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Film review: Kodak AEROCHROME III Infrared Film (1443)

Kodak AEROCHROME is a pointless film stock and should not be bought, or shot by anyone.

Save your money and go buy some expired Lucky 200 instead.

Palm grove - Kodak AEROCHROME 1443 - ISO400 - Planar 80/2.8 - Orange #21 filter / 120 as 6x6

Palm grove
Kodak AEROCHROME 1443 – ISO400 – Planar 80/2.8 – Orange #21 filter / 120 as 6×6

Are they gone? Good.

Now that the most easily swayed skimmers have left, let me tell the remaining handful of you that I wholeheartedly take that back and implore you to try some AEROCHROME out if you can. You won’t ever shoot anything quite like it and no, the effect cannot be reproduced using filters.

Root about on the Internet and you’ll see many, many, amazing shots taken with this unique film, as well as a number of detailed and informative articles about how you can use it to get the same amazing results.

Squid boat - Kodak AEROCHROME 1443 - ISO200 - Planar 80/2.8 - Orange #21 filter / 120 as 6x4.5

Squid boat
Kodak AEROCHROME 1443 – ISO400 – Planar 80/2.8 – Orange #21 filter / 120 as 6×4.5

If you’ve not come across AEROCHROME before today, then you’re in for a treat. It really is completely unlike anything out there today.

If you’ve landed here after searching other reviews on the Internet, this article is going to be a little different. Pretty much every roll of AEROCHROME in existence expired in late 2011, so you need to be aware that you’re dealing with an expired slide film stock, which was finickity at the best of times while fresh.

In this article I’ll be dealing with the film as it is today and hopefully giving you the benefit of advice that comes from both failure and success. Here’s what’s covered:

 

 

What is it?

For the uninitiated, AEROCHROME was a color infrared-sensitive slide film, originally designed for aerial operations including camouflage detection, forest survey, pollution monitoring, archaeology and ice reconnaissance. Its IR sensitivity was used to highlight buildings, objects, trees, water density and people – especially those under camouflage – by transforming the color of artificial objects, atmospheric pehomenon and fauna based on the signature of reflected infrared light compared against a baseline guide.

It had a rather high IR sensitivity at around 900 nanometers but it was sadly discontinued around 2010. Since then, has been in the hands of many professional and unprofessional shooters (like myself) as (almost) a purely creative film.

Gated entry - Kodak AEROCHROME 1443 - ISO200 - Planar 80/2.8 - Orange #21 filter / 120 as 6x6

Gated entry
Kodak AEROCHROME 1443 – ISO400 – Planar 80/2.8 – Orange #21 filter / 120 as 6×6

It’s difficult to talk about the current availability of AEROCHROME in 120 format without a hat-tip to and mention of  the labours of one man, Dean Bennici, who took it upon himself to find, buy, recut and re-roll every roll and sheet of AEROCHROME in existence. The gentle folk at the Film Photography Project also have bulk loaded AEROCHROME (or Kodak EIR) available in 35mm format but other than those two sources, that’s pretty much it – barring a few 70mm reels and orphaned stock of factory loaded 35mm Kodak EIR, which may be languishing in a freezer or two somewhere.

Here’s what Kodak had to say about it:

KODAK AEROCHROME III Infrared Film 1443 is an infrared-sensitive, false-color reversal film intended for various aerial photographic applications where infrared discriminations may yield practical results. This film has medium resolving power and fine grain. 1443 Film has an ESTAR Base with good optical properties. The ESTAR Base provides flexibility, moisture resistance, high tear resistance, and excellent dimensional stability.

This film can be processed in Process AR-5 using KODAK EA-5 Chemicals…while not a primary recommendation, Processes AN-6 and C-41 can be used to produce a negative. Additionally, it can be processed in rewind equipment or on stainless steel reels.

Kodak AEROCHROME III Infrared Film (1443)
NameAEROCHROME III Infrared Film (1443)
VendorKodak
TypeInfrared color slide (Reversal)
Format35mm, 70mm cut as 120
Speed (ISO)Sea level - 400;
Nominal 0 40 @ 10,000ft
Exposure latitude–-1/2 to +2 stops
Push processingUNTESTED
Cross processingUNTESTED

 

 

What’s it like?

First, left me apologise in advance for the many superlatives you’ll find in the text that follows. I find it incredibly hard not to get very excited about shooting this film.

As mentioned above, this film is expired and whilst some slide films can still be used after years left in a desk drawer, AEROCHROME is a slightly different beast; heat and altitude both affect how you can or cannot use the film.

