Film photography is popular again — and Peterborough’s only surviving photo lab is at the centre of the local renaissance

Peterborough Photo Service first opened in the 1950s. Today, it’s serving a whole new generation of film photographers.
Jonathan Semugaza with his well-loved Pentax K1000 film camera. (Photo taken by Will Pearson , then developed and scanned by Peterborough Photo Service)

When photographer Jonathan Semugaza has a paid gig, he usually pulls out his digital camera. 

But when he’s shooting friends and family or doing his own creative work, Semugaza is more likely to reach for his Canon Sure Shot, a popular point and shoot film camera.

“I like my little film camera,” he said. “There’s less pressure when I’m shooting with film. And usually, when you pull out a film camera, people get really excited.”

Semugaza is part of a growing movement of photographers who are returning to film, drawn by the vintage appeal of the medium’s imperfections and the slow, methodical process it demands of practitioners. 

Photo labs from Sydney to Toronto are reporting a surge in demand for old cameras, film, and film processing. The trend has created chronic film shortages and pushed prices higher, but that hasn’t discouraged the new generation of film enthusiasts.

“This current generation has a yearning for the authentic,” Semugaza said. “Something that’s kind of raw and untouched. And I think that’s where the film revolution is coming along.”

“Considering that our whole lives are online, it’s a nice disconnect and a reintroduction to some past technologies,” he said.

Jonathan Semugaza takes a photo in Inverlea Park. (Photo taken by Will Pearson and developed in his home darkroom.)

When Semugaza finishes shooting a roll and needs it developed, he goes to Peterborough Photo Service on Charlotte Street — the only remaining commercial photo lab in town and a regular destination for Peterborough film shooters.

“The folks who work there are truly wonderful people,” Semugaza said. “And they love photography.”

Peterborough Photo Service’s owner Josh Resar said the store has been operating since 1956 when it was founded by his grandfather.

Resar was in highschool when he started working at the store. That was in 2003, and Resar was “permanently in the darkroom” developing film, he remembered. At that time, Peterborough Photo Service was only developing black and white film in-house. They would send colour film away to be processed, Resar said.

But that changed shortly after Resar started working at the store. In 2004, the store got its own machine for processing colour film, which led to a big boost in business. “I would say we were doing like 50 to 60 rolls a day,” Resar said.

But that pace wouldn’t last for long. Soon, digital photography took hold and Resar saw the numbers dropping. But Peterborough Photo Service kept going, even as their local competitors abandoned the market altogether.

“You had the major box stores walk away from doing film,” Resar said. “And it came to where we were the only ones in town processing film. And that right there allowed us to keep doing film, even as the numbers went down.”

As the only lab in town, Peterborough Photo Service was well-positioned when the film resurgence took off. These days, the volume is still lower than it was before the digital era, Resar said, but it’s enough to keep his staff busy processing film a couple of days a week.

It’s been a boon for the business, drawing more people into the store and augmenting the other services they offer, such as camera sales and repairs. “It’s definitely brought greater revenue,” Resar said.

Resar couldn’t pinpoint exactly when the trend started, but he said the major push occurred during the pandemic: “I think that during COVID people picked up this hobby of shooting film.”

Jillian Rumsey with her Canon AE-1 film camera. (Photo taken by Will Pearson, then developed and scanned by Peterborough Photo Service.)

Another local photographer, Jillian Rumsey, said she “really turned to film in the pandemic.” She came to rely on her film camera for “familiarity and comfort when everything was so uncertain,” she said. “I took so many pictures of hard boiled eggs.”

Just like Semugaza, Rumsey drops her film at Peterborough Photo Service for processing. “It feels pretty special that Peterborough has a place that still develops photographs,” she said.

Resar appreciates all the new customers, but he isn’t counting on the boom lasting. Most of the people who drop off film are in their 20s and they’re drawn to “the retro style,” he said. He’s not sure they’ll stick with the hobby long-term. “I think it’s a new fad.”

Shooting film is also expensive, Resar pointed out. And it is only getting more pricey. Earlier this year, Kodak drew the ire of film shooters around the world after announcing a price hike of more than 20% on its professional line of films.

But photographers like Rumsey will likely hold on for a little longer because they’re attracted to film for reasons that transcend economics. While Rumsey sometimes earns an income from photography, she doesn’t with film. “I rarely use film photography to make money,” she said. 

Instead, Rumsey’s film photographs often end up as gifts. She likes to take portraits of her friends and family, and then send them through the mail. “The feedback I get is that people feel so seen in [film] photographs,” she said. “It really captures something special that they haven’t seen reflected in other photographs.”


This site uses cookies to provide you with a great user experience. By continuing to use this website, you consent to the use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy.

Scroll to Top