Film Recommendations
Last Significant Update 9.4.05

With the purchase of my Canon 1Ds Mark II in December 2004, I'm almost 100% digital now. As such, I don't shoot much film anymore. Nevertheless, I will try to keep this as up-to-date as I can; however, I will be unable to offer any experience-based comments on new films....

Many, many questions

Ever since opening, I've received no less than 100 e-mails from various individuals all asking me "What type of film do you use?" Sometimes there are clever variations on this theme, for example, "What type of film do you suggest I use on my trip to Vermont?" Or, more recently, "What type of film do you think I should use to photograph my daughter's soccer game?" In hopes of reducing the amount of film-question-related e-mail, I have written this short essay on my thoughts of film. I will restrict my comments only to films that I have used for at least 20 rolls.

Poppies - Banff #4.
Canon EOS 3 with 100/2.8 EF Macro, B+W 81B. Fuji Velvia (RVP).

There is no "best" film

Asking someone to identify the "best" film is a bit like asking someone to identify the "best" car. A Hummer H2 and a Porsche 911 may both be great cars, but you'd never take the Porsche off road and you'd never take the Hummer to Indianapolis. Good films, like cars, are best designed to do one or two things very well. Indeed, so-called "all around" films are unique in their ability to produce passable results in many situations while rarely producing outstanding results.

Color Reversal vs. Color Negative (E6 vs C41)

The fist and most obvious choice one must make when selecting a film is deciding what type of film best suits them. In the world of color film, one has two options: color reversal ("slide film") and color negative ("print film"). Years ago, one could further divide color reversal film into Kodachrome (K14) and Ektachrome (E6); however, with the Kodachrome 25 recently discontinued, I'm guessing that Kodak eventually plans to discontinue the Kodachrome line.

Color negative film (print film) is great for making lots and lots of inexpensive prints. Indeed, it is probably the best choice if you plan to fill a scrapbook with 4x6 prints from Wal-Mart. Print film is also great for scanning with relatively inexpensive (<$500) desktop scanners as it is less dense than slide film; however, be warned that obtaining accurate color balance from scanned print film can drive even the most laid back photographer crazy. Print film has tremendous exposure latitude--you can underexpose it up to a full stop or overexpose it by as many as 2 stops and still get a decent looking print. In general, print film begins to produce higher quality images (compared to slide film) at higher (400 or greater) ISO.

Color reversal film (slide film) is the preferred film of most photographers who photograph anything other than portraits. Slide film can hold a tremendous amount of contrast but has very limited exposure latitude: over- or underexpose by more than 1/3 stop and your image may be completely ruined. On the other hand, viewing a perfectly exposed slide on a light box has probably done more to inspire a career in photography than anything else. If you're working digitally, scanning slide film requires a significant capital investment in an expensive (>$500) film scanner or $50-150 for a drum scan at your local service bureau. Color balance is easier using slide film as the slide itself serves as a guide to color. In general, slide film produces higher quality images at lower (100 or so) ISO.

What do I use? I use both: I use what is best suited to the situation. In general, if I'm taking photograph of my family (to fill a scrapbook with 4x6 prints) I shoot print film. If I'm taking a landscape to sell as fine art, I'll always shoot slide film (and then make prints to order digitally).

These are few of my favorite films...

Color Slide Films

Color Print Films

Black and White Films

I don't shoot much black and white these days. In the digital age, it's so easy to shoot color, go into Photoshop or Picture Window Pro and click "desaturate." If you're more advanced, you can also use the channel mixer as a "virtual filter." That being said, a black and white negative, properly stored, will last a hundred years (or more). Nevertheless, I don't shoot much black and white these days.


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