Back to Basics: Film Speed


Getting blurry shots when you shoot inside? Night shots all browny looking or washed out? Got no detail in clouds or snow or on beaches? Get the right film for the job.

Although a very nice photo, this 100 speed film (even on a nicely sunny day) wasn’t fast enough to capture the action without shake and blur, a 200 or 400 would have been better.

I won’t name names, and it’s not the first time I’ve seen this, but I saw a very nicely composed photo of a pet on the site today that the author had commented underneath “still getting blurry shots…”.

There are many things that can cause this sort of problem, but if you focussed properly, it boils down to one thing. Your exposure time was so long that your hands shaking was picked up on the film making your image blurry. The author of the above had shot indoors on a 200 speed film, a film simply not capable without a tripod of doing what the author wanted to do.

This was an overcast day, by no means rainy or dark but the use of a 400 speed film mean the film was fast enough to get a ‘tack sharp’ picture. Look at the texture of the old metal and concrete!

With an SLR there are many things that you can do to correct this or at least mitigate it, but with toy plastic cameras such as La Sardina, there is only one thing, and if you get this right and do it for every camera, your shots will get better and better.

Choose the right film for the job.

Here a personal favourite, Lomography CN800, was used. No flash needed under the dim interior lighting but look at the elements in focus, jewelry and faces look crisp with no shake.

All film is rated for something called speed. This simply refers to how much light is needed to get a good, even negative, one that will produce a nice sharp picture. The bigger the number, the less light is needed. The effect of this is that your camera can spend less time with the shutter open to capture the image, which of course means it hasn’t enough time to pick up your shaking hands.

This film, rated at ISO 100 was too slow, even with the shutter speed of about 1/60 to pick up the detail in the rocks. The film was wrong for the day, compounded by the Holga’s lack of settings and accuracy.

This is a quickie tipster, so I’m not going to go into the science or other things like use of tripod etc etc. So here is the skinny.

Films are measured in ISO or ASA or both, normally these are the same anyway. The most common film types are:

ISO/ASA 100: Daylight, good strong sunny days, beachy days, snow on the mountains days.
ISO/ASA 200: Overcasty days, and is a good compromise.
ISO/ASA 400: General use, sports days, rainy days.
ISO/ASA 800: Evenings, sunsets, inside with a flash.
ISO/ASA 1600: This is getting harder to come by, but is the bare minimum I’d use for rock concerts, night clubs etc, you may not even need to flash with this one.

I can hear all you long timers groaning: “What about grain? How about Delta 3200 or T64? It’s not this simple…” and you’d be right, it isn’t, things change when you find more interesting films, cross process, develop your own negs, push, pull etc.

But let’s get this bit right first. Once you’ve improved your technique with this simple tip, hit the internet or this site for more tips on film speed, grain, tripod use and cross processing.

More CN800 shots, note the blur in the bunny shot is an artifact of a narrow depth of field (which I will explain in another tipster!) the eye is crisp with no shake. No flash was used inside a darkish museum!

Back to Basics is a monthly Tipster series by Adam Griffiths where he seeks to impart a little more technical film photography knowledge. For each installment, he chooses a fundamental subject and explains it quickly and in simple terms (with examples where possible).

written by adam_g2000 on 2012-02-10 in #gear #tipster


  1. neanderthalis
    neanderthalis ·

    Well stated :D

  2. jeffr
    jeffr ·

    great tipster!

  3. neurodiaz
    neurodiaz ·

    This is an awesome tipster :). Please read!

  4. djramsay
    djramsay ·

    Really great

  5. litleandi
    litleandi ·

    Great article @adam_g2000 Really informative. Going to use it as a reference when I am shooting with my sprocket rocket. =)

  6. lil
    lil ·

    this is very useful! thanks for the article :)

  7. dainy
    dainy ·

    This was very helpful, but I still have one question. When I took a picture with ISO 400 film on the N-setting with my Diana F+ on a very sunny day all my pictures where dark. Does this mean that you can never take pictures on a very sunny day with ISO 400? Or what can I do to solve this problem when my camera is loaded with ISO 400 ?

  8. reiga
    reiga ·

    @dainy : just my humble opinion, please do remember Diana F+ camera had fix aperture it F/8 and the speed on N mode is 100 something- quite fast (i do forgot), so might want probably choose the the correct angle ( do not against lights or choose angle where shadow of the object is more less), i had the same problem

  9. adam_g2000
    adam_g2000 ·

    @dainy In direct response to your request for help. You have loaded the right film according to my experience and the manual that comes with Diana F+. Are you getting any picture at all? Are your shots underexposed (you can see a picture, it's just very dark) or are you getting just black negatives? Is it just very dark around the edges? On a very sunny day the only problem you might get with ISO 400 film is overexposure, where everything is very bright and detail is lost. If you can answer my questions I will try to help more.

