5 Frames of Kodachrome 25 and 64 – an unromantic retrospective

By Simon Foale

A recent clean-up in the end room of our house resulted in a pile of junk being removed from on top of my light box, a glorious 1.4m long expanse of slide-viewing luxury made for me by my brother many years ago, which sits on top of two, two-drawer filing cabinets, oriented back-to-back, each full of slides in plastic hanging file pages. A nostalgic hunt for some old images took me back to mid-1990 when I shot my first roll of Fuji Velvia (the subject of my next post), and oh so callously dropped the venerable PKM (or KM25) and PKR (or KR64) like a couple of hot potatoes. Actually there was a brief transition period. I had shot the last of my remaining rolls of Kodachrome by 1992 and have never used it again since. I thought of doing a post on that first roll of Velvia, and then decided that a post about Kodachrome might make an appropriate preface. I know I’m not the first to post about this stuff on 35mmc, but I may have a slightly different angle on it.

I guess I totalled about seven years of Kodachrome use all up, from the acquisition of my first SLR in 1986, until a couple of years after that game-changing Fuji ‘Velvet Media’ experience around mid-1990. Most of my Kodachrome collection has archived quite well, with only one KR64 slide I can think of that shows a patch of unnatural red shift in one part of the frame. I have to admit to being much fonder of Kodachrome 25 than 64, for the near absence of grain and generally more accurate colour rendition (to my eye anyway). I mostly used KM25 for underwater macro photography, using a Nikonos III, with its 35mm lens, various extension tubes, and a flash on a fixed bracket. But I was surprised to find more KM25 ‘topside’ landscapes and portraits than I expected, once I started digging through the archive.

I’m aware of Kodachrome’s ‘iconic’ status and enduring popularity, in part from reading about some of the big name photographers associated with it and famous images made with it, and also from my dad’s slides, many of which date back to the ‘60s. Some of his slides have lasted better than others, but he had many of them stored in quite hot and humid conditions for many years. While film as a technology still fascinates and impresses me, I don’t get too romantic, much less reverent, about any particular product. Film is both a tool for making pictures, and a commodity for making profit. I think we always need to keep a healthy separation between the manufacturers’ marketing spin and the technical and practical knowledge about what it actually does (or did, in the case of Kodachrome).

Like most photographers I enjoyed the little rush of serotonin upon opening the yellow slide boxes when they arrived. I thought both KM25 and KR64 were very sharp and fine grained and the colours generally were pretty accurate. The KM25 images generally looked better, on average – they were a bit richer, sharper, and less grainy – but they were also typically more challenging to produce given the slower speed. Some may disagree but I thought KR64 sometimes had a bit of a cyan cast, especially compared to KM25 and Velvia.

Do I miss Kodachrome now that it’s gone forever? Not really. There’s nothing I can point to in particular that either KM25 or KR64 could do that can’t be achieved with what is available now, in terms of film or digital technology. Others may have a different view. Below I have five images made with Kodachrome 25 followed by five made with Kodachrome 64, accompanied by some brief comments. I hope you enjoy them.

5 frames of Kodachrome 25

 

1 A Pacific Gull on the beach at Wamoon (Also known as Wilson’s Promontory), Victoria, at sunset. Nikon F801, Ai-s Nikkor 135mm F2.8. I remember making this exposure at F2.8 due to the low light level. 1990.
1 A Pacific Gull on the beach at Wamoon (Also known as Wilson’s Promontory), Victoria, at sunset. Nikon F801, Ai-s Nikkor 135mm F2.8. I remember making this exposure at F2.8 due to the low light level. 1990.
2 Catherine at Wamoon, Victoria, consulting her copy of Peter Slater’s ‘A Field Guide to Australian Birds: Volume 1, Non-Passerines’. You can easily read the small print on the open page in a full-size scan. Nikon F801, Ai-s Nikkor 135mm F2.8. I forget the F-stop used. 1990.
2 Catherine at Wamoon, Victoria, consulting her copy of Peter Slater’s ‘A Field Guide to Australian Birds: Volume 1, Non-Passerines’. You can easily read the small print on the open page in a full-size scan. Nikon F801, Ai-s Nikkor 135mm F2.8. I forget the F-stop used. 1990.
3 Mountain Ash (Eucalyptus regnans) and fern trees at Black Spur, East of Healesville, on Woiworung Country, Victoria. This area was apparently devastated by fire in February 2009. Nikon F801, AF-Nikkor 50mm F1.8. 1990.
3 Mountain Ash (Eucalyptus regnans) and fern trees at Black Spur, East of Healesville, on Woiworung Country, Victoria. This area was apparently devastated by fire in February 2009. Nikon F801, AF-Nikkor 50mm F1.8. 1990.
4 Coscinasterias calamaria starfish with branching arm. Port Philip Bay, Boonwurrung Country, Victoria. Nikonos III, 35mm lens with 1:3 macro kit and top-mounted flash. F16. 1990.
4 Coscinasterias calamaria starfish with branching arm. Port Philip Bay, Boonwurrung Country, Victoria. Nikonos III, 35mm lens with 1:3 macro kit and top-mounted flash. F16. 1990.
5 Reef squid (Sepioteuthis lessoniana), Gizo, Western Solomon Islands. I quite like the way KM25 renders the colours in this image. Nikonos III, 35mm lens with 1:3 macro kit and top-mounted flash. F16. January 1991.
5 Reef squid (Sepioteuthis lessoniana), Gizo, Western Solomon Islands. I quite like the way KM25 renders the colours in this image. Nikonos III, 35mm lens with 1:3 macro kit and top-mounted flash. F16. January 1991.

