Updated - November 2017
Hello Everyone! I get a lot of questions from fellow photographers about the types of color films I use and why I use them. I figured this would be a good subject to write about and give people some insight on film types. The question frequently comes from someone who may have just gotten their first film camera and wants to know what kind of film to use for landscapes. This always excites me as I'm glad there are still loads of people just starting out with film. The medium really has a lot of potential and life left in it. As a disclaimer, all of this is just based off of my personal experience and what works for me. Also, this information mostly applies to landscapes, as that is my expertise. If a film gives me the results I want for a certain situation then it's a winner in my book.
Since I first created this blog post back in 2013 and updated it a couple years later, it's time to revisit the topic as I've created many new images using several of these film types and have a deeper experience with most of them. There's also different news when it comes to certain film availability so it's worth another update now that it's 2017.
Firstly, there are two basic types of color films I'll go over. Then I'll go through the brands and lines of film that I have used. In the image above, I have two sheets of 4x5" film sitting on my light table. The one on the left is a color positive (also called a transparency or slide) and the one on the right is a color negative (also called print film). As you can see, they are quite different.
Positive film gives you an image the way you saw it when you snapped the shutter. It also produces rich, saturated colors and strong contrast. Due to these characteristics, it is very important that the exposure is perfect when using positive film. There is not much room for error, overexposed areas will quickly become completely white and unusable, underexposed areas will be very dark or even black and only recoverable with some very expensive scanning equipment, if it can be done at all. When using positive films, it's important that the scene not be too contrasty, or that it be controlled using graduated neutral density filters. However, when the scene is just right for positive films you get rewarded with fantastic colors. This type of film is also typically easier to scan and work with digitally.
Negative film looks like an orange mess when viewed on a light table, with only very saturated colors showing up as odd purple and cyan tones. It is meant to be inverted during the scanning or optical printing process to get the correct colors. This film creates softer, more natural colors and lower contrast than positive films, allowing for a much greater latitude with exposure and dynamic range. Highlights in the scene are usually handled wonderfully and these films can take quite a bit of overexposure. They tend to require a little more care when scanning to get the colors to match what you remember when you took the photo. It will typically appear too cyan for my taste and need some corrections. Now on to specific lines of film, starting with positive films:
Fuji Velvia 50
Fuji Velvia 50: If someone were to come to me right now as a beginner and ask what kind of film to get for landscapes I would recommend some Velvia 50 as soon as possible before it's all gone. They discontinued it (in all markets except Japan) in large format a couple years ago and it's always possible they will be doing the same with other formats soon. It may take a while before you can get exposure down perfectly with this film, but I think you should get some and keep it in the fridge or freezer, just so you have the chance to use it someday.
Velvia 50 is a fantastic film when the scene isn't too contrasty to handle it. It's great at bringing out the vibrant detail in intimate scenes that are in open shade or overcast conditions. Typically if there is going to be sky in the photo you may need to use a graduated ND filter to darken it or Velvia may not be able to handle the range, depending on the time of day and the scene. Only use Velvia when you really, really want strong colors. While I find the colors to be very accurate in hue, it's easy for it to go over the top with saturation. The longer your exposure the more saturated the colors will become, particularly in those minutes well after sunset or before sunrise. Expose it very carefully, and I think it's true speed may be closer to 40 than 50. If you overexpose the highlights just a tad they will be completely lost. Most exposure times will be rather long if you're using this film during golden hour, so plan on using a tripod.
In the last year I've taken a liking to how this film deals with twilight hues well before sunrise. In the image above there was that special predawn light where the peaks begin to glow before any direct light has hit them. There's just a few minute window where it's light enough to pull off an exposure on Velvia - if you wait too long the sky quickly lightens and the peaks appear darker in comparison. With this two minute exposure Velvia gets very saturated and brings out the warm purple hues in the sky that exist during twilight hours.
Filter Usage: I typically don't recommend using any color correction filters with Velvia 50. It tends to shift to the warm hues and doesn't need a warming filter unless the light in open shade is exceptionally cool. It's very rare that I use a warming filter with Velvia 50, aside from the very subtle warm tone that's built into my polarizing filter.
