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The World’s Last Kodachrome Film Lab

December 4, 2009

I still remember my grandparents coming back from their New England trip and showing their 35mm Kodachrome slides of places I had only read about in history books. This was back in the 1970s, and I was probably about 8 years old. Hearing their tales of walking the fields of Lexington and Concord, where the first shots of the American Revolution were fired, sparked in me a wide-eyed interest in history, even if at the time I got a little bored of the slide show.

Dear Papa and Nanny, I miss you. Love, John Marc

This past summer of 2009, I visited my Great Aunt Imogene and Great Uncle Cloyce Purdom at their home in Florida, where I found out they’ve been digitizing all their old slides, many of which feature my grandparents, since all four of them had gone on those trips together. The Purdoms are in their late 80’s; Papa passed in 1982, and Nanny joined him in 1994, but for the first time since my childhood, I was seeing them in their 1970s best traveling clothes, with the same wide-eyed wonder in their eyes discovering all those places for themselves:

Aunt Imogene, Papa and Nanny in Concord, MA

So when I found the following story by NBC’s Bob Dotson, one of my models for short-form storytelling, I was sort of sad to learn that Kodak has stopped making its famous Kodachrome slide film, and that there’s only one place left that even develops the stuff. And they’re shutting down that part of their business at the end of 2010. For photographers as well as people interested in good storytelling, here’s a poignant look at a brand that was once so famous, pop star Paul Simon even wrote a song about it. Just click HERE to read the story, “Sad Development: The Last Kodachrome Film Lab” or click on the picture below to go straight to the video, and be prepared — NBC has started slapping an ugly computer graphic at the bottom of their videos, but you can still see the majority of the screen:

Click here to watch "Sad Development: The Last Kodachrome Film Lab" by NBC's Bob Dotson

Now here’s an interesting fact for you photographers and DSLR cinematographers out there: according to Wikipedia (caveat emptor, as always) :  “A 35mm Kodachrome transparency, like other 35mm transparencies on films of comparable ISO rating, contains an equivalent of approximately 20 megapixels of data in the 24 mm x 36 mm image.”

The Canon 5D Mark II DSLR camera features a full frame, 35mm sensor, and according to its specifications, that sensor has approximately 21.1 effective megapixels. So unless my math is wrong (and that’s very possible if you know me at all) , the Canon 5D gives you 1.1 MILLION more pixels per still image potentially than a slide of Kodachrome film. That, my friends, is pretty much mind-blowing. That means that digital has officially become better than film. And if you hooked a computer up to a digital projector, you’d finally be able to show your vacation slides at a resolution higher than a 35mm Kodachrome film slide.

So as Spiderman’s Uncle used to say, “With great power comes great responsibility.” With Kodachrome passing The Way of All Things, how about let’s do its memory proud and use all those new megapixels to make images worthy of another pop song?

Happy shooting,



2 Comments leave one →
  1. Maurizio permalink
    January 22, 2010 7:45 PM

    Is the mega pixels the only thing for measuring quality in pictures?
    The mega pixel factor doesn’t tell anything about the colour accuracy, the balance shadow/lights and so on…not to tell about the reliabilty through years.
    To say that digital is better just by the mega pixels factor is very reductive.
    There is never a new technology that is better than the previous one in every aspect.
    If someone would like to paint, he can chose between oil pastels, ink painting, tempera and so on.
    Noone would say one painting medium is better of another, because it is a personal taste matter.
    But, when it comes to photography, many say digital is better than analog. Wrong! They are just different medium to depict reality.
    If Kodachrome is discontinued, it is a waste for all, because people lose the freedom of choice.
    A Kodachrome and analog photography user.

    • January 24, 2010 7:01 PM

      I agree. After a certain point, megapixels don’t matter, and at the end of the day, actual film has far better resolution than digital. Once you have a properly developed film negative, you can scan it today or 50 years from now and still get amazing images, where digital images depend on technology and file types etc., and probably have a “shelf life” much shorter than actual film. It’s a shame about Kodachrome. Color film is still available, but it’s mostly pros and hobbyists that use it.

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