Readers of the site often ask us for film recommendations, so we thought it would be helpful to publish a quick guide to each brand’s film stocks. Keep in mind that these are only brief summaries of each film; for more in-depth analysis check out our popular film profiles.
Our first film guide will cover Kodak, the most storied of the film companies still producing film. Kodak film offerings have thinned out in recent years, but their roster still includes some of the best and more versatile emulsions on the market. Here are our thoughts on the current lineup.
Consumer film is affordable and versatile. It’s made to work well in nearly any shooting situation and light. For those who are new to shooting film or those who are on a budget, these are the best choice. So let’s talk about Kodak’s consumer-level film types first.
Kodak Gold 200
If you grew up between the 1980s and early 2000s, chances are you’ve either shot or had your picture taken with Kodak Gold 200. This mid-speed film has been a favorite of consumers and adventurous professionals alike, mostly for its tendency to punch above its weight when it comes to image quality.
Gold 200‘s popularity stems from its remarkably balanced imaging characteristics. It has just the right amount of grain, is sharp without being clinically sharp, its colors are vibrant but not gaudy, and its speed is just right for an afternoon photo walk. It performs admirably for anybody’s general photography, and in experienced hands it can produce some seriously beautiful images.
But compare it to Kodak’s professional offerings and Gold 200 begins to lag behind. Its slightly more saturated color palette places it firmly in the consumer film category, and will take a little bit of post-processing to get looking absolutely perfect. The film’s latitude also isn’t as wide as Kodak’s other offerings, limiting its usage to daylight shooting.
All things considered, Gold 200 is a film suited primarily to the novice photographer. This film is a fantastic emulsion to learn on, and incredibly rewarding to shoot if treated with care. It’s also inexpensive, and works well as a backup film, even if it doesn’t have the obvious character of some of the more expensive, professional films. Buy it here.
Kodak Color Plus 200
Color Plus 200 isn’t offered officially in the United States (though Adorama does offer it for seventy cents per roll less than Gold 200), which makes information in these parts a bit sparse. What’s obviously true, however, is that it’s the most affordable film that Kodak produces, and even for photo geeks in the United States it can offer savings over domestic films when importing through Amazon and eBay sellers.
One of our writers, Jeb, is currently living in Europe and he’s shot the stuff. The results are great for such an inexpensive film. Certainly less detailed compared with Kodak Gold 200, and with a definite warmth and yellow cast, it’s a pleasant do-it-all film for shooting outdoors and in bright light. It’ll be a little too slow for evening or indoor shooting, as under-exposure tends to create color shifts in the shadows. It’s a good film for snapshots, but don’t use it if you’re trying to produce clinically perfect photos or for shots in which detail matters. Buy it here.
Kodak Ultramax 400
Kodak Ultramax 400 is a film that somehow always manages to sneak its way into at least one of my cameras. It’s cheap and available nearly everywhere, and truly does a great job in just about every situation (for proof, check out our in-depth film profile on the stuff).
On the outside, Ultramax 400 isn’t anything to shout about. It’s packaged and sold as a consumer film, which completely belies its true qualities as a stellar all-around film. It’s relatively quick speed of ISO 400 helps grab those elusive golden hour shots and let’s us transition nicely into low light shots, provided the shooter has steady hands or is using a tripod. Ultramax 400’s more pronounced grain structure is arranged in a pleasing way, and its color rendition (to my taste) is much more balanced than Kodak Gold.
Ultramax 400 sounds like it would be a good deal for just about everybody, but for whatever reason, that just isn’t the case. I’ve heard plenty of shooters say that they avoid Ultramax 400 like the plague because they don’t find the colors attractive or that they find the grain slightly off-putting. Though these are matters of opinion, I’ve heard these criticisms enough to make me balk at recommending this film to every single film shooter. Nevertheless, I will recommend this film to shooters looking for an affordable, reliable all-around film, provided the color rendition agrees with your personal photographic vision. Buy it here.
Professional films are those that are typically manufactured with a specific application in mind. Whether these be formulated for wedding or portrait photographers, or made to work best with landscapes, pro films usually do one job exceptionally well. Of course, this comes at a cost. Pro films are often double or triple the price per roll of consumer-level films.
Kodak makes quite a few impressive pro-level color-negative films. Let’s talk about those.
Kodak Ektar 100
Since its introduction in 2008, Ektar has built a reputation as one of Kodak’s premier films. It’s the emulsion that promised to fill the void that the world-famous Kodachrome left in the company’s catalog when it was discontinued. Like Kodachrome, Ektar is slow (ISO 100), fine grained, and has a much sought-after vibrancy in its color palette. But unlike Kodachrome, Ektar is a C-41 color negative film, enabling it to be processed by any film processing lab.
