Are Film Cameras Obsolete?

…and then I thought…

I wonder how much camera film was sold last year?

If Film Cameras are Dead, is this Blog a Bad Idea?

Now I think I know how people felt in the year 1900 who sold custom horse carriages.

Perhaps a bit obsolete.  Maybe.

A Billion Rolls of Film now just 20 Million a Year

This is a little depressing.

In How Much Longer can Photographic Film Hold On, The Associated Press said.

At the turn of the 21st century, American shutterbugs were buying close to a billion rolls of film per year. This year, they might buy a mere 20 million, plus 31 million single-use cameras — the beach-resort staple vacationers turn to in a pinch, according to the Photo Marketing Association.

Let’s toss out the 31 million single-use cameras statistic.  Those are people who purchase a $10 camera that may include film processing (hello Walgreens) when they can’t afford a decent little $100 digital camera.

So let’s focus (yes, an unintentional pun) on 20 million rolls to 1 billion rolls.

2011 camera film purchases in the U.S. have dropped 98% in ten years.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have started What is a Film Camera in the first place.  If film is really dying, this blog may become a lonely place.

Vinyl Records to the Rescue

Vinyl records (you remember, your Mom and Dad have a bunch of these in the attic) are making a comeback in the marketplace.  It appears not everyone loves CDs and MP3 files.  Vinyl for some people is more fun than CDs and MP3 files.

Sound quality LPs generally exhibit a warmer, more nuanced sound than CDs and digital downloads. MP3 files tend to produce tinnier notes, especially if compressed into a lower-resolution format that pares down the sonic information. “Most things sound better on vinyl, even with the crackles and pops and hisses,” says MacRunnel, the young Missouri record collector.

Read more:,9171,1702369,00.html#ixzz1YnCir9rg

 Sales of vinyl records during this century are increasing.  They’ll never come even close to challenging sales of CDs or downloads of MP3 files, but more and more people are buying vinyl records.  It’s an old technology that’s growing in the marketplace.

Do people still shoot with film?

I get that question a lot at garage sales.

I know that I shoot with film.  I know that every day eBay has 10,000 film cameras for sale.  So somebody is shooting with film.  And the prices of used film cameras doesn’t seem to be dropping any time soon.

Digital Cameras are OK, but Film is Fun

Yes, I admit it, I do shoot with digital cameras.  But film cameras are something special.

I own 3 digital cameras and about 60 film cameras (30+ tested).

Since I am always testing a camera (currently testing a Vivitar 3800 SLR), I’m not quite sure of how well the camera works.  So I carry my Canon SD 880 digital as a backup.  I’m practical, I like photos.  But I prefer film cameras.

If film cameras survive, you can thank young people

Young people have rescued vinyl records from extinction.  Will they do the same for film cameras?

I don’t think young people are pulling Beach Boy albums or Rolling Stone albums from their parents attic where they’ve sat for decades (and warped or worse).  But young people are increasing their purchases of new, vinyl records because they sound better, richer than CDs or MP3 files played in some device.

When I visit garage sales I always ask, “Do you have any film cameras?”.  If they don’t have a camera for sale, I smile when they say:

My son or daughter is using my old film camera for her high school photography class.

That’s music to my ears.  Young people using film cameras in high school.

Is Film better than Digital Photography?

That’s really the question that resolves the “are film cameras obsolete” question.  If young people decide film has advantages over digital photography than purchases of rolls of film will begin increasing.  That will be a good sign for film photography.

The is film better than digital photography question is for persons like Ken Rockwell or Karen Nakamura to discuss, much better than I can do at this stage in my film journey.

Ken Rockwell might persuade you that photography is all relative.  Depending on what you’re photographing, your conditions, whether you develop film or let someone else process your work, your choice of film versus digital is a relative choice.  Your choice of film or digital depends upon a number of factors that matter to you.

 Karen Nakamura is a photoethnographer.  If you’re a photoethnographer or street photographer just starting out, film cameras are an affordable choice for a rugged device that brings back photos.  Is it just me or can you purchase top of the line film cameras for a whole lot less than top of  the line digital cameras?  Karen might argue that you become effective with inexpensive photography gear (rangefinders, SLRs) and then you can purchase digital if you wish.

Are Film Cameras Obsolete?

I don’t think so.  They’re only obsolete if somebody tosses them into the attic or in the sweater drawer in their bedroom.

If you’ve read this far, you probably agree with me.  Using film cameras is a choice, not a religion.  Purchase a 25 year old Olympus XA2 or a 50 year old Zeiss Contaflex and take them for a stroll with your digital camera.  Shoot all day with both cameras and then print all your photos. 

Olympus XA2, Millenium Park, Chicago, IL USA


Zeiss Ikon Contaflex, Flowers w Bokeh, My Chicago Backyard

Then you can best decide if film cameras are obsolete.


Are Film Cameras Obsolete? — 6 Comments

  1. But, but…wouldn’t you think this comment section would be filled with responses if film cameras were truely in demand?

    I am praying my Pentax still works after dropping it in the river in Wyoming. I’ll probably wait until the comeback before tackling that life problem.

    I do not own a digital camera.

    • Fieldguy7,
      Nice of you to drop by.
      You can visit other websites on film cameras and find more comments. But I’ve noticed my website traffic has been increasing lately with people like you leaving comments.
      I’ve been very busy with a new job and was very pleased to find that my website traffic had increased over the last month by 65 %.
      Wow, I appreciate everybody visiting.
      Good luck on your Pentax. My Canon A570 digital camera that drowned in an inch of water in a Florida canoe nudged me down the path towards film cameras.

  2. I’m all for film camera. My biggest concern is d availability of films n studios to develop them. I can stock up on films n store them in my fridge but I still need someone to develop d films.

    • Hong,
      Thanks for your comment.
      I live in Chicago, ILlinois, USA. Here, I still can go to Costco (a huge discount warehouse similar to a Walmart) and have film developed and burned to a CD for 5 dollars (U.S.) My other local choice is to go to a Walgreens store (pharmacy, food, film development) and have my film developed and burned to a CD for almost 10 dollars (to me, an outrageous fee compared to Costco).
      I can also mail my film to firms that will develop it for about $10.
      Ultimately, those of us who enjoy film and old cameras will need to learn how to develop our own black and white film. Color will be optional.
      Thanks again for your comment. Nice to hear from my readers.

  3. I became interested in photography in 1970 and my first camera was a “35 mm Minolta hi-matic 7s”. And then from there I went onto single lens 35 mm cameras and Mamiya 2 1/4 roll film cameras. I only wish film and film cameras were more in demand. I know digital is more economical and I have two really good digital cameras but for me something classic seems to be missing with digital cameras. Maybe it’s due a generation gap and a different way of seeing things in general. Seems digital cameras aren’t a real Artistical tool for photography. It’s probable me and my “Old School” origins. Seems to me digital cameras are more about digital calculating and less about art, composing and aesthetics. And just taking loads of insignificent plain snapshots and nothing else.

    • Rocco,

      Thanks for visiting.

      I miss shooting with my film cameras. Although developing is still easy, Costco decided to stop scanning my photos to CD. It’s made my film hobby very difficult.

      I shoot with digital, and I shoot with my Android smartphone. But I miss the heft, the machinery, the thoughtfulness, and the rich results I get when shooting with film.


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