Subtle nuances in choosing chrome films : LUSENET : Advanced Photography : One Thread

Having recently finished my 'testing' of Ektachrome 100 VS, and having had some time to re-look at the images a number of times I finally came to some conclusions on it for how I shoot & view the world. This is just like a number of other films I have tested. I shoot some, then shoot head to head with some films I normally use(Velvia and Astia) in the field. I intermingle the rolls, keeping the cameras loaded and switching bodies without worry as to which film I shoot for which subject. The idea is to finish shooting a wildlife/whatever session and have a half dozen or more rolls to compare without paying strict attention to which shot what animals. Basically, a blind test. Then they get processed & labelled and put on the light table. I put similars images shot with different films side by side with my film label on the back so I can't tell which is which. First impressions tell me something, but I find that by coming back every few days for a number of weeks tells me a lot more. VS is nice and I like it on first impression. But after a couple months(and interchanging the images in the slide pages so as not to immediately pick out the films buy position) I have fine tuned it a bit and can pick out the films by the subtle color bias. This tells me what I want to use. And, there is definately a difference in The Yellow Peril and The Green Machine in the chromes. Personal preference pays a big part and we all see color a bit differently. While most any pro film out there will work well, after living with them for a while, rain-shine-storms-early & late light, I come to definate conclusions as to what I prefer. So, the question, Does your film choice as a result of testing change after awhile, at times going against your initial exposure to the new film? And, does your testing have you shoot enough film to make an honest assessment rather than the old "one roll is enough" when there are so many variables that can make the one roll a waste of time?

-- Dan Smith (, July 30, 1999


I had given up on Velvia (garish, lurid, cartoon-like), in favour of Astia (natural, subtle, honest) until bad planning found me at the film counter with only Velvia Quickload in stock the day before a two week trip to Hokkaido. So I buy the Velvia, and after every shot I curse my luck and think of the dreamy chromes I could have had with Astia. (I still had some Astia left, enough for about 15 shots out of a total of 50 shots).

I'm just amazed by the results. The Astia is excellent, but so is the the Velvia, and I'm having a hard time distinguishing one from t'other. Must be the northern light, or perhaps, to get to the point of Dan's question, one does need to try various films out in different circumstances over a period of time in order to get more experience with them. Perhaps I'll now try this new Kodak film - Ektachrome in the past has been so disappointing that it'll be a gamble, however.

-- fw (, July 30, 1999.

Dan, Your method sounds like a good way to overcome the novelty of a new film. We also should remember that manufacturers (well at least Fuji) will make subtle improvements to a particular film over time. These changes can add up over a couple of iterations. Velvia for example is no where near as garish as it originally was. In some ways I miss that, but in many other ways I welcome the change but maybe I am just seeing an emulsion batch to emulsion batch bias, but I don't think so.

-- Ellis Vener (, July 30, 1999.

Velvia's garishness is subdued a bit when exposed at EI 40 rather than 50. I shot this image on Velvia at EI 40 with a pop of fill flash. The skin tones, which Velvia is supposed to be bad with, look great in the original slide. The image is two years old, so it's not just recent emulsion batches that were capable of this.

Anyhow, Dan's point is well taken. I try to give various films a real try (more than one roll) before giving up on them. It's hard to do sometimes, because you don't really want to be trusting a film that you got disappointing results with in the first place.

-- Russ Arcuri (, July 30, 1999.

Unless you shoot a LOT of film (which probably means you shoot for a living), you almost have to judge a film on one or two rolls. Of course this assumes you're going to try each new emulsion as it appears. This is similar in a way to constant lens/body upgrading (though a lot cheaper!). Speaking as an amateur, I prefer to stick with a film I know rather then switch around. I just don't shoot enough film to justify testing and carrying lots of different film types. I've found Sensia 100 (more or less Astia I think) is quite forgiving and rarely gives me any shocks or surprises, so it's my day in day out film. I shoot Velvia when I need saturation and K200 when I need speed and/or the "Kodachrome look" (and grain!). Given the limited amount of film I shoot, it's better for me to stick with what I know than experiment all the time.

I recently shot 1 roll of VS since I was sent a roll for free. Based on that roll, I don't think its a film I will use a lot. It's saturated alright, but unless you nail the exposure and lighting just right it can really bite you. It went a funny shade of yellow when shot in full shade with fill flash and slighty underexposed shots in sunlight did horrible things to skin tones. A very unforgiving film judged by this first roll. I'll try it again on different subjects, but as I said earlier, I just don't shoot enough film to make it worthwhile "testing" each new film extensively. I'll depend on the opinions (and tests) of others to point me to anything really special!

-- Bob Atkins (, July 30, 1999.

I tend to buy a representative sample when I try a new emulsion. At least 10-12 rolls of 120 film. Now that my son in a teenager I'm starting use him as a guinea pig. I bought 20 rolls of Astia 120 for our shooting trip next month. I'm sticking with my standby Kodak E100S this trip.

Oops. We're shooting different cameras. Thanks for jogging my brain cells Dan. I'll split the slides 10 rolls each so we have a valid comparision when we get home.

-- Darron Spohn (, July 30, 1999.

