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Really?  You Still Shoot Slides?


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In This Article:

Introduction (2019)

Slide Film Is Not Kodachrome

Film's Not Dead

There's Nothin' Like a Box of Slides

It's All About The Colors

Current Slide Films

Should've Used Slide Film

Film Cameras Are Fresh Again

Introduction (2018)

This article was first posted in 2011 (or was it 2010?), back when it seemed that film photography would become nearly impossible.  At that time, the media were piling on to that whole "film is dead" bandwagon.  There were starting to be people who thought you could not buy film anymore, even when you still could (and still can).  So, I thought it was time for some articles about the good qualities of film, and why it's worth keeping as an artistic medium.   Since then, film has taken off into a full-scale resurgence that has even exceeded my expectations.  Demand for film cameras has increased remarkably since then, as a whole new generation gets into film.

Someone asked me recently whether the ideas in these articles are still current, in light of newer digital camera technology.  Yes, pretty much everything here still holds true, except the idea that 600-pixel scans were wide enough for the typical computer monitor....

Slide Film Is Not Kodachrome

Kodachrome used an older and more complex process known as K-14.  It was made obsolete by the newer and simpler E-6 process.  

There were photographers who had already stopped using Kodachrome by the early 1980's as Ektachrome became popular.   I want Kodachrome back, too, but instead of jumping on the "I quit, time to go digital" bandwagon, I'm out there shooting other types of slide film.  And I'm loving every minute of it.

In fact, I had already "gone digital" for a long time.  Then I realized something was missing. 

By the way, even though Dwayne's Photo stopped processing Kodachrome, they still process E-6, as do many pro labs today.

Film's Not Dead

Film photography is alive and well today, and slides still represent the best of film.  I don't know what it is, but the pictures just look better. 

As I've probably said earlier,  don't get sidetracked on image sharpness.  Many of the scans you'll see on here were made using consumer-grade scanners, which cannot pick up the detail inherent in a slide.  Most of my earlier scans were done with a V500  (Update:  this method is much better).  So for now, just look at the colors and tones.

In case you're wondering, though:  slide film has the resolution.  35mm slide film is at least 20MP equivalent, and probably more like 25 with good lenses.  It has all the detail most of us would ever really need.

Fuji Velvia 100

Digital has come a long way, sure.  It seems photography has forked into two main categories.  On the one hand is the smooth, mellow richness of analog.  On the other is the hyper-sharp, technical look of digital.  (The thing is, though, with sharp lenses, slide film can do that, too.) 

While the best of digital is enough to make anyone do a double-take,  the flat harshness and coldness are just beneath the surface.  Even the best digital HDR and long-exposure shots have a certain electronic coldness about them, in my opinion.   Don't take that the wrong way;  I enjoy many digital photos.   But there is a difference.  Lighting control and "post" can mitigate this somewhat, but I find it easier to use the more "organic" medium of film.

Slide film represents not only the best of film photography, but also the best of what can be accomplished with a camera.  It doesn't require fancy algorithms or CPU-intensive processing.  It doesn't have that flatness or that hard-edged coldness.  It imparts a bit of its rich character to the photographs.  Slide film is simply awesome.

Even drab, dark storm clouds look better on slide film, as I found out on a stormy evening in late April, 2011.  The following picture is from a storm that gave some pretty severe hail and a tornado that didn't touch down.  The cloud had a bluish-green tinge to it.  I have no idea why, but odd colors in a storm cloud seem to go hand-in-hand with severe weather.

The low light required a 30th of a second.  I don't know how I managed to hold it still enough to get the photo-- with a zoom lens, no less-- but there it is.  

Fuji Velvia 100
f/3.5 @ 30th

Yes, there are people still using slide film in 2018.   Many people. 

There are way more now than there were in 2011 when I first published this article.  There are slide films which "everyone" was calling "discontinued", and yet you can buy them now. 

Yep, people are catching on to film again, and it's a great thing. 

Slide pictures look best when they're sharply focused (unless you're going for impressionism), but I don't think that's what sets the medium apart.  There's something else.  It's the colors and the tones, I think.  All I know is that it looks great.

