I was originally put off shooting slide film because I had heard that you needed to be incredibly precise with your exposure otherwise the whole shot would be ruined. Frankly, when I was first shooting film, I didn’t have enough confidence in my ability and so I kept away.
Strangely enough it was developing my own black and white film that gave me the confidence to try it. I had previously wondered whether the lab were just really good at salvaging what I’d done, but developing myself meant I could learn from each roll and improve and ultimately I felt that my exposures were good enough to try slide film.
After shooting my first roll of slide film, I was surprised to hear that slide film was the go to for the average Joe shooting his family holidays – this made no sense to me alongside the idea that these films had to be perfectly exposed. However if you think about point and shoot cameras in the 1980s and 1990s, they were pretty good at exposing for you so actually this may not be as contradictory as first thought. Especially when coupled with the fact that slides could be directly projected as a means to share with friends and family. It’s only really if you are using a fully manual camera or otherwise needing to meter for yourself that you need to be able trust your skills.
About a year ago I purchased a few rolls of expired slide film from Obscura Darkroom who occasionally run film sales through their Instagram page. Buying expired slide film was a slightly cheaper option but obviously could have been more risky for potentially ruined shots. I’ve read that slide film can be shot at box speed even when expired as opposed to colour negative which it is often advised that you overexpose slightly.
In October 2020 I managed to get away with my family, just locally but still away from the house and I shot my first roll of slide film. I was really pleased with the results. There is something so exciting about seeing those little slides on a lightbox.
What have I learnt from the experience of shooting slide film.
I shot the roll of film through my Canon 1N which is usually set to aperture priority mode and it’s pretty good at exposing scenes. I’ve rarely felt that an image didn’t come out correctly exposed with that camera. So that certainly helped.
I think it also helps that I’m not a traditional landscape photographer, I tend to shoot details and therefore don’t have to worry about extremes of lighting such as bright sky and darker foreground.
I’ve since used slide film in a range of cameras including medium format manual cameras and point and shoots and surprisingly the only very bad roll I had came through a point and shoot camera. For some reason I just can’t get along with point and shoots!
Whilst there is a sense of excitement when you see the positive images, either coming out of the developing tank or coming back from the lab, once you get over the novelty – are the results any better than colour negative film?
Slide Film Vs Colour Negative
Looking at price first. I’m using the Analogue Wonderland website to compare prices because that’s where I buy my film from (when I’m not buying expired that is).
There are a few options for slide film – in 35mm you are looking at £19 or £20 per roll and in 120 you are looking at £12.50 to £14 per roll. So slightly better in 120 but bearing in mind that you are getting far fewer shots per roll.
In colour negative you are looking at as low as £6 per roll of 35mm up to £15 per roll and in 120 you are looking at £11.50 to £15 per roll. So 120 is much more comparable in price. In 35mm the 35mm is far cheaper.
For Developing and Scanning I’m looking at the SilverPan Lab website as they are a lab that offer both services. In both 35mm and 120 you are looking at an additional £2 per roll for E6 over C-41.
Developing at home? If we compare the Tetenal c-41 and E6 kits. You can get 16 rolls out of the c-41 kit and 12 rolls out of the e6 kit (according to instructions). Which based on a price of £42 and £40 respectively, works out as £2.62 per roll for c-41 and £3.33 for E6.
Home scanning is definitely easier with slide film so there is a time saving there but it’s certainly looking more cost effective to shoot colour negative.
There is an ever increasing range of colour negative film stocks to choose from whereas you are far more limited in slide film. This applies not only to the overall aesthetic of the films but also to the range of ISOs at which you can shoot. In my expired selection I did have an ISO 400 slide film but if we are talking about fresh stock I haven’t seen anything over ISO 160.
So should we abandon slide film?
Absolutely not. As with all photography, it’s all a personal opinion.
My personal opinion is that the results from a roll of slide film are no better than what I can achieve with colour negative. Add to this the fact that my favourite colour film stock (Kodak Gold) is £7 for a roll of 36 shots compared to Kodak E100 which is £19 a roll plus the fact that it’s cheaper whether I home develop or send to a lab – it’s a no brainer for me.
There are people out there achieving amazing things on slide film.
It’s perhaps also worth noting that I am quite experimental in my photography (did you see my dance developing?) and colour negative film is certainly a better option for me in that respect.
I would love to hear from anyone who prefers slide over colour negative and your reasons for that – I always love to hear the other side of the story!