Yes, my opinion on chrome films change with ongoing use, and especially with ongoing review of my files. It's funny how I've cursed having the "wrong film" in my camera for particular shots; however, I've sometimes found that I'm extremely pleased with the results. This kind of known accident allows experimentation in unintended ways. For example, I've found that E200 makes a very nice all-purpose film after shooting it extensively in Europe (mixed architecture, street scenes, people/candids, open shade, landscape, and of course push). I've found I like K-64 for my botanical studies and documentation of horticulture. I like E100SW for a lot of landscape work, people pictures, general purpose. I like E100VS for stunning pictorals/landscape. Sorry to ramble, but my point is that I had to use each film many times with many different subjects to learn not only its strengths, but also the film's "ugly side." For me, it is important to view slides in multiple places. I've sometimes rated slides on a light table as bad or garish, then projected them and found them exceptional. And vice-versa.

There are many variables which can cause chrome films to react differently in producing an image. Some films change unintentionally with time (aging, etc). Some manufacturing changes are subtle, yet purposeful based on customer feedback. Processing is probably largest factor in variability of results!

So don't dismiss a film after just a couple rolls. Try again under different lighting, different processing, different subjects (or same!), etc.

-- Dan Sapper (, August 05, 1999.

I had been asked to emphasize particular colors in a new product for a client, the perfect excuse to use several films on one subject. I was given some E100VS (fondly known in these parts as Velvia Substitute) and shot it side by side of the same set. It was several months ago, but I remember the deep red and forest green of the product was best recorded on the E100VS. I was pretty surprised. There was also a very saturated dark blue that the RVP recorded much better than the others (E100s, RDP and the VS). The client selected the E100VS, my impression was that the shadows dropped off faster in this film than any of the others...t

-- tom meyer (, August 08, 1999.

Others have said I must agree that knowing a film is more important to the overall results than subtle differences in film characteristics. All the time we hear one fellow say that SuperlativeChrome 100 loses detail in the dark areas or blasts the highlights, and then somebody else shows us a marvelous photo taken with SuperlativeChrome 100 with lots of detail in the shadows and nice highlights. The second guy or gal knows the film and uses it properly. The many new films we have seen over the past few years is both a blessing and a curse. The quality of E6 has gone way up, but we can go crazy trying to test and adapt to each new film. It's better to phase in a new film slowly, if and when it proves that it can do a superior job.

-- Paul Di Biase (, August 14, 1999.

One roll is definitely a waste of time. The other thing that is a waste of time is trying to draw conclusions about the film when you don't actually control the processing.

-- Glen Johnson (, August 20, 1999.

Glen - I know you do your own E6, but was your experience prior to that that there was so much variation in E6 processing that it swamped differences in film types? Without really tightly conrolled tests it would be very difficult to tell if lab processing was giving slight color and contrast shifts, I'd say it would be almost impossible for the average user to tell.

-- Bob Atkins (, August 20, 1999.

I agree. I think it is almost impossible for the average user to tell. And as a consequence, you end up with a wide range of opinions and beliefs about films, when in fact, you may just be looking at what a particular lab does with a particular film. I think that Dan's approach, where you essentially do a lot of trials over time, and you also do some sort of blind evaluation, is really the only way that you can draw any conclusions at all... and then you just have to hope that you have done an adequate time average and space average to draw conclusions about the films and labs that you use.

Probably the most important point of Dan's note is the observation that "just about any pro film out there will work well..." . I agree with this. I also agree with his comment that we end up prefering some over others. I am shooting more and more Fuji, for example, even though I know that I like Kodak products too. In 35mm, part of my draw to Fuji is price, and part of it is the excellent performance of so many of their emulsions. Astia, for example, just seems to offer more latitude than any other slide film I've ever used. In 120, the draw to Fuji is also based on performance and price, but just the fact that they bar code their film is such a joy, that I would probably buy some Fuji film, even if it was more expensive. Of course, if you don't have a camera that reads the bar codes, this isn't a feature of any import.

There are only a few films that I think you can rate based on one experience. One is the old Recording film. I don't recall the number (something like 5475). One dose of this stuff, and you know what you're in for. Same was true for the old GAF 500 slide emulsion. But just about any other film is so easily impacted by subtle changes in processing, or printing, that it is very hard for me to get excited about the merits of one film over another. I think we all hate the questions that are based on the premise "what film should I use for my trip to ..." and I guess that it is the idea that these subtle variations are important, that turns me off from this sort of discussion. I don't think the variations are THAT important. If you work at it, you can get pretty decent results out of just about anything.

-- Glen Johnson (, August 20, 1999.

Gee, I though I was the only one left who wasn't switching films every month!

I tend to use Velvia when I want really saturated colors or higher contrast, Sensia II (the mateur version of Astia) for all around shooting and Kodachrome 200 for more speed or texture (grain). I have little difficulty telling these films apart! If I want a warmer image, I use a warming filter, not a warmer film.

Maybe at some professional, commercial, level, subtle differences between films do become important. Maybe I'm not at that level yet.

-- Bob Atkins (, August 20, 1999.

Well, the three you've picked aren't subtly different. The mix you've chosen makes good sense, and these films really don't compete with each other.

-- Glen Johnson (, August 20, 1999.

This has been an eye opener for me. I am just getting back into the 30 roll a day shoots and still remember the days when color separations were set up for Kodak transparency films only. What a change!

I will continue to absorb all your thoughts, experiences and ideas.

Thank you,


-- David (, July 09, 2000.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