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What Film Should I UseFilm?

Photo Internet Articles | Photo Galleries

One of the most common questions that we get asked appears to be a simple one:

What film should I use?

Of course, there is no simple answer to that question. The choice of film that you make is often one of personal preference, dictated by the conditions you intend to shoot in, the subjects you expect to capture and the eventual use of the photograph that you plan. Let's explore some of these issues as we journey through the seemingly complex world of film.

Before deciding on a brand or type of film, it is important to first understand a few fundamentals about film and film types.

Film Speed

The way in which any film captures an image is through the exposure of tiny grains of light sensitive silver emulsion to light. This light, of course, is passed through the lens of the camera and onto the film for a very brief period of time (the time in which the camera's shutter is left open). Different films have different sensitivity to light; some film requires a longer exposure to this light to accurately capture the image while others require less amounts of exposure. The way to tell a particular film's light sensitivity is by its Speed. Film Speed is indicated by its ASA rating (ASA stands for American Standards Association). For example, some films have an ASA rating of ASA 50 or lower while others have a rating of ASA 400 or higher. The smaller the number, the less sensitive the film is to light. Conversely, the higher the number the more sensitive the film is to light. What this means is that films with a higher ASA rating are better able to capture images in darker situations while films with smaller numbers can work well is bright conditions. Another factor to consider is the graininess of the final image. Films with smaller ASA numbers have a finer grain and this will result in sharper images. While film companies have made great advances recently in producing fine grained, higher ASA film, the general rule still applies: the higher the ASA, the "grainer" the results will be.


Prints vs. Slides

Because print film often allows for greater exposure error due to its relatively lower levels of contrast, this is often a good choice for photographers who are starting out and who are getting used to their cameras and to photographing the underwater world. In addition, the developing process for print films can vary enormously. This means that you often have the option of having your negatives re-printed if you are unhappy with the results. However, slides are often the preferred medium for underwater photographers for several reasons. They are easier to display publicly (e.g., slide shows, etc.) and are the preferred medium for publication purposes. Since the slide is the actual negative (reverse transparency) of the image, there is no option of getting the slide "re-printed" if the results are not to your liking.


Color vs. Black & White

This is purely a matter of personal and artistic choice. While many photographers choose color film to capture the beauty and splendor of our natural world and the rich splashes of color that are exhibited underwater, more and more professionals are beginning to produce very striking results with black and white film. This is an area that is open for experimentation and we encourage all photographers to explore their own frontiers of creativity.


Film Brands & Our Favorites

There is a universe of possibilities for the photographer today. Film companies have made wonderful advances in the technology of film and there is a seemingly endless choice of films to choose from. Here are some of the more popular films:

Fuji Velvia (ASA 50) - This is a slide film with an extremely fine grain and enhanced color. It is an excellent choice for macro photography and for situations when the photographer desires extra contrast. Some people dislike the enhanced color, especially in the areas of reds. Also, because of the slim exposure latitude that this film has and its extreme contrast, it is not a good wide-angle film. Still, Velvia is often the film of choice for professional underwater photographers and is one of our consistent favorites.

Fujichrome Provia 100 (ASA 100) - This is a slide film with good color and fine grain. This film works well above and below the surface and, because of its ability to capture good shadow detail, is an excellent choice for clear water wide-angle shipwreck shots.

Fujichrome Sensia 100 (ASA 100) - This is a slide film that also produces good color with a fine grain. Sensia is great for surface photography and for wide-angle underwater photography. Sensia also is one of our favorite films.

Kodachrome 64 (ASA 64) - For years, Kodachrome 64 was a perennial favorite among underwater photographers. It has a fine grain and produces very sharp pictures. Colors are reproduced naturally and it produces pleasing skin tones. Underwater photographers looking to capture the rich and subtle shades of color underwater often turn to Kodachrome. Contrary to some rumors we have heard, Kodak is still manufacturing this film. It is an excellent choice for macro photography.

Kodak Elite Chrome Extra Color 100 (ASA 100) - This is a relatively new slide film with enhanced color saturation. It works well in close up situations and for providing extra color in wide-angle photography when extra light is provided by a strobe.

Kodak Ecktrachrome 200 (ASA 200) - This slide film is an excellent choice for wide-angle situations and for those times when the photographer wishes to capture images with lower light levels. Because this film can be "pushed" to 400 or 800 easily, it is a very versatile film. The color saturation tends to favor the blue color, which is ideal for those wishing to enhance or emphasize the blue color of the water. This film is also one of our long time favorites.

Kodak Gold Max (ASA 800) - This is an ideal print film for point and shoot cameras, which usually have fairly narrow lenses. It is a great choice for beginning photographers because it is very forgiving film…even beginners can get bright, colorful results.

Agfachrome CT Precisa (ASA 100 or 200) - This slide film has very true color reproduction, even for strong colors such as red and yellow. Because of a very neutral color rendition of even the seemingly bland colors (white, gray, black), there is very little hue added to these colors.


Some examples

Let's examine a few common situations to see what type of film works best.

Example 1: You are snorkeling on a shallow reef in clear water on a bright sunny day. You intend to shoot wide-angle shots to capture the beauty of the reef in its natural light. Because of the bright light and clear water, you have some freedom to use slower speed film (lower ASA). Because you are not using a strobe, you want to use a film that can capture colors naturally. Fujichrome Sensia 100 might be a good choice here.

Example 2: You are diving along a colorful wall in the tropics, rich with colorful sponges and corals. You are interested in capturing the grandeur of the wall along with the colorful red and yellow sponges and soft corals. You will be doing wide-angle photography with some very wide exposures and some close focus images as well and you will be employing a strobe. Since you want to highlight the colors of the reef and will also be trying to shoot the wall from a wide-angle perspective, we would recommend Kodak Elite Chrome 100 or Kodak Ecktachrome 200. Both films will work well in a wide-angle situation. The Elite Chrome will do better emphasizing the colors of the reef while the Ecktachrome will emphasize the blue of the surrounding water.

