There are a few key reasons contributing to the current shortage of colour photographic film:
Over the past few years, demand for colour film has increased significantly. This is driven by a resurgence in interest in analogue photography among younger generations who want to experience the creative process of shooting with film. Additionally, professional photographers and artists prefer the look and feel of images shot on film over digital. This surge in demand has outpaced supply.
Limited production capacity
There are only a handful of companies still manufacturing colour photographic film, such as Kodak, Fuji, and Lomography. These companies have limited production capacity that cannot keep up with the rising global demand. They cannot simply scale up manufacturing easily or quickly since complex chemical processes and specialised equipment are required to produce colour film.
Supply chain disruptions
The COVID-19 pandemic severely disrupted supply chains around the world, making it difficult to source raw materials and components needed to manufacture colour film. This included issues like securing necessary chemicals, getting film base material, packaging like metal film canisters, and delays in international shipping. Ongoing geopolitical tensions and trade disputes have caused further supply chain instabilities.
Producing colour film requires some specialty chemicals that are becoming more expensive to source. At the same time, the costs of operations like running coating facilities and logistics are increasing. With film becoming a lower volume, niche product, it is more costly to manufacture per unit compared to the film heyday. This means any price increases get passed onto consumers.
The decline of film
The wider industry shift from film to digital photography over the past two decades meant companies producing film scaled back manufacturing investments and operations. Fewer resources were devoted to film as digital became dominant. This loss of industrial infrastructure and knowledge makes it difficult to suddenly boost production again.
What types of colour film are affected?
The shortage is most acute for certain speciality colour films but is impacting all types to some extent. This includes:
- Slide film (transparency) – Used for projection
- Instant film – Used in Polaroid-style cameras
- Specialty films like 35mm motion picture film
- Niche films like Aerochrome – Creates a unique hue
- Premium professional films – Offer fine grain and vivid colours
Consumer colour print films in 35mm, 120, and 110 sizes are less affected but still seeing constrained supply.
When will the shortage ease?
It is unclear when supply will catch up with demand and lead to an easing of the colour film shortage. Manufacturers are actively working to increase production volumes but this will take time. Bringing old film coating facilities back online involves regulatory hurdles. Sourcing raw materials also remains challenging amid global instability.
Industry experts estimate the supply crunch may continue into 2024 or 2025 before stabilising. Some specialty films may take even longer to fully recover. Kodak has said they are producing colour film at levels not seen in decades but it still lags demand.
What does this mean for photographers?
The colour film shortage has a few implications for photographers:
- Reduced availability – Films will sell out quickly when stocks arrive
- Higher prices – Films will become more expensive as demand exceeds supply
- Lack of variety – Niche films will be hardest to find
- Delayed projects – Planned film photography projects may need to be postponed
Photographers who rely on colour film for their art or business need to plan ahead and stock up when they can. Consider branching out and experimenting with different films as favoured ones go out of stock. Be prepared to pay higher prices too.
While the current shortage poses challenges, the film industry is optimistic about the long-term outlook. The revival of interest in film bodes well for its future. Manufacturers are investing in new production facilities to increase capacity. As supply and demand come back into balance, the industry can focus on innovation and meeting diverse photographer needs.
Film slid into obsolescence once before but has re-emerged as an artform. With this momentum, film photography appears poised for a bright future built on a strong community of enthusiasts keeping the medium alive.
A perfect storm of surging demand, limited production capacity, supply chain issues, and rising costs has created a significant shortage of colour photographic film. This is impacting all film types but especially niche specialty films. Manufacturers are working to boost production but it will take time to resolve the supply crunch. In the short term, photographers will need to contend with lack of availability, higher prices, and potential project delays. However, the film community remains passionate and dedicated to overcoming these latest challenges.