Film Is Dead. Long Live Film, Say Pentax

If your answer to the question “When did you last shoot a roll of film” is “Less than two decades ago”, the chances are that you’re a camera enthusiast, and that the camera you used was quite old. Such has been the switch from film to digital, that the new film camera is a rarity. Pentax think there may be an opening in the older format though, as they’ve announced in the videos below the break that they’re working on a fresh range of film cameras to serve the enthusiast market.

We don’t know the economics of the camera business, but we’re certainly interested to see what they come up with. In a world that’s still awash with cheap film cameras from a few decades ago, whatever they produce will have to be good, but given that it’s Pentax who are making the announcement we’re guessing the quality will be of a high standard.

Perhaps more interesting in the revival of interest in film is that it comes at a point when designing and making your own camera has almost never been easier. If you’re bored waiting for the new Pentax, make your own!

Header: Andriy Matusevich, CC BY-SA 3.0.

44 thoughts on “Film Is Dead. Long Live Film, Say Pentax

    1. All the old tech still exists, and loads of new stuff. You can send film off to a lab to develop and get scans or prints done, or develop it yourself at home. You can scan using a digital camera or smartphone, or dedicated scanner. Or print the analogue way using an old enlarger or like the new one made by Intrepid. Film is far from dead. Good luck to Pentax in creating a new range of film cameras.

      1. I’m avid film shooter but I don’t really fully get why new film cameras. Like we would run out of old ones ever :) Millions of cameras out the that will last easily for decade or more. Think about modern SLRs from end of 90s. So many of them..

        1. sad to say im on the same page – more of a collector, but I’ve got 15 k100’s, a boatload of lenses, and a bunch of contemporaries from nikon and canon. My DSLR is a pentax k3 – bought specifically so I could use lenses I already had.

          Somehow I find it hard to believe that modern manufacturing could deliver something as technically complex and NOT PLASTIC as a vietnam-era camera at a price point lower than that of a used car.

          1. They do have a point about service and warranty.

            I once tried to quote a price for opening up an old camera and blowing some dust particles off of the lens assembly, and the “we fix everything” service shop – with the camera manufacturer’s logo on their sign nevertheless – simply refused the job because they had nobody who knew how to do fine mechanics. They were actually just a shop that would fix dodgy capacitors in televisions and swap iPhone batteries. What they actually did with cameras was simply to send it to the manufacturer, who would say “EOL, no parts, won’t repair”, and that would be that.

            I went on the internet, found the instructions, and did it myself in four hours – risking the fact that the camera might never come back together again, or that I’d manage to foul the sensor with more dust. Well, it was unusable anyways. If I had billed myself their hourly rates, I could have bought a new camera.

            The lens assembly zoom motor had broken once before and that time it was still under warranty, so I got it replaced for the amount of the postage fees. That’s what you get with a brand new camera, at least for a couple years from purchase.

          2. IIRC pretty much anything that involved cracking open the camera body used to run $200 upwards in the early 1990s when there were still guys who knew what they were doing from 20-30 years in the biz. The price of used with short warranty SLRs from these specialist camera shops was also pretty close to what having a “service” for them was, around $250, which was everything dusted out real thoroughly, everything loosened that was going tight, tightened that was going loose and appropriate lubricants refreshed. Which tended to set used pricing as close to that, unless it was a real basket case that needed rebuilding practically.

          3. I asked a local clock repair shop what they would charge to clean my 7 day mantel clock, or a newer (pendulum) schoolhouse clock.
            $225, unless it needed bushings.
            25 years ago, the mantel clock was cleaned for $80.

          4. I could have paid them up to about $250 for a full service with cleaning and oiling the mechanisms, but they just wouldn’t. The options: get the same camera second hand for $50 and it’s similarly broken, attempt the fix yourself with 50% chance of success, or buy a new similar camera for $250 plus new accessories to fit the camera for even more money.

            Only problem is, new cameras all come with CMOS sensors now with physically smaller pixels, which are annoyingly noisy at low light levels and get around that with heavy denoising filters, which leaves you with the usual plastic muddled effect with spots, and they’ve arbitrarily taken out RAW support. That’s why I wanted to keep the old CCD camera.