5 frames of Kodachrome 64

1 Silica sand dunes at Shelburne Bay, in Wuthathi Country, Cape York, Queensland. Olympus OM40 and Sigma mid-range zoom. 1986.
1 Silica sand dunes at Shelburne Bay, in Wuthathi Country, Cape York, Queensland. Olympus OM40 and Sigma mid-range zoom. 1986.
2 The famous ‘1000 steps’ leading up to Ciudad Perdida (the ‘Lost City’) in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia. Olympus OM40, Sigma mid-range zoom. 1987.
2 The famous ‘1000 steps’ leading up to Ciudad Perdida (the ‘Lost City’) in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia. Olympus OM40, Sigma mid-range zoom. 1987.
3 Dai Islanders selling fresh and cooked food to travellers on a ship (including yours truly) en-route to Ontong Java and Sikaiana. Malaita Province, Solomon Islands. Olympus OM40, 50mm lens. 1989.
3 Dai Islanders selling fresh and cooked food to travellers on a ship (including yours truly) en-route to Ontong Java and Sikaiana. Malaita Province, Solomon Islands. Olympus OM40, 50mm lens. 1989.
4 My brother, Owen, backlit by late afternoon sun, overlooking a state forest near Mt Crosby, in Yuggera Country, west of Brisbane, Queensland. There is some obvious flare in this image. Olympus OM40, 50mm lens. 1989.
4 My brother, Owen, backlit by late afternoon sun, overlooking a state forest near Mt Crosby, in Yuggera Country, west of Brisbane, Queensland. There is some obvious flare in this image. Olympus OM40, 50mm lens. 1989.
5 A giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) stand off the Tasman Peninsula, in Paredarerme Country, Tasmania. This species is being catastrophically hammered by hydrological changes driven by ocean warming, and its range in southern Australia has shrunk considerably since this image was made. Nikonos III, 28mm F3.5 lens. 1990.
5 A giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) stand off the Tasman Peninsula, in Paredarerme Country, Tasmania. This species is being catastrophically hammered by hydrological changes driven by ocean warming, and its range in southern Australia has shrunk considerably since this image was made. Nikonos III, 28mm F3.5 lens. 1990.

I have many Kodachromes I still cherish and like sharing. Some of them now have a historic value I never expected they would acquire when they were created. I hope you have enjoyed them. My next post is about Velvia, the film that I switched to when it first became available in 1990.

My Flickr site is here.

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About The Author

By Simon Foale
Repairing and trying out my late grandfather's 1914 No.1 Autographic Kodak Junior initially led me down the film rabbit hole but now that I'm here I might stay for a bit. I am currently based in North Queensland, Australia. I used film for over 20 years before digital but these days I'm keen to indulge my curiosity about some film types I never tried back in the day, including some of the so-called 'document' films. I also like sharing stuff from my film archive.
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Comments

MICHAEL on 5 Frames of Kodachrome 25 and 64 – an unromantic retrospective

Comment posted: 02/09/2023

I started using KR25 and 64 back in 1972 and continued till 2010. Rarely shot negative unless I was shooting quick candid shots and didn't want to waste good slide film on. Did use Agfachrome in the mid-70's but unfortunately they faded whereas KR doesn't. Super sharp detail and absolutely great with colors. I did a photo article for Curbside Classic using my KR slides from a 1973 new car show in a mall in San Diego. Unlike today the cars back then were a rainbow of bright colors and many waxed nostalgic about KR. If I had my druthers I would shoot it again in the blink of an eye as I don't feel digital or negative film can give that "rich" look of KR.
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Simon Foale replied:

Comment posted: 02/09/2023

Thanks for this Michael. My attitude to negative film was similar to yours, which is one reason I'm returning to it now, to better understand it and see what it can do better (e.g. highlight detail preservation), especially since I am now developing it myself. As I mentioned I moved to Fuji slide films in the early '90s and didn't regret it. I'm still using those films a bit now but they are hideously expensive and getting harder to find.

