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Negative Film Stocks

If you are just getting into film photography, then you may be interested in knowing what types of films are available that you can shoot with. While the film world is not as big as it used to be and many stocks that were once widely available are now discontinued, there are still a plethora of films available. Some of these include amazing new films from Kodak, as well as some time-tested work horses from Fuji and Ilford. There are many film options out there, and the ones I’ve listed below are just my personal recommendations and the films that I use on a regular basis for my own wedding and commercial work. The best thing to do is to shoot a variety of films yourself until you find the one(s) that work best for your own photographic work and tastes.

[Note: I mention below two terms that may be unfamiliar to someone starting out with film- pushing and pulling. If you are unfamiliar, you may want to read about what these two techniques are before going further.]

B&W rated at 1600

Kodak Tri-X 400 and Ilford HP5+ 400
These are my two favorite black and white films. They have a classic black and white look and are pushable to 1600 or more. I have shot these films at 400, 800, 1600 and 3200 ISO’s and always received great results. They are easy to develop and you can get different looks by changing the way you have them developed. I normally rate the film at ISO 1250 in my camera, and then have the lab push it two stops during development. I meter with spot-meter  mode on my Nikon F5, or I use my Sekonic hand held meter to get a reading for the highlights. I always meter for the highlights with B/W film as it generally has a limited latitude, and if I metered for the shadows, the highlight detail would be lost. These films are available in 35mm and 120 rolls.

Portra 400 rated at 200

Portra 400 rated at 1600
Portra 400 pushed to 1600

Kodak Portra 400
This is a brand new film from Kodak that uses developments from Kodak’s Vision 3 Cinema film line. The film has one of the highest exposure latitudes of any film on the market today. I can shoot this film in-camera at ISO 200 to 1600, and get consistent and good results without any pushing or pulling. At 1600, the images are slightly flatter and more muted then they would look at 400 or 800, but they are still very usable. If you want to pull more detail from the shadows and need to shoot at 1600, just have your lab push the roll two stops for more contrast and shadow detail. If you do have the film pushed, you need to make sure you shoot the entire roll at one ISO, or your images shot at a lower rating will be ruined or not as perfect as you wanted them too be. If you are going to push the film, rate the film at the speed you want it pushed to and overexpose. I always tend to overexpose this film and always meter for the shadows of an image. This film is also available in many formats including 35mm, 120, 220, 4×5 and 8×10. A very versatile film for just about any lighting situation, from weddings to concerts.

Portra 160

Kodak Portra 160
This film, like its brother Portra 400, benefits from Kodak’s Vision 3 movie line of film. Compared to the Portra 400 though, it has super tight grain, and great highlight detail retention. This is a great portrait and studio film. I use this film for outdoor portraits and love to shoot it in my Pentax 645 because of how detailed it is. I generally rate it in camera at ISO 100 and meter for the shadows.

Fuji Superia

Fuji Superia 200-800
The Fuji Superia line has always been a favorite of mine. It was the main film we shot on when I was a newspaper photographer at the start of my career. These films, although not pro films, feature great contrast, tight grain, and high latitudes. The 200 is of course, more fine grained then the 400 and 800, but the 400 is my favorite of the three. It is great for color documentary work or personal projects. When compared to films like the Portra 400 and 160, these films have more contrast and less latitude. I don’t generally shoot these films too much past their given ISO, and I tent to overexpose about half a stop when shooting them to make sure there is a nice detailed negative for me to use. I generally rate the Superia 200 at 160, the Superia 400 between 320 and 640, and the Superia 800 between 640 and 1250. At 1250, I always have the lab push it one stop, which really makes the contrast high but saves some shadow detail. These films are only available in 35mm, so if you want to shoot 120 or 220 you will have to go with one of Kodak’s professional films, or try to find some Fuji Reala 100 which is their semi-pro Superia film.

Fuji Superia

Contributor Bio:  Joseph Prezioso is a professional photographer who has been shooting for over twelve years and went from shooting film, to 100% digital, and then back to film again. He says, “By trade I am a wedding photographer, I shoot over 30 weddings a year and this year they were all on film. My career started as a newspaper photographer though. I was 16 and like Jimmy Olsen. I learned on the streets shooting next to veteran photographers for the AP and Boston Globe (I worked for some weeklies but I got to cover a lot of cool events that the big news guys covered too!). Film is something I have fallen in love with, its the medium I learned on. Film will always be something special to me. It feels more versatile and creative in my hands then when I am using digital.”

Prezioso also has a book about film releasing in January… 

Pre-Order at Amazon.com! Image Map
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9 comments

  1. >I always meter for the highlights with B/W
    >film as it generally has a limited latitude,
    >and if I metered for the shadows, the
    >highlight detail would be lost. These films
    >are available in 35mm and 120 rolls.

    Eh, what an unusual choice. Common wisdom would be to meter for the shadows with B&W print film. Empty shadows are unrecoverable whereas the highlights can be controlled during development.

    The fact that your highlights would clip otherwise is due to the two-stop push processing.

    I actually never really saw a benefit in pushing B&W film. The difference between an ASA-1600 film such as Delta 1600 and Tri-X/HP5+ pushed is that the former records proper details in the shadow whereas the latter does not.

    I do however like to pull film. HP5+ shot at ASA-200 further reduces the contrast (and grain somewhat) and is thus an excellent choice for scanning.

  2. I was thinking of trying out film, but does it always give those magenta or green/zombie/living dead skin tones when you push Portra? Because I am going to avoid it like the plague, then. Unless I am lucky enough to shoot a zombie wedding. Fingers crossed!

    1. It shouldn’t have those type of tones of which you speak. Either there is a processing error or the film hasn’t been exposed properly. Remember negative film can handle overexposure more. With digital it’s exactly the opposite. So make sure you overexpose Portra (400) by at least 1/2 a stop. Good luck and happy shooting!

  3. My favorites depend on application…
    Fuji Superia 400 is a good all around film, and if I’m not shooting an event my camera is likely to be loaded with Superia 400.

    I like Fuji Pro 400H (or Pro160) for portraits.

    I like Kodak Ektar 100 for landscapes and nature. The grain is very fine (not quite Velvia fine, but slide films are another thing)

  4. Anon- I’m not an expert on pushing Portra specifically, but I would think the answer is no… that probably has more to do with the lighting and white balance issues, maybe even printing/scanning/color correcting.

  5. We are compiling a list of everyones favorite films, so leave a comment and let us know what YOUR favorite films are!

  6. Yes they had green up lights and, thats why he was green lol.

    1. Joseph, your pictures are stunning and thank you for that really detailed explanation of all the different films as well as beautiful examples.

      I have often wondered about skin tones – do the different brands of color films treat skin tones differently?

      One last question – when shooting digital we can adjust the white balance easily but what to do when shooting film? Is the answer to use a lot of lens filters?

  7. Just before digital came on strong I was shooting lots of Fuji Provia and Velevia slide film.

    I have started shooting some personal projects with film. Including studio portraits using a press camera with Fuji B&W pack films and using 70’s rangefinders with Tri-x for street photography. Love the aesthetic of both

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