthy, changes the way businesses do business! We don’t built affordable cars in the U.S. any more, or sell them, even tho a lot of people want something like the Ford KA, but there’s no problem getting a $60,000 pick up truck you can’t get a 4 x 8 sheet of paneling in!

      We are a long way from demand controlling that market, and a long way towards companies selling what they want to sell and make a lot of money on, with no regard for your market segment. It isn’t even on a companies radar to sell as much as possible to as many people as they can, any more. They just want to make great profit on everything they sell, and have a big enough market to keep themselves open and running lean…

  13. Jerome Avatar

    Jim,
    Like you, I decry the recent price increases, but I enjoy shooting and developing film, so I will continue. My shooting habits haven’t change much except I stopped buying Lomo 35mm color films, which are not worth the increased cost. I have only shot Portra 4-5 times, the remaining rolls are frozen until it’s needed.

    I read this article, which sounded reasonable in its analysis of film costs over the years.

    https://silvergrainclassics.com/en/2021/10/film-prices-analysed/

    I don’t like the fact that film prices have increased, but what hasn’t?

    When the warnings of impending price hikes appeared, I started buying film on a regular basis to average costs, and stopped when UltraMax hit 10.99.
    I don’t foresee paying 14.99 for UltraMax for a very long time.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks for sharing that article! It’s a good analysis.

      A reader of this blog in the UK stopped shooting film about five years ago and sent me his entire stash of Poundland Agfa Vista 200 at cost plus shipping. Something like 50 rolls. Man, those were the days.

      1. Jerome Avatar

        Wow! Nice score!

  14. Steve Mitchell Avatar

    Pleased to know I am not an idiot Jim! More concerned that buying a new full frame Panasonic Lumix S5 with two lenses might put me in that category – I only jumped on it because it is end of model and I got the whole lot for significantly less than the price of the body alone. I like to shoot the Aurora Australis when it visits, and while film can be used for this, digital offers a whole lot more capability for astrophotography. But, it does feel like a LOT of money – I can keep shooting film for quite a long time without getting into that territory! Which I will continue to do because I like it better!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I felt the same way about buying my Nikon Df. A looooot of money. I could have bought film for the next 5 years on that!

  15. Nick Avatar

    Your money, your choices … I’m still buying film and plan to keep doing so. It’s my hobby, my pastime, my passion, I’ll find the necessary funds.

    Check down the back of the couch for lost change it buy less stupidly expensive coffees instead.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Heh, yeah, I’ve bought coffees at Starbucks that cost more than a roll of HP5.

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