Kodak Ektachrome E100 reintroduction finally comes to 120 and 4×5

On the heels of an apparently successful rollout of the film in 135 format late in 2019, Kodak Alaris announced early in 2019 that they’d be bringing Ektachrome E100 back to 120 and large formats. The timing of the move was less certain, although it was understood to be “by the end of the year.” Well, the wait is very nearly over.

On December 10, 2019, Kodak Alaris announced that new 120 and 4×5 sheet versions would be available for ordering worldwide before Christmas, and indeed, CineStill, FPP, and many others have already begun offering the films on their web site for pre-order as I write this post.

If you’ve shot any of the new E100 in 135 format, you’ve no doubt come away impressed. I certainly did:

Gorgeous Sunrise, shot on Kodak Ektachrome E100 135. Copyright © 2019 Wesley King.
Ready to Roll, shot on Kodak Ektachrome E100 135. Copyright © 2019 Wesley King.
Chartreuse Goose, shot on Kodak Ektachrome E100 135. Copyright © 2019 Wesley King.
Narrow Gauge Rolling Stock, shot on Kodak Ektachrome E100 135. Copyright © 2019 Wesley King.

When I shot my first roll of E100 with my Minolta XG 1, I was genuinely impressed with the color rendering and the incredibly fine grain. Simply put, it’s a beautiful film that produces beautiful images when properly composed, metered and shot.

I was particularly excited to hear that Kodak Alaris was going to bring this film to 120 format. I had (and still have) several rolls of expired Ektachrome in the older formulations and in 120 format sitting in my refrigerator, and after shooting one of the rolls and finding it in perfect condition, I’ve been hoarding the rest, reluctant to shoot any of it.

Columbine, shot on expired Kodak Ektachrome E100S 120. Copyright © 2019 Wesley King.
Morning Fire, shot on expired Kodak Ektachrome E100S 120. Copyright © 2019 Wesley King.

I think I can let these expired rolls slip out of the fridge and get shot now, because I have two boxes of the new stuff on order, and I just can’t wait to shoot some of it and do a full review.

It’s massively encouraging to see Kodak Alaris making moves like this. And it’s encouraging too to read this quote from their press release, attributed to Dennis Olbrich, President of Kodak Alaris’ Imaging Paper, Photo Chemicals and Film division:

Our new E100 film is a big hit with photographers of all ages. The market response has been tremendous. Adding 120 and sheet films takes us to the next level.

The press release goes on to say the following:

Sales of professional photographic films have been steadily rising over the last few years, with professionals and enthusiasts alike rediscovering the artistic control offered by manual processes and the creative satisfaction of a physical product.

I find that encouraging. The key, of course, is to continue to support this ecosystem; if you’re reading this post, you’re no doubt a lover of analog film photography, and assuming you are, just keep shooting. Buy film. Develop it at home sometimes if you’re inclined. Take advantage of the lab services in your area. This support is crucial to keep the ecosystem alive and vibrant.

Back to the subject of this post; Kodak Alaris describe E100 as a daylight balanced film with clean, vibrant colors that have a neutral tonality and fine grain. I would agree based on the new-stock E100 shots above. To my eye, the colors simply pop without being exaggerated in any way. And while you can certainly detect the grain on the 135 shots when you zoom way in, it’s quite subtle.

One of the things I like about color film in general, and Ektachrome E100 specifically, is how the reds render; they’re so incredibly accurate, and more pleasing to my eye than the digital images I capture with the digital cameras at my disposal:

Well, Hello There, Red, shot on Kodak Ektachrome E100 135. Copyright © 2019 Wesley King.

Kodak Alaris go on to say that it’s a good choice for product shots, landscapes, nature and fashion photography, and with the red rendering (well, the whole spectrum, really), I’d not be inclined to argue.

But as I already alluded to above, the main challenge with any reversal film is that you have to be a little careful about lighting conditions, and thus, the composition and metering as well. Latitude is narrower than with negative films, so you sort of have to nail it to get good results. According to Kodak Alaris, the latitude of E100 is only about half a stop over or under — that’s not a lot, especially considering that a black and white negative film can often stretch 2 or more stops in one direction or the other (or both), as I talked about here.

I want to emphasize the importance of metering. If you use a handheld exposure meter as I do, know how to use it, use it well, and you might take multiple readings from various parts of the scene to be certain you’re getting the right settings. E100 works well with flash or strobe photography, and there too, just be certain you’re metering accurately.

But this also means in practice that scenes with really strong contrast (very bright and very dark areas in the same shot) are unlikely to deliver satisfactory results. That said, even these situations can result in some interesting creative effects, so if you’ve not shot much (or any) reversal film, I’d encourage you to just shoot it, experiment with it, get a feel for it, and embrace its differences from negative films.

Back to E100; for those of us who primarily shoot 120 film, I was pleased to hear that the medium format version of E100 is coated on a nearly 4 mil thick substrate, Kodak’s “Estar” film base. It’s attached to Kodak’s newer backing paper, which Kodak Alaris claim provides enhanced protection for rolls “subjected to less than ideal storage, handling and environment conditions.” Indeed, if you process film at home, it’s hard to miss how nice the quality of the backing paper is when you compare it to the competition. And as I’ve already mentioned in this blog post, I don’t have the sorts of rebate fogging issues with Kodak films that I do with Lomography color films, as one example; clearly Kodak Alaris is doing something differently (and well).

Finally, Kodak Alaris claim that scanning E100 is a breeze, and I’d attest to that. I use an Epson V800, and I simply set the scanner software for reversal (positive) film, and let it do its thing. Given what you can see in the sample shots above, I suspect you’ll agree the results are great. And being able to put the transparencies on a light box, you can visually cross-check whether the scanned results match the transparencies (they do — perfectly).

After I get my E100 in medium format, and have a chance to shoot and process it, I’ll be writing a full review of the film. Honestly, I can’t wait.