Could traditional photography products go the way of the micro-brewery?

Discussion in 'Product Availability' started by Sean, Jan 1, 2007.

  1. Sean

    Sean Admin Staff Member Admin

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    It seems to me that the part of our photographic future or distant future may hinge on the ability of small shops to make high quality custom product runs in low volume. I'd love to see the micro-brewery model applied here but there is a major roadblock. Listening to Ron it's obvious that emulsion making and coating is not suited to small machinery and small runs. The machines are gargantuan and the work involved in every step of the process is beyond demanding. Sometimes it sounds as if the production is impossible and a hair's-breadth from failure. How could this possibly be miniaturized or is it even possible? Personally, I tend to think anything is possible. Dean Kamen for example turned a highly complex giant kidney dialysis machine into the size of a suitcase. Will anyone step up to the plate and re-invent emulsion making and coating? If so I would imagine a machine that has a cost similar to a lambda printer (hopefully cheaper) which would allow for smaller shops to make and coat custom emulsions at very high quality. We would soon have small micro-film & micro-paper companies producing some very interesting products.
     
  2. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    I'm with you Sean. I like to think it could be done, but I'm not going to be the one to do it. I haven't the foggiest idea what it takes, much less any knowledge of the vital parameters involved. In my experience, it takes a deep intimate knowledge of the process in order to make it simpler and less demanding. Another anology along the same lines is Burt Rutan in aviation. I remember Boeing engineers just smugly dismissing him like he was some lunatic. Think Burt has had the last laugh. He put a manned space vehicle into a sub-orbital flight with a lot less smoke, fire, and money than NASA did. But he also thoroughly understood what he was taking on, thanks to the years of research NASA had done.

    All that aside, it would still take someone with a lot of money (that can be thrown away) to fund the R&D on a simplified coating line.
     
  3. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    I have a lot of ideas, but limited finances due to being retired.

    Just making coating blades and teaching workshops is breaking the bank.

    PE
     
  4. jstraw

    jstraw Member

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    American beer sucked *until* there were micro-breweries.
     
  5. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    Thinking about that poll thread, I think that the wrong questions were asked and the responses were skewed as a result.

    I think print materials are vanishing rapidly and that was not addressed.

    PE
     
  6. BruceN

    BruceN Member

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    Not so. Actually, American beer was as good as any in the world until the double whammy of prohibition followed by WWII. Most areas had their own local variations just as Europe did. Sadly, the only breweries to survive prohibition were the ones that were big enough to continue malting for the food industry. Once prohibition ended and WWII began to arrive on the scene the surviving big breweries began producing 'girly beer' - literally. In order to continue their survival they had to make a product that would sell to the women back home while most of the men were off fighting. Unfortunately, it seems the big breweries forgot how to do anything else. I'm very happy that microbreweries came along to set things right and that America is once again crafting some world class beers and ales. It would be awesome to have the same thing happen with films and papers, but I won't be holding my breath for it.

    Bruce
     
  7. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    Emulsion making is already a fact. Pt-Pd has been around for a very long time. If you want to address coating film then wet plate colloidon is a very old and still practiced method.

    While this may appear to some as an undesireable approach to this matter, it does have the benefits of having a very limited number of people doing it...this alone would tend to place the output into the catagory of a more limited supply related to demand and would tend to elevate the prices of prints somewhat on typical marketing models.

    Sure shooting large negatives is expensive and platinum and paladium salts are expensive...but from what I have observed, going the way of hand coating silver emulsions is not inexpensive when you factor in the time, money, and frustration of reinventing the wheel.

