fbpx

THE ANALOG REVOLUTION: Film Camera News, by Stephen Smith

Since January of this year, every other YouTube photography video has seemed to be about Fujifilm’s hotly anticipated new X100VI. When will it be released? Will there be enough to go around? What’s different from the X100V? The background buzz about this retro-look camera was constant and ubiquitous. Fujifilm promised that this time, they had solved the delivery problems that had plagued the X100V, but as of this writing, important Swiss outlets still don’t have them in stock.

This hype made me think that it might be of interest to FRAMES readers to know that some big news items in the film camera world have caused just as much buzz in the analog community. Here are the big ones.

LEICA M6

If digital aficionados know one bit of analog news – albeit old news – it will be this one. Since the introduction of the M3, with its bayonet lens mount, in 1954, the M-series has been a 35mm cult camera of choice for photojournalists and art photographers. The series reached its zenith with the M6, which was produced in several consecutive versions from 1984 till 2002.

2022, twenty years later, Leica decided to reissue the M6. Although Nikon continued making two film SLRs until 2020, the reappearance of this iconic Leica was big news. As was the price tag, with the black version, WITHOUT lens, going now for $5,700. And the Leica Summicron lenses can cost as much as the camera. The Apochromatic-Summicron-M 35mm f/2 is listed on B&H Photo for $8,295!

Still, the fact that a major player was restarting production of such a high-end 35mm film camera was heartening, even thrilling for the analog community. Like its predecessor, it has a range finder with a magnification of 0.72, mechanical shutter speeds from 1 sec to 1/1000 sec, and an integrated, through-the-lens exposure meter.

Leica M6 official website

Pentax Film Camera Project

Takeo Suzuki, Product Planning/Design at RICOH Imaging Company, Ltd.

In December 2022, Ricoh Imaging Company announced a new project involving the research and development of a new PENTAX-brand film camera. Since Pentax/Ricoh had been absent from the film scene for so many years, this was even bigger news than the M6. They were mum about the project, just saying that because of the rebirth in interest in film cameras,

In October 2023 they published another teaser to assure everyone that the project was still underway. Finally, on March 1st of this year, they put out a video with Takeo Suzuki revealing more of the details of the project — shocking to some analog enthusiasts, encouraging to others.

Their target market is not the older film community hoping for a high-tech, professional camera but the young, social media-savvy buyers in their teens and twenties.

The new camera will use 35mm roll film and is designed for vertical-position shooting, using a half-frame format in which two images are captured on a single frame of the film. The film-advance mechanism uses a manual winding lever, and there is a rewinding crank. There will be a manually set zone-focus system, and, one assumes, auto-exposure.

The biggest surprise was the half-frame format. There were several half-frame cameras in the 1960s, the best-known being the Olympus Pen cameras. The Pen F versions were high-quality SLRs with interchangeable lenses. Rollei’s introduction of the extremely compact Rollei 35 (see below), with its top Zeiss lenses and using full-frame 35mm film, marked the beginning of the end for the half-frame format.

they wanted to use the “film camera skills and technologies developed over the years by Ricoh/Pentax” to develop a new product. So, like Leica with the M6, they began coaxing expertise out of some of their already retired designers and technicians.

Or so we thought. A normal 35mm negative is in landscape format and measures 36 x 24 mm. The half-frame turns that into a portrait format of 18 x 24 mm, which is exactly the 3:4 aspect ratio of the iPhone camera. It’s obvious: the vertical-position shooting mimics the smartphone. The half-frame format provides twice the number of shots per roll — seventy-two on a thirty-six exposure film. The manual film advance and rewinding features are a nod to retro design. The zone-focus system and automatic exposure provide an easy-to-use, point-and-shoot device.

Ricoh has scheduled the launch for the summer of 2024, with the price to be announced. But again, the fact that a big player in the industry is designing and producing a new film camera is remarkable. Can’t wait to see the result.

