Review: Lomography 800 color negative film (120)

With limited choices in film stocks these days, I feel compelled to try as many as possible — and actively support all of them I can, whether color, or black and white. That’s part of what drove me to try Lomography’s various color negative films. Well, that, and the low(-ish) price points. One of their film stocks that’s proven most interesting to me is Lomography Color Negative 800, or as I and many others call it, “Lomo 800.”

NOTE TO READERS: When I wrote this review originally, I was much more enthusiastic about this film. After my experiences shifted, I did a revision in August 2019, followed by a more extensive rewrite of this piece in September 2019. The things about Lomo 800 that I liked, I still like, and still talk about. But I’m also clearly spelling out the challenges I’ve run into that make it tougher to really love this film. 

What I like

Let’s begin this review with the positives, because there is, in fact, a lot to like about Lomo 800:

  • Affordability
    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 roll package. 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 good results with interesting color in my opinion. In short, you get the shooting environment flexibility of fast, 800 ISO film, but at a lower price point. While this review is about Lomo 800, as a side note, the price advantages of Lomography Color Negative films are considerably less compelling for the ISO 400 and ISO 100 versions.
  • Speed = Versatility
    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 to tame the bright light of a sunny day, 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.
  • Color rendition
    This is subjective, of course, but my favorite thing about Lomo 800 is that I find its color rendering to be interesting, and actually quite beautiful. While I’ll still take Portra any day of the week for portraits (and I feel that Portra’s 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.
  • Surprisingly fine grained
    I’m shooting medium format, so I wouldn’t expect the grain to be particularly noticeable, but I like the fine grain of Lomo 800. 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.

What I don’t like

When I originally “discovered” Lomo 800, I bought several packages of it, some from B&H in New York, some locally at Englewood Camera, hoarding it a bit because it can be hard-to-find. With it readily at-hand, I shot more of the film. Between my attempts to purchase as much as I’d wanted, and the experience of using it, well… Some of the negatives started to come-up. (Bad pun.) They include:

  • 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.
  • Rebate (edge) fogging
    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 frame numbers are found. This indicates 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. Of course, it’s possible, and any 120 film needs to be loaded, unload and handled with some level of care. Additionally, certain cameras only serve to make the situation worse. You can read more about edge fogging in this post, including some tips on how to prevent it. In any event, I would highly, highly recommend particular care in loading and unloading Lomography 120 films, and I’d suggest special handling getting them to the lab as well. I strongly suspect looser manufacturing tolerances to be the culprit here, but that opinion is subjective and based on empirical evidence; I’ve not done objective tests here (and probably don’t want to waste a ton of film conducting them). So short of that, I’ll just use extra care in handling.
  • Crummy roll-end tapes
    I’ve lost count of the number of times that the crummy self-adhesive roll-end tapes have come-off inside one of my cameras or simply failed to do their job. The tapes are made of plastic, not paper, and therefore cannot be easily opened with a fingernail in the field. Getting the start of the roll going is a pain as a result, but the tape at the very end of the roll is even worse. The fact it’s plastic is fine, but the adhesive is placed in two spots on strip, the adhesive doesn’t go to the end, and you’re left with small, loose ends that tend to like to catch on the pressure plate in my Rolleiflex or similar places in other cameras. But even if they don’t, they don’t seal the roll well, resulting in one case where in a pile of exposed rolls, the end of the tape of a roll of Lomo 800 caught on and stuck to another roll, allowing the now-unsealed roll to partially unspool. You can see a photo of the loose ends below. I wish they’d just change to a traditional, lick ’em, stick ’em type of tape like Kodak and Ilford both use.
Loose tape ends on three rolls of Lomography 800. If these catch against something, the tape easily comes unstuck, allowing the roll to unspool.

The proof

Here are a few sample images. At the time most of these were taken, I was using The Darkroom in San Clemente, California for my processing and scanning, and unfortunately, I experienced a lot of situations where there were problems with the scans, appearing like some sort of film gate issue. I’ve been intending to get these negatives out and rescan them myself, but haven’t gotten there yet, so forgive the evidence of these scanning issues (angled black bars).

Mount Herard, Alamosa, Colorado. Copyright © 2019 Wesley King.
The Blue Bird Club, Alamosa, Colorado. Copyright © 2019 Wesley King.
Texaco Auto Service, Alamosa, Colorado. Copyright © 2019 Wesley King.
Rolling Stock, Alamosa, Colorado. Copyright © 2019 Wesley King.

The verdict

Lomography Color Negative films have lovely color rendering across the board, and Lomo 800 in particular gives great results in many low-light situations without the need to pull out a flash. I like that utility.

You could perhaps argue that Kodak Portra 800 is a “better” film, but it depends on what you’re after, and no doubt Lomo 800 is far more economical. But if you find its color rendering to be as pleasing as I do, and you’re willing to give it a little extra care in handling, it’s worth tracking down a box and giving it a try.

* 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.