IMPORTANT CONFERENCE ON FUTURE OF SHEET FILMgreenspun.com : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread
Well, the question is whether there should BE an important conference on the future of sheet film. The issue of the ever-shrinking list of products comes up frequently in threads on this website. Now, as many of you know, Steve Simmons, editor/publisher of View Camera Magazine, is organizing a large format conference to take place in Albuquerque at the end of next June ("trade show, swap meet, speakers and seminars, field sessions, gallery exhibits and more"). A working draft of the schedule is at www.viewcamera.com. He's asked in recent issues of VC for suggestions for topics. How much interest would there be out there in a good-sized session on the future of sheet film? Maybe we could bring together representatives of the manufacturers and/or potential manufacturers, somebody to address future market potential, somebody to address patent law, etc. Other/better ideas?? If there is strong interest in such a thing and any kind of consensus as to what people might like, I'll talk to Steve Simmons (I live in Albuquerque) about it and even do some of the leg work. What do you think? -jeff buckels
-- jeff buckels (firstname.lastname@example.org), August 04, 2001
What will it accomplish?
Do you really think it would reverse the market trend for the past 10 years or so?
-- Bob Salomon (email@example.com), August 04, 2001.
Negatory Bob, they say "if you aim for nothing, you will hit the mark every time."
-- David O'Connor (firstname.lastname@example.org), August 04, 2001.
I'd probably attend the affair, but rather be shooting than talking about film. The bottom line is, if a product is not profitable it's not going to continue in production. Better off acquainting others with the format thru hands on demostrations, field or otherwise, and LF film abilities, and try and draw them into the format. The more that shoot, the better off the industry will be. I would also like to have the chance to meet some manufacturers, see different equipment, and hobnob with others with the same interest. The only other idea I have would be for a small competitive photo show.
-- Wayne Crider (email@example.com), August 04, 2001.
If sheet film goes away I'll paint emulsion onto glass. J
-- Jim Galli (firstname.lastname@example.org), August 05, 2001.
I agree with Jim...albumen or gelatin on glass sounds great to me, because it doesn't matter how many people TALK about using sheet film. If the number of people BUYING sheet film keeps dropping market economics will determine its fate. I hate to admit that I agree with Bob, but no amount of talking about it is going to reverse a market trend. What will eventually happen is sheet film will become even more niche than it is now. So some small company will end up buying large rolls of film from a larger manufacturer, such as Big Yellow, and will cut it up, package it and sell it to you (us) at a price that allows it to continue the service. Sorry for being a realist, and believe me, I am PASSIONATE about large format, but no amount of passion will convince Kodak's CFO that it's good for the company to keep producing sheet film if it hurts the bottom line.
-- Chad Jarvis (email@example.com), August 05, 2001.
I disagree here. Companies like Kodak, Agfa, Ilford, ect are in the field of "marketing". They are adept at seeing a potential market and advertizing and expanding the market. If there were to be a conference on film and other materials I feel they would sit up and take notice. If new companies such as Berger are entering the fray, then there must be someone looking at the market and seeing potential there. Kodak will keep the film line if they think it is a viable market and put resources into it if they think they can expand that market. I am going to join quite a few other positive thinkers and attend Steve's confernece next year. I think it is about time we LF shooters get together and have a conference. There are photography conferences all around the world but most are geared for point and shoot systems. There is an expanding interest in alternative processes going on now. Look at Bostick and Sullivan and others. Let's not throw the towel in just yet. Those on the left coast are invited to join me in driving back to the conference next summer. James
-- james (firstname.lastname@example.org), August 05, 2001.
I don't know if a conference session on this will do anything but if it gets the attention of the film makers & can be a factor in saving a LF emulsion then go for it. I have written to The Yellow Godfather & given my dimes worth of opinion as to their dropping 5x7 in emulsions I used. I didn't buy much, less than 600 sheets annually. But now I buy NO EK products as a result. Cut what I use & rely on and I comfortably moved to Ilford, Arista and Agfa. And yes, I did write to their head guys & let them know I was changing my purchasing dollars from The Yellow Peril to their companies. Probably didn't do anything but at least they have one letter of support for their LF products. I see part of the marketing of LF as a question not of "making a profit" on the materials but of just how much of a profit they make. At times it may be smaller than the ideal or goal and at others they may not make a profit at all. But if it is a good reason for the purchaser to also buy other items from the company then it may be worth carrying the product. (just realized I still buy one EK product, Azo... sure hope they don't continue their current trend with it)
I have suggested before that EK license SuperXX and some other films they don't want to make any longer to a smaller company that can revive it. Other film makers have done this with smaller companies in the past and it is from these that the smaller companies now make their own films in some cases. It would help a niche market, and LF is just that, a small niche in the film world.
