SantaColor 100 a.k.a. Kodak Aerocolor IV Film Review

a.k.a. Luminar 100 a.k.a. Film Electra 100 a.k.a. Film Washi X

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SantaColor 100 is Kodak Aerocolor IV 2460 — a fine-grained medium contrast colour negative film in 35mm, packaged in recycled cardboard boxes.

This new/freshly-produced colour film became available for still photographers recently (late 2022 — early 2023) along with a few others to address the colour film shortage.

Respooled or white-labelled films — some of which I reviewed on this website — are slightly controversial. The transparency with which CineStill marketed its 800T product (Kodak Vision 3 5219) is uncommon in the world of film brands.

Many photographers offer guesses for who made what that range from plausible to outrageous (i.e., “Fujifilm sells rebranded Kodak and Ilford emulsions.”) The curiosity of the consumer and the desire of the businesses to protect their sources and brand are understandable. I prefer openness and acknowledgement as that would help me unequivocally link the film to the technical data sheet from the original manufacturer. I use that document to better understand the dynamic range, sensitivity, resolution, and any special features of the film.

Thankfully, the makers of SantaColor 100 disclosed just enough information for me to feel comfortable linking their product to Kodak Aerocolor IV 2460, an areal surveillance film that’s still in production. Furthermore, I am assuming that the following new film brands use the same exact emulsion: Luminar 100, Film Electra 100, and Film Washi X.

To be clear: only Luminar 100 and Film Electra 100 directly name their source emulsion, Kodak Aerocolor IV 2460. But given this film’s unique look, a uniquely clear-ish film base, and the brands’ passing mentions of a colour surveillance film manufacturer with a box speed of ISO 100, it’s reasonable to assume that all film brands mentioned above use the same emulsion.

Film packaging.

The contents of the variously-named 35mm film canisters may be the same, but their packaging is not.

SantaColor 100 is the lightest, smallest, and least material-intensive packaging I’ve seen so far, second only to no packaging at all. Constructed out of light-weight recycled cardboard only, there are no plastic tubs in the boxes that are lighter and occupy less space than the typical 5-film bricks. Even the box the film packs arrived in had no plastic and could be safely and efficiently recycled.

New Classic EZ 400 is another film sold with 40% less plastic in packaging. Their solution yields durable and reusable cardboard canisters, whereas SantaColor’s boxes use less material.

You may have also noticed SantaColor 100’s straight-cut film leader — instead of the curved cut-outs you’ll see sticking out of most 35mm film canisters — an evidence of the team’s manual effort to package film that isn’t compatible with machines due to its unusually-thin base.

No DX-coding, spooled on recycled canisters.

Kodak Aerocolor IV: why it exists?

Kodak Aerocolor IV 2460 is still made fresh. However, it’s only sold in bulk. According to Camera Rescue’s IndieGoGo page for SantaColor 100, the minimum order is equivalent to 15,000 rolls of 35mm.

Brooklyn Film Camera suggested that the demand for this film’s technical applications remained sufficient for production for years, despite the modern, seemingly superior alternatives. In their video review, BFC suggested that the cost of upgrades still outstrips the price of development.

Kodak Aerocolor IV Negative Film 2460 is for general use in medium- to high-altitude aerial-mapping and aerial-reconnaissance photography. It is suited for geological, pollution, archeological, crop and forestry studies; traffic control; city planning; railway, highway, and hydraulic engineering; oceanography; and remote sensing, as well as other areas where photogrammetry is used. It is also well suited and recommended for use in digital film recorders.

from Kodak Aerocolor IV technical datasheet.

Grain structure, resolution, and sharpness.

SantaColor’s grain is quite noticeable, particularly when scanned well and displayed on large screens or in print. It becomes more prominent in the shadows or when the film is under-exposed.

SantaColor 100/Aerocolor IV with Olympus Mju I.

But when an adequate amount of light is given to the emulsion, the fuzziness goes away. The grain that remains is sharp, which may still look distracting in some cases, though for the most part, it works well by adding legibility to text and fine image detail.

Kodak’s datasheet for Aerocolor IV lists its granularity value at RMS 8.5 — when exposed at EI 80 and developed in C-41 for 3:15 at 38℃. This implies that SantaColor’s grain is exceptionally fine and carries more information than the famously-detailed Fujifilm Velvia 50.

The samples suggest otherwise, and Kodak’s updated Print Grain Index would probably side with me in that SantaColor 100 is not as fine-grained as Velvia 50.

SantaColor 100/Aerocolor IV with Olympus Mju I.

Dynamic range.

I was pleasantly surprised at how well SantaColor 100 renders high-contrast scenes.

The samples I had when it was first announced looked contrasty, which made me think it may have a limited dynamic range. But to my delight, Aerocolor IV offers plenty of latitude for scenes with high contrast, such as backlit objects where the range could be 12 stops or more.

According to the film characteristic curves, there are ~three lux-seconds or nine stops of dynamic range in Aerochrome IV when developed for medium contrast.

SantaColor 100/Aerocolor IV with Olympus Mju I. Some halation around celluar antennas on the roof of the building.

Scanning SantaColor 100/Aerocolor IV.

Aerocolor IV does not have an orange mask. As a result, it looks more transparent than other colour negatives; this can sometimes trip up automatic colour correction, yielding blue or yellow colour casts.