There's Nothin' Like a Box Of Slides

Slides are also nice because of their longevity.   I can pick up slides from thirty years ago, and they look as good as the day they were taken.  If you leave a typical CD-ROM for thirty years with a JPG image on it, there's a good chance it will be unreadable.  Many DVD drives (especially laptop ones) have a hard enough time reading discs made on someone else's drive;  now imagine you've got scratches in the disc. 

And solid-state memory cards?   These are known to eat pictures.  JPG images don't degrade gently... they become useless, spontaneously.  Instead of scratches, fading, and dust, you get a blank gray screen or "file unreadable".  Corrupted digital data takes down the whole show;  corrupted analog data just has noise or scratches.  And besides, you need hi-tech equipment just to read that CD-ROM or SD card. 

With a slide, you just hold it up to the light and right away you know what it is. 

Here's one I did with a toy camera, the Diana Mini.  It has a rather soft focus because of the plastic lens:

Agfa Precisa 100
35mm toy camera
(Diana Mini)

Even through a toy camera with a plastic lens, slide film still has that look.  I don't quite know what it is.  I can tire of looking at digital pictures pretty quickly, but not slides.

It's All About The Colors

Slide pictures are generally more saturated when underexposed.  This happens easily with toy cameras, because most of them have only two or three aperture settings. 

If you want to get the most saturation possible, use Elite Chrome EBX 100 or Fuji Velvia.   Update 2019:  Although the original Kodak corporation failed to recognize the pure awesome of slide film, the new Kodak has brought back Ektachrome in 35mm!  Film Ferrania is also working to rebuild a full-scale slide film plant in Italy.

Velvia 50 has the best saturation of all, but I use Velvia 100 where I need the extra stop.  The Holga and the Diana Mini don't have the wider apertures. Come to think of it, you could
use Velvia 50 in either of these cameras if you're in full sunlight.   On a sunny day with 100 film, the perfect exposure is between f/11 and f/16 at 1/125th of a second.  With ISO 50 film, it would instead be between f/8 and f/11.  On a toy camera you can't use in-between settings, so pick one.  Want the deeper saturation?  Use f/11.

(If you're still getting slight overexposure, try holding a 1-stop ND filter over the lens.)

That's the thing, though... make sure it's bright sunlight.   In very late afternoon, low-ISO films can start requiring f-stops you won't find on a toy camera.

Gulf Sign

Underexposure can deepen colors with slide film.

By the way, you should take pictures of landmarks in your town.
A couple months after I took this photo, the sign was gone.  And I'm glad I got this one on transparency film (slide).

Holga 120GN
Velvia 100
120 film

How high to put the dark ground in a photo like this is a matter of some opinion.
 Should you use the rule of thirds, or just keep it a narrow band along the bottom? 
I lean toward the latter option, usually.

Velvia 100

One thing about image quality is that I've found it's much better to have a high-saturation original and go downward than it is to have a low-saturation original and try to go upward.  Increasing saturation too much with software causes image artifacts and noise.  

(Keep in mind I shot this at -1/3 stop):

Velvia 100

Art photography, landscapes, and nature are all great with slides.   I even find that portraits and family pictures look best with slide film. 

If you have a TTL flash setup, even indoor photography looks great on slides.  Yes, you lose some shadow detail, and highlights can get blown out more easily than with print film, but you also get "that look" that only slide film can give.   Besides, blown-out highlights on slide film don't have that computerized look (unless you scan carelessly).

Actually, slide film has a lot more dynamic range than we give it credit.   It looks much better projected than it does when scanned or captured with a DSLR.  I've found that slide film may actually have more shadow detail than digital.  

Current Slide Films

In late 2018, Kodak reintroduced Ektachrome E100 to the market.  See The Return of Ektachrome.  This is very welcome news for film photographers!

Film Ferrania of Italy has put a massive effort into re-tooling the factory to make slide film for the next 100 years.  This is a huge long-term effort that requires the work of many dedicated people.  Slide film is that good that it's worth rebuilding a factory like that.

There will always be a demand for slide film, as long as people know about it.  That's really the key.  People don't buy what they don't know about.  This is where the old Kodak company dropped the ball, big time, but Kodak Alaris picked it back up. 

