Kodak's down? Tri-X will survive...

Discussion in 'Industry News' started by turle, Jan 7, 2012.

  1. turle

    turle Member

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    (I have posted this also in the Rangefinder forum.)

    The Tri-X is a feasible product to invest on for it can be regarded as lucrative production for a small establishment, not for a conglomerate running with excessive overhead. Reasons:

    - Last year Ilford was offering the HP5+ twin-packs for as low as $5.00 and triple-packs recently for $9.79 (Freestyle); meaning despite of the rising silver prices and shrinking demand they are able to make some profit by offering a 36-exposure roll for less than $4.00 retail.

    - Small quantities seem to be not much issue for small companies: Adox even in the ‘70s was a minor manufacturer with a very limited range of B&W films and still surviving today more or less with the same products. (Even a 20ASA CMS20 has survived, think about how many rolls sold in 2011!! Why concern about the fate of the Tri-X!)

    - As far as film is concerned, our income level/buying power has never been so convenient during the last half-century as it is today. In 1977 a 36-exp. Tri-X was $1.35 and the HP5 was $1.19, whereas the Summicron 35 was $208 and the Summilux 35 was $262 (and the black M4 was $749.50 :smile: ). Taking into account that the Summilux 35 then was costing as much as 200 rolls of Tri-X, you be the judge. (For long years many of us had to use 100’ rolls to spare cost)

    - Finally, the new owner do not need to employ an R&D team to improve the Tri-X for the great majority of the users are happy with the present quality of the ISO400 films. (Meaning least overhead...)

    Film is not anymore for the masses.. So what? The automatic watches too are not for the masses. Why do some people still buy the fountain pens or vinyl records? Is art also for everyone? Some things are irreplaceable; spending four hours in the kitchen to prepare a splendid dinner may not be for everyone too.

    Regards,

    Bob
     
  2. Uncle Bill

    Uncle Bill Subscriber

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    I'm trying to look at the glass half full too. Thing is Kodak the analog photography business was not doing too badly, it was just the rest of the company that was an organizational train wreck. At least with Chapter 11 Kodak, if there is a will to survive could come out a lot leaner and hopefully adapt something closer to Harmon Ilford in the UK in terms of a business model, only with colour film, paper and the motion picture business added on.

    Hopefully there is change in executive management as well actually have a new team that understands the product they are selling.

    My two cents from an automatic watch wearing fountain pen user:smile:.
     
  3. vpwphoto

    vpwphoto Member

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    I listen to LP's shoot film, but love my Kindle.

    Let's stop trying to predict the future.
    Have a great day all.
     
  4. johnnywalker

    johnnywalker Subscriber

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    I'd like to hear Photoengineer's take on this.
     
  5. snederhiser

    snederhiser Member

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    Hello;
    Let's face it, Kodak is toast! They are looking for the next consumer product that will keep the revenue stream going to support failing management. How many IPhone users print out the pictures that they take? I supported them for years but have moved on. Hopefully the company will be split up and a group of investors steps in and buys the film division. This is a niche market and Ilford realized this. I suggest that you support viable companies that cater to this market, Steven.
     
  6. domaz

    domaz Member

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    Harman Ilford is a private company. We don't know there finances or even if they are making a profit. I doubt that Ilford is persistenly running a loss but who really knows?
     
  7. alanrockwood

    alanrockwood Member

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    I wonder if Tri-X (or something very close to it) could be re-created on a low-volume coating line, preferably one that already exists.

    It seems to me that there are three black and white films that might be worth salvaging from the Kodak wreckage, if possible: Tri-X, Tmax 100, and Tmax 400. I would like to add Plus-X to the list, but it seems too late for that, and besides there are probably reasonably good substitutes for Plus-X already out there.

    What if one could only save one of those three products? What would it be? I suppose for the more traditionally minded it would be Tri-X. Really, I think each could make a good claim to be the keeper. Probably from the most objective perspective (if such a thing exists, or could even be possible) Tmax 400 might be the best choice.
     
