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Ralf Jurrien : June 15th 2007 - 12:48 CET updated

Black and White film market

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IlfordBlack and White film market : Over recent times, the demand and usage of digital and film based imaging have settled into more discernable levels, with film very much holding its own. Howard Hopwood, marketing director of black and white photographic materials manufacturer Ilford Photo, sees a very positive future for the traditional medium. Ilford Photo has established a primary position in the photographic market and has led the worldwide resurgence of black and white photography. Although the mainstream digital imaging manufacturers and suppliers seemed to have ceased their alarmist, some would say desperate, predictions of a speedy demise for film photography, it is obvious that the market mix of media has changed dramatically.
Film & Digital photography
Film - the wonder of the photographic age - has survived numerous incursions over recent decades as digital has done battle to hold the high ground in the field of image capture. Now that the extremist 'either/or' conflict has abated, just about everyone involved in photography recognises that both film and digital have established individual strongholds while also working together in many instances to provide the best of both worlds.

Black and White & Colour photography
Those strongholds are not fixed, however, as market and technological advances ensure that developments in both fields constantly move their relationship with each other. As colour photography has become more versatile, and the films more stable over the last half-century, black and white photography has become a specialist and much sought-after application in the field of creative imaging, capitalising on its ability to produce subtlety in contrast and tonal quality which colour photography has never been able to replicate.

Black & White film market declined
Ironically, it has been in recognising its true positioning in today's marketplace that has enabled black and white photography and its associated products and services to carve a defined niche for itself. Fortunately, for those who prefer the purity and textural quality of monochrome, this niche remains vibrant, and is clearly of sufficient interest to support a large and increasingly viable sector of the imaging industry. Most photographic film, paper and chemistry manufacturers have been involved in the black and white sector at one time or another, but many dropped out as the popular market declined, leaving Ilford Photo as the world's leading manufacturer of this genre.

Ilford - Black & White research & development
The company does not, though, take anything for granted. A great deal of research and development has been, and continues to be, invested in not just maintaining the status quo of black and white film, but in taking it further to meet ever-increasing demands from its dedicated customers around the world for greater flexibility of application to enable them to face the challenges of an integrated and constantly advancing technological market.

Ilford Black and White - Film research & development
Because of this ongoing innovation, the global belief is that film will not disappear - indeed, it is already enjoying a renaissance - although the rate of consumption will maintain at moderate levels compared to its 'golden age'. It will be less popular with amateur photographers en masse, though a strong band of enthusiasts and professionals around the world still prefer to use film and analogue processing.

Ilford film market - Sales & Market share
The sale of all formats of film has been stable for the last 9 to 12 months, though the brand mix has been undergoing some noticeable shifts. Agfa Photo and Konica films are no longer available, and the statements made by Kodak are causing concern amongst users of black and white film. All of these factors have strengthened Ilford Photo's resolve to continue to not only serve, but to also develop, the market for premium quality black and white films.

Ilford Photo - Committed to its customers
An indicator of Ilford Photo's commitment to its customers is its willingness to provide products which manufacturers catering to the mass markets would not even consider due to their relatively low demand. A good example of this attitude can be seen in Ilford SFX 200 film which is an extended red sensitivity product.

Ilford Photo - Ilford SFX 200 film
This line was discontinued during Ilford Photo's restructuring in 2005. However, the company has been receiving numerous requests for its SFX 200 to be re-introduced, and so has been looking at ways of producing a small quantity of the product once or twice a year to meet the needs of those seeking it. A route to achieve this was created, and the film was recently re-introduced worldwide.

Black and White film market
The infrastructure required to ensure that the black and white market thrives is clearly very important to Ilford Photo. To provide support for non-professional photographers using black and white film, the company has established a process and print service in the UK, which has been very successful and ensures that real black and white photography - black and white films printed on black and white photographic paper - continues to be available.

Process films and print in the darkroom
In addition to using Ilford Photo's prepaid processing services, there are still a number of enthusiasts and photography students who process their own films and print in their own darkrooms. There are also hire darkrooms available, and Ilford Photo is gradually making a list of the available facilities on its website. As for professional photographers, there is still a good number of high quality professional labs offering excellent film processing and printing, including toning, etc, for those who do not operate darkrooms.

Future of Film market
Given all of which, there is every reason to view the future of film with optimism, albeit on a different scale to that which it enjoyed just a few years back. Now that the industry has recognised that rather than competing for market share, digital and film have each settled into their separate, though often complementary, niches, they can be viewed as parallel markets. As far as anyone can anticipate future market trends, it seems that film in general will be with us for some time yet, with black and white maintaining its own dedicated following.

About Ilford Photo
Ilford Photo has been in continuous operation since 1879. The latest corporate development was the acquisition in February 2005 of its black and white photographic business, premises and Ilford Photo name from the receivers of the old Ilford Imaging group by Harman technology Ltd, a company created by former managers of the company and named after the founder of the Ilford business, Alfred Harman. Since that time, the Ilford Photo brand has re-established its primary position in the global photographic market and has led the worldwide resurgence of black and white photography. It is the only manufacturer which provides the full range of film, paper, photo chemicals and ancillary products for this sector. Meanwhile, Harman technology has been developing other aspects of business which take full advantage of the highly sophisticated plant at its headquarters in Mobberley, Cheshire, including the development of Harman Photo inkjet media which was recently launched around the world and is receiving glowing reviews.

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