A Film Dev Lab in 4 Months
By: Arunoda Susiripala
This is the story of how I, Arunoda Susiripala, started a film development lab in Sri Lanka in just four months. Before April 2023, I had never used a film camera. Now, at Analog Dreamz, we develop and scan any type of film, including motion picture films.
I got into film photography by accident. Romesh, the current chairman of Photography Society Sri Lanka, invited me for a photowalk and lent me a film camera. He is an avid film photographer and vintage camera collector. I got a Nikon Nikkormat FTN, which is a pretty solid fully mechanical 35mm film camera. (Ha ha, what a mouthful!)
I am a techy and I wanted to get into details & learn more. So, I wanted to develop some films by myself. So, I ordered a film development kit which includes B/W chemicals & a LabBox. Fortunately, I received the kit before the above photo walk.
We went to Galle Fort and took some pictures. I played with my Nikkormat and shot one roll of black and white film and one roll of color film.
In the evening, we developed the black and white film with Romesh. The development went really well. Even though we used a toy scanner to scan the film, the end result was amazing (at least for us).
Stepping into Color
Meanwhile, I shot more black and white films and developed them.
Now, I wanted to try out color development, but everyone was saying it’s complicated. So, I did some research and familiarized myself with the chemicals and essential tools, such as heaters, etc.
Here are some of my very first color developments.
They are bad! Actually, the development went well here, but I still use the toy scanner and it was not capable of handling color negatives.
Stepping Up the Game
I eventually acquired better tools to scan films, and improved my process by implementing a controlled temperature setup and various other techniques.
Now, we can produce high-quality results like this:
Why Form a Film Lab, in 2023?
For now, Analog Dreamz is a one-man show. But with proper demand, I can scale it as needed. I have already found potential investors, and they are fully on board.
These days, no one in their right mind would start a new venture around analog film. But here I am. So, let me share a bit about why I’m starting Analog Dreamz and why I’m investing my time in this.
Have you heard of AI photography? I guess you have 🙂
I predict that within 2–3 years, individuals will be able to take great photographs with the help of smartphones and AI tools. Basically, the demand for commercial photographers will be greatly reduced. This won’t be like a transition from analog to digital; it will be a paradigm shift.
I also think that the demand for analog photography will increase, since a niche group of people wants to try something different, such as taking film portrait sessions, keeping negatives, and hanging analog prints. Additionally, publications might ask for negatives since they may not trust digital images. This is where people would need professional photographers.
With Analog Dreamz, we are trying to lay the foundation for all of these things in Sri Lanka. Currently, we only develop and scan films, but soon we will also respool films and sell them at a discount. Additionally, we may start making film chemicals and tools locally. At the same time, we will share our knowledge and findings.
In a nutshell, we are not looking for a quick buck, but we want to grow the analog film community in Sri Lanka. That’s how photographers like us can survive in the era of AI.