Other Notes: It's worth mentioning that Velvia 50 has a rather extreme reciprocity failure as the exposures get longer than a few seconds which is quite easy given the slow speed of this film. If your meter reads 4 seconds you'll need a 5 second exposure, if you meter 8 seconds you'll need a 12 second exposure, and by the time your meter reads 32 seconds a correct exposure is already 64 seconds. It's definitely worth keeping this in mind as the light fades.
Availability: As of 2017, it seems that Velvia 50 is still in production in all common formats. In roll sizes it's easy to find in most markets but sheets are a real challenge outside of Japan. Fuji dropped the sheet film Velvia 50 line (seemingly altogether) in late 2012, but it seems it was just a temporary production halt and a pull out of the global market. You can sometimes find group buys on Facebook or other channels to get some supplies of this film directly from Japan if you're a large format user. Be prepared to pay a steep price, it is Fuji's most expensive film and the difficult supply has amplified that problem.
Fuji Velvia 100
Fuji Velvia 100: Sometimes you want the strong colors but can't deal with the long exposure times of Velvia 50. Velvia 100 does a good job of filling in that gap, but it doesn't produce the same colors that Velvia 50 does at all and it is by no means a similar emulsion. In my experience, it tends to have a strong magenta color cast, especially in the shadows that usually needs corrected after scanning. Don't get me wrong though, it's a good film and has been used quite a bit by me for those times when there just weren't long enough breaks in the wind to be able to take the several second exposures I'd need on Velvia 50.
This would be a good example of Velvia 100's strong magenta cast. It renders the deeper tones of open shade in a far more magenta tone that most other films in my experience. As long as you know what results you can get out of your films it can work to your advantage. I think it worked rather well for a saturated sunset over these mystifying rock formations.
I have come to find in recent years that Velvia 100 seems to have the lowest dynamic range of any film that I've ever used. At first I thought it was perhaps just a bit faster than box speed (perhaps more like 125), but then I realized that when exposed at that speed to save the highlights it still doesn't retain the shadow detail of a properly exposed sheet of Provia or Velvia 50. This has made it a very special-use film for me as you must be even more careful to expose perfectly and use GND filters for the sky, it really can't handle much in the way of overexposure and those magenta sunset colors will quickly block up into and unusable mess. I save it for those times when I think the colors will enhance the landscape like in the image below:
Filter Usage: As with Velvia 50, there's really no reason to use a warming filter with this film. Even in cool open shade where the white balance is naturally blue, Velvia 100 will render it a purplish tone and a warming filter will not help with that at all.
Availability: As of 2017, it seems this film is available in most common sizes and most markets. I've never cared for this film as much as the 50 speed version so I really wish the availability was the other way around. Note: This film is not to be confused with Velvia 100F. The F version is again a completely different film, one that I have never heard anyone mention a good word about. That version has been disappearing from the market it most places.
Kodak E100G: This is a fantastic film that was unfortunately discontinued in March 2012. All of the large format sheet film is gone (except for really expensive stuff on ebay) but you may be able find it in medium format and 35mm at
several online stores (This is no longer true, it's all ebay auctions now). This film has great dynamic range for a slide film and a very pleasing color palette for all situations. It had wonderful warm colors and a unique rendition of greens. Unfortunately I discovered it only months before it was discontinued and was only able to take a few good images with it.
Filter Usage: Again this film tends to be slightly warm and I never saw much of the need for a warming filter. The shadows never appeared very cool.
Availability: As of 2017 I have run out of this film completely and do not plan to look for more. I used to throw a roll of it into my medium format camera on occasion during the fall and enjoy how it rendered the changing leaves. The high dynamic range was also a plus because it was far more forgiving than the Fuji slides. If you don't mind getting emotionally attached to the film and then having your heart broken because you can't find it again, then sure go ahead and get some if you can find it. I have also tried it's more saturated brother, E100VS a few times, but I never cared for the color palette it offered. I found it to render some magenta tones around sunrise as a brown hue.
Possible Hope: Kodak announced in late 2016 that they would be releasing a new slide film called E100. No G or anything on the end, this would be a new emulsion. Currently they have just shown interest in 35mm and say it will be released by the end of 2017. We'll have to see.
