View Full Version : How capital ($) intensive to make color film?

16-Jan-2006, 13:50
All these recent "film" posts raised 2 film questions I have been curious about. It will also shed some light on how long film will continue when, eventually, smaller companies take over the niche market in the years ahead.

Just how capital intensive is the investment for machinery to make color film? Is the machinery that makes color film so unique, that small companies will fear the risks to keep the equipment operational for many years to follow? Or is the process more labor intensive?

Also, is there any relationship between color cinema film and color photographic film made by the big TWO? Do they share any of the same processes in manufacturing? If they do, this may be a feather in our cap that has been overlooked. I would think cinema film will be used for a long time, as we are far from seeing that technology to become digital friendly.

Anyone have knowledge of these issues?

Henry Ambrose
16-Jan-2006, 14:30
Rowland (Ron) Mowery worked for Kodak and was very involved in the engineering of the C41 process and films. He is doing a seminar at Photographer's Formulary this year on making your own film emulsion. There have been some discussions on photo.net in the "Film and Processing" forum. Mr. Mowrey took part in many of them. I bet he could answer your questions.

Jerry Flynn
16-Jan-2006, 15:00
Last year the major studios agreed on a standard for digital projection. Many major directors including George Lucas and James Cameron can hardly wait to go all digital. While the revenue stream from the film industry has meant a great deal to Kodak and Fuji over the years (helping to support color R&D generally and influencing still films), I do not think we can count on that particular boon to last much longer.

See the following for a general discussion:

tim atherton
16-Jan-2006, 15:06
there are also major changes predicted in the "traditional" ways movies are distributed which would massively reduce the amount of film stock used in making prints for cinemas.

The studios are already starting to see this happen

16-Jan-2006, 16:37
Jerry, Tim, not good news, arggggg....... more doom and gloom for photographic film....

Based on your comments, I assume cinema film was closely related (or the same) as photographic chrome film?

Donald Qualls
16-Jan-2006, 16:52
WG, cinema film is closely related to C-41 negative films. Unlike home movies, which are shot on chrome type film, professional motion picture is shot on negative stock, printed to a positive for "rush" viewing and preliminary editing, then the negative cut, printed to positive and back to negative to have splice-free negatives for high volume distribution printing. The original edited negative is archived, usually along with a positive print.

I've heard that the "double electron sensitization" technology that's behind the newest Vision 2 cinema stocks is in process of filtering its way down to professional still films, potentially in both B&W and color -- but that will depend on how long Kodak continues to milk the cash cow. Since they've on record as intending to be a fully digital company by end of 2007, one wonders if they plan to sell or spin off the (still profitable, even as it shrinks) film business, or if they expect digital projection to destroy the cinema film market in another two years. I'd like to see the film business spun off, if they can shrink it without foundering; I still think Kodak films are the best available and would love to still have the opportunity to buy them in another 10 or 20 years (not to mention that amateur and indie filmmakers would like to be able to make their films on actual film, with a few thousand dollars in equipment, instead of having to spend five or ten times as much for digital recording, storage, and editing equipment).

Realistically, however, I expect to be working on my improved Daguerreotype process by 2015, because I won't be able to buy film to feed my cameras.

16-Jan-2006, 17:21
Don, i would have to say you are quite knowledgeable in this!

So, the final cinema product being shipped to movie theaters is positive, or chrome type film, right? If so, that is the high volume portion of the film used after a motion picture has been shot, right? If so, this is a good thing, assuming that final positive film we see in the movie theater shares some characteristics with photographic film. ?

Even though there is a rush to digital, I can see cinema film still being used by the smaller companies as the cost of digital gear most be huge vs. the photographic world.

16-Jan-2006, 17:28
Unless you're shooting 8x10 Chromes, or larger, I think that you're wasting your energy even worrying about it. Digital color is already better than the best of conventional color film. (No rotton tomatos, please.)

