Choosing the right film for your camera can be a daunting task, especially with the myriad of options available in 2024. Film photography is not a one-size-fits-all hobby. Different films have different characteristics, such as grain, contrast, saturation, and colour balance, that can affect the mood and style of your images. Moreover, different films are suited for different cameras, formats, and shooting scenarios. Therefore, choosing the right film for your camera is an important decision that can make or break your photographic experience.
This article aims to guide you through the process, discussing the different types of film, factors to consider when choosing film, the impact of colour versus black and white, and how to choose film based on different lighting conditions. In this article, you will learn about the main categories of film, such as negative and positive film, and their advantages and disadvantages. You will also learn about the factors that influence your film choice, such as film speed, format, and cost. Additionally, you will discover the differences between colour and black and white film, and how they can affect the aesthetic and emotional impact of your images. Finally, you will get some tips on how to choose film according to the lighting conditions you encounter, such as daylight, artificial light, or low light. By the end of this article, you will have a better understanding of how to choose the right film for your camera and your creative vision.
Types of Film
There are many types of film available for medium format photography, each with its own characteristics and effects. Some of the most popular types are:
Colour film: This is the most widely used type of film, as it captures images in full colour. Colour film can produce realistic or stylized results, depending on the film’s colour balance, saturation, and grain. Colour film can be more expensive and sensitive to light than black and white film, so it requires more precise exposure and development.
Black and white film: This is a classic type of film that records images in shades of grey. Black and white film can create a timeless or dramatic look, as it emphasizes contrast, texture, and shape over colour. Black and white film is usually cheaper and more forgiving than colour film, as it can handle a wider range of lighting conditions and development times.
Slide film: This is a special type of film that produces a positive image directly on the film, instead of a negative. Slide film can be viewed as it is, without needing to make a print or scan. Slide film offers high resolution, sharpness, and vivid colours, but it also has a high contrast and a narrow exposure latitude, meaning it can easily overexpose or underexpose. Slide film is more expensive and less common than colour or black and white film, and it requires a specific chemical process to develop.
Black and white slide film: This is a rare type of film that combines the qualities of black and white and slide film. It produces a positive image in shades of grey, which can be viewed directly or projected. Black and white slide film has a high contrast and a fine grain, but it also has a limited dynamic range and a low sensitivity to light. Black and white slide film is very expensive and hard to find, and it requires a special developer to process.
Infrared film: This type of film records infrared light, which is invisible to the human eye. Infrared film can create surreal or dreamlike images, as it can capture heat, foliage, and clouds in different colours than normal. Infrared film can be colour or black and white, but it always requires a special filter to block visible light and a darkroom or a dark bag to load and unload. Infrared film is also very sensitive to temperature and humidity, and it can be difficult to expose and develop correctly.
Experimental film: This is a broad category of film that includes any film that has been altered or manipulated to create unusual effects. Some examples of experimental film are cross-processed film, which is developed in the wrong chemicals to create colour shifts and contrast changes; redscale film, which is exposed on the wrong side to create a red or orange tint; and pre-exposed film, which is treated with various substances or patterns before being used to create random or intentional effects. Experimental film can be fun and creative, but it can also be unpredictable and inconsistent. Examples include Lomochrome Purple, Turquoise and Metropolis.
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Factors to Consider When Choosing Film
When choosing film, there are several factors to consider. These include latitude, film speed, cost, development, pushability, pullability, availability, and environmental issues.
Refers to the range of exposure levels a film can handle while still producing a usable image. Films with a wide latitude are more forgiving of exposure errors, making them a good choice for beginners or challenging lighting conditions. For example, Kodak Portra 400 has a wide latitude and can handle overexposure and underexposure well.
Measured in ISO, determines how sensitive the film is to light. Higher ISO films are more sensitive and can capture images in lower light, but they also produce more grain. For example, Ilford Delta 3200 is a high-speed film that can be used in very low light, but it has a very coarse grain structure.
Can be a significant factor, especially if you shoot a lot. Black and white film is generally cheaper than colour or slide film, and bulk loading can save you even more. For example, Fomapan 100 is a budget-friendly black and white film that can be bought in bulk and loaded into reusable cassettes.
Some films require special development processes, which can be more expensive and less widely available. For example, slide film requires the E-6 process, which is more complex and costly than the C-41 process for colour negative film. Some films also have proprietary development chemicals, such as Kodak T-Max films, which require the T-Max developer for optimal results, and Kodak Technical Pan film, which requires the Technidol developer for optimum contrast. And others can be developed in your own formulated chemicals like Kodak D-23.
Pushability and pullability
Refer to the ability to alter the effective film speed by changing the development time. Pushing film means increasing the development time to compensate for underexposure, while pulling film means decreasing the development time to compensate for overexposure. For example, Kodak Tri-X can be heavily pushed, meaning it can be rated at a higher ISO than its nominal value and still produce acceptable images. However, pushing and pulling film also affect the grain structure and dynamic range of the film, sometimes for the worse. Pushed film tends to have more contrast and grain, while pulled film tends to have less contrast and grain.
