In part two of this series we are going to go delve into the technical side of motion picture film: color temperature, print vs motion picture film stocks and finally start to get into what ECN-2 is all about. Part three puts all that together and will provide you with formulas and processing instructions to allow you to create your own ECN-2 chemistry and then put it to use.
If you’re new here you can also jump into part one, where we talked about movie production’s transition from analog to digital and the impact that had on film. We also talked about why I started using this line of film stock and some of the challenges I faced early on to adapt motion stock to a still camera which led me to start a boutique lab to process photos in ECN-2.
For part two, we’re going to start with a look into what current motion picture film stocks are available and how they differ from what has come before. Here’s what’s covered:
Table of contents
- 1 The Kodak VISION3 lineup
- 2 Daylight and tungsten. What does it mean?
- 3 Find your balance
- 5 Correcting tungsten film in-camera
- 6 Print film vs motion picture stock
- 7 ECN-2 process vs C-41 process
- 8 Cross processing motion picture film
- 9 Until next time
As with part one, you may click or tap on any of the thumbnail images below to view them in full screen.
The Kodak VISION3 lineup
As companies like were beginning to discontinue their motion stocks (with Fuji ultimately ceasing production in 2013), Kodak was busy creating a new line of motion picture film for the modern world.
In 2007, Kodak began a four-year introduction of the new VISION3 line of motion picture film stock. This replaced (unsurprisingly) their VISION2 line, which was introduced in 1997.
The VISION3 line is comprised of four stocks:
- Kodak VISION3 500T 5219/7219 (introduced 2007)
- Kodak VISION3 250D 5207/7207 (introduced 2009)
- Kodak VISION3 200T 5213/7213 (introduced 2010)
- Kodak VISION3 50D 5203/7203 (introduced 2011)
The 5xxx and 7xxx designations describe product numbers for 35mm/65mm and 16mm versions respectively.
Improvements over the older VISION2 line included:
- Reduced grain
- Better signal-to-noise response
- Extended highlight latitude
- Increased detail when overexposed
- Decrease grain when underexposed
- Flexibility in post-production
Aside from the VISION3 line being improved in every way, flexibility in post-production was especially interesting, as this was the first line of film stock created specifically for a digital workflow.
It was intended to compete with digital cinema cameras that Arri, RED and Sony were bringing to this changing world of motion pictures and was made to be color graded and edited just as any digital cinema footage would be.
With VISION3, it became clear just how flexible film could be and over a decade later, that is still the case.
If anything, VISION3 is the reason film is here to stay and the new generation of film that got us to where we are now.
Daylight and tungsten. What does it mean?
Within the VISION3 lineup, there is a clear divide right down the middle: Daylight and Tungsten (“D” for Daylight and “T” for Tungsten-balanced).
Kodak offers two stocks in a Daylight balance:
- VISION3 50D/5203 (5500k)
- VISION3 250D/5207 (5500k)
As well as two stocks in Tungsten balance:
- VISION3 500T/5219 (3200k)
- VISION3 200T/5213 (3200k)
VISION3 daylight balanced film has a color temperature of 5500K (Cooler) and VISION3 tungsten balanced film has a temperature of 3200K (Warmer).
These different color balances are accomplished photochemically through layers in the emulsion and create accurate color representation when shot under different lighting conditions.
Find your balance
Let’s take a quick step back… The dynamic range of film is maximized when red, green and blue are all at the same levels. With the correct film stock, shot under proper lighting conditions, lighting will be equalized creating neutral whites and blacks for both daylight and tungsten balanced film.
Shot under less than optimal lighting conditions, you will see color shifts and incorrect white balance. The example below shows an uncorrected stills from a tungsten-balanced film which was shot under daylight conditions. You will see that the image that is shifted towards blue/cyan.
Why? In tungsten-balanced films, the blue layer in this film stock has to be “faster” in order to compensate for the lower amount of blue present in tungsten lighting.
Under daylight, this blue light is already there, so when you take a photo with tungsten film under daylight you are essentially overexposing the film’s blue layer which will be displayed with a blue hue in the end result.
As we will see below, this color cast can be physically corrected in-camera with the use of an appropriate filter, with VISION3 the imbalance can also be corrected digitally during color grading. This is what this stock was made for, after all, and what the example above demonstrates.
Correcting tungsten film in-camera
The heightened blue effect from shooting tungsten-balanced films in daylight can be part of a creative or artistic direction. For example, it can be used to convey a colder environment during winter or specific emotion. However, if you would rather aim for correct in-camera white balance, rather than relying on post-production, there is an easy approach:
Use an 85B (warming) filter.
Because this filter is amber, it will properly expose the blue layer in tungsten stock in daylight conditions, creating the right balance. Let’s look at the example above again but with a counterpart that was shot using an 85B warming filter:
The image has been successfully been corrected in-camera, with the filter tempering the films “higher speed” blue layer.
It’s worth saying at this point that traditionally, using film outside of its intended temperature range was likely to cause effects such as an increase in grain. VISION3 however, is less susceptible to this than previous generations.
