Whether you are new to film photography and just picked up your first vintage film camera, or are an experienced shooter, selecting the right 35mm film stock for your next project doesn’t have to be complicated. This is why I created this comprehensive guide to cover everything you need to know about the types of camera film available and the characteristics of different 35mm film stock to help you choose the perfect roll for your specific needs.
In my years of shooting with 35mm film, I have tested many different film stocks and I put my thoughts and experience together in this post in the hope it might help someone in the future.
Before we get into discussing a list of the best film stock, let’s cover some basics. If you don’t need to learn about the basics, use the table of contents below to skip forward to a section of the article that you might be looking for.
Table of Contents
|Why Should you Shoot With Film?|
|Types of 35mm Camera Film Stocks|
|Best Kodak 35mm Film Stocks|
|Best Fujifilm 35mm Film Stocks|
|Best Ilford 35mm Film Stocks|
|How to Choose the Right Film for You?|
Film photography is back, and here to stay. So if you’re here researching 35mm film stock you likely already know the answer to this, but to some beginners, there might be some neat facts about shooting with film, that you may have never considered.
As a professional photographer that shot primarily with digital, I was always chasing to capture the best and most realistic colors. Shooting digitally always proved to be a challenge in this quest to capture better colors, as cameras were usually limited to shooting 12-bit or 14-bit raw photos.
During this quest, I even went as far as purchasing a Fuji GFX 100 to be able to capture photos in 16-bit. Imagine spending nearly $20,000 for 16-bit color depth, when I could have simply shot with film.
Shooting with 35mm film has a bit depth of 8 bits per color channel (red, green, blue). This means that each color channel can capture 28 (256) distinct levels of color intensity or luminance. This is known as 8-bit color depth.
However, when the film is scanned, the bit depth may be increased to 12 or 16 bits per color channel, depending on the capability of the scanner. This improves color accuracy and dynamic range during the post-production process.
This is a huge economical advantage over shooting with high-end digital cameras and achieving a color accuracy that arguably is even better on film than it is on digital when comparing a 16-bit photo side by side. Shooting with 35mm film is one of the most cost-effective ways to get into vintage photography, unlike some of the more expensive alternatives like Polaroid film or large format 120mm film.
Another great reason to shoot with film, is to get out of a creative slump. Film photography has always been a way to get out of a creative rut when I feel stuck. Capturing images with different workflows or characteristics helps motivate me creatively.
So why does 16-bit color depth even matter?
So consider this. An 8-bit photo has three channels of 8-bit data, storing a maximum of 256 values in the Red, Green, and Blue channels. This creates 16,777,216 different possibilities of colors rendering in the photo. Moving to 10-bit you get up to over 1 billion different color possibilities and exponentially increase the number of colors from that point on.
By the time you get to 16-bit, you’re up to 281 trillion different colors, in comparison to 4.4 trillion present in a 14-bit photo. You can imagine why moving beyond the 14-bit maximum of most professional digital cameras has a high appeal.
When looking to purchase 35mm film for your film camera, there are three distinct types of film stock you can use and purchase. What type of film type you end up using is entirely up to you and the desired effect you are trying to capture in your photography.
Color-negative film stock is likely the most common type of film photographers buy. This film captures the color of a scene in a negative, meaning they are captured in their inverse. During the development process or digital post-processing, the negative is inverted back to its original colors.
This type of 35mm film is widely used in photography and cinematography applications as it offers a wide range of color and light sensitivity, allowing for a variety of shooting conditions. Some popular color-negative films include Kodak Ektar, Fujifilm Pro 400H, and Agfa Optima.
Their versatility does come with a tradeoff, as they are less forgiving and require more skill and experience to use than slide film also known as color-positive film.
Black and White Film
As the name suggests, black-and-white film is a type of film stock that captures images in shades of gray rather than color. When the film is exposed, it captures the light and dark tones of the scene. This results in a monochrome image, also known as black and white.
It offers a high level of contrast and tonal range, allowing for a variety of shooting conditions. Black and white film is known for its ability to capture the mood and emotion of a scene in a way that color film cannot.
