Color Film for Landscape and Travel Photography

Silver Fir Star Trails

Silver Fir Star Trails

Fujica GW690, Provia 100 - Silver Fir Campground, Mt. Baker National Forest, Washington

Updated August 8, 2021

As someone who took up film photography in early 2019 after shooting landscapes on digital for the prior 5 years, I had a dizzying number of questions about film choices. In addition to the numerous YouTube videos comparing film stocks, blogs by Alex Burke and my good friend Michael Strickland helped a lot, but it's taken a lot of trial and error over the last 2 years and shooting dozens and dozens of rolls of film to know which film stock I want to use for a specific circumstance. 

I'll cover nearly every film stock I've shot in this blog, including film stocks that are no longer being produced (Fuji Astia 100, Fuji Velvia 100, Fuji Pro 400H), or sold in the US (Fuji Pro 160NS) but are available off eBay. The journey into film photography has been fun because I'm not always sure what I'm going to get back from the lab, particularly with expired film like Astia or old E-100 that I'm trying out for the first time.

For a photo trip, I generally plan to shoot two to three 120 rolls of film a day, and take a 2 to 1 ratio of color negative to slide film. Part of the reason I shoot more color negative film is the cost of development - while rolls of slide film are as or slightly more expensive than negative film, slide film costs about 50% more to develop.

I use North Coast Photo in Carlsbad, California to process and scan my film and recommend them highly. They have great customer service, and are extremely efficient, getting scans back to me within 48 hours after my film arrives there. They process both E-6 and C-41 film in a timely fashion. My scans come back as high quality .jpgs and I make (generally minor) edits in Lightroom before publishing my photos here or on social media. I use Michael Strickland to drum scan slides that I think are extra special and worth extracting the most from an image.

Velvia 50 has always been intimidating to me but was one of the reasons I took up shooting film - it took me a few months to work up the nerve to shoot a roll. It has amazing, legendary, saturated color but its dynamic range is probably 5-6 stops, so exposure has to be spot on (meter for highlights) because a poorly exposed slide of Velvia can't be salvaged in Lightroom. Seeing a properly exposed slide of Velvia 50 is the ultimate high for me as a photographer.

It's been tricky to use graduated neutral density filters with rangefinders, but that's what's needed for grand sunrise and sunset scenes when using Velvia 50 (and for that matter Provia 100). For that reason, I recently started shooting on an old Pentax 67 SLR to help me ensure I get the most out of the film, and I had more properly exposed shots on that roll of Velvia 50 than ever. Make sure you understand reciprocity calculations for exposures longer than 4 seconds for those longer blue hour shots. Velvia's great in cloudy light (definitely better than Provia 100) and bright sunlight. I generally take one roll on a trip and try to save it for scenes that I think are going to be pretty special and bracket those scenes to ensure I come away with a keeper.

I tend to have a couple of 5-packs in my freezer on the off chance that Fuji quits producing this popular film stock, but they would be foolish to do so.

I've generally had better success shooting Provia 100 than I have Velvia 50. There's a little more latitude as Provia 100 has a slightly larger dynamic range, but I'd recommend bracketing special scenes at least early on as 1-2 stops of exposure can make a huge difference in how the slide turns out. Colors are less saturated and it's less contrasty than Velvia 50. The slides can have a bluish cast (particularly during blue hour) which can be corrected easily in Lightroom. It's a terrific daylight performer but I haven't liked it when shot under overcast conditions. You don't have to worry about reciprocity with Provia 100 like you do for Velvia 50. I've also been amazed at the amount of shadow detail I can pull out of a Provia 100 scan.

I generally take 2-3 rolls with me on a trip and am always eager to put Provia 100 to use. 

Velvia 100 holds the dubious distinction of being my least favorite film stock. It is too contrasty, greens are too intense, and there's a purplish/magenta tint to most of the images. I did not mourn when Fuji announced that they had stopped production of Velvia 100 in the summer of 2021. What few rolls I have remaining will be saved for trips to the desert, where Velvia 100's color palette might enhance the reflected light of a sunrise or sunset.

I recently scored a great deal on a 5 pack of 220 rolls of expired Astia 100. This slide film was discontinued at the end of 2010, my rolls expired in 2008. Astia was known as the slide film for fashion and portrait photography, but the roll I ran through my Fujica GW690 on a recent trip to Seattle showed that it's a great all purpose film with accurate colors, medium-high contrast, and good exposure latitude for a slide film. (Too bad my GW690 tends to have light leaks when using 220 film, as you can seen in a couple of the photos.) I'll save the other 4 rolls of Astia for special occasions (I'm curious to see how it renders sunrise and sunset light), and keep on searching eBay for more rolls to put in my freezer.

