So many films, yet only so much time (and money). Analogue world can be overwhelming at times, but we’re here to help with the first installment of the Lomography Film Bible. We’re kicking things off with a round-up of all kinds of colour negative film.
What is colour negative film?
Colour negative film is the most common film you’ll find on the market. It’s straight-up, straight-forward basic film that is processed by your lab (or you!) in C-41 chemicals. This is the stuff you can take to your local pharmacy and have ready in an hour — it’s fast and fun and great for those gotta-get-it-quick moments.
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 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 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. Not every colour negative 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!
legend: ^^ – discontinued/deadstock film
Agfa Optima – ^^
Sharp, clear colours that are very true-to-life are the number-one characteristic of this now-discontinued film. With warm colours and Agfa’s signature poppy reds, Optima’s fine grain makes for crisp images with outstanding natural colour that’s not overly saturated, yet still rich and deep.
Agfa Portrait XPS – ^^
Portrait film indeed! This deadstock film is worth seeking out for its soft, dreamy qualities that flatter almost any subject. Shot indoors or out, Portrait produces images that are both rich and smooth with great skin tones. The film can be grainier than some portrait films, but as with any old Agfa stock, your photographs will stand out from the pack.
Agfa Ultra – ^^
Another discontinued film we miss dearly, Agfa Ultra is known for its lively and gorgeous saturation. Like many Agfa films, it highlights reds and blues especially (try shooting outdoors with a big blue sky and marvel at the rich beauty you’re likely to get), and colours have more in common with the over-the-top Vista than the more neutral Optima.
Cheap and cheerful, Vista’s colours are forever clear, bright and poppy — sometimes so much so that the images can be mistaken for cross-processed slide film, particularly when shooting 100 speed in daylight. Saturated colours and a distinctly different look than Fuji and Kodak, Vista is a super all-around film that won’t break your bank account.
Fuji NPL/ Fuji NLP – ^^
Fuji NPL/NLP (same thing, different packaging, both deadtsock films) is made especially for long exposures and tungsten lighting. Don’t have tungsten lighting? Too impatient for long exposures? Who cares. Shoot it anyway – the results (particularly in daylight) can be lovely, if not odd in a inaccurate, sort of spooky colour kind of way; it leans bluish by day, reddish by night. If you’re feeling experimental or want a film to produce awesome long exposure shots day or night, this is it.
Fuji NPC – ^^
This predecessor to Fuji’s Pro 160C is a versatile, crisp portrait film that produces great colour and fairly f you’re looking for an alternative to warm and fuzzy portrait films, NPC is a great choice.
Fuji NPS/ Fuji NSP – ^^
Confusing us with the names and branding of their films seems to be a favourite Fuji pastime, and the Fuji NPS/NSP is no exception. Now known as Fuji Pro 160S (the S is for “sharp”; the C is for “contrast”), it’s an older, discontinued version of same film that’s slightly less-saturated and constrasty than the NPC version.
Fuji Pro 160C
Fuji Pro 160S
The differences between the 160C and the 160S are subtle and sometimes hard to spot. Both produce, crisp, colour-filled images, but look closely and you’re likely to notice that the saturation and contrast with the 160C is more intense than with the 160S. Skin tones are generally most natural with the 160S, which is handy if you’re shooting straight-up people portraits, while the 160C brings out the vibrancy of the outdoors, making skies and flowers pop without any extreme colour shifts.
Fuji Pro 160C shots:
Fuji Pro 160S shots:
Standard in the old, analogue days for photojournalists, clean, clear colours are the hallmark of this fast film, and it’s often one of the most inexpensive films out there, which makes blowing off a handful of rolls at a party or concert, nearly guilt-free. A great film for those nights out on the town and party shots in low light.
Fuji Pro 400H/Fuji NPH
Take this one wherever you go. Extremely flexible under varying light conditions, it retains a fine grain and faithful colour reproduction and skin tone (if that’s what you’re into). Plus, it’s just fast enough to capture any moving action you may encounter.
Fuji Pro 800Z/Fuji NPZ
A party-time favourite, Fuji Pro 800Z is a fabulous night film, particularly when shooting people. Colours and skin tones tend to remain true, even with a flash. More saturated and lively (and more pricey) than its consumer cousin, Superia 800/Fuji Press, NPZ is the one to count on if you’re looking to capture colour in low-light and a finer-grain image.
