CineStill 400D

CineStill 400D – A Bittersweet Review

There are a couple of things I should preface before we get underway with my honest opinion regarding CineStill 400D, the latest colour film release by Cinestill. First off, I am not a huge fan of colour film. I much prefer black & white for its dramatic look, options in developers, and creative control. I have the unpopular opinion that digital does colour better and so if you had a visceral reaction to that warning, you may want to stop right here. The other thing is I’m not a huge fan of rebranded films, something CineStill is known for, and I touch on in my controversial video Why CineStill Sucks.

All this being said: I like this CineStill 400D and I was an initial backer, as it was advertised as a unique emulsion. To what extent I’m not entirely sure. Crazy though right? Why would a pixel loving, colour film hating photographer even bother? A couple of great reasons.

The first is I liked the look of the film right off the bat. I thought the feel of it really grabbed me. There was also the prospect of 220 film being developed as well as 4×5.

I was disappointed when the idea of 220 was scrapped but as you may have read recently, I have thrown in the towel on medium format so it’s not a huge loss for my personal workflow, but one of my complaints was lack of shots per roll and 220 would have certainly quashed that.

For my test, I shot both 35mm and 120. For 35mm I loaded it in my Nikon F100 and snapped on an AF-S Nikkor 24-120mm f4G ED VR, and for medium format I shot it on a Pentax 6×7 with an SMC Takumar 6×7 55mm f3.5.

CineStill 400D sample

Both performed amazingly. Often when I shoot colour, I need to make adjustments to the white balance and there are certainly a few that came out with a green cast, but the examples throughout this article are all non-adjusted other than levels/curves and the removal of dust. What you see is what the initial scan gave me for whites, which is pretty rare, at least from my experience. The silver paneling of the side of a grain elevator was particularly on point and the blues in the sky were striking, as well as the reds rich in tone without going overboard. I’ve said that once scanned and compressed, 35mm and 120 don’t have a massive difference in quality but my Pentax 6×7 shots do edge out over their F100 counterparts. Of all my Pentax 6×7 gear, I will miss that 55mm the most.

The bottom line is that while I don’t shoot colour on a regular basis, I may have just found my new default colour film. I’ve always thought of Portra as a decent film, but I think the 400 is a bit washed out for my taste and the 160 is great, but a little slow for the diversity I seek. To me, CineStill 400D gives the range and rich colour of Portra 160, but faster.

CineStill 400D sample

I feel like Kodak has too much power when it comes to colour film and even though CineStill offers us something different they still rely on them and I wouldn’t be so annoyed at Portra fans if they were choosing it based on stiff competition. I have a poster in my darkroom showcasing 41 different 35mm films developed by Kodak in 1990. We like to throw around the phrase “analog resurgence” a lot but the hard truth is golden age of film is long over and until a company sticks their neck out and produces a new SLR camera that appeals to a more mainstream consumer, film manufacturers will be reluctant to provide much variety for the aging used film camera market.

CineStill 400D sample

Whenever I speak like this I’m told by a select few elitists I should just give up on film because I obviously hate it so much, and the opposite is true. I want to see a true resurgence, like we have seen with vinyl. That’s why I supported CineStill 400D despite my hang-ups with colour film and CineStill. I will support any step in the right direction but I refuse to just love everything film. It’s the discerning and critical tastes within each of us that will spark new competition, not those who just “love it all.”

If you like the cut of my jib, be sure and follow me on Instagram and Threads @azrielknight and check me out on YouTube where I discuss the history of photography.

And as always, stay classic!

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17 thoughts on “CineStill 400D – A Bittersweet Review”

  1. I am impressed with the colours and clarity of the film. Never tried myself, but judging by the looks of these, I am tempted to give it a shot (or two). 400 in 120 is something that I would love to try myself.

    Thank you for a great post, again congrats on the results !

  2. I always enjoy your reviews and the photos here are just lovely. I’m looking forward to seeing more in the series. They make me want to take Cinestill 400D for a spin too.

  3. Bro – really nice work and really nice writing, commentary! Actually was just watching your YouTube video on the Canon A1 (picking one up this aft). Had to stop to mow the lawn (my next shoot is tomorrow…) so now i’m back and ironically saw this post pop up. Lovely, lovely images. The owl image is highly worthy of a print or inclusion in a book. Do you think the last image is underexposed? Seems a bit dark for a bright day. Or is that the film (I’ve never used it)? Thanks for your post!!

    1. Thanks for the kind words. The last one could be considered a little dark to some, I guess it depends on taste. I tend to meter and walk about so if the sun dips behind the clouds it could have affected the shot.

      1. Alasdair Mackintosh

        I’d say it’s just right. The roof of the building further back is the brightest thing in the frame – any more exposure and that might be too light. As it is we have lovely detail in the clouds, and we can still see into the shadows. Nice work!

