The 2018 return of Kodak’s Ektachrome E100 transformed modern film photography. This was the first major emulsion comeback after years of gruelling analogue decline, an event that triggered waves of gleeful optimism amongst photographers and may even be credited with an explosion* of products for film photographers that followed.
Ektachrome E100 is Kodak’s only slide emulsion available in 2021, sold in 35mm, 120, 4x5, and Super 8 formats. The film is characterized by its natural colour rendition, an unusually wide dynamic range, and ultra-fine grain. It is easy to scan and develop — though not all the labs will accept it.
✱ — A trend I observed over the past few years.
A brief history of the Kodak Ektachrome slide film series.
Kodak’s Ektachrome series was a successor line to its iconic Kodachrome slide film range. The new emulsion, introduced in 1946, boasted finer grain and more formats. As the years passed, the film got incremental improvements in its speed and ease of development.
The quality and development convenience of this film — as compared to the complex K-14 process — eventually earned it a revered position amongst the greatest photographic mediums of all time. Ektachrome has been to space; it is the film that captured the surface of our moon and an image of earth that has inspired the minds of millions.
As you’d expect, there was more than one type of Ektachrome film produced in the last 75 years. The first iteration of this emulsion was called Aerochrome, which was developed for military applications looking to detect camouflaged enemy structures using infrared light. Aerochrome is the only colour infrared film ever produced. Discontinued in 2009, this film can still be found on eBay — but it is not for cheap.
Slide film is difficult to produce; it has more layers than colour negative film and requires specific processes and components. This unfortunate reality eventually led to the complete disappearance of all Ektachrome (and its Elitechrome rebrand products) from the shelves in 2013. The wide variety of film speeds, up to ISO 400, including the tungsten-balanced versions, were all suddenly gone.
But as the massively-diminished ranks of film photographers began to replenish, Kodak had a change of heart. Less than five years after complete discontinuation, the company announced the return of Ektachrome.
The re-launch was delayed due to the complexities of acquiring raw materials anew and new stringent environmental regulations. Nevertheless, it’s here now.
Slide (reversal) film basics.
The most common type of emulsion is a negative (print) film where the whites are black, greens are red, etc. This type of film requires printing on photosensitive paper that reverses the colours back into their natural state or scanning and inverting them using computer software.
Slide film, also known as reversal or positive film has all the colours looking natural immediately after development. This type of film was created to be projected on a screen (which wouldn’t work with negative film). The projection was useful for creating slide show presentations of yesteryear, as well as for screening movies.
You may be able to process regular colour and monochrome film as a slide film to create slides; however, your results may not look ideal.
Like colour negative film (C-41), modern slide film has a standardized development process, referred to as E-6. Unfortunately, not all labs can develop slide film; thus, it’s important to check with them before sending in your rolls. You may cross-process your slide film in C-41 chemicals to create negatives, though the results, again, may lack clarity, sharpness, and colour accuracy intended by the manufacturer.
Exposing Ektachrome E100: easy metering with a wide dynamic range slide film.
Slide films are notorious for their narrow dynamic range. As a result, they are typically less forgiving of exposure mistakes and can easily be ruined when used carelessly in scenes with high contrast.
Ektachrome E100 provides a huge improvement in dynamic range and latitude over other ISO 100 slide films. While the likes of Velvia 100F would punish the photographer for exposure mistakes and may become useless under bright light, Ektachrome prevails with a versatility almost comparable to negative film.
When Ektachrome overexposes or loses detail in the shadows, it does so gradually and gracefully. There is no banding as you’d expect from a digital camera, and with a good scanner, a lot can be restored from underexposed areas.
The film characteristics curves (Figure 1) for Ektachrome E100 confirm and explain the film’s exposure versatility. Found on the Kodak Alaris website, the graph suggests about 1.5 lux-seconds of optimal exposure. This converts to 5 stops of effective dynamic range. Compare that to Fujichrome Velvia 100F’s graph that plots to about 1.0 lux-seconds, yielding just over 3 stops of effective dynamic range.
Scanning Ektachrome E100.
Scanning slide film is much easier than scanning negatives. Your developed emulsion is the master image that has all the “pure tones” it was able to capture from your scene. To take advantage of that and for the best/most accurate results, I disable all automatic colour correction on my scanner to get as accurate of a digital reproduction as possible.