        2. With modern hybrid workflows (e.g. shoot-to-scan) there are things you can do with film that you could not have done with all-optical workflows. For example, a folding medium-format SLR (similar to the SX-70s optical path) for 120 film. That would leave an unacceptable flipped image on the film that would not be printable without an intermediate or the quality loss of exposing through the substrate, but with a digital workflow the image flip is a complete nonissue.
          Then you have tricks like putting a digital hybrid view/rangefinder onto an analogue camera, to provide precision framelines that always move and scale perfectly with focus regardless of lens focal length, and allow for zoom lenses on a rangefinder (unlike the silly tri-elmar thing that pretends its not a zoom because there are only 3 possible cam positions).

          1. As a medium for light capture, film has different behaviour to a CCD or CMOS sensor that can affect the final image in ways that are not easily (if at all) replicated in software postprocessing due to the linear photon capture mechanism of a digital sensor vs. the logarithmic reduction of silver atoms in the silver halide grains.
            e.g. digital sensors will clip bright regions but allow for dramatic recovery of dark regions, whereas underexposed regions of film will reproduce little actual image but overexposed regions reduce in contrast more gradually rather than clipping. And then there are reversal (slide) films, which have a much narrower exposure latitude compared to digital sensors (4-5 stops for Velvia vs. ~15 stops for modern sensors) but maintains a much finer tonal range within that latitude compared to clipping from a higher dynamic range source image. This can dramatically affect the appearance of low-contrast subjects.

          2. @dude, There are many reasons. The challenge of being limited by just a few tens of exposures instead of thousands and no preview. The extreme film grain when pushing film which you can’t get on digital at all. The enjoyable process of developing the negatives. A connection with history. Fun.

            I regularly shoot B&W film and go direct to digital. It is a completely different experience than shooting digital. The great thing is that you can always still enlarge if you want to and sometimes I do.

        3. > that will last easily for decade or more

          I thought the shutters and curtains are more or less consumable items that wear out mechanically, the faster the cheaper the camera. With DSLRs the shutter life is typically somewhere between 40,000 – 100,000 frames with some lasting up to a million.

          1. Even without wear, an old SLR will fail eventually. Rubber or plastic seals decompose and become either brittle or gooey. Springs left in tension will weaken — I have a Yashica Penta-J with shutter springs too weak to move the shutter (that’s a 58 year old camera). Some lubricants become viscous or sticky.

            On large cameras, bellows become leaky and cloth hinges fail.

        4. I’ve taken 4 old cameras into the only repair shop I can find in the last year or so. Only 2 of them were actually repaired and both of those didn’t need parts. Camera repair held on for maybe a decade longer than you’d think but the supplies are essentially gone and you kinda have to bring your own parts camera now.

        5. There were very few cameras made in the millions and spare parts are in vanishishingly short supply as is the tech skills to repair them.
          If you want to keep shooting film you need the mindset of a conservator not a consumer. Almost all cameras from the golden age were designed with regular serviicing in mind . Without it seals break down, speings weaken, lubricants goo up a d the camera starts to fail. You may think its working but chances are its shutter is slow, Inhave yet to buy a second hand camera from the golden age where the shutter is acvurate.

      2. Not only are old enlargers still available, but Intrepid, the makers of view cameras, have created a kit that will turn their 4×5 camera into an enlarger (with LEDs), or you can buy just an enlarger kit–and pretty reasonable, compared to some enlargers, especially ones large enough for 4×5 negatives. And there are probably more chemicals available today than 15 years ago. It’s a growing business, by all accounts.

    2. Developing hasn’t changed after 90s. Same developers and techniques. Some new tanks but nothing big.

      Enlargers; halogen bulbs are still available. However some new enlargers are available + mods for old based on LEDs are available. DIY ones also an option.

      1. Strangely, I seem to come across enlargers twice or three times as often at thrift stores and yard sales than I do SLRs… I don’t know if they end up for sale more often, or just hang around unsold for longer.

        Though I’d say if I casually started looking for one right now, it might take a number of months for one to show up.

        Developing tanks I’ve seen like once only that I can recall, when not offered as a package with an enlarger, trays, etc. (and last time I saw that at a yard sale was a decade back.)

        However, more specialised classified ads listings and local photo group pages might get you these things a lot quicker, just observing your chances of catching one in the wild, vs buying from a fellow zoologist*cough* film nerd.

