Film isn’t dead, but it's been through a lot. The last 15 years have seen film sales fall off a cliff, producers like Kodak and Fujifilm have been thrown into a sink-or-swim situation, and other once-great film manufacturers like Agfa have faded into obscurity. But even as Kodak cut its iconic Kodachrome and Fuji concentrated its efforts into a few select films, there’s been a resurgence use. Adopters and re-adopters alike have cited renewed joy for photography, minimized post-processing, pleasantly surprising results and the relatively low cost of camera equipment (compared to equivalent digital cameras) as reasons they’ve picked up celluloid again.
While the number of great film stocks has changed a lot over the past few years, there are a number of great options that are all available in the classic 35mm format (and some on 120 rolls as well). Here are the best places to start.
Color Negative 35mm Film
Kodak Portra: Portra is everywhere. Kodak’s most popular roll film is available in 160, 400 and 800 ISO but the 400 is the most versatile of the bunch, easily coping with being under- and over-exposed without getting too grainy. Portra of all speeds renders skin tones beautifully, scans better than most films and has an incredibly pleasant grain structure. Available in everything from 35mm rolls to medium format to sheet film, the 400 is our go-to when we need a color film on any shoot.
Price: $13 per roll
Kodak Ektar 100: Ektar is another gem from Rochester. It boasts more saturation and contrast than Portra and an amazingly fine grain structure. As a result, pictures tend to not look all that “film-y”, which can be a good or bad thing depending on what you want. It’s only available in 100 ISO, so you’ll need quite a bit of light, but the sharpness you’ll end up with is amazing.
Price: $10 per roll
Fujifilm Fujicolor C200: While Kodak pretty much dominates the color negative film market, Fujifilm's consumer great Fujicolor C200 is a great, affordable, knock-around film for beginners and photographers on a budget. While Kodak's Gold 200 goes for about $6.50 a roll (and tends to go fast, Fujicolor C200 can be had for as little as $4.50 -- if you can find it in stock as Fujifilm has had some trouble keeping the supply up.
Price: $4.50 per roll
Color Reversal 35mm Film (Slide Film)
Fujichrome Provia 100F: Ever since Kodachrome was retired at the end of 2010, Fuji has been the only game in town when it comes to true slide film (though Ektar does a pretty good job mimicking it). Luckily, they’re doing a damn good job. Slide film is characterized by strong, saturated colors, sharp contrast, fine grain, a more fickle exposure range (slide film can usually only be recoverable when under- or over-exposed by one stop compared to negative film’s three or four) and, of course, a color-positive film. Provia is Fuji’s more neutral option with natural colors and less contrast than their vibrant Velvia. You’ll need a lot of light and a good exposure, but the results are some of the best you’ll find for general-purpose shooting.
Price: $17 per roll
Fujichrome Velvia 100: When people talk about slide film these days they’re almost always talking about Velvia. The strong contrast, strong color film has taken over Kodachrome’s place as the low-ISO choice for those wanting amazing results right out of the camera. It’s great for landscapes and still life but isn’t the best at reproducing skin tones because Fuji’s typical greenish-purplish cast is even more pronounced in Velvia.
Price: $18 per roll
Black and White 35mm Film
Kodak Tri-X 400: Think of any iconic black and white photo you’ve seen; odds are it was shot on Tri-X. Kodak’s hallmark black-and-white film has been around forever and its easy development, good-looking grain structure, perfectly balanced contrast and killer shadow detail mean it won’t likely leave the throne soon. If you’re going to start developing your own film or just want a great medium-speed black-and-white film, Tri-X is the easy choice.
Price: $6 per roll
Ilford Delta 3200: Boasting three extra stops of light sensitivity over 400 speed film (that’s going from 1/15 shutter speed to 1/120 at a given aperture), Delta 3200 is the only choice when you need a super-sensitive low-light film. The grain is definitely pronounced, but if it’s exposed right the grain is minimized into a really pleasing pattern that’ll leave no doubt what film you shot on.
Price: $12 per roll
Ilford PanF 50: Just the opposite of Delta 3200, PanF 50 is the perfect black-and-white film when you have light to spare and want sharp images with minimal grain and excellent dynamic range — showing detail in the darkest and lightest portions of an image. Simply put, if you want the highest-resolution black-and-white film, this is the one you want.
Price: $8 per roll
Fomapan Foma 100: While it's hardly the most prestigious black and white film in the world, this Czech film has the whole field beat on price. In production since the early 1930s, Fomapan films come in 100, 200, and 400 ISO varieties, but the 100 speed is the ideal choice for shooters on budget. While higher-speed Foma films can be overwhelmingly grainy, Foma 100 has a nice, classic look and comes at a price low enough that you don't have to sweat each frame.
Price: $5 per roll