If you're looking for the best film for your film camera, you're in the right place. We've rounded up the best 35mm film, roll film for medium format cameras, and sheet film for large format cameras to help you get back to basics and enjoy the analog revolution.
Film photography has been enjoying a resurgence in recent years, with both seasoned film shooters and curious digital natives looking to explore the magic of analog photography. While it's impossible to argue that digital cameras don't offer better clarity, detail and ease-of-use, that's not why film photography has become so popular once more.
When technologies such as Animal Eye AF can automatically lock onto an animal's eye for tack-sharp wildlife shots, or when medium format cameras can offer a staggering 102MP sensor, sometimes being able to go back to basics and enjoy the tactile physicality of film photography is a treat in itself.
From winding on your film to hearing the satisfying clunk of the mechanical shutter button, there's plenty to enjoy about the analog experience. However, with so many different types of film out there, how can you be sure that you'll be using the best film for you? Not only do you have to contend with different sizes (135 vs 120, etc.), but each film will have a different aesthetic too, with variances in color, contrast and more (think of it as instant color grading within your camera).
Whether you shoot with a 35mm camera (equivalent to a full frame camera in digital photography terms), a medium format camera or even a large format camera, we've rounded up the best films you can buy for each type. From old classics to newer and more experimental artisan film, there's plenty for you to choose from.
So, what film types are out there, what film cameras are supported and what should you look for?
What types of film can you get?
We can split film into three principal types: color negative film, black and white negative film and transparency (slide film).
Color negative film is one of the most popular types of film, commonly available from everywhere from specialist camera shops to Amazon. It's particularly useful when digitizing film, as it's relatively easy to handle the orange mask and negative tones of color negatives. This type of film is developed using the C-41 process available in labs everywhere.
Black and white negative film is pretty popular among film enthusiasts – especially film photography students. This is partly because black & white film can be easily developed and processed at home (whereas, while you can technically process color film at home, it's a much more involved process involving monitoring temperatures). However, film can almost be thought of as synonymous with black & white photography, as the rich tones make the mono effect truly pop.
Transparency film or slide film used to be a favorite option for professionals, as there wasn't an intermediate printing stage to lower the quality and add to the cost. You could also easily send off slides to editors and picture libraries. However, this isn't such a popular option now and the range of transparency films is a little more limited than it used to be. All slide film is developed using the E-6 process that's widely availably in labs.
What types of film camera are there?
You can read our massive Best film cameras in 2021 guide to find out, but broadly they split into three types: 35mm, medium format and large format cameras. 35mm cameras are the most common, so that's what we'll start with, but medium format cameras are popular too as they offer better quality from their larger negatives and easier high-quality scanning with a flatbed scanner.
Large format cameras are specialized tools used by particularly dedicated photographers. The cameras are large, expensive and complex to set up. Film is supplied in sheets and has to be pre-loaded into holders for swapping plates out in the field. Every exposure is an occasion, but that's part of the charm (that and the extraordinary image quality) for large format camera fans.
Best 35mm film
This guide doesn't cover every 35mm film on the market because there are way too many, even now, but it does list old favorites, top choices for different types of photography and even some quirky newcomers. We've split them into color negative, black and white and color transparency films. By the way, 35mm film is often referred to as '135' followed by the number of exposures.
35mm color negative film
Portra 400 film has gained a passionate following amongst the film community thanks to its flexibility when shooting in different lighting conditions and its beautifully rendered grain and colors. The only downside with Kodak Portra 400 is that it's only sold in packs of three or five, so you can't officially buy a single roll to experiment with (although you might be able to find single rolls on eBay, be warned that they will have been taken out of their official packaging). However, it's such a good quality film that we can almost guarantee you won't be disappointed.
Kodak claims the world's finest grain for a color negative film, thanks to its T-Grain technology. This film also boasts high saturation and sharpness, and Kodak says it's ideal for scanning and enlarging. Its rendition looks ideal for commercial and landscape photography, and it's cheaper than shooting transparency film.
Kodak says Portra 160 is designed with fine grain for scanning and enlargement in a digital workflow. It's one of three films in the Portra family (there are Portra 400 and 800 variants too) and it's designed for smooth and natural skintones, and for a variety of work from portraits and fashion to commercial photography.
This film is designed for versatility and reliability, so if you're shooting wedding, portrait or fashion photography in quickly changing conditions, it could be worth the trade-off in image quality You can expect to see noticeably more grain than with slower emulsions, though this may actually enhance the 'analog' feel.
35mm black and white film
Ilford's XP1 'chromogenic' film caused quite a stir when it first appeared, offering black and white photographers the exposure latitude and easy lab processing of colour negative film, with smoother, finer grain than other ISO 400 mono films. The updated XP2S is still an interesting option for 35mm black and white fans who like latitude and not grain!
What can you say about Kodak Tri-X? Made famous by a generation of documentary and war photographers, it's pretty tolerant of exposure variations and push/pull processing and produces strong gritty images with good detail rendition. Maybe a bit rough-and-ready for today's tastes, but it still has 'the look'.
Ilford's latest version of its classic fast film, which can be developed in traditional black-and-white chemistry. It is a great all-round film, suitable to those who just want to try monochrome – or for those who are looking for a film that will respond well to push processing for lowlight use.
Lomography is one of the main driving forces behind the film photography revival. And as well as producing its own range of beautifully-designed Lomo cameras, it also has a range of films too. This black-and-white film has been given a twist with imaginative branding – and is sold in three-roll packs.
35mm transparency film
Velvia has gained a reputation as the world's richest, most super-saturated and sharpest color transparency film ever. Kodachrome used to carry that crown, but it looks positively restrained by comparison. Not everyone loves Velvia 50's strong colors and contrasts, but it's now gained immortality among Fujifilm's digital Film Simulation modes.
Velvia 100 arrived as Velvia 50's more responsible, more usable sibling. It's one f-stop faster, which makes it a fraction easier to use if the light's not good, and the colors are perhaps a bit more natural-looking than Velvia 50's, but there's not much in it. Both films use widely-available E-6 processing, unlike the other old favourite, Kodachrome.
This film has just been revived by Kodak (the new Kodak film-making spin-off following the break-up of the old company). It offers the same ISO rating as Velvia 100, but you might find it has slightly less exaggerated colors. It uses the same generic E-6 transparency processing chemistry, though, so getting your films developed shouldn't be a problem.
More film photography buyers' guides:
• The best 120 roll film
• The best sheet film
• Best film cameras in 2021
• The best film scanners in 2021
• Best darkroom equipment: photo enlargers, film tanks, trays ...