Though it is arguably Kodak’s best emulsion in about twenty years, I would not recommend Ektar for every situation. Ektar shines in bright daylight and in colorful scenes, but will need some extra post-processing work when dealing with overcast and low-light scenes. It’s also a challenging emulsion to use for portraiture and general people pictures as the emulsion tends to emphasize reds, which in certain situations can make people look Oompa Loompa-ish.
Ektar is also particularly challenging for the novice photographer. The emulsion does not have the wide exposure latitude of Portra 400 or even Ultramax 400, and shifts colors slightly based on slight over- and under-exposure. Self-scanning Ektar is also a pain with consumer-level scanners. Ektar benefits greatly when processed and scanned through professional level machines by those with extensive experience with the emulsion.
All that said, when exposed, developed, and scanned correctly Ektar may just be the best color negative emulsion out there (see our full writeup on Ektar here). The colors are about as beautiful and vibrant as old-school Kodachrome and the grain is fine enough to make some truly sharp scans and gigantic prints. For professionals and amateurs who’d like to test their skill, Ektar’s a great choice. Buy it here in 35mm, here in medium format.
Kodak Portra 160
Kodak’s slowest offering in the Portra lineup is also one of their most intriguing. Portra 160 is perhaps the most archetypical of the Portra philosophy – it offers a subtler, gentler color palette when compared to other color negative emulsions. Pair this understated color palette to the fine grain offered by an ISO 160 film, and you end up with one of the finest portraiture films on the market.
While Portra 160 is very obviously suited to portraiture, it also shines with general photography. While films like Ultramax, Gold, and Ektar will saturate the hell out of any color present in the frame, Portra 160 instead goes for depth and subtlety. This is perfect for images which emphasize texture and detail rather than bold color and contrast. Portra 160 has become a favorite of wedding photographers, portrait photographers, and photographers who generally prefer a gentler, even dreamier image.
Though Portra 160 is suitable for a variety of situations, it is far from the most versatile film. Its low sensitivity limits usage in low light, and shooters who find themselves wanting to emphasize particularly colorful surroundings will be left wanting. But when used for its intended application of portraiture and airy people photography, it performs well. Buy it here in 35mm, here in medium format.
Kodak Portra 400
Portra 400 is perhaps the most widely used film in Kodak’s catalog, and for good reason – it’s nearly flawless. Its color palette is one of the most balanced among color emulsions, its exposure latitude is the widest in photography (about six stops of over-exposure and three to four stops of under-exposure when processed at box speed), and its grain is some of the finest found in a 400 speed film (see the details in our film profile here).
Portra 400’s versatility makes it the Kodak film that I’d recommend for every situation. Its wide exposure latitude makes it suitable for the brightest daylight scenes and the darkest low-light scenes, as well as in super high contrast situation. The wide exposure latitude also provides a lot of room for over- and under-exposure, making it a particularly good film for cameras with slow shutter speeds or slow lenses.
That said, Portra’s versatility and subsequent popularity does make it a bit of a stale, almost clichéd film these days. Just about every film photographer has used Portra 400 as some point, which makes it tough for Portra images to stand out from the crowd. But as always, an inspired eye can overcome just about any stereotype, and Portra 400 is worth the effort. Buy it here in 35mm, here in medium format.
Kodak Portra 800
Last in the Portra line is Portra 800, Kodak’s higher speed color negative offering. In some ways, Portra 800 is a bit redundant considering Portra 400’s exposure latitude covers nearly all of Portra 800’s effective range. But Portra 800 is another spectacular option when light gets really low, and I find Portra 800 shines particularly when used for this intended application.
The film is grainier than Portra 400 and makes a slightly more stark and contrasty image, which makes it pretty much perfect for moody, dimly lit scenes in which grain and contrast are welcome. Images made with 800 look more like a traditional color negative film, which is welcome considering how close to digital perfection images from Portra 160 and 400 can be.
Where Portra 800 tends to disappoint is when it’s under-exposed. Under-exposed images take on the dreaded green shadows so familiar to color negative shooters. That said, experienced low-light shooters will have a ball with this film. Buy it here in 35mm, here in medium format.
The choice of street photographers and photojournalists for more than a hundred years, black-and-white film is as classic as it gets. Processed with different chemicals than color film, most photo geeks tend to self-process these films at home. This makes them more economical to shoot, allows greater control over the image and process, and creates a real connection between photographer and image.
