For those too young to remember the iconic Kodachrome film look that helped launch an era of color photography, it was further immortalized by the Paul Simon song featuring the line, “Mama, don’t take my Kodachrome away.” Unfortunately, Kodak did. When it shut down the network of specialized labs, and stopped selling the chemicals needed to process the once-revolutionary film stock, it killed the product. Now, on the heels of resurrecting Ektachrome, apparently Kodak is considering bringing back Kodachrome.
Kodak CMO Steve Overman hinted as much on a Kodakery podcast. Presumably hoping to further capitalize on a nostalgia wave that has seen an uptick in film sales, the company knows that no film brand is better known than Kodachrome. Unfortunately, by today’s standards its usage is likely to be mostly for retro projects and those curious about history. Its low ISOs of 25 and 64 will prove shocking to those accustomed to bumping their film speeds into the hundreds and thousands on their digital cameras. And its color rendering, while unique, is more of a bridge to the past than something that can compete with the post-processing options available today.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I was never a big fan of Kodachrome for my photography. By the time I started shooting in color seriously, newer slide films had come along, with higher ISOs and what I thought were more accurate colors — from Agfa, Fujifilm, and even Kodak itself. Yet, I still have these three rolls of Kodachrome 64 in my freezer — orphaned in 2011 when the last lab that could process them closed. Certainly I look forward to the possibility of shooting them if the lab system is resurrected.
For those curious about the “look” of Kodachrome, there are applications that can provide a good facsimile. FilmPack, from DxO Labs, for example, has an elaborate model of various film stocks (created by capturing, scanning, and testing a large number of images on each stock). So that you can see for yourself, here is a modern DSLR image, taken with a high-end Nikon D810 (JPEG straight out of the camera):
Here is the Kodachrome 64 simulated version using DxO’s FilmPack:
You can see the attraction of its rich colors. But with digital processing, modern photographers can go a lot further — if they want. For example, here is the same image processed using some Photoshop tools for enhancing color:
Fortunately, I still have a couple of my old Nikon F2 SLRs, the perfect cameras to shoot with if Kodak does indeed bring Kodachrome back to life.
[Image credit: Cardinal Photo. The Shan farmer image is also post-processed using FilmPack to simulate Kodachrome 64.]