Some might say Citizen Kane is the greatest film of all time, others Gone with the Wind, we however might suggest something completely different. Kodachrome perhaps, maybe Velvia. Many of the great photographic films have, alas, gone with the wind, but occasionally someone finds a roll or two stuffed behind a frozen pork chop at the back of a freezer. Today we are going to look at what we think were the greatest rolls of celluloid the world ever produced. You might differ, if you do, let us know on Facebook.
Kodachrome is arguably the greatest film of all time. Spanning an incredible 75 years, this amazing emulsion was renowned for its vibrant yet not over saturated colors and high contrast. Unlike its color contemporaries it did not use color couplers in the emulsion, which led to sharper images than conventional transparency films. Although you might find an unused roll of Kodachrome, sadly you will no longer be able to get it developed. The last film that was ever processed was shot by Steve McCurry and is now exhibited at the Kodak Museum.
XP2 was an oddity, a black and white film processed through the C41 color negative processing system. Known as a chromogenic film, it has a wide exposure latitude and a relatively high ISO of 400 and as opposed to conventional black and white films, was least grainy in the highlight areas. This made it appealing for high key scenes. XP2 is still produced and manufactured today.
Whilst enthusiasts might baulk at this choice, Kodak Gold was the last in the line of Kodacolor color negative films. Kodacolor was perhaps the biggest name in photographic film and the to go choice for everyday snap shooting. The brand was everywhere, the yellow boxes filling displays in camera stores, drug stores and even souvenir shops in tourist areas. Kodak Gold is another film still available today in speeds from 100-400 ISO
Velvia was perhaps the first transparency film to cut into Kodak’s dominance of the market. It was introduced in 1990 and quickly gained a reputation for a smooth tonal range, excellent color rendition and sharpness. Indeed Velvia still has the highest revolving power of any transparency film made. Despite some professionals disliking its saturation, Velvia rapidly made inroads into Kodachrome’s market share and was ultimately a major contributing factor to the demise of that film.
A continuous tone panchromatic black and white film, T-Max came in three ISOs, 100, 400 and 3200. It is perhaps the ISO 3200 version that is the most iconic of the three, as it was used by many sports photographers who needed low light capability whilst maintaining a decent image quality. T-Max 3200 is actually an 800 ISO film that has been design to be pushed in processing to ISO 3200. In fact it was possible if carefully processed, to push it to 25000 ISO. T-Max was discontinued in 2012 but it may still be possible to find rolls for sale.
The Kodak Portra range was developed for the portrait and wedding market. Its muted saturation and lower contrast made it the perfect color negative film for capturing natural looking skin tones and it rapidly became a favourite in its field. It was available in speeds of 160, 400 and 800 ISO and all three had fine grain structure giving smooth looking images. Later versions were further optimised to give very high quality when scanned.
The last in a long line of Ilford HP films, HP5 is a 400 ISO and was for a long time a firm favourite of photo-journalists. It can be easily pushed or pulled and still maintains a fine film grain and good contrast. Because of this, HP5 even made it into Ilford’s one use black and white camera. The film is still available today.
As with any list, this collection of photographic films is highly subjective. I have based my choices on films that have made a major impact on mass photography rather than those that revolutionised photography. Let us know what your nominations for greatest film is on our Facebook page.