Film processing shop owners share stories of the dying trade
Shop owners say there are fewer than 20 film processing shops left from more than 600 in the 1990s. SEOW YUN RONG (firstname.lastname@example.org) speaks to those who have held on and those who gave up
Ask 20-somethings to find your film, and they are likely to ask for the title to do a Google search.
Ask someone three times that age and they may say "check your desk drawer" because they still remember camera film.
Digital cameras and smartphones have replaced film cameras at such speed that in a generation, the latter, once linked to a thriving industry, has become nearly extinct.
According to film processing shop owners, there were more than 600 such shops here during the heyday of the business in the 1990s. They estimate there are fewer than 20 now.
Mr Mike Chia, 58, opened photo printing and processing shop Triple D in 1987.
He says it has been a challenge to sustain the business.
Mr Chia says: "This is not within our control and sooner or later we will have to close shop because there are not enough customers who use film cameras.
Mr Mike Chia, owner of photo processing and printing shop Triple D.
"Nowadays, everyone can just snap photos using their phones and upload it online... It is not convenient to use film cameras where it takes more effort and time."
He says most customers who come to process their film are art students. Even after processing the film, they want the pictures saved on a CD rather than printed out.
Even though Triple D also does printing for digital cameras and smartphones, Mr Chia says business is still not as good as when there were "film processing shops under every block".
In the 1990s, he could make a gross profit of about $10,000 a month from film-related sales. Now he earns only half of that - even after including photo printing for both film and digital devices.
Mr Neo Siong Hoo felt it was time to give up when he made losses for several months before shutting down his shop, Photo Bugs, in 2008.
The 64-year-old says in Mandarin: "We would receive at least 1,000 rolls a day in the 1990s but business went down from 2000 when digital cameras became very trendy."
Like Mr Chia, he tried to sustain his business by including digital scanners and printers. But Mr Neo would receive fewer than 10 rolls of film to process and only a handful of customers who would want to print their digital photos each day.
Mr Neo's 23-year-old son studies at the Singapore Institute of Management University and has no interest in taking over the business.
Mr Neo says: "I wouldn't want my son to take over my shop, after studying so hard and making it to university.
"It is a sunset industry for film processors. Sooner or later the film processing industry will die out."
"We would receive at least 1,000 rolls a day in the 1990s but business went down from 2000 when digital cameras became very trendy."
- Mr Neo Siong Hoo, who shut down his shop, Photo Bugs, in 2008
Change is their only constant
STILL GOING: Whampoa Colour Centre, owned by Mr Ong Tee Huat (above), has many large barrels of chemicals for film processing (below).
Despite the decline of the film processing industry, some players found other ways to sustain their business.
Mr Ong Tee Huat, 63, opened Whampoa Colour Centre in 1983.
Instead of limiting his business to film processing and sales, he slowly expanded by bringing in studio and digital printing for large formats.
He has machines that can print large pictures up to the size of a classroom whiteboard.
His customers range from art students to large companies.
He has no plans to retire yet.
"Luckily, I have a few friends who expressed their interest in taking over my business once I retire," says Mr Ong.
His two children, who are in their 20s, have administrative jobs and have no interest in taking over.
Mr Eric Tan, 52, chief executive officer of Fotohub, also started off doing film processing in 1987.
Like Mr Ong, he also expanded his business as soon as he knew that digital cameras were going to dominate the market.
Mr Tan says in this sunset industry, his constant is "change".
Instead of just doing film developing and digital photo printing, Mr Tan went the extra mile to provide T-shirt printing, studio printing, and even came up with the idea of photo book making in 2006.
To keep himself updated, he attends trade shows in Germany once every two years to check out the latest technology.
"If you want to stay in this industry, you have to keep updating and upgrading yourself to keep up with the times," he says.
He feels the photo industry has a long way to go - but not for film.
Some film processing shops
TRIPLE D MINILAB CENTRE
Burlington Square, 175, Bencoolen Street, #01-07, Tel: 6224-4006
3, Coleman Street, #01-01/02 The Peninsula Hotel Shopping Complex, Tel: 6254-6582
FOTOHUB - BEACH ROAD
103, Beach Road, #01-01, Premier Center, Tel: 6334-6146
WHAMPOA COLOUR CENTRE
272, Balestier Road, Tel: 6250-6922