Bruce Watson
16-Jan-2006, 17:38
Just how capital intensive is the investment for machinery to make color film? Is the machinery that makes color film so unique, that small companies will fear the risks to keep the equipment operational for many years to follow? Or is the process more labor intensive?

The process as it exists today is extremely capital intensive. It's a highly automated process - all custom machines. There is little labor involved other than loading and unloading the machines.

My understanding is that they typically run a web that's about 3 meters wide by a couple of kilometers long at a time. In other words, that much Tri-X at a time. Then load another roll of substrate, and run that much TMY. These "master rolls" are then taken to slitting and cutting lines to cut the film to size (rolls, sheets, whatever), and the packaging lines to box it up. Most of this in complete darkness, of course.

The color films should be just that much worse - so many more layers, all of which have to be uniform within very small tolerances - you don't want refraction errors in your film!

All that said, they picked these sizes when they designed the machines because of the volume they needed to manufacture at the time - just economics. And, the volume has changed. A lot. For the worse.

If someone were to design a film coating line today, they would undoubtedly design for smaller runs, both in web width (probably down to about 60 cm from 300 cm) and web length. They would make a more modular line so that they could vary the number of coatings as required - maybe set it up to handle color and B&W on the same line. Probably not, but it would depend on the economics and the projected volumes.

But no one is going to buy the factories from Kodak and continue to run the same high-volume machines in a low volume market. This Kodak knows, which is part of their problem with film - they can't sell it off.

And what Jerry said about digital cinema distribution - cine film isn't going to save us. It's been supporting the color film lines for years, but this is now changing too.

Paddy Quinn
16-Jan-2006, 17:38
his is a post I made a few months ago when this came up. Some of this is already happening. Other parallel developments have also begun in the meantime:

"Motion picture films may still be shot on film stock—for a while. And, remember, that advances for the motion picture industry and commercial photography have always given the fine art photographer and hobbyist many benefits. Soon, motion pictures will not be distributed by film but in digital format, transmitted to satellite right to the movie theater. It still hurts to see a company of the caliber that Kodak once was and still is suffer in the marketplace."
They may remian shot on film for a while, but as you point out, distribution (where the huge bulk of film stock from Kodak etc is used) will be digital - but probably not to the theatres. The theatres (and blockbusters) are dying - witness the failure of Cinderella Man this summer as a prime example.

cf this succinct recent description:

"The MPAA and the studios have utterly, completely, dropped the ball on this and they do not seem to realize. The reason for their incredibly delayed entry into streaming movies is simply that they are waiting for Digital Rights Management to be acceptable to them. Intel is about to introduce chip-level DRM later this year, which will undoubtedly go into the intel Macs, at which point Steve Jobs (he runs Pixar, remember) will introduce some kind of streaming movie service modeled on and probably integrated with iTunes. This will be combined with a wireless video streaming box which will send HD pictures from your computer to your TV. This is why you should buy Apple stock now, or even better in six months when it tanks because of poor sales of the PowerPC macs.

The studios are rightly terrified of what this will mean because their stranglehold on distribution will be largely gone. The only person who is ahead of the curve on this is Mark Cuban and his 2929 prodco (google for this and you'll see what I mean).....


either way, big changes are already coming to the movie industry which will certainly lead to significantly less film used in distribution, whatever happens at the production end.

David A. Goldfarb
16-Jan-2006, 17:45
From Ron Mowrey's posts on APUG, one gets the impression that color would be difficult to make economical on a small scale. He does speak of having a small coating machine for research purposes in the Kodak research labs but issues of scaling up to retail quantities are so complex as to make it difficult for a startup to do. He does say that something like Cibachrome would be easier to make on a small scale than E-6, C-41, or RA-4 materials.

Regarding cine film, I've been thinking about experimenting with Super 8 and have been exploring the discussion boards and such, and the news there seems actually pretty encouraging. Even if Kodak has cut back offerings, there are other companies cutting down 35mm stocks, packaging it in Super 8 cartridges, and processing it. It seems to be having a real revival like ULF, in part thanks to the possibility of hybrid technology. Now on a student budget one can shoot Super 8mm color neg stock, have it processed and dubbed to digital for editing, saving the costs of intermediate prints, time in an editing suite, and such.

