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Slide Into The Past: The Resurgence of Slide Film Photography

In recent years, we’ve seen a remarkable resurgence of an old favourite in the world of photography: slide film. This medium, once thought to be fading into obscurity, is now enjoying a new wave of popularity amongst both amateur and professional photographers, with Kodak even reviving its Ektachrome emulsion after discontinuing it. This article will go through why slide film photography still attracts photographers, offering insights into its unique characteristics and providing practical tips for those keen to explore this classic photographic medium. Whether you’re a seasoned photographer or a curious beginner, we hope this guide will inspire you to give slide film a shot.


A landscape depicting the south bank of the Thames at Greenwich Power Station.
Ektachrome 100 - richly blue, which suits this scene just fine. Photo credit: Michael Elliott

Understanding Slide Film

What is Slide Film?

Slide film, also known as reversal or transparency film, is a type of photographic film that produces a positive image on a transparent base. This contrasts with negative film, which creates a negative image that needs to be reversed during printing or scanning. The unique characteristic of slide film is that it allows you to view the image directly – it’s like having a tiny, brightly coloured window into a moment in time. This directness, combined with the rich, vibrant colours and fine grain that many slide films offer, can make viewing a well-exposed slide a breathtaking experience. It’s no wonder that slide film has a certain special place in photographers' hearts, despite the challenges it presents.


What Are The Differences Between Slide Film and Negative Film?

When comparing slide film and negative film, it’s like comparing apples and oranges – each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Slide film is known for its vibrant colours and contrast, but it has a narrow exposure latitude, meaning it’s less forgiving of exposure mistakes. Negative film, on the other hand, has a wider exposure latitude and is more forgiving, but it requires an extra step to reverse the negative image into a positive one. The choice between slide and negative film often comes down to a photographer’s personal preference, the subject matter, and the conditions under which they’re shooting.


A photograph of Charlton House in the evening.
Velvia 50 - shot in the early evening on a summer's day, the warm, but blue, light gently offsets the film's tendency to reds. Photo credit: Michael Elliott

What Are The Different Formats of Slide Film?

Slide film comes in various formats, each offering unique characteristics. 35mm slide film is the most common, and is compact, and easy to use. It’s perfect for everyday shooting and travel photography. 120 slide film, used in medium format cameras, offers a larger negative size leading to higher image quality and detail. It’s a favourite among portrait and landscape photographers. 4x5 and 8x10 slide film, used in large format cameras, provides unparalleled resolution and control over depth of field but requires more skill and patience to handle. Choosing a format depends on your photographic needs and the level of detail you wish to capture.


Considerations when choosing which format to shoot:


35mm - "Full Frame" - Slide Film

This format is ideal for general photography needs. It’s compact, relatively inexpensive, and widely available, making it a great choice for beginners or those on a budget. However, the smaller film size means that while the detail is sufficient for most purposes, it might not be enough for large prints or professional-quality work.


A photograph of the interior display of a Uniqlo store at Battersea Power Station.
35mm Kodak E100S (enhanced saturation) - unfortunately now discontinued but still viable when found expired - lent itself to the extremely colourful scene. E100S had a different colour bias to the new E100. Photo credit: Michael Elliott

120 - Medium Format - Slide Film

The larger negative size of medium format slide film captures more detail, resulting in sharper images with a wider dynamic range. This makes it a popular choice for professional photographers and serious hobbyists. However, cameras that use this format tend to be larger and heavier, and the film itself is more expensive.


4x5 - Large Format - Slide Film

This format offers the highest level of detail, capturing minute nuances that smaller formats can’t. The large negative size allows for incredibly high-resolution images, perfect for large prints and professional work. However, 4x5 cameras are often bulky and require a tripod, making them less suitable for casual or on-the-go photography. Additionally, 4x5 film is the most expensive of the three and requires special equipment to develop.


The choice of film format largely depends on your specific needs as a photographer. If you value portability and ease of use, 35mm might be the best choice. If you’re after higher image quality and don’t mind the extra cost and bulk, 120 or 4x5 could be the way to go.


 

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Which Slide Films Can I FInd Today?

There are few brands left in the world of slide film these days. Those brands are Kodak Ektachrome and Fuji’s Velvia and Provia. Each of these films has its own unique qualities that can significantly impact the look and feel of your photographs.


Kodak Ektachrome

Kodak Ektachrome is renowned for its incredibly fine grain and moderate contrast, which results in sharp, detailed images with a relatively wide dynamic range. Its colour palette leans towards the cooler side, rendering blues and greens with particular vibrancy. Ektachrome’s resolution is excellent, capturing fine details that make your images pop. Despite its cool bias, it maintains a good balance, ensuring skin tones appear natural and lifelike. Ektachrome only comes in one speed - ISO 100.


A photograph of the Thames Barrier from Silvertown.
Ektachrome 100 shows its blue side again very well here in this blue-sky, blue-river scene at the Thames Barrier. Photo credit: Michael Elliott


Fujichrome Velvia

Fujichrome Velvia is the slide film of choice for many landscape photographers due to its high saturation and contrast, which render vibrant, punchy colours. Velvia comes in two speeds: ISO 50 and ISO 100. With a warm colour bias, it renders reds, oranges, and yellows particularly vivid. Velvia 100’s granularity is slightly higher than Ektachrome’s, but it still offers excellent sharpness and resolution, but Velvia 50's grain level is unparalleled in slide film. Both variants' dynamic range is narrower, requiring careful exposure to avoid losing detail in highlights and shadows.


