By now, you may be familiar with the many digital filters that replicate the look and feel of film photography. Despite their popularity, the truth is that once you experience shooting with the real deal, you may find yourself becoming obsessed with it.
The biggest difference is that with film, the magic happens in your analog camera rather than on your smartphone or computer.
What makes film such an exciting medium is that every emulsion has its own unique, visual qualities. To help you find your camera’s analog soulmate, let’s take a look at a few popular films that have become iconic for their nostalgic look and unrivaled performance.
First introduced in 1998, Kodak Portra is the film of choice for most portrait and wedding photographers. This film does a great job of reproducing skin tones, which makes it perfect for shooting people.
Portra comes in ISO 160, 400, and 800. However, it’s ISO 400 that proves to be the most versatile because of its fine grain and its ability to capture stunning images even in poorly-lit conditions.
If you want your photos to have vivid colors and high saturation, then Ektar is the best film to use. Ektar is an acronym for Eastman Kodak Tessar, which is the former name for Kodak’s professional lenses.
Although the lenses were discontinued in the 1960's, the name stuck for the popular film, which is still available today.
Fujifilm Provia 100F is a great choice for creating photos that don’t look like film at all. Since it’s a slide film, it performs well at reproducing colors and details that rival that of modern high-end DSLRs.
However, using this film also means you have to be precise with your camera settings. Slide films like Provia are so accurate that they’re less forgiving than negative films if you make mistakes.
Introduced in the 1940's, the Tri-X was the go-to film for photojournalists during that era. Because it’s a high-speed film capable of capturing fleeting moments, it has also become popular among street photographers.
Apart from its impeccable performance, this film also generates a great sense of nostalgia due to its dramatic, monochromatic palette.
First produced in 1931 as panchromatic plates, this HP black and white emulsion is considered to be Kodak Tri-X’s direct competitor. The very first HP 35mm film was made in 1935 and went through a series of updates through the years, ending with HP5 in 1989.
HP5 Plus subsequently replaced HP5 in the same year. It has never been updated since, and it still remains one of the best films Ilford has ever manufactured.
If you want a grainy, lo-fi film look, then you might want to consider buying the Lomography Color 400. It’s not as technically perfect as Kodak, Fujifilm, or Ilford. However, the Color 400 has all the character that you want in a film, such as grain, vivid colors, and high contrast.
Its rough look and raw aesthetic is also precisely the reason it's the perfect companion to those playful Lomography cameras.
Fujifilm Pro 400 H is Fuji’s answer to Kodak’s Portra. Just like its Kodak counterpart, the Pro 400 H is renowned for capturing skin tones well.
However, that doesn’t mean that the Pro 400 H and Portra are exactly the same. In fact, the Pro 400 H tends to produce more muted colors than Portra. While some photographers appreciate this subdued, washed-out palette, others still prefer the aesthetics of Portra.
08. Lomochrome Purple
A few years ago, Lomography developed a film emulsion similar to Kodak’s discontinued infrared-sensitive film called Aerochrome.
Although it’s not an infrared film by any means, it responds to a specific light spectrum that turns some colors into strange purplish hues. It may not be an all-around film, but its uniquely psychedelic and unpredictable look is what puts this film on our list.
Kodak’s Kodachrome and Ektachrome are arguably the company’s most iconic films. The only problem is that they’ve both been discontinued. The reason Ektachrome has made the list, however, is that Kodak is set to revive it in 2018.
This slide film is so versatile that it was used by National Geographic photographers for decades. It’s a fast emulsion, that is known to reproduce colors faithfully. For proof of its superiority, just browse through any of the pre-2000's issues of National Geographic lying around your house.
Fuji Velvia 50 slide film was (and still is!) a favorite among landscape film photographers. It produces highly saturated images that make the colors in each photo pop.
This particular film emulsion was actually discontinued in 2005. However, you can still buy packs of them to this day. Although they’re quite expensive now, it's still worth investing in them considering the quality of the photos they produce.
If you’re interested in trying infrared photography, then the Ilford SFX 200 is the best film to use. Unlike other IR films, you can load it in subdued light and develop it using conventional black and white chemistry.
Although it’s technically a black and white film, it’s more sensitive to infrared than any other stock. When you screw on a red (or other colors such as yellow or orange) filter on your lens, you’ll get photos that look strikingly surreal.
In the early 2000s, cross-processing became trendy especially when Lomography blew up. Cross-processing is a technique that involves processing film with chemicals intended for another film type, resulting in highly saturated, high-contrast photos. All of a sudden, these cross-processed photos were everywhere from people’s bedroom walls to websites like Flickr.
Due to the demand, Lomography created the XPro 200, a film stock explicitly designed for such use. Technically, XPro 200 is an E-6 slide film, but it is labeled to be processed with C-41 chemicals to create strange-colored photos. The XPro 200 produces cross-processed effects without having to worry about your local photo lab messing it up.
Looking for cheap film that produces pro-quality photos? Look no more because Kodak Gold 200 is for you. To this day, you can still buy Kodak Gold 200 at just about every supermarket and photo lab.
However, unlike other affordable films out there, Kodak Gold is capable of capturing rich colors and details comparable to higher-end film emulsions. Consequently, it’s become the go-to film for artists on a budget.
The Kodak Ultramax 400 is the ultimate all-around film. Load it into a decent SLR with excellent optics, and you can expect wonderfully crisp and colorful photos. Honestly, there’s nothing truly exceptional about this film as far as quality is concerned. However, it’s perfect for the casual user since you can still buy it everywhere. The high ISO also makes it so versatile that you can use it for just about any situation.
Some people believe that Gold and Ultramax are actually from the same emulsions but have different ISO levels. However, even this slight variation is arguably enough to make these two films distinct from one another.
Fujifilm has a long line of Superia products including the Reala, Natura, Premium, and True Definition. However, the Superia X-Tra is the most popular since it’s an all-purpose film perfect for the casual user.
The X-Tra is a direct competitor of the Ultramax. Just like its Kodak counterpart, there’s nothing special about it other than the fact that it’s still widely available. Nevertheless, it’s still a highly capable film that can produce high-quality images.
Colorplus is arguably among the cheapest 35mm films from Kodak. And it shows in the quality as well. It produces murky photos with subdued colors, and it tends to be on the grainy side.
However, it's precisely these qualities that make Colorplus 200 a favorite among analog shooters. The photos it produces undoubtedly have that film look that a lot of modern photo enthusiasts love.
Agfa used to be among the most renowned film manufacturers that competed with the big leagues such as Kodak and Fujifilm. Since the early 2000s, however, Vista 400 and the Vista Plus 200 were their only remaining consumer film products.
The Vista Plus 200 gained a lot of popularity because it was cheap and adaptable to various shooting conditions. That’s why analog shooters all over the world were devastated when Agfa announced that they were discontinuing the popular film in 2018. Good news is, you can still buy them today for less than $5 USD.
No matter which film you end up settling on, the beauty of the medium is that you never know exactly how your photos will turn out. It's this magic unpredictability and sense of surprise that sets it apart from the world of digital photography.
If you’ve just started thinking about film, now is the absolute perfect time to start shooting with it. With the current revival of analog photography, it's not yet too late to start. So pick a camera, load it up, and start exploring!