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The last roll.
December 31, 2010 2:12 AM   Subscribe

The last roll of Kodachrome film was given to Steve McCurry, who took the famous Afghan Girl photograph with it, and yesterday was the last day that you could get it processed. here are some of the frames from that roll. previously
posted by delmoi (46 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by edmcbride at 2:31 AM on December 31, 2010


so sad. this hurts.
posted by ouke at 2:47 AM on December 31, 2010


mama don't take my kodachrome away
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:51 AM on December 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


McCurry had the last film roll manufactured but that wasn't the last to be processed:

One of the toughest decisions was how to deal with the dozens of requests from amateurs and professionals alike to provide the last roll to be processed.
In the end, it was determined that a roll belonging to Dwayne Steinle, the owner, would be last.

For Kodachrome Fans, Road Ends at Photo Lab in Kansas - NY Times
posted by Lanark at 2:56 AM on December 31, 2010


incredulously, .
posted by headless at 3:15 AM on December 31, 2010


Is there some trade secrets or something to processing the film? Because I don't see how you could say it's the last day if a sufficiently advanced photo lab would be able to do it for the right amount of money.
posted by ymgve at 4:08 AM on December 31, 2010


I work for a smalltown newspaper. I've never shot on anything but digital equipment. It blows my mind he could get so many great shots on a single roll of 20-odd frames.
posted by Brodiggitty at 4:10 AM on December 31, 2010


Is there some trade secrets or something to processing the film?

You buy the dyes from Kodak. They stopped making them, so the ingredients for processing the film nolonger exist. I guess a company could create substitute ingredients, but obviously then it wouldn't be kodachrome, but a similar photographic process.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:27 AM on December 31, 2010


So... is there still a way to create slides for projectors now? Or were all color slides done by kodachrome?
posted by -harlequin- at 4:29 AM on December 31, 2010


Slide film is not dead, Kodak have released seven new professional films over the last three years alone...
KODAK PROFESSIONAL PORTRA 160NC and VC Film
KODAK PROFESSIONAL PORTRA 400 NC and VC Films
KODAK PROFESSIONAL PORTRA 800 Film
KODAK PROFESSIONAL T-MAX 400 Film
KODAK PROFESSIONAL EKTAR 100 Film

People want faster sharper film, thats what killed Kodachrome.
posted by Lanark at 4:30 AM on December 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


ymgve - there may be some trade secrets in the formulation of the developing chemicals, but more importantly, the solutions degrade over time - they have an expiration date. My guess is that the last batch of Kodachrome developer that Kodak made just expired, and that's what drove the timing of the decision to stop accepting Kodachrome film for processing.

I have no doubt that the developer could be (and probably has been) reverse engineered, but it still wouldn't be Kodak, know what I mean?
posted by kcds at 4:32 AM on December 31, 2010


It saddens me to think there are people attending college who have taken pictures for as long as they remember, but have never encountered film.

I feel so old.

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posted by inedible at 4:37 AM on December 31, 2010 [4 favorites]


I love digital photography. The fact is, it made photography feasible for people who have little money. You can get a passable point-and-shoot for under $300 with no recurring costs, edit your photos to get all of the same effects of a well-equipped darkroom with free software, and then have the results printed, if you so desire, for next to nothing.

Film gets no dot from me.
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:03 AM on December 31, 2010 [4 favorites]


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posted by Splunge at 5:30 AM on December 31, 2010


You can get a passable point-and-shoot for under $300 with no recurring costs, edit your photos to get all of the same effects of a well-equipped darkroom with free software, and then have the results printed, if you so desire, for next to nothing.

Consider this earlier statement about digital vs. film:

It blows my mind he could get so many great shots on a single roll of 20-odd frames.

The process, I believe, promoted more attention to the details of framing, composition, exposure, focal lengths, &tc. When each exposure costs real $, you make sure each exposure counts.
posted by mikelieman at 5:43 AM on December 31, 2010 [8 favorites]


Its funny but I really miss the smell of the darkroom.

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posted by Sailormom at 5:45 AM on December 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


When I went to work at ILM, in 1991, I was shocked that a fellow by the name of Jeff Light (who blew my mind one day, when he strolled into my area and sang the theme song from "Super Chicken", with the lyrics that I could not remember to save my life), had been tasked with writing a film emulsion grain emulator, for adding texture to CG elements that were to be composited into live action plates. One of the key reasons the dinos worked so well in that first Jurassic Park, was Jeff's film grain program (the very first grain emulator, it was more than a few years before something showed up in the commercial market). I spent some time talking with Jeff about the idea that people had been conditioned to associate grain with film quality, as there was a secret that allowed us to do things that made other FX houses scared to commit to digital - we weren't working at 4K resolution, turned out that something pretty darned close to 1080 HD was our working res, allowed the whole pipeline to chug along without bottlenecking too badly (in 1991, I had a pair of Mac II FX computers on my desk, that's what I was using to do shots for Terminator 2, The Rocketeer, Memoirs of an Invisible Man and Spielberg's first dinosaur film, Hook. I would have killed puppies for the processing prowess that is under my fingers at this very moment.)

