I’m sitting in a cafe in Charleston, South Carolina sipping the first coffee of the day and contemplating the task before me. I need to shoot as comprehensive a photographic tour of the Holy City as possible in roughly twelve hours. I’m shooting Fuji C200 in my Konica TC, and Portra and Fuji 400H in my Kiev 60. I’m in America’s most beautiful city with some highly-capable films. That’s a good place to be.
But instead of being satisfied, I’m still fuming over what I don’t have with me; my trusty rolls of Agfa Vista 200. Normally that would be because I forgot to order it. But this time it’s because it’s no longer being sold.
The terrible news that Agfa would be killing its Vista consumer line of films broke last week, and by the time I saw the news on Instagram, the film was already pulled from B&H’s website and marked up by resellers on Ebay. Film photography may be slower than its digital sibling, but news travels equally fast.
I try not to get too jammed up about things like photography news, but I was surprised how hot I found myself getting when I learned that Vista was being discontinued. I shoot all kinds of emulsions now, consumer, professional, expired. I love it all. But it was Vista 200 that brought me back under the film photography tent.
On the same day that I bought a gnarly, broken down Minolta SRT-101, I started looking around at film. These were not the prices that I remembered as a kid. That’s when Vista first batted its frugal eyelashes. Nine dollars for a three pack of film? I didn’t even hesitate. I didn’t even care that the box showed a soccer mom photographing her bratty kid. I didn’t care to even find out where the stuff came from or who made it. It was cheap, and as I soon found, a film that punched above its weight. I took it on two European road trips and on most of my domestic ones too. It was a known quantity that delivered pleasing results.
I read one silver-linings rationalization that really got me thinking about Vista’s death on a deeper level. The idea was that the loss of Vista was offset by Kodak’s re-release of T-MAX P3200. One film dies, another gains life. The cycle of all things, right?
But the fact that false equivalencies are easy to make doesn’t mean we should make them.
I made the shots of memorable moments in the gallery above using the now-deceased Vista.
Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t be happier that Kodak is bringing back P3200. The more film the better, and the high-speed market has been a monopoly long enough. But a 3200 ISO black-and-white niche film doesn’t replace a consumer 200 do-it-all film. Especially when the new one costs three times as much as the old.
Maybe Vista’s death (and the P3200 rationalization) tells us more about the state of film’s largest companies than anything else.
The name on Vista’s box may have read Agfa, and Agfa is certainly a very real company based in Europe, but it’s no secret that Vista was produced by Fujifilm. And this is where things get troubling. Because Vista was, nearest we can tell, Fuji C200. So what’s the big deal? Why not just buy Fuji C200 instead of Vista?
Last year, Fuji announced that it would be discontinuing three and five packs of a number of consumer and professional films, including Superia 400, Velvia 50 and 100, Provia 100F. This year it will completely discontinue Superia/Natura 1600 and large format production of Neopan 100. Now, if we add Vista 200 and 400 to the casualty list, we’re seeing a continuation of a worrying trend and a harbinger of what’s to come.
Unconfirmed rumors from not unreliable sources tell us that Fuji has stopped film production altogether; that they’re cold-storing a large amount of existing stock and simply fulfilling orders month to month. That they seem to be eliminating combo packs and Fuji film products with other brand names on the box only strengthens the credibility of these rumors. It’s not good news, and it naturally leads us to ask; are they still making C200? Is C200 the next to be discontinued?
What’s puzzling for those of us who aren’t bean-counters and who aren’t privy to the inner workings of multi-national corporations, is that this is all coming from a company that sells more boxes of its instant cameras and Instax film than it does its high-end digital cameras (products that are admittedly at very different price points).
While other tentpoles in the film industry seem to be strengthening, and even more smaller tents are popping up, one of the biggest names in film seems hell bent on killing its products.
Until Agfa, I could understand the various purges. A five pack of slide film? 8×10 boxes of Neopan? I don’t have a hard time imagining those products sitting untouched on shelves all over the world. But losing the Vista line feels very different.
These are films that people learn on. When they couldn’t afford the more expensive professional films, they picked up a threefer of Vista. It got them through the door and on the stairs. At least it did for me. At the time I came back into film, I don’t think it would have worked out if I was paying five or ten bucks a roll before processing. I know it’s a measurement of a few dollars, but we all know that those dollars can matter (especially for new, young, or inexperienced photographers).
When a film that helps bring people into film photography goes away, the teetering tent threatens to fold. It creates the possibility of the film community becoming less democratic and more elitist, more exclusive. And exclusivity is not a good thing. If Vista brought in new blood, will fewer people get into film now that it’s gone?
I’ll always relish the release of new films no matter their price or status, but I’ll be especially happy if some company does us all the service of creating a new, affordable color film. One that’s no muss or fuss. Something that just gets the thing done, and gets it done beautifully.
They could even put a soccer mom on the box and I’ll still buy it.