Canopy - Kodak AEROCHROME 1443 - ISO400 - Planar 80/2.8 - Orange #21 filter / 120 as 6x4.5

Canopy
Kodak AEROCHROME 1443 – ISO400 – Planar 80/2.8 – Orange #21 filter / 120 as 6×4.5

…that said, given a relatively fresh roll and a suitable understanding of how this film behaves, it will still give you truly eye-popping results. I mean it. It’s simply stunning and in my very humble opinion, it’s a film that every dyed-in-the-wool film photographer should shoot at least once in their lifetime.

Once you’ve scoured the Internet and gotten yourself a roll, the question will be what and how to shoot. The simple answer is anything which reflects infrared light, especially foliage. But why stop there? Go to the seaside, get yourself to an urban center. Just. Go. Mad. After all, it’s unlikely that you’ll be shooting another roll any time soon. Take (calcualted) risks and squeeze out as much value from your roll as you can. I mostly shoot my 120 rolls as 6×4.5…mostly.

To get started, you’ll first need a filter. Kodak recommend their Wratten #12 (yellow) but you can also use orange #21, or deep red #25 filters to intensify the results. The darker the filter toward the red end of the spectrum, the greater the effect…but the risks of fudging your exposure also increase exponentially.

Look closely at the captions on the images in this article and you’ll see that I’ve hedged my bets on most shots by using an orange #21 filter.

 Canopy - Kodak AEROCHROME 1443 - ISO200 - Planar 80/2.8 - Orange #21 filter / 120 as 6x4.5

Red Algae
Kodak AEROCHROME 1443 – ISO200 – Planar 80/2.8 – Orange #21 filter / 120 as 6×4.5

If so inclined, you can use an R72 infrared filter but bear in mind that the negatives will come out as a reddish monochrome, not color. In short, if you want to use a traditional infrared filter, stick to black and white film. Oh, and if you’re already used to shooting black and white infrared film, you might be glad to know that you don’t need to make focus adjustments to your lens’ distance scale. Simply meter, point, focus, shoot (or whatever combination you’re used to).

If you’ve done the job right, you’ll be rewarded with pink, purple, or deep red foliage, fuchsia, opal and azure, or even black water and skies – in camera, on film. No Photoshop required.

To my eye, the closest film stock today in terms of giving the unique AEROCHROME “look” is Lomography’s LomoChrome Purple. You may laugh and it may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it’s one of my favourite “creative film” stocks and with a with a red, or orange filter on the lens, you can get similar but not identical results.

 

 

Shooting AEROCHROME

Development

This film is old, well expired and picky. It’s not like shooting fresh Velvia. In addition, it can be troublesome to develop.

To obtain slides, you’ll need to ensure that it’s developed as E6 (or AR-5, if you can find it), and you’ll also need to ensure that the machine used at your lab doesn’t have internal infrared lights/sensors turned on while the film is being developed, as they can fog the film. Just ask first and you should be fine.

 

Ideal conditions

You’ll want to try and take the film out and about when the sun is high in the sky and clouds are at a minimum. This isn’t simply an artistic choice, as if you’re shooting landscapes, a blanket of clouds in your frame can overwhelm your exposure and leave you with a largely white sky. In addition, too much cloud cover will also reduce the amount of IR light that’s bouncing around and can adversely affect the IR effect you’re chasing. Be careful when you choose to commit to the shot. See the example below for cloudy sky “whiteout”.

There are no fish in my pond - Kodak AEROCHROME 1443 - ISO400 - Planar 80/2.8 - Orange #21 filter / 120 as 6x6

There are no fish in my pond
Kodak AEROCHROME 1443 – ISO400 – Planar 80/2.8 – Orange #21 filter / 120 as 6×6

I’ve shot several rolls of AEROCHROME over the past 18 months and handle it with the same equal parts fear and respect as Kodak’s other well known infrared stock, HIE. It’s best loaded in subdued light, or indoors away from direct light. I also take pains to shoot an entire roll in one sitting. The longest I’ve left a roll in my camera was five days and even then, I woke each morning wondering if I should take my film back off the camera, stick it in a ziplock bag with some desiccant packs and put it in the fridge.

 

Storage

Kodak recommended this film be cold stored at 4c when an unfinished reel needed a couple of days rest between shoots. For longer periods, they recommended it be frozen. It’s not exactly tolerant and I take no chances. I shot my first two rolls in 6×4.5 format, as I wanted as much economy as possible and some space to try bracketing with different colored filters.

I’m glad I did, as the line between in risk and reward is very, very fine. See below.

Blossom blaze - Kodak AEROCHROME 1443 - ISO200 - Planar 80/2.8 - Orange #21 filter / 120 as 6x6

Blossom blaze
Kodak AEROCHROME 1443 – ISO200 – Planar 80/2.8 – Orange #21 filter / 120 as 6×6

 

Metering

Whilst the image above is pleasing to my eye, it’s totally blown out and not exactly what I had expected.

