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Kodak says it’s bringing back Ektachrome film, and photographers everywhere are smiling

Kodak Alaris said it is bringing back its famous Ektachrome film in late 2017. (Courtesy of Kodak Alaris)

Film photography has faded so swiftly that it can be hard to recall a time before digital photos.

Two decades ago Eastman Kodak was selling a billion rolls of film a year. Another film giant, Polaroid, still had enough cultural cachet in 2003 that most people knew what hip-hop duo OutKast meant when they sang, "Shake it like a Polaroid picture."

But Polaroid stopped making its instant cameras in 2007 and soon stopped making Polaroid film. In 2012, Eastman Kodak -- down to selling millions of film rolls -- filed for bankruptcy. The demise of the Rochester, N.Y-based company has become a popular business school case study.

Kodak was forced to stop production of many of its film brands, including the iconic Kodachrome in 2009 -- the world's first successful color film.  The sister brand of Ektachrome had become a cultural touchstone, responsible for capturing family moments, events and friendships on film in the country's post-war boom. It inspired Paul Simon to implore in song, "Mama, don’t take my Kodachrome away."

But technology caught up with film. And in 2010, photographers with their last rolls of Kodachrome made rushed pilgrimages to Parsons, Kan., home to the world's last processor of a once-ubiquitous film brand.

Ektachrome, which first hit store shelves in 1946, was known first as a slide film. It was celebrated for its rich, distinctive look and for being particular about how it was exposed. Professional shooters, like those at National Geographic, swore by it.

"It really was the gold standard," said T.J. Mooney, product business manager for "film capture" at Kodak Alaris, one of the companies that emerged from Eastman Kodak's bankruptcy.

Ektachrome was killed off in 2012 -- the last of Kodak's chrome films -- just another digital photography casualty.

But on Wednesday, Kodak Alaris announced that it was reviving Ektachrome. The 35mm film will be available later this year.

The website Phoblographer called it  "a super shocking announcement," and photographers - pros and amateurs - took to Twitter to express their joy.

The company made the announcement at CES -- the annual tech fest that celebrates the very tools that killed off Ektachrome and Kodachrome and so many other films in the first place.

Ektachrome will join a handful of other Kodak films that still exist -- Kodak Gold 200, Kodak Ultra Max 400 and a series of professional films, Mooney said.

It seems that the digital revolution might not erase all that came before it. Kodak Alaris has enjoyed moderate growth in sales of its professional films, Mooney said, as some folks are still interested in old-fashioned photography. An offshoot of Polaroid in recent years has reemerged as a niche product. The photo film revival is similar to the music industry's rediscovery of vinyl . For the last several years, vinyl records sales have seen slow, consistent growth. Five years ago, viny accounted for about two percent of physical music sales. In 2016, that number had risen to 11 percent, according to Nielsen.

But what about the fate of Kodachrome, the most famous and revered of the bunch? The company thought about it.

"Kodachrome will not be coming back," Mooney said. "We took a look at it and decided Ektachrome was the better choice."

Part of the reasoning was technical. Kodachrome is notoriously difficult to process. Not just any film processor can do it. "You almost needed a PhD in chemistry," Mooney said. That skill was lost when Kodachrome disappeared seven years ago.

And some things just can't be replaced.