You may be able to get other brands of slide film, such as:

Agfa Precisa 100 is a great film for taking pictures of people;  it has a fairly neutral color balance.  Try this link

Lomography also has a slide film.  It's actually re-branded Agfa RSX 200.  (Technically it's Aviphot Chrome 200).  I hope to see this on the market for years to come.  This film has good shadow detail, good saturation, and moderate grain. 

Film Ferrania has announced they're working on a new slide film.  It is a huge project to rebuild the factory, so it's not something that would be completed immediately, but they have already done tremendous amounts of work on the project.   And they have already started producing a black & white film as a step on the way to slide film production. 

Should've Used Slide Film

After I went through that whole phase of "switching to digital" a few years ago, I looked back at many irreplaceable photos I took then.  The digital pictures are flat, cold, and harsh;  worst of all, they're missing highlights.   I can never go back and re-take them.   The best I can get by post-processing them is digital pictures that look like they've been post-processed.  

I should have used slide film.

Many subjects that looked good on film-- such as the afternoon sun on a person's face-- turned into a disaster with digital.  The dynamic range just wasn't there, leaving the side of someone's face completely devoid of tone detail.  

When digital blows out highlights, that information is gone and it ain't comin' back.  The technology is getting better, but it's at the cost of more transistors, more complexity, more chances to become useless in the middle of a photo shoot.  Another cost is in the data harvesting that goes along with digital cameras.   They now have cameras that analyze the pictures you take and group them together by who's in the photo.   That's only the beginning.  Once they have your data, you have no say in what happens to it anymore. 

Why do I need a camera to tell me who's in my photographs?  You can keep your face recognition;  I'll arrange my photos myself, thank you very much.

The digital age has given us a throwaway mentality when it comes to images.  It's become somehow normal to expect bombardment of the senses with rapidly-changing pictures.  Everything is like, "so five minutes ago", to quote a movie character.  What these companies need to be doing is slowing it down and getting back to what's good (and lose the creepy data-mining, while they're at it).   Here, to me, is what's good:  send away a roll of pictures, and get back a storage box of nice, mounted slides.  Or with 120, a big long strip of transparencies. 

The best digital cameras take pictures with excellent sharpness and color, but they don't quite have what slide film can offer.  I am of the firm opinion that there's room on the market for both types of photography.  I'm also of the opinion that many photographers will gladly use and enjoy both.  

Velvia 100

This next photo, by the way, is part of a series I'm doing where I emphasize color and impression rather than technical realism. 

Velvia 100

(actually, this was shot on heat-damaged Velvia.  When I do a better scan of this, I'll put it up in the gallery.)

For those of us who remember a time when we didn't stand there chimping through pictures on an LCD screen,  there's no time like the present to dust off that film camera, get some slide film, and start taking pictures the way they ought to be. 

Then, go on outside, pick some colorful subjects, and find out why slide films are called "chromes".

Film Cameras Are Fresh Again

In this high-tech age where it seems authenticity is getting scarce, there is something comforting about still being able to take pictures with slide film.   It's also the top choice for discerning clients and fine art photography;  and 35mm and 120 cameras have never been more affordable.  There are many tens of millions of used film cameras out there;  there are also new ones being made, including a whole host of "Lomo" toy cameras.  And don't forget the Vivitar V3800N.   

As a new generation discovers film photography, there will be a new market.   Digital photography won't anymore be a bandwagon sort of thing the way we've experienced it.   To that generation, the old classics will be something new and fresh again. 

There are many labs still out there doing E-6, and any of the better camera shops still carry slide film.   You can usually get slide film here.  The 5-roll pro packs are a good way to buy it. 

(This site is made possible with the support of readers like you, when you use these links to buy your stuff.  To all who have helped, my sincerest thanks... and I'll have more articles for you soon, hopefully.)

I don't care what "everybody" is saying, this is a great time to be a film photographer.

Long live film!

I hope you enjoyed this article.

Have a good one,

For unto us a Child is born,
      Unto us a Son is given;
      And the government will be upon His shoulder.
      And His name will be called
      Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
      Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
-Isaiah 9:6

And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.
-1 John 5:11

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