      2. Like you, I also prefer B&W, but this Cinestill looks interesting. Might have to give it a shot sometime (pun intented!). Great pics and very nice colour rendition. And those clouds! Amazing! I’m a hopeless cloud gazer myself…

      3. I watched the A1 video where you shot B&W. It’s great! I love that you are documenting important and often forgotten pieces of history as they still exist. (PS – my underexposure question was a question – not a criticism! Ironic in that I often shoot a tad on the dark side.). I picked up my A1 this aft. My friend Saed at Camera Care (Houston) brings old cameras back to life. Dropped a roll of Portra 400 (hey, it’s what was in my bag… ;)) and am off to the races, I hope. Met a nice chap at the camera shop who told me a story about purchasing a Rolleiflex w a Zeiss Planar 80 for $800 about 20 years ago. He was so excited, he took it in to a nearby bookstore to observe it in full glory. Except he dropped it at the top of the stairs… destroyed its functionality without ever shooting a single image.

  4. Hello Azriel,

    I think it’s very good that you’re addressing the ills of film availability. And the resulting problems for everyone who loves film. I’m starting to lose faith in capitalism, which supposedly never misses an opportunity to make money. Do investors think the film hype is just a flash in the pan? Or has the idea not yet reached them? Or maybe the movie hype and the movie community is much smaller than we think in our bubble? I don’t know. All I know is that my daughter, who has never been interested in photography, wanted an SLR for her 27th birthday (and got it ;-)). And she tells me that film photography is still all the rage around her. And that in the analog specialty stores here in Berlin there are always young people, often tourists, who buy films, no matter what fantasy prices are called. But maybe that’s the reason why the whole industry has no interest in ending the shortage.

    Translated with (free version)

  5. It is said that the current Portra 400 features the “advanced Dye Layering Technology (DLT)” from the Kodak Vision3 lines of film. Some even come to the conclusion that the current Portra 400 is just rebranded from the Vision3 250D. Similar rumours are surrounding between the Vision3 5294 100D and the latest selling Ektachrome 100. Since I can buy 100 ft of Vision3 5219 or 5207 easily in my area, and I can do the ECN-2 process by myself, I wouldn’t bother to go for Cinestill stocks. P.S.: the 5219, though rated as Tungsten film, performs really well in exterior sunlight, you just need to adjust the white balance a bit after scanning to clear the little blue cast. I have shot and processed 6 rolls of 5219, mostly rated and push-developed at 800, sometimes at 1600, both perform greatly in ample interior lighting, low light night streets, sunny days and overcast/rainy days.

  6. Christopher Griffith

    I couldn’t agree more re: wanting the film industry to be revitalized but not automatically liking every new development (no pun intended). I’m at a point where I’ve backed a lot of films and have stocked up quite a few rolls of different kinds. My goal the next 6-12 months is to shoot through all of it and at that point decide whether to keep my gear or sell it while I can get top dollar for it. With the new GFX cameras driving medium format digital prices down, I could see an argument for trading in all of my medium format film gear (except the best lenses for adapting to GFX) for one of those bodies. Repairs and maintenance of old film camera gear is going to become more cost prohibitive than film itself eventually, as the people who know how to do it slowly get out of the business. I’m really hoping Pentax’s upcoming film bodies are able to kick off a new wave of hardware that keeps film going for a while longer.

  7. Thanks Azriel for the beautiful photos and the review.

    One thing I’ve experienced is that the CineStill films seem to attract fine dust to the emulsion side more than other films. The dust can’t be blown or washed off with PEC-12, and it shows up when scanning. Have you experienced this?

    I went back-and-forth between two of our great local labs trying to isolate the issue: both produced dust-free Kodak and Fuji negatives, both produced CineStill 50D and 400D negatives with fine dust.

    Beautiful films, but they take a little extra time with the heal tool in Lightroom!

  8. Hello. Nice photos. I hope to buy and use this film in 120 and 35mm. You mentioned a company that sticks its neck out and makes a new camera for the Main stream. Not sure about mainstream but pentax us coming out with 3 new film cameras next year.

  9. Azriel. Like always, your content is insightful, well written, and your images are lovely. I too was an early backer of Cinestill 400D when it went on pre-sale. I only bought one roll in 35mm format, which I shot this past February in my Chinon CM-1, using both a Tamron Adaptall 2 SP 35-80mm f/2.8-3.8 lens and CZJ 50mm f/2.8 Tessar lens. I was shooting this film while on vacation in the sunny Dominican Republic. The colors are vibrant and well-balanced, rendering deep blues brilliant reds. Other reviews of this film mention this, but also talk about the toned-down halations, compared to other Cinestill films. Your images certainly demonstrate this to be true. My images on Cinestill 400D, having been taken in sunny, equatorial conditions, do have more halations around areas of intense highlights, but it’s definitely pleasant, not overdone. I liked my first experience with Cinestill 400D, but at $16/roll (B&H Photo), I’m not likely to be buying too many rolls anytime soon.

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