Bob Shell: Film Makes A Comeback

Birds eye View Film photograph of red vintage Porsche 911
Photo: Tony Ward, Copyright 1985

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2023


Film Makes a Comeback


For years in the 1980’s and 1990’s I wrote for an industry publication named Photo Industry Reporter. Because it was for photographic dealers only, it didn’t conflict with my job as Editor In Chief at SHUTTERBUG, a consumer magazine. 

I loved writing for Rudy Maschke and Ed Wagner, who owned and operated it. Both men are gone now. When both were in their 80’s they sold the magazine to Jerry Grossman, formerly an executive at Nikon. When the whole industry changed, the magazine changed, too. Now it’s named Digital Imaging Reporter ( Because of my long history with the publication, they send it to me, and it helps keep me up on what’s happening in the photo industry. 

In the latest issue, Jerry Grossman wrote an interesting editorial about the latest trend in photography — film. Yes, the younger generation has discovered the joys of film photography. So much so, in fact, that film is in short supply. 

Pentax, one of the oldest camera manufacturers, and now part of Ricoh, has just announced a project to develop a new line of film cameras. Can the other camera makers be far behind? 

Not so many years ago, used film cameras were very difficult to sell. Now prices on the classic film cameras from companies like Canon, Nikon, Minolta (now Sony’s camera division), Pentax, Olympus, Hasselblad, Mamiya, and many others are going up. 

Maybe the ones I have in storage will have value when I’m able to sell them, or use them again. 

This increased interest in film has revived its companion, darkroom work. A few years ago you couldn’t give away darkroom equipment. I know, I tried. I had a very elaborate darkroom with two enlargers, automated film and print processors, safelights, and everything else to process film and make prints. I tried to sell it all, with zero success. 

If I still had it today, I could probably sell it easily. 

The return of interest in film photography parallels the interest in vinyl LPs, turntables, tube amplifiers, all the audiophile stuff that was once called ‘Hi-Fi’. Many recording artists are issuing their music on vinyl today, some issuing only on vinyl. I can verify that vinyl albums played on quality turntables through tube amplifiers and topnotch speakers have a ‘warmer’ sound. 

Similarly, images photographed on film with high quality lenses and printed on high quality photographic paper with a high silver content have a unique look that can’t be duplicated digitally. 

With the return of darkroom, the old argument over which kind of enlarger will return. Are condenser enlargers that send a focused beam of light through the negative better than diffuser enlargers that bathe the negative in unfocused, diffuse light? Photographers used to argue about that late into the night. I’ve owned and used both, but preferred the diffusion systems because they produced smoother tones to my eye and suppressed dust on negatives, cutting down on laborious print spotting. 

My two enlargers were a Zone VI 5 X 7 that used a cold light head, and a Saunders/LPL 4 X 5 that used interchangeable diffusers for different negative sizes. Much of my commercial work was made on 4 X 5 inch film with a Toyo studio camera or my 4 X 5 Zone VI field camera using Schneider-Kreuznach lenses. I tried other makes but couldn’t beat the image quality of the Schneiders. I also had an old Kodak 2D 8 X 10 camera made in 1918. I fitted it with a Voigtlander 300 mm Apo-Lanthar lens in a Compur Electronic shutter. Every once in a blue moon a client would want an 8 X 10 transparency. 

Once a magazine demanded an 8 X 10 transparency. I photographed it in an all-day studio session on Fujichrome Velvia for maximum color punch. Believe me, an 8 X 10 Velvia on a lightbox will practically punch your eyes out. The results, a three-quarters view of a nude holding a bunch of flowers, was lovely. Then the magazine printed it about 1 X 1 1/4 inches on the page! I could have shot it in 35 mm and it would have looked fine at that size. I’d expected full page. Photo editors are strange beasts! 

But, once again I seem to have drifted off topic. Due to the increased demand for film, film manufactures are working hard to meet demand. That’s not as easy as you might think, because film, particularly color film, can’t just me made, packaged, and shipped. Like fine whisky, film must be aged before sale. I’ve visited most of the major film makers and seen their aging vaults. I don’t know if they still do, but Kodak used to age their film deep underground in old salt mines. The temperature was constant down there, and the salt blocked most cosmic rays that can fog film, particularly high sensitivity films. Because of the need to scale up manufacturing again and the aging process, it may take film companies a while to catch up to greater demand. Be patient.


About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author, former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine and veteran contributor to this blog. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models.  He is serving the 13th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read additional articles by Bob Shell related to UFO’s, click here:

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