What Film Stock Should I Shoot? | For Photographers

When I first started getting in to film photography, it was overwhelming. So many different film stocks, so many different ways to shoot them, so many different people saying different things- my head hurt! My tastes have changed a few different times over the years: experimenting with different film stocks, different film scanners, etc, and I've pulled together a little more info to help you as you're deciding what stocks to shoot! 

Here's a list of some of the most popular film stocks:

Color film (Also called C41) 

  • Portra 160*
  • Portra 400*
  • Portra 800*
  • Fuji 400H*
  • Ektar 100
  • Kodak Gold

Black and white film 

  • Tri-X 400
  • TMAX 400
  • Ilford 3200
  • HP5

*covered in this post

Portra 800 | Contax 645 | Frontier Scan

Portra 800 is one of my favorite (but also most finicky) film stocks. When overexposed, it is a little more vibrant than other Portra stocks, when shot at box speed (800) it has a slightly antique or vintage look to it. There are some gorgeous cooler undertones that come out at box speed which I think lends to that look. My favorite thing about Portra 800 is the way it renders golden backlight. It makes the light pop without looking muddy, even when there is a little lens glare. Pros: vibrant, unique color palette, higher film speed. Cons: price, can make yellow/olive skin tones look orange, finicky in mixed lighting situations. 

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Portra 400 | Contax 645 | Frontier Scan

Portra 400 is the film I use 80-90% of the time. Pros: It's super versatile, I can shoot indoors and outdoors with it, it does well in bright light, direct light, back light, and window light. Cons: about Portra 400- sometimes sunflare can look muddy or create a haze over the photo, and it tends to get punchy if you overexpose too much. 

Portra 160 | Mamiya 645 | Noritsu Scan

Portra 160 is one of the more interesting stocks to me, because of how different it can look depending on how you meter for it. If you underexpose it, it can be very moody and soulful. If you overexpose it, it can have a creamy pastel palette that is still vibrant and fun. In general, I think Portra 160 is more earthy than some of the other film stocks and feels very natural and clean. Here's an example of Portra 160 shot at 100 speed (so overexposed by about a stop). Pros: price, versatile, great in bright light, ideal beach wedding film stock. Cons: lower film speed makes it harder to shoot indoors or at sunset. 

Fuji 400H | Contax 645 | Frontier Scan

400H is a popular stock among wedding photographers for the pretty pastel palettes it is famous for. 400H needs a lot of light, and many people over expose this stock by 1-2 stops. Where I think 400H excels is with golden backlight, but I'm a fan of the way it renders the color red, which is why I chose to shoot it for this dawn session in Paris. Pros: gorgeous color palette, pretty skin tones. Cons: price, looks muddy when underexposed, needs more light so can be harder to shoot indoors than some Portra stocks. 

Glad you're interested in shooting film! For more details and film stocks (including BW films), download the free guide!