Analog allure attracts Singapore’s digital-weary photographers – and sets camera market on fire

Film photographer newbie Yusri Yusoff. Photo: Thesnappingturtle_
Film photographer newbie Yusri Yusoff. Photo: Thesnappingturtle_

Back in May, when Singapore’s vintage photography scene was at peak hype, Yusri Yusoff decided he wanted in. Digital photography was beginning to feel mundane – the 29-year-old described shooting on “autopilot” and being overly dependent on automatic functions. 

So he went shopping for vintage cameras only to find that demand – for everything from specialty SLRs to simple point-and-shoot devices – had driven prices skyward, with some sought-after cameras tripling to over S$1,000. 

But that did not stop the shutterbug from chasing his analog ambitions.

“The seemingly limitless memory cards we use these days has got me not to value the shots I take as much,” he told Coconuts. “The 36 shots in a roll of film have made me more aware of the photos I shoot.”

He recognized that the hobby’s soaring cost of entry has not made it easy.

“I know I’m late to the bandwagon, but I don’t see myself quitting any time soon,” he said.

Rolls of film have nearly doubled in price as well. Yusri said he spent over S$300 on a Canon Canonet QL-17, made in the ‘70s, and another S$500 on rolls of film and other accessories in the past six months.

He and others are part of an analog revival that photography duo Emma and Bella suspect is just one of many ‘90s trends making a comeback, along with scrunchies, biker shorts, and bucket hats. 

“I think it’s really just getting a resurgence because, like, the ‘90s are coming back more like a vintage trend that came back,” Emma, 23, said. 

Since 2017, Emma and Bella, who declined to provide their full names, have been selling film and cameras via Instagram. They say they’ve been selling like hotcakes, and their biggest clientele? Teens.

Customers snapped up around 2,000 cameras during the past five months, and buyers keep on coming, Emma said, with over a dozen DMs per minute sliding in from their 20,000 followers after they post a new batch for sale. She said they once sold 100 cameras in just three hours. 

Those may sell for as low as S$50 for simple models and up to S$300 for more advanced ones. Many of them, like the popular Canon AE-1 and Konica Big Mini, come from Japan. 

Emma thinks that Singapore is a little late to the game and lately, much attention has been drawn to film from celebrities like K-pop stars, model Kendall Jenner, and actress Zendaya who are embracing the camera as an accessory on social media. 

The craze has seen suppliers in Japan hike prices twice in recent years. British manufacturer Kodak Alaris recently announced a “significant” price increase of at least 20% on all its film products next year, blaming a pandemic increase in manufacturing and shipping costs. Japan’s Fujifilm stopped producing several varieties of film last year.

Hoong Qi Rong, a freelance photographer who gained a following for both his digital and film works, said he doesn’t shoot as much anymore because the outlook for film is “bleak” due to rising costs. 

“In the past year, I started to think that film is getting a bit expensive, prices have been going up quite a bit so; in my opinion, it doesn’t seem like a very good time to be shooting film at the moment,” the 25-year-old said, comparing film to “a precious commodity” that should be used sparingly.

He started shooting five years ago with a camera that cost S$25 at a Russian flea market and today would go for hundreds. 

Flipping cameras

With more people shooting, both buyers and sellers are suffering whiplash from the “crazy” surge in prices over the years.

Film cameras cost up to three times as much as before, according to Rhay Gynn Goh, the 24-year-old owner of Filem, another of Singapore’s go-to film stores selling higher-end cameras at tens of thousands of dollars.

The rare and highly coveted Contax T2 camera, which cost about S$400 five years ago, now fetches at least S$1,500. With his purportedly strong connections in the market, Goh prides himself on having no problem procuring the ‘90s point-and-shoot device. 

“It’s crazy. In the past, let’s say like eight years ago, film was at an all time low, people just wanted to get rid of them, so it was a damn cheap,” Goh said, adding that it’s becoming rare to find good quality cameras as they fall into disrepair.

Goh is selling a brand new Contax T2 for S$1,800, which is S$400 more than it retailed for in 1990. Despite the expensive price tag, he still sells at least one every week. 

Photo: Thesnappingturtle_

Beware of dodgy sellers

Today, a quick Google search leads to countless online sellers. But not all are trustworthy or reliable, Hoong said, speaking from experience. He once bought a S$150 camera on buy and sell platform Carousell that arrived faulty.

“They don’t even know that their camera is broken,” he said. Luckily, the seller gave him a refund.

Newbies tend to trust sellers since they consider them “experts,” after all. Simple defects like mold in the lens may be brushed off by dodgy sellers. Both Filem and Film Thrills offer 90-day warranties.

Goh said he would not even list a camera if anything is faulty, and takes returns with “no questions asked.” Many people have come to his shop to complain about defective cameras bought online.

“It’s very bad. I will just check it right there and see that this is in a damn shit condition, everything’s peeling, the lens is so dirty,” he said.

Photo: Thesnappingturtle_

Wound up in love for film

Still, the attraction to film beats all.

The tactile pleasure of winding the camera, turning its levers and loading rolls of film makes photography a lot more fun, Hoong says. The experience forces photographers to execute every shot carefully as each frame costs about S$0.30.

“I mean, even if you have a lot of money, you don’t always have 100 rolls of film on you. So every photo you take usually has a reason behind pressing that shutter. I think a lot of people can appreciate that,” he said. 

For Emma and Bella, the anticipation to see how developing photos turn out is exciting, especially for those who wait to do so.

“It feels like I’m going back in time to when I shot those rolls. I like that feeling it’s like I can relive those memories again,” Emma said. “It’s not the same as like going through my phone’s photo album. With film, I don’t remember what I was shooting before.”

With money and passion, film use will continue long past the technology’s sunset.

“If people can afford this, and people really have that interest in it, then what’s stopping [film] from continuing on in the future?” Emma said.

“We don’t know if it will die because they are still selling film since the past, since its downfall but they’re still surviving today,” Goh said.

Photo: Thesnappingturtle_
Photo: Carolyn Teo
Photo: Carolyn Teo

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