    If I had 30 years of photography time ahead of me (not likely), I would head off to a workshop with Kerik. I may do it anyway.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 1, 2007
  8. Mark Fisher

    Mark Fisher Subscriber

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    I agree that it is entirely possible and I'm not sure that the costs need to be too crazy. The paradigm for most process industries is to have big, honkin', expensive capital equipment to drive every penny out of the output.....this makes sense when you can dedicate machines to a particular product and just run it. The machines need to be producing 20 hours a day to be profitable. I suspect that is the case for the film industry (Photo Engineer....correct me if I am wrong!). A coating machine for low production would be smaller with lower line speeds and allow quick change over to different products. This type of machine would be potentially less expensive to run than the larger machine depending of the products being made.
    I know almost nothing about coating technology, but I know a little about production machinery and I am certain that such a machine could be built.......you would just need the money and a photo materials engineer to supply the specifications. I've run a lot of projects to develop products and this doesn't seem all that insurmountable....of course, everything is easy when you don't understand all the parts!
     
  9. gr82bart

    gr82bart Subscriber

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    I have always said the same thing about traditional film camera makers like Hasselblad and Leica, for example. They should change their marketing to be more like the Louis Vuitton or Ferrari of the camera world. High end camera gear for the high end lifestyle.

    Similarly for traditional photography. Elevate its status and people will come back. Ironically, like the price of gas, elevate the prices too and people will still buy - maybe even buy more. Have SUV sales gone down?

    I think its already starting to happen as I hear from my friends and my younger brother's friends for example. They are starting to 'value' traditional photography products more. Many calling them 'real' photographs. Once this mindset sets in, then traditional photography products and equipment can survive in a digital world.

    It's an unfortunate commentary on human behaviour, but to be desireable is to be a bit elitist.

    Regards, Art.
     
  10. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    I have a lot of questions posed above that I'll try to answer being the 'insider' here.

    If film vanishes, and we have to rely on hand made materials, then only LF format will be viable, and only speeds between ISO 1 and 100 will be viable for the immediate future after the death of an analog product. Who wants to spend hours making just one photograph? And who wants to carry a half ton of equipment into the Grand Tetons to take it? Ansel Adams work was made possible by having mass produced products. Matthew Brady was a genius, but his works are not as 'beautiful', to me they are more historical or documentary than artistic.

    Photography, without silver halide will be primitive. Now, what I'm doing is not that expensive, nor am I reinventing the wheel. I know how to make the darn stuff, but I have two things against me. One is a very limited budget, and the other is getting the materials I need to do it. Correct me if I am wrong Alex, but I am pretty much there for an Azo type paper, and pretty close to having very high quality coatings.

    As for the issue of having a big plant. No, you don't need one to make stuff for yourself. You can supply your needs with a quite reasonable investment as long as you make LF film and paper for either contact or enlargment.

    If you talk about making quantity material, that too can be done at reasonable price, but as quantity goes up, variablility and quality goes down. Ever hear of someone getting a car that was a lemon? So, with a small coating machine, the size of a 2 car garage, I can coat 4x5, 120, and 35mm film with good quality but it will probably have dust or bubble defects here and there and it will vary in speed from batch to batch.

    Lets look over the complaints here about EFKE film defects. They have a good staff with lots of knowledge but an aging plant. So, product varies from excellent to mediocre, if I read the posts right.

    So, what we will see if Kodak and Fuji vanish is the gradual loss of quality color film and a deterioration of quality in B&W film as the companies equipment ages, and the staff ages. No new development will take place and products will remain frozen as is for the rest of the life of analog.

    As we photo engineers die off, the chance of restarting the process becomes less and less likely. Why? There are no formulas out there. Consider the efforts to make Kodak's published AJ-12 emulsion which is supposed to have a speed of ISO 12 or so. I've used it, as a variant of it was in production in the research labs for common tests. It is indeed very fast compared to the ISO 1 or less that people observe. That is because the techniques of doing it and the fine detail are not published in the pamphlet.

    Here is another item. I taught my workshops in NYC and Montana this year, and got different results at each place than I get at home. One of my students posts here. She gets slightly different results at home and has had to adjust her formula, but it works just fine. I tried her formula with several variants and it does not work for me here. So, emulsion making takes lots of understanding of technique. One of the things I taught my students, and keep corresponding with them about is refining technique and how to change the formulas to meet local conditions.