  10. adam_g2000
    adam_g2000 ·

    @reiga thats not quite right, the diana has three possible aperture settings f/8, f/11 and f/16 (marked on the lens as sunny, partial cloud, cloud). The shutter speed is supposed to be about 1/100 so if you follow 'sunny 16' (…) you should load ISO 100 on a super sunny day. HOWEVER the manual says use ISO 400 and stop down when using ISO 100 (stop down means adjust your aperture to compensate, for example when using ISO 100 film on a sunny day, use the cloudy settings). What you need to remember is that the Diana F+ is not a precision tool, the materials used in it's construction alone make it possible for each one to be totally different in it's use.

    What can you take from this? Well you can't rely on Diana, if you want a precision tool, you'll need to save up for something else, a Lubitel is a step up in medium format, any number of cheap second SLRs will give you more control for 35mm. With Diana F+ you must stop worrying and hope for the best when you shoot.

    @dainy, are you new to film photography? If you are and you are upset with that album I just went through and liked, you shouldn't be. It's beautiful. And the photos don't look dark to me at all.

  11. dainy
    dainy ·

    @adam_g2000 : I am totally new to it, but I am very proud of my first photos though haha, so thanks for the likes! The problem was indeed that some of the photos ( about 3 of them ) were on a sunny day and underexposed with the iso 400 and I am almost absolutely sure I set the setting to N . I live in the Netherlands and the weather is very changeable. So it's very sunny one day and rainy the other day, so I can't change film that quick.

  12. dainy
    dainy ·

    @reiga hmm thanks I will try this too, I just really like the sun so I was very disappointed when they came out all underexposed

  13. adam_g2000
    adam_g2000 ·

    @dainy it's not the films fault, it's very difficult to tell as only the opposite might have happened. Always use N unless you are shooting at night. If you changed the aperture to any of the other settings (from sunny to cloudy or something else) then the image would have got brighter. UNLESS, have you accidentally set the aperture switch to P? If you set it to pinhole by mistake you might not get a long enough exposure? Check for that!

  14. dainy
    dainy ·

    @adam_g2000 Maybe I did accidentally set the switch to the bulb or pinhole setting... I hope so, than it is easily solved :) I'll try to watch it and if it still happens I'll let you know, thanks for the help!

  15. adam_g2000
    adam_g2000 ·

    @dainy having the sun behind you (the photographer) and not pointing at shadows (looking for scenes where the range of light is similar) is excellent advice, though make sure once you've mastered Diana F+ (took me months) you try those things, or you'll miss out on wicked vignetting and crazy lens flares!

  16. adam_g2000
    adam_g2000 ·

    @dainy and anyone can post images and message me via my home if you want troubleshooting, feedback or assistance. I don't mind if I've got time.

  17. reiga
    reiga ·

    @adam_g2000 thanks for the reminder, yes, adam correct its has 3 apertures, and its precisely like you said diana apertures its less acurate, i am already made test on diana, but oh well its about fun.

    @dainy : its okay, i am also like the sun, but if you put your object at the front of direct source of light without using flash, you will have dark object. at first i trick my shot on b mode, just press the shutter as long i think its need it, just remind diana apertures is small 8, 11, 16 its need more light to burn your film, especially on low asa/iso, for me the best trick is find an alternative angle, considering the lights. anyway its diana

  18. discypher_6
    discypher_6 ·

    Informative and bookmarked. :-) I just recently dove back into lomography and with so many changes since I was last learning with my holga CFN120, this is a great tipster. My La Sardina will experiment with these different films and hopefully ill get images up to par with this community. Thank you for taking the time to write this very appreciated.

  19. hannahugm
    hannahugm ·

    Thanks! New to analog photography so good to hear the basics :)

  20. fizzynothing
    fizzynothing ·

    Thanks! This was extremely helpful, speaking as complete newbie who still has no real idea of what she's doing, this was the best explanation of film speeds I've read so far. I needed something that spoke plainly and this was it. Thank you, you're a star.

  21. adam_g2000
    adam_g2000 ·

    @fizzynothing I'm glad I could help you. I'm doing a regular series now based on this first article. Look for it as It'll really get you up to speed very quickly!

  22. hannahvanrusselt
    hannahvanrusselt ·

    Really great tipster.

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