CineStill 400D is a brand-new colour film.
For this review, I’m using the rolls I got during a presale event back in April 2022. If the emulsion changes after its public release, I will update this post.
CineStill 400D is a medium-speed, high-resolution emulsion that renders medium-contrast images with a slight mint-green cast. This newest member of The brand’s famous colour negative series (see: 50D and 800T) continues the tradition of rendering red halos around gleaming points.
In this review, I’ll unpack this film’s unique abilities, discuss the best ways to scan it, and share plenty of high-res samples.
Download sample scan files.
If you’d like to play around with high-quality scans of CineStill 400D right now — you can. The files linked below are unaltered TIFF digital negatives. You can invert them in Photoshop.
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A brief history of CineStill.
CineStill was founded in 2012. You can still read their first-ever post where they share their initial tests for what’s to become CineStill 800T. The article where they announced Cinestill 500Tungsten (later renamed to 800T) still has 0 comments, and their Etsy shop where they were selling their first few rolls has one lonely review.
The company got its start during the dramatic decline in film sales as the industry began switching to digital sensors. A year after CineStill’s founding, Fujifilm pivoted to pharmaceuticals, while numerous analogue photographic products and businesses started to disappear.
But despite the headwinds, CineStill managed to become a well-known brand that sells a large variety of photochemical products in 2022. If you shoot film, chances are you’ve heard of them.
CineStill 800T, 50D, and 400D compared.
CineStill’s principal product line is their colour negative film portfolio that started with 800T ten years ago. All of its members, including 400D, can be recognized by the red halos in the images. And the reason for such halation is the missing rem-jet layer.
Rem-jet layer exists in some form on most films; however, Kodak’s cinema emulsions require for it to be removed before the development process — otherwise, it will dissolve in the mixture and cause an awful mess. CineStill’s “secret sauce” is their method for removing the said layer; 50D and 800T are essentially Kodak cinema film with rem-jet removed. CineStill does not hide the fact.
The grain. 400D’s grain looks very similar to what 50D delivers. It’s visible yet packed tight, resembling a mosaic when enlarged. 800T’s grain is harder to characterize.
800T and 50D are Kodak motion picture film products, modified for still film cameras. However, CineStill 400D is more than that. According to the company, it is a product made of various components specifically for still photography:
CineStill 400D is specifically designed for still photography. We worked exclusively with our manufacturing partners around the world to roll components found in many different films into one. This new film is based on advanced technology found in motion picture emulsions, and at the same time delivers features exclusive to still photography materials in both unexposed and processed states.
Of course, one of those components may well be Kodak’s cinema emulsion, but it’s not just that, as CineStill made abundantly clear on their website.
Anti-static coating. CineStill does not reveal a 400D’s component list; however, they mention “…a process-surviving anti-static lubricant coating that makes it a great film for both manual and automatic-winding cameras.”
(In addition to preventing halation, the rem-jet layer also stops static electricity discharges whenever you advance your film. When rem-jet is missing, you may get blurry stars and red lines in your images.)
And so it’s reasonable to assume that CineStill recognized that their customers enjoy the halation but aren’t happy about the static discharges and used that insight to create a product that closely resembles their signature films without the downsides of the missing rem-jet. But that’s only a guess; CineStill is significantly more secretive with 400D than they were with 800T or 50D.
☝︎ Further reading: “Rebranded Film: Good or Bad?” — in this post, I discuss 7 kinds of film labels and their role in the analogue photography ecosystem. You’d be surprised to learn how much of the film sold in-store today isn’t actually produced by the brand on the box. The full story of a film’s journey from raw chemicals to the neatly-rolled package for your camera is nuanced and complicated.
CineStill 400D grain and resolution.
400D appears to be a fine-grained film, especially when compared to other ISO 400 films. I think it may resolve as good or even better than Portra 400 — Kodak’s pro-level emulsion that claims to have the finest grain at this speed.
