Long Live Film! Our 10 Favorite Film Stocks of All Time
Don’t look now, but film is making a comeback! The reason why is that it’s still a great way to capture distinctive images that express your personal vision.
CES 2017, the ginormous Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, was the unlikely venue for Kodak’s recent back-to-the-future announcement: it plans to bring back Ektachrome, one of its most iconic film stocks. Over the next 12 months, Kodak will be working to reformulate and manufacture Kodak Ektachrome film for both motion picture and still photography applications, and it’s slated for delivery in the fourth quarter of 2017.
This venerable E-6-process color reversal (slide) film is known for its extremely fine grain, clean color reproduction, and wide tonal gradation. Kodak will produce Ektachrome at its film factory in Rochester, N.Y, and Kodak Alaris, an independent company since 2013, also plans to offer a still format Kodak Professional Ektachrome film in 35mm, 36-exposure format.
As Steven Overman, President of Kodak’s Consumer and Film Division, duly noted, “We are seeing a broad resurgence of excitement about capturing images on film. Kodak is committed to continuing to manufacture film as an irreplaceable medium for image creators to capture their artistic vision.”
Overman also hinted that everyone’s beloved Kodachrome film may follow Ektachrome back to market. (Crossing fingers.)
We’re exited by these analog developments (pun intended), and that’s why we decided to give film aficionados a leg up by compiling a list of our 10 favorite film stocks of all time. We’ve confined our selection to great films in current production, which, of course leaves out Ektachrome and such dear departed classics and Kodak Panatomic-X and Adox KB-14 black-and-white.
But there are still lots of great film stocks for analog photography available for purchase. Check out our ten favorites below and if you think we left anything out, please tell us in the comments below.
Five Great Black-and-White Films
1. Kodak Professional Tri-X 400
This iconic black-and-white ISO 400 film has long been the standard among street and documentary photographers, photojournalists, and countless low light shooters. Noted for its wide exposure latitude and tonal gradation, distinctive fine grain pattern, crisp contrast, and excellent edge sharpness and detail rendition, it responds very well to push processing up to ISO 1600 and beyond. Tri-X was released in 35mm in 1954, and has undergone numerous tweaks in its long history. It remains the top film of choice among black-and-white enthusiasts who want to capture vintage look images on the film that defined photojournalism in the ‘50’s and ‘60s.
Price: 36-exposure roll of 35mm, $4.95 (also available in 24-exposure and 120 rolls)
2. Ilford HP5 Plus
This long-running ISO 400 black-and-white film is noted for its fine grain, high edge detail, and excellent overall performance in a wide variety of lighting conditions. Its contrast, while high, is less pronounced than that of Tri-X, which appeals to shooters that prefer a more even tonal scale. It’s easy to scan, and has a base tint that makes it easier to evaluate on a light box. HP5 responds very well to push processing up to ISO 3200.
Price: 36-exposure rolls of 35mm, $5.29 (also available in 120 rolls)
3. Kodak Professional T-Max 400
This ISO 400 continuous tone black-and-white panchromatic film has a unique tabular grain structure said to be more efficient in capturing light, and it also appears less grainy than Tri-X. It provides a combination of extremely fine grain and high resolution, is more forgiving of overexposure errors than conventional black-and-white films, and has enhanced reciprocity at long and short exposure times. It can be exposed at ISO 800 with no exposure adjustment needed and at ISO 1600 with moderate push processing that only marginally increases graininess. T-Max 400 is a technically superior film, but it lacks the distinctive grain structure and crisp contrast of Tri-X.
Price: 36-exposure roll of 35mm, $5.49 (also available in 120 roll film, and 4x5 sheet film)
4. Ilford Delta 100 Professional
This outstanding medium speed black-and-white negative film yields extremely sharp, hi-res results with a uniformly fine grain structure thanks to the unique core-shell crystal structure of its emulsion. It has a nominal sensitivity of ISO 100/21° when developed in standard black and white chemistry, but its wide exposure latitude permits rating the film at an effective speed range of ISO 50 to 200 with excellent results. This versatile film is especially well suited for fine art and pictorial photography, as well as general applications requiring high edge sharpness and unobtrusive grain.