16-Jan-2006, 18:11
Who goes to the movies anymore? Don't count on THAT revenue stream.

Some years back I saw an old silent movie that was one of the first shot in color, shot with TWO-strip process (Technicolor?), just red and green. Produced a lovely, unearthly soft, faded, muted image, and you didn't particularly notice any gaps in the spectrum. That's the color film I would make in MY basement...

16-Jan-2006, 19:48
Bill, I do shoot 8x10 color film. But I get your drift, digital capture is stunning in many ways.

Bruce, this is the best (or maybe for me, the worst) description I have learned about color photographic film, and its future. Thank you for the post. I was not aware how capital intensive this process is, and how the production is geared to such large volume. The fact that the film divisions can unlikely be sold off to smaller companies, as the equipment is designed for high production, is, well, depressing...... but, this is the reality of the situation and I appreciate you offering "the facts". It's information like this that helps us make more informed decisions. Of course, anything can happen in the future, but your description further enforces the possiblities of color film simply dissappearing in the not too distant future. Well, at least the emulsions as we know them today. Possibly a small company will offer a color chrome and color neg film in one or two sizes.

Paddy, I guess the cinema film carried us to this point, and if digital cinema distribution is soon a reality, it may be the single biggest nail in the color photographic film coffin. I am guessing the big dollar volume of film sales was in reproducing the film which went to the movie theaters throughout the world. Sheeesh, there is a ton of film on a reel for one movie, x the number of theaters it goes to......enough where it probably equals the use of all still photographers volume for one year! I never realized how long photographic film road the coat tails of cinema film.

CXC, wouldn't it be ironic if in 10 years we are forced to use color film equal to that of 1930's vintage film as this will be the best of the homebrew, low volume films? Sheeeesh, quite depressing.

IMO, it's information like this which is healthy for the LF community. We are only spectators, barely participants....our film consumption is so low, we will have zero effect on the big companies decisions regarding film. This thread has put the film issue in perspective for me. Much worse then I previous thought. I hope this thread doesn't get labeled, the doomsayers thread by the film cheerleaders on this forum. No one loves film more then me, and yes, I am an optimist, but a realist first. It's hard for me to ignore sensible information such as this.

Well, such is life, things will move forward.....

Stephen Willard
16-Jan-2006, 21:16
Correct me if I am wrong, but the reason why the movie industry shoots C41 color negative film in the first place is because of its extraordinary latitude. I believe the dynamic range of C41 is around 10 to 11 stops. Digital has a dynamic range of around 4 stops. Having the dynamic range of C41 save lots of money and time on the set that I suspect can ad up to tens of millions of dollars.

So tell me again why the movie guys want to shoot in digital with a 4 stop dynamic range?

David Luttmann
16-Jan-2006, 21:48

Where in the world have you tested digital at 4 stops. Even a basic program like Imatest shows most DSLRs to be between 8.8 and 10.4 stops. This 4 stops you mention is simply false.

