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For me, shooting film has always been an important release from the time-pressured world of digital photography. These days it seems we have to constantly be on, shooting, downloading, editing, sharing, liking and subscribing. Film photography takes most of that away and leaves you alone with your best film camera to focus on taking photos. But, how do you chose the best 35mm film what you’re planning on shooting?
I was looking online and couldn’t find any other real comparisons, where someone had actually gone and shot each roll of film in a similar environment to compare the film stocks. They were all compilation lists from Flickr images. So I went on Amazon, spent hundreds of pounds and initially purchased 12 different rolls of film (I have more on the way now).
Over the last month, I have been walking around London shooting each different type of film before and after work. The aim was to capture the change from winter into Spring (my favourite month).
Note: This is an ongoing list. As time progresses and I come across different types of film, I will shoot them around the same area and add them to the list below. If you have a request for a certain type of film please leave it in the comments below and I will do my best to add it asap.
The Three Main Types of Film
There are three main types of film. Within each type of film there are further differences in the speed, aesthetic (think instagram filters) and also in how each type of film is developed. The main “branches” of film are as below:
Color Negative Film
This film is what you’re probably most familiar with, and it’s also the most easily available today. When you take a photo with colour negative film, you’ll see the image in inverted colours. Most photography centres can develop colour negative (C-41) prints for you at a reasonable cost.
Black and White Film
If you just love shooting black and white photos, you’ll be pleased to hear that black and white film isn’t expensive and it’s easy to get hold of. Furthermore, you can very easily develop black and white film at home.
Without a doubt, slide film is the most expensive type of film around. You probably don’t want to start here. The advantage of using slide film is that you will see the image you captured just like a normal photograph. Slide film can sometimes be harder to get your hands on, and not all photography shops and centres can develop this film.
Things to Consider When Choosing a Film Stock
There are a couple of primary factors to consider when selecting a good 35mm film. You’ll want to think primarily about the film speed (indoors vs outdoor photography). Next is to think about your desired aesthetic (that’s where our comparison below comes in).
You’ll probably see an ASA on the packaging of your film, such as 200, 400 or 800. This refers to the sensitivity of the film to light. A higher film speed will allow you to take better photos indoors or in low lighting, but you might get a more grainy image as a result.
A low ISO indicates a slower film speed. These low-speed films work best in daylight for a smooth, fine grain, but can struggle if the light isn’t perfect. You’ll need a longer shutter speed to get the same exposure as a high ASA film.
Which film you use is really up to you. You need to think when what, and where you’ll be shooting. A general rule of thumb is to start with ASA 400 as (depending on your lens) you can generally capture images in most types of light. You’ll need a tripod or a flash after twilight though!
Finding the best film for you can be as much down to your own personal preferences as anything else. A great tip is to try out a few of the more affordable films to see which gives you the best results.
Do you want a vintage feel or do you want super-sharp details? High contrast or low contrast? Play around, experiment, have fun, and see which 35mm -film appeals to you most!
Lastly, you need to keep an eye out for the exposure count. This tells you how many photos you can take with your chosen film. It is generally 24 or 36. Just make sure you aren’t buying a cheaper film because you think you got a bargain, but then find out there’s only 24 shots on a roll!
The 35mm Film Reviews
Let’s take a look at the top 35mm films available on the market now, so you can find the perfect fit for your photography. Each film contains a gallery of some of the good photos taken in and around London. This gives you a relatively similar basis for comparison.
Note: All films were shot with the Canon F1 where possible.
The Best Colour Negative Films
Here’s your run-down of the best films for colour negative photography:
Fujifilm Fujicolour C200
Fujifilm C200 is a top consumer-grade film for negative photography. It is cheap and affordable, allowing anyone from beginners to enthusiasts to play around with film photography, try new ideas and techniques and create some beautiful photos without having to break into their savings. The photos are generally pretty good quality, though you won’t get as crisp and sharp as with professional-grade films, and this film isn’t the best for indoor photography or in poor light.
- Top budget pick
- Great for beginner photographers
- Easily available
- Gives crisp photos in good lighting
- Creates photos with rich, natural and balanced colours and clean lines
- Does not perform well in poor lighting or indoors
- You might get a greenish tinge in some photos
- Not always as sharp as you’d like your image to be
Fujifilm C200 Sample Images (Click For Gallery)
Kodak Colorplus 200
The Kodak Colorplus 200 is another affordable, consumer-friendly negative 35mm-film that produces quality photos with warm colours. You’ll create vivid photos with accurate colours, and it’s ideal for taking portraits or playing around and building your photography skills.
