CineStill 800T Film Review

Kodak Movie Picture Film for Still Photographers

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

CineStill 800T is the world’s first¹ motion picture film pre-processed for development in standard chemicals. This high-speed tungsten-balanced colour emulsion is best known for its halation effects, fine grain, wide dynamic range, and accurate colour reproduction.

There’s nothing out there quite like the 800T (or its analogs). This film combines the latest technology built by the largest colour film manufacturer in the world (Kodak) with characteristic light distortions that create instantly recognizable results. The popularity of this emulsion has been steadily going up since its introduction in 2012 to the point of becoming a cultural cliché.

In this in-depth review, I’ll share my five years of experience with the film in samples, detailed technical specifications, a dive into history (including the recent controversy), and advanced shooting tips.

Let’s begin.

¹ — While there may have been attempts previously to re-spool motion picture film for still cameras and it has certainly been done by the manufacturers, CineStill is the first modern company independent of the manufacturer that brought this as a commercial product to the masses.

CineStill 800T with Voigtländer Vitessa A.

A brief history of CineStill 800T.

CineStill was founded in 2012, and the 800T was their first product. 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 just two comments, and their Etsy shop that sold their first few rolls has one lonely review.

Being one of the most talked-about brands in 2023, CineStill has come a long way. You can learn more about the company’s upstart in the history section for the CineStill 400D film review.

800T is the product of the Brothers Wright experimenting with cameras and lenses on the side as they employed themselves as wedding and contract photographers. Their forage into film photography had turned them into fanatics obsessed with improving our selection. The 800T is their first and largest success that came from filling the widening gap in the high-speed colour film selection.

Brothers’ Wright results have exceeded expectations: CineStill 800T (originally dubbed Cinestill 500Tungsten) delivered more than what anyone would’ve expected from a repackaged bulk-loaded motion picture film reel. Shortly after their initial sales blew through the roof, the Brothers Wright crowdfunded a medium format version of the 800T and began a tighter collaboration with Kodak to help keep prices in check and supply consistent.

In recent years, CineStill found a few competitors that managed to make products similar to the 800T. This has given rise to the recent controversy (more on that below) and some misunderstandings about how the film is made.

But before I explain how this film is manufactured, let me talk a bit more about what it is, starting with the grain and resolution.

CineStill 800T with Minolta TC-1.

Grain structure, resolution, and sharpness.

CineStill 800T (based on Vision 500T 5219/7219) features an impressively fine grain. Kodak’s datasheet lists it as “exceptionally low,” which is hard to deny — even when the film is cross-processed in C-41 chemicals.

Film grain isn’t constant. It changes depending on exposure, scene content, processing, and other factors. This is why Kodak has recently switched to using PGI (Print Grain Index), which is determined by surveying a group of volunteers who are given a variety of samples to estimate how grainy they appear to be. They haven’t run this experiment for their Vision 500T emulsion, and even if they did, it may not apply directly to the 800T as it’s most often developed in C-41 (whereas 500T is meant for ECN-2).

But from personal experience of shooting this film for five years and others’ recollections, the 800T appears to be the finest-grained ISO 800 film, likely surpassing even Kodak Portra 800.

CineStill 800T exposure guide and dynamic range.

CineStill 800T has a wide dynamic range of about 10+ stops. This implies that it can forgive some exposure mistakes and is perfectly suitable for photographing high-contrast scenes. The shadows and highlights will retain more detail than most colour films, and the results maintain medium contrast across the frame.

From the datasheet, Kodak wrote on Vision 500T:

The proprietary Sub-Micron Technology [that] enables 2 stops of extended highlight latitude, so you can follow the action into bright light-in a single shot-without worrying about blown-out details.

You may have also noticed that CineStill’s product, 800T, uses a different box-speed rating than the Kodak film at the core of the emulsion (i.e., 500T). This is because the ECN-2 colour development process (which yields even less contrast for more post-processing flexibility) requires about 2/3 more stops of exposure than C-41 to produce similar results.

Kodak Vision 500T RMS and characteristic (sensitometry) curves.

Because of its wide dynamic range and medium contrast, CineStill 800T does not need special considerations when metering and exposing the scenes. You can simply set your light meter to ISO 800 and get good results.

Scenes with low contrast, such as foggy weather, may benefit from a contrast bump during post-processing (more on that below). Thankfully, this film handles digital colour correction and contrast adjustment extremely well (whereas many other films may start looking grainy or muddy after even the minute adjustments).

CineStill 800T with Voigtländer Vitessa A.

Pushing and pulling CineStill 800T.

CineStill 800T is often used at night or indoors due to its tungsten colour balance and relatively high ISO rating. However, it can also be reliably pushed up to EI 3200 and pulled to EI 200. The overall contrast of the film will be affected but still acceptable, and the grain remains fine in all those scenarios.

