If you have a good old film camera and would like to try it out, this post about my six favorite films might help you decide which to try first. Click on sample photos in this post to see larger renditions in my Flickr stream.
Before I talk about my favorite films, though, you may wonder why anyone would bother shooting film. It’s costly, whereas digital shots are free, right? Well, have a look at this CyberkenBlog post, which calls into question this savings presumption, and tells why I prefer shooting film.
The chief advantage of using digital cameras is that you can adjust the light sensitivity of the recording medium, the sensor. This allows you to make good exposures in a wide variety of situations without having to use flash or a tripod. With film cameras you must shoot all the frames on a roll at the same ISO number. However, there is one exception I know of: Ilford’s black-and-white film, XP2 Super, rated at 400 ISO. This film has a very wide latitude, meaning that it records well in the shadows and also in the bright spots, the highlights.
Say you have XP2 loaded and you have been exposing all frames at 400 ISO. But then you come upon a dim light situation. With most films you could get a good exposure only by using flash or a tripod. With XP2 Super you can just set your aperture and shutter speed as if you had 800 film loaded. When that roll is developed, all frames will be treated the same. They will be processed at the rated ISO, 400. You will find, however, that the frame you exposed as if it were on a roll of 800 film will turn out well too. You will be able to retrieve good detail from the shadows because of the wide latitude of XP2 super.
Another advantage of XP2 Super is that it is processed as a color negative film, a C-41 film. C-41 processing takes less time and is relatively inexpensive, about half as expensive as processing black and white silver-halide films. Even drug stores often do C-41 processing, whereas silver halide processing requires more care and professional expertise.
You may ask why anyone would want to use black and white films. With a graphic manipulation application you can easily remove hue, turning color photos into black and white ones. However, the results are not as pleasing. Black and white films show more subtle transitions between light and dark areas, and they record a wider range of lights and darks.
The main reason why I love shooting film is that certain films exhibit unique characteristics, for instance:
Fujichrome Velvia 50: Nature photographers will tell you that there is nothing to beat Fujifilm Velvia for deep, rich colors and dark shadows. When autumn comes, I simply must load Velvia, a color positive film, also sometimes called a chrome or slide film. The downside of shooting chromes, though, is that they are difficult to expose accurately. They require a lot of light, and if you are off by even one stop, it’s hard to lift details out of the shadows in post-processing.
Superia 100, 400, and 800: These inexpensive color negative films produce sharp and vivid photos. The 800 variety shows some grain; the 100 is almost grain free.
Kodak Ektar is prized for its true colors and extremely fine grain. My photo lab friend says, “Ektar has no grain!” Ektar also scans excellently.
For black and white films I don’t think you can beat Ilford, the British black and white specialty company. My favorite Ilford films, in addition to XP2 Super, are:
HP5+: A very versatile 400 ISO film, HP5+ has pleasing grain, and a traditional look, like old press photos. It can be pushed two stops with excellent results. It is physically sturdy, not prone to scratching, and easy to process.
Ilford Delta 100 produces wonderful contrasts and has almost no grain. I like to shoot 100 films because, using the “sunny sixteen” rule, I can easily set my aperture and shutter speed without using a light meter.