What’s a Good Alternative to Kodak Ektar?

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.

So as far as fine-grained colour films, the only alternatives I can think of are Kodak Portra 160, and Kodak Portra 400.

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).

Is Developing C-41 (Colour) Film Really Harder than Black and White?

A prospective customer emailed me today about the C-41 kits in the store. They asked about the shelf life of the chemicals involved, and also wanted to know whether developing colour film was really tough and unforgiving, as some people say. I wrote up this reply, and wanted to post it here as well, hopefully it helps out other folks in the same boat:

Great questions!

So first off, about the expiry dates: The C-41 kits contain powdered chemicals, which are sealed extremely tightly in metallic bags, and my understanding is that these will last a very, very long time in that form. Once you expose them to water, then it’s a different story, but I know people who take months to use a mixed kit, and swear there are no bad effects.

The way you store your mixed C-41 chemicals is very important to how long they last, and there are 3 things you can do to make sure they last as long as possible:

1. Keep oxygen out of the bottles. I understand that this is the most important thing you can do. Whatever bottle you use to hold your chemicals, you want to squeeze the bottle before you put the lid on, so the liquid goes right up to the top, then put on the lid tightly. Some people use empty pop bottles, some use special bottles meant for film that let you do this too.

2. Keep the bottles in a dark place. Or just have an opaque bottle.

3. Keep the bottles somewhere cool. My understanding is that you don’t have to go crazy on this and refrigerate them, just try to put them somewhere that doesn’t get too warm/hot.

So for the next question, is it hard/unforgiving to develop colour film:

I know that when I started developing film, I read this all the time – everyone said that Colour was much tougher than B&W. Because of this, I put off doing C-41 for quite a while. However, as time went on, I started hearing more and more people saying it wasn’t really that hard, so I started researching it, and realized it didn’t sound much different. Finally, I gave it a go, and my conclusion was that wow, it was just as easy as doing B&W, and in some ways easier.

In most ways, the home developing process for C-41 (colour) film is just like B&W: You load your film into a tank, and you have 3 liquid chemicals that you pour in, leave a while and then pour out, one by one. The main difference between B&W and C-41 is just that B&W chemicals are kept very close to room temperature, but C-41 developer needs to be heated up, to about 39°C, or thereabouts.

So this sounds pretty daunting at first, but when I actually tried doing it with a thermometer, it was really not that tough. You heat some water in a small tub to about 40°C or 41°C, you put your developer bottles to stand in this water, and you wait for it to reach the right temperature. You might have to fiddle with the bath a bit and add a little more hot or cold water now and then, but it’s really not tough.

If you think you’re going to be doing it a lot, you can get a Sous Vide heater, which have become extremely popular for this use in the last year or so. This is a cooking tool you can clip to your water bath container, and it’ll regulate that water and keep it at the right temperature while your bottles of chemicals heat up in it (you don’t put the sous vide heater directly in the chemicals).

But I want to stress, you absolutely do not need a Sous Vide, or any other fancy heater. You can do everything yourself with just a thermometer. A Sous Vide (or other heater) just lets you set it up, go do something else, and come back to perfectly heated chemicals a while later.

So this brings us to the part about developing being unforgiving. This is the thing that kept me from developing colour film for the longest time: I kept hearing that you had to keep the water temperature within 1 degree in either direction, or your photos would turn out badly. I even read some people saying you had to keep withing 0.5 degrees.

After talking to a number of people, and my own experience, I think this is one of the biggest misconceptions there is. You can be off by at least a few degrees with no bad effects. I actually had a badly calibrated thermometer to start, and developed numerous rolls at 3 degrees off, and I didn’t notice at all, the photos all looked great. Recently, one of the hosts of the Film Photography Podcast mentioned that he had done experiments with developing at 10, and I think 20, degrees Fahrenheit off the correct temperature. He said he went above, and below the recommended temperature, and still wound up with fine photos. (He may have mentioned some extra grain at the extreme temperatures, and I definitely wouldn’t do this on PURPOSE and expect perfect results, but this is extremely interesting to me, and I’d like to try it myself sometime as an experiment.)

