CineStill 400D Film Review

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CineStill 400D is a brand-new colour film. It comes at a perfect time: colour film is sold-out everywhere, following the supply chain crisis and the exploding popularity of film photography.

CineStill 400D is a medium-speed, high-resolution emulsion that renders medium-contrast images with an occasional 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 light 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. There will also be bits discussing whether 400D is the same thing as Kodaks 250D movie picture film and if it can be used as an everyday stock.

A brief history of CineStill.

CineStill brand was founded in 2012. You can still read their first-ever post where they shared 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. Being one of the most talked-about brands in 2023, they’ve come a long way since.

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 behemoth of a brand with a huge fan following. Today, it sells all kinds of products at its online store where its films take center stage. Of course, 400D, being a new offering is placed above else.

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 fine or even finer 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 (find the download link below).

CineStill 400D with Minolta TC-1. No colour-correction.

CineStill dynamic range and colours.

CineStill 400D also appears to have an impressive dynamic range. The results speak for themselves: no matter how much contrast my scenes had, this film was able to capture virtually all shades an eye could see.

CineStill 400D with Minolta TC-1. No colour-correction.

400D has no trouble preserving the 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 dark areas, 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 the Portra films.

CineStill 400D with Canon Canonet QL-17 GIII. Cropped and colour-corrected.

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, the images I inverted and equalized from the scanner looked 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. 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.

✪​ Note: I’ve noticed that many modern scanning tools tend to produce a heavy brown cast on CineStill 400D images. This can be corrected using the histogram equalization technique.

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. Making those adjustments will likely add some warm tones to your image. But, of course, you can also change that by skewing your highlights toward blues. 400D is fairly flexible when it comes to colour correction.

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.

 Free DownloadSample CineStill 400D 35mm Film Scans (TIFF)

CineStill 400D with Minolta TC-1. Right half is colour-corrected to remove the mint-green cast.

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, but the features it brings to the table (accurate colours, fine resolution) are worth it.

As an ISO 400 colour film, it 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 with 1/500 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.

Samples of CineStill 800T, CineStill 400D, and CineStill 50D — all demonstrating the halation effect.

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 resulting images. And the reason for such halation is the missing rem-jet layer.

The rem-jet layer exists in some form on most films; however, Kodak’s cinema emulsions require 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 films with rem-jet removed. CineStill does not hide the fact.

The grain. 400D’s grain looks very similar to 50D’s. 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 250D cinema emulsion, but it’s not just that, as CineStill made abundantly clear on their website.

The bright red spots in the image are the static discharges due to the missing remjet layer. CineStill 800T with Olympus PEN FV.

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 stops static electricity discharges whenever you advance your film. Without it, you may get stars and lines across 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 seven 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.

CineStill 400D with Minolta TC-1. No colour-correction.

Where to buy CineStill 400D.

As of this writing, CineStill 400D is 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:

❤ 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!