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Film Basics

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This chapter is from the book

In this chapter

  • Selecting and Using Film

  • Special-Purpose Film

  • Film Speed and Grain

  • How Film Responds to Light

Today's digital cameras evolved from film cameras and require the same understanding of sensitivity, color, and resolution. Many of the same rules that apply to traditional photography also govern digital. In addition, a number of "digital photographers" still use film. They just rely on scanners to get their images onto the hard drive.

If you leapfrogged traditional film photography entirely, you will understand digital better by learning the history of film. If you inherited or purchased traditional film equipment, the more you know about film, the better your scans and edits will be on the computer.

This chapter discusses negative and positive film and the terms that are used to measure and describe film technology.


I Thought This Was a Book About Digital... - Film photographers can be digital photographers, too. Just get the image from the negative sleeve onto the hard drive or on screen.

The digital darkroom is just that: a place where images are developed and prints are made. Once the image is onscreen, the digital experience begins. Digital cameras just make image transfer that much easier. Traditional photographers with a decent scanner or images on a CD can accomplish the same magic onscreen and in print.

Choosing a Color Film

Film speed influences the appearance of prints and slides. Like black-and-white films, color films are available in a range of ISO ratings, which is a standard for determining film speed. ISO films are graded on a scale. By doubling the number, you double the sensitivity. Film with an ISO rating of 50 is twice as sensitive as ISO 25 speed film.

Color films with low ISO ratings are sharper, more vivid, and less grainy than high-speed films. Slow films also often have lower contrast, which reduces the undesirable effects of overexposure.

Even within the same speed range, different films produce different color effects. Some films have a warm or red-yellow overall color tint, whereas others look cool or bluish. You can make a comparison by exposing two films under identical conditions.

Comparison testing is important with slide film. When slide film is projected on a screen, color problems are obvious, so it is important to know how the film will respond to your subject matter. Magazines such as Popular Photography regularly feature comparisons between films. In addition, film manufacturers publish technical data sheets for their film.

Data sheets can be found at camera stores that cater to professional photographers. You can also find these data sheets on the manufacturers' Web sites, usually in the Professional section.

The best resource, though, is the forums. Photographers post messages in online discussion groups (forums) in which they describe their experience with films they have tried. Some of these excellent forums for digital and film photographers are listed here:

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