Harman Phoenix 200 — New Colour Film Review

The Most Important Film Photography Product of 2024

16 min read by Dmitri.
Published on .

Harman Phoenix 200 is the most important film photography product of 2024.

I’ll explain exactly why this film is so vital to the future of film photography and go over all the technical details with lots of samples in this brief review of the first new colour film from a major producer in over a decade! In this review: New colour film in the age of digital cameras. Phoenix 200: the colours. Grain, resolution, sharpness. Dynamic range. Exposure guide. Developing Phoenix 200 in C-41. Scanning Phoenix 200. Future updates to Phoenix 200. How much does Phoenix 200 cost, and where to buy it.

New colour film in the age of digital cameras.

Film photography is experiencing a renaissance. Public interest is booming.

For the past five years, new products for analogue shooters launched on a monthly basis. This year alone, we’re expecting a new film camera from Ricoh and a modern Rollei 35 remake from MiNT. However, when it comes to arguably the most ciritical component of a camera — film — innovation is much sparser. Especially when it comes to the most versatile type of film: colour negatives in 35mm.

The only two legacy brands that still make top-of-the-line colour emulsions from the early 2010s are Kodak and Fujifilm. Everyone else is re-selling those brands’ or expired stock. The only exception has been Lomography, which created a new line of colour films with Lomochrome Metropolis — an emulsion that’s likely related to ORWO NC500 and the various derivatives from that factory/formula.

Two new colour stocks that aren’t made by Kodak or Fujifilm (Harman Phoenix 200 and Ilford Ilfocolor 400), side-by-side.

ORWO and Lomography colour films are great news for the community of photographers who are living through the shortages. However, there are some downsides to those emulsions, which boil down to results that aren’t as fine-grained and colour-accurate as Kodak or Fujifilm’s best films like Portra 800 or Velvia 50.

Colour film is incredibly difficult to make. The sheer size of Kodak’s facilities, shown in this 3-hour video tour, gives a view of an enormous factory with billions of dollars worth of equipment. Thus, it’s no surprise that Phoenix 200, a brand-new film of 2024, still doesn’t match the colour accuracy and grain definition of Portra 160.

However, this new film has a few things going for it that ORWO and Lomography’s products lack. One of them is colour saturation and sensitivity — which can’t be easily fixed digitally. I compare both films (Phoenix 200 vs. NC500/Ilfocolor 400) side-by-side in this article. There, I also explain the strange and complex naming difference between Harman, Ilford, and Ilford-branded black and white films.

But the other advantage of Phoenix 200 is the openness of its maker about the product. Given the unfirm availability of colour films (many of which are still discontinued today), it’s reassuring to see videos of Phoenix 200 being made, interviews with the chemists, and detailed technical information many new manufacturers do not share.

Harman Phoenix 200, over-exposed by one stop (EI 100).

Phoenix 200: the colours.

The colours that Phoenix 200 renders after scanning (which needs special considerations — see below) are highly saturated.

A stitched panorama, made from 7 vertical panorams with Minolta P’s. I’ve warped individual images and then again the entire composition to correct for perspective distortion.

This is not to say that, given appropriate lighting, you won’t be able to make natural-looking photographs with Phoenix 200. I incorrectly guessed someone else’s photo to have been made with Portra 400 (it was Phoenix 200). I’m sure I can be fooled again.

Still, most of my results, which match with the samples others posted online, show high contrast and strong saturation. Unfortunately, the nuance in those colours I’d expect from premium stocks is not present. For example, you may notice that in the photos above, the grass and the blossoms are all more or less the same shade of green and pink throughout, whereas in the real world, the palette is much more complex.

Harman Phoenix 200 spectral sensitivity graph.

The spectral sensitivity graphs from the Phoenix 200 datasheet show very strong sensitivity to green and red light with subdued blue colours. Indeed, you may find that scenes with cool colours may look darker than the warm scenes on this film. You may’ve also noticed that this film touches the infrared spectrum slightly (750nm) — though that’s not enough to make it truly sensitive to IR light; if you want that, check out Kodak Aerochrome (colour infrared film).

Another special property of Phoenix 200 is the slight halation effect. Halation appears as small bright rings of red light, which are caused by exceptionally bright rays going through the emulsion and then bouncing off the film pressure plate in your camera to be reabsorbed by the emulsion’s red colour layer. Halation can also make your bright skies and surfaces appear a little redder than the rest of the image.

The effects of halation on Phoenix 200 film. You can see them as small halos around very bright points of light and a slight pink tint over the bright blue skies.

Most colour films use various methods to counter the stray light from appearing on film. For example, motion picture film uses remjet — an opaque black coding. Consumer colour films use less intrusive methods.

