With so much 35mm film to choose from, the buying decision can be daunting – especially for digital shooters new to film photography, or those coming back after a long break. Some film can be relatively expensive, after all, and then there are the development costs to consider.
To give you some guidance, we asked noted travel and landscape shooter Matt Parry* to make some recommendations – he’s been a passionate film photographer for a long time and reckons he’s about 75% film orientated at the moment. Matt’s work has appeared in National Geographic Traveller UK, Wanderlust, Lonely Planet Traveller and, of course, AP.
*Although Matt also works for Harman Technology Limited he is writing here in an independent capacity. All images CREDIT: Matt Parry.
What films did you cut your teeth on?
My favourite colour film for many years was AgfaVista 200, also known as the Fujifilm C200. It is discontinued now, but delivered great, nicely saturated images in good light. You might still be able to find it somewhere but it’s at the end of its life.
I loved Kodak Gold 200 and 400 too and Fujifilm Superior 400, too.
What are your current favourite films?
I love Kodak Portra 800. There are three Portras, rated at ISO 160, 400 and 800. It’s not just the film speeds that are a bit different though, as you will also get slightly varied colours and tones. I cherish 160 and 800 as they offer something a bit different.
You are going to get more grain with Portra 800 but the colours are beautiful – they are definitely at the pro end of the Kodak arsenal. Around the golden hour is the perfect time to shoot this film, but the brighter the light, the cleaner the shots.
If I am shooting in the middle of the day, I tend to go for slower film, such as Portra 160 or Kodak Gold 200. I also like Fujifilm Industrial 100, which I buy from Analogue Wonderland.
It comes in a cool white box and has to be imported from Japan but has lovely saturated colours. It just works.
I also like CineStill 50D as it is really punchy and vibrant. I prefer 50D to 800T as it’s a great film when you are walking round in good light.
What about black and white film?
For a general walkaround film, I would say Ilford XP2. The results are really sharp, with fine grain, and it can be processed as C41 or black or white (you just need to rate it as ISO 125 or 160).
If I wanted something slower, I’d go with the Ilford FP4. For special effects, meanwhile, I would go with the Ilford Ortho Plus 80. The reds and dark oranges come out really dark but the film still keeps lot of detail and fine grain – take a portrait of somebody with bright red lipstick and it can look really dramatic. Blues and greens are treated differently too, so Ortho Plus is well worth a try. It is quite slow, however, so you need need the right light.
You can also get Rollei Infrared film these days at a keen price, but I have never personally used it.
What is your recommended budget film for people keen to experiment with analogue but keep costs down?
For black and white, I would say Kentmere 100 and 400 and for colour, Kodak ColorPlus or Kodak Gold 200. Cheap Kodak films are great value and there is a lot of advanced technology and expertise there – they are forgiving, too.
Buying the best film: what you need to know