A photograph of a woman working on the Thames Clippers boats.
Fuji Velvia 50 - richly saturated, but does have a tendency to enhance the warmer tones in people's skin. Photo credit: Michael Elliott

A picture of a boat in the Black Sea picked out in a sun trail with a maroon sky and the sun shaped like a star.
Fuji Velvia 100 - despite being slightly less saturated and slightly more naturally colour balanced than its ISO 50 sister, this film still produces rich, and sometimes unexpected, colours. For instance, in this scene, the sky was nowhere near as maroon as this; nonetheless, it works well for this picture. Photo credit: Michael Elliott

Fujichrome Provia

Fujichrome Provia - also only available in ISO 100 speed - strikes a balance between the cool, realistic tones of Ektachrome and the warm, saturated colours of Velvia. It offers moderate contrast and saturation, rendering a wide range of colours with accuracy and depth. Provia’s granularity and resolution are comparable to Ektachrome’s, providing sharp, detailed images. Its dynamic range is wider than Velvia’s, making it a more forgiving choice for varied lighting conditions. Provia's reciprocity failure is the best of all of the current slide film emulsions, at around 30-45 seconds.


A long exposure photograph of the Thames towards Greenwich in the evening.
Fuji Provia 100F - a more natural colour palette, a far wider dynamic range and, important in this instance, a far better reciprocity failure (reciprocity holding to around 30-45 seconds exposure without colour correction, vs around 1-5s for Velvia). Photo credit: Michael Elliott


What are the key differences between the three?

Each of these slide films offers a unique aesthetic. Ektachrome is known for its cool, realistic tones and fine grain, making it a versatile choice for a wide range of subjects. Velvia’s high saturation and contrast make it ideal for capturing dramatic landscapes and sunsets, while Provia’s balanced colour rendition and wide dynamic range make it a reliable all-rounder. Your choice of film will depend on your subject matter, lighting conditions, and personal artistic vision.


Creatively Subverting Slide Film

Cross processing, also known as ‘x-pro’, is a creative technique in film photography where slide film (designed for E-6 chemicals) is developed using C-41 chemicals typically used for colour negative film, or vice versa. This intentional mismatch of film and chemicals results in images with altered colours and increased contrast, giving them a unique, often surreal look.


To cross process your slide film, simply load it into your camera as usual, but when it comes to developing, choose C-41 processing instead of the standard E-6 (but do make sure to let the lab know!). Many professional film labs offer cross processing services, or you can do it yourself at home if you’re comfortable handling film development chemicals.


The creative possibilities of cross processing are vast. The resulting images can have wildly shifted colours, with deep blues, radiant reds, or intense greens, depending on the specific film used. The contrast is typically higher, and the images can have a certain ‘gritty’ quality that many photographers find appealing. It’s a bit unpredictable, and that’s part of the fun – you never quite know what you’re going to get until you see the developed film.


Remember, cross processing is an experimental technique, and part of its charm lies in its unpredictability.


Tips for Shooting Slide Film

Shooting with slide film can be a rewarding experience, but it requires a thoughtful approach. Here are some practical tips to help you achieve the best results.


Exposure

Slide film has a narrower exposure latitude compared to negative film, meaning it’s less forgiving of exposure errors. Overexposed highlights can blow out to pure white, and underexposed shadows can become solid black. Therefore, accurate metering is crucial. Consider using a handheld light meter for the most precise readings.


A photograph of the Millenium Dome, aka the O2, from the London Cable Car.
Kodak E100S. Accurate metering as well as choosing a lower contrast scene ensured that neither the highlights nor the shadows were lacking in detail where detail was necessary. Photo credit: Michael Elliott

Composition and Choosing Subjects

Slide film’s high contrast and vibrant colours can make your images pop, but it’s essential to choose your subjects wisely and think carefully about composition. Scenes with high contrast or dynamic range can be challenging to capture without losing detail in the highlights or shadows. Subjects with more even lighting or lower contrast can often yield better results.


Mitigating High Contrast Scenes

There are several techniques to handle high contrast scenes. Using a fill flash can help lighten shadows, while graduated neutral density (ND) filters can darken the sky to balance the exposure with the landscape. Each has its pros and cons. Fill flash can sometimes create unnatural-looking light, and ND filters require extra equipment and can darken parts of the scene you might not want to. Experiment to see what works best for your style of photography.


A street photograph on the South Bank at Blackfriars with people sat on the wall drinking in the early evening.
Fuji Velvia 100. Sometimes, you can let the shadows fall to black, and it doesn't matter, as long as the detail of the subject is defined. Photo credit: Michael Elliott

Choosing the Right Film for the Right Subject

Different slide films have different characteristics. For example, Fuji Velvia’s high saturation and contrast make it ideal for landscapes and nature photography, while Kodak Ektachrome’s more neutral tones might be better suited for portraits or documentary work. Consider the subject matter and the look you’re going for when choosing your film.


 

So, we’ve taken a look at the fascinating world of slide film photography. We’ve explored its unique characteristics, from the vibrant colours and exceptional sharpness to the unparalleled dynamic range that truly sets it apart from other forms of photography.


We’ve discussed the importance of exposure in slide film photography, and moreover, we’ve touched upon the creative possibilities that slide film photography offers. It encourages us to think differently about light, composition, and colour, pushing our creative boundaries and helping us grow as photographers.


Slide film photography is a rewarding and enriching pursuit. It may seem daunting at first, especially given its unforgiving nature when it comes to exposure. However, with practice and patience, you’ll soon be able to harness its potential to create stunning, memorable images.


So why not give slide film photography a go? Embrace the challenge, explore its creative possibilities, and embark on a photographic journey like no other. Remember, every great photographer started somewhere, and your journey into slide film photography could be the start of something truly special.


 

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