Travel Adventure Documentary Magazine
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Whatever Happened to Film?

Dale Johnson Posted by Dale Johnson in Blogs October 12th, 2011

By Dale Johnson Technology Editor

In the days of VHS tape, I never thought a video image could ever replace a film image…or even equal it.

But within the business of producing travel films, the change from film to digital video has been completed for virtually all of this 21st Century.  That’s a change I now embrace completely and would not wish to return to image acquisition via motion picture film.

However, mainstream theatrical production has continued primarily to use film for recording images.  At the same time, once the photography has been completed in a Hollywood production, the imagery is transferred to a digital format and all post-production has been accomplished in the digital realm.  This for quite a few years now.

The demise of film was first proclaimed in 1972 when video tape became widely used in television broadcast.  It didn’t happen then, of course.  Hollywood, documentarian, industrial, and even television continued to roll right along with film production. (Most TV pilots were shot on film until 2009.)

But now it turns out that the major camera manufacturers, Arriflex, Aaton and Panavision have all ceased producing film cameras.  They are all concentrating on digital cinema cameras now.  Apparently, the last film camera was made in 2009.

Film distribution at the theatrical level has been a major revenue stream for both Kodak and Fuji, as most theaters continued to exhibit film prints.  But the National Association of Theatre Owners now say about half of the theater screens in the U.S. are using digital projection.  This, of course, will be a huge monetary savings for that segment of the film industry, as making film prints and shipping those heavy prints are expensive.  Digital files, on the other hand, cost little to replicate and little to ship or transmit.

Black & White
There are film laboratories still processing 16mm film as well as 35mm.  And I see many film cameras still offered for sale on eBay.  Some of those camera are advertised at a discounted price—but some are still asking a price akin to the former price structure when film was king.  I saw one ad for a 16mm Arri S, considered the premier camera in our field at one time, for $200.  The original new cost for this camera had risen to about $6,000 in the 1990’s.

Bolex International in Switzerland continues to manufacture their 16mm cameras, as well as the Eumig and Beaulieu brand of Super 8mm cameras and projectors.  They do offer a service of scanning film (both motion and still) to digital DVD, but camera manufacture is still their primary thrust.  And Kodak claims that Super 8 film is still popular and they continue to manufacture ‘billions of linear feet of it.’

The death of film continues to be debated, but probably most are inclined to see it coming.  Just when that will happen is the debating point now.

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