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Film Review: Kodak Ektar 100 – 135 Format

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Film is dead…or so many people though until Kodak released their new Ektar 100 film to the public last year. Coming to market with the daring claim of “Finest Grain Ever” it would be an uphill battle to sell a new color print film to the general photographic public in the age of 10+ megapixel consumer-level DSLR cameras. It would take a really special film introduction to stand a chance up against the modern resolution of DSLR’s with a 35mm format film. Did Kodak do that? Yes they did.

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First thing to note about Ektar, is that it was designed from the ground up to be scanned into a computer. As most labs now do digital prints, requiring the negative to be scanned before printing, Kodak had to design a film that could easily be scanned, have great color and high resolution. I have been scanning my rolls of Ektar with an Epson V500 at 3200 and 6400 DPI and my Plustek OpticFilm 7200 at 3600 and 7200 DPI.

[NOTE: All Scans are made with V500 at 3200 DPI with Digital ICE off to avoid blurring. Click for fullsize.]

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On either scanner Ektar 100 brought forth good contrast, bold colors and almost no grain. In fact I notice digital noise from my scanners more than I do traditional grain. Ektar has required little correction in Photoshop or Lightroom after scanning is completed.

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As far as image quality goes, I have been successfully printing excellent 8x10’s from 3200 DPI scans on my V500 and 11x14’s at 7200 with my Plustek OpticFilm at 7200 DPI. No other negative film will allow me to make quality prints with these scanners and resolutions. Even most slide films will not scan this high quality for me with consumer grade scanners.

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Ektar delivers a clarity nearing slide film, color characteristics not found in any other film with the wide exposure latitude of negative film. Ektar shows to produce good images in my testing from -1 EV to +2 EV (or shot at ISO 50 up to ISO 400) without needing to push the development. Albeit the further you get away from box speed the more image degradation occurs, but in a pinch you can pull a good image out of Ektar shot at ISO 800 with some good scanning techniques.

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Ektar’s next big advantage is price. You can find Ektar in 135 format for little more than a roll of Kodak Gold and quite a bit less than Portra. At my local photo shop, Gold 200 goes for $4 USD, Ektar 100 for $5.25 and Portra 160 NC for $7. So for little more than the price of regular consumer film, you can get a high resolution professional-quality film. A film that can be scanned with an inexpensive flatbed scanner and produce images equal or greater than current low-end DSLR’s. With better scanners you can even outperform the quality of many high-end DSLR’s and still retain the unique look of film. I have a 20” x 30” print on my wall made from a drum scan of one of my Ektar shots and the print is beautiful with a barely perceptible grain, my Canon 400D XTi or 5D could never even come close to producing that print. At this point a $10 dollar yard-sale SLR and a few rolls of Ektar can do you as good as a $500 XTi, if not better.

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Cost, ease of scanning, resolution, grain and exposure latitude alone are good reasons to grab this film, but the unique look is worth the price of admission and then some. What really gives Ektar a unique advantage is its appearance. I find it to have a strange modern nostalgic look when shot at ISO 50 or 64, like a quality film shot from the 70’s. It shifts a bit blue and retains bold colors. If Ektar is shot at box speed, I have found that it reproduces colors reasonable accurately, although more punchy than normal. I find myself overexposing street photography for the vintage look and shooting landscapes and nature at box speed. It is nice to have the option of two distinct looks from one film and get good results at either setting. Again, you can take Ektar on upwards toward ISO 800, but plan on spending some time in post getting you image looking good. Still, it can be done though.

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Some have complained of Ektar being inappropriate for human subjects, being a bit too saturated for skin tones. I have not found this to be the case, as some simple adjusting of saturation in Photoshop can alleviate this issue without dulling the overall picture.

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Oversaturated skin tones with Ektar tend to be most common at box speed, and taking it to 50 or 64 can help as well. However I have no issue shooting portraits at box speed with Ektar. In fact Ektar has almost replaced Portra 160 VC in my wedding gear for outside, nature portraits. I have been happy and so have been my clients.

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In general, Kodak’s Ektar 100 is a great general purpose film. It is well suited for travel, with its punchy colors and great contrast. It can capture human subjects and look fairly natural, while at the same time give you saturated backgrounds. Ektar is the new film of choice to take for family photos at the Grand Canyon (Now that Kodachrome is gone).

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It’s great to keep in your camera for indoor flash photography. Ektar is a great choice for a primary film, and I have shot the same roll at ISO 50-200 varying between frames and got great results with standard processing. Give Ektar a try and don’t be afraid to experiment with it, the results may surprise you.

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If you are interested in grabbing a few rolls of Ektar to try out, please go down to your local pro shop and get yourself a few rolls. If you don’t have a good pro lab, then consider ordering from Amazon or Adorama from the links below, it’ll give me a little kickback then, but please support you local photo lab before ordering online. You may pay a bit more, but to have personal service and knowledge people nearby it is well worth it.

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Try it...You'll like it!


Links to purchase Ektar below.

Buy at Amazon or...

Search for Ektar at Adorama.



LR/ACR Preset: Polaroid 600

LR/ACR Preset: Polaroid 600

Hey everyone, it's been a while, but it is finally time to resurrect LIDF from the ashes created by all my personal issues from the past few months. LIDF will now update on Saturdays and Wednesdays, with new articles, presets, reviews and my own rants. We will be taking a voyage more into film as we proceed, as I am now shooting film ten times more than digital. But LIDF will not be completely film based, as I will continue to feature Lightroom tips and presets on a regular basis.

Part of the reason I am shifting some focus to film on LIDF is because one needs to know about film to properly simulate the look of film. In fact you should shoot a roll or two regularly to make sure you are achieving the desired look when faking it. For more reasons to shoot film, check out my recent article over at the X-Equals blog +Improving Digital Photography with Film. As I shoot film to make more and improve existing emulation presets, I get more and more attached to the process. In fact, I am currently working on a series of articles covering a workflow for using film within Lightroom, from shooting, to scanning to processing. Watch for it in coming weeks.

I will be posting some film reviews pretty soon too. Hopefully by sharing my results with different films and providing you with links to get quality film stocks, you will be more likly to splurge on a roll or two.

But enough of all that, you probably want to get to the long-awaited new preset. Well today it is kind of a "beta" preset I am sharing. This preset was made in a few hours just today. It all started with me going out looking at yard sales, hoping to find some film gear. After an unsuccessful jaunt, no cameras or film today, I decided to drop by my local discount grocery store. You never know what these dent and bang stores may have inside their doors, and today I was rewarded with quite a haul. I mention to the shopkeep what I was seeking and she went in the back room and brought out a box of film, which I promptly bought for 12 dollars. Digging into the box, I came out with 17 rolls of 35 mm, 6 rolls of 110 and 4 rolls of APS film. All expired and of varying amounts of Kodak, Fuji and Ferrania store-brand films. But the big surprise was two lonely boxes of Polaroid 600 sitting at the bottom of the box. I have been wanting to get some 600 film to emulate, but the cost was rather prohibitive to me. Locally I can only find expired 600 integral film for about $15. But I got 2 boxes for $12, with 27 boxes of traditional filn for free!

So in celebration, I got home, shot my emulation targets and scanned in the Polaroids with my Epson V500. This is not the method I usually use for emulation. Although my system is color calibrated, I usually test my film for emulation out at a local optics lab, getting some baseline information on color response before I start my emulation.No time for that today, I have wanted a Polaroid 600 emulation in my catalog for quite some time, and now I had the needed tools to make one. So I did a quick and dirty emulation using the tools I have at home. So this is kind of a "beta" preset, as I am going to do my normal, in-depth analysis and then emulate again. But this one should get you playing with virtual Polaroid 600 until I get to a proper emulation in a few months.

This also got me back to writing LIDF. I have been building up a series of articles and reviews the past few months, and I have enough material ready to keep up a consistent schedule for a while. So with out further ado, the download....

Damn, it's nice to see my crappy download icon again!

Anyways, enjoy the new release. More will be coming soon. And if you have been suffering from a shortage of my ramblings and creations, be sure to check out X-Equals. In particular, check out my newest article +Monochrome Mojo - Mixing in Grayscale - Part 2 of 2. This article features a new collection of presets called the X-Equals Monochrome Toolkit, featuring 27 new presets to aide you in creating monochrome images that have the essence of real darkroom prints...especially when you print on real B&W photopaper, such as offered by Mpix.

Well, its good to be back. See ya next time,


PS: If you truly love Polaroid 600, support The Impossible Project, which is trying to bring back 600-compatible integral films. They have a difficult mission, check out their site for what they need and see if you can help! Also check out Polapremium, which is an on-line retailer specializing in Polaroid films (in fact they are part of The Impossible Project) supporting them by buying some Polaroid gear will also help out the Impossible Project!


Rant: Mama, they took my Kodachrome away!

If there has ever been a sad day in film photography for me, today is it. Kodak officially announced their discontinuation of the Kodachrome line of slide film after 74 years of production in one incarnation or another. The announcement comes as no surprise, due to the complexity of the emulsion and the extremely complex development process. Any film that is so difficult to develop that it is only processed in one location in the world had it's days numbered in the modern, digital world.

I have shot 15 rolls of Kodachrome 64 in the past year, with 6 more in the freezer. If you have some, or decide to buy some, I recommend you get out and shoot it soon, as Dewayne's, the only K-14 processor in the world, announced continued support only through 2010. Once they close up the K-14 line, it's all over. If you have any left, your only option will be cross processing in B&W chemistry.

Kodachrome was and is the defacto standard when it comes to archival quality slides. Although they fade rather rapidly under the light of a projector, in dark storage, they colors stay true to the day they were shot. A quick search of the US National Archives will bring you scans of Kodachromes shot in the late 1930's that look as crisp and colorful as if they were shot yesterday. That longevity will be missed.

What will furthermore be missed will be Kodachrome's magical appearance. I can't describe the nuance that is Kodachrome, it it too subtle to define in words. Only a projection from a Kodachrome slide will ever do it justice. Kodachrome is difficult to scan, expensive to process and now scarce to get. But it is a film worth the expense and hassle, and I am glad to have gotten back into film photography to enjoy Kodachromes waning days.

In Kodak's press release, they recommend two excellent replacement films for the Kodachrome lover. The first is KODAK PROFESSIONAL EKTACHROME E100G, which is a beautiful film in it's own right. Not to disparage it, it lacks the subtlety of Kodachrome. However, I will concur it is the closest option you will get in an E-6 film (also try Fuji Astia if you shoot a lot of people, as I feel it renders better skin tones than E100G.) Kodak's second recommendation is their new EKTAR 100 negative film. Which is a wonderful option, as it has it's own special nuance that no other film comes close to (I will be posting an in-depth review of the film in the coming weeks). However EKTAR poses two problems. First, it is a negative film, not a slide film. As fine grained as it is, EKTAR still cannot capture the feel of a slide. Secondly, EKTAR is special in it's own right, with a great feeling to the colors, giving me a feel of the seventies in 2009. However it does not convey the timeless Kodachrome does. In short, there is no replacement for Kodachrome.

What I hope Kodak does, is spend some R&D money and produce us a new E-6 film that will carry the Kodachrome name and emulate the feel. A lot of Kodachrome's magic is in the K-14 process itself, but if Kodak can give us a film as nuanced as EKTAR or as beautiful as PORTRA VC they can bring us an E-6 film that can capture some of the true-to-life nature of Kodachrome. Ektachrome is great, but it doesn't bring the bang like Kodachrome.

For now, go out and get some Kodachrome and shoot a roll or two. Kodak estimates current stock will last through Fall 2009, however I am going to guess it will get scarce in the next month or so. If you don't shoot fil anymore, but want a feel of Kodachrome, try my two Lighroom/ACR Presets I have on the site. Try my current Kodachrome 64 and my Kodachrome 25. They will get you close, but they won't get you there. I have two emulation test rolls shot awaiting development currently of Kodachrome 64. Once I get them back I will do a fresh emulation and a Camera Profile for the results. That will be a while however.

In the end, today feels a bit like the day the music died. My heart sunk a little when I saw the news on Twitter. But we move on. There are great films still available and will continue to be, and out digital cameras and Adobe's magical tools will provide us with the means to bring us a little closer to the magic again. To me, today is a day i will remember for quite a while. It came as no surprise, the writing was on the wall and i was stocking up to complete a personal project. The finality of it still hits home.

Have a great day,

Michael W Gray


Rockin' at X= and Other Stuff

Greg is on the fence

Well, it looks like its another post finally. But, its a fluff piece. I'm working on new content for LIDF, looking to broaden the horizons. To that extent I have been taking time to build up new content and laying low on the LIDF front. That is not to say that I have not been busy. I've been working on a new series of articles over at the X=blog delving deep into the Camera Profiles in Lightroom.

Part one is currently live over at Brandon's fine site. In it I cover the basics of camera profiles and how to use them. You can find it HERE. Part two will be dropping soon, so check out X= frequently to see it once it drops. In it I will be covering the process by which you can develop you own camera profiles, and how to share settings between cameras. Part three is currently in my text editor being written, and it will cover making creative profiles....such as camera profiles that simulate film, much like my presets. So get a color checker and join me over at X= for the profling fun.

As to me, I've spent much of the past two months getting back in touch with traditional film photography. Aside from a wedding and a few portrait sessions, I haven't touched my digital gear much lately. I can't say that I regret it either. Shooting film feels different and I enjoy it. In that same vein, I have developed scanning methods and a Lightroom workflow for dealing with film...I will be sharing the insights I have garnered on that from in the coming posts.

In all, please bear with me a little longer as I prepare to relaunch my efforts here on LifeInDigitalFilm. The new Cold Storage Collection is well on it's way to completion and should drop by the end of this month. I'll contact those of you who already have the 1st collection before I release it to get contact info to send you a link to your copy of the new set.

Hang around, once we're back rolling I think you will enjoy what I have cooking for you. And I'll throw in a couple presets too.

Until later,