Film photography is not dead. It is hurting, though. It seems every couple months, we lose a few more film stocks. The remaining selection is a small fraction of what we once had. Still, there are plenty of films out there worth loading into a camera. And the cameras are pretty cheap now, too. But who knows what the future holds?
We've put together a collection of films you might want to try while you still can. Some of them are old favorites and others are a little more obscure. All of them, however, offer a unique and often extremely rewarding photographic experience.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, so feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments. And if you have a freezer full of an old film stock you miss, feel free to leave a comment about that, too. We're sticking to the stocks that are easy to get, but there's all kinds of interesting stuff out there. Let the film bug bite you.
Kodak Portra 400
Type: Color negative film
Price: $8 per 36 exposure roll
Other speeds: 160, 800
At one time, there was a rift between Kodak Portra shooters. There were two kinds, VC and NC. VC stood for Vivid Color and was great for things like landscapes, while the NC (Natural Color) was preferable for skin tones. Then, Kodak merged the two lines together. Some shooters were sad, but the new Portra has won over a lot of fans, and for good reason. It’s great.
The color reproduction is excellent and the grain, even at 400, is very impressive. You can even push it a bit and still keep things looking nice, which isn't always the strength of color negative film. It's not as cheap as the stuff you can buy off the rack at the local K-Mart, but in terms of quality, it really does look better.
The grain on the 160 is even finer and the 800 isn't too shabby either. It seems to be going strong, but with all the tumult in the Kodak camp, we hope this stock won't be going away anytime soon.
Kodak T-Max 400
Type: Black-and-white negative
Price: $4.95 per 36-exposure roll
Other speeds: 100 and 3200
When picking a black-and-white film, grain is going to be a big part of your decision. Kodak's T-Max 400 is, as Kodak claims, "The world's finest-grained 400-speed B&W Film." While we haven't scientifically confirmed that fact, we can say that it does have some very smooth tones.
So, if you aren't looking for grain in your images, or you're looking to push a 400-speed film as high as 1600 and still get acceptable results, this is a great choice.
Note: Because it's a true B&W film, you can't drop it off at the local drugstore and expect to get it developed.
Kodak Tri-X 400
Type: Black-and-white negative
Price: $4.49 per 36-exposure roll
Photo: Flickr-user Martin (Creative Commons)
On the other side of the grain issue is Tri-X. While T-Max strives to make things as smooth as possible, Tri-X gives you more contrast and a coarser grain that lends itself to disciplines like street or documentary photography.
It's often even cheaper than T-Max is, and in my opinion, easier to develop. Plus, because you're already expecting a bit of grain, you can push it a few stops and it will only amplify the effect.
Some people really love it, some hate it, and others have been using it for so long that they wouldn't think of using anything else. Trying T-Max and Tri-X at least once is something every photographer with a curiosity about film should do, though.