Some films may be discontinued, out of stock, or hard to find. For example, Fuji Velvia 100, a popular slide film, is no longer available in the US due to environmental issues with the formulation. Some films may also have limited sizes or formats, such as 120 or 4x5. It is advisable to check the availability of the film you want before buying a camera or planning a shoot.
Some films may have harmful chemicals or materials that pose a risk to the environment or human health. Some films also use animal-derived gelatin, which may raise ethical concerns for some users. It is important to be aware of the environmental impact of the film you use and dispose of it properly.
Colour vs Black and White
One of the most fundamental choices you have to make when shooting film is whether to use colour or black and white film. Both options have their pros and cons, and can create very different effects on your images. The choice of colour or black and white can depend on the subject matter and the mood you want to convey, as well as your personal preference and style.
Colour film can bring a scene to life, capturing the vibrancy and variety of the world around us. Colour can add interest, emotion, and realism to your images, as well as help you tell a story or convey a message. Colour can also create a sense of harmony or contrast, depending on the colours you use and how they relate to each other. For example, you can use complementary colours, such as blue and orange, to create a striking contrast, or analogous colours, such as green and yellow, to create a harmonious blend.
However, colour can also be distracting, drawing attention away from the subject. Colour can sometimes overpower the other elements of the image, such as shape, texture, and light, and make them less noticeable. Colour can also be misleading, as it can alter the perception of the scene or the subject, making them appear different than they really are. For example, colour can make a scene look warmer or cooler, brighter or darker, or more or less saturated than it actually is.
Black and white film, on the other hand, can create a timeless, classic look. It can emphasize form, texture, and contrast, and can often convey a deeper emotional resonance. Black and white can strip away the distractions of colour, and focus on the essence of the image, such as the shapes, lines, patterns, and tones. Black and white can also create a sense of drama, mystery, or nostalgia, as it can evoke a different era or mood. For example, you can use high contrast, low key, or grainy black and white to create a dramatic or dark atmosphere, or low contrast, high key, or smooth black and white to create a soft or light atmosphere.
However, black and white can also feel less realistic or immediate than colour. Black and white can sometimes lose the details or nuances of the scene or the subject, and make them appear flat or dull. Black and white can also be less expressive or communicative than colour, as it can limit the range of emotions or messages you can convey. For example, black and white can make it harder to distinguish between different shades or hues, or to show the mood or personality of the subject.
How to Choose Film Based on Weather, Time of Day, or Time of Year
One of the most important factors that affects the quality and mood of your film photos is the lighting condition. Lighting can vary depending on the weather, the time of day, or the time of year, and each scenario can present different challenges and opportunities for film photography. Therefore, it is essential to know how to choose the right film for the right situation, and how to adjust your exposure and settings accordingly.
Different films have different characteristics, such as colour balance, contrast, grain, and sensitivity. These characteristics can influence how your film reacts to different types of light, and how your photos will look in the end. For example, some films are better suited to the soft, warm light of sunrise or sunset, which can create a romantic and nostalgic atmosphere. These films often have a lower contrast and a warmer colour tone, such as Kodak Portra 400. On the other hand, some films excel in the harsh, bright light of midday, which can create a dramatic and vivid effect. These films often have a higher contrast and a cooler colour tone, such as Fuji Velvia. And then you have films with a higher contrast and warm colour tone, like Kodak Ektar, and films with a lower contrast and cooler colour tone, like Fuji Pro 400H.
Overcast conditions can pose a challenge for film photography, as they can result in flat and dull photos. However, they can also benefit from films with a wide latitude, which means they can capture a wide range of tones and details in the shadows and highlights, like Kodak Tri-X or Ilford HP5. Night photography often requires a high-speed film, which means they have a higher sensitivity and can capture more light in dark situations. These films often have a higher grain and a lower contrast, such as Kodak T-Max P3200 or Ilford Delta 3200.
Choosing the right film for the right lighting condition can make a huge difference in your film photography. It can help you achieve the desired mood and style, and enhance the beauty and drama of your scenes. However, there is no definitive rule or formula for choosing film, as different films can produce different results depending on your camera, lens, filter, metering, development, and scanning. Therefore, it is also important to experiment with different films and settings, and find your own preferences and style.
Choosing the right film for your camera is a personal decision that depends on many factors. You have to consider the type of film, the film speed, the cost, the development, the colour or black and white, and the lighting condition. Each of these factors can affect the quality, style, and mood of your photos, and can help you express your creativity and vision1. By understanding the different types of film and how they perform under different conditions, you can make an informed choice that best suits your needs and artistic vision. You can also experiment with different films and settings, and find your own preferences and style. Film photography is a rewarding and enjoyable hobby that can capture the beauty and drama of the world around you. Happy shooting!
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