How to Choose Film for Your Camera

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How to Choose Film for Your Camera

When choosing film for a camera, there are a number of considerations to take into account. There really is no ‘one size fits all’ for film, with different variants producing different results. Often, the most challenging film to get to grips with gives the best results, but there are plenty of options for those looking to create good quality photographs with ease and simplicity.

Why Choose a Film Camera?

Digital cameras are very popular, and film cameras are often seen as a little dated, but both have their own advantages, and film cameras can offer aspects that digital cannot. Perhaps the greatest advantage of traditional film is the versatility and control over practically every aspect of the picture. Lenses, especially extreme lenses, are more affordable for film cameras simply because there is less demand, and picture quality is generally greater, specifically when planning to enlarge a photograph as many digital cameras do not have a resolution high enough to maintain the quality when the image size is increased.

Buying Film for Your Camera

The type of film chosen for a camera is all down to personal taste, with photographers generally having their favourite tools just as a builder would, for example. The type, speed, and format should be taken into account, and while there is no right or wrong film as such, some film is more highly regarded than others.

Type of Film

Camera film is available in either colour or black and white, and as long as the film fits the camera, it makes no difference whether the camera is labelled as a colour or black and white piece of equipment. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, with some photographers arguing that colour allows for greater control and manipulation, while black and white creates a ‘cleaner’ image.

Colour

Colour film is still a relatively new concept, having only been used with any regularity since the 20th century. Many photographers feel that the control and digital processing options of colour film greatly surpass those of black and white film and may even shoot in colour and convert to black and white during processing.

Black and White

Black and white film may seem dated, but the archival quality is unrivalled. The dyes in colour film can run or fade with age, but black and white film tends to remain high quality, assuming good care and maintenance. For photographs that will not be stored digitally, black and white film is the best option for longevity.

Black and White Infrared

Black and white infrared film is somewhat rare, and demand is relatively low due to the challenges in both shooting and processing this type of film. Particularly sensitive to infrared light, this film is primarily used to shoot green vegetation, which displays as white or grey on the photograph due to photosynthesis.

Colour Infrared

Colour infrared is even more rare than black and white infrared, but the results are fascinatingly unique. The infrared sensitivity creates a bright pink hue onto objects, which can be altered to oranges and yellows with coloured filters. This type of film is largely discontinued by major suppliers and is very difficult to get hold of.

Film Speed

Film speed is a vital consideration when choosing film for a camera. Film speed is categorised in terms of ISO, typically ranging from 25 to 1600. The higher speed films are more sensitive to light and can be used in darker conditions than the lower speeds although the advantage of a lower speed is that the quality of the photograph is often better, with less graininess.

25 ISO

The lowest speed of film commercially available, the 25 ISO film needs a great deal of light to create a good photograph. Even natural lighting may not be sufficient, so this film is often used for portraits and still life in lighting-controlled studios.

50 ISO

50 ISO speed film is generally very similar to 25 ISO and is often used in the same conditions. However, some photographers do find that picture quality is sometimes not as good as photographs taken with 100 ISO speed as it is not a ‘native’ ISO.

100 ISO

The 100 ISO speed is the lowest ‘native’ ISO. That is, it is the lowest maximum a camera can use to its full potential. For this reason, picture quality tends to be better than the lower speeds, and the film can still be used in photography studios and other high-lit venues.

200 ISO

200 ISO is perhaps the lowest speed film that can successfully be used outdoors although bright and sunny conditions are required. The detail captured at this medium speed is exceptional, and if using colour film, the high saturation is well documented.

400 ISO

The 400 ISO speed is twice as sensitive to light as the 200 ISO. It is widely considered to be an ‘all round’ film, having a mid-range sensitivity, contrast, and grain. Beginners and amateurs to film photography should consider this as a good starting point.

800 ISO

The 800 ISO is where film really starts to change, needing less light to create shorter exposures. Due to the sensitivity and response, this speed is frequently used to capture slow moving objects, such as children running or cars driving past.

1200 ISO

The 1200 ISO is quite similar to the 800 ISO. Although it is particularly suited to darker conditions, it can really be used in any sort of light to capture moving objects. The shorter exposure and quicker response mean it can photograph faster moving objects.

1600 ISO

The fastest commercially available film speed, this is really only required for very high speed and professional shots, and is unlikely to be needed by everyday or amateur photographers. Picture quality is low, especially when the photograph is enlarged.

Film Format

Many amateurs may only be familiar with 35mm film as it is inexpensive, widely available, and easy to use although there are many other formats worth considering when choosing film for a camera. Depending on the sort of pictures a photographer plans to take, a medium or large format film could be a better option.

Large Format

Large format film is considered to be the best format for landscape shots. Usually coming in 4 x 5, 5 x 7 is also common throughout the UK. It is one of the most cost effective film formats available and is known for the simplicity in bringing the image into focus.

Medium Format

120 and 220 print are the most popular types of medium format film available. Medium format is generally very easy to use and boasts many of the same advantages as the 35mm, such as the ability to expose to daylight, but with added extras, such as higher quality.

35mm

35mm is the most popular format of film in the world. Support and processing is widely available for 35mm film, and it is considered a good all-rounder, but many professionals argue it is strictly for amateur and beginner use.

APS

Advanced Photo System film is largely discontinued and very difficult to get hold of. Unfortunately, APS film was costly, difficult, and expensive to process, and offered little advantage over the standard 35mm. Picture quality was consistently poorer too.

Instant

First introduced by Polaroid, instant film is designed with special chemicals that accelerate the development of the photograph upon exposure to light. Instant film has gone through peaks and troughs of popularity since its launch in the 1940s.

Professional Versus Consumer Film

As well as various types, formats, and speeds, film is also available in both professional and consumer quality. On the surface, professional film is much more costly than consumer film, and amateurs, beginners, and even hobbyists needn’t really consider this sort of product as consumer film does a perfectly adequate job. However, for ultimate control over colour and contrast, professional photographers may wish to choose a professional quality film. A good compromise between the two is the semi-professional range, such as Kodak Select, which minimises graininess and enhances colour saturation while still being affordable.

Conclusion

Choosing film for a camera is really all down to personal preference. Be sure to consider type, speed, and format when making the decision. Remember that, in general terms, colour film is considered to offer greater control, the lower the film speed the greater the quality, and 35mm film is a great starting point for those dipping their toes into amateur photography.

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