And one thing people don’t mention about C-41 temperature too is that of the 3 chemicals you use, only the first one, the developer needs to stay at the correct temperature, and (at least in the Unicolor kits we sell) the film only stays in that chemical for 3 and a half minutes. So you don’t want to worry too much about the developer losing temperature, since after 3:30 or so, you’re moving on to the next chemical anyway. (The next chemical is Blix, which even the Unicolor instructions say can be 10 degrees off in either direction).

There seems to be a lot of things in the film photography online world that aren’t completely, fully documented, and a lot of them seem to turn into games of Telephone sort of. Someone on a message board will say that you should try to stay within a few degrees of the correct temperature, and over the years this will be passed down from msg board to Facebook group to Twitter feed to msg board, etc, until someone is saying “If you don’t get within half a degree of the right temperature, your photos will EXPLODE and YOUR HOUSE WILL FLY INTO SPACE”. The temperature thing is a prime example of this, to me anyway.

Oh and also I wanted to cover why some people consider C-41 developing easier than B&W: With C-41, there is only a single developing time for your kit. It doesn’t matter whether you’re using ISO 100 or ISO 1600 film, whether it’s Kodak, Fuji, Lomography, etc. – it all just goes in the developer (then blix, then stabilizer) for set times. You can mix any C-41 colour films you want in one batch, and it’ll be fine. With B&W this is the complete opposite, and you have to look up times for each film/ISO/developer combination, and you can only mix multiple different films in one batch if they happen to share the same times.

So that’s that, I hope this is helpful. Because I actually sell C-41 developing kits, I always worry that I might sound like I’m biased or something, but I really do believe that it’s just as easy to develop Colour as it is B&W. I actually also sell B&W chemicals, so if I really thought that was an easier process, I’d just say so. And personally, I definitely love that the times are always the same and I don’t have to look things up every time I change film (or developer, ISO, etc), although I know some people really enjoy the process of experimenting with different times and temperatures and whatnot for B&W.

A Nice Review of Bergger Pancro 400 on Youtube

UPDATE: I originally forgot to link to Bergger Pancro in our store haha, woops, bad salesman.

I just wanted to point everyone to a very thorough review of Bergger Pancro 400 that I saw on Youtube. You may already be familiar with the MAX+ONE Portrait Photography channel, who make very good videos about film photography. Max and his friend Jules spent 3 months shooting only Bergger Pancro. He then tested out the film in a few different developers, and then made a great, comprehensive video about it. They shot in a variety of situations from Croatia to Munich, and did some prints as well. Great video, well worth a look.

I’ll quote some of Max’s thoughts from his review, but you should watch the entire video for more:

“Bergger Pancro is an amazing and very interesting film. It does have a rather flat characteristic, which makes it well suited for scanning and also doing prints of the negatives. I have to say that most of the time while editing in Lightroom, it was mostly about increasing the brightness and adding a little bit of contrast, so it was not really kind of working hard on getting the kind of dynamic range that you sometimes want an image to get kind of hard contrasts and things like that. So it was really easy to edit, and it felt the same while doing the split grades, that was kind of interesting to see how easy that was, and how quick we could often get results that suited our taste and what we had intended to do.

This is a film that I can highly recommend. I really appreciate it’s kind of glowy look for skin tones and skin in general. For Black & White portraits, I really think this gives it a certain modern and at the same time classic look, and I will definitely use this film again and again, especially using it with Kodak D-76 or, if I’m shooting it at ISO 200, with Spur Acurol-N.

So this is a film that I will most definitely order some more of, and that I really enjoy shooting.”

 

Pushing/Pulling Film vs. Under/Overexposure – a Quick Definition

I’ve tried to keep this post brief and basic, and just explain what the difference between these two terms is. I’m going to follow it up with a couple of posts explaing why you might choose one of the other of these for colour or B&W film. They should be linked below once I write them.

A lot of people new to film get confused at the difference between overexposure/underexposure and pushing/pulling film. This is understandable, because the terms refer to very similar things, with one main difference. I’m also going to use the term “box speed” here:

Shooting at Box Speed means that you use the official manufacturer ISO for the film (ie. the ISO on the box).

Underexposing film means that you change your settings so that less light than recommended hits the film.

Overexposing film means that you let more light than recommended hit the film.

Pushing film means that you underexpose it, but also develop it for a longer time, to compensate for the underexposure.

Pulling film means that you overexpose it, but also develop it for a shorter time to compensate.