Example 3: You are diving deep along a sunken sea mount and expect to encounter sharks and big pelagic animals. These will be fast moving and you may not get close enough to do anything but natural light photography. An excellent choice here is the Kodak Ecktachrome 200. The film's exposure latitude will enable you to shoot these animals with a fast enough shutter speed to "freeze" the action and avoid blurry images. Also, the surrounding water will be a nicer shade of blue to further enhance the photos.

Example 4: You will be shooting close up or macro photography in the cold, dark waters of the Pacific Northwest. The subjects will be a variety of colorful invertebrates but you will be using strobes to provide light. We would recommend Fuji Velvia. This film will result in bright, eye-popping colors on very sharp images. Because the strobe is supplying the light, the surrounding darkness is of no consequence and the low ASA will work just fine.



As you can tell, there are a lot of choices available to the underwater photographer today. Once you understand the basics of film technology, you can begin the enjoyable journey of trying to match the right film to the right situation to get the best results. As with all aspects of photography, the trick is to experiment and see what works best for you. So, in conclusion, what is the answer to the question " What film should I use?" Well, it depends…


Available Books, Videos & Cameras

SeaLife Digital Underwater CameraSealife 12 Megapixel 5X Optical Zoom and 3-Inch LCD screen Underwater/Land Camera

GREAT Underwater Beginner Camera!

Product Description: SeaLife's DC1200 makes underwater photography it easier than ever before. Mystical sea creatures, vibrant colorful reefs, or haunting wrecks from a bygone era, the DC1200 is the camera to catch them all. SeaLife's new 12-megapixel camera combines diver-friendly design and four underwater color modes, for sharp, colorful pictures underwater or on land.

SeaLife eliminated the typical button cluster on the back of the camera, in favor of five thumb operated "piano key" controls. The large shutter button extends forward with a fingertip-control lever that allows scrolling through menus or zooming in and out without releasing your grip from the camera. This "Central Command Lever" and the "Piano Keys" are making great underwater pictures and videos easier than ever before.

Expand the DC1200 with SeaLife's popular line of underwater accessories, including the Digital Pro Flashes and wide angle . Automatic focus from 4" to infinity. Record 2+ hours of sharp, colorful video with sound when using a 4GB SD memory card. Depth tested to 200ft. Fully rubber armored for shock protection. Full 1-year warranty covers the underwater housing and camera.

SeaLifes Sea Modes which have built in color correction and External Flash Modes for vibrant color and manual control of the cameras shutter and aperture, round out the DC1200.

Other SeaLife DC1200 Camera Systems:

  • SeaLife DC1200 Elite 12MP Underwater / Land Digital Camera & Strobe System
    Where to Buy
  • Sealife DC1000 Elite 10MP Underwater / Land Digital Camera & Strobe System (2 Digital Pro Flashs)
    Where to Buy


Other Available Cameras and Accessories

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Travel Storage & Viewer Systems

Epson P-5000 and P-3000

Epson P-5000 & P-3000 (Storage & Viewer Systems)

Product Description: This is an essential tool for the digital photographer who shoots a lot of images. The Epson P-3000/5000 provides an excellent way to download, store and display thousands of photos, videos and more on the spot - without a computer. With the ultra fast processor, it’s easy to backup images right from your memory card (CF/SD) or camera. Transfer thousands of photos in no time at all. Then, continue shooting.

With the large, four-inch LCD, you’ll be able to instantly review images immediately after the shoot. In fact, you can easily view slide shows and videos, or listen to audio files. Best of all, you’ll be able to present professional quality images anywhere you go.

Because this system uses Epson's Photo Fine Ultra LCD technology, you’ll see every color and detail. This unit also has Adobe RGB color space support which means, each viewer displays over 16.7 million colors.

You can even zoom in and verify RAW files.  And, with a long battery life, these systems are ideal for extended, on-location shoots. Save and view all your best shots at the scene.

Or, transfer files from your camera or any USB device. You can even connect and download your files directly to your Windows or Mac computer. The Epson Epson P-3000/5000 makes it easy to save and share images virtually anywhere, with amazing clarity and color.

Features & Benefits

  • 40GB (P-3000) or 80BG (P-5000), high-capacity hard drive to backup thousands of photos
  • Large, 4-inch LCD for easy viewing
  • On-the-spot download device to save, view and share photos, videos and music anywhere
  • Epson® Photo Fine Ultra LCD technology for more accurate colors
  • Adobe® RGB color space support
  • Ultra fast processor for fast downloads
  • DivX® video file support, plus audio/video out to instantly view slide shows and videos
  • Rechargeable battery so it’s always ready to travel
  • Long battery life that’s ideal for extended, on-location shoots
  • Built-in card slots that support Compact Flash® I/II (CF) and Secure Digital™ (SD) memory cards
  • Hi-Speed USB 2.0 for fast file transfers
  • RAW file support — zoom capabilities to check the focus and fine detail

Additional Information


Other Travel Storage Systems

Perfect for storing and transporting documents and digital images!!
Other storage systems

Sandisk Cruzer SanDisk Cruzer Micro 16 GB USB 2.0 (Flash Drive)
SanDisk Cruzer Micro 8 GB USB 2.0  (Flash Drive)
SanDisk Cruzer Micro 4 GB USB 2.0 (Flash Drive)
SanDisk Cruzer Micro 2 GB USB 2.0 with U3 (Flash Drive)

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Last Modified: December 05, 2010

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