Fuji Reala/ Fuji CS
Somewhere between the Fuji 160S and 160C lies Reala. Not as high-contrast as 160C, yet lower than 160S, and of course, a marginally lower speed than both. It’s a film that will make your subject look, well, real, rather than flat. Nothing fancy here: what you see is pretty much what you get (which isn’t always a bad thing).
Fuji Super G Plus – ^^
Before Superia, there was the range of Fuji Super G and Super G Plus films. Any differences are negligible, though some find the Super Gs slightly softer and yielding lesser contrast then the newer Superia films.
Fuji Super HG 1600 – ^^
The predecessor to superia 1600. If you’re going for grain, this super-fast colour neg film may be just what you need. Great for push-processing and shooting night and shadows. Or shoot daylight and watch colours blow out into bright white grainy goodness.
Fuji Super HQ
Watch for weird colour shifts (especially in the reds and greens) and all kinds of strange surprises with the mysterious discount consumer film. What is it? Old Superia? Something even older? No one knows, but that’s half the fun. Unpredictable and inexpensive, it’s perfect for experimentation, but not so much if you’re looking for consistent results.
Fuji Super HR – ^^
Think back – way back – to a time before Superia and even before Super G. In the 1980s, Fuji’s answer to consumer colour negative film was Super HR. Clean colours, visible grain, but not out-of-control, it’s an all-purpose choice for day, night, indoors or out, though colours can be a tad bland.
One of the better consumer films on the market, Superia is always reliable for punchy colours and versatility. If Reala and the 160C/160S portrait family are too blah for your taste, this film takes colour and saturation one-step further without crossing into crazy-colour territory. Plus, it’s inexpensive and widely available.
Fuji Superia 1600 – ^^
After Fuji’s Super HG 1600, came this rebrand. If you’re going for grain, this super-fast, but discontinued, colour neg film may be just what you need. Great for shooting night and shadows. Or shoot daylight and watch colours blow out into bright white grainy goodness.
Fuji Superia X-tra 800
Rumour has it that Fuji Superia X-tra 800 is the exactly the same as the now-defunct Super G Plus 800 and plain old Superia 800. Grainier than it’s professional counterpart, Fuji 800Z/NPZ, it’s still a good choice for push-processing and capturing night-time shenanigans. You won’t get the depth and richness of colours that a pro film will give you, but its graininess will give your shots their own personality.
This bargain-price film is the perfect choice for high-volume shooting and experimentation. It’s also great for newbie Lomographers who don’t want to spend a ton of cash getting to know their camera’s quirks. Re-branded Fujicolor, the 200 speed in particular is well regarded for its versatility and realistic colour reproduction outdoors. Indoors, however, watch out for yellow-orange-red colour shifts. And at such a low price, you can’t go wrong.
Kodak Color Plus 200
Another inexpensive consumer film, Color Plus is Kodak’s answer to a take-anywhere film (but don’t expect any great wonders or major saturation). Though it can be somewhat washed out when shot in bright daylight and favours reds and blues, it’s just dandy for vacation shots or messing around with style or in-camera effects.
Kodak Ektar PHR 25 – ^^
It brought a tear to many a photographer’s eye when this super-slow, super-fine grain film was discontinued. Colour! Clarity! This old smoothy is everything you’re looking for in a super-saturated colour neg film. Shoot daylight or long exposure, or low-light for moody, extra-special results. (*note: this is NOT the same film as the newer Kodak Ektar 100.)
Kodak Ektar 100
Not quite as super-amazing as its ultra-low speed predecessor, the newish Kodak Ektar 100 is still nothing to scoff at. It’s a lovely, fine grain film that produces sharp, colour-saturated images that are more lively than its extended family: the Portra series of films. If you’re after a colour negative film that can produce colours almost as wild as cross-processed slide film, this is it.
Kodak Gold 400 speed is a rarity these days, but the 100 and 200 are still readily available and bursting with colour-rich goodness. It’s a consumer film, which means it’s not as fine-grained or as consistently balanced as a professional film, but shot in daylight or with a flash (it’s typically not so great in low lighting conditions), Gold delivers zippy colours galore. (*NOTE: an emulsion the same as (or at least very similar to) Kodak Gold 100 is marketed as Kodak Profoto 100 outside of Japan, Canada and the USA.)