  8. BrianL

    BrianL Member

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    Kodak's Chapter 11 may result in a spin off of the film division into a new Kodak leaving the losses, patents, real estate, etc. in the old. This reorg is not uncommon and leaves the profitable divisions in a position to either be sold off or continue in a smaller and leaner company; think about the GM reorg and the GM automaker of today is not the original company but the new spun off company. Much will depend on the mindset of the present manager and BoD as to whether they've thrown in the towel or are trying to save the company in a meaningful way.
     
  9. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    I think it's fair to remember that Ilford has gone through bankruptcy, and resurfaced under new management and structure.

    Kodak is about to go down the same path, and we don't know yet what will come out of the chaos.

    Since I know squat about finance, I'll stick to the "it can swing either way" interpretation....
     
  10. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    Even if the formula for Tri-X were to be made public, it is not likely that anyone could produce it. The formula is quite complex and involves many manufacturing steps that just don't work out in small scale. If TriX were easy to make there would be companies making it right now by reverse engineering. See how many 400 speed B&W films out there come up to the TriX standard of imaging and coating quality!

    I may as well post this:

    The left picture is the SIMPLE version of the Kodak production scale kettle. The right picture is the washing schematic. Both are in patents which are still valid BTW but will expire soon IIRC.

    Only Ilford and Fuji can come close but it does not show the fact that special mixing is required in the form of a shrouded turbine mixer. So.... for about $1M you can begin building your plant. You will need all of the above plus a coater a slitter & chopper, IR scanner for quality control, casettes, 120 & 220 film paper and rolls, etc. etc..

    I'm getting tired of people who don't think this out. It is not like pressing a vinyl record or making a tape recording or even an HDTV DVD. After all, I made 2 DVDs with about 5 hours of action and had them reproduced for sale, all from my home. I can make film and paper too, but the quality of each is very very different. The films and papers do not move much past the 1945 era! I have tried recent or modern emulsions form the 90s here at home and failed so far.

    The early emulsions are easy. Coating 10 sheets or plates is easy, provided the speed is about ISo 1 - 100. Beyond that, quality in terms of coating defects, speed and fog go awry quickly. A nickel and dime plant will face the same problems on a gigantic scale and startup will run in the millions.

    PE
     

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  11. stormbytes

    stormbytes Member

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    After a rather prolonged hiatus (for purely circumstantial reasons) I thought this to be as good a reason as any to resume posting to Apug. Over the years, the question of whether one company or supplier remains a going concern never failed to bring the debaters out of the woodwork.

    In truth, the more pertinent aspect of Kodak's reality has far less to do with the company's ultimate future and more with the place its products hold in your (the photographer's) workflow. I remember back in the day when Agfa was teetering on the brink. The Apug forums ran amuck with predictions, speculation and in retrospect, a good deal of wishful thinking.

    Rather then joining the parade, I opted to research suppliers holding whatever little remained of Agfa's prized Rodinal stock. The effort paid off and as I type this, I'm sitting on more bottles of the stuff then I could ever hope to use in a single lifetime!

    Upon hearing the news of Kodak's precarious situation, almost immediately I felt the gears turning in my head. A decision needs to be made, but rather then speculating Kodak's future, this one is really very simple: How much do I love Tri-x. How many formats do I want to keep? How much can I afford to buy/store? Far simpler to contemplate then the casino royale that is Kodak's balance sheet!

    To my friends and colleagues on Apug I only have this to say:

    If you love the film and want to ensure its availability for your personal use, beyond speculation of buy outs and spin-offs, simply reach into your pockets and vote with your credit card!

    1000 rolls of Kodak film @ around $4.00/roll on average would cost $4k. A solid quantity to have on hand and certainly well-worth ensuring the availability of this iconic medium. If the film disappears, your $4000 would probably be well invested in tangible Tri-X stock, should you ever wish to recoup your investment (and then some..)

    And so, in practical terms, the matter of Kodak's continuity is actually a question of $4,000.00 or thereabouts.

    Now all you have to ponder is whether that price is worth your while. If not, then I don't think you'll miss it all that much after all, even if the worst comes to pass.

    Simple really.
     
  12. Richard S. (rich815)

    Richard S. (rich815) Subscriber

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    Perfect post. I love it.
     
  13. Aristophanes

    Aristophanes Member

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    Thank-you sir. That is very useful information.
     
