Six Months with Kodak’s New Ektachrome

Six Months with Kodak’s New Ektachrome

2800 1857 Josh Solomon

The magnitude of Kodak successfully rereleasing a film like Ektachrome is huge. It’s also a milestone that, frankly, many of us never thought possible. When the staff here at CP first heard whispers of an Ektachrome revival, we were happy, but skeptical. We’d been through this before with other film projects. Big promises on social media to #keepfilmalive, the flashy promotional campaign, the buzzworded crowdfunding, and the whole load of nothing that happens afterwards. For more than a year we heard just a few intermittent reports that Ektachrome was still coming. But we were entirely ready to be disappointed again.

When I walked out the doors of my local camera store holding an actual roll of new Kodak Professional Ektachrome E100, I was astonished. Those crazy folk from Rochester actually did it, I thought. They revived slide film.

The rerelease of Ektachrome was an important moment in the revival of film as a popular photographic and artistic medium, so we decided to give it some time before writing our impressions of the new emulsion. For the past six months, the entire CP staff has been shooting this film to get a complete picture of what it is, and how it fits in the age of film revivalism. Here’s what we’ve found.

What is the new Ektachrome

Ektachrome E100 is an E-6 process slide film, the most endangered of all film species. Once the creme-de-la-creme of all color film, E-6 slide film was hit the hardest by the digital revolution. Mounted slides of family vacations churning through the mechanical teeth of a projector were replaced by online photo sharing services. Professional fashion and editorial photographers abandoned the laborious process of shooting and developing slide film for the infinitely quicker and easier to use digital files. The neighborhood labs that developed everyone’s film naturally abandoned the E-6 process as fast as demand would allow.

Today, slide film is kept alive by the most hardcore of hardcore film shooters who love it for its high-risk, high-reward nature. They’ll gladly trade hard work, mental toil, and untold amounts of disposable income for the rich, vivid, and true-to-life images only slide film can bring. I’d even say those same shooters enjoy the laborious process of shooting slide film because it is the very antithesis of the fast-paced, ephemeral nature of modern photography. If you like film photography, you’ll probably like slide film.

But like all the hardcore segments of any market, these slide film shooters are far outnumbered by casual, everyday shooters. It would seemingly make more sense for Kodak to introduce an easy-to-use, affordable color negative film, not a technically demanding, outdated, niche film. And yet, here we are.

The new Ektachrome is a daylight-balanced color transparency film, like the old Ektachrome. It’s a lower contrast formula to provide balance and a wide dynamic range, and it has a neutral tonal scale for greater color accuracy. Super fine T-grain keeps images smooth and suitable for scanning.

Shooting the new Ektachrome

Ektachrome E100 is no different from old school slide films in that it’s a difficult, inflexible film meant for the more experienced shooter (or at least one who has a reliable camera with an accurate metering system, and a general understanding of light). At ISO 100 it’s a slow film. Shooters used to pushing C41 or recovering highlights and shadows on badly exposed shots in post processing, as well as lovers of high-contrast lighting conditions, will be in for a rude awakening. Ektachrome doesn’t hesitate to blow highlights and crush shadows if exposure is a half stop off. Nor will it hesitate to throw your colors out of whack if incorrectly exposed by even small amounts.

A difficult film like Ektachrome needs a more experienced touch to be shot to its advantages. Ektachrome demands an intimate knowledge of how to meter for specific situations, or at least an incredibly accurate metering and autoexposure system, lest you end up with a horribly exposed shot. I would hesitate to trust this film inside a pure auto-exposure camera, and I would also be very careful while running this through an old meterless mechanical camera unless you have a good handheld light meter or a perfectly-trained eye for light.

All those worrying words spoken, best practices for shooting Kodak’s new Ektachrome are actually surprisingly simple. For people with experience, Ektachrome is easy. Shoot it at box speed and meter for mid-tones. Over-exposing by one stop will create color shifts, and over-exposing by more will destroy highlights. Under-exposing will kill contrast and color. Just shoot it at 100, and make sure you’ve got the right camera, lens, and light for a 100 speed film.

Image Quality and Character

What are the advantages of this troublesome film? Ektachrome’s technical data sheet notes a remarkable sharpness and a neutral, but rich color palette, which should result in a truer-to-life image compared with most C41 film. While this is objectively true, it only scratches the surface of what this film really is. Let’s dig a little deeper.