Kodak Portra NC/VC
First off, let’s clear up this NC/VC thing. NC means neutral colour, so you’ll get softer, creamier and dreamier colours. VC stands for vivid colour, which is pretty much self-explanatory. But whether you’re going natural with NC or pumping it up with VC, Portra will give you clean, crisp images and very few surprises (which can be a good thing when shooting portraits or weddings or anything you don’t want to take the chance of weird colour shifts with). The go-to film of countless pro photographers, Portra 100 and 400 VC are just as sharp as the Ektar 100, but colour saturation across the board with all Portra films is far less. The NC range is very true-to-life, with the VC range only slightly more punchy. A workhorse studio film, Portra is an ideal people-in-the-picture film, and the 800 offers respectable saturation for a high speed film and retains a fairly fine grain even when shot at night.
Kodak Portra 800
Kodak Pro 100 (Kodak PRN) – ^^
Get back to basics with this straight-up daylight — and unfortunately discontinued — colour negative film. Natural, true-to-life colours with especially poppy red and pretty blues that make skies and water sing, Kodak Pro 100 has enough saturation to give images the depth that is difficult to duplicate digitally.
Kodak Pro 400 (Kodak PPF) – ^^
This pre-Portra, now discontinued film is a versatile, middle-of-the-road pro film that is similar to today’s Kodak Profoto 400 and not too far off Portra 400 VC. If you happen upon an expired stash of PPF that’s been stored frozen, you’re safe to shoot day or night. Expect a good colour balance, but nothing extreme. If it hasn’t been properly stored, like all films — anything goes!
Kodak Pro 400 MC (Kodak PMC) – ^^
There is a camp of photo aficionados that rue the day Kodak abandoned their beloved 400 MC in favour of the newer but not necessarily improved Portra 400 films. There’s nothing quite like the 400 MC, which balances light and colour with a fine grain. It’s not soft, it’s not hard – it’s medium, as in medium contrast, which is just right when you’re sick of super-saturated, hyped-up colours or the warm and gentle low contrast films.
Okay, this is where Kodak films start to get a bit confusing. They sometimes like to market the same or very similar film emulsion under different names in different parts of the world. So, outside of Japan, Canada and the USA, Kodak Gold 100 is called Kodak Profoto 100. Same snappy colours that do all kinds of unpredictably crazy things, which makes it a favourite of Lomographers. Profoto 400, however, is not the same as Kodak Gold 400: it’s akin to the deadstock Kodak Pro 400 (PPF), which has more colour consistency than the Profoto 100, but the colours aren’t quite as wild.
Kodak Vericolor – ^^
Before Kodak went all nutty and started tacking the word “Gold” onto so many of its films, the keyword in Kodak colour negative films was Vericolor. There are many spawn of the Vericolor family tree and you’ll find most (if kept frozen over its life and therefore having suffered little deterioration) are medium contrast, medium-saturation films not unlike what Portra NC looks like today — but much, much grainier. Vericolor films that have not been frozen, do not age especially gracefully. If you happen upon non-frozen Vericolor, expect major colour shifts — which can lean particularly blue — and washed out images.
There’s often chatter amongst film aficionados regarding Fuji Superia vs. Kodak Ultramax. Both are lower-priced consumer films, both come in a variety of speeds and are available everywhere from pharmacies to pro film shops and both have their advocates. Like most Kodak films, the blues are more accentuated, and like most Fuji films, it’s the greens with Superia. Ultimately, Ultramax is basic colour negative film with basic traits, the standout feature being it’s affordable price.
Konica VX Super – ^^
Though it’s now discontinued, expired Konica VX Super remains a favourite of bargain-hunting Lomographers. It’s low-price makes it appealing for experimentation, and unlike other film brands, it leans more pink and red than blue or green. Best shot outdoors if you’re looking for true colours, the real fun is shooting VX Super indoors with a flash for weird and wonderful results.
Developed especially by Lomography for Lomographers, the range of Lomography house-brand colour negative film is everything you’re looking for to achieve those classic Lomo looks like vignetted corners, soft focus and colour saturation with a vintage-like feel that’s just right. Shoot the low-speed 100 ISO in daylight and watch your colours pop; move up to a 400 ISO for day-to-night versatility or multi-exposures that won’t wash out; and try the 800 ISO for all the party pics you want — they won’t be overexposed.
Pamela Klaffke is a former newspaper and magazine journalist who now works as a novelist and photographer. Her column appears weekly in the Analogue Lifestyle section of Lomography Magazine.