It’s Halloween, All Hallows’ Eve, that ghoulish night of the year dedicated to remembering the dead. It’s also the night of the year in which the unlikely reanimation of rotting corpses seems most possible. Zombies walk the earth, ghosts haunt our waking dreams, and vampires roam in search of unwitting human prey (or Skittles). Keeping with this happy theme, I thought we should talk about dead cameras, film, and other sadly departed things in photography that we wish would come back.
Here they are, as picked by the CP staff; five things in photography that we wish would rise from the grave.
Zombie #1 – Pack Film
The common refrain on Facebook photo groups and forums whenever the subject instant photography is broached, pack film has many fans who pine for its resurrection. This instant film, which for the recent past had been produced solely by Fujifilm, was discontinued in early 2016. It fit into a number of Polaroid and Fuji cameras and produced some of the finest quality instant photos the world has ever known. Fuji’s black-and-white pack film created stunning images, and their Silk packs were simply luxurious. You can still buy pack film here and there, but the price has skyrocketed. Expect to pay a lot, for very few prints. For some, it’s still worth it, as this stuff really does make amazing shots.
Though efforts to resurrect the film have been discussed, nothing has yet been released. We hope it happens though. It was (and is, for those who can afford it) one of those magical things in photography that just can’t be replicated.
Zombie #2 – Kodachrome
Similar to pack film, Kodachrome is one of those rare photographic products that’s been elevated to legendary status. For those who weren’t there during Kodachrome’s heyday, we wrote a retrospective to shine a light on what made this slide film so special. Essentially, unbelievable color rendition, impeccable image quality, and unmatched archival characteristics made it the most iconic film ever produced. It was used to document every aspect of life for most of the twentieth century, capturing everything from the Space Race to the Kennedy assassination, and millions of family vacations to boot.
The chance that Kodachrome will ever return as it was is non-existent. The developing process, hazardous chemicals used, and sheer expense make it a non-starter as a viable business concern. The possibility that Kodak will bring back a film similar to it, however, does exist. The brand is supposedly launching Ektachrome in 2018, and the fact that Kodak’s new analog culture magazine is named “Kodachrome” definitively shows the folk from Rochester have not forgotten their most famous emulsion. Does this mean a new generation of Kodachrome film is on the horizon? Who knows. If it does claw its way from the tomb, we’ll be buying it by the case. Until then, there’s always Ektar.
Zombie #3 – Nikon’s Millenium Nikkor
Our next desired zombie is a product that was actually successfully resurrected in the early 2000s – the Millennium Nikkor-S 50mm f/1.4 made for the Nikon RF system. Bet you didn’t see that one coming.
If reissuing a lens for a system as dead as King Tut sounds insane, well, it is. But reason be damned, Nikon was high off nostalgia in the early 2000s (remember 2001’s FM3a?) and decided to dig deep into their archives to manufacture a tit-for-tat copy of their legendary Nikon S3 Rangefinder. The reissue eventually became the rare and beautifully made Nikon S3 2000. Nikon then set about making a lens for the new camera, and they chose a real beauty; the classic Nikkor-S 50mm f/1.4.
But Nikon wasn’t content with just recreating their old fifty. The new lens, christened the “Millennium” Nikkor-S 50mm f/1.4, actually draws its lineage from the extremely rare “Olympic” 50mm f/1.4, which was manufactured in the early 1960s as an improvement on the original 5cm f/1.4. And just for kicks, Nikon endowed the lens with the modern coatings featured on their fancy-pants AF lenses to truly bring the lens’ performance into the new millennium.
In their nostalgia-fueled wild goose chase, Nikon inadvertently created what some call photography’s greatest ever normal lens. The few who own the Millennium Nikkor fifty consistently place it above the high-flying Leica Summilux 50mm f/1.4, a lens many consider the pinnacle of normal lenses. After seeing plenty of image samples, I’m inclined to agree with them.
The tragedy of the Millennium Nikkor fifty is that due to its rarity and obscure mount, it remains inaccessible to all but the most dedicated photo geeks. What’s more, resurrecting such an esoteric lens in 2017 would be impractical. But there’s a simple solution to this problem (and one I hope somebody from Nikon reads) – reissue the lens in Leica Thread Mount or M-Mount. Nikon made lenses in Leica mounts back in the day with the Nikkor 5cm f/2 and f/1.4, so why not relive the good old days and do the same with the Millennium fifty? It’s a longshot, but a lens as good as this deserves better than to be left for dead.
Zombie #4 – Canon Rangefinders
Canon should bring back rangefinders. This extremely unlikely resurrection would take a gifted necromancer for sure, but the world would be a better place with new Canon 7s, Ps and Canonets.
The last generation of interchangeable-lens Canon rangefinders represent a special period in Canon history. Their release overlapped with the company’s first SLR, the Canonflex, which was something of a flop. The Canon V, VT, 7 and Canon P rangefinders were anything but. These rangefinders combined great ergonomics with excellent Canon-made lenses. Particularly when compared to Leica-built LTM rangefinders, the Canons are very easy to use and can make stunning images. They can also use legendary Leitz glass without need for an adapter. And if you’re not a Leica fan, virtually every other lens maker has made LTM lenses at some point, including Nikon, Zeiss, Voigtlander and Schneider-Kreuznatch.
Of course, the most viable candidate for rangefinder resurrection is the Canonet. Fuji’s successful X100 line shows that a market exists for fixed-lens digital rangefinders. I’m torn whether I’d prefer Canon to start making new Canonet QL17 GIIIs exactly like they used to, or a new Canonet line with classic aesthetics and intuitive functionality to challenge the X100 head on. The original Canonets were functionally almost perfect, with terrific controls, and the easy-to-use quick load system. I’m not sure whether the new camera needs to raise directly from the ashes of the old one, or succeed it in spirit. Either way, some manner of resurrection is definitely in order.
Either way, I’m going to need a copy of the Necronomicon, and a few choice words to either raise the dead, summon a giant alien robot, or resurrect a classic line of cameras. Hopefully I remember them correctly.
Zombie #5 – Minolta
Minolta’s impact on photography is so massive that it’s hard to know where to begin discussing it. The brand was arguably the most progressive camera company in Japan for more than fifty years, and their portfolio boasts such an astonishing number of “firsts” that it’s incredible to think they’re not around today.
They made a TLR that was functionally superior to the Rollei; they made one of the best selling SLRs of all time; they made an M mount camera so advanced that it took Leica more than 20 years to catch up; and they were the first company to make a successful autofocus system. In this industry of continuous leap-frogging, Minolta often rightly claimed the crown as maker of “the best 35mm camera in the world” for more than thirty years.
They also made their own glass, a claim that surprisingly few camera and lens makers can make. This kept quality high and prices low, with Minolta’s world-class lenses often costing far less (and performing better) than their rivals from Japan and elsewhere. Their Rokkor line of lenses produced some of the best lenses in the world for a long, long time, and even today these lenses command respect for the incredible images they can make.
So why isn’t Minolta around today? In a way, they are. After some really disastrous litigation involving patent and trademark law, and some financially troubling years, Minolta sold their consumer camera operations entirely to Sony in 2006, who have now become one of the elite camera makers in the world. Minolta’s A mount lenses still work on Sony’s newest professional DSLRs, and the brand makes a fantastic adapter to mate these lenses to their mirrorless e-mount a7 series.
But even though Sony has surged ahead and created some amazing cameras, I do miss seeing that rising sun logo that for decades stood for quality, innovation, and performance.
And that’s it for our zombie wishlist. What photographic corpses would you love to see stumble out of a mausoleum? Let us know in the comments.