aul Simon never wrote a song about Kodak Ektachrome, so you’ve probably never heard of it. But you have seen pictures shot on the film: The astronauts brought it to the moon in 1969, and National Geographic photographers have carried it around the globe.
Launched in 1946, Ektachrome evolved from a slightly finicky stock prone to issues with fading into a go-to medium valued for its vibrant colors. Hues skew toward the blue end of the spectrum, creating more-realistic images than the warmer Kodachrome of Simon fame. Both are slide films—meaning they produce full-color pictures right on the film rather than white-is-black/black-is-white negatives. But Ektachrome is easier to handle: While Kodachrome gets its color from dyes in the developing process, Ektachrome contains its own pigments, so developing is less labor-intensive.
But the film favorite nearly didn’t survive a tumultuous decade. As digital cameras and smartphones axed analog photography’s market by 80 percent, Kodak ended Ektachrome’s run in 2012. The sunset, however, did not last long. Since 2015, a growing enthusiast market and a goose from cinematic heavies such as directors J.J. Abrams and Christopher Nolan have helped 35-millimeter-film sales rebound. The trend spurred Kodak to revive Ektachrome.
Over the past two years, the Rochester, New York, company has worked to fine-tune the chemical mix that made the iconic film, which is on sale now. Here’s a look at how thin strips of acetate become tiny blank canvases.
The Eastman Business Park in Rochester spans 1,200 acres and has its own power plant, private railroad, and fire station. This smokestacked building, which Kodak sold in 2013, sits just outside one of the company’s only remaining facilities for analog-film production, where Ektachrome takes form.
The left side of this image is from a modern digital camera (a Canon 5D Mark III); the right side is an Ektachrome exposure. We retouched the Ektachrome frame to better match the stock’s original color (rich blues). Our original shot was on an expired roll from the secondary market and so had a pinkish tint—though you could still see some of the characteristic blue in the shadows.
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