For color film photography, beginner photographers will often wonder about whether to use reversal (slide) film or negative film for 35mm film cameras. Both films will produce color photographs, but which film is superior to the other? Which film works better under certain conditions? As general statements and an overall guide to photography, slide film is the superior format. However, negative film is extremely flexible and forgiving, particularly under different conditions. The real question to photographers should be: quality or flexibility?
Slide Film Quality and the Flexibility of Negative Film
Slides are widely considered the superior film when it comes to color depth and clarity. But, it is less forgiving in high contrast conditions and detail is lost in such situtations. While the color depth of negative film is not quite as good as slide film, it has a larger tonal range and is more likely to retain detail in both highlights and shadows. Of course, this means the color negative film offers even colors while the slide film offers vibrant and true colors.
The other major advantage to slide film is that it is less grainy than the negative film counterparts. A negative can be enlarged to an 8×10 inch print with some noticeable grain, but it would not be recommended to print larger than that. Slides, on the other hand, can be enlarged well past the 8×10 inch size and still show less grain. If grain is not an issue for you, or you do not plan on creating large prints, then slide film may not offer you much in the low grain department. But for many photographers, graininess is always an issue and should be avoided.
Suitable Film Type for Lighting Situations
Slide film is ideal for situations where lighting can either be controlled or is kept at a constant. The fluctuations of outdoor lighting may be too much for slide film users and will either see results in poorly exposed film or be forced to stop photographing. Negative film is very flexible and can be used in controlled or varied lighting situations without much risk to poorly exposed film. Additionally, negative film is often produced to allow for exposures that are off by one or two f-stops to show no noticeable difference from a properly exposed negative.
Overall, use color slide film if you are interested in always obtaining perfect, high quality photographs. Or, if you prefer the convenience of a flexible and freedom of film – use color negative film.