        1. Many people converted to film scanning workflows about 20 years ago (which is now essentially lostech itself) so maybe some of the enlargers were theirs. Home darkrooms aren’t exactly convenient.

          1. Very True. What would we do without a computer to bail us out. LOL John Cody, sculptor friend, once told me he will not use power tools on his works. Why? because it is NOT His energy and ability going into the finished piece. Are we, as Photographic Artists, depending on H/P and such, to fix what we could have, or should have, when possible, made at the inseption of the exposure

  1. Is it worth noting that Pentax is one of the few companies still making Digital SLRs, as most of the other big names have gone all in on mirrorless.

    I wonder if there is much overlap between DSLR production and Film SLR production?

      1. With old camera’s, hacking batteries is pretty much par for the course. Some are expensive and some are unobtainium. It does get quite ridiculous when you try to maintain a fleet of 80+ camera’s… It is a problem!

  2. Film photography reminds me of the saying: “The journey is the reward, grasshopper”. If you enjoy the process of creating pictures, use film. It you enjoy the picture, use digital.

    I had a film SLR with 4 lenses: wide angle, normal, telephoto and zoom. My darkroom supported B/W and color film development and printing. It had a Durst enlarger with a color head, lots of tanks and trays, lots of bottles full of solutions, stacks of boxes containing B/W and color paper (Polycontrast was my favorite), different color light bulbs and a running sink. If I worked all evening, I would get some pictures. I agree that seeing a B/W image appear in the tray of Dektol was a great experience. The journey is the reward.

    All that has been replaced with a Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra cellphone and Photoshop. The S22 camera takes AMAZINGLY sharp pictures with INCREDIBLE resolution. Holding the S22 in my hand, I can photograph a Rx bottle from across the room and zoom in to read the mfg name on the bottle’s label. My film camera could never do that even on a tripod. Software replaces the darkroom. The picture is the reward.

    Finally, I remember the 36 exposure roll of film. I always ran out of exposures. A digital camera can take a zillion exposures on a even a 32GB SD card. One can easily experiment with different angles and backgrounds.

    The king is dead, long live the king!

  3. For christ sakes why hasn’t any manufacturer come up with a a bolt on sensor pack that is inserted where the film would normally go giving you the ability to swap between the two. But qudos to PENTAX for taking this on. I was fortunate enough to learn the basics of photography at secondary school on the 4×4 equivalent of SLR cameras the K1000.I think it was the standard used in Secondary schools across australia using just the stock 50mm lens. One hell of a tough camera handed out to the students to learn composition.Lighting,Focal Length, Stepping up down. You name it. And if you behaved well in class you might get to borrow a zoom lens from the teachers flotilla of lenses from his own personal kit.
    It took me 25 years to acquire a Pentax k1000 in perfect condition with stock lens for only$15.00 aud .
    Now at collectors second hand markets it sells for around $250.Sometimes as a kit with a sigma flash extra filters etc with a hanimex 300mm zoom.
    I now slap these lenses on my Olympus PEN ironically using it entirely in manual mode because i was raised on a k1000. Perhaps if manufactures released a DSLR stripped of all auto features and use al light meter like in the early k1000 and no led screen on the back.

    1. I think the issue is the size of the film versus the size of the sensor. A 35mm frame is much larger than a typical digital camera sensor. To get the whole image coming through the camera lens, the camera/lense focal length has to change. It may not be practical or cost effective to change the lense and change the camera body to convert a 35mm SLR or digital.

    2. Plane of focus can be very sensitive. In the past there were cameras that needed a different pressure plate to take 220 film instead of 120 because the missing (paper!) backing changed the focal plane. So that’s one problem.
      Also how the heck do you trigger the thing with no link to the camera? For particular models of camera I guess you could rig it with a custom back that hooked into the contacts meant for a date back maybe? Very fast light sensor?
      And how do you keep the sensor from getting destroyed if you’re pulling it in and out of cameras all day?
      I suspect there’s a million other practical problems that have kept this a classic designer-render-only product for 20 years.

