Film Stock & Exposure Comparisons


There are two decisions that a film photographer can make right out of the gate that will have a major influence on the final look of their photos: film stock and exposure.

So, Richard is breaking down the most popular pro film stocks we see at the lab, showing multiple exposure settings of each, to get you started! This will not only show you how film choice and exposure affect your final image, but it will help you find your sweet spot—what is "normal" to your light meter might not be "normal" to you. We're including snaps of the film negatives, too, so you can see how the physical structure of exposed film translates into a scan. #negsaresacred

BONUS! Here's a high resolution download of everything so you can get up close and personal with the scans and negatives! This will be the best way for you to see the amount of grain in each stock and exposure setting, too. 

Before we get to the good stuff, a note: please don't consider this to be a license to blindly overexpose your film. Yes, film does well with overexposure. But, overexposing without metering is NOT a good idea. You risk overexposing your film to drastic proportions, and you lose consistency in exposure by not measuring the conditions of different setups and adjusting accordingly. That means your shots will be overexposed by different amounts, and your scans won't be consistent. 

For the purpose of this blog, we used a Mamiya 645AF camera with an 80mm f/2.8 lens and shot during late morning in open shade. We metered using a handheld incident meter, bulb out, turned back toward the camera. All images have been scanned on the Noritsu with a neutral color balance to reflect the qualities of the film and exposure setting as accurately as possible.




We rated Fujifilm Fujicolor 400H at box speed. This film is very "light hungry", so Richard recommends pumping it up one stop. Typically, photographers rate this film at one to two stops overexposed—as the test shows, this film can do that really well without any color shifts. Note how the greens on Fujifilm differ from those on Kodak...



We rated Kodak Portra 400 at box speed. You can see that as you overexpose more, red tones start to creep into your picture. So, it is really best to rate this film close to box speed.



We rated Kodak Portra 800 at box speed. This is another "light hungry" film—overexposing one stop gives you a negative with rich density and no color shift.



We rated Kodak Portra 160 at box speed. To Richard's surprise, this film was the most flexible of the color films tested—it looks great at a lot of different exposure settings, even underexposure (if you want a "moody" look)! We recommend scanning this film on the Noritsu. Kodak Portra 160 can sometimes produce digital artifacting when scanned on the Frontier due to the silver retention.



We rated Kodak Ektar 100 at box speed. The most significant change we saw with this film was the appearance of color saturation. Check out the hair color! However, it is wise to note that saturation of other colors, like the blue dress, don't change as much in saturation as they do lightness. Just like Portra 160, Ektar 100 can sometimes produce digital artifacting when scanned on the Frontier due to the silver retention.


On to the black & white film! We wanted to show an added stop of exposure to give you an extra frame (wink) of reference for the range of values and grain you can get with these films— download the high resolution file so you can zoom all the way in on that grainy goodness.



We rated Kodak Tri-X 400 at box speed. This seems to be the most flexible of the black & white film stocks, but the most even tones are still found at box speed.



We rated Ilford HP5 at box speed. It has much richer blacks than Tri-X film, so Richard recommends shooting at +1.



We ignored the box speed for Ilford Delta 3200 and rated this at 1600, because it is generally agreed upon by the film community that the "normal" speed for this film. This film is very grainy, and that only increases as you get farther from box speed. Richard recommends shooting at +1.

Once you’ve chosen a film stock that might be a match for your style, go out and shoot a test roll or two! Testing exposure settings in a variety of lighting conditions and shooting different subject matter will give you an even better understanding of how to create film negatives that yield the look you love. 

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