Kodak Film Factory Revealed

Anybody born before the mid 1990s will likely remember film cameras being used to document their early years.  Although the convenience of digital cameras took over and were then themselves largely usurped by mobile phones, there is still a surprising variety of photographic film being produced.  Despite the long pedigree, how many of us really know what goes into making what is a surprisingly complex and exacting product? [Destin] from SmarterEveryDay has been to Rochester, NY to find out for himself and you can see the second in a series of three hour-long videos shedding light on what is normally the strictly lights-out operation of film-coating.

Kodak first digital camera 1975
Kodak’s first attempt at a digital camera in 1975. The form-factor still left something to be desired…

Kodak have been around in one form or another since 1888, and have been producing photographic film since 1889. Around the turn of the Millennium, it looked as though digital photography (which Kodak invented but failed to significantly capitalize on) would kill off film for good, and in 2012 Kodak even went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which gave it time to reorganize the business.

They dramatically downsized their film production to meet what they considered to be the future demand, but in a twist of fortunes, sales have surged in the last five years after a long decline. So much so, in fact, that Kodak have gradually grown from running a single shift five days per week a few years ago, to a 24/7 operation now. They recently hired 300 Film Technicians and are still recruiting for more, to meet the double-digit annual growth in demand.

[Destin] goes to great lengths to explain the process, including making a 3D model of the film factory, to better visualize the facility, and lots of helpful animations.  The sheer number of steps is mind-boggling, especially when you consider the precision required at every step and the fact that the factory runs continuously… in the dark, and is around a mile-long from start to finish.  It’s astonishing to think that this process (albeit at much lower volumes, and with many fewer layers) was originally developed before the Wright Brothers’ first powered flight.

We recently covered getting a vintage film scanner to work with Windows 11, and a little while back we showed you the incredible technology used to develop, scan and transmit film images from space in the 1960s.


Thanks to [zit] for the tip.

50 thoughts on “Kodak Film Factory Revealed

  1. As a chemist (and an amateur photographer), colour film photography is one of those things that falls into the category of “I’d never believe it would work, if I didn’t already know that it works”

    1. Then you have colour-reversal films, which add an extra layer of “you how in the what now?” to the process by producing colour in places where halides were NOT exposed. Then some more WTF-ery when you look at the chemistry of colour-reversal print paper, AKA chromogenic paper. Which is sadly dead and almost certain never to return, a shame given the colour prints produced from them are – unlike negative prints – absurdly colour-fast.

      Then you have the madness of colour-infrared slide films, some of which may be tetrachromatic (and rumours of pentachromatic films for the mapping cameras of some NRO satellites abound).

  2. Picture this…
    A film where the plot developed a focus on the depth of exposure of the main progenitor.
    The brilliance highlights humanities shadow side. Contrasted by the vibrance and warmth of….
    Ill leave now ;)

  3. Since the Ukraine is in the news, how about we talk about Edwin Herbert Land? If there ever was a hacker, it was Mr. Land. Supposedly second only to Edison in the number of patents.

    Kodak knowingly, badly, intentionally, and with grievous intent infringed on Mr. Land’s patents.


    Kodak did not settle until after his death, even though their executives admitted to knowingly violating his patents as a predatory business decision, and they were responsible for putting the much smaller Polaroid out of business.

  4. Film is still better than digital because of resolution and physicality of the prints. I have been with friends that insist on passing their phone around to swipe through their “awesome” vacation pics. Most are okay, some are good, but they are usually buried in the tons of shots from “blast” shooting and the (gag) selfies. When I bring prints they are chosen to tell a story of my trip and not to overwhelm the viewers. You also can’t accidentally turn off a print when you hand it to the next person. With film you have 12/24/36 chances to get it right so it is more technique than just pushing a button on a phone. I have photos that are still around long after friends have lost their pics due to a lost/broken/failed phone. Our family pictures dating from the turn of the century help us remember our past. I may be out of step with the times (I do shoot digital) but I still feel film is far better. I have a collection of over 100 Kodak cameras I call Bellows , Boxes and Bakelite.

