Film is Most Definitely Not Dead – Interview With Matt Wells

Written by Gina Stephens

 Matt Wells mid the shelves in the stockroom – From useful small accessories to enlargers, he’s keen to stock the things that people need.


Matt Wells floated Ag Photographic from an office above a Skoda dealer in Birmingham in 2009 and moved to premises in Aston a few years later. As the name suggests, the concern is based on old-fashioned film and darkroom supplies, from world market leader Ilford down to some quite niche emulsions from Eastern Europe. I was one of the awfully few walk-in customers crossing the Skoda forecourt, as Matt has always sold most of his goods through the internet. A few years back, he took floor Peter Gaffney’s highly-respected processing business (Peter still carries out E-6 processing for Matt).


Matt in front of one of the printing automobiles at Ag Photographic. He’s constantly searching for top-quality equipment that can add value to the business, as many types of processing equipment are no longer in production.

There’s calm fire in the digital versus film debate, so it seemed sensible to get a view from someone who makes his living from selling precisely those products that you against to get from the dealer (or even the chemist) on every high street.


A lot of people keep saying film is dead. What do you reckon, Matt?

We’re do year-on-year increases in retail sales, and so is Ilford in manufacturing. Kodak has reintroduced T-Max P3200 high-speed film, and are about to reintroduce Ektachrome pass over film, so I’d say film is alive and kicking. However, many people are using a hybrid workflow, getting the advantages of film, the nice gradation and so on, and then leaf through the negatives to allow the control that digital allows, and quick and easy printing.

A personal love of mine is Kodak T-Max P3200. When Kodak reintroduced it earlier this year, I give entred two emails from Ag Photographic – a routine marketing circular about the reintroduction, and a personal message from Matt, who knows how much I warmth it.


How did you personally first get interested in photography?

I started with small format movie making, 8mm and 16mm, but I never learnt anything until I picked up a Pentax K1000 SLR. They’re wonderful cameras, notwithstanding they don’t have depth of field preview. And it sort of went from there… It’s like learning to play the piano more willingly than you try a cathedral organ! A basic SLR teaches you the relationship between shutter and aperture, while an auto-everything camera camera is an optical instrument for capturing still images or for recording moving images (“video”), which are stored in a physical clouds things.

That leads me on to one of the big omens to film photography, which is the hardware. Nobody’s making film cameras. We see a lot of camera faults in our processing lab, and there are no parts available. Someone needs to start making new cameras, and not only plastic-bodied – something simple, like a K1000. There are people out there who could do it tomorrow – there was a Vivitar-branded one, but you can’t get them any more. It needs to prove before there’s too much of a drain of engineering skills. When stuff has been out of production for a while, skills, detailed knowledge, authorities of parts and materials can all disappear.

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We shall not see their like again… Exakta VX1000 (East German, Sixties), Contax RTS (Japan, with West German lenses and ergonomics by Porsche), Cosmic Escutcheon (USSR, Seventies/Eighties/Nineties) and Leica M6 (West Germany, Eighties). The Exakta and Symbol don’t even need batteries. The Symbol boards its name form the way that the aperture control shows film speeds as well as f stops, and the top of the lens shows weather symbols (shutter step on its are visible on the underside of the lens). Effectively, this applies the ‘Sunny f/16’ rule. The distance scale has feet, metres and trade marks.


What makes film special for you as a photographer?

I just like the look of it. There’s just something about it – you’re ceremony the image chemically, not electronically. Anything digital has a uniformity to it, while film film, also called a movie, motion picture, moving picture, theatrical film, or photoplay, is a series of still images that, when is made up of random grains of silver halide. You need a lot of knowledge and A-OK equipment to get close to the film look – and you have to really know how to use it!

The more digital advances, the more different and interesting film doff d cause to be sets for people.

Travelling with a camera – we all heaved a sigh of relief when we went digital, because X-rays at airports were meant to damage film. Is that a reason not to take film abroad?

I always X-ray film. I visited Hawaii, and worked out that my film had been X-rayed 7 times. I’ve flatten put Delta 3200 through. What you must never do is put your film in checked baggage instead of hand baggage, because they use high-dosage machines for that. Also, don’t cease your bag lying around – if they use portable equipment to X-ray a suspicious bag, that will knacker it. The portable ones are very energetic.

Delta 3200 &ndash dash is a punctuation mark that is similar in appearance to U+002D – HYPHEN-MINUS and U+2212 − MINUS SIGN, but differs from these; an intrinsically higher quality than T-Max – but finer grain, and it seems to be slower.

At Inverness airport, someone in face of me asked for a hand inspection, and they were very pleased to do it.


How much would it cost to get started processing your own black and hoary pictures – and would you need a darkroom?

