Choosing the Best Film
Yes, it's true... some still shoot with that ancient photographic technology called film. But for film photographers, with all
the other choices we have to make out in the field, we need this choice to be simple. At the very least, we want to feel confident that the images we're making
on Kodak stock would not have been better on Fuji or another film.
I have two words for you:
Take a deep breath right now and claim a sense of dominion over all those tiny little
boxes that stare at you from behind the film counter.
Perhaps it will help to know that you are not alone in this problem So many budding
photographers get paralyzed when trying to pick the right film. And, in fact, trying
to choose the right film for the right job is a righteous and worthy undertaking.
The problem usually comes in two ways. First,
the seeker is looking for that elusive, perfect, "all-around" film (or brand of
film) that will make it unnecessary to ever think about film again. Second, the
seeker gets so obsessed with this particular choice that all the other choices involved
in making great photographs - and there are many - become overshadowed and forgotten.
There is no such thing as an all-around film. Photography is a multi-faceted profession
with many different kinds of work being performed within it, each requiring its
own kind of film. Although this may seem daunting at first, this variety actually
makes film choosing much easier for the novice; you can eliminate a multitude of
films and simplify your endeavors just by recognizing which ten or so you will be
working with most.
In order to do this you will need to think clearly, and in order
to think clearly it will be necessary to cast aside any fear. The only way to really
learn is to experiment.
By all means, read what the film companies, supply houses, and other photographers
have to say about the various kinds of film they sell or use. The professionals,
since they use the stuff on a daily basis in their efforts to make a living, will
usually have the best advice. However, most professionals like to reinforce their
sense of identity by purchasing and using the professional quality films. These
cost more, require more care, and may produce superior results.
In the end, though, you will need to buy a roll or two and start shooting. Where
to begin? Let BetterPhoto.com show you the way.
The Best Film
The best film is...
Wait a minute... there is no best film. What am I talking about?!
Although there is no one all-around film, here are a few tips for choosing your
"best" film among the many amateur films and a few of the professional films.
The Right Type of
Choosing between color slide, black and white, color negative film all depends on
what you want as an end result. If you love to put prints on your walls or in your
albums, do not use slide film just because you have heard that the quality of slide
film is much better. It is true that slides, or transparencies, often have much
more saturated color, but only when you view them through a projector or on a lightbox.
Why Shoot Black and
Tones, shapes, lines... all the graphic elements of an image come to the forefront
when color is not an issue.
With black and white, the photographer is encouraged to view the photograph as a
combination of graphic elements instead of a scene with recognizable objects in
it. After a while, a conscientious black and white photographer also begins to see
and control the range of tones available. She learns how to play with shades and
highlights to add drama or otherwise create interesting effects.
Furthermore, if this artist has access to a darkroom, the black and white photographer
will find it much easier to develop the film and print the negative. In this way,
she will have more control for the final print.
Some may also argue that greater clarity and sharpness are to be found in black
and white than with color.
For more, read our article on the Merits of Black and White
by all means, go for slides.
Enjoy tacking friends and family to your sofa for hours on end while you click-and-tell,
Plan on writing a book and need the photos for illustrations; or,
Hope to sell your work as stock photography...
However, if you think you will eventually want most a picture on a piece of paper,
prints from slides will be inferior in quality or cost extra money to have a professional
do a decent job on them.
Speed of Film
The speed of film you choose also depends upon your objectives. As films with faster
speeds (higher ISO or ASA numbers) are grainier, they do not have the same degree
of sharpness and color as films with slower speeds (lower ISO or ASA numbers). The
more you enlarge an image, the more you see this effect. Therefore, slower speeds
are better for those wanting the sharpest results, enlargements.
Slower speed films have a big disadvantage to the general snapshooter. As they need
more light to make a picture, they are not as easy to use in low-light conditions
as a fast film such as Kodak
Max 800. Serious photographers often use a tripod and shoot with as slow
of a film as they can, e.g.
If you just want decent pictures to put in your album, 400 is likely to be the best
choice. However, if you suspect any chance you will want to enlarge or sell
the image, go for 100 or less. When you compare 10 X 14's or published transparencies,
the sharpness and color saturation of slower films are unquestionably better.
Brand of Film
As for the make of the film, you decide. This is a mostly matter of personal preference
and, like any such matters, we tend to hold them too sacred and fight to the bitter
end to support our own personal view. I prefer Fuji Velvia - but then again, I love
the Honda I drive and some people feel differently about such things.
C-41 vs. Proprietary
Have you ever received a free roll of film in the mail and wondered what to do with
it, if it was really okay or if it was just some kind of scam?
When you get such film, take a close look at it. If you do not see "C-41" anywhere
on it, just throw it out... unless you want to send it back to the company who "gave"
it to you to have it developed. Most of these so-called freebies are gimmicks and
you will not be able to get your pictures developed at any lab
other than the one that sent you the film. This is a marketing trick that confuses
and frustrates a lot of picture-takers who do not want to deal with mail order labs.
To save yourself any frustration after you have taken a whole roll of great pictures,
throw it out and buy a roll that you can have developed at your local lab.