Review: Lomography 800 Color Negative medium format (120) film

In my very short time shooting film in the 21st century, I’ve tried a number of film stocks. Certainly by no means anything even remotely close to what’s available, but I’ve tried to make informed choices about my films, and one seems to have floated to the top of the pile: Lomography Color Negative 800, or as I tend to call it, “Lomo 800.”

UPDATE AUGUST 2019: While I still find a lot to like with this film, since writing this review, I’ve experienced far worse rebate fogging that’s now sometimes entering the image area. I explain this toward the end of this review, and offer some suggestions.

Why do I like this film so much? Well, the reasons are both subjective and objective — as well as one snag.

On the objective side:

It’s remarkably affordable for fast speed color negative film. The price* of Lomo 800 is just under US$18.00 in 120 format, and just under US$15.00 for 35mm — for a three-pack. Speaking of the 120 format (since that’s what I use), it equals about US$6.00 a roll, which is the same price as a single roll of Kodak Ektar 100, which is obviously quite a bit slower of a film stock. Additionally, it’s far less expensive than Kodak Portra 800 (which runs about US$10.00 per roll), while providing somewhat similar results in my opinion. In short, you get the flexibility of shooting with 800 ISO film, at a lower price point.

Versatile film speed. This has nothing to do with Lomo 800 specifically, of course, but shooting 800 speed film gives a lot back in terms of flexibility. While bright light shooting can be problematic sometimes, perhaps necessitating the use of ND filters, what you get in return is a lot of flexibility in when you can shoot, opening-up early morning and late evening options where they just don’t exist in slower films — along with the ability to do a lot of interior shooting without a flash. I bring this point up primarily because when coupled with the price point, the combined advantage leans in the direction of Lomo 800… You can get the flexibility from 800 ISO film without breaking the bank.

On the more subjective side of the equation:

My favorite thing about Lomo 800 is that I find its color rendering to be beautiful. In some conditions, it resembles the widely respected and admired Kodak Portra, which tends to warm things up ever so slightly for optimized portraiture, while otherwise rendering accurate color. While I’ll still take Portra any day for portraits (and I could argue the results overall are superior to Lomo), net-net, the color of Lomo 800 — to my eye, anyway — is quite appealing. It has a slightly vintage look overall, which is distinctive, and in my book, very pleasant. In some instances, the colors tend to lean a bit to the green side, but regardless, I like the results.

I think its grain qualities are quite good. But then, I am shooting medium format, so I wouldn’t expect the grain to be particularly noticeable regardless. I’ve not done it yet, but I will do a high-res scan of some of my negatives soon, zoom in, and get a closer look. But for routine use? I think it’s great. I might also pick-up some 35mm Lomo 800 and see what it delivers in that (considerably smaller) footprint.

Now for the down sides, and I come-up with only two:

Somewhat poor availability. Lomography doesn’t make their own films; each one is manufactured for them by others. Several people report that Lomo 800 is manufactured by Kodak; maybe it is. (The boxes are marked as being made in China, so that seems somewhat unlikely on the surface.) Regardless, all the Lomography films appear to be made in small batches — as if the company is specifically trying to avoid having much inventory of anything for long periods. Many retailers carry it, but they can’t keep it in either. B&H gets it in, and sells out within weeks or days — then goes for long periods with no stock. Lomography itself regularly sells out, but typically has better availability than resellers. Even my local camera shop, Englewood Camera, can’t seem to keep the stuff in stock for very long, and gets relatively small shipments of Lomo products when they do get them. Whether this is artificial scarcity, supply chain control, careful financial management, or something else entirely, it’s annoying that you can’t just walk into a store or click on a web site and buy it when you want it. My advice? See if you like it first, but if you do, when you see it, grab what you think you might need in the next few months — or you might miss out.

Edge (rebate) fogging. Pretty much every Lomography color negative film I’ve tried (800, 400, and 100) has a problem with fogged film edges, known as the rebate, where the film identification and exposure numbers are found. This would suggest that there has been some light leakage between the backing paper and the spool flange.

Considering that I follow the usual practice for loading and unloading 120 film (doing so in subdued light), and the fact that I tend to either wrap exposed rolls in foil or store them in black plastic zipper bags to transport to the lab, I have a hard time believing that this is something I’ve directly caused. I have seen a very, very slight fogging on a roll or two of Kodak film, but it’s barely noticeable.

I rather tend to believe instead that there’s some sort of inaccuracy in the manufacturing process or tolerances that’s allowing the leakage. The up side is that I’ve not yet experienced a situation where these leaks and the dark edges resulting on the negative from them have strayed into the image area. (UPDATE: Yes, I have now. See below.) They’ve gotten close — but the image area is intact. Still, it’s something I don’t love about my Lomo film stocks.

Despite the two negative points, I still like the results and the price enough to keep boxes of Lomo around. You can see some of the other results of my Lomo 800 shooting on my Flickr account, using the Lomo 800 tag, here.

* The prices referenced were taken from B&H Photo and Video in June 2019. B&H’s prices are typically among the most favorable for film in my experience. Your results may vary, and prices are always subject to change.

Update on Rebate Fogging (August 2019)

Above, I said that the edge fogging hadn’t ever entered the image area. Actually, that’s now proven untrue; if you look at this image on Flickr, you’ll see that the light leakage from the edge has not only affected the rebate (which is not visible), but has in fact entered the image area, showing in the positive as a white, snowy effect on the very right edge of the image. Here’s what the negative looks like for that same image:

See all that dark fog on the right side? You’re looking at negative cut and sleeved into Print File sheets, and it’s the last strip of images on the roll. The previous strip, just visible above, has some minor edge fog that’s more typical of what I’d seen previously. One might assume that it probably happened during or after the exposed roll was removed from the camera, although there’s some level of fogging across the entire roll.

In any event, I would highly, highly recommend extreme care in loading and unloading Lomography 120 films, and I’d suggest special handling getting them to the lab as well. I strongly believe that this is simply sloppy manufacturing tolerances, and given that Lomography as a company seems to encourage edgy, creative use of film including embracing light leaks and other general weird fun (which is all well and good), most of their customers probably don’t care. Regardless, I do care; I want quality images, and this persistent issue is a clear strike against Lomo’s films for me. While I still like the color rendering — a lot — I’m leaning in the direction of just paying-up for Kodak Portra 800 instead. Considering that I have over a dozen rolls of Lomo 800 in the fridge, it’ll be awhile. Until then, extra-careful handling will prevail.