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12-22-2013, 09:18 AM   #1
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Color Negative Film Versus Color Positive Film

I was just on a site looking 35mm rolls of color negative and color positive film and it got me thinking (that's a dangerous thing). I was just wondering what the differences between the two are and would there be times that using one would be more ideal than using the other one. I am aware that color negative film produces a negative and if I remember correctly, you don't have to worry about negatives when you shoot color positive film but I could be wrong about that.

12-22-2013, 09:32 AM   #2
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The colour negative is intended making colour prints. The colour positive is intended for making slides.

However, I think pros use positives for their work, even for prints. I think because they have more saturated colours and scan better.
12-22-2013, 09:40 AM   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by gbeaton Quote
...I think pros use positives for their work, even for prints. I think because they have more saturated colours and scan better.
Once upon a time, all this was true. Slide film (think Kodachrome) used to be much better than print film and so it became the only film accepted for publication. Then, print film caught up...the digital revolution happened...and now it's a toss-up. I haven't shot film in several years, but the rule of thumb used to be that print film (color negative) used to have more latitude, while slide film (color positive) offered more sharpness and color saturation. If you're going to scan your film and work with it inside your computer, I'm not sure there's a whole lot of difference between the two.
12-22-2013, 09:48 AM   #4
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Thanks guys. I was just kind of curious. I'm trying to learn film photography. It's a little challenging considering I started with digital (even though I will be forty next year, I didn't get into photography until 2008).

12-22-2013, 09:52 AM   #5
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The two are fundamentally different, positive film is close tolerance so you have about a stop and a half latitude for exposure, negative film is more forgiving you get 2 to 3 stops latitude to rescue a shot, that's why wedding photographers choice would be negative stock. You cant retake a wedding shot that's under or overexposed. Negative film gives more certainty and security.


In the studio you have greater control over lighting and exposure, and usually but not always can retake anything that messes up so you can go positive. Although if your a pro in a studio you shouldn't mess up.


Apart from that each film stock handles colour differently so choice of stock is complex and as much down to personal taste as much as anything else.


Hope this helps.
12-22-2013, 09:52 AM   #6
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The developing of the two types of film is different. Colour negatives use a C41 process and colour slides (positive/transparencies) uses an E6 process.

With a negative you have to either get a print or scan done to see the “final” colour image. As a slide is the “final” image you have to do nothing. You can project a slide or view it on a light table and not bother with prints or scans. Of course you can make prints from slides as well as scan them.

I shoot 95% slide film, including b&w for that reason. However you should try both and see what YOU like the best.

Phil.
12-22-2013, 09:57 AM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by photographyguy74 Quote
I was just on a site looking 35mm rolls of color negative and color positive film and it got me thinking (that's a dangerous thing). I was just wondering what the differences between the two are and would there be times that using one would be more ideal than using the other one. I am aware that color negative film produces a negative and if I remember correctly, you don't have to worry about negatives when you shoot color positive film but I could be wrong about that.
You are correct, color positive film produces a transparency, what used to be called "slides". They used to get mounted in individual plastic or cardboard frames and projected, though these days most folks scan them. The advantage of transparency film is it has very fine grain, and beautiful saturated colors. For that reason it used to be, and still is in some cases, the choice of commercial studio photographers. The disadvantage of transparency film is it has very limited dynamic range, and if you over expose something, there's no chance to recover it. Sometimes that means that n order to get your subject properly exposed, you skies end up going white. Negative film on the other hand has loads of dynamic range, particularly if the zone system is utilized to it's fullest, but it also has more grain than transparency film.

Last edited by maxfield_photo; 12-22-2013 at 06:17 PM.
12-22-2013, 09:58 AM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by Imageman Quote
...each film stock handles colour differently so choice of stock is complex and as much down to personal taste as much as anything else.
Very true! I used to shoot nothing but Kodachrome 25 because I wanted the sharpness. But then I signed up for a workshop where we had to shoot some kind of E6 film that could be processed overnight. I switched to Fujichrome 50 because it was the sharpest of the E6 films at the time, but the color rendation was radically different from Kodachrome. For my style of shooting, this turned out to be a very good thing, but I could see that for others, it might not be so hot. Choosing a film that suits you is a bit like choosing a JPEG setting on your DSLR. Do you want more contrast or less? Vibrant colors or more subtle?

