Thursday, September 30, 2010

Film photography is back

Kodak Portra 400 films

Just this year Kodak's last roll of slide film was used by Nat Geo's Steve McCurry, but just this month Kodak made an announcement of a new film product, the new Kodak Potra 400 color negative.

From British Journal of Photography as written by Olivier Laurant

Earlier this month, Kodak announced the launch of a new professional Portra 400 colour negative film, which replaces the Portra 400NC and 400VC film.While the film will only be available in November, BJP talked with Scott DiSabato, US marketing manager for Professional film at Kodak, about the new film and Kodak's commitment to film photography.

BJP: How long has it been in the making?
BJP: Tell us a bit more about the new Portra 400 film.

Scott DiSabato: We now have the finest grain, high-speed colour negative film in the world with the Portra 400. But certainly with a film as popular as the Portra family, we had to take great care in making sure that we preserve all the good and wonderful things that photographers expected from the Portra line of film. So, this film is still as good as it’s ever been with skin tones. It does a complete range of colour in a superbe fashion. But I think, what we’ve done is to look at realistic workflows today where the majority of films, ultimately, are getting scanned even if it’s printed back out on photographic papers – it’s still scanned along the way. By improving the film the way we have, with the new image structure and by optimizing the contrast and colour saturation, I think we’ve created a film that is just going to be superb for scanning. The feedback, so far, has been fantastic.

We did borrow a lot of technology from our motion picture group – the Vision3 line of films. They’ve been innovating and pioneering new and different technologies that we were able to incorporate right into this film. We have micro-optimised t-grain structure in this film and a new technology to improve the light management capability in this film.

Scott DiSabato: It’s hard to say because we did borrow some technology and R&D that was conducted on the motion picture side. But I’ve been involved in commercializing it for most of the year. We definitely looked at the marketplace to see which areas it would make sense for Kodak to support, and a film project like this is truly an investment. We won’t make a product like this if we don’t believe we’ll see a return on it. Luckily the colour negative film sales have been very stable over the past year. Black-and-white is also doing extremely well. It almost feels that there is a very real resurgence for film. A lot of people that were completely digital are now accepting film again for certain things – or they do like the workflow. And the most exciting thing is to see the younger people adopt film. It’s almost a generational thing. They have not shot film growing up, but once they do get a hold of film in a university, they just seem to fall in love with it. And that’s exciting. It just seems to have a lot of influence.

BJP: With the release of this film, you’ve stopped the Portra 400NC and 400VC films…

Scott DiSabato: Yes. We will continue to offer those two films through year-end. There might be supplies for 2011. But, yes, the Natural Colour film and Vivid Colour film will combine into this new film emulsion. There is a bit of history here that would have signaled that this was going to happen. When we introduced these films in the 1990s, there was a huge difference between these two films. There was primarily an optical printing workflow in those days, and you really needed a stronger saturated film and a stronger contrast film to make it work in the optical world. So, the Natural Colour was a bit flatter, a bit more muted in colour saturation, and the Vivid Colour gave you a little bit more. When we revamped these films in 2006, we moved those two positions even closer to each other. The difference was very subtle even then, so it’s a kind of natural progression looking at the workflow now.
In the scanning environment, it makes a lot more sense to make sure that your contrast levels are moderate so a whole range of scanners can get the highlight and shadow details easily and that the colour gamut is not pumped up so much that it begins to compete with some of that tonal information.
We’ve made sure to target a lot of Natural Colour fans, and also captured a lot of Vivid Colour fans, and we’ve heard great things from everyone.

BJP: Last year, you’ve introduced the Ektar film as well. How successful has it been?
Scott DiSabato: It’s been very successful. Early this year, we introduced the Ektar in sheet films and that was very exciting. We first introduced the Ektar film two years ago in 35mm only. We had, at the time, no plans to do anything else – we just thought it would be a great format for such a fine-grain film. But, when we got at Photokina 2008, the medium format film fans hit us over the head with their desires. When we looked into that a little bit more within a few months we actually came out with a product in 120 format. And then we started hearing the rumble from sheet film users… It’s a great film. The skin tones are really good. Also, what is driving that growth too, in my opinion, is linked to the E6 environment and transparency films. It’s a little more challenging today to find some good E6 processing. The Ektar film kind of distills the characteristics of an E6 film – fine grain, strong colour, slower speed – and produces that with the ease of processing and scanning of colour negative films.

BJP: Do you feel your line of films is complete?
Scott DiSabato: I can say this – this is the best film Kodak has ever made. We have a broad and very relevant portfolio. If you look at the competition and the industry right now, we’re the only manufacturer out there to consistently introduce new products. It’s pretty clear we’re continuing to invest in film. We’re very lucky to have our motion picture side of the company with which we can share a lot of resources to continue to produce new great films.
Some other things we’re doing is working with Canham Cameras, a global distributor for ultra-large format films – anything above 4x5. Kodak doesn’t stock any of these products – 11x14, 20x24 or other goofy sizes for ancient and brand new cameras – but we have Canham. What they do is that gather orders from photographers around the world, and when they hit a certain figure, we produce it. Of course, we need enough orders to justify the retooling at our factory to produce these sizes. Kodak is moving in this direction of made-to-order production. Because it’s a perishable product, we wanted to make sure that we’re not stocking product that’s never going to get purchased. Canham sells the new Portra 400, Ektar 100, T-Max 100 and Tri-X.