How much longer are film processing shops likely to be around?

A few weeks ago I went out on a nice day and took 36 pictures on Fuji Velvia 50 slide film with my Nikon N90. I’d never used this film before (I read about it on Ken Rockwell’s website) but I wanted to try it out since I have an affinity for film. Even though I mostly use a DSLR, I learned on a film SLR many years ago and so it stuck with me. A large part of it is the ritual of opening up the canister, loading the film into the camera, hearing the whining motor as it is pulled in, etc. It is a more involved process and therefore feels, to me, more satisfying.

I was very happy with the Velvia images (even though the scans were not the greatest - seemed like relatively low DPI.) And it cost about 20 dollars just to get one roll of slides processed; it had to be sent away and I had to wait a week.

I ordered some Kodak Ektar 100 negative film and will be experimenting with this as well. At least this can be more easily processed. But my question is, how much longer will this be the case? It seems as though hardly anyone still uses film. Many of the local photo shops in town have gone totally digital and don’t process film at all anymore. However, it is still available as a service at CVS, Target, and a few other department stores and supermarkets - as well as a few high-end photography shops. But how long will this last?

10 more years? 5 more years?

When will chain stores like pharmacies decide that it’s no longer profitable to process film?

There will always be places that will cater to hobbyists and enthusiasts, no matter how small the niche. They’ll just become more rare and more expensive.

I’m pretty sure chain stores will be done doing it within 5 years, though.

Black and white film and processing is still available, despite being obsolete for decades. Medium and large formats are still around. Kodachrome is gone for good, but that was an oddity - a proprietary process tied to a single company.

You can still buy a canvas, paint and brushes, despite those being far slower, more expensive and less popular than the photographic processes that (arguably) replaced them.

Given that all of those obsolete processes all still survive to this day, there’s no reason to think they’ll vanish entirely just because one more new technology has come along.

(Anecdote: the place where I get my cheap digital prints still advertises film processing, and it’s less expensive than it used to be 10 or 15 years ago).

When the machines that process the film need to be replaced. They all made huge investments in equipment, which is a sunk cost. Keep in mind that processing film is just a small piece of the business model. Most of their work is making prints, and that business isn’t drying up.

Are the companies that make the processing machines still doing a good business in parts, service, etc? Or are they all pretty much winding down?

My local store has stopped doing black and white film processing but still does colour.

And the last place that processed Kodachrome has stopped accepting film.

So much for those “nice, bright colors…” We’ll never see a red like that again… certainly not printed CMYK from an inkjet.

Is this really the case? Is Kodachrome’s development process so complicated and proprietary that a talented chemist couldn’t figure out how to do it himself?

I think it’s more a case of it being uneconomical and toxic, rather than impossibly difficult. Home-brew development might be feasible, but manufacturing the film sure isn’t, and most of the remaining film stocks would have been used up in the year or so before the last lab closed.

Regardless, it seems there are some amateur efforts to continue Kodachrome development:

I haven’t kept up, but a few years ago some old factories in Eastern Europe were picking up the slack in the B&W film and chemicals market as Kodak, Ilford and Agfa closed down their production. The same is probably true for small-scale lab equipment - I doubt there’s anyone thinking of expanding into the automated analog minilab business, but for boutique hand processing I’d be surprised if there was a shortage of equipment anytime soon. Probably a surplus, if anything.