The launch of the first digital camera brought out cries for the film to rest in peace — but despite the initial predictions, digital hasn’t yet managed to squelch analog photography. In fact, several reports indicate that film sales are actually increasing. So is analog photography going to stick around? Is film better than digital? What does the future hold for the camera market?
While we can’t peel back the fourth dimension and peer into the future, recent data and industry insight offers a glimpse at what could come for cameras of the future.
Film: The Experience and the Look
Film sales, as predicted, dropped off as digital cameras advanced into higher quality. Several film types have been discontinued, and few manufacturers are continuing to sell new film cameras.
Film sales are actually growing
But, film companies are now seeing a small resurgence in film sales. Kodak Alaris reported a five percent growth in film sales in 2015 over a two year period, which isn’t a staggering number but is certainly growth.
Online marketplaces for used cameras makes finding a film camera fairly easy — even when that means picking up much older camera, which isn’t such a big deal since film cameras don’t age as digital cameras do. Vintage cameras like the Pentax K1000, Leica M6, and Mamiya RZ67 Pro II are popular options that are actually available on Amazon.
While 35mm and larger film formats are growing as artists adapt to the traditional medium, the growth in the film isn’t entirely limited to photo enthusiasts. Instant film cameras are becoming increasingly popular not just for the artistic film element, but having instant physical photos to hold or give away at parties. Reports indicate that Fujifilm’s Instax instant cameras actually sell four times more than their digital cameras. Cameras like the Fujifilm Instax Mini 9 and Polaroid 300 are popular among general consumers.
While many long-standing companies continue to produce the film, the trend has even given way to new novelty companies. The Impossible Project creates a film to fit vintage cameras that are no longer in use. Mint refurbishes old Polaroid instant cameras with modern features. Film Objektiv is a camera rental company that only loans analog gear.
Why is film growing?
So why is all the growth? For instant cameras, their popularity stems largely from the instant physical gratification, as well as the fact that there’s no darkroom needed to obtain that film look. Instant film cameras are becoming popular for parties and easily creating fun photo displays.
Artists, however, are being drawn to all types of film. One of the biggest reasons behind the trend is the physical experience of the film. Shooting with only a light meter, with no instant preview and a limited number of shots per roll can encourage creativity. For example, photographers tend to put more thought in each shot when they know they only have a 24 exposure roll of film. That physical experience can extend to the darkroom, for photographers with enough resources to develop their own film.
Beyond just the experience of shooting film, however, it’s the look of certain films that push photographers to the traditional medium. While platforms like Instagram have made digital filters popular, many film types — and camera types — cannot be replicated digitally, at least not in their entirety. Digital effects can mimic a light leak but can’t recreate the way the image is affected entirely. Black and white film effects can take less time to create with a roll of film sent off to a processing lab than hours in Lightroom and Photoshop.
The growth of film isn’t among older generations feeling nostalgic — one study showed that 60 percent of film users had never shot analog before the last half decade. Analog photography is also growing among young professionals shooting weddings and portraits.
The film isn’t returning to replace digital; rather, artists are embracing the medium’s creative challenges and atheistic qualities while consumers find the instant film a fun way to photograph parties and events.
Digital: What Will Cameras of the Future Look Like?
While digital cameras aren’t being replaced by film, the modern tool has undoubtedly been influenced by film’s resurgence. While most techniques and terminology on digital cameras carried over from the film, other changes are more recent.
Retro look — and even retro features
Many mirror-less cameras now mimic the look of an old film SLR with a metallic body and leather wrap, including the Fujifilm X-T2, Olympus PEN-F, and Nikon DF. In-camera color profiles aim to give digital users some of the same flexibility as choosing which film to load into the camera, offering different black and white options as well as color variations. Fujifilm’s digital film styles, for example, are popular in the photography community. Just this year, several digital cameras launched with a left-side viewfinder inspired from rangefinder cameras, like the Fujifilm X-E2S.
Other digital cameras mimic the gratification of instant film — portable wireless printers are becoming popular on their own. Digital cameras with built-in printers like the Polaroid Snap Touch mix the perks of digital with the instant gratification of the Polaroid-like film. These little cameras are made possible using paper that already has ink embedded inside. Those ink crystals are activated by heat. By not requiring cartridges, the printer can fit inside a compact camera.
Meanwhile, editing techniques remain a popular way to mimic film styles on digital images. Presets are gaining popularity as a way to integrate those effects without so many steps — though the presets can’t always mimic film and don’t work for every image. Industry standard programs like Lightroom accept presets, while the one-click edits are also the foundation of some photography apps.
Retro outside, modern inside
While many new features on today’s digital cameras are in fact inspired by the resurgence in the film, technology continues to improve the modern medium. Digital sensors continue to improve with more effective designs like Sony’s stacked sensor for fast burst speeds. Research continues to be done on sensors with wider dynamic range, better low light performance, and smaller profiles.
While some camera companies are struggling as smartphone cameras continue to improve (Nikon and GoPro are both restructurings), the sale of actual digital sensors itself is growing. As cameras become integrated into everything from smartphones to refrigerators and cars, digital sensor production increases lending stability to companies creating both cameras and the sensors inside them, like Sony and Fujifilm.
The convenience, speed, and increasing resolution of digital cameras suggest the modern camera isn’t going anywhere. Dedicated camera sales are just starting to pick up again after several years of decline, while more cameras are being integrated into other devices.
The growing film trend isn’t going to overtake digital entirely, but the past suggests that the artistic, physical experience of the film is going to continue to influence digital cameras, even a decade after digital became the mainstream.