  4. Directly digitalising the film is a poor option : scanners haven’t evolved since nearly 20 years and their maximum resolution is very close to the size of the silver grains (or the dies in colour films), and the photosites are very well in line with each other in the CCD of the scanner, but the silver grains are more chaotic, so, at maximum optical scanning resolution you just get some blurry thing that need to be « enhanced » to have something really sharp.
    The only solution is to have a rotative scanner (a real one), a very very big sensor to directly take a picture of the film (works very well with the Fuji 100 S that can take 16 pictures of 100 megapixel each to merge them in an enormous 400 megapixel picture, you can really see the dies of a colour neg), or to make a nice small optical enlargement of the film and then digitalise it on a flatbed…
    Or just stay in the optical field of photography when dealing with films, of course, you can’t show an 12 x 40 (inches, or 30 x 40 centimètres on this side of the channel ;o) B & W baryta or Cibachrome on Instawhateverscialmedia, it’s going to be watched on very small smarphone screen.

  5. New film camera is a good news, but busyness is busyness and the market has collapsed to the beginning of the 80’es for the photographic industry, all those companies belong to so called shareholders that can in a snap decide that it’s not enough profitable and decide to stop and close factories, like what happened to Kodak, Polaroid, Minolta, Konica, and very recently Olympus.
    So I hope it’s a good choice for them if they still have the skills and tooling around, and I’d love to see Nikon doing the same and sale some new FM.
    New fim camera must be mechanical and work even without battery, there are app’s for the metering ;o).
    The only film cameras possible to get new in 2022 are plastic craps, Leicas and large format cameras (4 x 5 inches and bigger size films !), so there’s for sure a market : a school can’t buy second hand already worn out cameras, the students will ruin it at first sight.

  6. I have recently gotten back into shooting film, developing it and printing in a darkroom. I’ve had a few darkroom setups over the years, my first in the mid 70s. I built my own enlarger with a scavenged lens from a slide projector. I figured out how to make bellows for it. It was crude but it got me started.
    I currently shoot on a Yashica Mat twin lens reflex with 120 film, a Canon T50 35mm and I’m repairing two Pentax SLR 35mm cameras. A K1000 and an MX. They are both beautiful examples of Japanese engineering and manufacturing. Finding repair info on the internet has been a challenge but it is out there. Much of the repairs are just figuring it out as you go along.
    I’ll be uploading a video today in fact on the repair of the K1000 light meter and in another week a video on the MX which had several issues to address. It’s very enjoyable work.
    Shooting film makes you slow down, pay more attention to composition and camera settings. I love it!
    I’m excited to see what Pentax does in the future.

  7. I am in the process of scanning negatives and slides from 30-40 years ago and I’m running into issues with deterioration. My trip to Zambia, for example, is riddled with scratch marks and luckily I had 3½X5 glossy prints made then that I will scan just for the sake of digitizing them to add to my computer. I have many photos that I can scan instead of the negative or slides. Few, if anybody else, will ever see them. The films that I used are outdated and hard to match to the scanner. I have negatives that are faded and one roll has “snowflakes” or some kind of chemical reaction that I may or may not get out with rinsing. I have a Pentax K-70 that I can use all my SLR lenses with but I’m not out and about like back when. I now use a small digital camera for all my around the house shots. It’s too bad that a digital insert cannot be used to take the place of the film canisters and back plate for my film cameras. My favorite camera was the Pentax ME Super.

  8. Did anyone actually watch the video from Pentax? He goes into good detail why they are doing it. It’s targeting young consumers who don’t have existing equipment and are forced to by used cameras that often need serviced. It’s an affordable camera with a solid warranty so newbies can focus on learning and taking pictures, and not worry about equipment.

  9. Also worth noting Pentax have retained the same basic lens mount since forever – you can use a 2020 lens (manually) on an ancient film camera or vice-versa.

    Folks who complain about planned obsolescence should be delighted – and there’s perhaps even a HaD article in how Pentax have managed to retain the same mount while adding features over 50 years – the Wikipedia page is surprisingly comprehensive:

  10. Life long Pentax fan and now a specialist film retailer Nik & Trick Photo Services in UK…this is lovely news.

    I’d been saying for a while that it would be Pentax that stepped up to the mark and one now demanded by film lovers the world over.

    Kodak and Ilford both approached Nikon and Canon a few years back and were sent packing so AS A LIFELONG PENTAX FAN….this is wonderful! :D

    A huge thank you to the guys that have shared this today. Well done

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