Saturday, August 10, 2013

Saturday's Online: What Losing Acetate Film really means......

When I posted a while ago about Kodak ceasing to make acetate film.  I really wasn’t aware of what that meant, and I was asked in a comment what acetate film was actually used for anymore?

Simple Answer:  ALL motion picture film is/was acetate film.  And Kodak was the sole global manufacturer.  So Movies can no longer be filmed as they once were.

Background: First introduced in 1909 as “safety film” because it was safe to keep at home, unlike the highly flammable nitrate base films (still used in Hollywood through the 1950’s).  Safety film opened up the home movie market; and became the standard for still film cameras.  Significant  improvements continued through the 1930’s and 1940’s, with Hollywood beginning to move towards acetate motion picture films in the 1950’s.

 Norway Fjord, 1998

If you ever used the old Seattle Film Work ENC-II film (example above), that was leftover film ends from motion picture canisters marketed to the public for 35mm film cameras. The original processing used motion picture film chemicals.  However, in the 1990’s they switched to the cheaper E-6 processing.  The result is that my 1980’s film looks as good as it did the day it was processed (almost as good as Kodachrome), and my 1990’s processed film looks like crap.  So I eventually switched to E-6 professional films.

Polyester is the current film base, much more durable, but not used for motion pictures because unlike acetate films, it could not be spliced seamlessly for editing purposes.

I have not heard whether the movie industry is going to use polyester (for longevity and preservation), which could be scanned to digital for editing.  I assume this may occur.  However, if the final edited version IS NOT transferred back to film, then preservation of future motion pictures is in jeopardy.

The immediate effect is that by January 2014 motion pictures will only be distributed in digital format.  No more reels.  The problem is that digital projectors are very expensive and have lower resolution.  So seeing it on a ‘big screen’ won’t be as meaningful, and Film festivals and independent movie theaters have to find the thousands of dollars necessary to purchase the new projectors by this deadline.  It may put some of them out of business.

So that’s what the end of Acetate Film means................

P.S. Sunday's Overseas Returns Next Week........I finally found my Norway and Africa Slides!


  1. Thanks for the information on Seattle Film Works. I shot many many rolls of their film and many photographers really gave me crap about it. Yet my shots are as good now as they were back in the 70s & 80s. I thought that Seattle switched to polyester with the E-6. I do remember the quality went down and they were sold or something. I quit using their film probably in the early 90s.

    Digitizing is not the way to go. It'll be like digital TV, poor quality and audio / video sync problems. TV stations love digital (and it shows in the poor video feeds) because now they can and do air any old garbage sent them from anyones camera whether a low-res. phone or a pro DSLR or digital video camera. 90% of the time the audio is out of sync with the video even from the studio.

    Digital preservation is also a problem. Formats change so often and the digital processing changes and with each change will be problems with conversion.

    Long live the old B & W and color films. Like decades old Kodachrome they will long outlast digital.

  2. Bill you are so right about the preservation issue. And that frightens me the most. As a fan of silent movies I know that close to 90% of all the silent films ever made were lost due to nitrate films. Digital in its own way is just as volatile as nitrate film, so we are taking a step backwards.

    I am also alarmed by the numerous small regional film festivals in the Denver and Rocky Mountain region that are struggling to raise money for the new digital projectors. I am sure this is a nation-wide problem I also wonder if they are still going to distribute motion pictures on reel-film overseas? I just can't see the entire world making this change overnight.