If you’re new to using photographic film for your photography, or if you found some film you need to process – how do you identify which process you need to order?
There are 3 processes for stills photographic film: C41, Black & White and E6
C41 is the most common process today and is required to process all colour negative film manufactured since 1972. All film for C41 should be marked “C41” somewhere on the cassette or roll. Do not try to open the cassette or un-spool a roll of film as you will fog (expose to light) and ruin the film. Anyone shooting family snaps during the 70’s 80’s and 90’s would most likely have been using colour negative film for C41 process. This was also the only process commonly found in high street chemists and supermarkets. Colour negative film type has been very widely used over the years and today, from disposable cameras through to the highest end professional shoots.
Once processed, C41 colour negative film has the familiar orange-brown hue and the images are negative: highlights are dark, shadows are light and the colours are inverted to their complimentary: cyan for red, magenta for green and yellow for blue, although the orange-brown masking makes it hard to make out the colours. From these negatives, positive, colour balanced, digital files can be made by scanning the images or we can make a set of prints, contact sheets, or you can simply have just the negatives for your own scanning or printing. The choice is yours!
E6 process is required for all colour reversal film available today. This film is also commonly known as Slide film or Positive film and when developed the images are positive, not negative. The film is marked “E6” on the cassette or roll as per the image below.
E6 is a much more specialised process than C41. As a lab offering this service, it is essential to run daily control strips – these are pre-exposed strips of film from Fujifilm or Kodak which are processed and then analysed on a densitometer by an experienced technician. Following this, adjustments are made to the chemistry in order to deliver consistent processing.
Due to the additional complexities of the E6 process, and a lack of experienced technicians in the industry, there are very few photo processing labs offering a proper, monitored commercial E6 service these days – at Ag, we are one of a handful of labs, but the service is much in demand as colour reversal slide film is seen as the “creme-de-la-creme” of photographic film and is especially popular with landscape photography.
Regardless of whether you choose Ag, or a different lab, to handle your E6 processing, it is important to check if they have the controls and procedures in place to deliver high quality consistent results. This means running of control strips daily (these are pre-exposed film strips made by Fujifilm to test the chemistry) and strip analysis with densitometer so that adjustments can be made to the chemistry in order to maintain accurate colour and consistency. Colour reversal film deserves the best possible processing. Our E6 is overseen by Peter Gaffney who has 50 years experience in photofinishing.
Black & White
Traditional black and white film is simply marked “Black and White” or “B&W” or “Film for black and white prints” – and various other wording to this effect. This film requires conventional, traditional, black and white process.
Unlike C41 and E6 processing, black and white is not a homogenised process. In otherwords, there is no standardisation of development formulas and developing times. Different black and white film types require different times in development in order to process to the highest standard. Consequently, this is why black and white processing usually costs a little more. In addition to the non-standard nature of black and white, for a commercial processing lab, there is little choice available for black and white specific processing equipment, unlike C41. At Ag we have had a superb set up that allows us to deliver excellent quality in black and white, but without the laborious use of more manual systems. In line with our continued investment enabling us to offer best value together with the best quality and attention to detail in processing, we have recently invested in a new B&W dip and dunk processor that has been built for is by Hostert Pro GmbH in Germany. This ensures we “future proof” our service with the back up and support available with a new machine.
Historic / Obsolete Processes
Although C41 and E6 have been current processes for colour film for over 40 years, we still see many films cropping up that pre-date these processes or which require alternative processes that no longer exist.
Kodachrome was a unique type of colour slide /positive / reversal film that was sold by Kodak from 1935 until 2010. For many years, Kodachrome was VERY popular and Paul Simon even sang a song about it! The process evolved over the years, but the final incarnation was known as K14. It was a very complex process to run and, other than one or two independent labs, it was only offered directly by Kodak. When you purchased the film, processing was included and there was a mail bag enclosed in the box which you used to send the film to Kodak (note: processing was not included in the USA as this would have been seen as monopolising a service under US law). The last ever roll of Kodachrome was processed January 2011 in K14 by the last lab running the process, Dwayne’s Photo in Parsons, Kansas, USA. The last Kodak owned K14 lab had closed a few years earlier in Lausanne, Switzerland and they subcontracted the final years of processing to Dwayne’s. During these final years for someone based, say, in the UK, you still sent your film to Kodak in the UK, they forwarded it to Lausanne who forwarded it to Dwayne’s who then sent it back to the UK after processing.
