While most photographers shoot digitally, film is not quite dead yet. Sure, demand for light-sensitive celluloid has dwindled, but there is still a large following for film despite what is in favor of the majority. Those who have not shot a roll of film in their lifetime may ask “Why bother with film?” It is not as convenient as the digital and not to mention it’s becoming a little more expensive to maintain, but there are still many people who shoot film for their own reasons. Although you can blame a few for being stubborn or nostalgic, film produces unmatched image quality even by today's technological standards. There is simply nothing like it. In return for some time and effort, the result is something digital can only hope to achieve. While digital cameras are the most used cameras today, film still gathers interest by new and old photographers alike and continues to hold its legacy after more than a 100 years.
Purpose of the Guide
There are many types of film offered in various formats and can be a little confusing to those who are new to analog. This buying guide will help you sort them out.
What is film?
Film is a strip or sheet of transparent plastic film base coated on one side with gelatin that contains small light-sensitive silver halide crystals. The size of these silver particles determines how sensitive to light it is, along with the amount of contrast and resolution of the film.
The way film works is that a camera shutter exposes the film only for a short amount of time causing a small chemical change in the film. This creates an invisible latent image that is not seen unless developed. Since the emulsion is sensitive to light, exposing it to light outside a camera will ruin the film, making all your images black. Film is also very sensitive to X-Rays, but not particularly sensitive to ultraviolet light.
Film is composed of many layers which feature silver halide crystals, which are different depending on type of film. Black and white films usually have one layer of silver salts which get converted to metallic silver after being developed. This metallic silver blocks light and appears as the black part on a film negative. Color film uses at least three layers of silver halide, sensitive to different colors: Red, Blue and Green.
Features of Film
There are three major types of film still being produced
- Print Film
Once developed creates a transparent negative where the light and dark parts of an image are reversed. This type of film is made to be printed on photographic paper through an enlarger and developed in a darkroom setting. Traditional black and white films and C41 color film are common types.
- Color Reversal Film
These films produce positive transparencies which are commonly referred to as chrome or slide film. Some professional photographers still use large format color reversal film to create extremely high resolution scans. Although one can make prints from this type of film, they are generally more expensive than a print made by a negative. All color reversal film sold today is developed with the E-6 process. Black and white reversal film exists, but is very rare these days.
- Instant Film
This type of film is used by a instant camera which exposes and starts the developing process after the photo has been taken. It contains all the chemicals needed for developing and fixing a photo and produces a full image after some time. While Polaroid was one of the big instant film manufacturers, Fuji is the only major producer of instant films. The Impossible Project also makes some film used for the Polaroid’s long discontinued 600 film.
- Film Size
The most common size for film is 35mm which is sold in cassette form. This film features sprocket holes that fit in any 35mm format film camera. 120 film is a medium format film that comes in a 60mm wide roll. Each frame varies depending on the format taken, but medium format rolls generally hold less exposures than 35mm. 220 is a similar format that doubles the length of 120 film for more exposures per roll. Large format films do not come in a roll, but rather sheets. Typical large format sizes are 4x5 and 8x10.
Although more expensive, a larger negative means higher resolution for sharper enlargements. A 35mm negative can easily produce a clear 8x10” image, but a larger image causes the image to be less sharp. Medium and large format negatives can be used for very large prints without much trouble. When scanned they can produce images with extremely high resolution which trumps that of even some of the best DSLRs.
- Film Speed
Film speed is a numerical value that represents any film's sensitivity to light. This value is commonly referred to as ISO. A the higher the number, the more sensitive a film is to light. A low number means that the film is “slower” or less sensitive to light. EX: ISO 50 is better for bright daylight or long exposure, while a film with an 3200 ISO is better for shooting in low light without having very slow shutter speeds. “Slow” film has very fine particles of silver, which produces images that have virtually non-existent grain when enlarged as a print. Hi ISO film features much more grain which produces a grittier look with harsh contrast. Common film speeds are ISO 25, 50, 64, 100, 160, 200, 400, 800, 1600, and 3200.
Top Film Manufacturers
Even though camera films were not being used for some years and many camera film companies stopped producing it, there are some manufacturers that are still making camera film. Some of the leading companies that manufacture camera films have been listed here.
Kodak is a well-known company that produces a wide range of black & white and color negative films. Kodak films are famous for providing the sharpest and finest films that give high quality images even in worst conditions.
Fuji is the Japanese manufacturer that is famous for creating film for all types of cameras. They have created their own line of instant films as well as instant cameras. Fuji instant film works on the principle of developer backing which can create an image without printing. Fuji instant provides two different sizes of photos namely, Instax Mini and Instax Wide. The Instax mini creates images that are the size of a wallet photo while Instax wide produces images having 6x10 cm dimensions. Fuji produces the Instax instant camera film that can be used with Fuji cameras.
Ilford has made its mark by strengthening its position in the global photographic market. Ilford films are the best in terms of speed and also provide fine grain results. These films give good sharpness and nice tones and also provide great results for exposure and development. Ilford medium format films are a perfect choice for landscape photography as they give improved sharpness, clarity and overall acceptance of the image. These films are the best for doing fine arts photography that needs pinpoint detailing.
Impossible manufactures fresh instant film materials for traditional Polaroid cameras at the original production plant in Enschede (NL). Keeping variety, tangibility and creativity alive, Impossible prevents more than 300 million perfectly functioning cameras from becoming obsolete and thus changes the world of photography.
Before purchasing a camera film, it is necessary to be familiar with the various terms related to the film. These terms will help in buying the camera that will work with that specific film. Let us check out the different important terms and what each of them means.
- An image on a strip or sheet of transparent plastic film, in which the light areas of an image appear dark and the dark areas appear light. Used in an enlarger, this reversal allows a printed image to have the correct tonality.
- Slide/Chrome/Reversal Film:
- Type of film that creates a positive image instead of a negative image. In 35mm format, these positives are mounted to a slide for use with a projector.
- ISO/Film Speed:
- A numeric value for the film's sensitivity to light. A low ISO is good for lots of light while a high ISO is good for use with low light.
- The size of silver halide crystals used to absorb light. Low ISO film usually has very low grain which means cleaner prints. High ISO film produces more grain which means a grittier images.
- The size of the film. 35mm is the most used film and comes in a canister. Medium and large formats have higher resolution, but are more costly.
- Silver Halide:
- Light sensitive crystals used in the film emulsion. This allows the film to absorb light.
- Remember never to expose film to light, this will automatically ruin your paper. Even a little bit of light can “fog” your film creating a black image after being developed.
- Chose the right film. Some films cannot be processed by your local film lab. Traditional black and white films can require different chemicals and processes than a color negative which requires the C41 process. C41 can be developed by most labs, Slide film can only be produced by specialized labs.
- Store film in a cool place. Heat along with light can easily ruin film. When not using film it’s advised to keep it in the freezer to preserve it.
- Larger formats may be more expensive but if you want larger prints or scans with very large resolution, this is the way to go.
- Professional films usually have finer grain and better color representation. While consumer films are cheaper, professional films have much better image quality.