Most beginner’s to film photography have the same question when starting – “what film should I use?” If you poll any number of film photographers you will receive varied answers as everyone has a particular film they like to use. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer here. Many seasoned photographers have a set of films they normally use and swear by but that certainly doesn’t mean they are the best for you. In order to find the “best” film you simply need to take the time to shoot with various films and see what each has to offer.
Where to Start in Selecting Film
The first, most obvious step to selecting your first roll of film is deciding whether you want to shoot with color or black and white. Then, consider what and where you plan to photograph. Indoors or outdoors? Low light or ample light? Will the subject be in motion? You may also be the type who doesn’t have anything planned in advance and will just load the camera and go for it. In general, using a film with an ISO of 200-400 (film speed) will provide you with the flexibility to shoot just about anywhere and may be your best place to start. Keep in mind the higher the ISO number the faster the film is – meaning it requires less light to expose. In addition, the faster the film is the grainier it will be.
With that in mind, consider again what you want to photograph. Scenes with plenty of light can use a slower film as slow film needs more light to expose. Indoor scenes with less light can use a faster film (film needs less light to expose). If motion is involved you’ll want to decide if you want to freeze the motion (requiring a faster film) or show the motion in a blur (requiring a slower film). If you will be taking photographs of static subjects and using a tripod then you can use a slow film regardless of the amount of light since everything will be still. If you decide to use a slower film take a tripod with you just in case you find yourself without enough light.
Now that you have a film speed in mind the best thing you can do is buy multiple brand films with the film speed you need. The majority of color films are labeled as C-41 or E6. C-41 is the most common process to develop color film negatives and E6 is the most common process to develop color slide film. Black and white films will be labeled as such. Please also note that there are black and white films that are processed with the C-41 process. If you are using a black and white darkroom with black and white chemicals you will not be able to develop that type of film. However, any store that develops color film will be able to do so whereas standard black and white film will likely have to be taken to a photo specialty store if you don’t develop it yourself.