Film stock preferences: Am I doing it right?

My fridge film stock. Yeah, there’s more in the freezer…

Last month, word came down that Fujifilm was discontinuing its Pro 400H film. This pro-level color stock had a special “fourth layer”, and the difficulty in economically making this layer caused them to shut it down. Word spread fast through the film community. Many photographers liked it and bemoaned its loss.

I never used Fuji Pro 400H as I’ve pretty much stuck to consumer stocks since I got back into film. But upon hearing about the discontinuation and subsequent outcry, I became curious. All the regular sources were dry as the remaining stock literally sold out the next day, Panic buying had ensued. I checked eBay, and the prices people were asking were…not unbelievable as the inflated prices didn’t surprise me. After all, it’s a capitalistic society, and people were definitely seeing what the market would bear. Me? I couldn’t bear plunking down that kind of money for film, especially one that I haven’t used before.

To be honest, Fuji’s films don’t excite me much. I’ve used the basic Superias (200, 400) and found them okay, but not any better than Kodak. Someone gifted me a roll of Fuji NeoPan 400, a black and white film that was discontinued a few years ago and also caused a similar outcry. So I shot that roll. The results? …Okay. To my uneducated eye I couldn’t see much of a difference between NeoPan 400 and its (former) close rivals Kodak Tri-X Pan or Ilford HP5. And I understand that NeoPan is supposed to be “less grainy” but that’s not that big of a deal for me for 400 speed film. Maybe I didn’t use it in the right situations? Perhaps I should give it another shot? But what would that achieve? It would either confirm my “meh” ness about NeoPan, or I’d like it, then pine for it. Did I want the outcome to be I spend too much time searching for this expired stock, and then spend too much money in the process? As Nigel Tufnel said, “Best to leave this one unsolved.”

I’ve only shot film seriously for a year. I realize that the current stock of film pales in comparison to what we had twenty years ago, when film photography was about to fall from its peak. And that sucks, but that’s our current reality. I’ve heard the reverence talked about some fallen film stocks. most notably Kodachrome, which Kodak stopped manufacturing over a decade ago. I could go on eBay and buy some, but not only will it be way expired, there’s no way to properly develop the film, as the last lab capable of processing this unique film correctly stopped doing so also a decade ago. But I never shot Kodachrome, so I don’t miss it. Would I like Kodak to reintroduce it? Sure, though that’s highly unlikely. So I’m not pining after a stock I never used.

For now I stick with what I can get easily. And I also stick towards the consumer stocks vs. the pro-level stuff. The biggest reason is that stocks like Kodak ColorPlus 200 are relatively cheap (currently $4.50 a roll at Blue Moon.) Spending less on the roll means I stress less about how much I shoot. It’s one way to keep this hobby of mine affordable. Another reason is I don’t want to become one of those precious photographers, the ones who Only Shoot Portra, then become apoplectic if they have to lower themselves to using Ultramax 400. The best reason? I like the results I get from the consumer films, grain be damned. I really dig ColorPlus 200 for what I do. And it’s not that I haven’t given the pro-grade films a chance. I have tried out both Kodak Ektar 100 and Portra 400 and found them to be…okay. I’ll probably try them again at some point. But I’m glad that I’m satisfied with the less expensive stuff.

I’m sure some film snobs must think I’m unsophisticated, as I don’t seem to appreciate the pro-grade films that much. I know that there’s a school of thought that “serious” photographers only use “the good stuff”. But maybe I don’t want to be a serious photographer? Maybe I’m okay with being an amateur, someone who is happy snapping shots, and doing it in an economical way? Maybe part of the fun of shooting color on film for me is the saturated colors of ColorPlus 200 vs. the “Instagram filter” muted palette of Portra?

Don’t get me wrong: Just because I’m somewhat (and only somewhat) satisfied with what I can get now doesn’t mean I don’t want things to get better. The discontinuation of film stocks upsets me. And even though I don’t particularly care much for Fuji, I’m not happy that they seem to be dumping stocks left-and-right. I want to have more choice, especially more choice than new “weird, experimental” color stocks or rebranded black and white stocks. I’ll hold out hope that there will be new things in the pipeline…at some point!

And if Kodak reintroduces Kodachrome? I’ll pick up a roll and try it out, even though it’d be obscenely pricey.

3 thoughts on “Film stock preferences: Am I doing it right?

Add yours

  1. I’m generally fine with the consumer films too. I shoot miles of Fujicolor 200. It’s my go to.

    I like Portra 400, it’s gorgeous. But for most of the work I do, UltraMax 400 is more than good enough. And it’s a lot less expensive.

    1. I like Ultramax too. But that price has really shot up over the past few months. Blue Moon is selling the 36 exposure roll at $8. That’s just $2.50 less than Portra 400!

  2. I’ve been using tons of Ultramax, shot it on my last (pre-Covid) cross-country drive. Currently, I have Pro Image 100 and Color Plus 200 in my daily carry. The Arista is rebadged Foma, and I’ve run through 50 foot or so of it in the last month. I love the stuff.

    I’m looking in to ECN-2 color film to make it cheaper. 100 feet of Kodak 5203/7203 (ISO 50 daylight balanced Vision 3 film) is $50, and the chemicals to develop it another $30. It comes out to $5 a roll ready to scan, instead of $12 for Cinestill 50D plus $5 to $10 development costs per roll. It does take time, but it’s been worth it. You also get absolute creative control over the process from start to finish.

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