Though I haven’t tried pushing this film as far as 3200 personally, the results I’ve seen from others look very usable, and my personal experience pulling it to EI 320 generated results that look indistinguishable from the box speed in terms of colours, contrast, and grain structure.

CineStill pulled to EI 320 (-1.3 stops). Shot with Minolta TC-1.

CineStill 800T colours & halation.

In daylight, without a filter or colour correction, CineStill 800T will have a teal cast that may not necessarily be what you want from your emulsion. At night, especially under warm lighting, the 800T produces realistic, colour-accurate images no other currently-produced colour film can match.

Intended for indoor lighting with at 3000-3200K, the 800T renders scenes exceptionally well. It’s realistic, with a slight tendency towards over-saturating the reds (this may be in part due to the halation effect).

You may also notice that the film renders distinct red halos around bright light sources and specular highlights. This is due to the absence of the rem-jet backing (removed by CineStill so that the film can be safely processed in standard chemicals).

By design, the rem-jet backing prevents halation, caused by intense light bouncing off the pressure plate and reflecting onto the red-sensitive back side of the film. But without it, you get the signature glow so many modern film photographers desire.

With the 800T, there’s no way to prevent the halation other than to avoid bright light sources. It may be reduced if you pull-process the film — but it can’t be eliminated completely. Your modern fast colour film alternative without halation would be Kodak Portra 800, which has a C-41-compatible anti-halation layer built-in (more on that below).

Note that all colour films, show halation to a degree. Rem-jet and other built-in systems can only reduce it. So don’t get surprised if you occasionally see some on films other than the ones made CineStill.

An example of halation with CineStill 800T.

Tungsten vs. daylight colour balance.

While Kodak Vision 500T, the emulsion CineStill 800T is made from, is a relatively modern colour film, it is still nearly two decades old. Since its invention, many cities and indoor locations have switched their light sources to more energy-efficient bulbs. But before this transition had happened, the most common midnight illumination was created with tungsten filaments that glow deep-orange.

Typical colour films render the orange light as deep red or even green. Modern software makes correcting this distortion possible, but it’s not always efficient or even effective. Often, changes in post-production still create sub-par results despite the best efforts.

Tungsten-balanced films have been in production for a long time but have been out of the hands of still photographers for decades. These types of films were designed specifically for the orange night glow, meant to render the results that look natural/as we see them. But unlike the human eye, which can “automagically” adjust to the colour temperature, tungsten-balanced films are locked to work best in orange-lit scenes and not particularly suitable for the cooler daylight.

As film photography declined in popularity in the early ‘00s and ‘10s, film manufacturers cut their production, with the tungsten-balanced colour films being some of the first on the chopping block due to their limited application. But the motion picture industry continued to demand them thanks to the way the scenes are typically lit (with artificial lighting), and the Kodak Vision 500T, where the “T” stands for “tungsten-balanced,” remained on the market.

For the longest time, us still photographers had no tungsten-balanced colour film stocks to use at nighttime — until CineStill changed that with their offering.

Shooting CineStill 800T in daylight requires colour correction or an 85C daylight filter to avoid the teal tint (top-left) of the tungsten-balanced film. Shot with Voigtländer Vitessa A.

Shooting CineStill 800T in daylight.

The 800T is built to render the difficult artificially-lit scenes exceptionally well. But without an appropriate lens filter or a colour correction step, it will render your daylight shots with a teal cast.

Thankfully, this isn’t difficult to fix or prevent completely with relatively cheap tools and image editing software. I wrote an in-depth guide that explains how to do just that:

 ☝︎ Further reading: How to Shoot CineStill 800T in Daylight.”

The only real issue with shooting CineStill 800T (or any tungsten-balanced colour film) in daylight and colour correcting it in post is fixing the scenes with a lot of white (like the snow), which can sometimes be challenging. Instead, you should consider getting an 85C warming lens filter.

CineStill 800T with Voigtländer Vitessa A.

Scanning CineStill 800T.

CineStill 800T/Kodak Vision 500T films dry flat, making them easy to scan and develop. The film works well with most scanners and scanning software, including my personal workflow that I use for all colour negative film.

If you’ve shot CineStill 800T at night, there’s likely little or no work left to be done after scanning. You may want to clean up dust and scratches (if any) or colour-correct daylight or off-temperature scenes (this film is optimal for 3000-3200K).

The 800T is a medium-contrast fine-grained film that also gives a lot of flexibility for digital workflow during the post-production/editing step. You can modify the contrast considerably before it begins to show distortions, grain, or appear “deep-fried.” I never found the need to modify the saturation levels or perform extreme colour manipulation on any of my films (but you are free to try that, of course).

CineStill 800T with an Olympus PEN FV.

How Kodak motion picture film is processed and packaged for still photographers.

Some years after CineStill introduced the 800T to the market, some practiced photographers started re-spooling Kodak Vision 500T film and selling it as an alternative to the 800T. However, those films can not be processed at the lab or at home easily, as the rem-jet backing that comes on the standard movie reel creates an awful mess and destroys chemicals.

