Isle of Skye, Scotland

It’s no secret that 35mm film has seen an immense resurgence over the past decade. Every day, more and more people are digging up old 35mm film cameras and delving back into a genre of photography that many predicted would surely be obsolete by now.

To non-film shooters, this may not make much sense. Why spend money on buying and developing rolls of film that hold a finite number of shots, with no way of knowing what results you’ve got until it’s too late to retake the shot?

The simple, yet admittedly vague, answer to this question is that, while digital cameras such as the Fujifilm X-Pro3 and the X100V have attempted to replicate the experience of shooting film as much as possible, none have truly succeeded. The process and uncertainty of film photography, as well as its tendency to make you shoot more carefully and selectively, is something that digital cameras can’t replicate.

 

This post will cover six of our favourite film stocks, starting with colour film before moving on to black and white film. Some of these 35mm film stocks are still being produced to this day, while others are only available from resellers, meaning there is some risk involved as they’re likely to be expired and you rarely have any guarantees regarding how the film has been stored over the years.  

 

Colour 35mm film

 

Colour film is what the majority of film shooters use primarily. While both buying and developing 35mm colour film is usually more expensive than black and white film, it offers more flexibility and usability in a broader range of situations.

While some medium format cameras have interchangeable backs, meaning you can switch between colour and black and white film mid-roll, no 35mm film camera that we’re aware of offers this option. So, for anyone going on a shorter trip with their film camera in tow, loading it up with a 35mm film stock is often the safer option.

Here are some of our favourite 35mm colour film stocks.

 

Kodak Portra 800

El Nido on Nikonos V
Scotland on Nikonos V

Great for: General purpose, especially lower light and underwater

 

Kodak is one of the main players in the world of film photography. From declaring bankruptcy in 2012 to posting revenues of more than 1.2 billion USD last year, it’s no surprise that virtually everyone that shoots film has shot a Kodak film stock at some point in time.

Of all of Kodak’s 35mm film stocks, Portra 800 is undoubtedly my favourite.

Being an 800-speed film, it’s fast enough to be usable in low light situations without washing out the details with excessive amounts of grain. I also use it coupled with my Nikonos V when shooting underwater as less light is able to get through, meaning that a higher speed 35mm film stock is required to keep the shutter speed fast enough to avoid motion blur.

While it’s not the cheapest 35mm film stock out there, if I was only able to take one roll with me on a trip, Portra 800 would be what I’d pack.

 

CineStill 800T

Cinestill 800T 35mm film
Cinestill 800T 35mm film

Great for: Night photography and artificial light, though can be used for general purpose as well

 

Another great and highly versatile 800-speed film stock that everyone should shoot with at least once is CineStill 800T.

The ‘T’ in its name indicates that it is a Tungsten-balanced colour negative film stock. It was originally designed to be shot indoors in a studio, returning accurate colours when used in conjunction with Tungsten studio lights.

For photographers shooting outside of a studio, however, the aim is not necessarily to replicate accurate colours. When CineStill 800T is shot under sunlight or regular, non-tungsten lights, the film returns an instantly recognisable reddish hue around the light source that many 35mm film shooters, me included, absolutely love.

Kodak Ektar 100

 

Great for: Nature, travel and general outdoor photography

 

Yet another 35mm film stock produced by Kodak on this list is Ektar 100. Ektar is probably the fastest colour film stock on the market for 35mm film cameras, meaning it can produce sharp images with very fine grain.  

Scotland Ektar 100
Inverness on Ektar 100

While it won’t hold up particularly well in low light situations (unless you’re carrying a tripod), Ektar’s high contrast and super-saturated colours make it a great and reliable film stock to shoot in almost any well-lit environment.

If you enjoy hiking or shooting outdoors, Kodak Ektar 100 is a must-have 35mm film stock.

 

B&W 35mm film

 

While colour film is undoubtedly the more popular option when it comes to 35mm film photography, many film photographers still shoot black and white film from time to time. Some even shoot in black and white exclusively.

If you needed any proof for the persistent popularity of black and white photography, Leica released the Monochrom M10 in 2020, a digital rangefinder that can only shoot in black and white. The fact that they were able to release such a camera at a price exceeding US$ 8,000, and that people actually bought it, is enough of an indication that black and white photography is alive and well.

Assuming that you don’t have a spare US$ 8,000 lying around, however, let’s dive into some 35mm B&W film stocks that won’t cost you your life savings.

 

Ilford Delta HP5 Plus

El Nido rainstorm on Nikonos V
El Nido beach on Ilford HP5

Great for: General purpose, documentary and action photography

 

Ilford Photo is another 35mm film manufacturer that is still operating and producing film to this day. Ilford only produce black and white film stocks and, having tried most of them, HP5 Plus is my favourite.

Ilford Delta HP5 Plus has an ISO of 400, making it decent in lower light, though not quite fast enough for night photography. It’s a medium contrast film stock with fairly fine grain and on top of all of this, it’s a very cheap option for B&W film photography. You can often pick up a roll of Delta HP5 Plus for less than half the price you would pay for a Kodak colour roll of film, making it a great option for anyone on a budget wanting to try some black and white film.

 

Fujifilm Neopan Acros 100 II

Buscalan Philippines on 35mm black and white film
Batad rice terraces on 35mm B&W film

Great for: Portraits, landscapes, and architecture.

 

A well-known selling point of Fujifilm digital cameras is that they come with Fuji’s film simulation modes, which automatically edits camera JPGs to look as though they were shot on Fuji’s old film stocks. While digital has been Fujifilm’s primary focus in recent years, demand for their 35mm film has persisted, so much so that they re-entered the black and white 35mm film market in 2019 by releasing Neopan Acros 100 II.

If you’re after a sharp B&W film stock with much finer grain, Neopan Acros 100 II will not disappoint. It works particularly well with portrait photography, landscapes and with architectural photography.

 

Kodak P-Max P3200

 

Great for: Low light and night photography, fast action

 

Easily the most specialised film stock on this list is Kodak P-Max P3200. The listed ISO of 3200 may be an immediate deterrent for many, especially if, like me, your film camera of choice has a maximum ISO value lower than 3200. However, it’s not quite as straight forward as that.

The reason is that the ‘P’ in its name stands for ‘push’, meaning that this 35mm film stock was created to be shot at ISOs slower than 3200. Its nominal ISO is actually 800, meaning that it can be used for many more kinds of scenarios than its advertised ISO would suggest.

That being said, even when pushing this film to 1600 or 800, I still wouldn’t recommend using this film stock in bright daylight as I was forced to in Sri Lanka last year.

35mm black and white Kodak P3200 pulled to 1600
Kodak P3200 pulled to 1600

Wrap up

 

Whether you’ve been shooting film for years or have just picked up your first 35mm film camera, any of the film stocks on this list are unlikely to disappoint. And if you have used these 35mm film stocks before, it’s likely they’re already on your radar. 

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