Read Kodak’s technical data and you’ll be told that you have 1/2 of a stop of latitude in your exposure. For this reason, you must be careful when shooting high contrast, or backlit scenes where you want to capture shadow detail. If you have a contrast range greater than N+/-3 or 4 in front of your lens, you need to prepare to lose some shadow detail. Wide differences in contrast will be fine when shooting most kinds of landscapes, especially wide-angle sprawling vistas, as you’ll notice loss of shadow detail and muddier highlights a bit less.

When you get closer to your subject, exercise some caution and think about it before committing. Your temptation will be to either snap, snap, snap, or labour over which worthwhile shot to take. My advice would be to go with your gut and build contrast with the content of your scene, as well as available light. Just remember that you’ll probably lose a couple of shots due to poor exposure (equally your fault and the film’s), and if you’re shooting at altitudes of over 5000ft, you’ll need to rate the film a stop less for about each 2000ft you gain in altitude. it works at a nominal ISO40 at 10,000ft.

Speaking of rating, this film is happy to be shot at ISO400 with the aforementioned yellow #12 filter attached at around sea level but I’ll generally shoot it at ISO400 with an orange #21 filter on the lens with no issue. I also normally shoot at ISO200 or 320 with a deep red #26 filter but plan on trying it at ISO400 for my next roll.

Your results will vary, so if it’s your first time try to bracket at least one shot – perhaps an important one! – with all three recommended filters, should you have them to hand.

Just remember that at the very least, you’ll need a yellow filter in order to see the IR effect.

Mixed - Kodak AEROCHROME 1443 - ISO200 - Planar 80/2.8 - Orange #21 filter / 120 as 6x4.5

Mixed
Kodak AEROCHROME 1443 – ISO400 – Planar 80/2.8 – Orange #21 filter / 120 as 6×4.5

Degenerate - Kodak AEROCHROME 1443 - ISO200 - Planar 80/2.8 - Orange #21 filter / 120 as 6x4.5

Degenerate
Kodak AEROCHROME 1443 – ISO400 – Planar 80/2.8 – Orange #21 filter / 120 as 6×4.5

Road train - Kodak AEROCHROME 1443 - ISO200 - Planar 80/2.8 - Orange #21 filter / 120 as 6x4.5

Road train
Kodak AEROCHROME 1443 – ISO400 – Planar 80/2.8 – Orange #21 filter / 120 as 6×4.5

 

 

Wrapping up

There’s no question about it, this film is incredibly special and as you might have already guessed, I want you to shoot a roll and see it for yourself. Granted, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea but I’m betting that there are plenty of you reading this already thinking about what you’ll shoot.

Throw your caution to the wind and go for it.

…but let me temper that quickly. AEROCHROME in all formats is in dwindling supply and it’s not cheap: US$7-10 per exposure when shot as 6×6 (depending on where and how you get it). It’s a special treat and one I can hand on heart suggest you get yourself into the red for.

 

 

Thoughts and comments?

So, what do you think? Do you agree, disagree? Perhaps you have some experience of your own you’d like to share?

Please take a moment to add your voice to the discussion, or share this article with your friends and associates. Thanks!

 

 

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About The Author

EMULSIVE

Self confessed film-freak and film photography mad-obsessive and OVERLORD at emulsive.org. I push, pull, shoot, boil and burn film everyday, and I want to share what I learn.

6 Comments

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  1. really interesting and loved the “Red Algae” image. My stock still in cold storage.

    Reply
  2. Wonderful article~ I have been scouring the web for this film and cannot find it! I am so in love with the photos others have taken with it and would love to experience it myself. Have any places to find it?

    Reply
    • Thank you, Miranda. It’s a very unique feeling when shooting it; you’re always looking for an exposure that’ll bring out the best but with equal parts fear that you’ll screw it up! For now, The Film Photography Project might have some bulk loaded 35mm left and you can find some on eBay from time to time – search for Kodak EIR. Hope that helps.

      Reply
  3. well, I’ll just cry a bit from sheer joy of seeing these and keep wondering if and how I should indulge myself with a roll -before it’s completely gone!

    atleast I’ve got a HIE roll in the freezer

    Reply
  4. Very very detailed review (and a bit technical too). I liked the last three photos the best and the pre-penultimate (3rd from last) the absolute best. That being said, I will not be shooting it. If for nothing else, for the simple reason that it takes too much planning and understanding for such a short lived commitment. :)))

    Reply
    • Thanks Dev. It is a bit but if I can understand it, you’ll have no problem 😉 That shot of the cement mixer was from my first roll (f/11 + 1/125). We were driving down a mountain road and saw the discarded construction gear. I jumped out, snapped and got back in the car.

      It really is very simple to use. Stick a filter on, meter for ISO400 and shoot. Shooting 135, you’ll have more than enough keepers, I’m sure!

      Reply

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