Mama, they took my Kodachrome away
June 2, 2012 12:33 PM   Subscribe

Would it be feasible to restart Kodachrome film production and developing services on a small scale, in the way that The Impossible Project has restarted small scale production of instant film for Polaroid cameras? By feasible, I mean doing it at a scale that would make enough profit to keep one or two people employed to do the work.
posted by LastOfHisKind to Technology (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This has probably been discussed in the Kodachrome Project forums at some point (yes, in fact — here you go).

I don't understand the lab stuff as much as I wish I did, but a friend who knows more than I do says, "Sure it's possible, but you'd need a million dollars because it is such a complicated and precise process" — that seems to be the gist of the Kodachrome Project thread too (haven't dug all the way into that yet though).
posted by bubukaba at 1:23 PM on June 2, 2012

This thread at APUG and the flickr set therein would be a starting off point for the "how do I make my own film" aspect.

However, consider that DIY color slide is more complicated that DIY B&W neg in the same way that the K-14 process is more complicated that doing your own B&W as well. (This week I'm going to try reversing B&W film for the first time, that's about half as many steps as K-14.)

Then there's the chemicals themselves. Kodachrome comes without any dyes, the process adds the color, which is why there are so many steps. Now the exact process for each of those steps along with the chemicals you'll have to mix up (sorry, this isn't like B&W developer you can order from B&H) has been discussed on APUG with a (former?) EK employee. If memory serves, page 5, after the mention of the relevent patent, the "ingredients" to create all the chemicals for each step start being listed.

That's not to say that there's instructions there that simply say "mix 5 grams of this with 20 grams of this into 970mL of water and there's your cyan developer". There's not.

So you've got to figure out two things, how to make the film and how to develop it. You can devise the development process and then test it against authentic Kodachrome (do people still sell their undeveloped Kodachrome on eBay?). Then once you've got that, figure out the film process.

Figure one person working alone for a year to do all of this who you'd have to pay $100,000? More? (I assume that chemists who have experience in this field are hard to find. The Impossible Project hired at least several Polaroid technicians, did they not?) Now the developing machine you can Frankenstein together for say $10,000 and spend another $25,000 on raw chemicals. (You're going to have a lot of trial and error.) Another $15,000 for rent and you've spend $150,000 to bring back the K-17 process and have a working developing machine. Or hey, maybe you can cheat and ask Dwayne's if they'll sell you their machine, so you just have to figure out all the chemical processes. (Dwayne's couldn't tell you, Kodak sold them their chemicals.)

I don't know, looks very expensive and like a lot of information is missing. I don't think you could do it with just one person. It's kind of like saying "Apple stopped making iPhones, could one person make me one and how much would it cost?". It's too complex for one person to do and it's the type of operation that lends itself to scaling. Make one roll and it will cost you a million dollars. Make a million rolls and now they're $5 each. But it's hard to figure out how one person could figure out all of this stuff and make a million rolls of it.
posted by Brian Puccio at 1:28 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I doubt it. Kodak has now discontinued all color reversal (E-6) films. The market is too small now, and they just defaulted whatever is left to Fuji. Fuji could clone or even, now, buy the actual Kodachrome process, if there was money to be made.

Even to reach for a high priced niche product, the highest precision and expensive part would be the film coating, not the processing. K-14 could actually be done in a home darkroom, with more than usual difficulty, but doable. Earlier Kodachrome processes actually did have home and small lab chemical kits available, and those were more difficult than K-14, especially for disposal.

But the film coating machines and the unique Kodachrome material supply lines have been cut.

The Impossible Project managed to save a plant intact at the last minute. Kodak has been busy imploding their buildings in US, including the equipment. The old joke, which I think is true, was that a Kodachrome manufacturing line was built first, then a building was built around that line. They did manufacture Kodachrome film in France into the 1990s, I don't know about that plant.

Kodachrome is gone.

On preview, thank you for the links provided above. They are interesting but I am shaking my head at the futility of it. Any undeveloped Kodachrome that exists can still be developed to black and white negative. Nobody will ever manufacture the fine grain of Kodachrome film in our lifetimes again, imho. Its film manufacturing process, refined over 70 years, is gone, destroyed.
posted by caclwmr4 at 1:34 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

In the mean time, if you don't want to see analog photography die, go out there and burn some film!
posted by Brian Puccio at 1:51 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you want to get an idea of what is involved in film production you might want to look at this MeFi post featuring a 1958 Kodak movie about how film is made (Dutch with English subtitles). ALthough I am sure the process has been modernized, it certainly does not look like it would scale well to a small cottage industry and it takes more than one or two people for all the steps. And a lot of quality control.
posted by TedW at 5:55 AM on June 3, 2012

Kodachrome 2010 is a short video that gave me some appreciation for just how complex the K-14 process is.
posted by Western Infidels at 8:18 PM on June 22, 2012

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