What Film Emulsion Should I Choose? A Guide for Analog Photography

There’s never been a more exciting time to start shooting analog. In our latest original infographic, find out which film emulsion is right for you.

The reports of film’s death are greatly exaggerated. In fact, there’s never been a more exciting time to start shooting analog. If you’re new to the world of film photography, welcome! Plenty of film cameras can be had for a fraction of their original price. There’s bound to be one that will suit your particular needs (Check out our handy guide to the 6 Best Film Cameras for Beginners). Unlike with digital, you don’t get to change your ISO on the fly. Once you load a roll or spool of film into your film camera, you’re locked into that particular roll’s ISO until you finish the whole thing.

There are exceptions to this, of course (such as sheet film or Medium Format cameras with removable backs), but we’re focusing specifically on 35mm and 120 films in this instance. On top of picking the appropriate ISO film, another consideration you will need to make as a film shooter is to choose a particular film emulsion. Each film emulsion reacts to light in different and unique ways. This results in each film emulsion having a signature “look” that set them apart from one another. While film emulsions are more of a specialty product today, there are many different types of emulsions still being produced commercially today. In this original Phoblographer infographic, we will be covering a handful of film emulsions that are readily available on the market today. This is by no means the be-all and end-all list of film emulsions, but rather a starting point to get you started in selecting the appropriate film emulsion. As you get more comfortable with shooting film, you will learn to experiment with other available emulsions to create different results.

For the Portrait Photographer

Portrait photography is perhaps one genre where the use of film emulsions has seen a significant resurgence. The organic nature of film lends itself towards creating truly stunning portraits with a natural quality that digital portrait shooters often try to imitate. For the monochrome portrait fans out there, Ilford Delta 400 or Kodak TMax 400 are excellent options. For those that prefer shooting portraits in color, Fujifilm Pro 400H or Kodak Portra are favored by many.

For the Landscape Photographer

The same organic quality that film lends to your images is also suitable for landscape photography as well. Landscape shooters in search of a monochrome film emulsion will love what they can achieve using Fujifilm Across II. If color landscapes are more to your liking, Fujifilm Velvia is the preferred emulsion by many photographers.

For the Street Photographer

Despite the sweeping migration towards digital during the last two decades, street photography is another genre where analog never really went away. To this day, I still see street photographers shooting on their film cameras no matter where I happen to be around the world. Kodak TriX 400 and Ilford XP2 are two of the most popular and trusted monochromatic film emulsions used by street photographers the world over. For those that prefer to capture the decisive moment in color, Fujifilm Superia or Lomo 800 are wonderful options as well.

When Shooting in Low Light Scenarios

Things get a bit tricky when you’re shooting with film in low light environments. Unlike digital cameras, you can’t just crank up your ISO once the light starts to fade. Luckily, there are high ISO film emulsions designed specifically to be used in these situations. For photographers that prefer shooting in monochrome, Kodak TMax P3200 is an excellent high ISO emulsion. For those that prefer to shoot in color, consider CineStill 800T next time you’re shooting at night. CineStill 800T is a Tungsten balanced film emulsion created using the same Kodak cinema film stock that’s used to shoot some of the most iconic movies in cinematic history. Scorsese, Tarantino, and Abrams are amongst some of the biggest names in Hollywood to have used the same Kodak cinema film stock from which CineStill 800T is derived.

Pauleth Ip

Paul is a New York City based photographer, creative, and writer. His body of work includes headshots and commercial editorials for professionals, in-demand actors/performers, high net worth individuals, and corporate clients, as well as intimate lifestyle/boudoir photography with an emphasis on body positivity and empowerment. Paul also has a background in technology and higher education, and regularly teaches private photography seminars. When not working on reviews and features for The Phoblographer or shooting client work, Paul can be seen photographing personal projects around NYC, or traveling the world with his cameras in tow. You can find Paul’s latest work on his Instagram over at @thepicreative.