Print film vs motion picture stock
Film is film, however, motion picture stock and print stock vary in many ways and at a fundamental level. Foremost with VISION3 motion stock is that it was designed from the ground up to be color graded with a digital workflow.
The examples show a single ungraded frames alongside color graded counterparts.
Before Digital Intermediate or “DI” – scanning a digital format for grading and editing – motion stocks were copied over and over to get to the end result. In this process, known as “duping” or “duplicating”, an original camera negative would be taken and duplicated into many generations or versions of itself to get to the final version for release, sometimes over 10 times before it was where it needed to be.
Due to this process, motion stock has to have some different characteristics than C-41 print film.
First: emulsion and grain
Because the film will be projected or magnified many times its original size as opposed to printed on paper, motion stocks need to have a fine grain and be much sharper than print stock. While the overall chemistry may have similarities in motions vs print, things like couplers and grains of silver halide in the emulsion are much smaller in motion stock.
ECN films require higher density (DMax) and low contrast due to the need for maximum latitude with the duplicating stages mentioned above. While many versions may be made, color reproduction needs to be as close to perfect as it can be.
Remjet (or Rem-Jet) is that black layer on motion picture film that people have difficulty removing during development. This layer is nothing more than black carbon which is applied to the top of the film base. Interestingly enough, remjet has not one but three different roles when applied to film. Foremost it serves as an anti-halation layer. When light enters through a lens and is projected onto a stock,remjet prevents back-scattering. Or, to put it simply, It keeps light where it should be.
The job of remjet is notable by its absence in 35mm CineStill films and to a lesser degree, their 120 roll film versions. While they are the motion picture films (either VISION3 50D or VISION3 500T), their anti-halation layers are removed to allow cross processing, which produces the characteristic glow/halos around direct sources of light (this halation effect is also a good indication when figuring out whether a movie is shot on film or digital).
Remjet also provides protection from static discharge as well as lubrication for film moving through a camera at a high rate of speed, 24 frames per second. As a result, static can build up and discharge. This looks like little trees with branches or bolts of lightning across your film. It is electricity after all and remjet provides protection against it.
These three (primary) reasons are why ECN-2 chemistry is different than C-41. To accommodate for the differences in contrast, grain and emulsion for projection and to maintain color integrity over many generations in addition to the removal of the remjet layer.
ECN-2 process vs C-41 process
Motion and print films have physical differences (emulsions), different development needs (chemistries) and different development processes. All three are optimized for their respective film types. Although there are some similarities between ECN-2 and C-41 in regards to the theory of development, there are differences physically and chemically. As noted above, ECN-2 process films and C-41 process films serve different purposes.
Motion picture film stock has fine halides and couplers and print film has larger ones. In addition, motion picture film stock has a lower contrast while print film has a higher contrast.
ECN-2 and C-41 do not have the same Color Developer Agents, which are shortened in name to CD-3 and CD-4.
ECN-2 is a CD-3 based development process and C-41 is a CD-4 based development process. These two developing agents yield different dyes with different hues and different stability. This is one of the largest factors that separate the two processes chemically in regards to composition but also affects the time and temperature at which the two films are processed.
Each of these film types and their native chemistries work hand in hand to get the correct end result and most importantly, correct colors. Problems starts to arise when motion picture film stock is cross-processed in C-41 or vice versa.
Cross processing motion picture film
The one color that comes up in conversation over and over in developing motion stock is blue. Blue hue, tungsten balance, and a yellow 85B filter always are in the same sentence. For some reason, cross-processing is never in that conversation in regards to color shift.
Earlier in the article, we talked about how VISION3 was created with a digital intermediate in mind and using a tungsten balanced film under daylight conditions is just a slight overexposure of a blue/cyan dye layer when developed in the correct process. You can easily correct this when you sit down to grade your low contrast images. In fact, this is what many professionals choose to do with VISION3.
Unlike the above scenario which is overexposure in a layer of film that is otherwise developed properly, cross-processing is chemically altering many of the properties that are sought after within motion stock.
When you cross process a motion stock in C-41, you are taking a higher contrast process and applying it to a motion film stock that is low contrast with smaller couplers by design. The end results are usually noticeable color casts or color shifts towards cyan/blue. Many of the properties inherent in low contrast and high dynamic range motion film stock are greatly inhibited by cross-processing.
As the images above show, you will you get an image from cross processing motion picture film in C-41 chemistry but as for the question, “Do they have the same properties as motion stock developed in ECN-2?”
Not even close.
Until next time
In this section, we touched on how and why motion stock is different than other films, and why this is important when deciding how to process your film.
With the introduction of DI-forward film stock and workflow, we have the ability to go beyond what was traditionally done and get a final version that was once was reserved for a chemical process.
Ultimately the decision is up to the creator how to achieve the end result and aesthetic whether it be chemically, the use of filters in camera, DI grading or a combination of these.
In Part 3 we will be going over how to mix your own ECN-2 and what the best way is to process motion stock at home.
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