Mark Woods
16-Jan-2006, 22:04
I disagree with the posts that say the movie industry fuels the LF community and the amateur users. As I mentioned in a previous post, the Motion Picture Imageing division is the smallest divison at Kodak. The Amateur Divison is the largest (I believe) followed by Hospital and Professional Divisons (not necessarily in that order). The MP Division has benefited from the other divisions more than they have (in terms of R&D) benefited from MP division. You can see why Kodak is worried when it's main cash cow is gored with digital -- the amateur market. And another cash cow is gored by digital, the professional division. The MP market can't carry them in the structure that exists today, I think that's clear to everyone. Besides, the EN2 negative process isn't even close to C41. And the Internegs and Interpos processes have nothing to do with LF or amateur films. Quite honestly, to distribute digitally is inviting piracy. I remember a SMPTE forum I was at where the Miramax rep said he wanted a digital distribution like the Mission Impossible note -- the file would destroy itself and only be keyed to the one projector at the theatre. That's not the case. The digital upgrade is $85K/theatre (LA Times today) -- it was just over a $100K 2 years ago. If it gets much cheaper, one could buy the equipment and put it in the den and bypass the "theatre" experience. ;-) Times are changing, but lets keep our eye on the ball of what's driving the business. Kodak could spin off building 19 and there is a complete factory to coat color or b&w (the foundation of the building is on bedrock and the city of Rochester has to contact Kodak before doing street work within a mile since the vibrations disturb the coating process!). I see things like that happening since the current top weighted management can't justify thier salaries in the current environment and only know how to spin off and spin in general until they run the company to the ground and take their golden parachutes out. Those guys not only don't get it, they don't care.


16-Jan-2006, 23:31
one of the things slowing down digital movie distribution is the question of who pays for the new gear. predictably, the theaters think the studios should pay, and vice versa.

on another note, has Kodak suggested that it will abandon black and white film by 2007?

17-Jan-2006, 10:07
Mark, very interesting information! I had no idea making color film was this sensitive (street work a mile away?). Of course, this does not fair well with small companies trying to take over such a complex process. Although there is current "chaoatic state of affairs" in the future of MP media, i.e. film vs. digital, I am curious, since you feel the photographic sales have not been riding the coat tails of MP as previous posters, then what is your prediction on the future of photographic film for LF? I realize you don't have a crystal ball, but I would love to hear your take on this.......

Also, does anyone know in the LF market how much color film Kodak sells vs. Fuji? Are they about equal?

17-Jan-2006, 10:26
There seems to be a lot of assumptions that if Kodak were to stop making film it will gladly sell off its film making components to someone else. If I'm not mistaken, Kodak has closely guarded patents on all its technologies on which it has spent hundreds of millions in R&D. If or when it gives it up film, why would it sell off those patents when, by not doing so, it could force more people to go digital and buy its new digital products? Why would it want to feed its competition with the ability to compete? Which companies are going to invest the R&D necessary to produce film as good as fuji or kodak with the market in its current state?

17-Jan-2006, 11:24
Rob, it is interesting that Kodak is positioned in such a way, that if they sold off their film division, they would create a competitor to there digital products. Not a good scenario for us film users.

Add to this, these film making facilities could probably never be operated by small companies due to the extreme investments required in a declining film sales market, leads me to beleive, as others have mentioned, these big companies will probably never sell off fheir film divisions. Not good. One day they will bolt the doors shut, and it's game over.

Possibly, the best thing that could happen to save film is one of the big two stop now, so the other one can pick up there sales and hopefully it will remain profitable enough to keep the machinery running.

Fuji film sales is down 80% in past 5 years. That is massive, shocking, and I bet this even caught Fuji execs by surprise. Many businesses in times like this will raise prices dramaticaly to compensate for the low volume, that has not happened in this field. I am quite surprised at this, as the best way to gain profitability is to raise prices. I assume the Execs feel that 4x5 film at $5 per sheet would not work, and just further the push users to digital. In some ways, they are between a rock, and a hard place.....

Donald Qualls
17-Jan-2006, 11:52
So, the final cinema product being shipped to movie theaters is positive, or chrome type film, right? If so, that is the high volume portion of the film used after a motion picture has been shot, right? If so, this is a good thing, assuming that final positive film we see in the movie theater shares some characteristics with photographic film. ?

No, the final product is a positive produced by printing a negative onto negative film (in this case, specially designed for the release print, to carry both the image and the soundtrack), not a chrome. The motion picture industry doesn't use reversal films ("chromes", or diapositive films) in any capacity; they are and, except for a brief period just before, during and just after WWII when Kodachrome was king for documentary color, always have been strictly the domain of the "home movie" crowd. Even in 16 mm, only negative films are available in color, though you can get B&W reversal stocks; Super 8 and Standard 8 are the only motion picture formats that routinely use reversal film and they're used, even in indie filmmaking, only for special purposes (for instance, to insert a "home movie" internal to the story).