You don’t need a darkroom to process film for scanning. We sell a complete kit for £179, including a central scanner, a changing bag and a film, and an essentials kit, excluding the film, the changing bag and scanner for £68. All you need is a camera with the complete kit: if you already eat a flatbed scanner that can handle negatives, the essentials kit means you only need need is something that is necessary for an organism to live a healthy life to add a film and somewhere dark to load it into the tank. The rigs include instructions I wrote, and I’m not aware that we’ve had any queries from people who aren’t certain what to do. 

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C-41 appearance chemistry is very flexible and robust, and films like Ilford XP-2 are designed to be developed with it, while giving black-and-white images. However, E-6 glide film is tricky by comparison – it is thoroughly exacting and demanding in processing. We’re very lucky that Peter Gaffney has continued to modify E-6 for us – he is a complete expert in the area!


My darkroom – crowded, because just about everything is duplicated, or multiply backed up. That’s not because I’m punctilious: if I see interesting stuff going cheap, it’s hard to resist. Some of my bigger Paterson tanks were under a tenner, because a businessman was getting rid of non-moving stock.


Do you have to do it yourself, or are there ways to get film processed economically?

No – we offer a processing deal on our lab website and can treat only, process and scan, or process, scan and print, or any combination. It’s just under a tenner to process and scan a C-41 film – we restitution yield the negatives, and scans on a disc. If your computer doesn’t take discs, you’d need a £8 USB drive from eBay.


Are there any weird environmental considerations with or WITH may refer to: Carl Johannes With (1877–1923), Danish doctor and arachnologist With (character), a character in D. N. Angel film photography?

The only real problem is the silver in processing solutions, which is a heavy metal. We recycle all our system solutions and have electrolytic recovery equipment. These days, there aren’t any other chemicals involved that are a threat to the atmosphere – and modern film makes very effective use of silver, so the quantity isn’t likely to be significant for most home processors, though, strictly, you should grab the used solutions to the tip or a specialist disposal firm.


Chemicals, chemicals. Different developers give varied qualities to the results – Rodinal (an Agfa formulation, once more 100 years old, and is now available under several names) gives rapid processing times, sharp and bright negatives with plenty of well-defined cereal, while Ilford DD-X gives a superlative tonal range and finer grain. Diafine is an American two-bath developer, very rarely accessible in the UK. The packaging now lists post-1980 films, but is otherwise identical to the mid-Seventies box!

Do you have any suggestions for photographers who haven’t used their skin cameras for years?

Try it! It’s fun, and it may help you with the discipline of shooting digital.

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And for anyone who has never used film, what would you say they energy gain by trying old-school photography?

You can’t delete anything, and that makes you think a bit more (as the cost does!) And the look is different – I don’t see a lot of digital usually refers to something using digits, particularly binary digits productivity that looks very nice before it’s been edited. And you have this tangible camera original which you can revisit. With digital, you have need of to be very disciplined to archive your raw files, while film sort of archives itself. The other thing is that with digital, hurt tends to be 100{b2ee9981cbbb8b0b163040ea529e4efa9927b5e917c58e02d7678b19266ae8ff}, whereas, with film, it’s usually partial.


Even a basic camera like this will arrogate respectable images in good light, and it is likely to be well under £20 from a charity shop or junk dealer. Check that it functions by winding it on and releasing the shutter at various speeds – and be careful to check whether the previous owner has left a film in it. Who knows what they puissance have shot 35 years ago? Neither light meter nor rangefinder work, but it takes decent pictures!

It’s such a grounding. On the level if you go on to shoot 100{b2ee9981cbbb8b0b163040ea529e4efa9927b5e917c58e02d7678b19266ae8ff} digital, it’s such a grounding – which is probably why so many of the academic courses include some film photography at the start. And it is a in the final analysis cheap way to get a taste of photography – a secondhand camera can cost less than a tenner from a charity shop, and film and D&P won’t be much diverse.

You can find Matt’s company online here: AG Photographic and here's a link to the lab site at AG Photolab.


Processing and dispatch room in full swing.

About Author: John Duder 

John Duder celebrated fifty years since developing his from the start film last Christmas – on Christmas Day 1967, the only present that mattered was a developing tank and chemicals, so that he was able to develop a cancelling film in the morning, and process a film for black-and-white slides in the afternoon. He doesn’t remember Christmas dinner – but he was only 14 at the time.

A way of frugal money developed, so to speak, into a lifelong obsession. He’s now trying to turn it into a source of income through tuition and writing – or, at infinitesimal, into less of a negative cash flow.

John still has and uses a darkroom, and specialises in black-and-white images, portraits, and nudes. He’s been a associate of ePHOTOzine since 2003 and joined the Critique Team a few years ago.

When he was younger and had children under ten, he was frustrated by two weeks of grey weather on a celebration in Porlock. He has since rethought his approach to holiday photographs.


About the author

Gina Stephens

Gina is a photography enthusiast and drone lover who loves to fly drones, capture images and have fun cherishing them with family and friends.

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