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.
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.
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!