Just cannot live without 120 film.
I managed to get my hands on some120-format Kodak Ektar 100 before it was available to the general public, and I was given the opportunity to conduct an informal review of the film. Based on the hype surrounding this film, I was quite happy to test it out. After shooting 5 rolls through a few different cameras, I was not at all disappointed with the results as I scanned them in.
I found the colors to be extremely natural and pleasing under daylight conditions. And the sharpness and grain are absolutely to die for. In general, the film has the best characteristics from both slide film and color negative film. Read on for my informal review.
ABOUT THE FILM
Kodak Professional Ektar 100 is a color-negative film (using the C-41 process) available in 35mm and 120-formats. It is claimed to have extremely fine grain (the world’s finest for color-neg) and high color saturation, making it ideal for nature, landscape, and travel photographers.
In September, 2008 the Ektar 100 became available in 35mm format. Due to popular demand, Kodak has made the film available in 120-format in April, 2009 (I believe it’s available for purchase through a few vendors right now).
MY NON-TECHNICAL REVIEW
Equipped with a pro-pack of the Ektar 100, I loaded up my two medium format cameras and headed out on a few photowalks along the coast. One camera was my old 1956 Minolta Autocord MXS (twin lens reflex) and the other was my Diana+ (toy camera). I must admit, putting this film into a plastic toy camera felt a bit like ripping the engine from an F-1 car and strapping it to a tricycle.
The first day I shot this film, the weather turned heavy overcast quite rapidly, but I managed to finish off three rolls. I went out a few days later and shot the last two rolls in full sunshine. The film can certainly be used in either condition, but its white balance is intended for daylight use. The overcast photos just scanned in a bit cold — and I could have adjusted it, but it seemed fitting to leave them as is.
Up to this point, I’ve been shooting mostly Kodak Portra VC color-neg films on medium format (and a little bit of Velvia slide). The Ektar 100 seems quite comparable to the color saturation of these films, but the colors on the Ektar 100 seem more “realistic” to me. The color saturation and contrast isn’t so overbearing that it looks unnatural, and the colors seems to closely represent the actual colors of the scene. One thing I did notice, though, is that the greens tend to be more saturated than the other colors — sometimes a bit too much.
The shots (especially those from the TLR) appear to be very sharp and free from grain. I might even go so far as to say that the Ektar 100 is comparable to Ilford’s PanF Plus black and white film (which is the primary film I use with my Autocord). Though I’ve only scanned the film (which tends to present softer grain versus an optical enlarger), I was hard-pressed to find any signs of grain even at 100% zoom on a 3200 ppi scan.
GRAIN? WHAT GRAIN?
If you don’t believe me, see for yourself. Here’s an image with a decent exposure — the little box is the spot I’ve taken the 100% crop for the image immediately below it. The full image is approximately 50MP, or 7000 x 7000 pixels.
The softness of the 100% crop probably comes from scanning the film since I don’t use any sharpening while scanning. Even so, I can usually make out the grain easily on most films — it’s just not as sharp as with an optical enlargement. The Ektar 100 scans don’t show much sign of grain.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
I like it — a lot. When I decide to shoot color on my TLR, I’ll probably use the Ektar 100 exclusively. The colors look great and the shots appear to be very sharp and fine-grained. I’m still undecided with the Diana+… I might try a few more rolls and see how it goes, but I’m still leaning toward the Portra VC films just because I have a history of good results with it.
The Ektar 100 film seems to have similar features of slide film (high saturation and fine grain), but with a more forgiving dynamic range of a color negative.
But the thing that gets me most about this film is how natural the colors appear. Color film often has a “film-like” appearance to it because of shifted colors or grain. The Ektar 100 (to me) looks more like a well-processed digital than it does a typical film.
Would I recommend this film for color enthusiasts? Certainly! It seems well-suited for landscape and nature photography, but even skin tones in portraits aren’t completely unnatural.