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Nov 28, 2020

Kodak Vision cinema film for still photography

Movie film stock, for stills photography

That's right, it's becoming increasingly popular to cut down cinema film stock from much longer reels of the stuff, to load into 35mm canisters for use in regular photographic film cameras. There have also been increasing options lately for 120 film pre-rolled onto spools, for use in medium format film cameras. I will only get a little bit into the technical implications of doing so in this article, but if you're looking for very technical deep-dive, this may not be the article for you. My main aim is to expose you to this alternative option to commercially packaged and sold film, and a doorway to the creative and experimental possibilities of using cinema film for stills. 

So why would you want to try this stuff? Well, mainly because it has the potential to look and perform just beautifully! To start, take a look at a few photos taken on Kodak Vision 250D in 35mm.

Mt Fuji on Kodak Vision film
Mt Fuji and Kawaguchiko, Nikon FE with Voigtlander 40mm Ultron

Outside Coles
Nikon FE, Nikkor 28mm AIS
Cup Day, Melbourne 2020
Leica M4, Zeiss 35mm 2.8

Versatile performance

As you can see from the sample images, Kodak Vision exhibits great tonality, colour representation, dynamic range, and grain character. With the rigorous demands of the cinema world, it's no surprise that using this film for photographic stills would yield similarly high-quality results. "Vision 3" is the latest and most current iteration, notably used in the cinema world by directors who still choose to shoot on film such as Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, and many others!

Although when used in a cinema process the film is recommended to be developed in a chemical process called ECN-2, it can also be developed in a home-process using mainstream C-41 chemicals. The only limitation is that due to the anti-halation "remjet" layer native to cinema film this stock can generally not be processed at regular film labs, as the layer needs to be removed first. Some niche labs are equipped to do this and process in ECN-2, with more of them notably opening up in the last year or so. But, in my case all images shown here were processed at home in regular C-41 chemistry, with the additional step of washing off the remjet layer.

Besides the daylight-balanced 250D stock shown above, other options that are popular include 50D (also daylight balanced), as well as 200T and 500T (tungsten balanced). This variety is important for cinematographers in that it allows them to choose the right speed and colour balance according to the lighting situations for different scenes. For example, the tungsten balanced options work well for interior shots, night shots, and scenes with artificial lighting. There is often a bit of deviation from these conventions however, even in the cinema world. These films were designed for a digital intermediate process, making editing and colour balance easy post processing.The stocks also often push or pull-processed, which they handle very well.

Because the film holds such great detail and scans well, this makes it great for photographers who really like to take to the digital editing workflow to fine tune their results. Check out some recent results using the Vision 3 500T stock, developed and scanned at home:

Kodak Vision 500T, Leica M4 with Zeiss 50mm Sonnar
Focus missed a little! Nikon FE with 500T at night
Vision 500T night photography
Kodak Vision 500T night exposure, Nikon FE

Taking the Plunge

If you aren't already processing colour negative film at home, this could understandably be a barrier to getting into the world of shooting on Kodak Vision or other motion-picture films. There are some labs offering ECN-2 process, and they often also supply the film, making it a more accessible way to try it out and see if you like the look.

However, if you feel daring or have been wanting to get into home C41 development, let me assure you that it's not that bad! Just make sure you do plenty of research, especially into the remjet removal step required for processing Kodak Vision film. I highly recommend checking out The Film Photography Project who I mention and link at the end of this article.

An added benefit if you decide to have a specialty lab process for you is; when processed in its native ECN-2 process, the film may exhibit even better results; with a bit more shadow detail and a generally flatter image. However, much of this depends on the initial exposure, the quality of the process, and the scan. There is a lot of information out there on forums and other resources if you want to look more into the options and technical considerations. These days there are also a few options popping up for home ECN-2 kits!

At the very least, what I hope for via this article is to expose more people to this great specialty option while we are still lucky enough to have access to it. I find it quite amazing that we can have access to the same films that many of our favorite movies were shot on, and are afforded the experience to try it for ourselves in stills photography with some level of ease. 

Before ending the article with a bit of additional information, I'll leave you with a bunch more favourite images made with Kodak Vision 3 stock:

Kodak 250D in the Leica M4
You can probably guess what time period this image was taken, despite the age of the car!
Using 250D for street photography; Leica M4

My buddy Matt in the Japanese snowy mountains; 250D + Nikon FE
Kodak Vision 250D in Japan
Fox Village in Japan, Kodak 250D
Fujisan on 35mm film
Mount Fuji over Kawaguchi Lake, Nikon FE and Kodak 250D

Further Reading/Viewing

If you have decided to give motion picture film a shot (apologies for the pun), I hope you enjoy it as much as I have over the years! Film can be sourced from a variety of sources depending on your location, and a quick google search should give you a few options. I highly recommend the Film Photography Project store, who I have no affiliation with but have used in the past. I love what they do for the film community with their resourceful website, store, and podcast!

If you use any of the other affiliate links below however, it would throw me a small fee; which I would greatly appreciate if you choose to do so!

All images shown here were developed at home using the Unicolor C41 processing kit which I have always found to be a fairly straightforward and reliable way to process colour film at home. Scanning for the majority of these images was done using my home DSLR and macro lens workflow and the Essential Film Holder, as outlined in this previous blog article

A couple of videos I have recently made concerning Kodak Vision film can be seen below.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you keep enjoying the fun of film photography!