I would sit there in dailies, and muse aloud about the idea that people would one day get over the idea that film was better than digital - and yeah, I know all about dynamic range, and stochastic dithering, and the analog vs digital debate, I was one of those folks who grew up in my dad's darkroom, I remember the delight of seeing that Tri-X emerge from the processing tank, holding it up to a lightbox to see what the camera had captured long after the button had been pressed on my Nikon F Photomic (which I still own). For years, it astounded me that the National Geographic folks seemed to have gotten giddy over Photoshop's Unsharp Masking, they were using it like my grandmother used salt in her glorious chicken soup - waaaaaay too much, which made that film grain look more like a blast of monochromatic noise from hell.

I was profiled in MacUser magazine in the mid-nineties, and right under the picture of me standing in front of a monitor with Godzilla, I went on record about my feelings about film, boldly stating it would vanish by the turn of the millennium. Seems I was off by a decade, and I wish I could say that this makes me sad, but honestly, the benefits, quality and flexibility of digital, along with significantly lower cost, and coupled with how digital definitely changes how one shoots - the economics of no film processing and instant preview and review - I can't shed a tear for the demise of Kodachrome. The ability to digitally push saturation in a totally controlled fashion - which can take you much further than Kodachrome, if you're willing to take the time to learn to do it right - makes the whole debate more like the vinyl LP/CD/digital download argument, and on that front, I'll be buying CDs until they vanish - or I drop, whichever comes first.

On second thought:

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(for my Dad, he would have wanted me to do that, even though he used to lecture me on the virtues of B&W over color in the realm of film, hence all that Tri-X)
posted by dbiedny at 6:13 AM on December 31, 2010 [37 favorites]


This is tantamount to "The world is out of paint."
posted by Shohn at 6:15 AM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


In two weeks, will we be seeing a Kodak branded Kodachrome plug-in for Photoshop that will "develop" raw shots into something that looks like Kodachrome?
The process, I believe, promoted more attention to the details of framing, composition, exposure, focal lengths, &tc. When each exposure costs real $, you make sure each exposure counts.
There is that facet of art that many of us forget- the process, the skill. The practice of figuring out our equipment better than anyone else, so much so that it becomes transparant and we simply get our vision out the other end.

He got those shots because he has burnt through thousands of rolls previously to figure out how to do it.

And what a moving shot to have gotten with that last roll.
posted by gjc at 6:20 AM on December 31, 2010


The process, I believe, promoted more attention to the details of framing, composition, exposure, focal lengths, &tc. When each exposure costs real $, you make sure each exposure counts.

No doubt, but it is hard, expensive, and frustrating to learn. When I took photography class in high school I probably shot less than 20 rolls the whole year. Going out and shooting 2-3 rolls, trying not to fuck up developing them, and hoping there are maybe 5 decent photos a roll is tough and doesn't give you as much opportunity to learn from your mistakes. I shot more photos the first day I had my DSLR than I did the entire year in high school. Truly talented people will still compose their photos brilliantly but now millions of amateurs have a better chance to beautifully capture a moment, and I think that's better.
posted by ghharr at 6:20 AM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


People want faster sharper film, thats what killed Kodachrome.
posted by Lanark at 7:30 AM on December 31 [1 favorite +] [!]


I don't think that is the real reason at all. The Kodachrome process ( ie the chemicals used to develop it, and the equipment required) were light years more expensive and tedious than the Ektachrome process. With Kodachrome there are no colors in the film. What you have essentially is a three-layered black and white film with each layer sensitive to certain light waves. One needs to add color dyes to the layers during the development. With E-4 and E-6 Ektachrome (Fujichrome too), the colors are already in the film and the process is much simpler/cheaper. Also many of the chemicals used in Kodachrome are toxic to the environment, and EPA was all up in their grill about it.

