Goodbye film?

Last week Kodak filed for bankruptcy.  The news compounds last years’ announcements from Panavision, Arri and Aaton that they have ceased manufacturing film cameras and will be focusing solely on producing digital cameras.

For a long time, I held out against giving up on film, even though almost all of what I shot was digital.  I was firmly entrenched on the “film’s not dead” side of the debate.  I told myself when I had the budget for it, I’d shoot film.  Trying to keep in touch with film to some degree, I even lugged around my old Minolta SLR and shelled out $10 each time I got a roll processed and was happy to do it.

And I think at that time, I was right.  Film was still chuggin’ along.  Most features were still shot on film and the digital cameras of the time couldn’t match film’s resolution or image quality.  Digital was still compromise.

My opinion quickly swung the other way when I bought a HDSLR.  Initially, I got it just for taking stills; I was getting annoyed with the turn-around time it took from taking pictures to being able to see them.  Overnight I became a digital convert – at least as far as stills were concerned.  I still kept telling myself that for movies, I was a film guy.  But then the day came when I had to shoot a video using my HDSLR and I did what I thought I would never do, I gave up on film.

Digital is just so much more convenient and today that convenience doesn’t come with the compromise that it did only a few years ago.  I don’t have to wait to get the film back from the lab to know that I got the exposure right or that the AC nailed the focus.  I can see it right away.  I don’t have to be stingy with when I roll camera.  I can just record, so that when that 3-year-old whose never acted before decided he’s ready to do the scene, he can go right away.  And I don’t need to shell out several hundred dollars every time I shoot a film.  I’ve made a one-time investment in a camera and some memory cards and I can shoot whenever the mood strikes.

And just like I was right a few years ago to stand by film, I’m right today to convert to digital.  New cameras like the Alexa, Epic, Scarlet and C300 are extremely close to hitting the benchmark set by film and there are situations where they surpass it.  I suspect film will be around in some form for quite some time though.  The film cameras that Arri, Panavision and Aaton produced in recent years are fantastic products and frankly, I can’t imagine what more you could ask a film camera to do that these cameras don’t.  There’s no where left to advance them to.  And there’s still people like Christopher Nolan and Wally Pfister who are exploring strange new worlds of large format film in narrative features (though admittedly, you need a multi-million dollar budget for that to be an option).

So I don’t think film’s dead quite yet, but it’s definitely in hospice.

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