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APS: Close but No Cigar......RIP.....

It's seldom noted that APS qualifies in traditional terms as  a  "subminiature" film format.    Yet, APS  probably delivers better print quality than any subminiature format, EVER.

Kodak has a long history of inventing new, "improved" film formats aimed specifically at the mass consumer market.   Recent history has 126 film in 1963...35mm film with a paper backing in an easy loading drop in plastic cartridge.  In 1973 it was 110 film,   16mm film with a paper backing in an easy loading drop in plastic cartridge.  In 1982 it was disc film, a rotary subminiature format  comparable to the 8x11 Minox format.   In 1994 it was APS,  a smaller, modified 35mm film format with a lot of extras such as different formats and imbedded camera information intended to produce better prints. 

For the less aware, the marketing scheme here is invent a new film format, sell millions of the new "better" cameras, along with the new film processors, and then reinvent something new and improved 10-15 years later and do it all over again.  The Disc film had the worst quality.  110 film could be quite nice in sizes up to 5x7, but depended upon quality processing.  Even nice 8x10's were possible with a good lab.     126 suffered from a lack of sharpness due to the inability to keep the film flat (like 110), but still did a relatively good job due to it's near 35mm film size.   

Of all these consumer formats,  APS is obviously the best.  It can deliver great pics, and is fool proof for the photographic idiots among us to load correctly.   Some of the APS camera are among the best EVER for the everyday consumer, notably the Canon ELPH and its various copies.   Alas, APS sales are a dim shadow compared to the phenomenal popularity of the then newly introduced 126 or 110 films.

Perhaps the most interesting, and most gimmicky, aspect of APS is the user controlled negative/print sizes.  In reality,  the photog has two different ways to shoot on a smaller negative by changing in camera masking.   The C/H/P (traditional, Wider, Panorama) neg sizes range from 15.6x22.3, 15.6x27.4, and 9.6x27.4mm respectively.  Personally I prefer the C size.   Another big plus of APS is the coded exposure info which can help produce better prints.       

Alas, there is a fly in the soup: COST   APS film and processing  are considerably more expensive than 35mm,  63% more in my own little survey.

In my none-too scientific price comparisons at my local COSTCO (a large national chain of low cost warehouse type department stores in the US with in house quality one hour film processing)  I found APS costs to be about 1 1/2 times the cost of 35mm, a larger film format with higher print quality!! 

Film Cost (Kodak)

                        APS   6 x 25 exposures = 23.99/ 150 exp. = 16 cents film cost per shot

                              35mm     168 exposure = $21.99/168  = 13 cents film cost per exposure

Developing / Printing  Cost

            APS          3.49 developing    25x22 cents = $5.50+3.49 = 899/25 = 35.96 cents ea.

            35mm       2.87 developing     24x8 cents  = $1.92+2.87= 479/24 =   19.95 cents ea. 

Total Cost

            APS      16 cents film costs plus 35.96 cents per print = 51.95 cents per exposure

            35mm   13 cents film costs plus 19.95 cents per print = 32.95 cents per exposure

The differences would have been greater had I included the $5.00 per roll Kodak film rebates on 35mm at the time of the survey!!  While your figures may vary from mine, the bottom line is that APS film/developing costs are substantially  more than 35mm.

Unless  Kodak and Fuji  finally realize they have to lower APS film and processing costs to 35mm levels (unlikely),  APS is doomed in the long run.  Its extra benefits are simply not worth the extra film/developing costs to most consumers.   I am told a major Japanese manufacturer who helped invent APS will be introducing no new APS cameras in its new PS lineup.  Hmmm.....I wonder why.  The retail camera shop owners I have talked to tell me that APS is a sales disaster. 

While some of the APS cameras are indeed smaller, 35mm cameras are so close in size most customers see no need to pay extra in film and processing for APS features.   Maybe consumers are smarter than the big film companies thought.  

Not to worry,  Kodak will undoubtedly invent a new, even better, even more expensive consumer film format in another ten to fifteen years.  I wonder if this was the plan from the start.   I can hardly wait. 

  APS is a great format for the average weekend family special events photog (aka the rank beginner that probably take 90% of all pictures).   

Let's hope the film companies and film processors get it together and lower APS  costs before their financial ambitions kill this new and very viable format.

Kodak and Fuji,  are you listening??  I doubt it.

May 1999 Update

Over the past six months or so there have been a number of very positive APS features in American photography magazines.   None that I have noticed comment on the much great cost of APS film and processing, but ALL just   coincidentally carry the advertising of APS camera and film manufacturers.   What a coincidence!!  What are the chances of that happening? 

Real world APS does seem to be gaining market processing share in the US.  My local 1 hr guy is even starting to like it too.   He was explaining how much he liked it as he was gleefully completing a 6 roll multiple print panorama job for upwards of $300.  He couldn't control his laughter saying "This guy is going to have a heart attack when he gets the bill, but that is what he ordered."  I can still hear him laughing, all the way to the bank.

Please understand that it is not the APS format or cameras that I dislike, to the contrary.  What I don't like is the outrageous premium over 35mm film and processing  prices that are usually charged for APS.   Worse than that,   outside the big city,  you may not even be able to get one hour APS processing.   Think twice before you buy.

Naturally of course, this is just a setup.    As soon as the APS film and camera manufacturers start advertising at my site, I'll sell out too. 

"I was very interested in and liked your "APS - Good but no Cigar" ?   I used a Nikon F  for years and loved it until  it was stolen. Then a Canon A1 and had great luck. But when traveling to Russia, just didn't want to lug around my A1 and all of the associated lenses, so got a little (and light) Minolta Vectris. Great little camera and even with a 70/210 zoom, incredibly light.  Problem, cost! I do a lot of sports photography - continuous photo runs and can go through a roll of film in 10 minutes. 3-4 rolls a game. The processing cost is killing me.

  I like the little camera and for what I do, get pretty good print quality (although I am not sure it is as good as the A1) - but if I had realized that the costs were not going to come down, I don't think I would have purchased it. I surely wouldn't recommend it to someone unless money was no object!"

May 2002 Update

APS seems dead at this point, my gawd what a surprise.  Many APS cameras are either discontinued, or on their way to being discontinued.  I can't help but wonder how much the promoters of this bonehead film format ended up losing, not to mention the gullibles who bought expensive top of the line APS cameras, only to see their investment plunge.  The next time the powers that be introduce a wonderful new film format, think twice.

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Revised: November 25, 2003 Copyright  1998-2002  Stephen Gandy. All rights reserved.    This means you may NOT copy and re-use the text or the pictures in ANY other internet or printed publication of ANY kind.  Information in this document is subject to change without notice.  Other products and companies referred to herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies or mark holders.