    This transition is not going to be easy for any of you. Don't bury your heads in the sand until the last minute and then run around yelling about it. I'm just going to say "I told you so". Get ready now for a big bump in the road in your lifetime in analog photography.

    One last item to add. If you are not ready, and can't 'roll your own' are you ready to pay the price to others to do it for you? If I sold you paper, it would be pretty expensive. After all, it is lovingly hand crafted sheet by sheet by one of the few experts in the field. (at least I can claim that)

    All kidding aside, hand made products, sold on the open market will be expensive as demand will outrun supply.

    PE
     
  11. gr82bart

    gr82bart Subscriber

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    I think this is how it will survive and prosper. I keep saying, elevate its status and people will come.

    Regards, Art.
     
  12. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    Art;

    It is all well and good to say that, and I agree. The problem is having people who can do this. There are too few right now to make a difference. That is a very very bad situation. The art is teetering on the edge of being lost.

    Simon has posted on this agreeing with my guesstimate. There are probably only about 200 people in the world right now who know how to do it. This is a drop in the bucket compared to what demand might be, and a drop in the bucket in being able to teach the art to others.

    PE
     
  13. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    Very true Ron. I would be quite happy to show the prints I made with your emulsion to anyone that was sincerely interested in bringing the emulsion to the market. One cannot think of it as a direct copy of Azo; that's unrealistic for several reasons. I believe one should think of it as a contact printing emulsion, very similar in tonal characteristics to Azo, but also one that opens up many new possibilities for its employment.

    One reason that it can't be considered a direct replacement for Azo is the paper base Kodak used is gone. Even if it were still available, I tend to think that hand coating on single weight paper would be arduous. However, Ron's emulsion can be coated on several different paper bases, similar to the pt/pd process. Artisic opportunities abound with this capability.

    This is where what I call the "tyranny of the accountants" comes into play. True, it takes a very large enterprise, ala Kodak, Fuji et al, to produce large quantities of photo products that have extremely tight qulaity control standard. The business model of such a large corporation is extremely complex and the accountants typically "rule" when it comes to how much product must be produced in a specified time-frame for profitability. The overhead costs in a large corporation are also staggering.

    A small business is far less complex. Five-year business plans are the norm. Overhead costs can be far less of a percentage. The big bugaboo these days is in complying with the plethora of regulations concerning employment, OSHA, EPA and so on. In fact, from my observations, these type of costs can break the business. So it becomes an extreme challenge. To reiterate, such an enterprise needs some very deep pockets to finance, and investors that are quite sympathetic to the cause.

    I concur with this point also. Ron further points out that his emulsion characteristcs are varying based on where they are being made. This shows the sensitivity to ambient environmental effects. Again, only the large producers can afford the technology necessary to minimize these effects. So, we are going to have to learn to live with them. To me, that is no big deal. To others, it may be hard to live with.

    We are also seing variations between production batches from the small producers. Hell, even Kodak had large variations in the last runs of Azo.
    I would bet that the current level of variaitons being seen today with current producers are not nearly as significant as they were in the products made a hundred years ago, or maybe even just fifty years ago.
     
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  15. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    Thanks Alex.

    Yes, Kodak had problems making Azo identical in the Rochester and Canadian plants. It needed costly tweaking. Even with that, the last batch was off due to a subtle chemical imbalance that did not show up in release testing. I suspect it was a reciprocity effect due to the difference between testing and average use in the customers hands.

    No one can get the cream colored SW Baryta that Kodak used, and so at best we will probably see M&P reproduce an Azo that is on a pure white support with blue black tones raather than traditional Azo.

    The problems are far greater when it comes to higher speed films.

    PE
     
  16. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    My experience bears this out, since I seem to have relatively short exposures with Azo (under 30 sec, often under 20 sec), and I haven't been having the dramatic contrast issues with Canadian Azo that others seem to report, and whose exposures are often over 1 min.
     