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  15. Kevin Kehler

    Kevin Kehler Member

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    To echo Photo Engineer, I think the two facets most people underestimate is the quality control and non-scalability of costs. Nobody wants a product which changes with each roll or which has serious flaws in coating. Kodak itself tried to construct coating plants in China in the late 80's/early 90's which were never able to maintain the quality control film products demand. You have to remember that if your coating is off by 1/10 of a millimeter, it is out of alignment by perhaps 100 times. So, even if you have the formula, the set-up of the coating process and quality control will take as much money as the formula. Second, the reason a roll is under $5 is because they run it by the hundreds of meters at a time. Making 100 meters is not 1/5 the cost as making 500 meters, due to wasted material to spool the machine up to speed or slow it down prior to or after coating and quality errors. Finally, assuming you have the formula, have the equipment to replicate it, have properly calibrated machines and have run several hundred meters of film, now you have to have the supply chain to sell it. Would you trust brand XYZ Tri-X? How many people assume it is different and simply drop it from their usage routine?

    Another thread (I don't remember which) had a link to a British government site, listing Harman's expenses and gross revenue: Ilford makes around $20 million a year in sales, for profits of $1 million. My local Costco location (I worked there at one point) does more sales than that in a year, and it is the smallest Costco in Canada! Some of the large Costco locations do more than that in less than a month. Even if they wanted to, Harman/Ilford probably does not have the funds to purchase the patent, never mind start-up costs for production.

    As for hoarding, I think this is understandably bad long-term thinking: photographers are justifiably scared a favorite product will disappear and purchase a large amount to ensure they can continue to use it. The company sees a short-term blip of increased sales followed by a long-term drop in sales as photographers use their stash rather than purchase more product. However, people dropping film as their medium of choice and photographers using their stash look identical to a balance sheet. It would be much better to rotate stock, so purchase 100 rolls and when you use up 10 rolls, buy 10 more rolls and put them at the bottom of the pile. This way, product demand continues and you keep your stash.
     
  16. PKM-25

    PKM-25 Member

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    I agree with this, but a few things come to mind that make it a tough decision for me....

    On one hand what Stormbytes says makes sense for me just to cover my rear in terms of having at least 5 years worth of stock for projects, workshops. But a thousands rolls is a ton of film even for full time use, it took me two years to go through that much Kodachrome.

    But this situation with Kodak is as volatile and uncertain as it gets and frankly more distressing than Kodachrome getting nixed. I knew that KR was getting cut at some point years ago because of how archaic it was. While I like HP5, shot a roll this evening in 120, I just know Tri-X really well like a lot of shooters do and love the look and versatility of it.

    So I am looking at good amounts of it in 35mm via Freestyle Arista which is great and several hundred rolls of it in 120. Then there are the 100 rolls each of Ektar and Tmax 100 in 120....this is getting expensive and quick....but it is worth the investment.

    So I am about $1,500 into covering my rear and can do another 2K before I hit the wall on my annual film budget, 3-3.5K is the best I can do. I will spend that 2K if the crap hits the fan, otherwise I will do like you are saying and simply rotate and replenish stock as needed.
     
  17. stormbytes

    stormbytes Member

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    You shouldn't really need to buy 'thousands' of rolls, unless you really need to buy 'thousands' of rolls, in which case just buy it :smile:

    You're right. Tri-X is a lot more like Portriga-Rapid then KC. While there are certainly other, well made emulsions to be had, Tri-X has no parallel. It's iconic. Its tonal scale, grain structure, latitude, forgiveness and cult following makes it a deeply-seeded personal choice.

    With rising silver costs, even if it does stick around, chances are buying in at the current price point will prove itself in the financial sense. And there's always eBay, should you find yourself low on cash.

    I remember when Agfa keeled over, there several different Adox flavors of Rodinal, and each got its share of flames and controversy. Agfa-OEM Rodinal was selling for $50/1L.
     
  18. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    Ok, hoarding! :wink:

    Film is like meat or produce. It goes bad. Analog vinyl records keep on the shelf forever, film does not.

    Freeze it, go ahead! It still goes bad. Gradually, but it goes bad. Radiation you know. So, on dealers shelves and in your freezer, film is decaying. And what is not sold is returned to EK. Oh my, that is a B**ch! That eats into profits!

