Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Film Test: Kodak Ektar 100 (The E-6 Killer?)

A somewhat atypical Ektar shot. Lots of light and little overexposure gives this a bit of a pastel look. The true colors of the scene were not nearly so vibrant, however.
Everyone was raving about Kodak's relatively new film, Ektar 100, so I had to give it a try myself. Kodak originally just released it in 35mm, but the film was so popular that they now carry it in 120 and large format, as well as 35mm. K and I were heading out to the Bay Area in California in October of last year for a marathon that she was running and to visit family, and I knew this would provide a perfect opportunity to test out the film. I bought five 36-exposure rolls of the stuff before the trip and shot all of them over the course of the week we were there.

Overall, I was really impressed with the film. As everyone else who as already been converted over to Ektar has already said, the film provides awesome color, extremely fine grain, is much more forgiving than slide film as to exposure and has a much wider exposure latitude than you will get with digital. It's not a perfect film - there is a little too much saturation for general purpose/snapshot photography for my taste, and it has nowhere near the exposure versatility that you would get with Kodak Portra 400 - but it appears to be a really spectacular film for landscape work.

With this film in their stable, and the generally niche market status of slide film these days, I don't think its any surprise that Kodak recently made the decision to discontinue the production of all consumer slide (E-6) films. While the film originally was only available in the "miniature" 35mm format, Kodak has really targeted this film to landscape photographers over the past year or so, and I have to think that the possibility of discontinuing the slide films was part of the impetus behind that push.

I am going to spread out the test shots over a few posts. The images in this post are all from a little park that is nearby to K's parents house, Benicia State Park. K went for a run and I hung out and played the part of the creepy guy in the bushes with a camera. Fun times.

If I was being more technical about my testing, I would have shot everything using a tripod and made several bracketing exposures for each image. If I really wanted to be technical, I would have shot the same scenes with one or two other films for direct comparison. I generally don't have the patience (or the wallet) for such testing, however, and this time was no exception. When I "test" a film, I just take it out shooting and see what I think when I look at the pictures. I generally use one company for all of my color film developing these days, and the rest of the post-processing is done by me, so I generally can expect any observed differences to be the result of the film and not some odd link in the processing chain. My impressions are highly subjective and not meant to be a technical review of the film. I know what I like for how I shoot, your mileage may vary.

All shots taken using fresh-dated, 35mm Kodak Ektar 100, shot at box speed with my Canon Elan 7ne and a 17-40mm f/4L lens. Metering was done using the camera's internal meter with some over/under exposure compensation, depending on the scene. Development was done by Dwayne's Photo. Scans were done by me, using an Epson V600 and Vuescan software with the infrared dust removal option set on "Light." Images were resized, along with some slight cropping and sharpening  using Adobe Lightroom 3.

The film really captured the warmness of the early-morning sun well and delivered great detail. I've gotten a bit spoiled by medium format, but even with 35mm in the full scan of this image, the branches are distinct and crisp (even handheld without a tripod).

Colors are nicely saturated, especially greens and reds. The film provides a good definition between close color tones as well, such as in this scene where the tan/yellow tones overlap each other.

Ektar loves red - the berries are bright and saturated, without losing detail or getting muddy as can happen with some other films, and which can be a huge problem with digital cameras.

Ektar also loves light - compare the color rendition here (where the main subject is mostly shaded) to the shot above (where the shade is offset by some reflected sunlight and a lot more light in the background). This shot shows a distinct color shift into the blues, which is fairly typical for shaded subjects shot on negative film. While the saturation of the red berries seems about the same, to my eye the green of the leaves is much less saturated than in the shot above.

Ektar handled this high contrast scene really well. The sun itself is blown out, which was expected, but the highlights on all the grass hold details and there is detail in even the deepest shadows.

Not sure what is going on in the upper right corner on this one, maybe a scanning artifact as it doesn't appear to be on the negative. Same subject as the first shot, above, but without the slight overall overexposure. Again, the film handles the flare and high contrast in this shot wonderfully. I'm not sure I was ever able to get this kind of performance out of slide film.
Some more test shots to come, but I think that this film could well become my go to color film for landscapes. It really does not seem to like caucasian skin tones, although I've seem a few photographers who seem to know the right voodoo to get good portrait results. I've still got some nice Velvia 50 and Provia 100 slide film in my freezer, but that may get relegated to use for cross processing. The Ektar really does deliver a very "slide-like" look - high contrast and saturation, with little to no visible grain - and is much easier to work with and more forgiving on exposure. From what I can see, you can still get pretty good results with shooting this a stop or two over and perhaps a stop under. Slide film gives you maybe a third to a half stop in either direction by comparison. Since almost all of my shooting these days is on older cameras, many without internal metering (or with unreliable metering), having that extra exposure latitude can be the difference between getting the shot and wasting film.

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