So basically, when you use the terms pushing and pulling, the key difference is that the actual development process is different than normal.

When you overexpose, or underexpose film, but don’t compensate for it while developing, you’ll get photos that look brighter, or darker than if you shot at normal box speed. If you push or pull however, your photos should look mostly the same as shooting at box speed, but the amount of contrast and grain will be a bit different (I’ll explain that later).

Probably the most time that you hear about pushing or pulling is when people talk about pushing Black & White film. I’m going to explain a typical situation where you might do this:

Pushing B&W film: An example

Imagine you are out with your camera one evening, and you have a roll of Ilford HP5+, and you want to take some photos. You check your camera’s meter, and it says that if you shoot at box speed (which is ISO 400 for HP5), your shutter speed will be 1/15 seconds.

“Oh no!” you think, “I know from experience I can’t hold my camera steady for a fifteenth of a second. My photos will all be blurry.”

Pushing your film is the solution to this situation! All you have to do is to trick your camera into thinking your roll of film is a higher ISO, perhaps ISO 1600. This is 2 stops higher than the box speed, so you can use a much faster shutter speed. For each stop, you double your shutter speed, so you can now take pictures at 1/60s (four times faster than 1/15s).

A common way to trick your camera is to set the ISO dial to 1600. If your camera doesn’t have an ISO dial but does have an exposure compensation setting (which is often marked as EV+/-), you can set that to -2.00. Finally, some cameras have neither of these options, and just read the film’s ISO directly from the DX Code on the canister (a simple bar code), in which case you need to learn about DX Code hacking (a whole other topic).

So now, once you’ve tricked your camera into thinking you’re shooting ISO 1600 film, you go about your business and shoot the film. Once you’re done, you make a note that you have pushed the film 2 stops, and now it’s developing time.

Most labs that develop Black & White film will do the next part for you. You just have to tell them “Please push process this, I shot it at 2 stops above box speed, ISO 1600”, or something like that – it’s probably extra smart to marker this onto the actual film canister too.

If you develop film yourself, you will just need to leave the film in the developer solution for longer than normal. How much longer depends on how many stops you pushed the film by, and what film and developer you’re using. The Massive Dev Chart is the ultimate reference for this, so just consult that.

Once your film is developed, you will now magically have a bunch of photos that look like they were exposed at box speed, even though you didn’t have enough light to do so.

There are a couple of trade-offs however. Your images will have more contrast when you push the film, and will also be more grainy. This is not necessarily a bad thing, depending on what you’re looking for, and some people will push film just to get this effect.

Pulling B&W Film

Pulling film, as you may have guessed,  works basically in the same way, except you’re adjusting everything in the opposite direction. So your camera will take longer exposures, the film will spend less time in the developer (whether you or the lab is developing it), and your photos will have less contrast and grain.

In practice, pushing B&W film is much more common than pulling.

What about colour film?

Pushing or pulling colour film is entirely possible, but not as common either. One reason may be that photo labs tend to develop colour film in large, automated machines, and they don’t have the flexibility to leave some film in the machine for longer than everything else. This isn’t the case with B&W film, because all the different types already have different developing times, so labs don’t really stick these in big machines, they tend to use a more manual process.

If you develop C-41 colour film yourself though, you can certainly push or pull it, and the instructions that come with your home developing kit should cover that.

One last, important thing to remember

If you choose to push or pull a roll of film, you have to commit for the entire roll. That’s because you’re going to be putting the entire roll in the developing chemicals for a longer or shorter time.


There are a number of stylistic reasons that you might want to underexpose or overexpose a photo, without compensating for it later. If that’s the case, you don’t need to deal with pushing or pulling the film.

I hope this explains the difference between these 2 things decently, and I guess I sort of veered into explaining the whole concept of pushing and pulling. I still plan to write a couple of posts about doing this with colour film though, so if they’re not linked below, they should be soon!

 

The Economics and Quirks of Pro-Packs vs. Single Rolls

Two people have written to me this week about pricing on pro-packs. I figured that if two people actually bothered to email me, then it’s probably worth writing about here!