I’m pretty sure that Phoenix 200 has some antihalation properties, but they aren’t as strong as on the rest of the films. You may also like to know that this effect is even stronger in CineStill colour films, which have their antihalation layer removed on purpose (for various reasons) — and it’s often desirable by many film photographers.

Throughout this review, you’ll see a number of photos, some bright and highly saturated, like the one above, and others significantly more restrained (thanks to the real-world muted colours and camera settings). I’ll further explain the effect of various exposure techniques on colour as well as scanning methods as we go along.

Harman Phoenix 200 with Olympus Mju I (fill flash).
Harman Phoenix 200 with Olympus Mju I.
Harman Phoenix 200 with Olympus Mju I.

Grain, resolution, sharpness.

Harman (a.k.a. Ilford) doesn’t share PGI or RMS values for the granularity of Phoenix 200. But if you’re reading this on a large screen or zooming in on the images, you should notice that it’s fairly chunky. In fact, Phoenix 200 grain is perhaps the coarsest out of all the new ISO200 colour emulsions on the market.

This film is based on Ilford XP2 Super black and white film, designed for development in C-41 chemicals. XP2’s grain is already fairly noticeable. Perhaps adding colour layers to the film makes that even more apparent.

Phoenix 200 can get noisy in under-exposed areas. I found it especially apparent if the shadows have lots of green colour in them. However, you should see less grain in the highlights and bright areas. I used that to create smoother-looking images above (the cherry blossom panorama) — although I’ve also stitched multiple frames, which made the actual image area close to 645 medium format.

(Unfortunately, Phoenix 200 isn’t yet available in medium format.)

Harman Phoenix 200 with Olympus Mju I (flash on).

Dynamic range.

Dynamic range is one of the key properties of photographic film. It explains a film’s contrast profile, as well as how easy or difficult it would be to capture a scene on the emulsion in question. A smaller number implies higher contrast and greater difficulties capturing details in shadows/highlights. Dynamic range can be ascertained from film characteristic curves, which provide additional context, such as latitude (i.e., how quickly the details will disappear in shadows/highlights).

Film characteristic curves for Harman Phoenix 200. This graph shows ~1.5 lux-seconds of useful density variation (5 stops of dynamic range).

Based on the graph that Harmpan provides in their datasheet, Phoenix 200 appears to have around 1.5 lux-seconds (log exposure) of useful density variation. This converts to about 5 stops of dynamic range.

To put this into context, DR of 5 is comparable to high-contrast slide films like Velvia 50 and Ektachrome E100.

Samples in this review and elsewhere show how contrasty Phoenix 200 can be. Its dynamic range figure not only confirms that but also informs us that it may be a tricky film to expose perfectly.

Exposure guide.

Two factors play a role in determining a film’s “box speed” or the ISO number on the box. One is a measured interpretation of the film’s physical properties (using the ANSI/NAPM IT2.21 standard for colour film). The other is empirical, based on bracketed exposures (a method I used to determine processing times for Sativa Cannanol film developer).

The team behind the Phoenix project had both: a measured ISO of 123.5 and an empirical estimation based on real-world images. It’s clear that Harman went with the visual estimation of ISO 200.

Harman printed an ISO 200 DX code on their film canisters, which is very helpful for point-and-shoot cameras. However, some photographers still recommend shooting it at ISO 160 or something even closer to the scientific determination of the film’s speed: ISO 125. I tried shooting this film at ISO 100, ISO 160, and ISO 200:

Phoenix 200’s low spectral sensitivity to blue colours does not prevent it from rendering dark blue skies (since there are very little other colours up above other than blue in the abscence of clouds).

At the box speed of ISO 200, Harman Phoenix looks fairly natural unless your scene includes deep shadows. This film speed will look best in low-contrast situations, like a foggy afternoon or an evenly lit portrait with a matching background. But since this film has only five stops of dynamic range and this ISO assumes greater film sensitivity than determined by its physical qualities, the shadows can get very dark. ISO 200 is the worst rating you could use for backlit scenes (when shooting against the light).

Changing this film’s ISO doesn’t necessarily solve the issue of lost detail/excessive noise in the shadows. Especially if it’s a minor adjustment to something like ISO 160. High-contrast scenes will still dip hard where there isn’t sufficient light, and you’ll see more grain. When I tested Phoenix 200 at EI 160, I could barely notice any difference in colour or contrast in my results. It felt a bit like a wasted effort since not all cameras would even let you select film speed.

☝️​ EI stands for Exposure Index, which in this context means assumed ISO. For example, shooting Phoenix 200 at EI 160 means setting the light meter to ISO (or ASA) 160.

Note: I do not recommend using Phoenix 200 with “reusable” film cameras like Kodak Ektar H35N as they heavily rely on films with wide dynamic range (thus, you may not get many keepers on your roll). Additionally, H35Ns are half-frame cameras, which will exaggerate the grain even further.

