Kodak 120 Ektar at rated 100
Sunrise on the Adobe Town Rim, Red Desert, Wyoming - Kodak Ektar
I've been shooting a good bit of Ektar lately. At first it was a bit of a novelty - just to try something different than the Fuji chrome films I've become so used to working with. Provia and Velvia are staples. But in the quest to further define my photographic vision I've been doing a lot of experimentation.
One of the pleasant surprises is the reduced cost in development. Less than half of the chrome films. And at similar pricing for the roll from the store, when you start shooting a lot of it, things can add up quickly.
The one and only drawback I've experienced has been re-adjusting my workflow without a meaningful color base to start from. At first I was getting 4x5 proofs from the lab with my negatives, but they really didn't do me much good. In just about every case I'll send film out, then scan the negs I wish to work with here in the studio. I'd supposed the proof was better than nothing, but they kick the cost up substantially and I ended not using their interpreation of the image for anything other than a hard copy for filing purposes. The real image begins to emerge with the 16-bit RGB scan.
Rainy staircase, Galena, Illinois - Kodak Ektar
But-since everything is an interpretation of the original scene, influenced by every step along the way including contrast/color cast bias of the optics, the film batch, the processing, the scan, etc. - I figure hey, I was there... I know what it's supposed to look like. I can take it from here...
If you're going to shoot color film it's extremely important to be able to balance the color precisely how you want it (not how someone else thinks it should be). The overall mood swing of an image can be dramatically affected by very minute changes in color balance. Ektar seems to have tremendous latitude in its ability to reproduce color.
You don't shoot Ektar (or Velvia, for that matter) if you're aim is accurate skin tones and such. For such projects you might struggle with Ektar (though I'm dying to try some portraits with it)... but really, that's what the Portra 160NC is for. NC stands for Natural Color. Ektar is not natural color. On our planet, anyway. But it surely can be wrestled in as conservatively as you care to stick it to the matte. No-Ektar is all about vivid color representation and I don't know about you all, but that's what I want to see in a sunrise or sunset image. Vivid color.
Sunset on old growth forest and wetlands, Iowa River, Iowa - Kodak Ektar
Something else about Ektar I just love is its exposure latitude compared to the Chrome film. The shot above is a great example. If you look at the negative there's barely any information at all contained in the middle trees section. The way Ektar so adeptly handled the soft, subtle transitions of the clouds and mist, retained information in the trees - without chrome noise- didn't blow the sky and essentially contained useable information in just about every millimeter of the frame just blew my mind. My digitals would have given up on this image, even my D3S - as capable as it is. This image used a 2-stop ND Grad for the sky so you still need to shoot well and use your head - Ektar isn't a miracle worker. But if you do shoot well and use good technique, this film is spectacular.
Having the top image drum-scanned (Tango drum scan by West Coast Imaging) really gave it a chance to see what all was there to work with). I actually had to knock the saturation back from the drum scan, once I set my white and black points and tone curve... the raw color that came out of the frame was just a little too intense. But it's there, with no clipping, no noise, waiting to be revealed.
No mention yet of grain. It's simply a non-issue. There is no discernible grain. Not that I'm bothered by the look of film - I love it. But with Ektar, if you're looking for any noticeable grain you're wasting your time.
Now in all fairness, this is 120 Ektar I'm talking about. I've run a few 35mm rolls through my F6 too, but haven't really given it a fair shake. Though I can't imagine the results are much different than the 120 stock this article is focused completely on - using the 6x7 RZ 120 back. And I'm shooting at the rated 100 for now... perhaps that will be the next level of experimentation, to fiddle with speeds and see what happens. Give some a try. If you like vivid color, lower cost at the lab and no discernible grain structure, you're going to love Kodak Ektar.
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