Experimenting with slide film, and capturing spring blossoms

Over the year-plus of my film photography journey I’ve tried out many different film stocks. I’ve alternated between black and white and color negative rolls. I’ve developed some favorites (like ColorPlus 200). But there’s one type of film I haven’t tried yet: Slide film, also known as color reversal stock or transparency film.

This is due to the fact that I was a bit scared off by slide film, as it is notoriously finicky. Black and white or color negative stocks can be over-and-underexposed and still return good results. Not so with slide film: exposure has to be “spot on”. There’s no “let me shoot this ISO 100 roll at 400” or winging it with exposure, unless you purposely want crappy results. And since the cost of slide film and processing is expensive, more expensive than any other film, this is not something most people would want to do.

But after a year of shooting different cameras and films, the allure of slide film tantalized. When shot correctly, it’s great: colors pop and detail is sharp. And there’s the history behind it: This was the color film stock people would shoot from the 1930s through 1980s. During that era color print (negative) film was just not up to snuff. Slide stocks like Kodachrome and Ektachrome was not just the realm of the professional (all those glorious National Geographic shots) but also of the serious amateur who wanted to preserve memories of families and trips. (My dad shot slide film and I remember those family slide shows!) It wasn’t until around 1980 or so that color print film became good enough to compete, and slide film fell by the wayside.

As film photography in general is making a return from certain death, so has slide film. Kodak stopped making slide film altogether for awhile, but reintroduced Ektachrome 100 a few years ago. Fuji has kept stocks like Provia and Velvia going. Fresh options are great so I don’t have to try my luck with expired stock. And I’m also lucky that there are a few different places in Portland that can develop slide film using the special E-6 process, including my lab of choice Citizens Photo.

Of course I’d also need an appropriate camera. When I think of “slide film” I think of mechanical SLRs from the 1960s through 80s. My camera choice became apparent: my Minolta SR-T 101. It has been freshly CLA’d by local shop Advance Camera, so I knew that the metering would be correct, and correct metering is essential for color reversal stock.

And if I’m going to spend a bunch of money on slide film and developing, I don’t want to shoot any old thing. I wanted my first rolls to be special. That’s why I decided to bring a couple rolls of fresh Ektachrome 100 with me on The Dalles adventure in late March. It was a worthy use, as the blue skies and waters and soft colored hills could “sing” under the appropriate conditions. The SR-T 101 and Ektachrome 100 did not disappoint. My metering for most of the shots were correct, and I dug the vibe.

But I wasn’t done. Spring was in full effect in Portland, and I wanted to not only capture the trees and flowers I saw around the neighborhood, but also the cherry trees in bloom down along the waterfront. I still had a few frames left on my second roll of Ektachrome.  I had also picked up a few rolls of Kodak Elite Chrome 100 off of eBay. This stock had expired in 2007, but the roll was cold-stored and the seller shared shots they took with the same freezer-kept batch, so I was hopeful that I’d get good results. And I did!

Or did I? I had ordered hi-res scans so that’s what I saw first. And the scans can be “corrections” of what’s on the film. So I checked out the exposed rolls on my light table. Nope, everything came out right! It was a magical feeling looking at those small images, something I hadn’t gotten out of my photography before. Alas, even though I wanted the slides to be mounted, the lab had run out of stock and their supplier had simply stopped making more slide mounts. Citizens is looking into other sources, but I haven’t heard anything definitive yet.

All that stressing out for naught! I got some great shots of Eastern Oregon and of springtime in Portland. I am really happy about this.

I still have a couple rolls of that Elite Chrome in the freezer, plus a roll of Fuji Velvia 100 is on the way. I definitely want to shoot more slide film. Emee and I are going out to the coast next week, maybe then? I’ll do it if the weather is good.* I don’t expect Ektachrome or the like to become daily shooters, as the expense of film stock (about double to triple of consumer grade color negative stocks) and processing would make that prohibitive. (E-6 is not really home developing friendly either.) For now I’ll stick to special occassions and shoot slide film on either the SR-T 101 or the Minolta Hi-Matic 7s when it returns from the shop. If anything, saving slides for the right time will keep it special.

For photos of Portland’s cherry blossoms on Elite Chrome 100, see the dynamic flickr album below. Or, click here.

Cherry Blossoms at Waterfront Park, Portland OR. 30 March 2021

*I do have an 81A warming filter, which I used on most of the slide shots I’ve already done, but I’d rather shoot in good light.

2 thoughts on “Experimenting with slide film, and capturing spring blossoms

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  1. Slide Film!! I learned on slide film while in the army in the late 70’s. What was great about it is you could do the developing in a bag…I had boxes of slides from the South Pacific…sadly I left all of it in my VW camper when I sold it..
    That is cool though…vintage decks will be all the rage!

  2. Thanks, Shawn. Your post caught my eye. I recently finished digitizing my mom’s vintage (1940s-1960s) 35mm Alaska slides. I’m now digitizing my 1978 around-the-USA (literally) USA road trip slides.

    Next up is digitizing my 1980s Alaska backpacking and mountaineering slides. I’m eager to see my treks again through the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and the Gates of the Arctic.

    In the end, I’ll end up digitizing ~3K slides. So far, the Kodachrome slides weathered the test of time better than the Ektachrome slides.

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