By Curtis Joe Walker
Kodak has reintroduced its Ektar film after an 11-year hiatus. The new film is rated at ISO 100 and sets out to be the finest grained color negative film on the market while complementing their existing Portra line. Film has become a specialty area for professional photographers, causing the arguably untimely demise of many popular emulsions. With this film, Kodak is striving to bridge the gap between analog and digital by creating a film ideal for scanning. In addition to the fine grain, Kodak has engineered the film to be more saturated while maintaining similar contrast and sharpness as their VC films. Kodak developed the film with nature, travel, fashion and product photographers in mind.
Any time a new film comes out, it's a good idea to test it under a variety of lighting conditions. For these tests, the film was run through a Lomo Fisheye and a Nikon F3 with Lensbaby 3G and Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 lenses. Scanning was done with a Nikon Super CoolScan 5000ED film scanner with GEM and ROC (grain reduction and color enhancement) disabled to better illustrate the raw grain structure and color characteristics of the film. Some color correction was applied as needed as most of the images recorded slightly blue.
Click images for larger view. All photos ©Curtis Walker
Nikon F3, Lensbaby 3G, f/2
This first image was taken inside an atrium with mixed sunlight and tungsten lighting. The first thing to notice is the vivid color saturation without blocking up in the reds. At 100% zoom, grain is smooth and details are only as soft as they are because of the characteristics of the Lensbaby.
Nikon F3, Lensbaby 3G, f/8
Here we have a photo of Las Vegas's Fremont East district in the afternoon with mixed sunlight and shade. Dynamic range is pleasing and the colors are realistically vibrant, but not over the top. Grain is a bit more evident at 100%, but still incredibly smooth.
This toy camera image shows off the strength of the film, even when paired with the most rudimentary of cameras. The sharpness of the grain helps maintain the integrity of the image despite the chromatic aberrations and defects that the camera is renowned for. At 100%, the limitations of the focus-free lens are evident, but the film is doing its job perfectly.
Nikon F3, Nikkor 50mm, f/16
Under studio strobes, the film does very well, again showing its strength in dynamic range and grain. At 100% the smooth transition from highlight to shadow areas shows this off nicely.
Nikon F3, Nikkor 50mm, f/1.4
Night photography under a cocktail of color temperatures and light sources can be disappointing with daylight balanced film, but it's a good opportunity to look at the color saturation of the film. Dark areas are suitably dark, but with detail in the shadow areas.
Other reviewers have suggested that the speed rating of the film is a bit fast, but in these tests exposure seemed to be just fine at the rated ISO 100 speed. The finely textured grain visible at 100% enlargement melted away with the lowest setting of GEM. It's nice to see Kodak continuing to refine their emulsions, and they've just announced the upcoming April 2009 release of Kodak Professional Ektar 100 in 120-size roll film for medium-format shooters. Look for an upcoming evaluation in Web Exclusives.
Kodak seems to be targeting photographers who love Fujifilm Velvia 50, but who want the extra latitude negative film provides while still maintaining the fine grained attributes of the slower film. Many photographers will welcome the ability to process and proof film cheaper and faster through local C-41 labs as E-6 processing becomes harder to locate. For photographers with specialty 35mm cameras or a love of traditional photography, Ektar 100 is a welcome addition to the rapidly shrinking world of film.
More information, including the technical publication, can be found at Kodak's website