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Bill Brown on 5 Frames of Kodachrome 25 and 64 – an unromantic retrospective

Comment posted: 01/09/2023

Ahhh, Kodachrome 64. This film was my entry point into becoming a serious enthusiast in the mid to late 1970's. I've commented before about the fact that I've been a photo retoucher since 1976. My first major client, Bank Langmore, had me re-sleeve his Kodachromes. These Kodachromes were part of his recent 3 year personal photo project of documenting the American range riding cowboy of the 1970's. Just Google Bank Langmore(deceased) and his youngest son John Langmore(Austin,Tx.) to see some beautiful work. Bank shot something like 25,000 frames of film, b&w and color combined for this project. I spent a considerable length of time re-sleeving those Kodachromes and the impact on this 23 year old was permanent. Bank became my single most artistic influence and I eventually became his photo assistant in 1980 as he began shooting his next project of documenting San Antonio, Texas and the surrounding area known as the Texas Hill Country. I can't help becoming nostalgic and romanticize my memories of this film stock. My personal early adventures took me across the United States and numerous provinces of Canada in the late 70's and early 80's on my steed of choice, a 1977 Yamaha 750 2D fully outfitted for touring. These trips were all burned onto Kodachrome 64 with my simple Canon ft-b and eventually an A-1. Whenever I open the binder housing these images I am immediately transported back to those simpler days. Nothing like camping under the stars and then photographing the sunrise on the south rim of the Grand Canyon or the double rainbow in Wyoming after leaving Yellowstone. I eventually switched to negative film stocks, Ektar 25, Vericolor III and Gold 100 for the greater latitude but nothing ever brought the same level of anticipation as those Kodachromes. The excitement of seeing my work presented in living color has never been topped. Thanks for giving us a glimpse into your archive and allowing me to step back, if only for a moment, to those wonderful days of my youth.
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Simon Foale replied:

Comment posted: 01/09/2023

Thanks for sharing this Bill, very interesting. Had a look at Bank Langmore's work and it is impressive. You mentioned switching to negative stocks - something I used relatively little of in the pre-digital era, which is one of my motivations for revisiting film now.

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John Pemberton on 5 Frames of Kodachrome 25 and 64 – an unromantic retrospective

Comment posted: 01/09/2023

Amazing work! I was such a hack in a BW darkroom that switching to Kodachrome made photography a lot less frustrating for me at a time when life and my career sort of required convenience. Not needing to spare the expense for prints, meant that I could enjoy my work a little more economically than if I had gone the route of color negatives. The format kept my interest in photography going at a time when there were a lot of distractions and the budget constraints of an entry level salary. For that reason I am sentimental and romantic for that emulsion. I am in the middle of scanning my back catalogue of Kodachrome slides and pondering the life experiences they encompass. The first of several recollections involving Kodachrome is bouncing around my head waiting to find a keyboard.
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Simon Foale replied:

Comment posted: 01/09/2023

I hope you publish your Kodachrome recollections John!

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Paul Quellin on 5 Frames of Kodachrome 25 and 64 – an unromantic retrospective

Comment posted: 01/09/2023

Really enjoyed reading this Simon and in particular, looking at the images. I too was a bit of a Kodachrome addict and I loved 25. I liked the warmness of Agfachrome, but there was something about tearing off that little ticket on the bottom of the Kodachrome bags and the fold down wing fastners. I am not entirely sure why I should miss that, but I think I do. It was a ritual tinged with a little excitement. Kodachrome was known for its archive qualities and your images bear testament to this. So important that we have a record of how things looked only a few decades earlier, before climate change really began to bite so hard. Through negligence, parental divorce, house moves and general life changes, most of my Kodachromes are lost. If I had my time again...
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Simon Foale replied:

Comment posted: 01/09/2023

Thanks Paul. I totally relate to the ritualistic aspect. I think there is a lot of ritual around film photography that kind of acquires a value of its own. Sorry you weren't able to keep your old chromes. I have also lost quite a number of my most precious slides from decades ago and I still have no idea how they disappeared. I have low res scans of some, and slide copies of others, but it does remind one of how absolutely unrepeatable many photographic moments are.

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Bob Janes on 5 Frames of Kodachrome 25 and 64 – an unromantic retrospective

Comment posted: 01/09/2023

I used Kodachrome 25 and 64 quite frequently in the early 80s, although I also liked AgfaChrome and (from the amount of mounted slides I have) FujiChrome. I think there was a romance that surrounded Kodachrome, but I did prefer the warm tones of the Agfa film. In effect, I think I liked the idea of Kodachrome more than the film itself. For nostalgic reasons, I shot two last rolls (of 64 I think) in 2010. Rather than just heading off to Hemel Hempstead in the little yellow and red envelope, they ended up doing a 9000 mile round-trip to Dwayne’s Photo in the States.
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Simon Foale replied:

Comment posted: 01/09/2023

Great story! (the 9000 mile round trip). I would have done the same in that situation :)

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