Film review: Kodak EKTACHROME E100G – by James King
I wasn’t overly keen on writing a film review when EM first suggested it. I usually stick to Kodak Portra or Tri-X; films that have been reviewed to death by people far more skilled at such things than me, and whose characteristics are fairly well known to all.
But I’m here now and well this is a film review. So how on Earth did I get myself into this position? Well, it took three chance events, the first of which was my usual lunchtime walk from the office…
Event one: a film
For anyone passing by Victoria, London, I would recommend a look through the window at Mr Cad. You’ll find all manner of goodies inside: 19th-century relics, Mamiya RBs, darkroom enlargers, 8x10s, you name it, they have it.
A gentle word of warning though: only go inside if you have money to burn.
Mr Falk, the indomitable salesman who runs the place will soon find something to part you from your money. Given his boundless energy and eye for a deal, this is typically something you had no idea you wanted when you first walked in.
Such was the case when I dropped by a few weeks ago and saw some newly arrived Kodak EKTACHROME 100G 120 roll film in the fridge. Surprised that I had missed the announcement of it finally being back on sale, it turned out to be old stock, expired in 2011 but part of a “very well-known professional photographer’s” stock, and had always been refrigerated and well cared-for.
So not only was this a chance to get hold of some long-awaited EKTACHROME 100 before it (supposedly) hits the shelves again, but this was 120 format – unlikely to accompany its 35mm cousin back into service.
Event two: a location
The second event was an upcoming holiday in Marrakesh, Morocco. I still have some Fuji Velvia slides from the last time I went 12 years ago. Full of light and colour, Morocco is a far better place to shoot slides than what was the never-ending London winter. Plenty of high contrast scenes to test exposure latitude, too.
Event three: a camera
The third and final event was a loan. Specifically, a 1950s Rolleiflex Automat K4/50 I’d recently borrowed and was really keen to try out. I knew the slow shutter speeds were off, but it otherwise seemed OK – a test roll of Kodak Tri-X 400 came out fine, so why not throw some Ektachrome in there?
Now I’ll admit this adds up to a somewhat risky proposition: a one-off holiday destination, an unfamiliar, expired film and a 60-something-year-old-never-serviced-camera. I had no right to expect any of these images to have turned out, and count myself pretty lucky that they did.
So: film, camera, location. Let’s review.
Photographic discipline in Marrakesh
Walking around Marrakesh is both feast and famine for a photographer. Every sense is assailed by every conceivable smell, sight and sound. While it would be easy to point the camera at absolutely everything and just shoot away, I was quite conscious that there were a fair few other tourists doing just that. I started to question my own motives for being there with a camera – what, who and why I was photographing?
In the end, I mostly soaked up the atmosphere of the busy streets and confined my photos to the incredible historic sights that the city has to offer.
Colours: Le Jardin Majorelle
To get a sense of the film’s colour palette, I shot my first roll at the Majorelle Gardens. Created by the French artist, Jacques Majorelle in the 1920s and restored by Yves-Saint Laurent and his partner, Pierre Bergé, the place is full of vibrant colours, notably the Majorelle Blue that adorns the buildings and fountains.
I thought slide film would really bring this vibrancy out – perhaps not to the same extent as Velvia but I was certainly expecting nicely saturated colours.
Word to the wise: arrive early and be prepared to queue.
When I first saw the scans, I must say I was a little disappointed. The colours were a lot more muted than I experienced in real life, and the hues a good bit cooler; the blues were paler and the yellows less vibrant.
Was this a result of using this expired film? Had I exposed incorrectly? Could it be the camera?
After researching E100G on Flickr, I came to the conclusion this is just how the film renders. I think I also had to temper my own expectations – I’m used to the relatively warm Kodak Portra and it’s no surprise that I should find these tones a bit cool. I think Kodak recognised this too – back in the day they produced an E100GX film alongside the standard E100G, formulated to produce a slightly warmer look.
Do I like it? I actually think it’s growing on me. Definitely not what I expected and I still have a hard time appreciating how it renders Majorelle Blue, but that’s unduly harsh. Overall, I do find the colours quite pleasing and besides, my personal tastes shouldn’t cloud a review. How do the colours work for you?
The infamous Achilles heel of every E6 film – response to high contrast scenes – was something I was really keen to test. You can see from the Majorelle photos that the skies (bright but overcast on the day) are pretty much blown out, as are some of the whites in the fountain.
However, whilst E100G obviously doesn’t have anything close to the exposure tolerance of Portra, I was impressed by how it handled the highlights and its relatively smooth transition to total white. I think the below photo highlights this best:
Whether or not this was down to luck or judgement, I didn’t have a badly exposed shot on either of the rolls that I exposed, so I think this is definitely one of the more tolerant slide films out there. Given the age of the camera and the expiry date of the film, I consider this a minor miracle.
So here’s where my review slips up a bit. Having been a cheapskate and opted for the cheapest scans going when I got the film developed, the files aren’t high-res enough to show up any grain. I wasn’t really expecting any, especially on medium format, so will confidently assert that this shot below captures every minute detail of the exquisite carving on the Saadian Tombs:
Overall, I have to say the return of Kodak EKTACHROME, when (and if – alarm bells are ringing given the perpetual delays) it eventually comes, should be a definite high point of the year for any film photographer, and they’d be well-advised to get a couple of rolls to try.
I’m really glad Mr Falk twisted my arm into buying the E100G, and that I got to shoot it in such an incredible location. Its colours took me a bit of getting used to, but I’m enjoying them more and more each time I see them. As an added bonus, for a slide film, it’s pretty well behaved.
Thanks for reading – I hope you found the review interesting. Now if Kodak could please work some magic into bringing back Kodachrome, I might just be persuaded to do one more film review…
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