Kodak produces a number of really excellent and storied black-and-white films. Let’s take a look.
Seasoned readers of CP will know that I’m a day one, ride-or-die Tri-X shooter. My love for this film knows absolutely no bounds, and for good reason. It’s the 400 speed black-and-white film used by nearly every great photographer of the 20th century, and by millions today.
Though reformulated in recent years, Tri-X still holds the benchmark for 400 speed black-and-white film emulsions. At box speed the texture is fine with just a touch of grit, and offers a gradual tonal gradient in the midtones that most film emulsions only dream of. For general out-and-about photography, Tri-X at box speed is good for pretty much everything. But when pushed to ISO 800-3200, Tri-X’s grain gets bigger and contrast intensifies, and in comes that stark, gritty look the film made its name on.
As with Portra 400, Tri-X’s achilles heel is its popularity. Shooting Tri-X exclusively does tend to get boring after a while. Nevertheless, the look of Tri-X is a look that has stood the test of time for more than half a century, and in the hands of a thoughtful photographer it can still be as impactful as ever. Buy it here in 35mm, here in medium format.
Kodak T-max 100 and 400
Kodak’s T-max films are downright modern compared with the historically powerful Tri-X. They have rich mid-tones and super fine grain, coupled with excellent exposure latitude.
The slower speed of the two, T-Max 100, takes advantage of the line’s T-grain (tabular grain) to create incredibly fine images that are super detailed and amazingly sharp. The low sensitivity of T-max 100 makes images that are much finer than the old school Tri-X, making it an excellent choice for fine art photographers and those shooting black-and-white images in a studio, or for those who want the least grain possible in bright light.
T-max 400 is the more versatile, higher-speed T-grain black-and-white film from Kodak. It shares many of the positive attributes of T-max 100, with only a slight increase in graininess. This supposed fault is offset by the film’s ability to be shot in virtually any light.
Kodak T-max P3200
Though Tri-X can be processed to be a stellar low-light film, Kodak’s T-max P3200 is undoubtedly the company’s flagship super speed film. It’s actually an 800-1000 ISO film, but is made to be pushed for use in low-light. It has fast become a favorite of the CP staff owing to its super-speed and surprisingly strong exposure latitude and tonality.
Although grain is much more prominent in P3200 than in the other T-max offerings, it’s controlled and pleasant given the right subject. P3200’s midtones similarly do not suffer from the often contrasty nature of quick film and pushed film. In fact, P3200 unfiltered tends more towards middle gray than anything.
But for all of its low-light acrobatics, T-max P3200 isn’t the film for shooting in broad daylight, or even in controlled lighting situations. The grain is simply too prominent for scenes loaded with detail, and the flat gray midtones can be annoying to work around if you prefer a more contrasty black-and-white look.
Shooters looking for a do-it-all black-and-white film probably won’t be satisfied with the specificity of P3200. This film is much more suited to nightcrawlers who will certainly enjoy the flexibility and detail P3200 offers in extreme low light situations. Buy it here.
Eastman Double X
Double X isn’t officially a film offered by Kodak for 35mm still cameras, but it still enjoys popularity among hardcore film shooters. It’s Kodak’s oldest emulsion, an ISO 250 black-and-white dating back to 1959 which offers a very different take on black-and-white.
Images made on Eastman Double X tend to have a gritty, stark overall tone. Under controlled lighting and with precise exposure and filter usage this film can exhibit the smooth, beautiful midtones it was formulated for, but in high contrast situations this film easily takes shadows and highlights right to the edge, crushing shadows and blowing highlights left and right. It’s not a film for every situation, but rewards discretion and meticulous shooting with contrasty, beautiful images.
The difficulties that come with shooting an old film stock like Double X is the reason why I wouldn’t recommend this film for novice shooters, especially those cutting their teeth with a meterless mechanical camera. It’s too difficult to shoot without previous experience with films like Tri-X, T-max, or Ilford’s HP5+. But for those who have been around the black-and-white block a couple of times, Double X is a uniquely rewarding option. Buy it here.
Color Reversal Slide Film
Color reversal film, also known as slide film, is different from color negative film in that it makes a positive image on a transparent base. These are used with slide projectors to project a brilliant image onto a screen, or in more modern times, can be scanned for digital use like any other film image. Their narrow exposure latitude and lower sensitivity make them best suited to controlled environments and professional use, but their incredible color reproduction and vibrancy can’t be beat by any other film type.
Kodak has a long history of making incredible slide film, and recent history has seen the brand reintroduce their well-loved Ektachrome ( to much deserved fanfare). Let’s talk about that.