Choosing Film – Part One

It never occurred to me that buying film could be so confusing. With digital you just pick and ISO setting and go but with film each manufacturer makes a number of different kinds of film based on it’s speed, the way the grain looks, and if it’s color or black and white. I’ve been trying to pick out a few types of film as of late to bring on a short trip I’m taking north in the next few days. I received a great comment on my first Nikon FE post that pointed me toward a very simple approach to buying film. The comment came from the blogger at Mutable Conclusions who also owns a very similar camera to the one I just bought. Unfortunately, I received that tip just after I placed my first film order. Basically, he offered a few tips about how to best use film and recommended that I find an ISO400 speed film that I liked and use it for most everything. I’m inclined to take the advice about picking one type of film and using it as my standard film. I’d like to have as little to worry about as possible when I grab the FE. It’s simple to use and joy to shoot with so I don’t want to sully that. When I buy film to keep around for everyday shooting I will standardize on just one. Which one however, is another question that I will work to answer over the coming months.

Something else I would like to explore is what I would consider special shooting situations. I’m not talking about needing faster film for a concert, I’m talking about when you are out to shoot a sunset and you want better then real colors or when you goto a local fair and you want to capture it in a really brutal looking black and white. Which films do you choose then?

I had been pondering my film choice for a number of days. I had been planning on buying a film camera for several weeks but it wasn’t really until I went to the shop to pick it up that it occurred to me. I was checking out at the register and though ‘Oh! Film!’ I dashed over to the very meager selection they had and bought the cheapest crap they had in bulk. I bought 10 rolls for $2US. It’s expired and only 12 exposures per roll but I was buying a camera that I couldn’t test that shoots on a medium I had never used. I knew I had a lot to learn and I didn’t want to miss shots because of my ineptitude. I wasn’t going to waste a weekend of shooting because I loaded the film wrong or screwed up removing it from the camera. It make logical sense to me but the guy behind the counter at the store seemed to disagree. His comment as I returned with the film in hand was ‘Oooh, big Spender’

In the end I bought three types of film:

Fujifilm Velvia 50 – This is a film that gets talked about a lot for landscapes and sunrise/sunset photography. I take a lot of landscape/sunset images as well as a good bit of nature images so I’m very curious to see what it can offer. This is slide film though which means it will take some time to get it developed and back to me. I understand it will come back to me mounted in slides like for an old school projector and the process of developing it and mounting it can take some time. We’ll see if it’s worth the added cost, time and trouble. These images will be compared directly to my D300’s images as well as some less expensive and less troublesome films.

FujiFilm Superia X-TRA 400 – This was reccomended to me by a friend of mine. He shoots film from time to time and said that this was the film he used most of the time. This is in the running for my ‘everday’ film. Good speed, good grain and good color.. or so I’m told.

Fujifilm NEOPAN 1600 – This is a high ISO professional (apparently) B&W film that is designed to be pushed up to ISO 3200 when needed. I’m curious to see what this film looks like. Should be fun to experiment in low light to see what it can do. I chose this B&W film simply because my other film choices were Fuji as well.

Each one, I hope, represents a different look and shooting condition. It will likely take me several weeks to get all of these rolls back into my grubby hands so it’s likely that I won’t be able to do a full write up on them too quickly. I will get some images up as soon as I can though and I will start to compare to other films as I buy more. All suggestions are welcome. It seems film was loosing popularity at about the same time that the internet was gaining it’s so getting good current information has been somewhat difficult.


One Reply to “Choosing Film – Part One”

  1. Film lost popularity to digital SLRs because the fact is that, for most any purpose, digital is just better. If you put the two against one another with near-same-sized sensors, digital would win every time. i.e. the D300 will do better than Velvia 50, even though its sensor is 2.25x smaller (DX).

    When the remaining diehard film users come out and defend film, what most of them are not saying is that they’re not shooting 35mm film mostly — they’re shooting 6×7 (cm), 4×5 (in) or 8×10 (in). A 4×5″ negative will give you a solid 300 megapixels to work with after scan. This is what the landscape photographers use, 4×5″ sheets of Velvia. Digital doesn’t come anywhere near touching this, because nobody can make a digital sensor that’s 4×5″ cheap enough to sell to anyone but NASA.

    There are two areas where film does better though, and you should try to keep those in mind:
    1) Depth of color/luminance. It reacts to light more like our eyes do and therefore sometimes produces images that feel more tangible, if that makes any sense.
    2) Noise under adverse light. Film doesn’t go all sparkly-noisy in the dark, it just goes black, and highlights hold on for a very long time before turning white.

    I personally like my FE-2 to shoot friends and family under crappy “normal life” lighting. Put some BW400CN in there… clack-shrrrik, clack-shrrrik

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