Kodak Ektachrome – The first time that nearly wasn’t

This is a story of the first time I tried the new Kodak Ektachrome.  It has highs, it has lows and it has drama, hence why it was the first time that nearly wasn’t.  And the ending, was it happy or was it sad?  Well you will need to read on for that.

Kodak released a new version of Ektachrome in 2018, after a long and protracted period from the original announcement.  There were a lot of doubters, and a lot of negative comments declaring the quality will never match the old versions.  To Kodak’s credit, they persevered and in 2018, the world rejoiced and it quickly sold out. Reviews came in thick and fast, the product was good.  

I was in my lab one day and saw it sitting there in the fridge.  I was told they had a special price which included processing, if I was interested. Too right I was interested, and I grabbed a roll.

La Perouse, Sydney. Nikon F3, Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 ai, Kodak Ektachrome E100
La Perouse, Sydney. Nikon F3, Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 ai, Kodak Ektachrome E100

Related film article: Combinations – Fuji GSW690iii and Kodak Ektar 

The Film

Ektachrome is a quite an old film. It has had a number of iterations, versions and updates.  It was first released to consumers in 1946 with an ASA rating of 32.  This was in sheet form, it would be another 11 years before it was released in 35mm format.  Puts the recent wait of under 2 years in perspective!

From there it was released on a fairly consistent basis, with incremental speed increases and different versions. This included tungsten, aero (in fact, there was a non-consumer version of aero film before 1946), duplication and movie versions.The processing also evolved, where the current standard E-6 processing was introduced in 1976. That initiated an explosion of different Ektachrome variants, with infrared, saturated, portrait balanced, and high-speed versions.  Kodak even introduced a non-professional slide film based on Ektachrome, called Elitechrome.  

Circular Quay, Sydney. Nikon F3, Nikkor 20mm f/4 ai, Kodak Ektachrome E100
Circular Quay, Sydney. Nikon F3, Nikkor 20mm f/4 ai, Kodak Ektachrome E100

In 2012, Kodak ceased production of colour reversal films, including Ektachrome.  The final Ektachrome versions included E100G.  Fujifilm pretty much had the market for slide film from that point, though there are rumours they also stopped manufacturing it completely. These have not been substantiated as yet.

In 2017, 5 years later, Kodak announced, to much excitement, that they will release a new Ektachrome.  This was for both stills in 35mm format, and for movies in Super 8 format.  The wait began.  As we are now in a culture of instant gratification, the wait was unbearable to some.

2018 came and alas, in Spring for the Southern Hemisphere, so did Ektachrome E100.  It sold out very quickly and the demand even surprised Kodak. It has now become easily available.

The Experience

When I bought the roll of Ektachrome, memories of metering to within 1/3 of a stop came flooding back.  I realised that, between digital and the great latitude of modern negative film, I have gotten a little bit lazy in my metering.

Me, shooting Ektachrome in La Perouse
(right) Me, shooting Ektachrome in La Perouse,
photo by Andrea Francolini © 2018, www.afrancolini.com

When the opportunity arose, I loaded it into a camera that I felt confident in its metering.  I chose the Nikon F3.  Just as a side note for the eagled eyed readers, it is not the one pictured just above, I have another F3 with an eye level finder which I prefer, as per the photo at the top of article.

I had organised to go and see an exhibition at Circular Quay in central Sydney with a mate, Andrea.  On the way to pick Andrea up at his home, I pass an area where painted street art is encouraged. Always taking an advantage of a photo opportunity, I stopped at a garage where there is some striking painting on corrugated iron.  After I shot a few frames, I continued on and then realised my camera was still set on ISO 800.  Not a great start.

Sydney Opera House. Nikon F3, Nikkor 20mm f/4 ai, Kodak Ektachrome E100
Sydney Opera House. Nikon F3, Nikkor 20mm f/4 ai, Kodak Ektachrome E100

After the exhibition, we enjoyed a couple of hours of making photographs around Circular Quay. The sun, as tends to be in summer, was out with a few wispy clouds in the sky.  It was quite fun until the heat got too much and it was time for a beer.

I must admit, I left the film in the camera for a couple of weeks, as I was shooting some other cameras, and I came back to it with a shoot in La Perouse, a beach in Sydney. This was at sunset, so it gave me a chance to see the film perform at lower golden light conditions.

La Perouse, Sydney. Nikon F3, Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 ai, Kodak Ektachrome E100
La Perouse, Sydney. Nikon F3, Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 ai, Kodak Ektachrome E100

Having finished my first roll, I dropped it off at the lab and eagerly awaited the results. It is worth mentioning at this point, that I have been using this lab from the pre-digital days, so I know the team quite well.

A couple of days later, I picked it up.  The technician commented, while he only had a few rolls of Ektachrome come in, that this was the best exposed (apart from the ISO 800 frames at the start) that he had processed.  He said that the results he had seen so far tended to have very mushy blacks.  Slide film is not very forgiving, so I suspect some of the new users are getting to terms with it, but hopefully they keep at it. He asked for my advice, so he could pass on the information.  It was a nice boost to the ego!

