Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Film is Not Dead

Highland Park, Rochester, NY 11/07

Highland Park, Rochester NY, 11/07

Highland Park, Rochester NY, 11/07

Evaporators, George Eastman House
Rochester, NY 11/07

Supposedly Kodak has turned into a digital company, and the world no longer cares about film. But don't tell that to Mary Jane Hellyer, the President of Film & Photofinishing and Executive VP. Over the last year under her direction, Kodak has twice updated Portra, its professional colour negative emulsions, and recently has updated T-Max 400, a professional black & white emulsion available in 35mm, 120 & 4x5 sizes.

T-Max 400 (TMY) has had a somewhat tepid response in the past due to its inability to handle overexposure of highlights. This is quite different from the nicer curve of Tri-X. While Tri-X has a totally different grain structure;indeed, Tri-X is a "traditional" emulsion while TMY is a more modern "T-Grain" formulation. So there was a trade-off.

But the new TMY-2 formulation is much improved. I can't say for sure that Kodak has completely solved the issue of highlights; that would take careful testing and I have only had one roll to play with. The film isn't widely shipping yet. But my casual use of TMY-2 has been a wonderful experience. In addition to its improved tonal rendering, it seems to be a true 400 speed film, not the 250 or 320 speed I find optimal for Tri-X.

Kudos to you, Ms. Hellyer. I am sure your budgets for film R&D are not generous. But you have managed to marshal the still significant brain power and production prowess at Kodak to shine beautiful light in the silver-halide world.
Edit/Postscript, 2/1/08

Fuji is showing a prototype for a new medium format film camera at PMA. Their press announcement emphasizes that as an imaging company "Fujifilm remains true to its heritage and to the acknowledged superior image quality delivered by professional photographic film products."

Compare that to (CEO Antonio) Perez' mealy-mouthed public statements on film, and you get the sense of why many photographers are confused about Kodak and its future. No doubt Kodak must be a digital company, but Fuji clearly has a clearer vision of what imaging is and that there are more photographers than those who must use digital due to the need for speed of delivery, increased production quantity, etc. Hellyer recognizes this, unfortunately she is not the CEO. Yet.

Rangefinder Forum has an interesting and entertaining thread about this. And apparently the camera looks like this.


Emily said...

You were right about this new film, dad-- the quality is excellent.

WeeDram said...

Em: You are first in line to get some when I buy more!

Love you!

Gene Wilburn said...

S'OK, as long as I'm second in line :-)

Will said...

Go Earl! a very informative and inspirational piece. Please tell Ms. Hellyer that there are still a lot of us out here who appreciate what she's done.

And, I want my daughter to grow up like your Emily. Talking about film with her old man :) what a daughter.

WeeDram said...

Thanks for commenting, guys.

OK, Gene, you get some too!

Will: she is very, very special. She'll be with me for her March break, and the old man will put some new TMY-2 in her OM. :D