Choosing which is the best film for you can be tricky when there are so many options out there. Not only are there different formats but each film has its own look to it. To make life easier, we've rounded up the best 35mm film, roll film for medium format cameras and sheet film for large format cameras so that you can dive into (or back into) analog photography.
In the last few years, we've seen a resurgence in film photography. No longer is it just seasoned film shooters who are investing in analog camera systems and film. Curious digital shooters are starting to explore the magic film photography offers and have realized that there is an element of surprise to it you just don't get with digital photography.
While the best mirrorless cameras and the best medium format cameras are great pieces of kit offering advanced technologies such as Animal Eye AF, Wifi photo transfer and built-in HDR modes, the ability to view images instantly takes away any excitement. There's something romantic about shooting film, it's a practice that takes a little more thought than digital photography but when you get it right, it's so rewarding.
Analog photography is more physical than digital photography too. You can hear and feel the camera working, from winding on film to hearing the satisfying clunk of the mechanical shutter. There are so many different film cameras to choose from, you'll need to be sure you choose the correct film for your camera. Once you've decided on the right format, you'll also have to think about the aesthetic which varies in color and contrast - its like thinking about which Instagram filter to pick. Some of the best Fujifilm cameras even come with film simulation modes that are based on some of the best known films such as Velvia and Provia.
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.
To see our list of favourite films, click on the format you want below and it will direct you to the correct page.
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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 and is widely available from specialist camera shops and Amazon. The film is developed using a process called C-41 which is available in all labs and is particularly useful for digitizing film as it easily handles the orange mask and negative tones of color negative.
Black and white negative film is often deemed a more arty choice and is popular among film enthusiasts. Black and white film can be easily processed at home which is why film students and anyone who wants to develop themselves might choose to shoot with it. You can develop color film at home but it's a much more involved process.
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
There are so many different 35mm films on the market, there's no way we could cover all of them. We've included some of the most popular ones that have stood the test of time as well as a few quirky newcomers that can completely change the look of your image. We've split the list into three categories: color negative, black and white and color transparency films. 35mm is often referred to as '135' so if you see that number instead, just remember we mean 35mm film!
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.
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 ...