-- Dan Smith (email@example.com), August 05, 2001.
Well Bob, I am sure it can't hurt to try.
-- Jeff (firstname.lastname@example.org), August 05, 2001.
Sam Waldon and Henry Ford got very, very rich by accepting a small profit on lots of items. George Eastman used to do the same if it contributed to Kodak's dominance of the industry. When I clerked in a camera store the first place we looked for most anything photographic was the Kodak catalog. No more. Now, a product is dropped if it doesn't show a Large Profit. Frankly, I think that the best thing that could happen for traditional photography is if Kodak got completely out of the photography business, so small, inovative companies could more easily turn a profit.
-- Wilhelm (email@example.com), August 05, 2001.
I'd say that as long as there are several large format enthusiasts all over the world, there will be manufacturers. Even if the huge companies should ever stop production, there will be some specialist manufacturer/s like e.g. efke or Forte. And if all that should fail, I will also spray liquid emulsion onto glass.
-- David Haardt (firstname.lastname@example.org), August 05, 2001.
Good topic with strong opinions on both sides. Personally, I welcome ANY conference that promotes anything to do with large format photography.
WRT to the continued viability of LF film. Kodak JUST completely redesigned their Readyload line of LF products. The previous system had been around for over a decade with mixed acceptance (some loved it, some hated it). IF Kodak was planning to get out of the LF film business, I doubt if they would have spent the resources required to change horses midstream and completely redesign this entire product line. With this in mind, I'm guessing that the profit margins on the Readyload products are sufficient enough that they felt it worthwhile to redesign and EXPAND this part of their LF product line. I know, not everyone shoots Readyloads, but to me this signals that Kodak is not intent on DROPPING LF products, but shifting their efforts to the products that provide the greatest profit potential. That doesn't help those whose used the products that were dropped, but at least they don't appear to be abondoning the LF market totally.
How useful would a conference on sheet film be? Hard to say. Depends on who attends and what is discussed. Personally, I'd love to attend such a conference, and one of the things I'd like to see is a discussion on the ways we, as LF enthusiasts can help promote and expand the LF user base. One of the things I take great pride in is the number of new users I have introduced to large format photography. It started with friends and has grown beyond. I could probably do even more, but as it is, I try to give guest lectures and talks on "Getting Started in Large Format Photography" at the local community college, camera clubs, etc. Look at it this way, the best way to insure that companies continue to produce the products we use is to get other people hooked on using those products. Increase the number of users, and you increase the demand for a product and make it viable for the manufacturer to continue making them. If there is a demand, there will be products. If there is no demand, the few of us who remain will be coating our own plates.
So rather than grouse about the market shrinking and products disapperaing, get out and get others hooked on LF photography. Show them your work, let them see just how good prints from LF originals can look. Answer their questions. Point them to resources, both online and in print, that can help them get started. You want to insure the continued availability of LF products, then you need to become a LF advocate every chance you get. In spite of Bob's dire predictions, market trends can be reversed. However, it takes effort. We, as users have the most to lose (and the most to gain). We can either be proactive about this and do our best to get others using sheet film, or we can just sit back and complain about the evil manufacturers who stop making products that aren't viable due to a lack of market demand.
-- Kerry Thalmann (email@example.com), August 05, 2001.
I'm of the opinion we need to encourage the present manufacturers to stay in the business [translated, that means BUY THE DAMN STUFF!!!!]
Speaking of Forte, I love their 35mm film. Just wish they would make it in 4x5 rather than those strange European sizes.
-- Alec (firstname.lastname@example.org), August 05, 2001.
Yes, Buying the damn stuff will keep it in production. But how many does it take to make 5x7 TMax 100 worthwhile? Buying $6000 at a time special order isn't going to get The Yellow Godfather putting it back on the market and who can afford the $500,000 one EK beancounter told me would have to be guaranteed each month? Not me, I left my big bills in the wallet a big dog stole last week. (think it was the same dog that stole my homework & the briefcase Richard Nixon had with the papers showing he was innocent)
Buying the stuff is a good idea but buying more than one can actually use in hopes of keeping a product in production won't work. New readyloads sound nice but the cost is so high it isn't worth it to some and much of what many of us shoot is not available in readyloads for our cameras anyway.