    So, here we are with a perishable product that is produced by the "ton" and then has to face a failing market. Go ahead, hoard. Eventually, it will go bad, fast film before slow film, but bad. It may take 1 year, 10 years or 20 years, that depends on your freezer temp or refrigerator temp but it will go bad. I have some slow film that is still good at room temp since the 70s. but I have some 90s film frozen that is bad now, less than 20 years later.

    Dream on.

    PE
     
  19. polyglot

    polyglot Member

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    a) It's Tri-X. Frankly, while it's good, it's not *that* good. Sure it's iconic ("cult following" says it all) but frankly I think that's more in the name and history than the emulsion, particularly because Tri-X is not now what it was 10 or 20 years ago. Can you honestly tell me there is something you can do with Tri-X that you absolutely cannot do with some other film like HP5? I would find that really, really hard to believe. I think the loss of TMY2, Portra and Ektar will be a bigger blow to photographers than an old-style B&W emulsion that isn't very different from at least one (profitable) competitor's product.

    b) While I'm sure I can't make Tri-X in my shed (and I make a lot of shit in my shed) and I'm quite prepared to believe that Tri-X is more complicated than an old Efke emulsion, I don't think that's relevant. The fact that Ilford can competently and profitably manufacture HP5 and all the rest on a smaller scale is a good demonstration that similar films can be made on a smaller scale. No one needs to be able to make 10 rolls at a time as long as some small company is happy to make 1000 or 10,000 rolls at a go.

    c) Stockpiling, whatever. Certainly if you depend on a particular film for your particular style, if you buy enough to last you a while then you know you'll be able to use it for a while. You're kidding yourself though if you think the manufacturers will even notice your sale in one direction or another, even if you buy a thousand rolls - that's peanuts in the scale that they operate on even in these reduced times. That's only two cartons of films, and the big distributors buy the stuff by the pallet. You are not going to prop up Kodak by buying a huge personal stash now instead of later, and you are not going to sink Kodak by using up a stash instead of buying a couple rolls each week. Don't forget to factor in a couple hundred $ each year for freezer electricity costs!
     
  20. PKM-25

    PKM-25 Member

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    Some of us have no choice when a product is discontinued, especially if creative projects require it. The freezer I am using will hold 3,000-4,000 rolls depending on format, it is about 2/3rd full. It has lead sheeting on the interior and exterior, is only used for film and is at around -10F.

    in 2006, I bought 50 rolls of 2424 Aerographic infrared David Romano re-spool, have shot 20 rolls of it, 8 this past Summer, it is perfect! When HIE was discontinued, I got 75 rolls from Samy's, again, perfect. Nothing I have is faster than ASA 400 in deep storage. I have Delta 3,200 in the other freezer, but I use that up annually, only shoot 10 rolls a year max...

    I agree, hoarding is not a good long term market practice when you want to support a company, but once a product is on the chopping block, stock up, what choice do you have?

    Life is too short to not take a chance and I have years of projects to do. Either way, I am watching this development daily and have a full cart at Freestyle waiting to go. I wish it were not this way and I could do like I always have and buy 100 rolls each of Tri-X in 35mm & 120 per year, but this is my career we are talking about here, so I'll take my chances...


     
  21. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    Dan;

    You are right. There are two points of view in this situation. I would also point out the extraordinary lengths you go to to prevent the problems I have brought up! Many people cant or wont change. Others find alternative products.

    I wish both groups achieve their goals.

    Please, lets get together again if you make it to Rochester.

    PE
     
  22. NB23

    NB23 Member

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    Spending 4000$? Terrible, terrible recomendation.
    If you spend that kind of money you wont return for a few years, sending a bad message. And why buy 1000 rolls now when you can buy 100 and wont have it expire on you?

    What kodak wants to know is if there's a next generation after the old generation stops shooting or living (us). No matter how much we use the film, what's important to know is if there's a next one coming.
    And the answer to this is no, unfortunately. And this is where film dies a peacecul death together with us.
    The next generation wont even care nor will we, after all.
     
  23. Sal Santamaura

    Sal Santamaura Member

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    Lead sheeting won't help. It's transparent to the background cosmic radiation that, cumulatively, will fog film. Rate of fogging depends on film speed and emulsion, with conventional-grain types often less susceptible at a given speed than tabular or core-shell flavors.

