Film Types and Examples
By Tyson Call
One of the most daunting things about starting to shoot film can be walking into your local camera store and seeing multiple varieties of colored boxes with names like Kodak Tri-X and Ektar. The clerk asks you which one you want and you stutter, trying to figure out why there are so many K’s in this section of the store. I would like to save you this embarrassment. I will be talking about some of my favorite films and providing examples as a guide in choosing from the many types of film available today.
One of the things I enjoy about this site is that one can find real and sometimes controversial opinions. I am no expert on film. In fact, I am very far from it. I don’t develop my own, and have only been shooting film for a year. If you would like expert opinion, I’m sure you can find it. I only hope this is helpful to you in some way.
Some thoughts on film
Before I begin I would like to share why I shoot with film. I shoot digital as well, and do not feel that one is “better” than the other. Just like a convertible sports car and a jeep, they have their strengths and weaknesses which don’t always exactly line up for a perfect comparison. I will admit though that there are plenty of barriers keeping one from shooting film.
One of my favorite aspects of using film is that you have access to the past century’s greatest film equipment at very low prices. Look at a camera price list from old magazine and then jump on Craigslist and find those same cameras for next to nothing. You can shoot with the equipment National Geographic photographers used for 90% of the photos they have ever published for about the price of an entry level DSLR.
Here is a photo I took with a $37 find on Ebay, a Minolta AL-s rangefinder.
Only $37! Keep in mind that although Leicas are great for shooting film, you don’t have to wait until you have saved up for an MP and 35mm Summilux ASPH to start shooting film. You would likely be unable to take full advantage of it anyways, for while film is a joy to use, it does take work to get right. Besides, the real bargains to be had are in equipment that doesn’t work in conjunction with new digital equipment. Most of the photos in this article were shot with an M6 and one of the newest Summicrons. There are a couple shots from other cameras, but I’ll never tell which…
Different Film Types
Each different film has a different tone, way it renders color, grain count and shape, as well as ISO sensitivity. I would like to share a couple of examples as well as my personal thoughts on different types. Please don’t take these opinions as gospel. I’ve never tried a film I didn’t like, but some I like more than others. This can vary with shooting style, so what I think may not be right for you.
Fuji Velvia 50
This is my favorite. It is a slow slide film with a rating of only 50. This means that you are going to want to use it outdoors. Use it when you want highly saturated, candy colors. In my experience it has a lot of contrast, with very little shadow detail in scenes with wide dynamic range. There is not much room for error in exposure. Expose it over or under much and your photo will look washed out or muddy. Since it is a slide film you can mount the film and throw it in a projector to show the inlaws! Kidding, but only slightly. Be careful with portraits, as it can sometimes be unkind to flesh tones, making them oversaturated and cartoonish (mainly during the golden hour). That said, I have shot people successfully with this film.
Kodak Ektar 100
This film I consider to be a very “safe” film. Part of the reason I like to shoot film is that photos shot using film look unique from the sometimes clinical perfection that comes from a good digital file. Photos shot on film look like photographs. The ones you grew up looking at in Nat Geo. Ektar has great, poppy color reproduction on all spectrums. It may look kind of look like a digital file sometimes, but it will look like a great digital file. At times I have found it to be a little on the warm side, sometimes oversaturating skin tones.
Kodak Tri-X 400 and Ilford HP5 Plus(pushed to 1600)
Something fun to do is shoot a film at a different ISO rating than what’s on the box. Notify the lab that you have “pushed” the film and they will develop it accordingly. I like to do this for low light and night shooting. I have paired these two films as I don’t really have a preference for either. Using these films in this way will give you the dirty, rough, contrasty black and white look, which works for street shooting.
Ilford Delta 100
This is a good standard fine grain black and white film. It will give you a broad dynamic range, with black to white and every step of gray in between. I have found it to be low contrast, and very forgiving. Use this or Ilford PANF 50 for outdoor shooting if you want to shoot wide open for good subject isolation.
Ilford Delta 400
Choosing what ISO to take can be difficult, since unlike digital you can’t just change the setting on the fly. Taking a 400 speed film will allow you to shoot outdoors and indoors (for the most part). You will experience a little more grain, but again, many shoot film for the grain.
Kodak Ultra Color 100
I haven’t shot this film much, though I don’t know why. It hasn’t ever let me down, though maybe that is why I haven’t shot with it much, it always obeys and I don’t feel the need to wrestle with it like Fuji Velvia 50. Bright color, yet soothing. It is the chicken noodle soup of color films, comforting and steady.
Kodak Portra 400 (New)
This film is interesting. I haven’t had much luck with it, though everything I see online from it looks great. I think this is mainly due to my aversion of higher speed color films. I like shooting wide open and outside. I think that once Kodak combines their NC and VC films in the 160 ISO line I will use it quite often.
Kodak Porta 160 VC (Vivid Color)
This is one of my favorites. It is great for portraits as it renders skin tones neutral and appealing. It is slow enough to let you open up your aperture but doesn’t hang you out to dry when the sun isn’t out. They also offer in Neutral Color, but I tend to like things bright and poppy. NC is better for portraits in some situations though.
Kodak Kodachrome 64
Now discontinued, I just wanted to include this for fun. Famous for being the film of choice for Steve McCurry and his National Geographic compatriots, this film has beautiful candy-coated colors while not going over the top. The process for developing it was incredibly involved and so it is no longer produced. If you haven’t shot some yourself you could try developing it in the tears you shed while looking at Mr. McCurry’s portrait portfolio, wondering why you were shooting digital when this film was available.
Ilford Delta 3200
This film is grainy, rough and super sensitive. You won’t be photographing babies with this one! Best for private eye murder scene photos, zombie uprisings and ninjas (if you can find them).
Lomography Color Negative 100 & 400
These “toy films” can be a lot of fun if you step off your high horse and walk into Urban Outfitters to buy them. They offer a variety of films (repurposed Afga films, I believe) that are meant to have unique characteristics; from over the top color to extreme red cast.
I hope that this helps give you an idea of what film to try next. You can also search Flickr and find groups dedicated to each type of film, it just won’t be as convenient as this post…
[ad#Adsense Blog Sq Embed Image]
HELP ME TO KEEP THIS SITE GOING AND GROWING!! IT”S EASY TO HELP OUT!
Remember, anytime you follow my links here and buy from B&H or AMAZON, this helps to keep my site going. If it was not for these links, there would be no way to fund this site, so I thank you in advance if you visit these links. I thank you more if you make a purchase! I have nifty search bars at the upper right of each page so you easily search for something at either store! I currently spend 10-14 hours a day working on this site and the only way that I can pay for it is with your help, so thank you! Currently my traffic has been increasing but my funds to pay for the site has been decreasing, so any help would be GREATLY appreciated!
Even if you buy baby food, napkins or toothpicks at amazon it helps this site, and you do not pay anything extra by using the links here. Again, you pay nothing extra by using my links, it is just a way to help support this site, so again, I thank you in advance
If you enjoyed this article/review, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this page and also be sure to join me on twitter or my new facebook fan page! Also, you can subscribe to my feed at my subscribe page HERE and read these posts in your browser or news reader!