Fuji Provia 100F
Fuji Provia 100f: This is a great all around slide film and is always readily available. I assume Fuji consolidated all of their slide film production down to just this one film that is very usable and good for almost all slide shooting. Colors are still strong as it is a slide film but not over the top and it has reasonable dynamic range. It's a jack-of-all-trades slide film and works well for a wide variety of scenes. Over the last several years I've had to treat Velvia like more of a rarity so this has become my go-to slide film and I must say I'm typically happy with the results.
It can really excel when photographing in the desert as it keeps the colors tasteful in rock formations and other bare earth. Above is a good example of Provia's usefulness in desert landscapes. It still has strong enough contrast to bring out the textures in the sand ripples, but it doesn't oversaturate the delicate hues of the morning light. When it comes to photographing sand dunes I tend to have most of my film holders loaded with Provia.
Its general usability means that Provia can be great for roll film cameras where you can change the film midway through the roll. I end up using it almost exclusively in my Panoramic 6x17cm camera and have found it to be able to work with nearly every scene I throw at it. Another strong point of this film is that it doesn't have much at all in the way of reciprocity failure so even a long 40 second exposure like the image above doesn't need any correction.
Filter Usage: Provia tends to lean towards cool tones, particularly in open shade and twilight. I would strongly recommend using a warming filter (such as an 81B) to correct this in just about any scene unless you desire some strong cool blues. In certain scenes the blue highlights can actually block up to where they can't be saved after scanning and a filter will definitely help with that.
Availability: Widely available in all common film formats, it's very rare that Provia runs out of stock at the major online retailers.
Fuji Astia 100F
Fuji Astia 100f: This film was known for it's softer colors for a slide film, making it famous among portrait and fashion photographers but made it less popular with landscape photographers. I have only made a few good photographs with it, the one above being a standout. This was possibly the strongest aplenglow colors I had ever seen. I knew that any other slide film would have likely made the mountains an overly powerful red that would have just been too much so I took the shot on Astia. This film has a bit of an odd warm, yellowish color cast in most cases that isn't always flattering for landscapes, though I have seen some photographers make outstanding photographs of river scenes with it.
Filter Usage: Astia was designed to be flattering for portraits, resulting in a soft color palette that leans towards warmer hues. I could not see any reason to use a warming filter for this film because it always turns out somewhat yellow as is. The above image would have certainly turned out quite blue on Provia even with a warming filter so Astia worked maintain the tones in the forest.
Availability: I decided to leave this film in the blog post as archive material as the film was discontinued in 2011 or 12. As of 2017, Astia is mostly gone aside from some occasional ebay auctions that are getting more expensive and the film is getting more expired. That said, I did recently score a couple hundred sheets of the stuff so I will be looking into rediscovering the right uses for it. Next up is color negative film!
Kodak Ektar 100
Kodak Ektar 100: Introduced in late 2008, it's a relatively new film from Kodak. It has colors nearly as strong as slide film, but the dynamic range is just plain ridiculous. I find it to have very good greens and reds, and have had great luck using it to photograph waterfalls and rivers with lush green foliage around them. Often the water appears too bright or the foliage too dark when using slide film.
When shooting grand landscapes at golden hour I still try to use graduated ND filters with Ektar, as keeping the exposure right around the middle zone will give the most accurate colors, I wouldn't recommend overexposing it the way you might with other color negative films. This film really works for all situations. The scene above would have previously been impossible for me to photograph. Using this incredible film, I was able to keep the backlit aspen bright and still have a blue sky behind them.
Ektar has pretty much become my go-to film for backlit scenes. When I'm ever worried at a scene may be too contrasty for any of my slide films I will often also take a shot on Ektar just to make sure I get something out the shoot. It's always able to handle details in the shadows and even with the sun directly in the frame it does a good job of keeping it from washing out the sky. As a note, I will say that underexposed areas will become rather saturated which is common on negative films. Try to use that to your advantage but beware that it can easily become too much.