I shoot slide film a third of a stop under the metered exposure reading, which increases contrast and saturates the colours a bit more.  This is from the days when I used to shoot a lot of this type of film.  I am glad this still holds.  It seems to work well for me so will continue to expose this way.  I suggest you experiment with your exposure settings, and work out the results which pleases you the most.

Circular Quay, Sydney. Nikon F3, Nikkor 20mm f/4 ai, Kodak Ektachrome E100
Circular Quay, Sydney. Nikon F3, Nikkor 20mm f/4 ai, Kodak Ektachrome E100

At first glance the results from Ektachrome seem very clean and crisp.  The colours are striking, but quite neutral, especially if you are used to using films like Fujifilm Velvia.  I quickly cut the frames up and put them in slide mounts.  In hindsight I should have looked at the slides closer with my loupe first.

When I did look closer, I noticed some marks running right across the middle of the frame. Initially I thought it looked like roller marks.  I followed up by scanning a few frames and my fears were realised.  There were indeed marks and they looked brown and splotchy. The example below has these marks.

Example portion of a marked slide
Example portion of a marked slide

My initial reaction was that I was going to change labs, this was not good enough!  A week later I went back to the lab and showed them the slides.  Initially the person speaking with me said, that while they can see the marks she could not understand how could happen, as they use a dip and dunk method of processing (one of the reasons I use this lab).  I suggested that the technician has a look and she agreed.  

Under the bridge La Perouse, Nikon F3, Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 ai, Kodak Ektachrome E100
Under the bridge La Perouse, Nikon F3, Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 ai, Kodak Ektachrome E100

When the technician looked, he immediately identified it as stabiliser that had not washed off properly.  He said he could clean this off fairly easily and would do that next morning.  He apologised quite sincerely, agreed it was not up to the quality levels.  

A day later I got my slides back and true to his word, they were clean.  This time I had a really close look at each frame and apart from a very minor mark on one, they were indeed cleaned nicely. I have since processed more slide film there, and there haven’t been any issues.

My scanner has an attachment where you can load up to fifty mounted 35mm slides and it feeds them though one at a time and scans them.  I loaded them up and finally had the photos that I had worked towards.

Goodbyes, Circular Quay. Nikon F3, Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 AF-D, Kodak Ektachrome E100
Goodbyes, Circular Quay. Nikon F3, Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 AF-D, Kodak Ektachrome E100

Ektachrome has delivered the goods.  As mentioned above, the colours a very neutral, but with enough punch to make them exciting.  Grain, when shot at box speed, or as per my case, underexposed by a third of a stop, is very fine.  

What really impressed me is the latitude of the film.  With my previous experience with reversal film, I expected it to be very narrow.  Ektachrome actually has some wriggle room.  Remember the exposures I shot at the start at EI 800? Even though they were underexposed by three stops, there is still reasonable detail there, to the point where you could extract a useable, but not great, photo if really needed to. Just don’t expect a masterpiece when you do it.

La Perouse, Sydney. Nikon F3, Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 ai, Kodak Ektachrome E100
La Perouse, Sydney. Nikon F3, Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 ai, Kodak Ektachrome E100

Out of this whole experience there a couple of things I have taken away with me.  Firstly, Kodak did a lot of work to bring Ektachrome back onto the market and this really is a good film.  It is a slide film for 2019 which has been developed using current technology and the results really show it.  Now that this formula has been defined, it opens up the possibility of other slide films to come to fruition.  

Secondly, I could have just gone to another lab and not addressed the situation with the processing issues this first roll had.  In-fact, that was my first reaction as some people may have seen on some social media. In the end I am glad I calmed down and did not.  The lab did acknowledge the issue and worked with me to rectify it and took it on-board to ensure it does not happen again.  

More importantly, the film photography community is small with limited resources.  We need to work with those resources, like the labs, to ensure they continue to operate.  Without them it becomes harder and harder to continue with this passion we all love.And so, this story ends.  Do we all live happily ever after?  Only time will tell, but with the resurgence of film photography in the last few years, it definitely is looking promising.

Circular Quay, Sydney. Nikon F3, Nikkor 20mm f/4 ai, Kodak Ektachrome E100
Circular Quay, Sydney. Nikon F3, Nikkor 20mm f/4 ai, Kodak Ektachrome E100
Circular Quay, Sydney. Nikon F3, Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 ai, Kodak Ektachrome E100
Circular Quay, Sydney. Nikon F3, Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 ai, Kodak Ektachrome E100
Circular Quay, Sydney. Nikon F3, Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 AF-D, Kodak Ektachrome E100
Circular Quay, Sydney. Nikon F3, Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 AF-D, Kodak Ektachrome E100
Sydney. Nikon F3, Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 ai, Kodak Ektachrome E100
Sydney. Nikon F3, Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 ai, Kodak Ektachrome E100
Rainbow, La Perouse. Nikon F3, 35mm f/2.8 ai, Kodak Ektachrome E100
Rainbow, La Perouse. Nikon F3, 35mm f/2.8 ai, Kodak Ektachrome E100

Related Links

A brief history of… Kodak EKTACHROME film on EMULSIVE, by Cheyenne Morrison.

Keppler’s Vault 2: Ektachrome on MIKE ECKMAN DOT COM, by Mike Eckman.

Film review: Kodak EKTACHROME E100 – shot at EI 100, 200, 400 + 800 first impressions on EMULSIVE by EM.

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