With the right software or a deliberate approach, Aerocolor’s lack of an orange mask can also improve colour accuracy and consistency:

Since this film does not have integral color masking, direct interpretation can be made from the negative. Objects are recorded in colors complementary to their natural colors.

In the datasheet for Aerocolor IV, Kodak writes that to get the intended colours, the negative can be simply inverted. Unfortunately, this is not the case with other colour negative films, as inverting is not enough — to get rid of the heavy blue cast, you’ll also need to equalize and colour-correct the image.

Note: I use this method to scan all film for my reviews. It creates consistent results that make understanding and comparing the emulsion’s colour/contrast attributes possible.

In other words, if scanned properly, you may skip the colour correction step and get results as intended by the emulsion — no colour casts!

Note the orange mask on this roll of freshly-developed CineStill 400D colour negative film. Aerocolor IV does not have this property.

Removing the colour-correction step from the process improves the colour consistency across all shots made on this film as we no longer rely on human colour interpretation. The same goes for automated colour manipulation that can produce variable results based on exposure, image position, and other unknown factors.

Whatever your scanning process is, you will get consistent results.

If you’ve noticed that your scans appear to have a cast, you can invert your digital negatives by hand with relative ease.

Aerocolor IV’s direct colour interpretation is possible thanks to its clear base, which also allows it to be cross-processed in E-6 chemistry. Unfortunately, the quality of Aerocolor slides isn’t great according to some tests I’ve seen (there is some blue cast); Kodak also does not suggest doing this.

Due to its unusually-thin base (0.132mm), lack of markings, and texture, SantaColor 100 can be frustrating to scan. It dries very flat, which is nice for achieving; however, it can be impossible to tell the emulsion side:

Other films will give you a hint as to which way to put the film into your scanner by showing letters and numbers in the margins that you can use to identify the emulsion side (they will appear normal, not mirrored). Most will appear shinier on the emulsion side or curl away from it. SantaColor looks identical no matter how you hold it; in practice, I had to rely on memory and the lettering, if present. Although you may be able to reverse your frames digitally if you’ve noticed that you’ve scanned them wrong-side-up — the film base is so thin there may be no difference between either side in scanning resolution and fog level.

SantaColor 100/Aerocolor IV colours.

The SantaColor 100/Aerocolor IV scans in this article are all colour correction-free. They are direct, equalized inversions of the negatives. The colours may still vary slightly depending on the scanner hardware (I used PrimeFilm XAs), your device, and image compression — but not as much as with other films that rely on human or machine interpretation.

That said, expect your film to show medium-low contrast and extra emphasis on reds, as the rest of the colours appear natural with a tendency to cool in the highlights and warm up in the shadows.

SantaColor 100/Aerocolor IV with Olympus Mju I.
SantaColor 100/Aerocolor IV with Olympus Mju I.
DeleteResizeSantaColor 100/Aerocolor IV with Olympus Mju I.

Another advantage of the mask-less negative is the white balance across the frame, including shadows. Most colour negative film turns blue, teal or purple in under-exposed areas after scanning. Aerocolor IV retains its white balance a lot better, with only a slight bias towards the greens that’s much easier to fix in post.

DeleteResizeSantaColor 100/Aerocolor IV with Olympus Mju I.
DeleteResizeSantaColor 100/Aerocolor IV with Olympus Mju I.

Exposure guide.

Some reviews refer to this film as Aerocolor 125 since that’s a box-speed ISO suggested by Kodak. I may be splitting hairs by quoting the producer here warning against using this value:

Aerial Film Speeds (EAFS or ISO A equivalent) should not be confused with conventional film speeds, which are designed for roll and sheet films used in pictorial photography. The characteristics of aerial scenes differ markedly from those of ordinary pictorial or ground scenes because of the smaller range in subject luminance, atmospheric haze conditions, and other factors. Therefore, different film-speed parameters are used to relate aerial-scene characteristics to practical exposure recommendations.

Still, I think they are correct in that this film looks best when shot at ISO 100 or even ISO 50. This slight possible over-exposure reduces contrast, generates finer grain, and lessens noise in the shadows.

SantaColor 100/Aerocolor IV with Olympus Mju I.

SantaColor 100 comes with no DX code on the canister; thus, you’ll need to set it manually. Most cameras that require DX codes default to ISO 100, which works out great for this film.

Aerocolor IV works well with high-speed photography. No reciprocity adjustments are needed for shutter speeds between 1⁄10,000s to 1⁄10s. However, there’s no chart for longer exposure times; thus, you’ll need to experiment if you plan to do night photography.

SantaColor/Aerocolor IV should also respond well to push-development up to ISO 800 with some increases to contrast.

Given this film’s fantastic dynamic range, you should be able to get good results in most situations, even if your metering isn’t perfect.

How much do Aerocolor IV films cost, and where to buy them.

If you want to buy this film in bulk, prepare to dish out about $150,000 directly to Kodak. Thankfully, there’s no need to do this as the above-mentioned brands have done that and the difficult job of spooling it into film canisters for you. As of this writing, the prices range from $15 to $25 per roll of 35mm Aerocolor IV. You can find them all at this link.

By the way: Please consider making your SantaColor 100/Aerocolor IV/Luminar 100/Film Electra 100/Film Washi X film purchase using this link so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!