Today, you would be hard pressed to find a new film camera. They do exist, of course. Fujifilm makes the Instax line of instant cameras. Lomography continues to produce versions of cheap Russian cameras, which leads to the odd situation of a company charging $50 for the Holga Diana, a camera that a tire company in Yorkton was giving away for free in the 1960s, according to an ad in the Yorkton Enterprise. The Film Photography Project, which is the only place distributing film that works in the once ubiquitous Kodak Brownie, also seems to be offering their own line of cameras, but they appear to be cheap and plastic. On the other end of the spectrum, Nikon still makes a film camera that costs over $2,000, while you only need to hand over your first-born child to buy your very own Leica.
Yet, film is actually experiencing a bit of a resurgence. Not a huge one, not something that will lead to one hour photo booths again occupying every pharmacy in the country, but sales are up and people are interested. There are more people buying and making film, including people who just want to ensure film continues to exist – enthusiast site Japan Camera Hunter is now in the film game, for example.
This isn’t really different from the whole vinyl resurgence in music. The convenience of digital is nice, but the inconvenience of analog has its own fans. I’m not immune, as the box of films and shelves of vintage cameras in my home will attest. Film is fun, even if even I know that digital is objectively better.
So where are the cameras?
On one hand, there’s not really a need for them. There are millions of old cameras from the past 100 years spread around the world. For me, part of the appeal is using all this old, theoretically obsolete technology that still works and often still works well. However, old things break. Old cameras develop flaws and parts are impossible to find. If film is picking up steam, where are the people trying to capitalize on it? I think it’s only a matter of time. It should be something good, unlike a Holga Diana, but not so good that you need to give up your favorite kidney to own one, unlike a Leica.
In fact, I know exactly which camera they need to make again.
My solution is to go with what makes film, vinyl and all the other old technologies appealing to the kids: Embrace analog. If we want something simple and easy, digital is right there. We want the glorious inconvenience and mechanical joy of an analog camera. I’ll take the example of the camera I reach to more often than not when I want to shoot with film. It’s a Sears KSX Super. It’s a single lens reflex and it’s manual focus. Exposure can be automatic (with an aperture priority) but you can easily go fully manual with a twist of a dial when you’re ready. Winding the film is also very satisfying.
In short, it’s analog, but user friendly. That is, I believe, what people are going to want from a new film camera. The simplicity of a manual feeling camera but one without a learning curve. You can pick up my Sears camera and immediately take a good picture. If you want to get creative and experimental, you can do that, too. It works for the dabblers, it works for the experts, it’s as simple as you want and as complicated as you need. It’s durable, it’s easy to use, it uses the Pentax K-Mount lens which is common and well liked - new lenses could go to vintage camera enthusiasts as well as people with the new model. It’s also a rebadged Ricoh and unlike Sears, they still exist.
The worst option would be to make an analog camera that feels digital. This is a niche market that wants to feel like they’re doing something a bit different. So make a camera that feels analog, and you’re going to make your money back. It won’t take over the world like digital has, but it will satisfy the small market that wants it. So really, what they need to do is remake my beloved old camera for a new generation.