We recently travelled to two vastly different European countries and some of their most well known cities in order to test Kodaks ever popular Ektar 100 C41 film. Here are our thoughts on how the film handled not only each countries specific architecture, but also colour palettes and even so much as the impact local weather has on a sensitive film such as this.
Bergen is a wonderful city with soft pastel colours as far, and in some cases further, than your eye can see. With some research done we had concluded that Kodak Ektar 100 was a film on the warmer side of things, tending to illuminate reds and oranges while ignoring the cooler hues; what we found was similar to that research but not nearly as much as first believed. Yes the warmer colours veritably leapt off the page once we saw the processed film, however we found that blue was also a colour that became heavily saturated when used in conjunction with other soft colours.The blue skies of Bergen tended to become so saturated that at times it took away from what was actually supposed to take your attention, and in other photographs we noticed that once you lowered your lens a little the quaint pastel buildings that sat entrenched in the mountain face were given the room to shine. The cooler colours then seemed to soften a little but the film still did an amazing job at rendering accurately what we actually saw. So, initially at least, we wouldn’t recommend using this film if your images often include large portions of a perfectly blue sky, however as minimal photography enthusiasts we tend not to photograph a clear sky nearly as much as we photograph the thing that a clear sky gives us: light.
Ektar is a 100 ISO film, so for those unaware this basically means that this film breathes light, it's a fast film, if you’re shooting on a cloudy day and everything looks quite drab and washed out then leave this film at home because whilst it can bring colour out of sometimes unsaturated objects it can only do so much. We noticed that the inverse effect of a highly saturated film in poorly lit conditions made for white-beige heavy images. Now if you live in a city as we do (Amsterdam) where the sun is as scarce as the summer itself then that can be a good thing, especially if it's the style you’re going for. With other films the façades of buildings might look overly dull however with Ektar working its hardest you will get softer beige colours rather than flat monotones. This might seem negligible especially when using colour film but most other colour films will give you a flat image whilst Ektar does its best with what it has to help give you a result with character and depth. However for those of us lucky enough to live in light rich environments then this is precisely where Ektar shines. We were informed that the warmer colours would come to life but we had no idea, there is however a catch. An image taken where the entire frame is filled with warmer colours will give you an overly saturated mess, that’s the simple truth, but an image that is either filled with numerous colours or with softer colours and one or two pops of warmth, this is precisely what you should be aiming for. Because whilst this film is fantastic in the warmth it still needs space to breathe and shine, as soon as you cram too much of a good thing into one photograph then you lose the essence of what makes this film unique; you may as well use a digital camera and push the saturation sliders as far as they can go in post-processing. We learnt our lesson in discovering that this is an amazing film, however, it must be used correctly in order to show what its true capabilities are.
Lastly we ventured into the mountains that lay beyond the rainbow pastel houses to see what we would get with a more minimalistic landscape based approach. What we got were some nice photographs however the green-brown hues that the forest gave us didn’t give the film any room at all to breath. As we said before, this film needs breathing room and unfortunately that isn’t something a seemingly endless forest beneath a mountain can really afford you.
Now this as far as we are concerned is the country, if not the city, that Ektar 100 film was made for. The city itself is a symphony of colour, often softer and more pastel however if used correctly you can still get high contrast images. The saturation was often high due to the colour rich nature of the streets however when we focused less on colour and more on the overall composition of a photograph we found that the film can be very accommodating. As we noticed in Norway, when you focus on a softer scene and include just a handful of colours that pop, then they tend to pop all the more, and in the best way possible. There is also something to be said about the drama that a film like this can bring, it has what can only be called "character", something that is hard to explain and even harder to photograph. We managed to accomplish this a few times however and when everything lined up: the lighting, the symmetry and anatomy of a street, the people that inhabit those streets etc, the overall atmosphere and look that you get is reminiscent of years gone by. It's like looking back at how the city must have looked if photographed decades ago, and again that’s more of a compliment than anything else. Whilst you get all of this character you still get all the benefits of the fine grain offered to you so that your final product is simultaneously melancholic and modern. And because of this fine grain you do get very sharp images whilst the out of focus areas of the image remain soft and clean without a lot of harshness.
Now in order to remain unbiased toward a film that we quite obviously approve of we must highlight a few of its weaknesses. As we previously said the colours can sometimes be off when in a warmer coloured environment, the façades of mostly white buildings can turn a pink hue if there is even a sliver of red or orange in the shot. Although honestly this is only a factor when you photograph in the middle of bright sunny days as any amount of white in a photo, particularly buildings, will tend to soak up colours around them, and with a film such as Ektar this tends to be any warmer colour. Also this is probably not on top of our recommended list when it comes to beginner film as it can be a bit finicky to become accustomed to; it’s a film that needs some form of understanding of its dynamics before it’s even loaded into the camera. It can be a joy at times but as far as we’re concerned it’s definitely worth the effort if you can learn to manipulate scenes to show off the best of the films abilities.
An everyday film? Probably not. A rather more specific film that can be used in multiple ways with the correct usage and give amazing results? 100%.
At the end of the day this is a film that we will have either loaded into the camera or in a bag on standby. For the more minimal colourful style of photography that we use and promote here at Lekker Magazine, this is a standout; there are few other options on the market that can give you the colour rendition of Ektar 100 and that can give you its specific personality and character, without venturing into the world of slide film.
It’s a film that can scream and it’s a film that can whisper, learn how and when to use that and you have yourself a fantastic C41 colour film that we’ll return to again and again.