Slide Film: What Makes It Different?

Recently, I have dabbled in a new type of film. That’s right, I cheated on Kodak Portra. After interviewing film photographer Kevin Grall and seeing his slide film work, I knew I had to try it. People have been telling me for ages to give it a go but the price and nervousness of being a first timer hindered me in doing so.

I used a roll of old Ektachrome given to Andrew and I by his photography professor. As of 2012, Kodak had discontinued all of their slide film. Receiving this awesome film seemed to me like a good omen and I decided it was time. So what is it exactly?  A normal roll of film is seen as a negative when processed, a reversed image. This is because of the darkroom process of printing. To be transferred to photo paper, the image has to be originally reversed to transfer correctly. Slide film, or reversal film, is a positive as soon as it is processed. So the image is produced as a positive on a transparent base. Kinda looks like a mini photo when it’s finished.

Why? Well slide film is intended for the use of projectors. Those crazy little machines that your teachers used pre-the year 2000 to educate you visually on various subjects. The light is shown underneath the slide and the projector, well projects, it up onto a screen making the little image big.

Slide film projector showing a slide.

Slide film projector showing a slide.

The website, Guide To Film Photography, states that,

Color reversal film, or commonly called slide film, creates the opposite of color negative filmor black and white film. Instead of creating a negative to be printed to a positive, the slide film is a positive of the image. As such, the slide film produces extremely rich and vibrant colors that come closer to the actual colors and tones present during exposure. Alternatively, slide film is not nearly as flexible as color negative or black and white film. Exposure must be precise and areas of high contrast are much more difficult to properly expose with slide film. Slides can be printed in the darkroom, but the process is generally more expensive.

As the name reversal suggests, slide film works the opposite of print film. In print film the red, green, and blue emulsion layers are exposed and leave a negative dye of cyan, magenta, and yellow. Slide film is a subtractive process that starts with layers of cyan, magenta, and yellow. When the film is exposed, the dye is subtracted to reveal red, green, and blue colors. Thus, when processed the film reveals the actual, positive, colors of the image.

Pretty interesting right? I supposed you’re ready for some examples!

Posted by Flickr user, Lalitree. Check out their work by clicking the photo.

Posted by Flickr user, Lalitree. Check out their work by clicking the photo.

Posted by Flickr user Kent Johnson. Check out his work by clicking on the photo.

Posted by Flickr user Kent Johnson. Check out his work by clicking on the photo.

Posted by Flickr user Vox Photo. Please check out his work by clicking on the photo!

Posted by Flickr user Vox Photo. Please check out his work by clicking on the photo!

So pretty! I had mine processed and mounted (put in the little squares) for $14. I have yet to scan them into photos for the web, so I settled for taking a few quick photos with my iPhone.

Ducks at the reservoir. Ektachrome.

Ducks at the reservoir. Ektachrome.

Reservoir stream. Ektachrome.

Reservoir stream. Ektachrome.

They aren’t super exciting (but pretty!), it was my first try at it so I wanted to do a test run and see if I could do it. Turns out I can! Slide film doesn’t give you a lot of leeway like regular film does. If you over or under expose normally, the photo still looks somewhat ok. With slide film, if your exposure isn’t right on point then it’s ruined. Turns out it wasn’t as hard as I thought.

If you wanted to try this out yourself, I recommend using Fuji Velvia 50 since Kodak is discontinued. You can always shop around on eBay or Amazon for people selling expired rolls.

Please don’t hesitate to send me what you come up with!

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

10 thoughts on “Slide Film: What Makes It Different?

  1. Chrome also tends to have a higher native contrast index and when slightly underexposed becomes generally more saturated than negative film. It used to be the standard for publishing reproduction before digital was a thing.

    I really learned exposure on chrome. Not only did it teach me precision, but also with it’s higher contrast taught me how to make critical decisions in addressing subject, how to deal with the limitations of the material, and how to get creative effects of over and under expose. (like how to compose shadows graphically with the intent of blocking them up)

    • Ahh yes good point. It’s definitely taught me to be more on point with exposing. It really makes a huge difference. I’ve shot another roll and plan to shoot yet another, so we’ll see how those turn out before I try to start doing fancy stuff.

      • I’ve been shooting slide film for over 50 years, way before digital was even thought of. I can retrieve those slide images faster than today’s computers can bring up a file! At fifty years of age my slides look as good today as they did when created. 50 years from now, where will your digital images be? Will they be unusable along with a computer system that has been obsolete for so long that you will never see those treasured memories of your family ever again. So much for modern technology. SHOOT FILM!!! You wont regret it. Bill.

  2. You did a good job explaining what olpharts like me used to take for granted not all that long ago. I haven’t had the occasion to shoot any chrome for at least 2 decades. How does the Fuji compare with the old Kodak Ektachrome and Kodachrome? I never exactly understood how Kodachrome worked…it was essentially a black and white film with what were called “dye couplers” and supposedly it worked on the same principal as dye transfer printing. Maybe somebody could explain it. I’d be interested in adding it to my vast storehouse of useless and obsolete knowledge.
    Like you, for work, I shoot digital, now, due to workflow and deadline constraints. Our newspaper office used to be filled with equipment, a linotype, printing presses and a 2 station darkroom etc. Now, two desks with desktop computers sit in a mostly vacant and cavernous building….and I seldom go to the office…my editor emails various assignments and I email the work back to her knowing we both miss the old days.

    I think you rock and you would have really thrived and enjoyed it all back then.

    • Ahh yes! I go to Towson U for journalism and a man who works for NPR came to visit. I told him I was a photojournalist and we ended up talking and he told me that when he was a student here, in 1990, they had a darkroom in the journalism department and that he was required to take a basic film course. Now film is hardly even a part of their photography curriculum! I would have loved to have been a photojournalist back in the 60’s or 70’s. Even 80’s or 90’s actually. I think the old darkroom is now an equipment rental space.

      I think Fuji Velvia 50 is a lot more vibrant from the comparisons that I have noticed. I haven’t seen any Kodachrome in ages and to be honest I have no idea how it works! I find the strange chemistry of film is a lot more fascinating than digital, even though digital is the “industry breakthrough” apparently.

      and thanks 🙂 !

  3. Love using film, I have a digital camera as well but I’m using more of the film especially since I discovered slide film. I use mostly medium format a lot of fun!

  4. I’d add that with Ferrania starting to make slide film by the end of the year, we’ll all have another choice! Personally I find Velvia 50 a bit too wild to use for people, but it definitely does the trick on landscapes, that’s for sure. You really have to NAIL that exposure though. I prefer Provia 100F at the moment, it seems to be usable for any situation and is just a bit more forgiving. Have you shot Velvia 100 at all?

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