Amazon makes it almost too easy to buy just about anything. You can make a single order that contains a popcorn maker, a three-pack of boxer briefs, and a coffin and you’ll get free shipping on all of it. But when it comes to film, the world’s retail mega-goliath tends to fall short.
Stephen Swett from Coastal Film Lab recently posted in the Film Photographers Facebook group about trouble customers have been experiencing with film bought on Amazon. “We have recently noticed a number of customers with fresh film from Amazon getting really poor results,” he explains. “We decided to buy some Portra 400 from them to test and see, and sure enough it seems they are storing it improperly.” The sample image he provides clearly indicates heat damage with an ugly color shift, a noticeable fade across the entire image, and some ugly grain well beyond what you’d expect from Portra 400.
Obviously, this amount of effort doesn’t count as a thorough scientific experiment, but this absolutely isn’t a new story. In fact, I had a very similar experience just a few years ago when I got a great deal on 20 rolls of Kodak Ultra Max 400 from Amazon, only to find out that it had almost certainly suffered heat damage similar to what I described above.
Most of the Amazon film troubles stem from the fact that it’s often sold by third-party sellers on the Amazon platform. Film typically endures some heat fluctuations in transit. Even well-known camera stores still get their film off of unrefrigerated trucks that travel long distances for delivery. But real heat damage takes very hot temperatures and prolonged exposure, which dedicated photo retailers can typically avoid.
You may get totally fine film ordering from a seller on Amazon, but it’s more of a gamble. Consider the fact that film is often way more expensive on Amazon than it is elsewhere, and the gamble really doesn’t seem worth the risk. A single 120 medium format roll of Portra 400 on Amazon will set you back $20 at present. You can get it cheaper by paying $130 for 10 rolls in two five-packs. I typically buy my film from Unique Photo, and it currently charges $12.60 for the same single roll. The price drops to $11.95 if you buy more than 20 rolls. I typically buy 20 or more and cold-store them for that bulk discount.
If you’re looking for a good, trustworthy place to buy film, I’ve already mentioned Unique above, and that seller has always treated me well. I also really like Freestyle, which is a west coast-based shop that sells a ton of film and film accessories. Recently, Moment has jumped into the film market and regularly offers very solid prices on fresh stocks. And, of course, you can order from B&H and Adorama, both of which have been very reliable when it comes to film purchases over the years.