WHAT TYPE OF FILM SHOULD YOU USE? by David Rose

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One question that is often asked by people wanting to try out film photography is:

"What type of film should I use?" 

And it's actually a very good question. Considering the numerous varieties of film to choose from, and with each having its own specific strengths, weaknesses, and aesthetic look, it can be difficult to know where to start. Over the last four years I’ve done the dirty work and have taken close to 10,000 shots on film in many different environments all across the world. In this article you will find example photos, as well as some of the pros & cons of each of the major stocks of film.  

(note: all pictures are shown as originally scanned with no post-processing whatsoever for more objectivity in comparison)  

1. KODAK EKTAR 100 

It's fitting to start with Ektar 100 since this film has been a standard since its re-release in 2008 as the "finest-grain color negative film on the market". At 100 ISO it's considered a daylight film, which means that if you might be shooting in both indoor and outdoor environments, or in low light, then this film is probably not an ideal choice. However, for well lit scenes you really can't compete with it. 

Pros:

  • Good for landscapes and harsh mid-day lighting

  • Rich contrast and colors, comparable to color positive slide film

  • Relatively affordable at around $8 a roll (current Amazon price)

Cons:

  • Not really versatile at ISO 100

Examples: (click to enlarge)

2. KODAK GOLD (200/400 ISO)

Second on the list is one of my personal favorites, both for it's affordable price and because of the amazing tones it produces. Kodak Gold is categorized as a non-professional film, but I've taken several of my all-time favorite shots using this film, and it delivers some of the most aesthetically pleasing vintage looks you can get. This is my go-to film for when I'm just out and about shooting because of its versatility, affordability, and gorgeous look.

Protip: this film comes in two different options – either 24 or 36 shots per roll. Make sure you buy the 36 shot roll since there’s really no reason to ever buy the 24.

Pros:

  • Highly affordable – usually retails around $5 per roll

  • Gorgeous tones, great for general purpose shooting

  • Mutes colors and lifts blacks – giving your pictures a faded/vintage look

Cons:

  • Not considered to be a professional film

  • Mutes colors and lifts blacks – giving your pictures a faded look (this can be a pro or a con depending on how you look at it) 

Examples: (click to enlarge) 

3. KODAK PORTRA (160, 400, 800)

The Kodak Portra family of films is widely considered to be some of the best professional grade films on the market, due to their great balance in color and contrast, as well as their silky smooth skin tones. This film is ideally suited for shooting portraits and people, hence the name 'Portra', but still delivers great results over a wide variety of subjects (see below). Only downside here is that they tend to be a bit pricier than other films, but if you're going for a more professional look this is definitely the film to choose. 

Pros:

  • Amazingly smooth skin tones

  • Good balance of color and contrast

  • Ideal for portraits and human subjects 

  • Very versatile (ISO ranges from 160 all the way up to 800) 

Cons:

  • A bit on the pricier side (usually $10+ per roll) 

Examples: (click to enlarge)

PORTRA 160

(Better suited for daylight and brighter environments)

PORTRA 400

(More versatile film that can be used in a wide variety of lighting) 

PORTRA 800

(Best all around film for shooting in medium to low-light environments) 

4. FUJIFILM (400H, SUPERIA)

Fujifilm is not always my first choice, but I have been pleasantly surprised when shooting with it. In my experience, 400h tends to give a flatter look to photos, while Superia always seems to add a mildly greenish cast. Not necessarily ideal for professional work, but affordable and a good film stock to try. 

Pros:

  • 400h has a more neutral/natural look 

  • Superia is more affordable, and widely available (you can even still find it physically in stores like Target and CVS) 

Cons:

  • 400h can appear dull 

  • Superia adds a distinctive green cast to shadows 

Examples: (click to enlarge)

FUJI 400H

FUJI SUPERIA

5. KODAK TRI-X 400 (B&W)

I don't shoot with black and white film often, but every time I do I have absolutely loved the results. My go-to b&w film is Kodak Tri-X 400, it gives a great sense of contrast, and I prefer its more grey-ish tones to Ilford's sepia. Another benefit of shooting b&w is the huge exposure latitude it offers, which means it's possible to completely miss the mark with the correct exposure but still end up with a decent shot. 

Pros:

  • Wide exposure latitude 

  • Great sense of minimalism and contrast

  • Very affordable (about $5 a roll on Amazon)

Cons:

  • The world is not black and white, sometimes you want a little color

  • Usually labs will charge more to develop B&W 

Examples: (click to enlarge)

6. HONORABLE MENTIONS (CINESTILL 50, ADOX COLOR IMPLOSION, COLOR REVERSAL FILMS)

This last category contains some of the less common films I've experimented with.

CINESTILL 50

Cinestill 50 is made by a startup company that takes cinematic film for movies and re-purposes it to fit in analog cameras. This is one film that I'm actually very interested in using more as I love the tones and almost painting-like quality it produces. 

ADOX COLOR IMPLOSION

If you're into lomography you have to check out Adox Color Implosion. Made by a German company, this film has some serious grain and 'imploded' colors.

COLOR REVERSAL SLIDE FILMS (PROVIA, VELVIA, AND EKTACHROME)

Color reversal slide films are actually a whole category of films that deserve their own blog post. For years these have been the desired film for landscape photography due to the amazing colors they capture. Not typically ideal for shooting people since the skin tones can be very saturated, you really can't beat these if you're trying to capture some of the amazing landscapes we're blessed with on this planet. 

(Something to be aware of: These types of film mostly have very low ISO ranges (usually around 50-100), and extremely limited exposure latitude, so they don't lend themselves to high dynamic range in a scene, and if you're even slightly above or below the correct exposure it can ruin the shot... Use with caution! 

Hope this was helpful! I know I definitely would have appreciated a guide like this when I first started shooting film. Don't hesitate to reach out if you have any questions!

Instagram: @davidroseirl
Email: davidroseirl@gmail.com