EK reminds me of a guy who sold his small carwash because he thought a much bigger truck wash would make more money. Seems he lost big time because the big trucks started dumping fuel, etc. and the EPA came in & tested the sumps & ordered him to clean it up or be put on a superfund site. Now he is broke rather than selling car washes a quarter at a time to the tune of $22,000 a month. Big sales can also bring big problems while losing you the small customers that pay steadily. Cut them off & the big sales guys now 'own you'. Lose 5% of the little guys & you are OK. Lose 5% of the big guys & you may be in real trouble. Get greedy & only service the big guys and lose most of us little ones & you discover that you no longer have control...
This topic would be a good one for the LF conference so go ahead & mention it to Steve.
-- Dan Smith (email@example.com), August 05, 2001.
Will do, Dan.... Thanks everyone for your interesting responses to this knotty problem. I'll talk to Steve Simmons about the conference right away and suggest he take a look at the thread here.
While I'm here, though, a final thought suggested to me today in an interesting private email: It would be informative for each commercial advertiser in the latest issue of View Camera Magazine (the folks who sell us our cameras, lenses, film holders, etc.) to append to this thread in the next week or so a brief description of any steps they've taken in, say, the last year to ensure that we have reliable sources of sheet film in the future.
jeff buckels (albuquerque)
-- jeff buckels (firstname.lastname@example.org), August 05, 2001.
Hey, as long as someone comes out with a digital capture that slips into the camera back like a film holder and covers the whole 4x5 frame, captures something like 100,000 by 100,000 dpi, then who cares if sheet film availability dries up altogether?
Seriously, as long as there are Walker Evans and Ansel Adams exhibits in museums like the Getty, silver based photographic sheet film will also be available. Buy the way,is anyone out there buying the 5x7 Arista B&W film or the 4x5 Macophot 820c IR film? Andre
-- Andre Noble (email@example.com), August 06, 2001.
Something like that back was introduced at the 1998 Photokina from Anagramm.
The Picture gate series which easily makes 20' digital prints of photographic quality from it's capture.
The most practical one captures 8000 x 9700 on a 6x9cm view camera.
Colenta shows one on 45 cameras.
-- Bob Salomon (firstname.lastname@example.org), August 06, 2001.
Jeff - Good idea! And unlike what the naysayers are spouting, these sorts of things have been demonstrated to make a difference. Heck, mediocre TV shows have been brought back to life (when they were slated for the scrap heap due to poor ratings and ad revenues) by passionate viewer response. So, while important, the current finances of the situation aren't the only factor.
The nattering nabobs of negativity are showing their ignorance of marketplace dynamics by acting as though it's a static situation. There's also the PERCEIVED LONGEVITY (or lack thereof) of the market. If manufacturers thought a market might dry up in the forseeable future they might start cutting back now (even though it may be currently profitable) in plans to do away with that product eventually. On the other hand, mfgs routinely (and knowingly) lose money while developing new products which they hope will catch on someday. The main point here is that these decisions aren't (can't) be based only on financial fact, for they involve predicting the future. What WE CAN DO is to do our best to convince the mfgs that we (and other LF shooters) are in this for the long haul. That there will always be a reliable (if not huge) market for LF film. That it's not a fad for us which will go away in a few years. This type of thing (perceived market stability) can and does make a big difference in informing the decision-making process of marketing folks.
We can also reward those who cater to us, and let them know that we're doing this. Example: As a LF shooter I like Ilford, and as a ULF shooter I love them. Not just because I like their products (which I do) but because I think they are more supportive of LF photography (and b&w photography in general) than the other guys. (They actually *expanded* the availability of their banquet-sized films recently!) So of course I buy their products, but I also write them and tell them how much I appreciate their support and say that (here's the important part) because of their attitude, I now use their products exclusively for ALL of my photo needs wherever possible. 35mm film. 120 film. 4x5 film. 8x10 film. 12x20 film. Paper. (LOTS of paper. Ever think about how many sheets of paper you use for each neg you shoot? You can bet the folks at Ilford do.) And I refer other people to their products all the time. When newbies ask me and I tell them that I really like HP5-Plus or their Warmtone Multigrade paper or whatever (and show them some examples of work done with these) then I've helped create a long term customer for them. And I TELL ILFORD all of the above. Does any one customer matter, financially? Of course not, but it's like writing your congressman - for every letter they get they assume you represent a large number of constituants (customers).
