Amber T800 Film Review

Is It as Good CineStill 800T?

7 min read by Dmitri.
Published on . Updated on .

Amber T800, a tungsten-balanced colour negative film, is based on the highly-regarded Kodak Vision 500T emulsion. It makes images the same way CineStill 800T does, and it was a part of a huge scandal on our small film photography island just a couple of months ago.

In this review, I’ll compare it to 800T (in image quality, price, and shooting experience), discuss reasons for its existence, and give you my thoughts on whether it’s a suitable CineStill alternative.

What is Amber T800?

Amber T800 is made specifically for shooting artificially-lit scenes. It’s tungsten-balanced, meaning it will correctly render photos taken under warm light. This is important for nighttime/indoor photography as correcting the green casts other types of films may show under artificial light is difficult and sometimes impossible.

Amber T800, shot with Canon AE-1. Like CineStill 800T, it shows prominent halation around brigh objects and lights.

However, it is possible to shoot this film in daylight — which I did predominantly in this review. Daylight photography with Amber T800 requires some corrections — the same as with CineStill 800T.

Both CineStill 800T and Amber T800 are processed versions of Kodak Vision 500T motion picture film. 500T sells in huge reels made for movie cameras; it’s still used today for videography under artificial light. However, this film is generally not suitable for still film cameras because of how it’s packaged and the special anti-halation layer that it comes with.

Vision 500T is designed to be developed in the ECN-2 process, which makes relatively flat-looking images — excellent for colour grading and further post-processing. It can also be developed in C-41 chemicals (the colour negative film process); in those chemicals, it yields more contrast and saturation and is thus rated at a higher ISO 800.

Unfortunately, Kodak’s motion picture films, in addition to being packaged in giant reels that have to be re-spooled, come with a layer of black chemicals on the back (called rem-jet). Those chemicals can come off during processing and contaminate the rest of the process. No photography lab will accept this type of film, except for very few that are tooled for this job.

Though savvy photographers can remove those chemicals properly while developing film at home, it’s a difficult and annoying process. Pre-processing Kodak Vision 500T is currently the only way to make tungsten-balanced film that’s safe to develop at all film labs. For the past ten years, CineStill was the only company that could do this on a scale that made this film available to everyone who wanted it. But recently, another player entered the market — not without controversy.

Long story short, the folks at CineStill felt threatened by the competition against their main product and may’ve not dealt with it in the best way possible (see the link above for the full story). Also, they deduced that there’s a single machine somewhere in China that can remove the rem-jet layer from Vision 500T (based on consistent damage patterns between samples). But instead of selling the film themselves, the producer would distribute it to other companies who would rebrand it, in this case, Amber T800.

Amber T800, shot with Canon AE-1. Notice the red dots to the right of my face: they may be the damage patterns the CineStill team mentioned as indicative of another producer’s shortcomings while removing the rem-jet. (I can not verify that fact; I am just guessing).

What’s in the box with Amber T800?

Amber T800 is only available in 35mm, and it comes with just 27 exposures per roll. To my knowledge, there are currently no alternatives to CineStill in 120 — whatever’s out there either still has the rem-jet layer or shows sprockets made for IMAX film packaging.

There is no DX code, meaning you can not use this film as-is with point-and-shoot cameras. However, you should find a sticker in the box that you can paste on the canister before loading it into your camera, which should make it work with point-and-shoots.

I think it’s worth noting that 35mm film canisters with DX code are very difficult to mass-produce. There are only a few manufacturers in the world that can do that at scale, and CineStill is forced to invest additional resources to make that happen for their film.

“Damage patterns” and overall quality of Amber T800 film.

When CineStill was doing market research, they found similarities to their competitors’ products, leading them to believe they were all made by the same machine somewhere in China. They described those similarities as “damage patterns,” which I was very interested in seeing in my tests.

I can’t say that I found anything damning or even remotely detracting from wanting to shoot Amber T800 in my sample. The image above illustrates some light leaks that may have been it (though I’m not entirely sure).

Overall, I found Amber T800 to be exceptionally well processed (to remove the rem-jet). Its quality appears to be even better than the earlier CineStill 800T versions and on par with the current batches.

However, if you plan to do an important shoot with this film, keep in mind that it may have issues on certain frames. The best way to ensure that you get clean images is to run a test roll through the camera first.

Amber T800 with Canon AE-1 in daylight.

Shooting Amber T800 in daylight.

One of the most popular articles on this blog describes the techniques I used to shoot CineStill 800T, a tungsten-balanced film, in daylight. Unlike the typical colour negative film, both Amber and CS emulsions (which are based on Kodak Vision 500T) need additional processing or an 85C warming filter to work in daylight. Without those steps, the results would look teal and lack colour.

I didn’t have an adequately-sized filter for my AE-1; instead, I opted for the post-processing step which took a little extra time but yielded the same type of results I’d expect from CineStill 800T.

Amber T800 with Canon AE-1 in subdued daylight.

Amber T800’s grain, resolution, and halation.

Amber T800 is based on the same Kodak Vision 500T emulsion as the CineStill 800T. By all accounts, those films are identical aside from, perhaps, an occasional light leak.

This film shows remarkably fine grain for an ISO 800 emulsion and an incredible dynamic range. It’s easy to get good results at night using those films and in the daytime if you use a filter. Please refer to my in-depth CineStill 800T review for further technical details and additional samples.

Like CineStill 800T, Amber T800 is missing the rem-jet layer, which causes halation around brightly lit objects. Both films render this effect in the same way. Please refer to the “CineStill 800T colours & halation” chapter of my 800T review for samples of what to expect and an explanation of how it works.

How much does Amber T800 cost, and where to buy it.

Amber T800 is not difficult to find. It’s distributed worldwide; you can buy it today using the link below.

This film is pricier to shoot than CineStill 800T (see the price history). Though it’s generally sold at the same price as CineStill, it comes with 27 frames — 25% less film than the standard 36exp.

By the way: Please consider making your Amber T800 film purchase using this link so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!