To get closer, let’s first take a tip from St. Thomas Aquinas and define this film in terms of what it is not. Despite its marketing as a professional film, Ektachrome is not the most capable, most accurate slide film on offer. That title still belongs to Fuji Provia 100F. Provia is a more versatile film because of its wider exposure latitude, and for my money, it’s a more accurate film when it comes to color balance. If pressed for a job that required an accurate color slide film, I’d choose Provia over Ektachrome. 

We could end it there, but measuring Ektachrome by the yardstick of sheer technical achievement is a mistake. In fact, I’d argue that technical achievement was never the point of Ektachrome to begin with. Ektachrome’s value doesn’t lie in the sheer majesty of its technical ability, but in the way it leverages that technical ability. For example, Ektachrome is incredibly sharp, but it still features a bit more grain than would be expected for a modern film. Ektachrome uses this to its advantage – images recall the older slide films that populated the pages of old National Geographic issues from the 1980s and 90s. These shots are super fine, but we can still tell they’re made on 35mm film.

An even bigger part of Ektachrome’s signature look is its color rendition. As stated before, its color balance is much more neutral than its color negative counterparts, but still falls a little short of the absolute neutrality of a film like Fuji Provia. It features a slight emphasis towards blue, which again is a signature of old school E-6 slide film. Ektachrome also features a signature color saturation and contrast that I’ve never seen with other films. The colors are deep, rich, and vivid, but never cartoon-esque as some C41 color films can be. Skin tones of any flavor are perfect, true-to-life. Looking at Ektachrome’s colors is like looking at a well-preserved painting by Titian himself, which makes most color offerings look like dime-store Fauvism by comparison.

All this being said, it’s a film that requires the right context and setting to succeed. I’d hesitate to recommend this film to run-and-gun street shooters, first for its lack of exposure latitude, and then because of its high saturation, which can unnaturally emphasize more incidental parts of a scene. This is a film that excels under controlled lighting, or with a slower, more careful style of shooting. It rewards patience and anticipation, precise subject placement, and an intimate understanding of color. Ektachrome also excels particularly well in diffused lighting, which tames its high contrast and saturation and lets details pop just a little bit more.

Final Thoughts

Ektachrome’s specificity makes it hard to place among other color films. It’s not a do-it-all film like Kodak Portra 400 or Fuji Pro 400H. It’s not even the cream of the crop professional tool like Fuji Provia 100F. If I had to place it anywhere, I’d place it close to Kodak Ektar in that it’s a bit of a character piece, even though it features a better overall color rendition than that film. But if I really think about it, Ektachrome stands alone.

I suppose that’s fitting – by all rights, Ektachrome shouldn’t even be here. Up until a few months ago it was all but certain that we’d be saying goodbye to E-6 slide film. Kodachrome fell in 2010. Fujifilm, though producing some of the best film in the game, keeps cutting film from their catalog like a bitter ex deleting every photo of you off of their phone. And even though film is experiencing a resurgence, it never looked like the difficult, strange pleasures of slide film would ever be attractive to new shooters, not to mention film manufacturers.

And yet, here we are with a newly manufactured but completely old-school film in Ektachrome. Even if it acts much like its old, outdated predecessors, people love this film, if not for what it is, then for what it represents. The reintroduction of Ektachrome represents a big vote of confidence from the world’s biggest film manufacturers, and bodes well for film photography as a whole. It ensures us that slide film, still an integral part of film photography, is preserved for the foreseeable future. Most importantly, it’s a sign that a big company like Kodak thinks that our weird little obsession with film is actually worth something. As somebody who loves film, that means everything.

Buy Kodak Professional Ektachrome E100 from B&H Photo

Buy Kodak Professional Ektachrome E100 on Amazon

Buy Kodak Professional Ektachrome E100 on eBay

Josh Solomon

Josh Solomon is a freelance writer and touring bassist living in Los Angeles. He has an affinity for all things analog. When not onstage, you can find him roaming around Southern California shooting film and humming a tune.

All stories by:Josh Solomon
23 comments
  • “Looking at Ektachrome’s colors is like looking at a well-preserved painting by Titian himself, which makes most color offerings look like dime-store Fauvism by comparison.” hahaha As an art teacher an art major in college I like this one. I shot my first roll of ektachrome through my m3 and got really nice results. I really hope they bring this to medium format. I have heard rumors that they will. I have been using my Hasselblad more and more. Right now in one back I have velvia 50 in it right now.