Some popular black and white films include Ilford HP5, Kodak Tri-X, and Fujifilm Neopan. These films vary in their level of grain, contrast, and tonal range.
A black-and-white film can be used to create a wide range of photographic styles and effects, such as high-contrast, low-key, or high-key images. It is also used in fine art photography.
Also sometimes known as color-positive film or reversal film, slides also produce color photographs. This type of color film stock produces highly detailed and vibrant images. This film type is the most expensive type of film you can buy, and it is less common to find shops that will develop it.
Slides have perhaps about 5 or 6 f/stops of total scenic range, compared to perhaps 9 f-stops for negatives. Expose a slide half a stop off and the results are objectionable. Do that with negatives, and you may never even realize it (then the printing process can improve exposure, but the paper media decreases dynamic range).
1. Kodak Gold 200 35mm Film
Kodak Gold 200 is a popular color-negative film for 35mm cameras that is known for being affordable, accessible, and easy to use. The film has a wide exposure latitude, meaning it is forgiving if you under or overexpose your shots, making it a great option for beginner photographers. Kodak Gold 200 also delivers natural and vibrant colors that are true to life, with well-balanced skin tones.
However, Kodak Gold 200 has its limitations, including noticeable grain, particularly in low light conditions or when enlarging the image. The film also has a limited dynamic range, meaning it cannot capture the full range of light and dark tones, resulting in the potential loss of detail in highlights and shadows. Additionally, Kodak Gold 200 has low contrast, making images appear flat or lacking depth.
Overall, Kodak Gold 200 is a reliable and affordable film that is best suited for shooting in well-lit conditions. It is easily accessible and widely available in most camera stores and online retailers. However, photographers should be aware of its limitations, particularly when shooting in low light conditions, as this can result in underexposed or muddy images.
The Kodak Gold 200 film is an excellent choice for those looking to shoot film without breaking the bank.
This film is best used for everyday photography, such as capturing family moments, events, and casual outdoor scenes. It is also suitable for portrait and street photography where natural colors are desired. The film’s broad exposure latitude makes it a forgiving option for beginners or those shooting in challenging lighting situations. However, due to its limitations in dynamic range and color saturation, it may not be the best choice for professional or artistic work where more control over the final image is desired.
2. Kodak Ultramax 400 35mm Film
Another very popular Kodak 35mm film for vintage still cameras recognized for its adaptability and low cost is Kodak Ultramax 400. It’s a popular option for photographers who want a film that can work in a variety of lighting situations and produce natural-looking colors.
Kodak Ultramax 400 has the advantage of being suitable for a variety of photography styles, including portrait, landscape, and action photography. It can work in low light conditions as well as in direct sunlight, making it a dependable option for photographers who must adjust to various lighting scenarios.
Kodak Ultramax 400 produces realistic and accurate colors with good skin tones when it comes to color reproduction. For many photographers, the medium grain gives individuality to the pictures without being too obvious.
The cost-effectiveness of the Kodak Ultramax 400 is another excellent feature. It is one of the most affordable films available, making it available to photographers of all skill levels.
Yet there are certain considerations to make when using Kodak Ultramax 400. It may find it difficult to catch details in extremely bright or extremely dark places because its dynamic range isn’t as wide as that of certain other films. Moreover, compared to other films, its colors may appear a little muted to some photographers.
The Kodak Ultramax 400 is a great choice for many different types of photography and one of the most versatile and affordable 35mm films. The Kodak Ultramax 400 is a dependable option for daily shooting due to its wide exposure latitude, natural colors, and medium grain. Nonetheless, it’s crucial to take into account its limitations when it comes to dynamic range and color saturation. it may not be the best choice for professional or artistic work where more control over the final image is desired.
3. Kodak Colorplus 200 35mm Film
For everyday shooting, Kodak Colorplus 200 is a reasonably priced color-negative film that provides acceptable image quality and versatility. Because of its broad exposure latitude, it is a forgiving film that can work in a variety of lighting situations.