12-22-2013, 10:24 AM   #9
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Slide film (some points as noted by others): low ISO types almost grainless; rich saturated colors, with different films having different saturation characteristics (Kodachrome had wonderful blues; Velvia had excellent warm colors especially in flat, overcast light);
BUT: slide film is generally balanced for a particular light source, especially sunlight versus tungsten. Using daylight balanced film indoors or tungsten balanced outdoors resulted in excessively red or excessively blue images. Color balancing filters at time of exposure were required.
Color negative film was generally grainier with less saturated color, but as noted by others it has much greater dynamic range and, because colors were balanced at the enlarger when printing, any color negative film could be used under any light source. An unusual color negative film, no longer available, was Ektar 25 (= ISO 25), which was nearly grainless and had excellent saturation.
I have done or had done a great many scans of my old slides (also called "chromes"). The best scans never look as good as the originals. I've scanned a few old color negatives and generally felt the results were as good or better than available prints, but that's probably because a slide is a one-of-a-kind "standard," whereas prints made at different times from the same negative can look very different depending on who is operating the enlarger and adjusting the filters. I had a fine print made of a nursery web spider. Ordered a second about a year later, but the print was different and not as satisfactory. Sent it back with the first print and asked that another print be made to match the first, but they still could not make a print as good as the first.
12-22-2013, 10:56 AM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by TaoMaas Quote
Slide film (think Kodachrome) used to be much better than print film and so it became the only film accepted for publication.
And the primary reason for that was color saturation and extremely fine grain. I have friends who are long-time wildlife photographers who, for many years, were restricted by their publishers to Kodachrome for all submitted work. Later, the field was widened to include fine-grained reversal films from Fuji.

Now days, color negative films are the equal, if not better than available slide films. They have better dynamic range and are easier to scan.


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12-22-2013, 11:01 AM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by stevebrot Quote
And the primary reason for that was color saturation and extremely fine grain. I have friends who are long-time wildlife photographers who, for many years, were restricted by their publishers to Kodachrome for all submitted work. Later, the field was widened to include fine-grained reversal films from Fuji.
Initially, I think longevity played a role in it, too. Kodachrome lasted better than any other color film, negative or positive. It's been years since I've submitted pics for publication, but it used to be that color negative film wouldn't even be considered. It was slides only. As you said, that eventually changed and now it's fairly open.
12-22-2013, 04:11 PM   #12
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Color negative film has a VAST, HUGE density range. If you photograph contrasty scenes (landscapes with dramatic lighting), and you want to capture detail both in the shadows, and in the highlights, negative film is a good choice.
12-23-2013, 10:00 AM   #13
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I was talking with a shop owner a few months back who specialized in used (and especially older used) camera gear. He pointed out that train fanatics still shoot color positive/transparency/side film almost exclusively. They will blaze away multiple frames of a specific train and trade/sell those images. Because of the nature of this film, each image is an original and never a copy, never an edited image. They owner might digitize and print from the image, but mostly only for personal use or selling as wall art. But only the originals are truly collectible.
12-23-2013, 10:08 AM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by JimJohnson Quote
I was talking with a shop owner a few months back who specialized in used (and especially older used) camera gear. He pointed out that train fanatics still shoot color positive/transparency/side film almost exclusively. They will blaze away multiple frames of a specific train and trade/sell those images. Because of the nature of this film, each image is an original and never a copy, never an edited image. They owner might digitize and print from the image, but mostly only for personal use or selling as wall art. But only the originals are truly collectible.
That’s the beauty of slide film. No need to print or digitize and a lot easier to store.

Phil.
12-24-2013, 02:55 PM   #15
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Generally speaking, slides are sharper and higher resolving while negatives have a considerably wider latitude. If you intend to project then obviously slides are what you need and this also makes them easier to work with if you intend to scan as you can certainly verify the color and contrast. It used to be you could print them directly to paper (cibachrome/ilfochrome) but I am not sure of the availability of that today - nor have I ever done it myself. Negatives of today are very good and developing is cheaper and more readily available even at local drug stores. Once scanned into the computer, you can obviously process either to get whatever you want as they will then be digital files.

For instance you can stitch them like I did with 9 frames of Kodak Ektar 100 - D Gates at McCarran airport Las Vegas




Or HDR using one frame of Fuji RVP100.



Of course each film has it's own characteristics and it would be helpful to learn them.

Fuji RVP50




Kodak Ektar 100




Most important is to have fun learning them which of course will only come with more use . . .
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