    • I admit that I had no idea what Josh was talking about with this line, and I damn near edited it out. Glad I kept it in for ya.

      • Hah! That line turned out to be a deeper cut than I had anticipated. I figured it was apt because Titian’s paintings were known for their masterfully accurate and beautiful use of color while Fauvism tended to exaggerate color for emotional impact. The former, when done well, is like looking at a well-exposed slide while the latter, when done poorly, looks like Fuji Superia 400 baked in a car for a few months.

      • It made me laugh. One thing certainly true of both Titian’s paintings and Ektachrome is the sporadic vividness of the blues, and I don’t necessarily mean in skies. I mean in clothing, on cars, and in street signs, and other otherwise incidental components of a scene. They’re sometimes distracting, yet that’s where the character comes from. Among scans of my film, it’s a quick way to spot which ones were Ektachrome: look for the blues.

  • Merlin Marquardt March 27, 2019 at 12:26 pm

    Wonderful.

  • I gotta try some of this, I used to shoot almost all Ektachrome before digital. One question: I’ve been looking online and some places sell “E-100” (B&H)and others sell “E-100G” (Adorama). Is there a difference?

    • Ektachrome E100 is the new film, which began production in 2018. Ektachrome E-100G and E-100GX are old stock, which was discontinued in (maybe) 2012? Either way, it’s old stock. Some of the last batches had expiration dates in the 2020s, so it may still be good, but since the old stock tends to cost more, I’d just buy the new version.

  • I dunno if I agree with your praise of Provia. I’ve shot a decent amount of it and while it’s a great film it’s very Fuji-like in it’s rendering… High contrast and color saturation, reddish skin tones with pale skin and anything in shadow goes very blue (I always have an 812 filter on with Provia). I’m about five rolls in on the new E100 and I like it much more, it’s more balanced, neutral and true to life colors (skin tone is the best I’ve seen on film IMO).

    • Hm that’s funny, I have an issue with Ektachrome going blue overall! I suppose Ektachrome overall strikes me as being a more interpretive than Provia. I think it’s the added exposure latitude of Provia that provides a little more extension in the shadows that puts it over for me in the “true-to-life” department. Different strokes for different folks though, I know a lot of folks (including CP staff) that much prefer Ektachrome to Provia.

      • Keep in mind that the results from slide films these days may vary both based on who’s developing them and based on how they’re scanned (or viewed). A slight difference in the developing procedure may change the characteristics of the film. A slight difference in scanning setup and parameters (or in the light used for viewing a slide) may change how the film looks after developing and scanning/viewing.

        To really compare two E-6 films validly, you need to use the same processing lab and the same scanning procedure (one option in some cases being drum scanning by some processing labs) or the same viewing procedure. That’s not necessarily difficult for one person to do, but it’s trickier for multiple people discussing a film online to all do the same thing with respect to developing and scanning/viewing.

        So with at least these two variables (not to mention the exact calibration of the camera with respect to exposure), I wouldn’t be surprised to have different people using different labs and different scanning possibly get different enough results to disagree on some aspects of a particular “film”, when in actuality you can’t evaluate a “film” in absence of at least the processing, and then either viewing or scanning, and all that’s before you get to any subjective judgement.

      • I don’t know if this is still true, or, frankly, ever true, but my understanding is that both Kodachrome and Ektachrome were deliberately blueish because they were intended to be projected, and projector bulbs, being incandescent, are yellow/orange.

  • That’s strange my results with Ektachrome 100 are much more true to life color than the results I’ve got with Provia. Also the film seems to handle low light very well. Not sure why your experiences are so different.

    • Strange indeed – I consider Provia to be the more neutral (and more malleable) film, and Ektachrome to provide more of its own character upfront. That being said, I suppose the “true-to-life” descriptor is a bit more subjective than we give it credit for, especially with slide films that tend to amp up contrast and saturation.

  • “Despite its marketing as a professional film, Ektachrome is not the most capable, most accurate slide film on offer.”

    Josh, this quote seems to imply that the tag “Professional” is a) its intended market, and b) the film is somehow better. Now, I don’t know about this modern film, but in the past “Professional” versions of films did not imply a superior film, per se, but one which had been aged by the manufacturer before release for sale, and it had to be stored in optimal conditions by the retailer, i.e. in a cooler. Once removed, the film should ideally be exposed and developed within days. There was, of course, no reason to strictly adhere to this advice, but then paying the premium for the Professional film was a moot point.

