Its been a while since I’ve posted much to this blog and I thought I would start up again with a post about the recent reintroduction by Kodak of their Ektachrome slide film.
Throughout the last few years, I’ve been shooting a lot of film with a variety of film cameras. I took a part time job at a photo lab at the end of summer 2016 and the availability of film and processing has enabled me to dive into the world of analog photography. I say analog but I suppose that’s only half true since the two film cameras I use most are a Pentax 645n and a Canon EOS 3, both of which are heavily automated and then I machine process my film. Regardless, I’ve fallen in love with the aesthetic of film so when I heard that Kodak was reviving a slide film I got pretty excited.
Most of what I shoot is color print film so I don’t have a ton of experience with positive films. Out of the roughly 150 rolls I shot in 2018, only 3 or 4 were E6. When the exposure is nailed, I’ve been really pleased with how slide film can look and there really isn’t anything like looking directly at slide film on a light table or held up to a bright light. Its so luminous and sharp and colorful. You get close with a modern high resolution phone or computer display with the brightness turned up but those still don’t seem quite as sharp and beautiful.
As soon as I read that preorders were available for Ektachrome in August or September of 2018, I put my name down for a few rolls to see what all the excitement was about. Since the older Ektachrome emulsion was discontinued before my interest in film photography really began, my main frame of reference would be color negative films.
Because E100 is relatively costly ($13 per roll at B&H as of Feb 2019) and the development is usually more expensive than C41, I held on to my rolls for a while until I could decide what to shoot with them. Nothing very interesting came up for a few months so on Christmas day I just decided to put a roll of E100 into my Nikon F3 and take some snapshots of my family.
(All of the photos in this post have been scanned on a Noritsu film scanner. Many have had minor edits made that I’ll try to summarize in captions)
After processing and scanning that first roll, my biggest impression was that I needed to shoot more of it and that I was a little surprised how cool the color rendition was. This isn’t a film that displays any of that Portra/Gold warmth in portraits without doing some adjustment after scanning. You can of course affect the color balance per frame when scanning with a Noritsu scanner but I usually like to only do a little of that and then do main edits afterward in Photoshop or Capture One. Something about the color balance adjustment in scanning seems to work better with color negative compared with slide films.
Since Christmas, my first creative/portrait shoot has been with my friend and awesome model, Cierra. I’ve photographed her a lot in the past and its always fun to work with her. We went up the coast to Greyhound Rock Beach and did some simple portraits with a crown prop I had made and a simple red drapery. At the time I was borrowing a Canon 85mm F/1.2 that I’ve since purchased. It was my first time working with that lens and I was super excited to use it in conjunction with Ektachrome for some portraits.
Using Ektachrome at a normal photo shoot was an interesting experience. Because everyone always talks about the narrow exposure latitude of slide film, I was paranoid that I would overexpose and blow out too much highlight detail, especially in the metallic bits. Simple use of a handheld light meter seemed to work fine though. I just held the meter in front of the model’s face that was receiving the most direct light and took a reading. I probably could have actually increased my exposure slightly and gotten a bit more detail in the shadows but I’m also happy with how they look with the deep shadows so at that point it would have just been a subjective difference and not necessarily better or worse. I think it’ll take shooting many more rolls before I get a real feel for the best way to meter and when to over or underexpose according to meter reading.
After that shoot, I shot one more roll of E100. I took a walk from a beach in Aptos and up along the train tracks over to Capitola. Shot with my EOS 3 and the 35 F1.4 and 85 F1.2, these photos aren’t anything particularly interesting but I just wanted to shoot some more Ektachrome and see how it worked under different conditions. The following photos are unedited from the scanner other than resizing for the web.
My overall impression of this film stock is positive (hah!). Its definitely not as easy to use as the color negative films. With those you have a large range of exposure values you can use and still get a great exposure/scan. Slide films are more limited so you have to be a little more deliberate and exact if you are after perfect results. This isn’t necessarily a film I would recommend to a beginner who wants to throw it into a point and shoot or someone who is learning photography with a manual slr. Other than the snapshots of my family where I just used the basic built in meter of my F3 and didn’t think much about it, I either metered by hand or used the EOS 3’s meter and still compensated manually for each subject based on whether I felt it needed more or less light. If I was shooting a flower or something with a bright background then I would set the exposure comp to between +1 and +2 depending on the scene to make sure the subject didn’t turn out way too dark. With color negative film loaded in my camera I could have just walked around all day with it sat to +1 or +2 and everything would have looked great.
I shoot weddings on film and I can’t see using this film on a job since its so common to have to shoot huge contrast ranges (dark suits, white dresses, bright sunlight) that are difficult with slide film. I’ll probably reserve Ektachrome for my art portraiture or for personal stuff.
After shooting those three rolls, I ordered a handful more and look forward to shooting them. I think Ektachrome and slide films in general are great at capturing strong colors so I’ll have to think of some cool situations that can show that off. Kodak recently announced that they are planning to release E100 in 120 format as well. I can’t wait to get my hands on some and try it out. Its already so sharp in 35mm that I bet the medium format version will make for some fantastic scans. I’m curious to shoot something really detailed with a medium format camera on Ektachrome and then have it drum scanned.
I’ll probably make more posts in the future when I’ve shot more Ektachrome/slide film and have more opinions on using it or cool examples to share.