Thoughts on Ektar 100

I recently shot my first roll of Kodak Ektar 100 — a slow film with a reputation for punchy colors. I actually had purchased it this winter, but you can imagine winter in Anchorage is pretty dreary, lifeless, and dark. The good news is that the summers are the total opposite: blue skies and sunshine for 23.9 hours a day, seas of green everywhere you look (much to the chagrin of my seasonal allergies) and understanding bosses that know you just wanna get the fuck out of the city and into the wild on a Friday afternoon. So I pulled the roll out of the deep freeze and snapped off 38 frames to see how it panned out.

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Ektar is a high-end, slow film and as such has a very fine grain. Truth be told, I didn’t dig the fineness of the grain. 35mm has a very distinct look to it, it’s part of my “aesthetic” (to put it in pretentious hipster terms), and part of that is the grain. I like the way the grain looks, and judging by the proliferation of digital “filters” a lot of other people seem to agree with me. It gives it a nice texture. There is such a thing as too grainy — Kodak UltraMAX 400 is too grainy for me, for a lot of applications anyway — but Ektar, on the other hand, is too fine for my tastes. A scan of Ektar negatives looks a little too much like a digital photo to me, and if that’s what you’re going for, why bother shooting 35mm, getting it processed, and scanning it when you could just shoot with your cell or DSLR?

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Even at the highest resolution, I couldn’t discern the grain in this scan of Ektar 100

On the other hand, the thing Ektar 100 has going for it are the colors. This seems to be what it’s most commonly known for. Earthy colors have that sort of classic “Kodak tone” to them, but blues, greens and reds seem to be really distinct. Unlike many films, blue skies look as vivid on Ektar as they do in real life, while greens and reds really seem to “pop” (for this reason some people don’t like to use it for portraits of people with a ruddy complexion).

Much of my “review” is very subjective; not only am I presenting my observations but my take on them. Ektar isn’t my cup of tea, at least not every day, though I can see it’s upsides and will probably end up shooting it again. Depending on your perspective you might love Ektar for the reasons I dislike it, or vice-versa. While it doesn’t really fit into the general theme of what I tend to shoot, if you want colors that really pop and/or grain isn’t your thing (or you’re trying to make larger prints from 35mm, maybe), Ektar 100 is for you. I prefer the organic graininess of Kodak Gold 200, Portra 400, or Fuji Superia 400 but those emulsions tend to produce a more earthy pallet. And none of this takes into account the fact that an ISO 100 film is going to have different applications than an ISO 400. So, it’s all about trade-offs. Decide for yourself what appeals to you, and what’s necessary for the shots you’re trying to take.

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