    The ageing process allowed the emulsion to reach its optimal state, very necessary for professional studios and photographers who needed the most accurate, and repeatable, colour balance. “Amateur” films, on the other hand, would be aged by being stored on the dealers’ shelves, a comment by Kodak themselves which concluded that, on average, the shelf life was around two years before sale. The colour balance gradually changes over the useful life of a film. A really fresh film, often referred to as a green film, would exhibit a colour palette completely different to what it would at the end of its useful life.

    In the 1960’s and ’70’s I used K25 and K64, together with Ektachrome 64 and 100. In my ignorance, I’d always try and buy films with the longest use-by date, but this was governed by what was on the shelves of dealers. What I noticed with Kodachrome in particular was a distinct difference between the really fresh films compared to those with much later use by dates.

    I was really interested in your review. Thanks for this. From this, although I no longer shoot film, I don’t believe I could live with the new properties of Ektachrome; it’s simply not the film I knew. Particularly, the higher contrast and “hit you in the face” colour saturation of the older films.

    • That really interesting! I’d never heard of that that aging practice before. I do still think the “professional” tag comes with different implications today, but t’d be great to find out if the “Professional” tag is a holdover from the days when it did refer to the aging process. Thanks for the insight!!

      • Josh,

        I hope I didn’t give a false impression about ageing a film. Unlike the artificial accelerated ageing processes to assess the life of digital ink prints, the procedure was simply allowing the film to mature naturally in storage. Samples of the film batches would be processed from time to time and their colour balance assessed. Once a film had reached its optimal point it was put into cold storage to arrest further “deterioration”. The film was then released to dealers as the “Professional” version of the film, and who would have the relevant cooler facilities in-store. This extra labour accounted for the higher price charged.

        I am referring to a time 5+ decades ago when I came across this subject and so the chances of coming across references today with a much reduced knowledge base of current film users, especially of slide material, to call upon is probably not possible. I have been unable to find online any modern reference. It could be, of course, that with modern film material, the ageing effect is no longer an issue.

  • Excellent article Josh. I’ll pick up some rolls for my trip to Nevada this spring 🙂

  • Excellent article. When I started shooting, in 1972 with an SLR, the second film I used after Plus-X was Kodachrome 25 and 64. Through the entire decade I never shot one roll of color print film. When I traveled to Europe for three months, in 1976, I carried 25 rolls of Kodachrome 64-36exp. Have to say I never used Ektachrome because I was more than satisfied with Kodachrome. Obviously I use Ektachrome now since I still shoot more slide than color print. I am so glad Kodak brought it back.

  • Kodachrome 64 had an upgrade in 1987, with a new green sensitizing dye that was more stable. Prior to that, fresh Kodachrome 64 often gave slightly greenish results. If you waited six or nine months, it was perfect. Learned this the hard way! Anyway, after the upgrade, it was not necessary to wait so long after manufacturing to use it.

    • Enver, I’d virtually stopped using slide film by then. Colour neg film, especially the top Fujfilm versions, had got so much better that they sufficed for my needs in 35mm. I mainly shot MF b/w film and did my own D&P. I was therefore unaware of the change made to K64 in 1987. But the tinge you refer to is exactly the point I was making above. Like a fine wine, Kodak’s professional range were only released once they had “matured”.

      But even though the later 1987 type emulsions saw an improvement in the green layer, for critical colour work, day in, day out, it would still be unreliable to buy a film “off the shelf” and why the Professional release films were still so important.

  • Just got my first roll back, and my impression was, “very literal”. It looks to me just like the scene looked through my eyes, not adding any spectacularity. If anything, it tends toward being more on the drab side, maybe due to the power contrast than Fuji, or maybe due to my -0.5 on my metering (hey, it gives me exactly what I want with velvia). From now on, I’ll shoot this stuff at box speed. It seems to like the bright light better than Fuji.

    Mostly, this stuff looks like old film from the good ol’ days. A keeper. Now they just need it in 120 and 4×5!!

  • “This is a film that excels under controlled lighting, or with a slower, more careful style of shooting. It rewards patience and anticipation, precise subject placement, and an intimate understanding of color.”

    Let that sink in for a moment.

Leave a Reply

Josh Solomon

Josh Solomon is a freelance writer and touring bassist living in Los Angeles. He has an affinity for all things analog. When not onstage, you can find him roaming around Southern California shooting film and humming a tune.

All stories by:Josh Solomon