Filter Usage: With all negative film I don't really recommend using a warming filter unless the color balance outside is extremely cool. In the modern scanning process you will do color correction during and after the inversion of the negative, meaning that you won't really be able to tell a difference whether or not you used a color correction filter unless you're under some extremely out-of-whack color scenario such as poor quality tungsten or fluorescent light.
Availability: This film is readily available in all the common formats. It's not a very old film and it seems that Kodak is making continuous fresh supplies. It's also typically one of the cheapest professional films in roll sizes and 4x5, but for some reason one of the most expensive in 8x10.
Kodak Portra 160 and 400
Kodak Portra 160 and 400: Portra is all about the subtleties. Soft colors, tons of detail and a dynamic range even better than Ektar. It handles highlights unlike anything else and usually looks good a bit overexposed. I find it to be a film for special purposes when it's qualities are exactly what you want; it's not always ideal for landscapes if you are going for more of a strong color and contrast look. I use it frequently for my project on the oil industry around Weld County, as the soft colors and contrast are exactly the look I'm going for. The Portra VC (vivid color) and NC (natural color) lines were consolidated into this new film several years ago and no longer exist. The new film is somewhere in between the two on color saturation and, as Kodak claims, it really does seem to scan better with more accurate colors. It's availability in 400 speed is fantastic for handheld shooting. It's my go-to film when walking around with my medium format camera. This film is in a league of its own.
I've recently taken a liking to Portra when used for bright snowy scenes. The low saturation of the film and high overexposure tolerance give a true white look to the snow without any unwanted color casts. Don't be afraid to really add a lot of exposure for a sunlit snowy scene with this film. Two or three stops over neutral grey can make sunlit snow look perfect.
Coincidentally, I have only used the 160 version in 4x5 and the 400 version in medium format sizes. I find that the higher speed is perfect for those times when you just want to walk around with a camera and not worry about a tripod. When using the 160 version I tend to be going for very soft colors so I expose it at 100 and err on the side of overexposure. For me, I tend to use the 400 speed version as a general landscape film so I expose at box speed for the midtones and don't worry too much about highlights or shadows as the film can handle it. I feel like it may be possible that the 400 version has a bit more color saturation.
Quick Tip: Portra can be a very versatile film depending on how you expose it. Overexpose it and you'll get very soft colors and dreamy highlights, underexpose it just a tad and you can get strong colors that look almost more like a slide film. This makes it a very attractive for roll film use as you can have multiple purposes out of just one type of film.
Availability: It's currently available in all the common formats in both speeds. The 400 version usually costs a bit more than the 160 version.
Fuji Pro 160NS
Fuji Pro 160NS: This recommendation is for my fans outside the US, as the film is hardly available without crossing an ocean in either direction. I was recently given a box of this film by a very kind and generous gentleman who lives in Europe, and I've been happy with the results so far. My initial impression is that it has a very unique rendition of green, looking far more like a slide film in some ways. It still has all the incredible dynamic range of a negative film and I was quite happy with the results along this foggy trail. If you live in a place where you can actually find this film it's certainly worth a try.
Update 2017: I'm not sure Fuji plans on keeping this film around. It seems to have disappeared even overseas in sheets and there have been rumors that it's no longer being produced in roll formats as well. It's hard to say what Fuji is up to sometimes.
This concludes the list of color films that I have personally tried. Of course there are so many other types out there ranging from great to bad, discontinued to available. Many of the other film types out there are geared more towards portrait or general use photography so I just haven't tried them.
Quite often, someone will ask me what my favorite film is. As you can see, there is a reason to use just about each film so it is hard to choose favorites. They all have their purposes. One of the major benefits of shooting large format is that I can change the film type with every shot, instead of having to burn through a whole roll before moving on to the next one. While I recommend that people at least get some Velvia in the fridge while it's still available, I think that the best films to start with for landscapes would be Provia and Ektar. They are both good, all-purpose films and trying both positive and negative film will help you get an idea of what works best for you.
Next up is what to do with the film once you've gotten your perfect exposures. I get a lot of questions on how I scan and edit my color negative film, so I've written a blog post showing you my entire workflow for a sheet of Ektar. Check it out here.
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