A little more than a year ago I posted a note in my russian blog entitled “Film and digital prints during the last seven years” (link to article in russian). That post was in response to the questions that I get frequently asked, questions like “I wonder if anybody is really using film anymore, other than a few rare enthusiasts?”. Today I can update the statistics with another year, 2011.

Background data

All the statistical data below is collected by an automated order processing system at the network of photo centres “Fotoproekt” (www.fotoproekt.ru, link to site in english).

  • “Fotoproekt” has been working in the retail business since February 10, 2004.
  • As of today, it incorporates a print centre, eight customer service outlets and a photography education centre.
  • It currently serves more than 165,000 clients.
  • Most of the clients are in Moscow (Russia) and the surrounding area.
  • A small fraction of the orders comes from the other regions of Russia (mail orders).

Obviously, the sample is not completely representative, since it cannot account for all the variables of the market as a whole. However, the data still presents a certain interest.

The chart below shows a ratio of film and digital print orders for the last eight years, 2004 to 2011. The data is calculated based on the cumulative surface area of all of the prints (in square meters).

The share of film as a photography medium has, undoubtedly, significantly reduced during this time. This trend continues, though it is not as strong during the last few years. However, let’s have a look at the absolute numbers, i.e. number of developed film rolls:

It is clear from this chart that film as a photographic medium continues to grow. This trend has not changed during the last year either; in fact, the growth accelerated. So why, you would ask, does the first chart show a decline in film’s share of the market?

The fact of the matter is that the number of orders for digital prints is increasing faster than the number of orders associated with the development of film. In other words, both digital and film photographic mediums are growing. Digital photography is growing faster, but film is growing as well, even though its share is reducing due to the slower rate of growth. And absolute indicators (number of film rolls and sheets, print orders, square meters of prints, etc.) do not show any reduction in the film usage.

It is an interesting conundrum. One would think that in our digital age film death is long overdue; however, this has not happened before and is not happening now. For the last 10 years it has been claimed that film was going to die “in the very near future”. It is, nevertheless, still alive.

It is difficult to make any conclusions or predictions based on these observations only, though I have a few considerations on the point. It is clear, however, that there is certain dissatisfaction with digital photography, shared by a significant amount of people. And even though these people are vastly outnumbered by those that are satisfied with modern technologies, their number is still significant enough to make a sizeable market impact.

All in all, I think that as long as designers and producers of all digital photographic equipment (first of all camera and software makers) keep ignoring the aesthetic component of their products, film is here to stay. Of course, it is only my personal opinion and I could be wrong. So far the facts support it; what happens next, we’ll have to wait and see.

I can vouch for the accuracy of the presented data. If you want to use this data elsewhere, the reference to this post is mandatory. Even better, please contact me directly and obtain permission.

My thanks to Petro Nakutnyy for translating this post in English.