Rant: Mama, they took my Kodachrome away!

If there has ever been a sad day in film photography for me, today is it. Kodak officially announced their discontinuation of the Kodachrome line of slide film after 74 years of production in one incarnation or another. The announcement comes as no surprise, due to the complexity of the emulsion and the extremely complex development process. Any film that is so difficult to develop that it is only processed in one location in the world had it's days numbered in the modern, digital world.

I have shot 15 rolls of Kodachrome 64 in the past year, with 6 more in the freezer. If you have some, or decide to buy some, I recommend you get out and shoot it soon, as Dewayne's, the only K-14 processor in the world, announced continued support only through 2010. Once they close up the K-14 line, it's all over. If you have any left, your only option will be cross processing in B&W chemistry.

Kodachrome was and is the defacto standard when it comes to archival quality slides. Although they fade rather rapidly under the light of a projector, in dark storage, they colors stay true to the day they were shot. A quick search of the US National Archives will bring you scans of Kodachromes shot in the late 1930's that look as crisp and colorful as if they were shot yesterday. That longevity will be missed.

What will furthermore be missed will be Kodachrome's magical appearance. I can't describe the nuance that is Kodachrome, it it too subtle to define in words. Only a projection from a Kodachrome slide will ever do it justice. Kodachrome is difficult to scan, expensive to process and now scarce to get. But it is a film worth the expense and hassle, and I am glad to have gotten back into film photography to enjoy Kodachromes waning days.

In Kodak's press release, they recommend two excellent replacement films for the Kodachrome lover. The first is KODAK PROFESSIONAL EKTACHROME E100G, which is a beautiful film in it's own right. Not to disparage it, it lacks the subtlety of Kodachrome. However, I will concur it is the closest option you will get in an E-6 film (also try Fuji Astia if you shoot a lot of people, as I feel it renders better skin tones than E100G.) Kodak's second recommendation is their new EKTAR 100 negative film. Which is a wonderful option, as it has it's own special nuance that no other film comes close to (I will be posting an in-depth review of the film in the coming weeks). However EKTAR poses two problems. First, it is a negative film, not a slide film. As fine grained as it is, EKTAR still cannot capture the feel of a slide. Secondly, EKTAR is special in it's own right, with a great feeling to the colors, giving me a feel of the seventies in 2009. However it does not convey the timeless Kodachrome does. In short, there is no replacement for Kodachrome.

What I hope Kodak does, is spend some R&D money and produce us a new E-6 film that will carry the Kodachrome name and emulate the feel. A lot of Kodachrome's magic is in the K-14 process itself, but if Kodak can give us a film as nuanced as EKTAR or as beautiful as PORTRA VC they can bring us an E-6 film that can capture some of the true-to-life nature of Kodachrome. Ektachrome is great, but it doesn't bring the bang like Kodachrome.

For now, go out and get some Kodachrome and shoot a roll or two. Kodak estimates current stock will last through Fall 2009, however I am going to guess it will get scarce in the next month or so. If you don't shoot fil anymore, but want a feel of Kodachrome, try my two Lighroom/ACR Presets I have on the site. Try my current Kodachrome 64 and my Kodachrome 25. They will get you close, but they won't get you there. I have two emulation test rolls shot awaiting development currently of Kodachrome 64. Once I get them back I will do a fresh emulation and a Camera Profile for the results. That will be a while however.

In the end, today feels a bit like the day the music died. My heart sunk a little when I saw the news on Twitter. But we move on. There are great films still available and will continue to be, and out digital cameras and Adobe's magical tools will provide us with the means to bring us a little closer to the magic again. To me, today is a day i will remember for quite a while. It came as no surprise, the writing was on the wall and i was stocking up to complete a personal project. The finality of it still hits home.

Have a great day,

Michael W Gray


tom hoehn said...

Michael, Tom from Kodak here. It was a tough decision but also a very thoughtful one. More detail, a slideshow, a couple of podcasts (Steve McCurry and Peter Guttman), and more can be seen here.
A fitting tribute to a long run.
I hope that this helps provide a bit more context to the decision for you and your readers. -tom

Michael W. Gray said...

I have no issue with the decision to discontinue Kodachrome, it was good business sense. Still sad though.

Chas Waggins said...

Thanks for the post. Much of my childhood was caught on Kodachrome (but that was discontinued long before this week). A quick question, though, and I hope I'm not falling into clueless reader mode here-- would you tell me how to do a "quick search of the US National Archives" that will give me Kodachrome scans? When I try searching archives.gov I get info about photo preservation, but no online photos. Thanks again.

Michael W. Gray said...

They can be hard to find, and are not cataloged by film type. Here is one of the best collections, of which the majority of the color images are Kodachromes.