How to choose a film for portrait, street and landscape work

This is one of those perennial questions that seems to pop up in my inbox very regularly, and I suppose it is a valid one, too.

For how is one to choose a film for a specific task from the plethora of films still available? It’s not as difficult as it sounds fortunately.

Example of grainy character shot

First thing to remember is the ISO speed number of any film….the higher the number, the higher the amount of graininess your photos will show. That may be ok for times when you want to show moody, dark, pessimistic scenes, but will definitely not be any good for shots of buildings etc where you want to depict precise detail.

Example of a very fine grain shot

Secondly, when most people use a film camera, it more than likely is always a 35mm, rarely a medium format one. And when you use a 35mm camera, you do not necessarily want to be encumbered with stuff like tripods etc which will slow you down. That was the whole idea originally of the 35mm format when it first came out, namely portability and ease of use.

So a slightly faster film (ie one with a higher ISO number) will allow you to use your camera hand-held. Opt for a slow film such as ISO 100 and although some people can get away with hand-held shots, more than likely you will need to use a tripod with this slower speed film.

That begs the question that if you are going to use a tripod, you may as well use a medium format camera which although is obviously larger, heavier and forces you to slow down before pressing the shutter, will inevitably give you much, much better resolution than 35mm ever could.

So, let’s get back to the original question….how do you decide which film to use for which application?

More than likely, the majority of the work you will do will be in low or overcast conditions, unless you live near the Sahara region! And because low speed film can only really be used if you are shooting wide open (ie with wide apertures settings such as f2, f3.5 etc), an ISO 400 film will suit you much better.

For landscape, scenery and architectural shooting, an ISO 100 film is the best choice., as it will give superb resolution and minimal grain.

Ok, so let’s make it as simple as possible by tabulating the information.

Portraits and Street shooting

Use ISO 400 film (Kodak Tri X, Kentmere 400, Ilford HP5 400, Kodak TX 400, Ilford Delta 400

Scenery, landscapes, architectural shooting

Use Kodak T Max 100, Kentmere 100, Fuji Velvia 100, Ilford Delta 100, Fomapan Classic 100

Finally, let me leave you with a note about where what I’ve said above can be turned upside down! Yes, you can forget what I’ve mentioned above and still get excellent results. For example, I have taken shots of buildings with ISO 400 and 1600 films, which obviously resulted in high grain less resolution, but in that scenario I actually wanted that to happen, in order to give the shots a bit of character which would have become too clean and clear-cut with slower films.

The same goes with portraits; I have used ISO 400 or higher films to take portrait shots or still life, where normally high resolution is desired, but again, in this scenario, I didn’t want a clear, sharp shot which would have been too “clinical”…using a high ISO film gave those shots more grain and less sharpness, adding more character and grittiness.

Hope you are now clear-cut in your minds on what film t go for!




About filmcamera999

ME & MY PASSION! ok, you probably looked at the length of this "about me" page and thought, god, what's wrong with this guy!....does he have to start telling us his life story or something!!? well, youve come here now anyways, so why not hear what im like as a person, eh? ive been using film cameras for well over 30 first one being the family yashicamat twin lens! over the years, ive both bought sold and collected film cameras...too many to tell the truth! in fact, ive been buying and selling cameras well before the internet came on the scene, so anything you purchase from me is backed by my self-styled moneyback promise.....if you dont like what youve bought, send it back within 14 days and you get all your money arguments!! WHERE I STAND ON THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION! yes, i do use digital as well, but only as a ready-reckoner...i try and take most shots with my simple 2megapixel digicam....if the shot looks good, i pull out my film camera and shoot! i most defintely do not believe in digital manipulation of photographs....that in my eyes is not photography...its cheating! WHERE I USED TO LIVE, WHERE I AM NOW & WHAT I WOULD LIKE TO DO! i used to live in Ontario, Canada, but moved back to the UK a little while ago (its a long story..!)...but now i'm living in the one place i always wanted to be...Vancouver, BC..the next best thing to paradise on earth! as i work as a freelance writer as well as other things, i often find hat my work takes me to europe for short spells, so i get to travel a lot...not a blessing, as i just hate long flights! im a qualified Quality Assurance guy (you know...ISO 9000, auditing, documentation etc) ....99% of my skill-set is transferable so i can handle any admin or documentation-related roles....see you in BC! otherwise, i specialise in ISO 9000 auditing and documentation. my dream? to have my own thriving camera shop in Vancouver BC, whilst living in the mountains somewhere.....the best of both worlds!
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