Kodak Ektachrome E100 is a film I have limited experience with in its current incarnation. I've shot several very expired (2003) rolls of E100SW which had been kept in cold storage since that time (at least that's how it was sold) which gave me very pleasing results (first two photos), most prominently the sunset shot from Nunavut (first photo), which was shot with a 3-stop graduated ND filter and still had plenty of recoverable detail in the highlights when I got the drum scan back. I have a couple of rolls of E100SW left and are saving them for a special trip.

I'm not as thrilled with the most recent iteration of E100 - the slides tend to have a greenish cast and not as pleasing as Provia 100. And since it's currently $3 a roll (on average) more expensive than Provia, I'll stick with Fuji's slide film for now.

There's a lot that I like about Ektar 100. It's super saturated and contrasty. It has a ton of exposure latitude - 8-9 stops? You can probably meter 2 stops above the darkest shadow and still pull some shadow detail out of a scan while also being able to decrease the highlights significantly and get good color there. Overexposed Ektar looks good too and is not hard to "fix" in Lightroom if needed.

It's great for sunrises, sunsets, and long nighttime exposures (no reciprocity correction needed, but I've only shot up to 30 second exposures) where you want the colors to pop. The reds I get from Ektar are better than reds from any other film stock, and it's not even close. The film may lean a little on the warm side. I'm less thrilled with it in really overcast weather or harshly lit scenes that already have a ton of contrast. Given its high color saturation, I recommend against using Ektar to photograph people.

Ektar is probably the most reasonably priced of the professional 120 roll films ($8/roll in August 2021) - for that reason alone it definitely deserves to be in every landscape/travel photographer's arsenal.

It may not look like it, but I've shot more Kodak Portra 160 during the last 6 months than ever and pretty pleased with the results. Colors are truer to life than Ektar and it's not garishly saturated. It's perfect for portraits (where Ektar makes everyone look like they've been sunburned). I've enjoyed shooting it in the verdant forests of the Smokies this summer as it conveys the lushness of those greens really well, and I've seen it render gorgeous deep blues and pinks in other settings.

Where I don't like it is in cloudy, overcast weather - colors can tend to get muddy. Give Portra 160 a little sunlight, and you can't go wrong with it at any time during the day. Exposure latitude is probably a stop less than with Ektar, and I've found a graduated ND filter to be helpful for contrasty sunrise shoots where I'm wanting a little more shadow detail but also want the color in the sky. I have not shot with it at night or during blue hour.

A little more expensive than Ektar, Portra 160 is still widely available and I always carry it around with me.

Fuji Pro 160NS is probably my favorite color negative film stock at the moment. It's great in bright light and performs reasonably well in low light (particularly when shot at 320 and pushed a stop). I'll admit that I have not shot it much during sunrise or sunset, the few times I've used it golden hour, I noticed a greenish cast on the scans. Colors are bright and very vivid, but not images are not overly contrasty like Ektar. Reds, pinks, yellows, greens, and blues all look great. The images do all the talking!

A couple of years ago, I bought all of the Fuji 160NS I currently have off eBay from Japan as it is not sold in the States. I was smart to do so as it's gone up in price 50% since 2019. For now, I have enough in my freezer, but I suspect that Fuji will eventually kill this lovely film stock off too. 

Fuji Pro 400H is such a versatile film, being, in my opinion, the best film to use in cloudy weather (colors pop despite overcast skies). It also performs well in bright sunlight without being too contrasty and is great in shady forests. Despite the 400 speed, I've never been bothered by the grain on the scans I get back. The one negative - I'm not as fond of it for portraits or skin tone rendition compared to Portra 160 or 400, as skin tones on Pro 400H are a bit pink for me. But that's a personal taste, and I've read that wedding photographers love the colors they get when they shoot it at 200.

I was sad to hear that Fuji had killed off this venerable color negative film stock earlier this year. You can still easily find it on eBay at between $14 and $20 a roll when you factor in shipping.

When I started compiling images for this guide, I was shocked by how few landscapes I've shot on Portra 400. That's not to say that it's a bad film stock, because I've used it for family shoots and portraiture and have been very happy with the results. It's similar to Portra 160 in saturation and contrast, with more grain that is not extremely noticeable in my opinion (particularly when shooting 6x7 or 6x9 formats) and renders pinks and reds nicely. It looks good pushed a stop too. It's more expensive than Portra 160, which is probably why I lean towards the slower version of Portra when I'm choosing film to take on a trip. Portra 800 is available too, albeit even pricier than Portra 400, and I have not had found an opportunity to shoot it yet.