    1. I’ve been so far down the rat hole of film photography that I’ve actually made my own film emulsion and shot with it through a home made lens and I can tell you, this “film is better” stuff needs a cold shower – any rumoured technical superiority of film is just inaccessible to modern film photographers because the surviving, accessable equipment and levels of experience in technical specialisation sucks. When you’re shooting with a good ’90s prosumer SLR and a decent f2 lens and 800 ISO Kodak Portra and printing at Jim’s Print or your Patterson home darkroom, you aren’t even getting 8x enlargements to reveal the superior “resolution”. You’re getting 6×4 prints you can’t tell from digital prints, as repeated blind tests demonstrate. If you get the chance to use a professional enlarger you begin to reveal whichever in the chain is weakest – your unsteady hand, the camera’s tired shutter or curtain, the distortions or problems on the lens, the inconsistencies in the film or, after you print, the paper, your very ordinary rinsing. You also get to see the crappy job done by Jim’s dunk machine when he developed your film, or how you were three degrees too warm or ten seconds too long in the drum. Add that the photo prints don’t last if you aren’t conscientious with them, they peel apart in a decade if left in open air and they fade faster than a magazine print will if left in the sun, just like digital photos get lost if you don’t back them up. As for your film photos being better than your friend’s shots from a phone? You use a non automatic camera. You think about your shots. You expose, you frame, you work at it. They don’t. Of course yours are better. The difference isn’t the film, it’s you, the photographer. Film is fun and hackable and interesting, but in ’22 it isn’t actually better than digital.

      1. With one camera body and a small selection of lenses, I can shoot film that gets incredible details, or I can shoot snapshots. Just replicating the B&W resolution would require a fairly expensive camera body, ideally de-bayered.

        Then consider something like Fuji Velvia 50, resolving about 160 lines per millimeter. Per color layer.

        But none of my lens are going to be anywhere near capable of that level od detail. Though, cheap digital lenses won’t be either.

        1. “Just replicating the B&W resolution would require a fairly expensive camera body, ideally de-bayered.”

          Maybe with microfiche film, in very specific circumstances (controlled lighting, statioanry subjects, etc. Maybe. But I doubt it.
          For practical film photography, current digital sensors and modern lenses are competing on a level field with large format (4×5) film: https://www.mountainphotography.com/gallery/4×5-film-vs-digital-resolution-comparison/

          Remember that a sheet of 4×5 film is around 15x the area of a 35mm ‘full frame’, so in areal density digital sensors are beating film up and down the street by a wide margin.

    2. Actually, uh, no. Film was great when it was the only solution. (Pun Intended)
      The new mirrorless digital cameras are so much superior to film it amazes me you could think that.
      All of the darkroom effort to actually make a viewable print can be done without effort.
      My Nikon Z6ii digital shoots High Dynamic Range digital as well as 4K video. It’s a “One Stop Shop”.
      And just so you know, I still have my film cameras. (In A Display Case)

    3. I’ve read somewhere that a good quality 35mm when paired with good quality lenses can compared to the really expensive 50mpix digital camera.

      The drawback is the storages. Films and photo takes up space and it’s not practical for the average person who takes lot of vacation and family pictures. It’s more for science, magazines, and news uses where they can zoom and crop out good subjects and discard excess photos.

    4. Compared to the best digital cameras, some films have superior dynamic range. Better resolution would require special purpose films like the stuff used for microfiche or High Contrast Copy which went out of production about 40 years ago. Today’s general purpose color negative films in 35 mm are good for about 10 megapixels at best, and details are going to look noisy compared to digital.

      Film loses badly for convenience and economy.

    5. I still do film photography on occasion, but only really for the tactile experience of the process. IMO, 35mm film photography is too much like digital to be a viable alternative activity — so I sold my 35mm cameras, and when I shoot film, use an old Rolleiflex TLR (12 shots per roll, developed at home). It’s a very different kind of photography — for all the “you only have a few chances to get it right” reasons you cite.

      1. All true it seems. I do recall a visit to the Kodak Lab here in Los Angeles, and they proved the the human eye will lie to you about “What Is White”. The eye will assign “White” to the lightest “Grey” it can see. So I guess, “White Balance Still Matters” ;-)

  5. Memories… I worked at Kodak in 1999, back when Kodak Park was still the biggest chemical plant east of the Mississippi. (Think about that—bigger than anything in New Jersey!)

    Back then, the five-story-tall film-coating wheel was driven by a Sun SPARCstation IPC with a custom wire-wrapped board and custom drivers, running SunOS 4.1. Couldn’t be upgraded: the guy who built the board was gone, as was the guy who wrote the driver. That’s one of the reasons I left before the year ended: I didn’t want to be anywhere near that thing on New Year’s Eve.

    But working with the R&D folks was eye-opening… even before I learned about the nuclear breeder reactor in the basement. The unmarked building, not present on the site map, that apparently handled certain extra-high-resolution orbital applications was always intriguing. Driving in to work past the steaming milk-tanker-set-on-end labelled “LIQUID NITROGEN—NOT COMPATIBLE WITH LIFE” was fun on windy days, constantly bringing Terminator 2 to mind…

  6. “Around the turn of the (most recent!) Millennium,”

    I have yet to find any thousand year old cameras on eBay. Perhaps confusion that the last turn of the Century coincided with a new Millennium?

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