Sad really because I have many slides that are 30 to 35 yeas old, and only the Kodachrome have maintained their color.
posted by Gungho at 6:21 AM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


I pretty exclusively shot Kodachrome the last 10 years owned a film camera. It was an unforgiving, slow film that didn't like under-exposure, which made my life all the more difficult because I was usually shooting it in caves. I started using it primarily because of its archival qualities -- E6 slides will degrade pretty quickly, less than 20 years vs. Kodachrome's 100 or so. I liked its color for caves better -- it brought out the browns & reds, where something like Velvia is great for greens, which there aren't any of, down there.

Sending my rolls off in the US mail & hoping that they would actually come back was always hair-raising because of the amount of effort that goes into cave photography, and the added uncertainty that you'll ever get back into a particular cave again, or perhaps you'll lose the documentation of a discovery, so there were things on the line there. The most hair-raising of all though was when a roll got stuck in my camera & refused to wind back into the canister after a once-in-a-lifetime trip into Cueva Angeles in Puerto Rico. I had lugged extra flashes, and had to waterproof all my gear because there were long stretches of swimming, and it was incommodious to my fellow cavers to stop & pose or tend flashes repeatedly on the trip - it would have been a major loss. I waited until dark, went in the bathroom, put a towel over my lap , opened the camera & groped my way through pulling it out & feeding it back into the can. Very tense moment. I sill lost one of the very best shots to a light leak & was only able to re-construct it years later in Photoshop with the clone tool.

The thing about film is it really makes you think about what you're doing. I'm not a pro by any stretch, but film makes you slow down, take that extra second to compose, double-check your exposure settings, (I had an all-manual Pentax K-1000- god, what a trooper. I could write a whole short story about that camera, given the time) make sure your flashes were charged and pointed right, then bracket, then second-guess yourself and do it all over again. That, plus the cost of film & the hassle of carrying & changing rolls, helps to focus the mind a bit in ways I find myself slacking off of since I went digital.

I've been through several "digital revolutions" now, starting with production art, & have had all sorts of arcane skills marginalized & rendered redundant & useless by the advent of DTP & design software, like burnishing press-on lettering (it's hard to fathom now that I used to actually run out of letters when laying out designs) and operating a copy-camera. In the 1980's adding a drop-shadow to text was serious work that required three camera shots once you had your text laid out. Now it's an option+shift-click & drag. I wouldn't turn the clock back on any of that, as my life has become so much more efficient and simple really, but the film thing has its parallels. Recording sound to magnetic tape vs. hard-disk recording is another apt comparison. Who'd give up that ease-of-use, but you see everyone striving to re-create that analog tape sound. Something gained, yet something lost.

I love digital because of the ease-of-use, but it's hard to maintain that focus when the stakes are so much lower. I have to work really hard now when shooting digital to take that second look at the composition, not just trust that the camera's default exposure settings are going to be good enough, or that the auto-focus isn't homing in on dust specks 2 feet from the lens. It's too easy to let down & just fire away, and come home with 400 raw files of mediocre snapshots. I'll always miss Kodachrome for the particular way in which it made me think.

When I get my slides out these days, if only to shove them into the scanner, they still feel like talismans to me - tangible mementos of places traveled & things seen. I miss that a little with digital - an SD card doesn't give me that in the same way. They're little treasures taken away from places without diminishing the place itself, but instead bringing it back to life - holding a slide in my hand & rising it up to the light helps me to journey back to places, and I feel like I've got little piece of that place in my hand. The light from there is still with me, gathered up and carried home, like a little charm.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:29 AM on December 31, 2010 [24 favorites]


Alien Skin Exposure 3 - make it look like Kodachrome, Tri-X, Velvia, and a few other emulsions.
posted by dbiedny at 6:32 AM on December 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


I've never been much of a Kodachrome shooter, so I'm not all that disappointed... but I do appreciate what we're losing here. If/when Velvia goes, then I'll be sad.
posted by blaneyphoto at 6:39 AM on December 31, 2010


The process, I believe, promoted more attention to the details of framing, composition, exposure, focal lengths, &tc. When each exposure costs real $, you make sure each exposure counts.

But when you're learning, as folks have noted already, you don't magically become a better photography quickly just because each shot costs money. You either spend a hell of a lot of money on being incrementally less bad, or you quit while you're ahead and spend your money on something else.

Photographers who have cut their teeth on digital and gotten good try to make each exposure count, too, because the only exposures that matter are the ones that work and the window of opportunity for any given shot doesn't get any larger just because your camera has a digital back on it.

I'll always be fond of film photography, and I'll always be fond of cassette tapes. I grew up on both as first-exposure creative media. I'm glad I'm not stuck with either these days.
posted by cortex at 7:28 AM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


With film it was possible to hack a very cheap setup into surprisingly good photos. With digital, not so much; you pretty much get the sensor you can afford.

