Using Movie Film for Still Photos

by Matthew Cole
My Equipment The 1970s

Use Quality Film
Use Quality Film: OK, the picture kind of sucks, but the point here is the color. This is Eastman movie film stock. You may want to read this page before signing up for off-brand film deals. The Mississippi River in flood, Saint Louis, MO, Spring 1973, Paxette, Cord Enterprises/Eastman 5254

In the early 1970s there were companies from Seattle who promoted a seemingly great deal; use professional movie film stock, send it in for development, and get negatives and slides! You got both back and another roll of film! All for pretty cheap! Wow!

Being young and stupid, I bit. I chose Cord Enterprises as my vendor and signed up and I think I even talked my Dad into it for a time. The stuff was tungsten balanced, so I had to buy a Series 5 85A filter for my Paxette and be careful about my exposure with my light meter. The film's color rendition was still something of a disappointment even in those pretty uncritical days and after about a year of using it I moved on to higher quality film, like outdated Focal (K Mart brand, by 3M I think) and then Kodachrome 64.

What is interesting now is to look at those 25-year-old photos and see how they've aged. The picture on this page, of the Mississippi River in flood by the Eads Bridge in Saint Louis from a band trip we took there in 1973, shows how this stuff ages. It sucks. Now, granted, this photo is not a potential contest winner, but look at the colors. They're terrible. All the Cord Enterprises/Eastman 5254 slides look just like this, and you can see a couple of others in the site.

Other companies from Seattle still offer deals on cheap films. I would be extremely wary of any deal where the film has to go back to the company for processing. But they use this film to shoot $100,000,000 movies? It must be great, right? Consider that when they re-released Star Wars a couple of years ago, they had to restore the film, digitally enhance it, and some original scenes were lost because the original negative was so shot. This isn't some stupid picture from a high school kid's band trip, this is one of the most successful movies of all time that spawned hundreds of millions of dollars in sales of ancillary products. It was stored in vaults and cared for and 20 years later it needed to be restored.

The regular films these days are great. There is a huge array of slide and negative films that offer you superb color rendition, sharpness, grain and durability. Don't waste your time with off-brand crap unless your pictures don't need to last very long, in which case you might want to wonder why you're taking them at all. I'm not mourning my picture of the Mississippi in flood, particularly, but I am extremely relieved I was clever enough even then to move to decent film so that pictures I do still care about are still around.

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