In May this year Fujifilm Inc. of America, officially announced the arrival of a new Fujifilm microfilm for the US market.
The new Fujifilm is compatible with all 16mm raster image recorders, and comes in both 16mm x 30.5m (100ft) and 16mm x 65m (215ft) versions.
The launch of a brand new microfilm is quite a news story for the microfilm industry so I thought I would share my thoughts on the background to why a major manufacturer would be investing in developing a new microfilm.
We have been in the microfilm industry since 1974, when my father started the company after selling his microfilm bureau and recognising that there was a gap in the market for a flexible supplier of microfilm consumables (next day delivery, no minimum order value and a choice of colours). So we have been around the clock a few times and it is always interesting to see what happens in the industry and how many different patterns get repeated, but with new names!
Up to about 4 years ago Fuji had been out of the European microfilm market. They had been strong in the Far East and the USA but had virtually nothing anywhere else. In Europe they had been represented by Bell + Howell and when that came to an end Fuji had no alternative arrangements. As such Kodak and Agfa dominated the European market. With the demise of Kodak the market entered a brand new period with a lot of shake ups in manufacturing and distribution, with some hefty price rises. However quite a while before the whole Kodak situation Fuji had been actively looking to increase their microfilm market share by reentering the EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) market and add to their microfilm product range worldwide. New microfilm people from Tokyo were introduced into the Fujifilm European headquarters in Dusseldorf and negotiations were entered into on how they would distribute. For Genus – The Microfilm Shop it was a breath of fresh air to see new microfilm options coming to the market when everybody else was trying to guess how many years microfilm would last. As such Genus jumped at the chance to represent Fuji in the EMEA region. As promised Fuji introduced some new films straight away – 35mm x 65m and 105mm x 55m. Coupled with restrictions in distribution and price rises elsewhere, business boomed. Fuji could not have asked for a better situation – reentering a market just when the existing competitors consolidated and put many of the prices up. As a result many of the large resellers, bureaus and end users switched to Fuji and continue to switch to Fuji today. In fact Fuji have seen massive microfilm sales increases world wide.
The only main film missing was one that could work in both the old Kodak and Fuji film writers. Not any more. Fuji now have a wide film range that covers all the main film usage needs.
So why would Fuji invest in new products, people and distribution when others wouldn’t?
- To be fair I don’t think Kodak would have got out of the microfilm market if their main business was not in financial trouble. They needed cash so they had to sell divisions to raise that cash. Microfilm was a niche and profitable business so it got sold.
- To be even fairer, since Kodak’s microfilm business was bought the new owners have invested money into microfilm production and distribution.
- To be even more fairer (this is most unlike me, I feel quite feint!) Agfa would not have signed a distribution deal with the new Kodak microfilm owners if they had had a stronger distribution model themselves. In addition adding potentially all of Kodak’s volume to their own is a no brainer.
It is just strange that nobody seemed to factor in Fuji being not only a threat but also a great believer in microfilm as a technology.
So, again, why would Fuji invest in microfilm? They were starting to invest in microfilm before the whole Kodak situation landed beautifully in their lap.
- They see microfilm as a reliable and trusted archival medium.
- They saw the evidence of clients moving from creating microfilm using a camera photographing pieces of paper, to clients creating microfilm directly from the digital image. This easier method of creating microfilm would be a factor in people turning to microfilm again – Back to the future
- They saw the huge increase in the use of digital information. Microfilm can satisfy a small percentage of the archival needs of this digital information. A small percentage of a rapidly growing market is a good market to invest in.
- They could see the rapid increase in the number of digital to film equipment manufacturer’s
- Fuji already had extensive microfilm experience so it was a relatively easy step for them to increase production and the product range. They already had the experts in house. Even so you still wouldn’t do that if you thought the technology would die.
So what is the new film?
Fuji had their own digital microfilm writer film in the form of the AM-33 16mm x 30.5m (100ft) and AM-66 16mm x 65m (215ft) films. These films worked perfectly for Fujifilm’s own AR-1000 Archive Writer type device, but they were only designed to work with the AR-1000 itself. These films could be made to work in the Kodak type devices with a special chemical developer that Genus introduced. We have a number of clients using this solution but what the market really needed was a compatible film product to work on the other digital film writing devices such as the Kodak 4800/9600 series, as a pure drop-in product, subject to a simple light test. Also the market needed a low priced film more in line with conventional film prices. Agfa first came out with an alternative and now Fujifilm have done the same. No special chemicals, use your existing ones, just a simple light test as you would perform with any new batch of film.
So Fuji launched two new films, FM-33 16mm x 30.5m (100ft) and FM-66 film 16mm x 65m (215ft) which are compatible to both the Fujifilm and Kodak type writing devices. Genus – The Microfilm Shop were heavily involved with the initial testing. The new films are ultra sharp with a new emulsion and anti-halation layer specially formulated to provide high resolution, optimal contrast, and outstanding image quality with improved base clearness for low minimum density. It is also an ISO 500 year archival permanence rated microfilm.
The new FM is available now. Fujifilm Europe have stock in their Dutch warehouse and we have stock in our UK warehouse. More stock is currently coming over by sea. We already have a number of clients who have switched to the new Fujifilm FM film and have been using it since Spring 2015. These clients were all hand picked for their high quality film needs. They have all tested the film to their high requirements and all have been very happy, exceptionally happy in fact. Now is the time to let the rest of the market know of this exciting new product.
This now means that for one of the key silver microfilm products there is now an alternative source of supply and that is coming from Fujifilm, a recognised and quality brand. It is great news for the microfilm industry as it shows a manufacturer adding resource to a market, not taking it away. Why would a huge organisation like Fujifilm invest tens of thousands of dollars in new product development if they did not think there was a long term and healthy market for it?