You asked for it, you got it — welcome to Lomography.com’s Great Big Film Bible: Colour Reversal/Slide Film Edition! In coming days we’ll be rolling out summaries about all the slide films we could get our hands on, describing their characteristics and illustrating it all with excellent examples pulled from the Lomo community. But before we dive into the dizzying kaleidoscope of films, we thought we’d lay out how it all works.
What is colour reversal slide film?
Colour reversal (a.k.a slide) film is film that produces a positive image, rather than a negative image like regular colour film. Basically, this means that the image that is developed is in full colour and does not have to be “reversed,” as a negative photograph does before printing. The images are transparent, and when mounted as slides can be clearly projected. However, it is not necessary to make slides from slide film — prints can be made instead or the film can be developed in colour negative chemicals, which is called cross-processing.
What’s the deal with cross-processing?
Cross-processing is when you choose to develop your film in the “wrong” chemicals to achieve certain effects. The most common cross-processing technique is developing slide film in colour negative chemicals. Most slide film is usually processed in E-6 chemicals, whereas colour negative film is processed in C-41 chemicals. When you take a roll of slide film and process it in the C-41/colour negative chemicals, it typically heightens the saturation and produces colour shifts that can add an intensely surreal quality to your photos. But if you do choose to cross-process, be sure to request that your photo lab turn all colour-correction off when processing your film. If not, the automated machines will think there is something “wrong” with your image and try to correct it, which often results in monochrome images in almost neon colours and a degraded image with more graininess than you may have wanted.
What if happens if I don’t cross-process my slide film?
If you develop your slide film as either slides or straight-up prints, you’re likely to get more intense colours than you would with most colour negative film, but they will be more true-to-life than cross-processed images.
What is ISO?
The ISO number on every film indicates the film’s speed. A low-speed film like an ISO 100 needs more light to produce a balanced image (which is why such films are frequently referred to as “daylight” films), while a higher-speed film with an ISO of 400 or 800 will need considerably less light. If you have a camera with an ISO setting like a Lomo LC-A or a rangefinder or SLR, you will typically set the film speed accordingly. If you’re shooting with a point-and-shoot toy camera like a Diana F+ or Holga, you’ll want to assess your light conditions before choosing a film.
Lower speed films also have the greatest saturation (ie. your colours are going to be bigger, brighter and usually more dense). And usually, the higher the ISO, the more graininess your photos will have.
What about ASA, DIN & GOST scales?
This applies only to film manufactured before 1987 when ISO became the international standard for measuring film speed. Before that, film speed was indicated by and ASA number in North America, the DIN scale in Europe and GOST in the former Soviet Union.
ASA is equivalent to ISO so if you score some old film, just use it the same way you would one of the same ISO number. The same goes for your vintage cameras: just set your camera’s ASA dial to the equal number ISO, though beware that high-speed films weren’t available when many older cameras were made, so the ASA number may only go up to 200 or 400 max.
The DIN scale is measured in degrees so, you’ll need a chart to calculate the proper ISO and the same goes for the Soviet GOST system. Visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Film_speed and you’ll find what you need.
How to use this guide
Films are listed alphabetically by brand and then name. Many films are available in several speeds and often in 35mm and 120 formats, so we’ll be addressing the general qualities of the films and including links to examples, most of which have been cross-processed. Not every colour slide film ever made is included here, as this is an ongoing and evolving project. If there’s a film you think should be added, please let us know by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About expired and discontinued film
Expired and discontinued films are also included and indicated with an asterisk. You’ll have to hunt for these old gems, but many are well worth the effort. But please keep in mind that expired film has often experienced degradation (how much depends on how it was stored over the years) and there will likely be colour shifts, damage and other unexpected oddities that are too varied and unpredictable to address here.
One last note
We’re all different. Our cameras are different. Our labs are different and so are our scanners. We live in different parts of the world, and light varies dramatically from place-to-place, season-to-season, so please regard this directory as the most general guide. Now get out there and shoot!
Pamela Klaffke is a former newspaper and magazine journalist who now works as a novelist and photographer.