Shutterbug’s 2005 Picks Of The Top Slide Films; Despite Today’s Digital Revolution, Chromes Are Better Than Ever

Now doesn't it seem ironic that just as we're in the midst of the digital revolution that slide films are at the peak of performance and quality? While all sounds like doom and gloom when it comes to silver-based products, around my circle of friends I find that most are still shooting film at a rate close to or even sometimes more than they were shooting before. Sure, they have purchased a digital SLR camera, but I think the keyword here is "transition," as most are not quite ready to give up their film cameras or the newer slide films.

Case in point: For years now, I have been documenting the American railroad scene. With over 15,000 slides on file, it's hard to move into digital because of workflow and my own filing system. In addition, I want to take advantage of the newer, more modern emulsions, which, in my view, can rival the quality of even larger megapixel cameras. The wide variety of films available adds yet another dimension to photography with a host of film speeds, color characteristics, and even different grain and sharpness qualities. I've also found that most photographers are happy using only one or two types of film on their photographic outings. They simply like the "personality" their favorite films delivered.

So here's our pick of 15 great slide films, including many that I use all the time and a few I revisited when researching this article. As of this writing, all were available from leading photo stores. The compiled list is in no particular order of preference, but I think you'll find that among all the films you'll find a few that match the way you like to see, shoot, and show off just how you see the world.

1. Agfa RSX II 50 (ISO 50)
This film is hard to beat for all-around shooting. Even in bright sunlight, my tests show that highlights held tight while the shadows were rich in detail and smooth in color and lacking (to an extent) the coolness sometimes associated with other films in this speed class. Grain was nonexistent, colors were bright but not overly saturated, and contrast was kept in control.

When in Germany, do as the Germans do! A few rolls of Agfa's RSX II 50 film purchased there proved its mettle by holding both highlight and shadow details in this scene on the Rhine River. A polarizer added a touch of contrast to the cloud-laden sky.
All Photos © 2005, Stan Trzoniec, All Rights Reserved

2. Agfa RSX II 100 (ISO 100)
For landscape photographers, Agfa's RSX II 100 film is a revelation! Sharpness of all my images was outstanding and combined with an impressive saturation curve makes this an excellent choice for any outdoor photographer. Photographs taken of a bright white New England church showed clean whites against a deep blue sky that rivaled the use of a polarizer. Images taken to balance both sun and shade showed more than enough detail in both to satisfy the most discriminating film user and can be pushed one or even two stops.

Now here is a tough lighting problem which the Agfa RSX II 100 film handled with aplomb. A white church against a blue sky and by the looks of things, it looked like I used a polarizer. Truth is this photograph was taken without any help by filter or polarizer!

3. Agfa CT precisa 200 (ISO 200)
This chrome film is aimed at the consumer market (vs. a pro film) and I found it to be warm in color with clean whites and just enough saturation to make it a good choice for all-around shooting. Overcast days produced cooler images but were easily cleaned up with the addition of an 81A filter. There is a slight grain pattern visible in all of my processed film and this might be a good choice for those who may want to accent this feature on larger prints.

At the local botanical garden, this lovely flower was taken with a double exposure on Agfa's CT precisa 200 film. I took one exposure with the flower sharp, the other with the 180mm Sigma Macro lens racked out to infinity.

4. Fujichrome Astia 100F Professional (ISO 100)
This new version is an improvement over previous emulsions. Made for commercial photographers looking for faithful reproduction, all colors render without undue contrast while retaining excellent details across a wide range of sharpness and rich color. Fuji rates this film with an RMS granularity value of 10, which places it just above Velvia 50 (9) and below Provia 400F (13).

The Fujichrome Astia 100F Professional was a real surprise for me as it was the first time I had used this film. With very fine grain, it is the film of choice when high saturation is not wanted, especially when working the deep shadows of early morning photography.

5. Fujichrome Sensia 100 (ISO 100)
This is what I call my "coffee break" film as by the time this part of the morning comes most stop shooting and Sensia comes to the rescue. I find it a bit warmer than most and when the sun is high, this amounts to a built-in 81A filter that has been incorporated deep within the layers of the emulsion. I like its blend of realistic colors and sharpness, which makes it a regular visitor to my camera bag.

Fujichrome Sensia 100 is another film that seems to be a sleeper with many camera enthusiasts. For subjects in both sun and shadow, this is a great general-purpose film to use, especially when you want a slower speed film to help accent the running water in a brook.

6. Fujichrome 64T Type II Professional (ISO 64)
While working on a how-to-do-it book on model railroads I wanted to combine a tungsten film with a bank of photofloods for photos of the project from beginning to end. The choice was Fujifilm's 64T Type II Professional film as it gave me plenty of punch for colorful model locomotives and deep green scenery details. The result was a film that delivered ultra-fine grain and better than average reciprocity characteristics all within a comfortable and acceptable ISO range of 64.

I just finished a how-to-do book on model railroads and used Fujichrome 64T Type II film exclusively. Note the brilliant colors and any lack of grain on this miniature setting.

7. Fujichrome Provia 100F (ISO 100)
Boosting the best RMS value (8) of just about any film on the market today, Provia 100F has indeed found its way up the popularity scale among serious outdoor photographers. Sporting Fujifilm's Super-Fine Sigma-Crystal and Micro-Grain Solubility Control Technology, it offers smooth, vibrant color that also delivers when scanned for large prints. It is extremely sharp and for early morning or late in the day shooting is one of the best film-based products you can buy.

One of the all-time greats, Fujichrome Provia 100F is the mainstay in my camera bag. This water lily was captured with a Nikon F5, 200-400mm VR lens, and a polarizer to darken the water and bring out the pure white of this aquatic plant.

8. Fujichrome Provia 400F (ISO 400)
Provia 400F seems to have taken most by surprise. Color saturation is about a step below but very close to its Provia 100 counterpart. Grain is very fine for a high-speed film, giving you two stops of additional speed over the 100. It's a film that lets you keep shooting even if you are caught after the light gets low. Additionally, Provia 400F is comfortable being pushed and, if your lab has the capacity, it can be extended to ISO 800, 1600, or 3200 while still retaining a good balance between color and contrast.

Looking for extra film speed to catch the action? This brace of Canadian geese were recorded with my Nikon F5 and 600mm lens on Fujichrome Provia 400F film.