Understanding Film Types

Exploring Black and White, Color Negative, and Slide Film

By Henry James

July 29th, 2023

Film photography holds a special charm and artistic appeal that continues to captivate photographers and enthusiasts alike. Each film type brings unique characteristics to the table, and understanding their differences is crucial for achieving the desired results in your photographs. In this article, we have delved into the intricacies of black and white, color negative, and slide film, and when to use each to elevate your photography game.

Black and White Film:

Black and white film is the oldest and most classic film type. It offers a timeless and nostalgic look that emphasizes contrast, texture, and the play of light and shadows. This film type is an excellent choice for photographers aiming to create powerful and emotive images with a focus on shapes and forms.

Examples of Black and White Films:

  1. Ilford HP5 Plus: A versatile and widely used black and white film with fine grain and excellent contrast. Ideal for a broad range of photography styles, including portraits, landscapes, and street photography.

  2. Kodak Tri-X 400: Known for its iconic grain structure and distinct tonal range, Kodak Tri-X has been a favorite among photojournalists and street photographers for decades.

  3. Fujifilm Neopan Acros 100: This film is renowned for its exceptionally fine grain, rich blacks, and smooth mid-tones, making it perfect for high-resolution images and fine art photography.

Color negative Film:

Color negative film, commonly used in everyday photography, produces a wide range of colors and tones. It is versatile, forgiving, and readily available, making it a great option for beginners and professionals alike. The film’s latitude allows it to handle a variety of lighting conditions, making it suitable for various situations.

Both the digital photo and the film photo were taken with the same settings. The left image was captured on Velvia 50, taken with a Canon EOS 3, a 50mm lens at f/4. The photo on the right was taken with a full-frame Canon 6D with 50mm, 100 iso, and f/4. Both images are unedited. As you can see, Velvia 50 has a very fine grain and has rich, vibrant colors straight from the scan compared to the unedited JPEG from the Canon 6D. And yes, you do have the option to edit digital photos, but there’s something special about making a beautiful image in-camera on film and not having to spend any time editing!

Examples of Color Negative Films:

  1. Kodak Portra 400: Known for its natural skin tones, fine grain, and wide exposure latitude, Kodak Portra 400 is a popular choice for portrait and wedding photographers.

  2. Fujifilm Superia X-Tra 400: A budget-friendly film that delivers vibrant colors and sharpness, making it suitable for everyday photography and travel adventures.

  3. Lomography Color Negative 800: A higher ISO film that excels in low-light conditions, producing well-saturated colors and a vintage aesthetic.

Slide Film (Color Reversal Film):

Slide film, also known as color reversal film or transparency film, is a favorite among landscape and travel photographers due to its vibrant colors and high contrast. Unlike color negative film, slide film produces positive images directly, making it ideal for creating stunning projections and enlargements.

The left image was taken using Fuji Velvia 100, and on the right using Kodak Porta 400.


The main difference between slide film (color reversal film) and color negative film lies in their processing and final results. Slide film, when developed, produces positive images with vibrant colors and high contrast directly on the film. This makes it ideal for creating stunning projections, enlargements, and viewing through a lightbox. On the other hand, color negative film, when processed, produces negatives with a range of colors and tones. The final prints or scans from color negative film display the true colors of the scene with less contrast compared to slides. Color negative film is more forgiving in terms of exposure and offers a wider latitude, making it a versatile and commonly used film type for everyday photography.

Examples of Slide Films:

  1. Fujifilm Velvia 50: Known for its rich and saturated colors, especially in the red and green tones, Velvia 50 is favored by nature and landscape photographers seeking vivid, eye-catching images.

  2. Kodak Ektachrome E100: A versatile slide film with natural colors and fine grain, suitable for a wide range of photography genres, including nature, travel, and product photography.

Understanding the characteristics of black and white, color negative, and slide film is essential for photographers aiming to achieve specific moods and effects in their images. Each film type offers a distinctive artistic approach, enabling you to convey your creative vision with precision and style. Experiment with these film types and the examples provided, and let your artistic intuition guide you to capture stunning moments that will stand the test of time.

In our future articles, we will delve deeper into each category of film, exploring their unique qualities, technical specifications, and how to optimize their usage in different photographic scenarios. Look out for detailed breakdowns of black and white film varieties, an in-depth analysis of color negative film options, and an exploration of the vibrant world of slide film.


Additionally, we will discuss film formats and sizes, exploring the various options available to photographers, from the classic 35mm film to medium format and large format photography. Understanding different film formats can open up new creative avenues and help you achieve your desired artistic results.


Stay tuned for more insightful articles from the Dublin University Photography Association (DUPA) that will expand your knowledge of film photography and enhance your skills behind the lens.