The film produces natural-looking, subtly saturated colors, making it a wonderful option for street photography, portraiture, and landscapes. Moreover, it has a tiny grain structure that creates images that are fairly sharp.
The cost-effectiveness of Kodak Colorplus 200 is one of its main benefits. It is one of the most reasonably priced films available, making it available to photographers of all skill levels.
However, employing Kodak Colorplus 200 has several restrictions that should be taken into account. It may find it difficult to catch details in extremely bright or extremely dark places since its dynamic range is not as great as that of certain other films. In some lighting situations, the film might also give a somewhat cooler color cast, which may not be preferred by all photographers.
Kodak Colorplus 200 is a respectable film all around that offers good image quality and versatility at a reasonable cost. It is a dependable option for everyday shooting due to its wide exposure latitude and realistic-looking colors. However, when determining whether or not to utilize this film, one should keep in mind its constrained dynamic range and potential for a colder color cast in some lighting situations
4. Kodak Portra 400 35mm Film
Kodak Portra 400 is a well-liked and highly regarded color-negative film used by photographers all over the world. It is especially popular among portrait, wedding, and commercial photographers due to its adaptability, stability, and natural color rendition. When paired with a capable film camera and vintage camera lens, this 35mm film stock can produce killer results.
One of Kodak Portra 400’s primary characteristics is its wide exposure latitude, which enables forgiving photography in a variety of lighting scenarios. This means that even if your exposure settings are off, the film may still capture fine detail in both the shadows and the highlights, producing an image that is well-balanced.
The fine-grain structure of Kodak Portra 400 is another noteworthy characteristic of the film. It contributes to the clear and extremely detailed images that capture that vintage aesthetic many photographers are after. It is therefore the best option for scenarios requiring high-resolution photos, such as in fashion and commercial photography.
Another strength of the film is how accurately and realistically the colors are depicted without looking unduly saturated or unnatural. This makes it a fantastic option for capturing a vintage portrait photography look because it can accurately capture skin tones and minor color variations.
Kodak Portra 400 is more expensive than other films on the market in terms of cost. Yet, for professional photographers who demand the best possible outcomes, the quality and consistency it offers make it a worthy purchase.
5. Fujifilm Fujicolor C200 35mm Film
A color-negative film from Fujifilm called Fujicolor C200 offers high image quality and adaptability at a reasonable cost. It can handle a variety of lighting settings thanks to its broad exposure latitude.
It is a fantastic choice for everyday shooting since the film creates colors that seem natural and have a light saturation. Moreover, it has a fine-grain structure that creates pictures that are rather crisp.
The Fujicolor C200’s accessibility to consumers is one of its key benefits. For photographers of all skill levels, it is one of the most affordable films available.
The film does have its drawbacks, though. Since it has a smaller dynamic range than some other films, it could find it difficult to catch details in extremely bright or extremely dark environments. In some lighting situations, the film might also produce a subtle cooler hue cast, which some photographers can find undesirable.
Overall, Fujicolor C200 is a respectable film with decent image quality and adaptability at a reasonable cost. Wide exposure latitude and realistic-looking colors make it a dependable option for daily shooting. However, when choosing whether or not to utilize this film, it should be kept in mind that it has a constrained dynamic range and may have a cooler color cast under certain lighting situations.
6. Fujifilm Superia 400 35mm Film
Popular color negative film Fujifilm Superia X-Tra 400 offers dependable image quality with a range of ISO settings. It is a fantastic all-purpose film since it can be utilized in a variety of lighting situations.
The Superia X-Tra 400’s latitude in exposure is one of its key advantages. Photographers may now shoot more easily without having to stress out too much about getting the exposure settings just right. Moreover, it has a tiny grain structure that creates images that are sharp and detailed.
The Superia X-Tra 400 produces natural-looking colors with a slight saturation in terms of color reproduction, which improves the overall image quality. The film also works well in dimly lit environments, creating pictures with good contrast and tonality.
The reasonable price of this film is another plus. All levels of photographers can use it because it is a widely accessible, moderately priced film.