In more recent years, Vision 500T became so popular that some labs began to offer processing of the film (with rem-jet) and some home-development kits began to appear as well.

The rem-jet layer is a sticky black substance slathered on film that’s meant to prevent halation (the effect of bright light bouncing off the camera’s pressure plate into the red-sensitive layer) and static electricity discharges that happen at high speeds when the film travels at 24 frames per second inside a movie camera.

Other colour films designed for still cameras do not have a rem-jet layer, but their backing still comes with anti-halation and anti-static properties compatible with home and lab development.

Static discharges on CineStill 800T manifest as blurry pink sparks and smudges.

While the halation is a widely desirable quality of the CineStill 800T emulsion, static discharges that result from removing the rem-jet layer can also occur. Those static discharges may appear randomly; and they can look distracting and unpleasant. To prevent them, you should try to wind your film slowly and avoid shooting in low-humidity weather.

Interestingly, CineStill’s newest offering, CineStill 400D, does not have that issue, as the company worked closely with Kodak to design backing that prevents static discharges.

Removing the rem-jet layer at home is difficult (although not impossible), but it can’t be done at a lab unless it was specifically set up to do so. Notably, aside from cutting and packaging motion picture film into DX-coded film canisters, CineStill goes through the trouble of removing the rem-jet layer beforehand (which is more difficult than doing so during the processing stage). Up until recently, this type of work could only be done by CineStill; however, that is not the case anymore.

CineStill 800T with Voigtländer Vitessa A. The green cast is created by the overlooking condo window’s tint meant for sun protection.

The 2023 CineStill controversy.

A new brand, Reflex Labs (along with a few others), has figured out how to remove the rem-jet layer before spooling film into a canister. They began selling their film as “800T” and marketing it as such widely on the internet.

As their postings began to take over the search results, CineStill made a controversial decision to trademark the “800T.” Despite Kodak not having trademarked their 500T film (or even the discontinued 800T film they also produced some years ago), CineStill was granted the TM on the second try.

CineStill is allowed to use this trademark because they’ve eventually proven to the authority that their product is widely recognized as “800T” or “800 Tungsten.” It’s been marketed and sold as such for the past decade to a wide audience of still film photographers, whereas Kodak’s films (while bought in larger quantities) are either specialized to the smaller audience of movie producers or simply do not need that protection.

As part of the trademarking agreement, CineStill must police and enforce the TM on their own, which they recently did by reaching out to sellers and producers of other re-spooled rem-jet-less “800T” films. Reflex Labs complied by renaming their film, and many sellers agreed to remove or relist the competing products under a different name. (The trademark has no claim over the process, just the name.)

But days ago, I learned about CatLABS’s experience, who posted a lengthy public complaint about being “sued” by CineStill. To myself and others, it appeared as something way over the top. Thousands of photographers went online to complain and trash the company, often (erroneously) exclaiming that CIneStill’s product is nothing but a rebranded Kodak film.

Two days in, CineStill’s response was quoted in the PetaPixel article explaining that they’ve never sued CatLABS; instead, they’ve sent a cease and desist letter to CatLABS’ layers in response to their direct request for that letter. They also clarified that that letter is neither a lawsuit nor legally-binding.

It was upsetting to learn that CatLABS published a post that was deliberately misleading and unfairly damaging to CineStill. We are yet to learn what the fallout will be for CineStill and the film photography as a whole.

CineStill 800T, CineStill 400D, and CineStill 50D.

Other CineStill colour cinema films.

The difference between CineStill and other producers who found a way to remove the rem-jet layer is their relationship with Kodak. For CineStill, this likely means preferential pricing and a consistent supply, but when it comes to their newest film, CineStill 400D, it is an additional customization to the base layer that certainly can’t be replicated without such a collaboration.

CineStill 400D is made much in the same way as the 800T, with the exception of the anti-static layer remaining present on the film (rem-jet still gone). This film can still produce halation, but the blurry red lightning bolts can no longer damage the photos. The “D” in “400D” stands for “daylight,” which means that this film is not tungsten-balanced.

CineStill 50D is the brand’s other daylight-balanced low-speed film based on Kodak Vision 50D. It’s made the same way as CineStill 800T but suffers much less from static discharges thanks to its low ISO.

How much does CineStill 800T cost, and where to buy it.

As of this writing, CineStill 800T film sells for about $16-18 per single roll of 36exp. in 35mm. In 120, it costs between $16 and $20.

The film remained in high demand during the past few years and appeared out of stock on many retailers’ shelves last year until finally re-appearing in 2023. Though not cheap, CineStill 800T is still cheaper than Kodak Portra 800 — the only other remaining high-speed colour film option.

By the way: Please consider making your CineStill 800T film purchase using this link  so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!