Posted on November 21 2019
Today's article examines the important question of 'which is the best Christmas film...for photography!' And to wrestle with this tricky conundrum we've enlisted our friends over at FiltrFilm Cameras. They are a wonderful small outfit dedicated to making it easy for new film photographers to buy their first SLR, and are also very knowledgeable about fast-speed films! Also please note that the cover photo for this article is (c) Sergey Popov. Now, over to you Dan.
It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like ISO 800
As the old rhyme goes, Christmas is coming, Santa’s getting fat, but which superfast films should you be asking him to put in your hat?
(Ok, we made that last bit up, but we had to segue into this article somehow)
We’ve shot a fair few rolls of fast film in the past couple of years, so we thought we’d share our views on a few of them, hopefully helping in some small way to decide what you’ll be shooting with in low light, at Christmas parties, and round at your grandma’s this Christmas.
A Word of Warning...
Even with a fast film, your film camera still isn’t going to see in the dark. Set your phone to ISO 800 in a dark room with an aperture of say f2 and a shutter speed of 1/60 and see what you get; in fact, don’t bother, we can tell you. It will be a whole lot of blackness. Even with ISO 3200 film you are still going to need some sort of half decent lighting (or a flash on your camera) to produce photos you’ll enjoy.
In the Christmas setting, think of shots with background Christmas lights, carol concerts and music in churches, or perhaps the light of a sunset, or an overcast winters day. If your subject is closely and well lit by candles, that will work as well. If these are the sorts of shots you might want to take this Christmas, there’s some good options for you.
Photo (c) Christopher Simpson
If you’re expecting to walk down pitch dark streets, or shoot in rooms with a sole candle flickering somewhere in the distance, you’re likely to end up disappointed with your results. For that sort of thing you’ll need a flash, or *gulp………a digital camera.
So, with that point of housekeeping out of the way, let’s look at some of the contenders for your stocking this year.
I'm Dreaming of a (Black and) White Christmas
You have two main options for super-fast monochromatic glory.
The first is Ilford Delta 3200 (also available in 120). A black and white film rated ISO 3200, although the techheads will tell you to shoot it at 1600, then “push” it to 3200 in development. Not something we’ve tried ourselves, but well worth a go we’re sure.
As you’d expect from a really fast film, you get a lot of grain, particularly if you are pushing your film to the edges of what it can cope with in terms of low lighting. Personally, we’re not a big fan of the prints you will produce if you have this film at the edge of its capabilities; it starts to go past “grain” and become “blur”. The film does though produce some great results where you have some sort of strong lighting around, even if that is only lighting part of your shot.
Photo (c) Sroyon
Your second option is then Kodak T-Max P3200 - although note that it is currently only available in 35mm.
Ahh, T-Max, how we love thee. You might have tried either T-Max 100 or T-Max 400 and loved them both, like we do, but it’s definitely worth giving their big brother a go! This B&W beauty is also marketed as a ISO 3200 film. But before people write in and get all angry, it is in fact a 800 ISO film that you should push to 3200 (or beyond) in development. The “P” in the name of the film is the clue to the fact you should “push” in development.
We think the benefits of doing it this way work out well. To our eye the grain is finer than with the Ilford Delta – some people will prefer the higher levels of grain in the Delta of course – and the contrast is strong, whilst still producing good low light images that avoid being big pools of blackness.
Photo (c) Rory Carter
It’s not just black and white shooters though that can shoot in lower light, as this gorgeous offering from Cinestill shows us: Cinestill 800T available in 35mm and 120. The “T” in the name of the stock refers to the fact this is a Tungsten film. If you’ve ever wanted to shoot cityscapes in colour at night, this might be the one for you.
Photo (c) Sierra Radaelli
We’ve only shot one roll of it, and we probably didn’t use it as well as others have, but you can see from the great images on the film page what can be done in the right conditions. Wherever you have some UV or neon lights, Cinestill 800T shows its brilliance easily.
Even without that though, there’s still some great results to be had, particularly if you work with the film’s natural feel and look for blue colours for your shots. Yes, you can counter the blue tint with a warming filter if you want, but working with a film rather than against it will often give you the best results.
We found the grain on this one to be particularly pleasing and easy on the eye for such a fast film. You lose very little detail in your shots. Of the colour films rated ISO 800 on offer at the moment, this is probably the one that is going to cope with low light more readily than the others.
The One That Got Away
Fujifilm Venus 800! We shot a roll of this over the summer, in those lovely warm evenings we were having.
Boy were we excited to see what it could do.
Unfortunately we found out the hard way what we said at the beginning of this article; that even with a fast film, your camera will still need a good amount of light to produce good results. (We also found that our camera had an unreliable shutter, so only about half the images came out at all). It also taught us another valuable lesson. When shooting in low light it’s probably a good idea to get your camera to over expose by a stop, or maybe even more.
Photo (c) Maya Beano
With a lot of the shots we took the camera was recording a good exposure, but the outcome was disappointing. That’s often what happens with centre weighted metering when you have a significant difference between the shadows and the source of light in your image (such as with a low setting sun).
Where we did get good images though, we found the grain was strong, but the range of colours beautiful in good light (yes, with your usual Fuji lean towards green hues). So this is probably a film best used this Christmas for day time shooting, during those short afternoons, perhaps during your pre/post Christmas dinner walk with the family, that sort of thing.
Soon to be back in stock, a truly festive film! Revolog Snovlox...and for obvious reasons :-D
Definitely different, but if you’re looking for something creative to shoot with this Christmas – but not in low light as it's rated ISO 100 – this might be the one for you.
Of course, those clever folk at Analogue Wonderland make it super easy for you to get your hands on these films these Christmas without spending a penny – check out their guide to helping your friends and family to get you something you actually want this Christmas!
Thanks Dan! And now if you're looking to add a 35mm SLR camera to your Christmas list then please head over to the FiltrFilm website to see their range. You can also follow them on Instagram or Facebook
Why not check out some other articles comparing and reviewing films for different situations as part of our 'Best Film...' Series
We have also compiled all the films that have ISO of at least 500 into a special Winter Film Collection