And if we all write, it will make a difference. Remember, this is a niche market where a few hundred customers one way or the other can make a difference to the mfgs. So write to Fuji, Kodak, Ilford, Agfa, Lotus, or whoever. If you use their stuff and are happy with it, thank them and let them know they have a loyal customer. And if you used to be a customer but they bailed on your particular emulsion or format, tell them that you switched due to a lack of their support for your art, and that they've lost your business forever. Believe me, marketing wanks like to "keep their ear to the ground", and they take notice of such sentiments.
Cheers and good luck!
-- Mark Parsons (Polar@thegrid.net), August 06, 2001.
One of the problems with LF and talking people into using it is the fact that it is basically a print medium. You make prints from LF. Most people shoot slide m,aterial or neg material and have 4x6 machine prints made. Now quite a few people shoot neg and slide material and scan it and make prints with a color printer. Most people aren't swayed by the argument of superior results from LF material. A lot of them view it as a very hard and costly format. Look at those who buy a 4x5 camera and then want sheet film capability. Why not just shoot MF? I hear it all the time in the field. "Nice camera. I'll bet it is expensive to shoot. Where do you get you film processed? Isn't it hard to do? How do you show your slides?" Most photographers get slides and scan them now. They don't set up a darkroom and learn to print. Not even black and white shooters. Everyone scans and digitalizes their images. What the hell do you do with a couple of hundred prints? And how many prints do you make until you say enough is enough? I shoot and print in a wet darkroom so I'm hooked. I espouse the vitues of that style of photography. But I hear more and more people that argue for digital capture and printing. So there are a lot of different reasons for the dwindling enthusiasism for LF and wet printing. But as Sexton says to all his workshop participants, Please "write" to manufacturers, especially Kodak and tell them how you feel. He doesn't even want you to email them. He says to write to them and gives you valid addresses. I think a conference would be a big step toward showing support for LF. James
-- james (email@example.com), August 06, 2001.
As many people know I am planning q conferecne on large format photography in Albuquerque, NM late June 2002. The tentative schedule is on my web site www.viewcamera.com
If any one has suggestions for additions to or deletions fropm the schedule please e-mail me.
-- steve simmons (firstname.lastname@example.org), August 07, 2001.
A conference can only have an up side. A sort of unification of kind. This can only lend weight to assorted agencies like Kodak etc. as some sort of unified body. Opinions would be sort by them of trends etc. On another note the good folk who tend to respond to this and other links on LF tend in the main to be amateur and art orientated. Don't forget the huge (although not as huge as it used to be) group of professional and commersial users of sheet film. Digital or no digital, sheet film is still used by quite a number of these studios and in copious quantities. In the end I envisage that we will have fewer choises but inproved quality of what is manufactured. I feel the body of LF equipment manufacturers will and indeed do have casting votes on a lot of what goes on. So go for the conference and as suggested write letters. Not so much bitching but be positive. Evey one likes a pat on the back, big business is no exception and remember it's not Kodak or Fuji etc. it's an individual who makes a decision then forwards a pre ordained outcome to the board. It's his back you want to target. -- Greg.
-- Greg Pratt (email@example.com), August 13, 2001.
Steve, I checked out your web site and saw the proposed schedule for the conference. I think you managed to put togehter a good representative sample of LF work. My only suggestion would be to include some kind of round table with the manufacturers so that we can hear their view as to where do they think LF is going and what if any plans they have for the far future. If you extend an invitation and they decline to show, then we all will know where we stand with them! I beleive that as LF practicioners we are sometimes too timid, everytime a manufacturer does away with a good product all we do is shrug our shoulders and start testing other materials to replace the one we liked. If you give them an opportunity to speak and (God forbid!) answer some questions, maybe we will not be so worried. Heck even if they say " folks we will be doing away with LF film in 10 years" it would still be good, at least it would let me know I better start learning photoshop and what all those little buttons in my computer are for!
-- Jorge Gasteazoro (firstname.lastname@example.org), August 14, 2001.