Colour Film Buying Guide

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Colour Film Buying Guide

Some may believe that shooting with a film camera is redundant in this age of digital photography. However, shooting with film requires skill, experience and doing so can produce photographs that can only be made on digital with the assistance of photography applications. There is also a certain vintage feel about shooting with film that some photographers love.
For those who have never shot with film before, or have not done so for many years, it can be difficult to know what to look for when purchasing colour film. Follow the guide below to learn to make the right choice.

Why Is Choosing the Right Film Important?

Digital cameras of all kinds take photographs in the same way as they respond to light regardless of the ISO that is being used. There may be some differences between pictures taken with different ISOs, such as distribution of light noise and contrast, but these differences are very slight. This allows for an almost uniform level of photo from which to start post production effects (which is where digital cameras really come into their own). Post production effects can do a wide variety of things, such as change the picture from colour to black and white, add contrast, desaturisation, borders etc.
By comparison with film cameras, however, the film that is chosen and loaded into the camera to take the photograph is vitally important, as is the way the photos are shot and how they are developed. Shooting with film requires some thought and consideration into the intended final product beforehand. Obviously there can be no post production effects applied to film photographs, which means that taking time to prepare beforehand is vital.
A big difference with film is that the ISO cannot be changed for a roll of film once it has been chosen, so it is important to get that right beforehand. And choosing the right ISO is very important too - higher ISO will produce more grainy photos, with higher contrast and less detail. Shooting in a range of lighting conditions requires an ISO of around 400, but in conditions where there is more light, it is recommended that film in the 100-200 ISO range be used. Locations such as dimly lit music halls may require an ISO of up to 1600 to produce decent photographs.

Types of Colour Film

There are two types of colour film available, which are colour negative (also known as colour print film or C-41 process), and slide film (also known as colour positive, reversal, transparency, or E6 process). The difference between them is that colour negative film gives a negative image suitable for traditional forms of printing, and slide film gives a positive image that can be viewed via a lightbox.

Colour Negative Film

Colour negative C-41 film is the most common film available on the market and can be produced virtually anywhere with photo printing capabilities. Being able to drop off a roll of film for it to be developed is useful although in order to get truly good photographs, it is always best to use a professional lab. Colour negative film is easily recognisable by the fact that it is orange-tinted and the colours are inverted to look at.
Those with access to a scanner and a bit of knowledge may wish to scan their negatives first before taking the negatives to be printed since this gives the photographer greater control over the image colour and quality of the scan. If this method is chosen, however, it is best to then take the results to a professional lab, as some high street photo printers will not be able to print them. Colour negative film is also quite forgiving in the sense that exposure does not have to be perfect. In this respect, colour negative film is similar to taking digital camera photos as there is room for the photographer to manoeuvre.

E-6 Slide Film

Slide film, however, is more specialist and very difficult to find in stores (although it is relatively easy to locate online). Slide film generally lies within the 50-100 ISO range, meaning that it is not practical for indoor shooting or areas with low level light unless a flash is also in use. The dynamic shooting range of slide film is much less than that of negative film, and as it is positive film, care needs to be taken into how the process is done or the photographs will be ruined. In this respect slide film is similar to a digital JPEG. Slide film is always best viewed by the human eye through a projector and is not tolerant to either under or over exposure.
Slide film can be processed in the same way as C-41 film (a process known as cross-processing, or X-pro for short), which will give a negative image on the film. By doing so, this gives a higher saturation and colour casts on the images, particularly if the negatives have been treated as colour during the scanning process. Colour negative film has an orange backing, whereas slide film is clear, so if slide film is processed as colour negative, the settings automatically adjust for the orange backing, giving the slide film a green tint. There are digital camera applications that can provide the same effect, but this is how it works in film processing. It is also possible to take slide film that has been processed as colour positive and invert the image using a program such as photoshop, which will alter the colour and saturation levels slightly.

Buying Cold Stored Film

Wherever possible, it is recommended that fresh film be purchased; however, if film has been suitably stored, there is no reason why it cannot be used to produce good photographs. The best way to store film when it is not being used is through freezing it. Film for sale that is marketed as being cold stored is exactly that: film that has been frozen. This is a method normally used by professional photographers who use a lot of film. Film that has been cold stored can safely be used well after its expiry date, provided it is in good condition.
Film is best kept stored in a cool place (at least a fridge if not a freezer) as heat damages the film and causes the emulsion to break down, leading to faded colours, a more grainy consistency, and other forms of heat damage. C-41 colour film is particularly susceptible to damage if it has been badly stored, so exercise caution when purchasing out-of-date C41 film if it has not been kept cold stored.

Buying Colour Film

Always aim for good quality, reliable film even if this makes it more expensive. This is particularly recommended if purchasing out-of-date cold stored film since better brands last longer. Kodak is a brand name highly regarded in this area, among others.

Conclusion

Colour film can be found in two different types, both of which have very different uses. Using colour film can be a great liberating experience for a photographer, and colour film still very much has its place in the photography world. Always conduct sufficient research into the desired film before making a purchase as the type and quality of the film is far more important to taking a photograph than any modern day digital camera is to its own photographs.

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