Price: 35mm 36-exposure rolls, $6.95; 120 rolls, $5.29
5. Ilford Pan F Plus
My favorite classic slow-speed panchromatic black and white negative film, it yields images with a very fine grain structure, which makes it ideal for large-scale printing applications such as display prints and photo murals. Its slow speed also captures a broad tonal range, along with high edge contrast, excellent resolution, and exquisite detail, making it suitable for pictorial and fine art photography. Pan F Plus has a nominal sensitivity of ISO 50/18° when developed in standard chemistry, but it can also be developed to higher contrast values for technical, copy, and scientific work.
Price: 35mm, 36-exposure rolls, $6.95; 120 rolls, $4.95
Three Top Color Negative Films
6. Kodak Ektar 100
Claimed to be the world’s finest color negative film, Kodak Ektar 100 captures images with an extremely fine, smooth grain pattern and saturated vivid colors, making it ideal for nature, travel, and outdoor photography as well as fashion and product shots. It incorporates Kodak’s T-Grain and Advanced Cubic emulsions, and it delivers excellent edge detail, shadow detail, outstanding sharpness, and an extremely wide dynamic range. One downside: Its rendition of Caucasian skin tones tends to be overly pink, but this is easily corrected in post-production scans.
Price: 36-exposure roll of 35mm, $6.95 (also available in 120 rolls and sheet film sizes
7. Fujifilm Fujicolor Pro 400H
This advanced ISO 400 color negative film incorporates Fuji’s proprietary 4th color layer to improve reproduction of neutral tones as well as overall color fidelity. It has excellent exposure latitude and yields great skin tones, shadow and highlight detail, and sharpness, which is why it’s widely used among wedding and commercial photographers. Combining low grain and a high effective film speed for low-light work, it provides clean, accurate color reproduction even under mixed light sources.
Price: 36-exposure 35mm rolls, $10.49
8. Kodak Portra 800
Its high speed of ISO 800 makes it an excellent choice for low-light work, but this advanced T-Grain film also delivers a combination of excellent color saturation and relatively low contrast, making it easier to achieve consistently accurate skin tones. Grain is remarkably fine for a film of this speed, and it delivers excellent sharpness along with extended exposure latitude. It delivers consistent field and studio performance, a predictable tonal range, and excellent reproduction and sharpness when it’s scanned.
Price: 36-exposure rolls of 35mm, $8.99 (also available as a 120 roll film 5-pack)
Two Outstanding Color Transparency Films
9. Fujifilm Fujichrome Velvia RVP 50
In the waning days of Kodachrome, Fuji’s Velvia 50 was its only serious competitor, and it’s still widely regarded as the best E-6-process film ever made. Offering high color saturation, brilliant color reproduction, extraordinary sharpness, and extremely fine grain, this slow ISO 50 color transparency film is held in the highest esteem by critical users especially those that make poster-size prints and big enlargements. Velvia 50 also has a uniquely beautiful color palette with deep, rich hues, has the ability to render neutral grays, and can capture fine details and excellent shadow detail even when push processed.
Price: 35mm 36-exposure rolls, $10.99 (also available as a 120 roll film 5-pack)
10. Fujichrome Velvia 100 Professional RVP
Like its slower stable-mate Fujichrome Velvia RVP 50, it delivers exceptionally high color saturation and brilliance along with very fine grain. It provides a medium-speed nominal sensitivity of ISO 100/21° when processed in E-6 or CR-56 processes and can effectively be pulled one half stop or pushed one stop with minimal variations in color balance and gradation. It employs a new-generation of cyan, magenta, and yellow couplers, giving this film its uniquely saturated look and also offers anti-fading characteristics for enhanced color image storage permanence. Its vivid color reproduction makes it ideal in a wide range of photographic applications, especially scenic and nature photography.
Price: $10.59 per 36-exposure roll of 35mm film
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