If you’re shooting with 35mm film in this digital age, you likely have a specific artistic application for the medium. To match your vision, it’s important to pick the right kind of film. Shopping for color negative film can be more challenging than for black-and-white film, even though there aren’t that many competitors on the market. Each brand manufactures its own emulsion formula that can yield different color captures for the exact same moment, so it’s good to be aware of exactly what you’re loading into your camera. Of course, the results will also depend on the kind of camera you use as well as your processing and developing methods. Still, it’s possible to assess a few general characteristics of color film. Get an introduction to our favorites below, then pick out a few and do your own experiments to find the ones that best suit your needs.
1. Kodak Portra 400
We have zero hesitation in crowning Portra 400 the supreme choice among color films. As its name suggests, the professional-grade film is calibrated specifically for portrait photography, and skin of all tones is reproduced naturally, with a notable luminescence and pleasingly flat profile. Presenting a fine grain, it’s really a great all-rounder for landscape photography and other genres too. Kodak is famous for bringing out yellow and red tones, and its Portra film is no different, showcasing a lovely warmth without oversaturation. This also makes it easy to get a beautiful scan—and prints—from your images. While ISO 400 is an excellent, versatile pick, Portra is also available in ISO 160 and 800.
2. Fuji Superia X-Tra
Fuji’s distinguishing characteristic is right on the box. The Japanese brand’s film is known for bringing out greenish tinges as well as magentas, resulting in an overall cooler effect when compared with Kodak. Superia is our favorite of Fuji’s color films, for several reasons. For one thing, it’s available in a broad range of ISOs—100, 200, 400, 800, and 1600—so you can pick a roll for specific lighting conditions. Second, it’s an excellent general-purpose film that presents fine, tightly packed grains with pleasant definition. Superia’s viridescent tones look especially beautiful and punchy in natural light, so this is a film favored by street photographers; portrait shooters will want to look elsewhere, as skin tones—particularly light ones—won’t appear highly accurate.
3. Lomography Color Negative Film
If you want film that supports experimentation with color, light, and shadows, rolls from Lomography perfectly fit the bill. The 800 ISO color negative film produces ultra-saturated, otherworldly colors; In their vibrancy and almost retro look, they bring Instagram filters to mind. The grain is also ultrafine and offers excellent sharpness. To be honest, results can be a little unpredictable, but that’s certainly part of the reason why we like the brand. This isn’t film that we would use for every single project—it’s also relatively expensive—but it’s fun to toss a roll into your camera every now and then to shake things up.
4. Kodak Ultramax 400 Color Print Film
Kodak’s Ultramax is a consumer-grade film that we love for its low price and fairly true-to-life tones. While we wouldn’t recommend it for professional use or serious students of photography, it is an excellent film for point-and-shoot snapshots. These rolls can be great for creative classroom projects if all you need is simple and straightforward documentation. Colors are nicely saturated (though not as much as with Lomography’s color film) while maintaining even tones, and the grain is visible (more so than Portra) but not prominent. Best used on sunny days, Ultramax can also handle overcast or even indoor settings relatively well.
5. Fujifilm Fujicolor C200
Fujifilm C200 has an ISO 200 rating, so you should reach for it only in well-lit spaces, or ideally the bright outdoors. Like the Superia, it has a green cast, but even more notable at times are its magenta tones. Don’t worry: The resulting palette doesn’t look strange but remains natural. Colors are beautifully contrasted and even dreamy at times. The fine grain—noticeable but not distracting—results in photos that are crisp and full of information.