However, in some situations, particularly in underexposed regions, your Ektachrome scans may show fogging and colour shifts. This may be an appealing effect for some, but if you’d like to restore your colours and clarity to their full potential, there’s a simple method that will not add or take anything away from your image.
Histogram equalization is a method that involves removing nose/fog from your scan without altering any of its original properties. While colour-correcting may change the image’s key attributes, histogram equalization does not do anything of the sort. Here’s how you can perform it:
In Adobe Photoshop — or any image editing software that has Curves or Histogram tool — select an individual colour channel, i.e., red. Then, move the Input/Output thresholds on the graph to match the points where the histogram terminates (see: Figure 2). Repeat the process for blue and green channels. Your resulting image should now have improved clarity and a much better colour rendition. For more details, see this article.
In my experience, histogram equalization was only necessary for some of the frames, particularly if the entire scene was underexposed.
Grain structure, resolution, and sharpness.
Ektachrome E100 is one of the sharpest modern colour emulsions. The film resolves at an RMS granularity of 8, the same as Fujichrome Provia 100F but significantly finer than Fujichrome Provia 400F’s RMS 13.
A good lens combined with a good scanner can produce lots of detail with this film, far beyond most digital publishing requirements. The grain is virtually absent in medium format and sheet film on most enlargements.
Whit this kind of grain resolution, you can safely create 40MP (or greater) scans from 35mm Ektachrome frames — if your scanner has that capacity.
As long as the film is exposed correctly in daylight, Ektachrome generally renders scenes very closely to how they would appear to the eye. However, overexposures and bright spots may shift towards cooler tones and shadows may shift towards warmer tones.
Ektachrome E100 is versatile enough to be suitable for landscape, street, and portrait photography; it requires minimal to no colour correction, which means fast, natural-looking results out-of-the-box.
The only type of texture I found Ektachrome struggling with is the snow. The film tends to render shadows on its icy landscapes as blue, which, although present in the actual scene, aren’t nearly as colourful. It is quite difficult to correct this issue digitally since warming up the image would cause colour shifts in parts that aren’t affected.
✪ Note: This tends to be the case with many slide film emulsions; even colour negatives may struggle with bright snow renditions.
Specs and development.
Other than resolution, dynamic range, and accurate colour rendition, Ektachrome E100 has a few modern features no other film can claim. One that stood out to me immediately after reading the spec sheet is its 80+ year storage stability in a fridge.
The transparency also features a clear base (low D-min) for “whiter, brighter whites.” This is relevant for projection and getting better results with initial scans — although the histogram equalization technique, outlined above, should take care of any fogging either way.
The film also has fantastic reciprocity failure stats: according to the spec sheet, E100 can be safely exposed at shutter speeds anywhere between 1/10,000 to 10 seconds with no changes to exposure times.
This film can be push- and pull-processed. In his review of the 4x5 Ektachrome format, Mark Darragh found that pushing tends to somewhat muddy the colours while pull-processing gave excellent results. He also noticed that the reciprocity failure handling by the emulsion is indeed excellent; he only added 1/2 stops to his 2-min exposures for optimal results.
KODAK PROFESSIONAL EKTACHROME Film E100 delivers extremely fine grain (rms 8), a low D-min for whiter, brighter whites, and features moderately enhanced color saturation with a neutral color balance and a low contrast tone scale. This film is designed for exposure with daylight or electronic flash.
— Kodak Alaris.
Where to buy Ektachrome E100 film.
The still-ongoing pandemic and the shortage of raw materials have put film manufacturers in a bit of a squeeze this year. Still, the film is being actively produced and could be bought fresh from most retailers that stock it. Given its extended shelf life, there’s no reason to shun from buying rolls with older production dates.
When it comes to price, my market research suggests that you can get a better deal with Ektachrome E100 than most other slide film emulsions. While this may change as Kodak has recently announced a significant price hike, this is yet to be seen as manufacturers’ costs do not translate to retailers’ price increases one-to-one. The best way to be aware of these trends is to subscribe to my semi-annual newsletter specifically on this topic.
❤ Please consider making your Kodak Ektachrome E100 film purchase using this link so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!