The Superia X-Tra 400 does have certain restrictions, though. For photographers who choose a more rich and colorful color scheme, it might not be the ideal option. Moreover, it might not function as well in extremely bright or dim situations.
All things considered, the Fujifilm Superia X-Tra 400 is a dependable and adaptable film that can provide high-quality photographs in a variety of lighting situations. Photographers frequently use it because of its fine grain structure and natural-looking colors, especially those who are looking for a low-cost film alternative.
7. Ilford HP5 Plus 400 35mm Film
If you want to create a great vintage photography look, the Ilford HP5 Plus 400 is a classic black-and-white film known for its special blend of adaptability and image quality. The film is known for its exceptional contrast and sharpness, making it a go-to choice for a variety of photography types.
This film is often compared to the more well-known Kodak Tri-X 400 and generally is quite comparable to one another. The main noticeable difference between the two films is tonality.
The Tri-X is known for its rich blacks and crisp whites, while the HP5 has a slightly softer contrast with less pronounced blacks and whites. The HP5 also has a more pronounced grain structure, which can be both positive and negative depending on the desired effect.
Since Ilford HP5 Plus 400 is a high-speed film, it can be utilized in low-light scenarios and other circumstances that call for quick shutter speeds.
The film creates images with a strong sense of contrast by using crisp whites and deep, rich blacks. Outstanding sharpness makes it possible to capture small details and textures in excellent clarity.
The grain structure of Ilford HP5 Plus 400 is one of its distinctive qualities. The film has a fine grain that gives pictures a vintage, cinematic appearance. Using various development procedures, this grain structure can also be changed to produce various aesthetic effects.
Street photography, portraiture, and landscape photography are just a few of the many photographic genres that the Ilford HP5 Plus 400 is best suited for. It is a film that encourages experimentation and, in the hands of a talented photographer, can provide breathtaking results.
8. Ilford Delta 3200 35mm Film
High-speed black-and-white Ilford Delta 3200 film is made for low-light photography. With the right processing methods, this film’s nominal ISO of 3200 can be increased to 12,800 or even higher. Because of the Delta 3200’s adaptability, it works well in a wide range of situations, including night photography, street photography, portraits, and even sports photography.
Because of its extremely fine-grain structure, the Delta 3200 is appropriate for printing huge images. The film also has a great tonal range, which enables precise shadows and highlights. Ilford’s core-shell crystal technology, which creates clear, detailed images with strong contrast, is what allows for this tonal range.
The Delta 3200’s capacity to generate high-quality photographs in low light is one of its primary advantages. Its high-speed rating, which permits quicker shutter speeds and narrower apertures, helps achieve this. Moreover, the film offers a broad exposure latitude that gives flexibility while shooting in difficult lighting situations.
The Delta 3200 is not without flaws, the author points out, though. When used at its highest settings, the film is prone to substantial amounts of contrast and grain, which might not be appropriate for all genres of photography. The film can also be difficult to create and requires specific methods to produce the finest effects.
There’s no one perfect film, but choosing the right film should be based on the outcome you are trying to achieve. In this guide, I tried to outline the main characteristics of each type of film such as grain, colors, tonality, dynamic range, speed, and more.
Additionally, depending on the type of photography you are interested in doing such as portraits or landscapes, and the respective lighting condition, there is a film suggestion in this guide for you.
The thing about film is that it’s best to get out there and shoot with anything and experiment to find something that works for you and your photographic style!
How does the development process affect the final result of the 35mm film?
The development process plays a crucial role in the final result of the 35mm film. The type of developer used, the temperature of the developer, the duration of development, and the agitation method can all significantly impact the contrast, grain, and tonality of the final image. It’s important to follow the recommended development process for each specific type of film to achieve optimal results. Read more on our guide on where to get your film developed.
How does the choice of camera and lens impact the outcome when shooting with 35mm film?
The choice of camera and lens can greatly impact the outcome when shooting with 35mm film. Different cameras offer varying levels of control over exposure settings, which can affect the final image. The lens used can also influence the image’s depth of field, sharpness, and distortion. It’s important to choose a camera and lens that align with your creative vision and the specific requirements of the film you’re using.