Being a fan of color slides since my very first days of 35mm photography back in the 1980s, I was enthusiastic to go back to Kodak slide film when the company announced to re-start the production of Ektachrome. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the new version of this classic film stock, although I must admit that I preferred Kodachrome back in the days. Despite it’s early announcement it was already December last year when sufficient numbers of this film had been delivered to FotoImpex in Berlin so that I could finally order my first five rolls. They went straight into the fridge and lived there for another seven months until I finally had the chance to test one of them. I used my Olympus 35 SP, which I had brought to Denmark for my “Last Day” project, because the 31st July was amidst our summer holiday break. The camera has a reliable (spot) light meter, which measures EV values. These let you manually select the right aperture/shutter speed combination with two adjustable rings on the fixed lens of the camera. Slide film with its rather narrow dynamic range needs proper metering and, therefore, the small rangefinder seemed the perfect choice for the job especially because Ektachrome is (only) a 100 ISO film and the meter of the camera is absolutely flawless in daylight.
So what is my impression of this “retro” film stock? Shooting it during the day with overcast skies as well as during sunset – as expected – gave very different results. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Ektachrome can’t handle changing light conditions, but its color rendition very much depends on light quality. Overcast skies around midday lead to rather muted colors with a slight blue-greenish tint. Rumors have it that slide film is ideal for homogeneous light as in overcast conditions, because the contrast range is rather low and colors do not oversaturate. Having my Kodachrome experience deeply saved in the back of my mind, I was a bit disappointed on the performance of the new emulsion though. I know, Kodachrome was especially good at rendering orange to red tones and therefore never gave this ‘cool’ impression, even when shot under suboptimal light conditions. Thus, the direct comparison might be a bit unfair.
Sea kale II
However, have a look at the image of the sea kale as an example and you immediately see what I mean. The greyish to green color of the plant is not far from the original and I like the structure of the leaves, but the pebbles were much more colorful – at least that’s how I remember it. They were a mixture of flint and granite and the latter comes in a diverse color palette from black to grey-brown to pink. And the browns and pinks do not come across. I also had to play with the color rendition tools in Photoshop quite a bit to get a final result I could live with. However, this may also be due to flatbed scanners having considerable difficulties to properly scan 35mm transparencies – at least that’s my experience with my Epson V700.
The red boat
When it comes to photographing golden hour light as in the sunset shot or the red boat image, Ektachrome really excels. The colors are vivid but not oversaturated as they might have been on Fuji Velvia and at least on the light table (again, scanning them properly is a bit of an effort) these images look exactly like the real scenes as I have saved them in my mind. Shooting the new Ektachrome in the golden hour seems to be a no-brainer (as long as you meter it correctly), since the warm tones in the sunlight counterbalance for the otherwise cool characteristics of the emulsion. But if the light itself is rather neutral as in overcast weather conditions, it’s much more tricky to get satisfying results with this film. Maybe a warming filter (such as 81A) can help, something I shall definitely try in the future.
Would I recommend shooting this film? Definitely yes, but if you are looking for a versatile day-to-day color film, which is a bit forgiving when it comes to over- or underexposure and which renders colors rather naturally independent of the ambient (day)light condition Ektachrome might not be for you. But this holds true for all slide films in comparison to negative films. Also, if you are scanning your film at home, negative film is much easier to handle and probably gives better results at least when you’re using a flatbed scanner. Please bear in mind that this preliminary report is based only on a single roll of film. Although I don’t expect any surprising differences when shooting more of this emulsion, it certainly needs further testing with different cameras and lenses and – most important – many more photo shoots in various weather and light conditions to get a better idea about this film. We have a golden autumn this year and colors in the woodland around Berlin are currently exploding…so, there might be opportunities very soon.