- A strong contender for best 35mm-film on a budget
- Realistic colours
- Creates vivid photos
- Great film negative for portraits
- Allows you to experiment without wasting expensive film
- Again, quality dips in poor lighting
- Preferred by beginners and amateurs, does not compare to professional-grade photography
- More grain than when using different films
Kodak Colorplus 200 Sample Images (Click For Gallery)
Kodak Gold 200
Kodak is an iconic brand that always springs to mind when you think of film photography, and the Kodak Gold 200 has long been a popular choice for film negative. It reproduces natural colours with just a subtle grain and a gorgeously vintage look. You’ll get the best photos with great colour saturation and sharpness using the Kodak Gold 200 when you shoot in daylight or with a flash – Kodak don’t recommend you use this film at dusk or in low lights.
- Excellent photos in general to good lighting
- Accurate colours leaning towards rich tones
- Top film for beautiful, sharp outdoor photos
- Quite grainy in low light
- Quality doesn’t compare to premium films
Kodak Gold Sample Images (Click For Gallery)
Fujicolor Pro 400H
Fujicolor Pro 400H 120 hasn’t always reached the pinnacles of popularity, but it’s a decent film that produces photos with real character. Sometimes compared to the Kodak Portra, portraits especially shine when shot with the Fujicolor Pro 400H. It’s definitely one of the top negative films around.
- Another great film for portraits
- Easy to use, even for beginners or amateurs
- Top film for heightened level of sharpness
- Best used in natural light due to a tendency towards a green tint
- Works best only in certain lights so this is something you need to be aware of when you’re shooting
Fujicolor Pro 400H Sample Images (Click For Gallery)
Lomography Color Negative 400
Lomography have always been a company with a certain cult status that has never quite hit mainstream popularity, but their fans rave about their films. The Lomography Film Color Negative 400 creates colourful, realistic photos with a vintage feel. Even better, it’s available at a reasonable price – a cheaper alternative to the Kodak Portra.
- Impressively fine grain
- Affordable price
- Sharp details and contrast
- Lomography film works well in most lights
- Bright, vibrant colours that catch your eye
- You may be able to pick out a pinkish tinge, particular in portraits
Lomography Colour Negative Sample Images (Click For Gallery)
Kodak Portra 400
The Kodak Portra hardly needs an introduction. It’s favored by many professional photographers for the beautiful portraits you can produce with realistic skin tones and great color saturation all round (hence the name Portra). The fine grain is second to none. This doesn’t mean that you are limited to shooting portraits only, as the Kodak Portra film is versatile and adaptable to many different situations. You’ll get an effect that is almost impossible to recreate with a digital camera.
- The finest grain and best quality around for a spectacular photo
- The perfect film for scanning and enlarging your photos
- Realistic skin tones and overall colour saturation
- This excellent film comes with a hefty price tag
- Some claim that the hype raises expectations too high
- More of a learning curve to know how to effectively adjust exposure
Portra 400 Sample Images (Click For Gallery)
Kodak Ultra Max 400
The Kodak Ultra Max is another option for taking high-quality photos, even in lower light, all at a reasonable price. You’ll be impressed by the sharpness and clarity, combined with excellent colour rendering for some fabulous results. The Kodak Ultra Max is great for everyday shots, but you might want to choose something else for those big, memorable life events.
- So simple for beginners to get the hang of
- Brilliant even in low lighting
- You’ll get sharp, crisp results – even counteracts camera shake
- Great low price
- Can be slightly grainy and even fuzzy at times
- The yellow tinge can overpower white backgrounds
- Not suited to professional portrait or landscape photography
Ultra Max 400 Sample Images (Click For Gallery)
Kodak Ektar 100
The Kodak Ektar 100 is a great, high-quality film that produces sharp photos, ideal for enlarging and printing. You won’t get that grainy look you get from some lower grade films, even with the low ISO of 100. Kodak Eltra 100, favored by commercial photographers for stock and product images, gets brilliant ratings and can be used successfully indoors and out.
