This never really happens, but we recently ran out of Kodak Ektar 100 for a short time, and someone emailed for some advice:
I am new to film, and am looking for a fine grain, color negative film for landscapes. Are there any you would recommend instead?
Happily, I was able to reply that we did indeed have Ektar back in stock (I had just received some, but hadn’t re-listed it), but I thought this was a great question.
So first off, I want to make a note that this person didn’t want an Ektar alternative specifically for the ISO. Ektar has an ISO rating of 100, which is as low as it goes for regular colour negative film these days. In fact, the only other current colour film that’s ISO 100 is Fuji Industrial 100 (which also may be sold under slightly different names by Fuji in different markets), but that’s becoming hard to come by, because Fuji has recently discontinued it.
These films have higher ISOs than Ektar, so you might guess that they won’t have quite as fine a grain, and you’d be right, however there isn’t a huge difference, and most people are not going to notice the grain in Portra 160 or 400 unless they’re really blowing up the shots and looking very closely. I actually just had a discussion on Instagram with a regular customer this weekend about how amazing Portra 400 is when it comes to grain size.
Portra 160 and 400 both use the same KODAK VISION technology and are much more advanced than most other colour negative films. Portra 160 has slightly finer grain, so if you’re not worried about light-gathering abilities, that’s probably the best choice for fine grain. (As a side note, it’s worth noting that Kodak Portra 800 is still, as far as I know, an older formulation that isn’t using the KODAK VISION technology, so it’s not as grain-free, although it’s still a really great film).
Now, it’s worth noting here that this customer was specifically asking about colour negative film, and not slide film. Slide film is harder to get processed, but if you’re open to that, then there are a few other good choices, with Fuji Velvia 50 being the most obvious.
Velvia has been the traditional landscape slide film for eons, and may have a slightly finer grain than Ektar (I’m not positive to be honest). Again though, Ektar is insanely fine-grained, and if you don’t have a reliable source for E-6 slide film developing, I’d stick with it. Velvia’s ISO rating of 50 is very low, and it’s fantastic film, with some really cool colour properties, but it does cost more to buy and get developed, and if grain is your priority, you’ll be more than happy with using something like Portra 160 as your alternative (or 400).