Saturday, 27 June 2009

Kodachrome RIP

Now that everyone else is talking about Michael Jackson, I thought I'd say a bit about the passing of Kodachrome. On the 22nd June 2009 Kodak finally announced they were discontinuing the legendary film that nobody was using any more. I had my last go at Kodachrome, shooting 5 rolls in 2007-2008, just for the sake of nostalgia. All over the net you'll read anguished tales of photographers who'll feel lost without it. Is this the beginning of the end for film photography, digital has killed Kodachrome, and that we're losing the unique look. To be honest, I don't know what that unique look is. Natural colours, good skin tones, slightly weak greens? If it was such a great look, why were so few people using it? The reality is that in 2009 Kodachrome is way past its best before date. The iso 64 film you can, if you're quick, still buy today is the same formulation that was launched in 1974. And E6 slide film has come a long way in the 35 years since. The latest E6 films from both Kodak and Fujifilm are simply better. Faster, finer grained, they have better reciprocity characteristics and are easier to process. If I want natural colour balance and great skin tones, I could shoot the almost grainless Fuji Astia 100F or Kodak E100G and have the results back in 3 days instead of 3-8 weeks I experienced with Kodachrome. Astia needs no correction to exposure for exposures of up to 1 minute and only half a stop at 4 minutes. Kodachrome needs corrections as soon as you get down to 1/10 second. Add to this the fact the K14 process is so complicated that that there is one lab in the world that still does it, and you can see that it really is time to call it a day.

Digital didn't kill Kodachrome. I'm sure that the consumer market for slide film reduced dramatically in the late 70's into the 80's when print film and 1 hour labs became the norm. Slide shows were a regular feature of my childhood until, when, 1977? 1978? We'd go to friends and relatives houses to see their holiday snaps on the big screen. Cine too. It was quite an event. Then suddenly it was unfashionable, dull and tedious. Packs of prints would be handed round instead. Slide film was for 'enthusiasts'. The masses preferred prints. When those same masses switched to digital it was the high speed, low end print films and presumably the labs that supported them that took the hit. It was Kodak 'Max Zoom' iso800 print film that was on every supermarket checkout, not Kodachrome.

But what would have happened if Kodak kept up with development? Could we - the enthusiasts, not the masses - be shooting an ultra fine grain Kodachrome 100G and Kodachrome 100 Ultracolour? Would we be sending to a local lab for developing in the new simplified K20 process? Who knows? Effectively Kodachrome got stuck in a time warp in 1974. 16 years before Velvia and 28 years before I bought my first digital. Kodachrome has had its day and while it's sad to see it go, there really are better alternatives. I'll quite happily shoot Astia instead, which, while it's not exactly the same, it does much the same thing, and does it better. If you want a last go for nostalgia's sake, there's still some left. I've watched the Kodachrome stock level at 7DayShop go from 'moderate' to 'low' to 'stock on order' and back to 'plenty' over the last few days. Dwaynes will continue processing it until Dec 2010.

You can see my last go here.

No comments: