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.



jeremy north said...

While this is presented as a review, it has the air of a thinly disguised Kodak press release.

I am a film user so would rather read a more subjective review.

Aside from that, I'd love to try it out, except that it is not even available in the UK

Michael W. Gray said...

I assure you that they were just my opinions. I have no connection to Kodak in any way, other than buying their film. My write-up was simply giving my impressions, and I have no need for subjectivity when reviewing any product. I want to share my thoughts, and Ektar made me excited. Anyways, I doubt I would get much co-operation from Kodak, or any other manufacturer, due to me attempting to simulate their films digitally.

There are plenty of subjective reviews of Ektar available, but I'm not interested in resolving power, evident grain and whatnot. I care about the final results I get, of which I am incredibly impressed.

I am surprised Kodak has not made it available in the UK, I was not aware of that.