The scarcity of film

It can be either a selling point or a drawback: To use a film camera, one needs film. Film is a physical object and has limitations, namely the amount of exposures one can get out of a roll. In this digital age where one can literally shoot thousands of photos a day on a phone or digital camera, the finite amount of frames from a roll of film can be positive: It makes one think more about what they are shooting. Every shot is more precious. Sure, one can shoot thousands of film pictures in day (heck, back in the film era, some pro photographers had to), but you’ll also be spending hundreds to thousands of dollars to do it.

But let’s talk about that drawback, the humble roll of film itself. Back in the heyday, every drugstore, grocery store, convenience store, tourist gift shop, Kmart, and yes, camera store would have film in stock. Over the past fifteen years finding film has become harder, and many of the traditional outlets stopped carrying it. And film producers cut certain stocks. But you could still find film, if you knew where to look. The past eighteen months of pandemic has changed that reality. Film has become harder to come by.

It’s not that there isn’t a demand, if anything, being “locked down” has led people to rediscover this medium. (Raises hand.) But the supply chain has been stretched by COVID leading to two things: an increase in prices due to scarcity of resources and labor, and the attendant shortage of actual film. I don’t like the price increases, but I can understand. Everything has become harder to find. Everything has gone up in price. It’s not a conspiracy by Fuji, Kodak, or Ilford, at least as far as I can see.

There’s a school of thought amongst some film shooters that one shouldn’t hoard film, only buy enough for what you think you’ll be using in the next week or three. I understand that idea, but I don’t know if the film I want, or heck, the film I don’t want is going to be available when I run out of my current stock. I’ve been buying up as much as I can afford to have as back stock. It’s nothing outrageous, but it’s something. I’m thankful that my tastes in film don’t run towards the pricey side, I can “get by” on color stocks like Fuji C200, Fuji Superia Xtra 400, Kodak ColorPlus 200, and Kodak Ultramax 400. But even these “common” emulsions have been hard to find, no place I know has consistently had any in regular stock over the past six months or so, and never all four together at the same time. When I get a notice that Blue Moon has gotten in more ColorPlus, I pounce on it. Who knows when they’ll have it again?

I’m not particularly fond of acting in this way, but I’ve come to realize that this film photography hobby has become quite a passion. If I stop, I want it to be because I want to, not because I have to due to lack of resources. I realize that this isn’t the biggest problem we face right now, but it’s definitely an indicator of our world today. Until I can’t, I’ll keep my film supply topped off as best as I can.


4 thoughts on “The scarcity of film

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  1. I suspect this pandemic will change some businesses indefinitely, and we’ll all need to make changes in our lives. What those changes are, of course, remains to be seen.

    1. Definitely. I neglected to mention how the pandemic has affected bikes: Frames/bikes are delayed up to a year or two, and parts have become really hard to find. Yet the demand for bikes has definitely increased!

  2. I have had trouble finding bicycle parts and the new pricing if you do find the part. My grocery store has rolling shortages of every imaginable product. When I ask about it they tell me that it is a factory issue. Usually I’ve been told that factory worker Covid sickness had shutdown or slowed down the factory. I also see huge amounts of help wanted signs now. A human shortage. Hopefully you can still find the film you need.

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