In the 1980's I got a surplus 200 mm F4 copy lens for $8.50 and mounted it to my cheap Yashica camera body with a T-mount and two bits of PVC pipe painted black and equipped to slide with leather spacers. That lens was heavy and weird but probably the best nature photography lens I've ever used. It could take 1.5:1 macro images of things like butterflies and because the focus was pull instead of screw you could turn away from the butterfly and within seconds take a shot of a bird twenty feet away. The images were razor sharp from center to edge because that lens had been designed to do photolithography over a frame much larger than a 35mm slide. It used none of the compromises camera companies do to make their lenses small and light, and you could tell from the pictures.

When digital got good enough to take decent personal snaps without having to get the film developed I took it up and hardly looked back. But one result of that is that I used to sell the occasional photo to a bird or nature magazine, and now I don't any more because I'm simply not using the equipment a magazine expects a professional photographer to be using.

I'm afraid the days of things like my Yashica hack are gone.

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posted by localroger at 7:35 AM on December 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


Slide film is not dead, Kodak have released seven new professional films over the last three years alone

But none of those are slide films.

(It's true that slide film is not dead, there are still several E-6 slide films available.)
posted by statolith at 8:02 AM on December 31, 2010


The last thing I shot on film was K&R's wedding in 2005. As I've been in the market for a new DSLR, I find that all of them -- all of them -- in my hand are big and clunky and hard to maneuver. My old Canon SLR had four buttons on the body (on/off, the shutter, the self-timer, and a button to open the back to put the film in). Most of the cameras I looked at last night had at least ten buttons on the outside, some more. I'm having trouble buying a camera because I miss the lightness in my hand of the film camera. I miss the simplicity of the interface. I hate having to click through ten menus to do what I used to be able to do simply by turning a little wheel.

Digital is, of course, faster, cheaper, and makes great photography more accessible to everyone, and I love it for that. But I do wish that someone would make a non point-&-shoot camera that does digital that makes me love having a camera in my hand again.
posted by anastasiav at 8:19 AM on December 31, 2010


If you're not attentive to framing, lighting, and the precise moment for the shot then you won't get the shot. That's the real urgency, and it doesn't matter whether there's film or a sensor in the camera.
posted by argybarg at 8:21 AM on December 31, 2010


The process, I believe, promoted more attention to the details of framing, composition, exposure, focal lengths, &tc.

I've never found this to be true. I slow down and pay attention in order to get a good shot when shooting digital. Using the excuse that you slow down isn't in itself an excuse for film. That's just discipline. Other things besides film require patience, too.

I'm thankful for digital for a lot of reasons - it doesn't limit me to one emulsion and most every look I want I can achieve in LightRoom. If anything, I find the challenge with digital is the limitless creativity and potential that lies in a well-exposed RAW file. It's difficult to process something and then leave it. Advances in noise reduction and other processing algorithms make me want to revisit old files and re-process them.
posted by jimmythefish at 8:21 AM on December 31, 2010


I happily shoot both digital & film. The thing I love about using film is the warmth. Shoot some candid portraits on people on either B&W or color film, and see what I mean -- there is just something about the image of a face on film that makes it glow. I have yet to see a digital effect that can emulate that (and no, it's just just 'softness'). And when you shoot slide film, there's that joy of holding up the processed transparencies to the light for the first time and letting out an audible gasp at how clear and beautiful they look, especially if you're used to regular negatives, with their reversed colors and orange film base.

I love my DSLR too -- but I couldn't make the argument that digital is cheaper. I've probably spent $3500 on digital bodies and digital-only lenses in the past five years, just to keep up with the latest and greatest low-noise and higher image quality sensors. That's of course my choice, but digital cameras age like many other electronics -- something better comes out and you're left in the dust.
posted by statolith at 8:26 AM on December 31, 2010


I feel sad about this, and I am neither a fan of film nor a photographer.

One of the things... a part of the process that brought us moments of awe, joy, or sadness has gone. The things that inspire us though, that actually cause us to feel these emotions are still there.

The King is dead - long live the King!
posted by Xoebe at 8:27 AM on December 31, 2010


Shot my last roll of it in town and on the beach outside the apartment. The girlfriend did so with a roll here, too, as well as one in San Francisco, one in Germany and one in Austria. We mailed it all out as soon as the blizzard cleared and it got there with a few hours to spare. She'll miss it more than me and I've already moved on to Provia with the occasional 160C or 800Z.

