Testing six color films in Maui

In my last post, I reported on two black-and-white films I used in Maui. Now for the color films I used there.

I brought 5 film types with me: Fujifilm Velvia 50, Kodak Ektar 100, Kodak Portra 160, CineStill 50D and CineStill 800T. I also bought some Fujifilm Superia 400 in Maui, for a total of 6 different color film types.

But first a word about Maui: amazing! We were there over the Christmas break for about 10 days. We stayed in Kaanapali, on the west side of the island, where there are a number of hotels and condo buildings on the beach, and golf courses. The beach there is fabulous, if a little busy. But it certainly made for some great photo opportunities! The island itself has a range of landscapes from the coast to the uplands to the mountain of Haleakala. It was one of the most scenic places I’ve ever been.

My goal in using all of these film types was to reacquaint myself with them or to try some of them for the first time. All of these photos were taken with a Leica M-A and Summilux 50 mm f/1.4 Asph. lens. I routinely had a UV filter mounted on the the lens to protect the front element from sand, dust, water etc. (except when testing the 85B warming filter with CineStill 800T as described below).  I know there are two schools of thought about mounting a protective filter over a lens, but I had no reservation about using it, even if it might have had some minimal impact on image quality.

The films were all processed and scanned on a Noritsu scanner at Richard Photo Lab in Valencia, CA and are have not been modified. The M-A does not have a built-in light meter, so metering was with Sunny 16 for most shots, or a Sekonic L-478D incident light meter for low lighting. I’m going to show a few examples with each type of film. Click on the thumbnails below to enlarge.

Fujifilm Velvia 50
This is a daylight positive (slide) film. It has strongly saturated colors, and very fine grain, but not a lot of latitude for over- or underexposure or a wide dynamic range. Shadows quickly head to black. It’s not great for skin tones because they tend to look a bit too red. But it does make for some very punchy, colorful photos in sunlight. The first photo in this group was taken at the top of Haleakala, It was quite cloudy that morning (elevation 10,000 feet or about 3,000 m). The location is famous for its sunrises, but the view is dependent on the cloud cover, and we were there on a cloudy day. Nonetheless, it made for some atmospheric shots.

Kodak Ektar 100
This is a daylight negative film which also has strong color saturation, good contrast, and fine grain, so good for enlargements. I think that skin tones look fairly good with this one, although some people feel they’re a bit too saturated and red. In these shots I really like the rendering of the ocean blue and the subtle variations of greens and red/browns, with good detail. The last one is of the crater at Haleakala around daybreak, a little after the Velvia shot above. A consistent observation in Maui was the cloud cover in the higher elevations, which can make for quite atmospheric photography.

Kodak Portra 160
Considered by many to be the best daylight negative film (along with its faster ISO 400 version) for capturing skin tones, I really like this film. It has wide dynamic range and you can over- or underexpose quite a bit without wrecking the photo. This is one where I prefer to slightly overexpose. It’s got low grain, less saturated colors and less contrasty than Velvia or Ektar. There’s something about the way it renders pale blues that I like a lot.

CineStill 50D
I was very interested to try this daylight negative film. It and CineStill 800T are relative newcomers to the film market from the Brothers Wright. They are both derived from films that are produced by Kodak for motion pictures. When manufactured, they contain a layer at the back of the film called the rem-jet, which is removed during processing of motion picture film. That removal step is not a part of C-41 processing, but the rem-jet has been pre-removed in CineStill, allowing for development of the these films in normal C-41 conditions. The rem-jet removal, however, makes them susceptible to halation. This effect occurs when light enters the camera during an exposure, passes through the emulsion as usual, but then bounces back off the pressure plate of the camera, thereby striking the emulsion a second time. (The rem-jet backing is meant to block the light). In the absence of the rem-jet, the result is a reddish halo (halation) around bright objects in the image. You can see this halation around the arm of the chair in the first photo here, and very clearly in the trees at top right in the second photograph. Although people rave about the quality of skin tones, minimal grain, and the wide dynamic range of this film, I was not expecting the halation to be so apparent.

CineStill 800T
This is another negative film I was very interested in trying. The T indicates that is designed for tungsten lighting conditions. In daylight, it is recommended to use it with an 85B warming filter for color correction. I used this in waning daylight with reasonable results, but a number of shots in lower light just didn’t work, and I’m not sure why. I want to try this film again in more controlled conditions to make a better assessment. The first photograph here shows the effect of using an 85B warming filter when shooting in daylight (the filter was used on the right of the paired shots). For an ISO 800 film, the grain is not too bad.

Fujifilm Superia 400
As I mentioned previously, the available film for purchase on Maui is extremely limited and I recommend you bring plenty of your favorite stock unless it’s Superia 200 or 400, which I was able to find easily in a Walgreen’s drug store. The colors are fairly saturated, not as much as Velvia, and skin tones are OK. Greens and reds are strong, but the images seem to be a bit cooler overall. I prefer Ektar as a daylight film.

Each of these films is different with its advantages and disadvantages. I was actually disappointed with CineStill 50D because of the very visible halation. I can see how it might be useful or fun if you want that effect but I think the halation just looks odd. I have to try another roll of CineStill 800T to really work on getting better low light exposures with that one and to better evaluate it.

Of all of these six films, my favorites are Portra 160 and Ektar 100. Velvia is also beautiful if the goal is a saturated image (and in a positive film), but the dynamic range is limited.

There are a number of other films that I haven’t tried, including more black-and-white and color films. I plan to do some more testing in the next few months. I found that trying all of these films to be a useful experience that’s given me a better feel for their characteristics and limitations. Despite the claim that film is dead, there is still a good range of options to choose from.

Thanks for reading!