  17. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Let's say that a 'micro-brewery' coating line could take us back to the standards of the 1930s. I think most of us woud be willing to put up with this, rather than scrap our 35mm cameras. If they can reach the standards of the 50s (Ilford FP3, for example) there are even those who would regard it as progress...

    Cheers,

    R.
     
  18. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    Right David. And if you recall, the variations were well-discussed on the Azo Forum and we all acclimated to them and made them work.

    The internet made that discussion possible and disseminated the resolutions. That is an advantage we now have that wasn’t there in previous eras. Before, the reporting of the data/problems and dissemination of solutions was far more cumbersome and far less effective. But now we have the ability to conference on these things on these forums, which, as we’ve seen here on APUG, some industry representatives and some photo businesses also monitor and participate in. Definitely a win-win situation.
     
  19. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    I could live with that Roger. Over the last year, I've printed many negatives that were made in the 1940s and 1950s. Nothing "wrong" with them at all. I can see no peculiar differences between those negs and the ones I have made in the last few years on currently-produced film.
     
  20. Andy K

    Andy K Member

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    I noticed this today. A colleague was telling me he is 'getting into SLRs' by buying a Canon 400D. He asked me what lens he should get with it as his sister had recommended the camera after she bought one to replace a 350D, and also so she could have two cameras 'just in case one died while out shooting' (I suggested a short zoom to start with). I said that was a bit of an expensive way to go about it and showed him my Bessaflex TM kit (body, 28mm, 50mm, 135mm, 200mm, filters, cable release etc). His answer to that was, `Yes, but you're into real photos, I don't think I could get my head round that stuff.'

    So I guess the idea that film is a step up is already out there in the general public's mind, but they are afraid to actually do it.
     
  21. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    The problem is that over the internet we don't know who is 'real' and who is not. I have been fighting this problem, as many people refused to believe that I was 'for real' when I first began posting.

    How many people out there have said that they are making and coating emulsions, but how many have presented results? I have not only presented my results, but have offered my coatings, emulsions and technology to others, and now they are beginning to post results.

    How many are posting disinformation or abuse or false claims, or hollow claims? Ian Grant and others have warned about posts on Wikipedia, especially on some of the photographic sites.

    I have friends who have quit posting rather than fight the disinformation or verbal abuse they have been sujbect to when they try to give out good information.

    This is another side of a many faceted problem. It is the more seamy side of the current situation that is mainly overlooked. It can discourage good work from being disseminated.

    PE
     
  22. Fintan

    Fintan Member

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    I think if 1000 APUGers put up $100 each as a prize something like The Milenenium Prize we would have teams of people across the planet trying to achieve this.
     
  23. Sean

    Sean Admin Staff Member Admin

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    What also might be helpful is locating a billionaire photography collector who is passionate about traditional image making. Then get them to hire Dean Kamen and his team of geniuses at Deka Research to re-invent emulsion making and coating :smile:
     
  24. DBP

    DBP Member

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    This is true of all fields on the internet, not just this one. One of the unfortunate effects of the democratization of information is that the barriers to entry have become essentially eradicated, thus allowing anyone to proclaim expertise. This is often accompanied by outlandish hypotheses that would never stand the light of day. Add to that a crippled educational system that does not equip the average individual to distinguish between expertise and gobbledygook, and you have a recipe for trouble. The thing that worries me is that it also allows people to easily avoid any information that might challenge their assumptions about facts and the nature of reality, a trend which is having pernicious effects on public discourse, at least in the US.

    But I am ranting, having just read that silly bit about how cameras can't focus.

     
  25. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    I missed the one about the cameras. Please post the URL. Thanks.

    In any event, you have stated the problem perfectly. The problem is that it is driving a lot of real experts to despair. They are giving up the internet as a means of exchanging information due to the abuse they get. Some never even started using it due to the stories of abuse that abound from some of us on the recieving end.

    PE
     
  26. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    That's what is needed.