- Top 35mm film
- Stunning sharpness and colour rendition, especially red and green
- A good choice if you want to enlarge and print your shots
- Smooth grain
- Reasonable price
- The contrast can be too high for some
- Not the best choice for portraits as it can highlight imperfections
Kodak Ektar 100 Sample Images (Click For Gallery)
The Best Black and White Films
Fancy trying your hand at some black and white shots? Let’s take a look at the top black and white films that get excellent ratings:
Ilford HP5 400
If you’re looking for good 35mm film for taking black and white photos in a wide range of settings and in different lights, the Ilford HP5 is for you. You’ll get a gorgeous high contrast image using the Ilford, and it’s very forgiving of low lighting, so amateurs can use it effectively too. Some users refer to it as the Kodak Portra of black and white photos, and that’s high praise!
- Excellent quality and contrast
- Suitable even for beginner photographers
- You can use it in lower lighting settings
- Great for gritty street photography
- There may be too much grain for some photographers’ preferences
- Borders on too contrasty sometimes
Illford HP5 Sample Images (Click For Gallery)
Agfa Photo APX 400
The Agfa Pro APX black and white 35mm film is a fun film to use, bringing to mind many modern Instagram filters. You can get some great shots using the Agfa Pro APX thanks to the impressive sharpness and the fine grain this film produces. It’s a lesser known film, but still a good, affordable choice for most photographers, whether amateur or professional. It can take a while to get the hang of to make the most of your Agfa Pro APX film, as you tend to need to overexpose the shadows while processing for the highlights. Once you’ve mastered how to use this film, you’ll take some stunning, detailed shots.
- Affordable price
- Great sharpness
- Fine grain and smooth gradation
- A good choice for both beginners and professionals
- Suited for portraits and for shooting in the studio
- Steeper learning curve than many films
- If you’re not into low contrast, the Agfa Pro APX isn’t for you
Agfa APX 400 Sample Images (Click For Gallery)
The Best 35mm Slide Films
Looking for the best films for slide photography? Here are our suggestions!
Fujifilm Velvia 50
Velvia is a classic, slide film dating back to the good old days. It’s not so easy to get hold any more. That’s not to say it’s impossible, but when you do find it, you’ll need to be prepared to part with a pretty penny, as the Fujifilm Velvia ISO 50 does not come cheap. It’s worth it for the super-saturated colours and the fine grain you’ll get, but this isn’t one for playing around or experimenting with. Save it for those special shots.
- Bright, fully saturated colours
- High contrast
- Iconic with a real vintage feel
- Very expensive
- The contrast isn’t to everyone’s tastes
- Probably not the best film for beginners to get started with
Velvia 50 Sample Images (Click For Gallery)
Fujichrome Provia 100F
The Fujichome Provia is like the chilled-out sister to the Velvia. You won’t get supersaturation and the brightest colours when you use the Provia. What you’ll get instead is high-quality, true-to-life images that recreate colours accurately. The Provia is versatile, and while it does have a bit of a learning curve at first, once you’ve got the hang of it, there are no limits to what you can shoot with the Fujichrome Provia.
- Produces realistic photos with lower saturation for a toned-down look
- Versatile – you can use the Provia in a variety of different situations and for various types of photography
- Accurate colour rendition
- You’ll get excellent results with the Fujifilm Provia if you plan to enlarge your photos
- Expensive to use (as all slide films are compared to colour negative films)
- Limited dynamic range
- You have to care to get the right exposure for a decent photograph – harder for beginners to get the hang of
Provia 100F Sample Images (Click For Gallery)
Do you have a favourite film? Is it not on this list? Then comment below and we will be sure to add it over the coming months.
So there you have the top 35mm film brands for you to take your pick from. Film photography is a delicate art with a real vintage feel. Nothing compares to the speed of digital photography – but life’s not all about rushing through things.
Sometimes you just want to hold something substantial in your hands, and that’s what film photography can give you. We’ve recommended the best 35mm films from colour negative to black and white and slide films.
With a good range of ASA speeds and films suitable for portraits, landscapes, street photography and more, you’re sure to find the 35mm film for your needs. So what are you waiting for? Grab yourself some of the best 35mm film and get out there! You can pick up one of our best 35mm film scanner recommendations here so you can share your photos faster!
As usual if you have any questions, or ideas of what types of film I can add to the list, please let me know in the comments below. For more of my work and the team here at Cultured Kiwi be sure to check out the homepage, or any of the articles below.