Harman Phoenix 200 (metered at EI 160) with Olympus XA2.

However, I’ve seen a substantial difference when shooting Harman Phoenix at EI 100. Though the film still has problems with deep shadows, the midrange seems to look a little smoother. Unfortunately, the highlights can also roll off fairly aggressively (though not nearly as bad as with some other films), and the colours become lighter while still saturated.

All the cherry blossom photos in this article were shot using that setting. The resulting photographs shot at EI 100 look like cotton candy — which is a lot less realistic than I expected; possibly a good creative device for an appropriate project.

If you have a point-and-shoot camera, shooting Phoenix 200 at EI 100 can be as easy as covering up the canister’s DX code with tape (but you’ll need to check your camera’s default ISO; some cameras use ISO 25 — which will certainly ruin your images with this film).

Whatever your choice of film speed for this film will be, you try finding evenly lit scenes that don’t feature strong shadows unless you’re looking for images with very strong contrast and fuzzy grain in the dark areas.

Harman was also good to provide a reciprocity failure graph in case you want to make exposures longer than one second (i.e. if you want to try your hand at astrophotography). I’ve never tried that with this film, but it may be worth an attempt as narrow dynamic range films can bring out low-contrast events like northern lights, star trails, comets, and the Mikyway. But I can’t say if it would be any good for photographing planets and the grainy nature of this emulsion may diminish the fine details significantly. Of course, you don’t need to point your camera at the night sky to get a good shot; Jeremy Mudd made a few great shots with Phoenix 200 in Dayton.

Harman Phoenix 200, over-exposed by one stop (EI 100) with Minolta P’s.

Developing Phoenix 200 in C-41.

The experience of developing Phoenix 200 is almost identical to Ilford XP2 Super. That’s because Phoenix 200 is based on XP2, a black and white film made for colour-negative (C-41) chemistry.

Harman Phoenix 200’s purple base colour.

Phoenix 200’s film base is nice and thick, which makes it easy to mount on reels. The film dries flat — great for archiving and loading into a scanner.

Phoenix 200 out of the tank comes out looking like any other colour-negative film: orange. But as it dries, it turns into a shade of vivid, deep purple — the same as XP2.

There are a lot of theories online as to why those films have a purple tint. Some say it’s an antihalation layer; others suggest it’s an alternative to orange, which would be difficult to wet-print in black and white (when working with XP2). However, people suggesting answers to this seemingly common question never seem to cite references or provide any further explanation. And their audiences never seem to challenge them.

I reached out to Harman (Ilford) shortly before publishing this article. I will update it if they get back to me with an answer. Subscribe to get a reminder.

Scanning Phoenix 200.

Phoenix 200 is not like other colour-negative films. Aside from simply being new, which means there are no existing profiles or presets on certain lab scanners, it also has a unique purple colour mask.

Most colour-negative films use an orange mask. The mask simplifies production for the manufacturer by countering chemical impurities. It is a standard way to encode analogue colour image information in a negative since the mid-20th century. Scanners and scanning software that was built around this technology may expect to see some shade of orange — or cause issues with the final results.

Harman knows this, which is why they’ve included a lengthy section on scanning in their datasheet. I’m including screenshots of the instructions for Fujifilm SP3000 and Noritsu scanners — which can often be found at a lab (though not many photographers own these machines).

Scanner settings for Fujifilm SP3000 to use with Harman Phoenix 200.

I scanned two of the three Phoenix 200 rolls shot for this article on PrimeFilm XAs and the last one on my “new” Nikon CoolScan 5000ED. I used this method to process all my scans (as I usually do with my colour reviews).

The above scanning method circumvents automatic negative scan inversion as it usually involves hidden processes I can not control. Doing so prevents issues like loss of detail or colour information when scanning films with unusual mask colours, such as the purple of Phoenix 200.

I understand that converting digital negatives by hand may not be something you’d like to do, even if you regularly scan film at home. In this case, Harman’s advice for flatbeds, dedicated film scanners, and digital camera scanning rigs is to lean on automatic colour correction and consider reducing saturation by 30%.

Scanner settings for Noritsu scanners to use with Harman Phoenix 200.

Harman Phoenix 200 with Olympus Mju I.

Future updates to Phoenix 200.

The engineers who work on Phoenix 200 acknowledge that it’s an experimental product. While they did not divulge their entire product roadmap, they did mention that their priorities include modifying the colour mask (to be orange for easier scanning) and improving the dynamic range.

Perhaps we’ll see an update sometime in 2025.

How much does Phoenix 200 cost, and where to buy it.

Phoenix 200 currently sells between $14 and $22 per roll of 36exp. I’ve seen it being sold in the US, Canada, and the UK at popular and less-known shops. It shouldn’t be too much trouble for you to find yourself a roll.

By the way: Please consider making your Harman Phoenix 200 using this link  so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!