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What Film Should I Use: Print or Slide?

It's hard to answer this question when phrased so broadly.  What film you choose depends on what sort of camera setup you have, what sort of results you want, whether you want prints or not, what types of photos you're going after, where you're diving, etc.    I'll try to present a short list of the choices, along with descriptions of what each one is good for.

Film Pro Con Typical Use
Slide film ("E-6")
  • Fantastic color saturation
  • typically low grain,
  • easy & cheap to process so you find it at many remote dive locations
  • You see the film directly, making it easy to detect exposure mistakes
  • Less exposure latitude than print film, so you have to be dead-on with exposure.   Mistakes easier to detect.
  • Fewer choices in terms of film speeds
  • Prints from slides are expensive
  • Professionals and "serious amateurs"
  • Nikonos V and/or housed SLR cameras
Print Film ("C-41")
  • Plenty of exposure latitude means you can make huge mistakes in exposure and still get a usable print
  • Lots of choices of speeds
  • Prints are part of the bargain, and cheap to re-print.
  • Unusual to find C-41 processing at dive sites or on dive boats
  • Color saturation not nearly as good as slide film
  • Snapshot cameras
  • Share prints with friends
  • Learning the basics

The choice of "print vs. slide" film is a tough one.  If you are an experienced photographer, you're probably going to pick slide film because it can be processed on-site and because you want the bright snappy colors.

On the other hand, if you are just starting out, print film will give you a higher percentage of usable shots while you are learning.  This is good while you learn composition, but not so good if you want to learn how to get good exposures.  Print film tends to mask exposure errors because it is so forgiving.  That means that you might be making exposure mistakes and never know it.  If you really want to learn how to get spot-on exposures, you have to use slide film.

Print film is designed for prints (duh).  If you want to share vacation photos with friends, print film is a good way to go.  But if all you want is the occasional print to hang on your wall, slide film gets better color, and you can have "Ilfochrome" prints made from your slides.

Now that you've heard the pros and cons, I'll give you my personal opinion on the issue.  If you're a snapshot camera user, print film is really your only choice.   Slide film, if exposed less-than-perfectly, gives pretty bad results.  You can sweep a lot of mistakes under the rug using print film.  Since the whole goal of snapshot photography is to have fun and not think about the mechanics of taking pictures, print film is the way to go.  However, if you're using an Sea & Sea MotorMarine II, a Nikonos V, or a housed system, you might want to give serious consideration to using slide film.  Sure, you will have technical problems at first, but you can learn your way around those.  In the long run, slide film will give you more pleasing results.   Also, given that you have chosen to go with a more complicated camera system, it's a good bet that you're willing to learn how to use the camera properly, so slide film should not present an insurmountable challenge--as long as you examine your slides critically, recognize the problems, and learn from your mistakes.

Film Brands

Here are a few common print and slide films, and what each one is good for.  The topic of which film brand and type to use is so personal and fractious that I don't want to get into making recommendations.  This table is just my personal take on things.

Film Type Speed Comments Typical Use
Kodak Royal Gold Print 100,200,400 My favorite all-around print film.  Good color saturation, accurate colors, fine grain.  Note that "Gold" film is not the same as "Royal Gold." All-purpose
Fuji Reala Print 100,?? Fuji's answer to Royal Gold.  Colors are a bit off for my taste, but great saturation and grain All-purpose
Agfa Ultra Print 50 Extreme color saturation, very close to slide film. Too green for everyday use, but underwater it works pretty well.  If you shoot macro with print film, this is what I would use. Macro
Kodak E100VS Slide 100 Kodak's answer to Velvia (see below): good grain (although not as good as Velvia), great eye-popping color.  Double the speed of Velvia is nice.  My favorite uw film these days. All-purpose
Kodachrome Slide 64, 25 Long the macro-photographer's stand-by, but I just don't like this film.   Awesome grain, but too orange for me. Macro
Fuji Velvia Slide 50 The most popular underwater film for years.  Awesome color, but some people feel it is too much.  Labeled "disneychrome" by its detractors.   Finest grain of any slide film (until recently; see below).  ISO 50 sounds low, but the truth is that many people shoot it at 40 ! Macro
Fuji Sensia/
Slide 100,200,400 Provia is the "pro" version of Sensia II.  Buy Sensia and save the money.  Good color, but film is too blue to use on land.  Good underwater.  Many people (myself included) feel this film's 100 rating is optimistic and shoot it at ISO 80. All-purpose
Fuji Astia Slide 100 Fuji's most accurate slide film, color-wise, but it's too cold for my tastes.  Nice sharp images, but everything comes off feeling a bit too hard for me. All-purpose
Fuji Provia F Slide


Fuji's newest film, and a very exciting offering. The 'F' stands for "Fine Grain," which is the hallmark of this film. It has the finest grain of any slide film currently on the market, even better than Velvia. Very similar to the original Provia in color response, which is to say "very blue." Good saturation, although less than Velvia. IMO more realistic than Velvia. Excellent choice for macro shots due to fine grain. Also good for WA due to great blue response. All-purpose

If I were going to put two types of film in my bag, those two would be Kodak Royal Gold 200 and Kodak E100VS.  If I could have two more, Agfa Ultra 50 and Velvia would get the nod. I used to be a Fuji fan, but these latest offerings from Kodak have changed my mind.  Now we'll see what Fuji does by way of competition.


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