Seeing Things, Saying Things

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Curtains for Etkachrome, but Few Tears Here

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This not only is likely to be the last box of Ektachrome that I buy, but it also may be my last roll of slide film.

If Kodak’s announcement early this month that it will cease making Ektachrome, its last line of slide film, had been made a year ago, I would have been concerned. A year ago at this time I was still photographing exclusively with slide film. My conversion to digital photography was nowhere in sight.

But the announcement came on March 1, 2012 and not March 1, 2011. I made the switch to digital last July and haven’t bought a roll of slide film since.

Although I never shot exclusively with Ektachrome, it was the film that I bought the most often during my final months as a film shooter. That’s because the suburban Dodd Camera store that I frequented always had Ektachrome in stock. It did not stock the Fuji slide films that I favored, Provia and Velvia.

To get Fuji film, I had to drive to Dodd’s downtown store or have the film sent via a special order to the suburban store. The latter option was time consuming.

When Provia became almost impossible to find anywhere last summer, I found myself buying Ektachrome more often.

Ektachrome always seemed to be the poor cousin to Kodachrome, which developed a cult-like following because, as Paul Simon sang in his epic song Kodachrome, “you give us those nice bright colors.”

Ektachrome had good color quality, too, which is why I liked it. But with film, there is often an emotional attachment. How many photographers did you know who shot one type of film and one type of film only? 

The big upside to Kodachrome was that it was said to be permanent. No color shifts or fading over time. Freeze the image in the processing and it would live that way forever.

Not so Ektachrome. Just ask any veteran photographer and he’ll show you a tray full of Ektachrome slides from the 1960s that have faded.

Besides, Ektachrome had a bluish cast, photographers would say. Who wants to be blue?

Even the Kodachrome box in its red and gold was more vibrant than a blue and gold Ektachrome box. “Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day, oh yeah!” Indeed.

But Kodachrome was also a complicated film to process and far fewer labs could handle it than could handle Ektachrome. Another advantage to Ektachrome was that it could be developed in a home lab, not that many photographers did that.

Ektachrome came in 100, 200 and 400 ISO, but I always preferred the 200 speed. The 100 speed was too slow for my zoom lens in many conditions and 400 was too grainy. The 200 seemed to work well most of the time.

But not always. The ability of digital cameras to change ISO settings for every shot was a major factor that convinced me to go digital and forsake film.

At the time that I went digital, I thought I would still shoot some slide film every now and then. My film camera still works fine and it is hard to give up old habits. I hate the thought of not using something that is still functional.

But once I went to digital, it became unlikely that I would even shoot slides “now and then.” Being digital was more advantageous than I had imagined that it would be. My Canon 60D is a better camera and can do far more than my Canon Rebel G.

Yet I still had a roll of film in my Rebel G and two other rolls of Ektachrome in my refrigerator.

Most of that film I shot off in August and early October. But my last roll of Ektachrome is still in my Rebel G and I have nine frames left. I still haven’t decided what will be the subject of “the last nine.”

Kodak’s announcement has tempted me to buy a few rolls of Ektachrome for old time’s sake.

But that probably won’t happen. I imagine the hard core slide film shooters have already descended in droves upon camera stores – about the last places in American where you can still buy Ektachrome – and snapped up as much of the remaining inventory as possible.

That is going to take awhile.

Kodak indicated that Ektachrome will be available for several more months as the company works through its existing inventory of the film. Ektachrome won’t completely go away, either. Kodak will, for now, continue to make Ektachrome movie film. But the company acknowledged that the market for that product is way down.

Maybe it’s not too late. Those Norfolk Southern heritage units that are going to be plying the rails soon would look good on Ektachrome. Sounds like I have a plan for my last nine frames.


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