Maybe when they make a successor to the M9 that doesn't red-edge on wide angles and the price drops to less than $1500, I'll look into getting a serious digital camera.
posted by Brian Puccio at 8:31 AM on December 31, 2010


Damn, I've just found an exposed roll of it, too. Is there anything I can do with it -- even just to get B&W shots out of it?
posted by bonaldi at 9:15 AM on December 31, 2010


My friend and I bought a roll each this autumn and fought Ireland's low light this time of year to shoot the roll - him on an SLR, me on a Rainbow V, a Taiwanese clone of the Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim. Dwayne's didn't fulfill the scanning part of our order so right now I'm squinting at mounted slides, but they're clear and striking images. Neither of us has used Kodachrome 64 before and it was pretty exciting to get to give it a go before it went extinct.

I shoot film, including slide (Velvia), as well as digital, and I'm no great shakes as a photographer but there's nothing like seeing each camera and film's own properties in addition to what you framed and saw and metered.
posted by carbide at 9:17 AM on December 31, 2010


As I've been in the market for a new DSLR, I find that all of them -- all of them -- in my hand are big and clunky and hard to maneuver.

Might want to look into a micro 4/3rds camera. They have smaller sensors then DSLRs, but they have bigger sensors then point and shoots. They get rid of the mirror and viewfinder system, so they end up being much smaller while still taking "professional" shots.
posted by delmoi at 9:43 AM on December 31, 2010


If digital's so great, why hasn't photography improved? The death of film is also the death of a kind of photography. Evolution does not equal improvement. In this case, it seems like evolution means an explosion of photography as an expression of vanity, noodly introspection, and self indulgence. In other words, the cheapening of the medium seems to include a cheapening of the content.


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posted by Stonestock Relentless at 10:01 AM on December 31, 2010


It would have totally ruled if the last shot was one of Paul Simon.
posted by crapmatic at 10:28 AM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm sad to see it go. It's been awhile since I shot on film, but I do believe that learning composition on film made me a more skilled photographer. I think part of that was waiting for the film to develop and rethinking my shots while I waited.

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posted by 26.2 at 10:31 AM on December 31, 2010


Damn, I've just found an exposed roll of it, too. Is there anything I can do with it -- even just to get B&W shots out of it?

These guys say they can process it in black and white. More info about the types of film they process.
posted by av123 at 12:10 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'll miss the stuff. Kodachrome's colours seemed to me as not quite true-to-external-reality, but somehow true-to-memory instead... Yes it was inconveniently slow & the slides could be hard to scan, but I'm glad I got the chance to shoot ten rolls of it over the past few years.
posted by misteraitch at 1:20 PM on December 31, 2010


As a photographer who grew up on Tri-X 120 roll film shot in a Mamiya C330, and a veteran of interminable hours of E-6 processing, and hundreds of hours teasing contrast and dynamic range out of prints in a darkroom, I can honestly say I prefer digital over film at this point. I don't think I've shot Kodachrome since 1980, so there's part of your reason right there.

Velvia 50 can replace Kodachrome for most practical purposes that I can think of, so it's actually kind of surprising that K-64 lasted this long.

Without Photoshop, I couldn't do many of the things I do know, and quite frankly, the co$t of buying film and processing it factors quite a bit now days. I used to spend 4 to 5 times the price of my cameras and lenses in film and processing in an average year. Now, it's all on a cheap hard drive, that I back up to other cheap hard drives. That's a huge difference.

Also, the point is well made that it's not the expense of the exposures that makes a good photograph. The moment you capture only happens once. You are there or you are not.

The younger crowd may not remember this, but it used to be that after *every single major event* the landscape would be littered with yellow film boxes. I don't miss that litter, either.

I'm off to hang an onion on my camera strap.
posted by pjern at 3:29 PM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


K-14 film was always richer towards the reds than E-6 which seemed to give slides a more blue-green tint. (I worked at a photolab in the '80s, but I ran a B&W dip-and-dunk processor, so I may not know what I'm talking about with color.)
posted by Ron Thanagar at 4:38 PM on December 31, 2010


My last frame was me and Julio down by the schoolyard. Mama Pajama's pretty good with a shutter.
posted by Twang at 6:51 PM on December 31, 2010


It would have totally ruled if the last shot was one of Paul Simon.

I dunno, seems to me there's been quite enough Simon references made since the first announcement that Kodachrome was being discontinued. I'm glad McCurry didn't go for such an obvious and by-now tired idea.

Also, Simon is the world's biggest prick, basically.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:56 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


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posted by klausness at 5:25 AM on January 1, 2011


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