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Understanding the Differences Between Amateur and Professional Photo Film

Before we dive into exploring test photography, let’s agree on a few terms. All kinds of people take photos with film these days. From schoolchildren to pensioners. Each has a different motivation and a different camera. There are photographers who want to distort the original image as much as possible. With a Polaroid, for example. And there are photographers who want the maximum quality of their film photography. Obviously, the worse the film, the warmer it feels. So we address this article to the second category of photographers.

there are different kinds of film

There are different kinds of film

Photographic film is divided into amateur and professional films. There are intermediate films that are conventionally called advanced amateur films. Professional films are more expensive. They use advanced emulsions and therefore differ from amateur films in other consumer properties.

Professional film is better than amateur film

How is it better? The easiest way to answer this tricky question is with a photo example. We will compare two negative films: the amateur Fujicolor C200 and the professional Fujicolor Pro 400H. These films stand at two price poles. The C200 is one of the most affordable and the Pro 400H is closer to the top of the market. A comparison between these two iconic films is a thankless exercise. Behind each is an army of fans, and what’s good for one is bad for the other. But we have to compare them! So we propose to use the following criteria:
  • colour rendering;
  • dynamic range;
  • graininess;
  • universality.

Examples of photos on the Fujicolor C200:

Examples of photos on the Fujicolor Pro 400H:

The budget C200 film is a bit colour-styled and looks more film-like overall, with some colours slightly distorted. The more expensive Pro 400H film produces correct colours and is closer to natural colour.

The biggest difference, as usual, is in portraits. The budget C200 has a parasitic reddish tint on the skin. It’s reminiscent of an Instagram filter. The more expensive Pro 400H captures the colour of your skin perfectly without the shadow of a doubt that it’s a film photograph.

In terms of the metrics we chose to compare these films (colour reproduction, grain and versatility), both are close. Professional Pro 400H has better colour reproduction and is more versatile due to its higher sensitivity. You will feel the biggest difference in portrait photography.

You might ask why then pay double the price if the difference is so insignificant? I’m sorry, we cited a very similar film pattern as an example. This is Fijifilm policy: their films do not vary much in price. Standing out are Fuji slide films, which are strikingly different from the negative ones.

If you compare, for example, Kodak Color Plus 200 and Kodak Portra 400, the difference is much greater!

Examples of photos on the Kodak Color Plus 200:

Examples of photos on a Kodak Portra 160:

Feel the difference. Amateur Kodak Color Plus kills the skintone and distorts the colours and then seems to boost colour and contrast. And that’s neither a good thing nor a bad thing. It’s just a fact, it’s that kind of film. The professional Kodak Portra, on the other hand, is the opposite: it conveys colour perfectly, spices up the colours a little, making them less garish and giving the photograph charm.

These films have very different colour reproduction, grain and versatility. Even though the ISO is about the same.

Conclusions

We found that amateur and professional films differ from each other, and you can see it with the naked eye. The difference is more pronounced with Kodak than with Fuji.

We recommend that you go with professional film only if you are trying to get the most out of your film photography, and have top notch equipment, good processing and good scanning to achieve high quality.

Otherwise, you might not be able to tell the difference. We recommend amateur film if you’re a lifestyle photographer or just enjoy the fun of the process of film photography. Amateur film will give you everything you want but at half the price.