Mark Woods
17-Jan-2006, 12:07
Hey WG,
I beleive film has a future. The other comments posted about someone, or a group, or the people who work in the building that makes the film could step up to the plate and buy the building, which is a self contained film factory. This particular machine coats the film at high speed. I believe the rolls are 3 meters wide and thousands of feet long. (I forget the exact deminsions of the base.) There are other machines out there that work slower and less precisely, but still give good results. These other plants could be spun off too. Once the film is coated, then it needs to be slit and cut to length. I'm sure that process is easier than precisely punching the sproket holes that are used for registering the image in the MP world.

I could be wrong, but I think most LFers who work in color use transparency film. In the MP world very few productions use reversal film unless it's for effect (like cross processing in ECN2 or C-41). It's very difficult to get the image into the normal workflow without a digital intermediate, besides costing about $1.85/ft (35mm film runs 90'/minute through the camera and it's not available in 16mm). So there isn't much of a benefit from the MP side for LFers in transparencies. As mendioned earlier, MP film is processed in ECN2, not C-41. That said, the film architecture can be similar. I know that there are film coaters that can do short runs that are amazing.

As I mentioned earlier, these are "interesting" times with more tools to use, yet retaining many of the old ones. With the net, there is certainly a large enough market for someone to run a film coating machine -- maybe Ted's Best.

Kind Regards,

Mark Woods
17-Jan-2006, 12:20
LOL Jim.

Rob, clearly other companies make film and don't infringe on the Kodak patents. Much of the R&D is in developing (!) new emulsions and other products in the work flow.

Donald, the final release print is print stock, not negative. The traditional process is to cut the camera original neg, print it to an IP (interpositive = a negative image) that is where the timing takes place and the sound is married to the image. That timing produces an Answer Print viewed for timing purposes (often the best looking Shot Print), then a dup neg is made, then that is used to create the 1000's of release prints. When a DI (digital intermediate) is used, the camera original neg is scanned into 2k, 4k or now 6k format. Edited, then rendered on to dup negative stock, and the prints are struck from that.

17-Jan-2006, 12:39
So, its safe to assume, that color chrome film stands alone, no signficant ties to MP film? If so, this is not good for the future of chrome photographic film.... is this right?

Mark, I agree the building could be sold off, but Kodak would have to evaluate if the continued film sales would hurt their huge investment into digital, which as the CEO mentioned, is the future of the company. I doubt the sale of the building would be big influx of cash in Kodaks world. For this reason, sometimes they simply elect to, close the doors and send a strong signal to the world, it's time to go digital now, Kodak film is gone. Of course, this would not happen until Kodak was in such a position to benefit from the demise of film with their digital products waiting to be snatched up, which I doubt will happen, as the consumer / prosumer digital camera biz is being spread very thin over many electronics companies. Who would have imagined Sony selling more cameras then Kodak? That is the reality of the market today.

In the end, IMO, LF film (maybe all photo film) will be at the mercy of some CEO who never even saw a sheet of film or a veiw camera and the pressure from the stockholders become so great, in order to perserve his 20 million dollar bonus, he just slashes the division!

tim atherton
18-Jan-2006, 13:49
as per the changes mentioned above taking place in movie distribution and print, see:


18-Jan-2006, 14:28
Tim, what an amazing article. We think LF photographers have issues? Those movie theater ownners must be shaking in their boots. If the big movie makers find they can make more money going straight to DVD, those theaters will slowly become toast.

But your point is well taken, no film is being used here, that is not good news.

My stockpile scenario is not very useful if all color film is discontinued, as the chemicals would also be discontinued, thereby preventing processing of such film.

Is there any color films that use the same processing as trans papers such as Duratrans. I have never seen such RA4 films, but it possible, this solve half the problem of preserving LF film usage in the future.