PENTAX Film Project website

MINT Film Camera Project

Rollei 35 AF

In September of 2022 MINT-Camera Company announced that they were developing a new 35mm camera. Located in Hong Kong, MINT was already known in analog circles for their restored, vintage polaroid cameras like the SX-70 and several new instant cameras they had produced, modeled after twin lens reflexes. And they were the first of the companies discussed here to announce a new film camera. As Gary Ho, the CEO, wrote at the beginning, “The idea has always been on the back of my mind, but I’ve never really seriously considered it…. It makes absolutely no sense from a business perspective. So why go ahead? The odds are truly against us. Developing a premium film camera in 2022 is either the stupidest idea or an endeavor that nobody’s dared to try. The only reason that this might work is the supportive community. That’s the only reason. What we need right now is sheer determination and support from you to get this unthinkable project off the ground.”

Four years after the idea was born, they seem to be about to start production. The camera is based on the extremely popular Rollei 35 pocket camera from the 1960s. They were the smallest full-frame 35mm cameras on the market. Rollei made some two million of them in thirty years of production, which ended in 1998.

Now Mint has teamed up with Rollei and gotten their permission to call the camera Rollei 35 AF. They are using the classic Rollei 35 housing with all-new insides. The full-frame 35mm film cameras have a 5-element, all-coated glass, 35mm, f/2.8 lens, Lidar autofocus, autoexposure, and integrated flash. They are anticipating the cost to be between $650-800.

Three new film cameras from major players appearing within the last two years speak volumes about the growth of interest in film and the viability of the medium. Equally important, if somewhat more below the radar, is the last bit of news I want to share with you.

ADOX Film Production

Mirko Böddecker

German Switzerland’s premier daily newspaper reported last Sunday that the former Ilford plant near Fribourg, Switzerland, was poised to begin producing film. This is also major news!

The project is the brainchild of Mirko Böddecker. Mirko is the founder of Fotoimpex in Berlin. Founded in the early 1990s, Fotoimpex has a gigantic catalog of materials for analog photography: film, paper, chemicals, hardware, darkroom accessories, lighting, etc. Mirko also started his own brand of products by saving and revitalizing the venerable German company that started in 1860, Adox. He also happens to be married to the Instagram photo influencer Lina Bessonova. Along the way, as film companies began going bankrupt, Mirko started buying their machines, factories, and formulas.

At the plant in Switzerland, which was a testing facility for the old Ilford and the home of Cibachrome, the well-known paper used for printing color-positive transparencies, one of the original technicians, Meinrad Schär, has been working on getting the machines back up and running. He’s getting close.

Meinrad Schär in the ADOX plant

In 2019, some twenty-six million rolls of film were sold worldwide, practically all of it made by three producers: Kodak, Ilford, and Foma. And that number is growing. If Mirko and Meinrad get their production running, they could theoretically produce up to seven million films a year, which would make them the fourth major player in the roll film industry.

Film photography is healthy and happy and growing at ever-increasing speed. There are a couple of YouTube channels that publish news and commentary on current events in the film world. Nico’s Photography Show was started in 2015 by Nicolas Llasera. For many years, it was a weekly photo news show. In the last couple of years, however, he has become one of the executives at KameraStore in Finnland and has had to reduce his YouTube presence. Now, he concentrates on sporadic opinion videos. A recent one was commenting on the Mint Rollei 35 AF! Molly Kate of Eclectachrome has jumped into the resulting void and brings film news now on a regular basis on YouTube. She also has news on Substack. Check both of these out. I’ll try to keep you up to date on these and other developments as well.

Happy shooting with your next roll of film!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Stephen Smith is a professional choral and orchestral conductor and an amateur photographer and linguist. His photographic interests are in analog medium and large formats. Born and raised in the USA, he has lived as a dual-national in Switzerland for 40 years.

WEBSITE
INSTAGRAM

Every year we release four quarterly printed editions of FRAMES Magazine. Each issue contains 112 pages printed on the highest quality 140g uncoated paper. You receive the magazine delivered straight to your doorstep. We feature both established and emerging photographers of different genres. We pay very close attention to new, visually striking, thought-provoking imagery, while respecting the long-lasting tradition of photography in its purest incarnation. Learn more >>>


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *