Kodak introduced the first commercially available color film—Kodachrome—in 1935, and processing for the by-then-legendary film ceased on December 30, 2010. It was a film engineered for quality and archival stability. But it ended up capturing the gamut from the most famous photographs in the world to snapshots on family vacations. I even managed to capture a few frames in the spirit of Lomography…
So much has been said about Kodachrome, especially in the last year, that attempting to add more words seems to be pointless. After all, if every picture is worth a thousand words, the amount of photographs shot on Kodachrome throughout its 74-year run (75 if you count the extra year of available processing.) Nevertheless, I think there’s a unique opportunity in trying to relate the quality of this fantastic film to the Lomography community. We embrace the analog here, and Kodachrome shows you just how amazing it can be.
First, the film is a reversal, or “slide” film. But it’s not like the E-6 slide films of today, where you could simply have it done in an hour at the local lab. Nor could you run it through some C-41 chemistry and get some cool color shifts. No, the Kodachrome process (the latest being K-14) was a SEVENTEEN-STEP procedure! Each layer of color (cyan, magenta, and yellow) was added separately and only during the processing step. This means each layer of color started off essentially black and white. Without the dye couplers, there are thinner color layers and a sharper image. A neat side effect is that you can angle a Kodachrome slide in the light and see that the image is visibly thick on the film. It’s got a third dimension!
More importantly, though, since the film’s dyes are added during processing, the images are super-archival. Properly stored Kodachrome slides are still as vivid and sharp as the day they came back from the lab. Just Google something like “WWII Kodachrome” and prepare to be amazed.
Sadly, Kodachrome fell out of favor as E-6 films grew more and more popular due to faster and cheaper processing. Furthermore, in recent years, slide film has fallen out of favor compared to print (negative) film, especially with better scanning technology. Add to that the declining popularity of film compared to digital, and Kodachrome is dealing with a triple whammy. Even though the film was still of spectacular quality, Kodak’s decision to kill it in 2009 was hardly unjustified.
After the film production ceased, but before the December 30, 2010 processing deadline set by Dwayne’s Photo, the last K-14 processor on the face of the planet, I tried getting my hands on as much of it as I thought I could reasonably shoot. I was lucky enough to shoot a ton of Kodachrome 64, as well as a few rolls of Kodachrome 25 (even sharper) and Kodachrome Type 40A (color balanced for tungsten lighting).
A majority of the photographs I’ll be showing were shot on “quality” cameras, like my Canon SLRs, mostly because the ASA/ISO rating of the film is so low. Many cameras that Lomographers enjoy are not well-suited to slower films because they are incapable of wide apertures. So if you’ve got a slow film and a small aperture, either you’re going to be very underexposed or, if you have a variable shutter speed, the shutter is going to be open so long that you’re going to get a lot of blur. However, I felt comfortable enough on a very sunny day to run a roll through my Superheadz Black Slim Devil (a/k/a Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim) with some pretty neat results!
First up, let’s look at the sharpest film ever made, Kodachrome 25, which was discontinued in 2002. I was pleasantly surprised to find that when I scanned this film, it seemed to require virtually no color correction, as opposed to the ISO 64 version. The images also seemed to be sharper, though the ISO 64 film is plenty sharp by itself. Anyway, hopefully these shots will give you an idea of what you could expect from the film:
Next up, I also shot two rolls of Type 40A, an ISO 40 film that had a blue shift to counteract the effects of orange incandescent lighting. I tended to use them to counteract the effects of sodium vapor lamps to come up with some fantastic night shots. Of course, with a low ISO and very little light, I ended up with a lot of long exposures. Not a film to try without a tripod! I also took one or two shots in the daylight for comparison, though.
Finally, I shot no fewer than 12 rolls of Kodachrome 64 during the year. Probably the most popular version of the film, especially these days, Kodachrome 64 was fast enough that you could probably use it in a few toy cameras, and I found some success with my last roll. In the shots that follow, some are taken with the “quality” cameras I’ve already mentioned, but the ones with heavy vignetting were taken with the Superheadz Black Slim Devil. The film only had about 8 stops of dynamic range, but the BSD really came through!
So that’s it. Now I’m sitting here asking myself what the point of this review is. After all, you can’t buy the film anymore, and even if you do, you can only process it as black and white film, and even then only after a bit of a hassle to remove the backing layer. Am I here just rubbing it in your face that you missed out on a fantastic film? Or is this a subliminal warning not to let your favorite film suffer the same fate? I think that in the end, it’s probably an effort to share my experiences in the world of analog, from a vantage point some of you may not have seen before, or even knew existed. As I was beginning my life in film photography, the best film ever was concluding its life, and for one glorious year, we had some good times together.