We’re back with another film profile to help you decide which film is right for you. Last time, we talked about Kodak’s Portra 400, a warm and rich color film that we thought was a pretty solid all-rounder. Today we’re featuring another offering from the boys in Rochester. It’s Kodak’s Ektar 100.
While Ektar 100 won’t make images as brilliant as slide film, and while it’s certainly less versatile than its faster brother Portra, in the right shooting situations it can create images that are simply stunning. With exceptional saturation, vivid color, and virtually non-existent grain, Ektar is one of the richest and most consistently beautiful color films available. But let’s take a real close look at Ektar 100, and see what Kodak’s cooking in color film.
A Brief History of Ektar
Ektar is a name that fans of Kodak and vintage cameras may recognize from days long passed. Originally seen on a variety of exceptional Kodak lenses from the 1930s, the name was an acronym of Eastman Kodak TessAR. These lenses could be found on some of that brand’s best machines right up until the 1960s, and they offered terrific performance for the era.
Decades later the name would be applied to an ill-fated range of semi-professional film (not to be confused with today’s Ektar). Offered as an ultra-fine grain film in speeds of 25, 100, and 1000 ISO, production of the original Ektar commenced in 1989 and proceeded for just five years. In 1994, 35mm Ektar was discontinued due to a flagging and over-segmented film market. While production of medium format Ektar continued for a bit longer, it too was discontinued before the end of the 1990s. It was replaced by Kodak’s Royal Gold line.
Which brings us to today’s Ektar. After more than a decade without Ektar, in 2008 Kodak applied the famous name to a new slow-speed, ultra-fine, professional-grade 35mm film. Designed for ultimate sharpness, rich colors, and vivid detail, the new Ektar quickly became a favorite darling amongst film shooters and production has since expanded to include medium and large format offerings.
The relatively recent introduction of a brand-new slow-speed film really illustrates the growing strength of the analog shooting culture. Not long ago it would be unthinkable that a company as large as Kodak would see fit to develop and sell a new 35mm film, especially one as seemingly specialized as Ektar. But they did, and we love them for it.
But that’s enough history. Let’s get on with it. What’s Ektar offer today’s photog, and why do so many shooters love it?
To lay it all out there in simplest terms, here are some facts and figures;
Type : Color negative for scans and prints
Process : C-41
Format : 35mm, 120, 4×5, 8×10
Speed : 100/21º
Grain : Ultra-fine
And now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s get to the good stuff. Though naturally an entirely subjective statement, I have to profess that Ektar could be a perfect color film. I just can’t get enough of this film. I love it for its punchy colors, its incredible detail, and its ease of use. If I’m shooting color, I’m shooting Ektar- that is, if the light permits.
When Kodak first launched into development of Ektar, the brand set out to create a film that would turn any scene into a vivid feast of color and clarity in the same way that their earlier slide films had done. Happily, they succeeded. Load a roll of Ektar, set your camera’s ISO to box speed (100) and shoot. Without much fuss you’ll be making images you’re proud of.
As a color-negative film it’s one of the closest contenders to the punchiness of old slide film. The benefit of Ektar over these being the natural circumvention of the inconvenient and costly processing that slide film requires. Take Ektar to your local lab and they’ll have your prints ready in no time, as it uses C-41 process chemicals (the standard stuff used in every lab these days).
And when the lab returns your prints or scans, what can you expect? Let’s talk about color. Shots made with Ektar come back saturated and gorgeous, dripping with a vibrancy that leaps from the print (screen, etc.). And while Ektar’s colors burst from the page like fireworks, the film manages to avoid rendering colors in an overzealous way. Ektar enhances reality, rather than puking a stomach-full of half-digested skittles onto the page.
For landscapes, nature, and travel shots, no color-negative film is better. Shot at box-speed in bright light, Ektar creates images to die for. This film will make your subjects prettier, your destinations more exotic, and your world more alive. It’s pretty incredible in the hands of talented shooters; take a look at the kinds of images people are making with Ektar.
So yes, colors from Ektar are truly amazing. With that said, to make the most of your Ektar experience you’ll need to shoot in bright light. With the low ISO of 100, this is a fairly insensitive and slow film, and underexposing C-41 film is never good. Ektar loves to bask in the sunshine, so low-light lovers or those averse to being outdoors may find the film to be a bit challenging, and with such a low ISO it’s not a great film for capturing motion. It can be used for portraiture, though some photographers dislike the way it renders lighter-skinned subjects. Those with lighter skin may come away a bit pink, it’s true, but over-exposing can help solve this.
Kodak specifies that the film is workable to one stop under and two stops over, though Ektar can do better than that. Kodak is playing it safe. While colors can shift when over- and under-exposing, this by no means results in garbage images. Under-exposed shots still work as far as two stops under, but will result in a blue cast, while over-exposing is also nicely handled (though you’ll find more red tones in the lighter areas of the shot).
But this is all a bit fiddly and beside the point. If shot at box-speed in adequate light with a properly metered machine, Ektar will make consistently perfect shots with exceptional color.
Granularity is virtually nonexistent. Before Ektar was around, Kodak’s finest-grain film came in the form of their professional Ektachrome E100G, and Kodak’s literature on Ektar explains that the new film was developed with foresight in regard to the relationship between Ektachrome and Ektar. Predicting the diminished availability of slide-film processing, the company intended that the modern Ektar should rival (and even trump) the previous pro-grade offering. Again, Kodak succeeded. It’s clear when comparing scans and prints from images made by each film that Ektar is a finer, smoother film. Pretty amazing stuff.
It makes you feel good that Kodak would care about us like that, doesn’t it?
But is Ektar actually the finest color-negative film around? In a word; yes. With 35mm shooting there’s virtually no grain whatsoever. If you were to print massive enlargements from a 35mm shot you may find some, but we’re talking about truly massive enlargements here. With medium and large format Ektar film things become even more outrageously enlargeable.
Additionally, while Ektar is a truly analog experience, it was created in an era in which digital is inarguably king. As such, special care was paid by Kodak to create a film that’s highly scannable, and the final scanned images are exceptionally rich. Shots from Ektar film are smooth and clean. Detail is amazing. Sharpness is only limited by your lens. If you want brilliant, silky shots, Ektar is it.
Contrast, like the previously discussed color rendition, is similarly punchy. More contrasty than Portra, Ektar creates dark darks and bright brights in a way that’s deep and beautiful. Blacks may be too black for some shooters, but with minimal post-processing it’s possible to pull out shadow detail and reign in the sometimes extreme contrast.
Under-exposing shots will result in lackluster punch and diminished color saturation. This is less correctable in post-processing, but some people enjoy the look. If washed out and faded colors bother you, shoot properly-exposed or over-exposed shots and you’ll make images that are simply perfect.
After shooting Ektar in virtually every scenario, from backlit subjects in blazing sunshine to underwater shooting, I can’t help but love it. It can fall a bit flat in challenging low-light situations, sure, but shooting it in bright light can make some truly world-class images. Shots made on Ektar pop and dazzle with remarkable vividness that’s unmatched in color film. I’ve even got some Ektar shots framed here in the office.
While I can’t unequivocally proclaim Ektar to be a perfect color-negative film, I can tell you that it’s one of my absolute favorite films to shoot. It’s gorgeous, it’s amazing, and it’s one of the reasons I still love Kodak.