All the chemicals required to process Kodachrome as a colour slide are now unavailable, but, even if they were, without the requisite equipment, K14 processing would still be impossible on a commercial level. At Ag we can, however, process Kodachrome film as black and white. This is the only option for bringing it to life. We have found that, generally, the results are very good, but as with all obsolete processes, we are unable to guarantee results.
Over the years, Kodachrome was released in almost every possible film format, both stills and motion picture. At Ag, we only handle 35mm, 126, 127, 120 and other stills formats for black and white processing of Kodachrome film – although it’s been so many years since it was offered in anything other than 35mm for stills, we have never been presented with Kodachrome in any other format from a customer! However, there is quite a bit of Super 8mm and Standard 8mm motion picture Kodachrome around and possibly a bit of 16mm – we don’t get involved with motion picture, but if the film is important to you we may have a suggestion as to where to look for processing as black and white.
C22 was the predecessor to C41. Therefore, films marked “C22” are now very old indeed. We do still see films coming into us that are for process C22 and we offer a specialist service for these films. We have found that the best way to obtain any sort of usable image is to try and develop the film as a black and white negative, which can then be scanned or printed in the normal way. However, we do stress that there is no guarantee we will deliver any images and usually the image quality is quite poor. But if it’s an important film, this may be worth a try.
E3 and E4 were predecessors to E6. We have achieved virtually no success with these films and, consequently, we don’t offer a service on this, unfortunately. They’re just too far gone!
CT18 was a colour reversal process unique to AGFA. As with E3 and E4, unfortunately, we have had no success with films for this process and so we’re unable to offer a solution here.
We don’t process motion picture film, but we thought it would be useful for customers to learn about these processes, in case you encounter them.
This is the standard, current, process for colour negative motion picture film. ECN stands for Eastman Colour Negative. the process involves a pre-bath to remove the remjet backing found on motion picture film – this film must not be processed through C41 because there is no pre-bath. If it is processed through C41, the remjet fouls up the baths in the processor and any other films in the machine at the same time or directly after are damaged. The processor also then has to be removed from production and cleaned. It is not uncommon for people to obtain “short ends” of motion picture film and then load it into old 35mm still cassettes. The processing lab must be informed if this is the case so as to avoid a costly mistake!
Film for process ECN-2 is found in all motion picture formats today, as standard: Super8mm; 16mm; 35mm; 65mm.
This is an old, obsolete, colour reversal motion picture process. VNF stands for “Video News Film”. It was a very fast process popular in the 1970’s and into the 80’s for various colour reversal films mainly used for news gathering – watch news reports originated on film from the 70’s and, chances are, they were captured on something like Kodak Ektachrome 7240 in 16mm, which required VNF processing. (and probably with an Arriflex, Beaulieu or Eclair camera with the ubiquitous Angenieux 12-120 Zoom! – a very popular lens for news and documentary making) The idea behind VNF was that the film could be processed and telecine transferred for broadcast very quickly.
It was available in Super8mm and 16mm until around 2001.
See above for the detail on Kodachrome. This was very popular in smaller motion picture formats such as Standard 8mm; Super8mm; 16mm. It was by far the most popular type of film for home movie making from the 1930’s right up to the 1990’s. My father was one of the last still shooting home movies on Super8 as he refused to buy a video camera due to the dreadful image quality in those days. Our last home movie was shot on Super8, with sync sound, in 1990. In those days, sound striped super8 was still available and the camera recorded lip-sync sound simultaneously on a narrow magnetic strip on the side of the film.
I was still buying Kodachrome Super8mm cartridges in Jessops or Boots the chemist (drug store), right up until around 2005-6. Boots used to have an almost permanent buy 2 get 1 free offer during the early 2000’s. The film was send to Kodak who were still processing it in their lab in Lausanne, Switzerland, at the time.