First of all, for those who don’t know, a pro-pack is just the name for a 5-pack of film that comes in a cardboard box. Kodak and Fuji (and maybe others I can’t think of) sell some of their film this way, and it looks like this:

Not every film manufacturer sells pro-packs. Ilford, for instance, sell film in “bricks“, which consists of 10 rolls of film held together by thin, transparent plastic. Bricks don’t look as cool as pro-packs, but they’re efficient, and many brands use them. Here’s a picture of a brick of JCH Street Pan:

JCH Street Pan 400 Black & White Film (35mm Roll Film, 36 Exposures)

A brick of JCH Street Pan 400 – sorry for the small size, this was the only photo I had handy.

 

I don’t have many pro-packs listed on the store, but I do carry  them. I should probably add them specifically, but how it works right now is that if you order 5 individual rolls of a film that comes in a pro-pack, I will just send you a pro-pack.

Someone asked me whether there’s a price break for pro-packs, and unfortunately, the answer is no. There’s no real price break as to whether film sellers like me buy single rolls or pro-packs from the manufacturer, and that’s why if you check any online store, the price of a pro-pack is almost always the same as 5 individual rolls.

There is one exception to this – I’ve seen places online that do have a discount for a pro-pack, but what’s really happening is that they’re just kind of charging a bit more markup for a single roll – this isn’t common though, and mostly happens with big camera store chains that only kind of carry a couple of types of film begrudgingly.

Now the quirky bit about pro-packs relates to which films are sold this way. This has always confused me, especially when it comes to Kodak, which have a sort of confusing setup for this. Here’s the basic rundown:

  • Kodak Portra is mostly just sold in pro-packs. This is why if you buy a single roll anywhere, it just comes in the little plastic container (or the foil container in the case of 120 format).
  • But wait! For some reason, specifically Portra 800 in 35mm format comes in a nice little individual box. It still comes in pro-packs for the 120 size though, which is confusing.
  • Kodak Ektar 100 is sold in pro-packs if you get the 120 size, but as far as the 35mm size goes, it just comes in individual boxes, which are packaged in bricks of 10.
  • When it comes to B&W film, Kodak are a bit less confusing: Both Tri-X and T-Max are sold as pro-packs in 120 format, but comes in individual boxes in 35mm format.

I still haven’t quite figured out the reasoning behind what Kodak chooses to package as a pro-pack vs. an individual roll, but I imagine that it’s probably based on whether people are more likely to buy a single roll vs. an entire pack. For instance, Portra 800 is a premium film and costs more than Portra 400, so it makes sense people might buy it in smaller quantities. Although I’m not sure if this really extends to Ektar, since in my experience from running this store, people tend to buy multiple rolls of Ektar, I guess because it’s relatively cheap for such a nice, high quality film.

I guess I’ll never really know why it’s done this way. Or maybe someone will probably comment on this post with an extremely obvious, logical answer within 10 minutes of me posting this, and then I’ll know haha.

The Pros and Cons of 24 vs. 36 Exposure Rolls of Film – Which is Better?

Before starting this business, I bought a lot of 35mm film, from a lot of sources. One thing that always confused me was the whole issue of 24 vs. 36 exposure rolls, and how little the price changed between the two. In most cases, there isn’t a big difference in price; you pay something like 10% or 20% extra to get 50% more shots.

At first glance, this doesn’t seem like a fair, but there are some advantages. For instance, sometimes it feels like it takes forever to take 36 shots, so it can be nice to just get a roll finished earlier, especially if you have some shots on it that you really want to see.

Then you start to factor in developing: If you’re just getting negatives done, almost all labs charge the same price for 24 or 36 exposures. And even if you’re also getting prints at the same time, the price for 36 is usually only a bit more expensive than 24 (and sometimes the same price).

But if you’re developing the film yourself, as many people do, then you’re fine either way: The chemicals are already pretty cheap, and they should also last longer if you’re doing short rolls (unless you’re using one-shot chems, which is common for B&W film). Of course, you’ll probably spend more time developing if you do a lot of short rolls vs. a smaller amount of long rolls, and that might make a much bigger difference to you than a few bucks here and there.

So, there are things to be said for either 24 or 36 exposure rolls, but if you look at the sales figures, the 36-shot rolls are the clear winner. People just prefer having the extra shots, and the popularity difference is so overwhelming that I have decided to only carry a couple of 24 exposure rolls in the store (the nice cheap Kodak Gold 400, and Superia 400).

I’d love to hear from people about what they prefer, 24 or 36. Please feel free to add a comment with your thoughts!