Unfortunately, there’s no technical datasheet for 400D, making it hard to tell for sure how it compares to other films. However, you can get a feel for it from the high-res samples below (if you’re on a mobile device, turn it into landscape mode for best results). Or you can download the uncompressed scans — above.
CineStill dynamic range and colours.
CineStill 400D appears to have an impressive dynamic range. The results speak for themselves (I also asked CineStill for their datasheet but haven’t heard back).
400D has no trouble preserving bright highlights of the midday clouds and a deep shade under a thick canopy in the same frame. Better yet, it does so with no significant colour shifts. Whereas other films may appear severely blue in the shadows, yellow in the highlights, or display some other distortion when stretched to the limits of their performance, 400D stays locked within a consistent colour palette.
Colour accuracy. Automatic scanner software is often a black box that may change the colours based on some hidden logic. This is why I often invert my film negatives by hand for better control over the images. Because the process stays the same, I can confidently talk about the colours of this and other films.
400D inverted using the above method shows a slight mint colour cast, similar to that of Adox Color Mission. Most of the time, this can be ignored or embraced; your software may even hide those shifts completely. However, there may be a case when you need to do some colour correcting.
A word on skin tones: from what I’ve seen so far, this film seems to lack some fidelity in that department. My portraits looked a little “flat.” This may be a good thing if you’re looking to obscure some of the realism in favour of a dreamy look.
For more accurate portrait colour renderings, consider Portra.
Scanning and colour-correcting CineStill 400D.
CineStill 400D lays relatively flat and requires no special provisions to get scanned with good results.
For the most part, images I invert and equalize from the scanner look good. But in some cases, I’ll get a shot with a bit of a mint-green overcast that I feel needs an adjustment.
As you can see from the sample below, scanned on PrimeFilm XAs, the cast is minimal, which is usually the case. It looks fine in place, particularly if you are expecting it. Getting rid of it, should you rather have your images appear more colour-accurate, isn’t difficult either. A slight nudge towards the purple and away from green plus red and away from teal in mid-tones and highlights should do it. I used Adobe Photoshop’s Colour Balance layer to achieve that.
The adjustments done using this method are minimal; thus, you shouldn’t need to worry about needing uncompressed TIFF or RAW files. JPEG scans will do fine.
Note also that making those adjustments will likely add some warm tones to your image. But, of course, you can also change that in post. 400D is fairly flexible when it comes to colour correction.
Is CineStill 400D an everyday film?
Everyone has their preferences; an “everyday” film may mean different things to different people. For me, it’s availability, speed, dynamic range, resolution, and colours.
Being a brand-new emulsion, I don’t foresee any availability issues in the near future. Sure, this film may be on the pricier side of the overall affordability scale, but it won’t be by much.
An ISO 400 colour film is very versatile. Most film cameras produced in the last 50-100 years have a maximum shutter speed of 1/500 which lets you shoot this CineStill at 𝒇16 in full sun while dropping down to 𝒇4 and below in the shadows. In fact, this film’s dynamic range is so impressive that you may even get good results shooting it at 𝒇8 on a sunny day. The film’s ability to retain details in under-exposed scenes is also excellent, making CineStill 400D one of the most versatile emulsions on the market today.
400D isn’t difficult to scan, and there isn’t much to do in post. I like the results I got; I think they are more nuanced and interesting than what you may get from cheaper colour films. However, I may think twice before using 400D for portraiture; it’s just not as good as Portra.
And so for me, yes, CineStill 400D can be an everyday film. I would feel OK shooting it most of the time, but I would be happier if I still had the option to choose other stocks whenever appropriate.
Where to buy CineStill 400D.
As of this writing, CineStill 400D is now in its final stages of production and distribution prep. You will soon be able to find it on your favourite retailer’s shelves; for the impatient once: some quantities are already available on eBay from the initial batch CineStill pre-sold earlier.
Or, if you’re reading this review sometime late in 2022 or after, you can already buy it from your favourite retailer. In any case,
❤ Please consider making your CineStill 400D film purchase using this link so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!