More about the end of Kodachrome

As somebody who griped up a storm about Kodak's previous film discontinuations, I have to say that they are discontinuing film with the appropriate amount of respect for our loss this time.

Just as much as I'm sad to see yet another paint gone from the palette of film photography, it's understandable.

Back in 1950, Kodachrome was far superior to any other color film. For a variety of reasons, it's easier to make Kodachrome right with less technology. By comparison, the early Ektachrome films were crap. The problem is, no matter how motivated you might be, Kodachrome requires a LOT of exacting care with developing. There's a bunch of carefully calibrated steps and the chemicals are fairly toxic.

Digital didn't kill Kodachrome. Improved versions of Ektachrome did. See, Ektachrome is far more cooperative, such that you can run it with much simpler hardware. If you shoot hundreds of rolls of film every month and deal with clients who don't understand that good photography can take time, it's much easier to speed over to the closest good lab that does Ektachrome and have them rush it. It's going to be closer and it's going to get done faster.

This is really what killed the Kodachrome process. Fuji made, at one point, K-14 films but concentrated on E-6 film and produced Velvia. Kodachrome has been on the decline for a long long time, digital only sped up the process.

Furthermore, professionals of all sorts haven't been shooting Kodachrome for longer than you might think. During most of its product life, it hasn't been available in professional formats like 4x5 and 120. Just amateur formats like 35mm and 126 and 828. Shooting quickly for magazines like National Geographic and Sports Illustrated was the main professional market it had. But because, before 1990, it was the only way to get any sort of image out of a 35mm camera that a magazine would be happy with printing, people think that it is a technically superior film.

The funny thing is that most of those old Kodachrome slides, shot quickly, are outlasting most of the early Ektachrome that other folks were shooting on their view cameras.

The tragedy is not that we're losing the only perfect film to have ever been made. The tragedy is that a film that has changed very little over time, one of the first realistic color films, with a long line of greatest hits, has passed on. There are better films today, but they aren't Kodachrome.


Really, the only thing to be said about digital is that without digital cameras coming along, Kodachrome might have lasted for another decade or two.

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