Remembrance: Four Years Since the Death of Kodak Ektachrome

When folks in the photography industry talk about Kodak, they most likely reference things like Portra, Tri-X, and who could forget Kodachrome. When Kodachrome was discontinued, the company officially recommended Ektachrome as an alternative. To most of us, it wasn’t the same. The entire process of how Kodachrome got its colors came in the processing as it was a black and white film otherwise. To others, Ektachrome was magic in the right situations.

Ektachrome was Kodak’s last actual chrome film; but in March of 2012, the company discontinued the film not too long after the end of Kodachrome. This March, Ektachrome (in its color variant, because there is also an Infrared version) will have been completely discontinued for four years–a big sign of the way that the times have changed. These days, Ektar is the recommended replacement; but that’s a negative film with super saturated colors. Admittedly, it’s a beautiful film that in fact looks very digital in its color rendition.

Kodak Ektachrome was introduced in the late 1940s and grew in popularity because it used a simpler process for everyday folks to do it themselves as opposed to what Kodachrome required. Like other chrome films, it used the E-6 process. The discontinuation started in 2009, and all of the film was discontinued by 2012.

If you look around online, you’ll see that most of the images shot with Ektachrome are of landscapes and nature. This is what most Chrome film was used for, but if someone wanted to shoot a portrait, they’d be pleasantly surprised because of just how natural the colors were in comparison to other more supersaturated films like Velvia. Think Kodak Portra, but more saturated in certain areas.

National Geographic used it often when Kodachrome was too slow of a film; At ISO 100 and above, Ektachrome was ideal. While Steve McCurry shot lots of Kodachrome, he returned to Afghanistan to photograph the famous Afghan girl; but on his recent return he photographed her with Ektachrome.

The photographers at Nat Geo weren’t the only ones who used Ektachrome; Vivian Maier eventually switched to Ektachrome and for a while lots of her rolls were never processed due to financial hardships. Those images have only recently come to light and it’s quite amazing how well they held up.

Like other Chrome films, it required the photographer to get the exposure absolutely perfectly right. It was nowhere as forgiving as modern Portra film. Then again, most chrome film isn’t and that’s the trade off: you get better colors but you’ve got to be an absolute master of exposure. Perhaps this helped contribute to its decline as photography became more and more automated by the masses. Combine that with the ease of use that digital allowed, and you can see how it can be tough for chrome film to be profitable for any manufacturer.

Kodak Ektachrome

Kodak Ektachrome

This image is one that I shot years ago at a Mermaid Day Parade in NYC, and it’s the best I’ve created in my opinion. However, some of the best film photos I feel I’ve created were with Kodak Portra; but that film went through many revamps over and over again to the point where it is now designed specifically to be scanned. Modern Portra is one of the most forgiving color films I’ve ever shot with. But in the best of situations, it can’t compare to the colors that Ektachrome allowed me to have. It had a unique nostalgic look.

According to the official Kodak documentation on E100:

“The film is intended for exposure with daylight or electronic flash.You can also expose it with photolamps (3400 K) or tungsten (3200 K) illumination with conversion filters. The exposure range is 1/10,000 to 1/10 second without the need for filter correction or exposure compensation.

You can use this film to produce color transparencies for viewing with 5000 K illumination You can also print the transparencies by photomechanical methods or by the photographic methods of direct duplication and direct reversal printing. They can be scanned for graphic-arts reproduction as well.”

The special thing about Ektachrome is that the scans weren’t the best in comparison to Kodachrome; or at least many that I’ve seen weren’t the greatest though there were some. Where Ektachrome really started to shine was in the prints. Any print that I’ve seen from Kodak Ektachrome film is absolutely beautiful and will leave you speechless.

The death of Kodak Ektachrome was part of the ushering in of a new film world. In interviews I did last year, the traditional film manufacturers talk about how sales overall had slowed down and declined. But the newer, hipper companies like Lomography, CineStill and others really are just seeing profits. They’ve embraced a newer marketing tactic that embraces film as an experimental and alternative to digital and for those of us that don’t want to spend hours in front of a computer. Still though, there are lots of us that want to just shoot with film for the process involved and the hope that we’ll create an extremely rewarding image. Those photographers benefit more from the larger formats than what 35mm can offer.

Maybe one day, we’ll see another really awesome Chrome film besides Fujifilm Velvia.