    The only thing that will effectively eliminate fog from cosmic radiation is a substantial layer of earth. But make sure there's no granite in that layer. I've often thought that the underground refrigerated storage offered by this outfit

    http://www.undergroundvaults.com/index.php/offerings/secure-storage-facilities/refrigerated-storage/

    would be optimum, but am afraid to even ask for a quote. :smile:

    Tri-X in sheets is one of those higher-speed films that lasts very well in long-term frozen storage, suffering only a very gradual increase in fog. One can lower the exposed speed over time and simply print through the fog, being left with a perfectly usable EI 250 film (rotary, ID-11 1:1) even after decades. Fresh, that combination yields a 0.1 over fb-f EI of 500; I shoot it at 250 anyway to get off the toe, so don't anticipate any change in my shooting routine over time.

    Given already announced Kodak discontinuations, not to mention probable imminent bankruptcy, I decided a dedicated film freezer wouldn't be worth the floor space, cost (acquisition and energy) or trouble for me. Instead, I negotiated with my wife to "split up" volume in the freezer compartment of our regular refrigerator-freezer. Then I concluded that, for the most part, 5x7 320TXP was the best film to bank.

    As a result, I removed an inner door and shelf in the ice tray area to accommodate even more boxes than were already cached. There are now 1,800 sheets of 5x7 and 100 sheets of 8x10 320TXP in the freezer. An additional 126 sheets of 5x7 remain in the refrigerator compartment. And we can still store all the food our cooking/eating habits require. Seems like a good compromise, especially since I haven't found any film that better matches the thousands of sheets of Azo I stockpiled when that final batch was sold. As an amateur who is 14 years older than you and shooting much less, Dan, I'm considering this a lifetime supply.
     
  24. stormbytes

    stormbytes Member

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    This has to take stupidity to a whole new level. I won't "return" for a few years?? Return to what exactly? Sandisk memory cards? I'm sure there will be plenty to be had! The question of stocking up on a cherished medium is about securing availability when the fate of continuity is all but sealed.

    The basis for this entire thread is the unspoken consensus that there is no "next one coming". Rather then spouting thoughtless discouragement, I suggest you try to see the matter in its proper context.
     
  25. Rudeofus

    Rudeofus Subscriber

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    Just to back this up: The small but thriving dark room crowd in our local photo club (100+ members) consists mostly of younger folks (25-45 years old) while the old members (50+) are 100% digital.

    Some people like CGW, Aristophanes and NB23 really seem to get a kick out of calling film a dead medium. If they truly believed in their assertions in any way, why do they spend hours per day (look at the sheer length of Aristophanes' postings in multiple threads! ) and hang out with us luddites here on APUG, when they could get a nice smart phone and set their sail into a bright future? It looks like film has become so popular lately that APUG has attracted its share of trolls now :sad:
     
  26. bwfans

    bwfans Member

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    Exciting thoughts. Not enough to save Kodak. But it is the best investment, in my opinion, if you are a dedicated film user.

    You probably can buy Tri-X for $2 to $3 a roll five years back. And you probably can buy Tri-X for $6-$8 a roll in next three to five years, if you still able to find it. In last five years, Tri-X has appreciated its value for about 50-100%. And in next five years, it will appreciate its value again 50% to 100%.

    Can you get this kind of result from a bank or investment account with a simple no-brainer purchase?

    So I think this is a great investment decision.

    But this won't save Kodak. If there are 1,000 APUGers bought 1,000 rolls of Tri-X in 2012, that will be 1,000,000 rolls. Sounds a lot. But that is 4 million dollar only even if you purchase directly from Kodak. A fired Kodak CEO probably can take 40 millions dollars home. In that case, 1,000 APUGers need to purchase 1,000 rolls of Tri-X 10 times, or 10 years to satisfy a typical exiting CEO's stomach.

    Now what kind of consumer purchase can save Kodak? You need, additionally, one million people to buy 100 rolls of Kodak film for $4 a roll every year to help Kodak's consumer film division to break even this year, or every year. And there are a bunch of divisions losing this kind of money at Kodak every year.