Testing the Dynamic Range Limits for Medium Format Film: Kodak Ektachrome E100

Current digital medium format cameras offer some of the best in image quality. One of the big advantages that these large sensor cameras have is dynamic range. Most currently medium format cameras offer around 15 stops worth of dynamic range when shooting raw. How does medium format film compare to that? 

A recent video from Kyle McDougall demonstrates how flexible a specific stock of medium format film is. The film McDougall chose for this test is the relatively new Ektachrome E100 film from Kodak. I find it somewhat strange that a new version of film was recently released, yet, I'm also very pleased about this fact. 

Film sales have been increasing steadily over the last few years and Kodak has ramping up production. The fact that a new version of film is being released into the market, is quite remarkable. 

McDougall conducts a number of tests on the scanned film, to see how far images can be pushed. My understanding is that in general, most film tend to be better when over exposed slightly. Under exposing film in my experience, tends to produce muddy looking colors and shadow detail is difficult or not at all possible to recover. 

If you're interested in seeing how this new film performs, check out the full video linked above. 

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Neil Gibb's picture

Reversal blows out when overexposed. Negative is more dense when overexposed. Different thinking needed. Digital is more like reversal than negative.

Usman Dawood's picture

That’s interesting, I didn’t know that. Thank you :-).

Ed Sanford's picture

Yep, back in the film days, reversal films were slightly underexposed to improve the colors . Plus it had a very short dynamic range. Conversely, print film had more flexibility toward the "over exposure" side.

Jakub Valovič's picture

Reversal film is bit couterintuitive - silver from camera exposure and first development (wich basically creates negative image) is all bleached away, then the film is exposed to light (or a specific chemical is used instead of light) and developed again. So, in areas of overexposure which would yield higher density (in negative) will remain little to nothing to create positive image after bleaching.

Tony Tumminello's picture

I have a photo that I keep on my Flickr account as a teaching tool of what NOT to do with reversal film. The biggest sin was exposing for the shadows in a high-contrast shot, turned out awful and trying to do any amount of recovery to the frame in post was a fool's errand.

Roger Knopf's picture

Exactly what I was thinking. The authors advice applies to negative film. I always gave VPS and Portra a 1/3 stop over.

Dan Howell's picture

I disagree. Any quality RAW digital capture should have far more dynamic range than the most carefully handled reversal film. I would consider it closer to negative than reversal.

Randy Little's picture

Yeah ektar 100 neg will smoke e100 for dynamic range. Hell gold 400 probably will.

Tony Clark's picture

This takes me back to the beginning of my photo career. I shot a lot of models and loved Fuji RDP or Kodak 100SW rated at 80, run a clip test normal and run the balance +1/2 or more depending on the models complexion.

Heratch Ekmekjian's picture

I seem to remember having shot some 100SW...so you overexposed it a bit, eh? I used to routinely rate 35mm KR64 at 80 for richer colors, but left the 120 chromes at box speed. I probably should've tried your approach.
On another note, I've had good results from camera "scans" of my old Kodachromes. The Canon Raw files managed to find a lot of detail in the shadows.

Leo Tam's picture

Guys used to bracket in 1/3 stops and he's going 2-3 stops over

Ivan Lantsov's picture

NOT 15 of range, you get lucky for 1 overxpsed Under 2 mabe but picture look vry vry bad

Petr Svitil's picture

The article said that most Medium format cameras when shot RAW have 15 stops. Not the film

James Lane's picture

Reversal (positive) films are naturally low in DR. Negative films have a huge dynamic range particularly Portra 400 which has 17 stops of dynamic range and can be overexposed by 10 stops and still have detail in the highlights.

Digital photographers just want to bash film because they are narrow minded and seem to be always be confused why film is as big as it is today. They seem to be stuck in an alternate reality where they think film is insignificant or dead.

Jakub Valovič's picture

Whoa, you have a source about the portra? (Not that I'm doubting that, portra 400 is *really* nice film, 17 stops is just beyond any expectation)

James Lane's picture

Can't remember where I read it but here is an article claiming 18


Lawrence S's picture

One article from 2011. Comparing film to sensors from ten years ago. Today those sensors have almost 15 stops, not 12 as described in the article. Film is unique and will always be unique. That's why I keep using it in several formats, next to digital. But the practical use is nowhere near as comparable to modern day digital sensors. That is a fact and what made it near irrelevant in the fast paced & high volume professional world. Some famous landscape or portrait photographers who shoots film or a hipster wearing a funny hat and posting 6x7 photos on Instagram (in 2MP format), are not going to change that. I don't understand the need that people have to defend film over digital, like you, calling digital users narrow minded. You can prefer the colours, be nostalgic or love the soft highlight roll off, but as a complete system it is almost impossible to work with professionally in the current age. Only few people succeed.

Lawrence S's picture

And a modern sensor has several stops full of data in the shadows while film is severely limited in that direction. Your point? You're stuck in the alternative reality that all photographers only take photos in daylight and have thousands of dollars to spend at rolls for their assignments. Is this really still a thing? Film is a niche for most, if not all photographers. Accept it, use both and move on.

James Lane's picture

And film can do the same but in the highlights. Your point is?

Lawrence S's picture

Really? Are you 8 years old?

Randy Little's picture

If I shoot a 5 shot 2 stop per exposure bracket digitally and make an HDRI It's a lot of dynamic range. But same with film bracket. At some point it's more range than ever needed by both. But yeah portra 400 even the 160 has a lot of range for a single exposure. Kodak vision 3 motion film neg is 15ish

Deleted Account's picture

Medium format film has the same dynamic range as 35mm film (a function of the dynamic range being a characteristic of the emulsion rather than the size of photo sites on a sensor)... Also, slide film is well known to have crap for dynamic range. That's not what it was used for. If you want dynamic range, negative film is what you should be using. Also, overexposing slide film is just horrible practice.

Jakub Valovič's picture

Exposure tests are (relatively) important, here's my $0.02:
- dynamic range does not make a photograph
- slide film is famous for having a limited DR anyway
- one does not chose a medium for a DR, rather for a look (feel?)
- no one in their right mind will shoot medium format film without metering (especially slide film, it's rather expensive)
- for slide film underexpose 1/3-1/2 stop and meter for highlights, vice-versa for negative film (you can retrieve more shadows from a slide and more highlights from a negative; that's just how the film works)
- learn the film before shooting important things - you will waste 2-5 rolls, but you will know how to expose for the best in given situation and given process. Also, in really important shots, bracketing (at least +1/-1) is your best friend - e.g. around here (central Europe) 1 frame of medium format Velvia with processing will cost you ~2,50€

Petr Svitil's picture

There's differencw between Dynamic Range and Exposure Latitude

Tim Cool's picture

These look like noritsu or fuji lab scan, just look at the shadow area, most ccd sensor cant pull out high density detail from reversal film, this is why it is so dark, you need to find a printing house that use prepress tube scanner, in the 90s most people underexpose 0.5-1 stops, we all know slide film has more dynamic range in the shadow area, dont use those photo lab scanning service they are designed for negative, these ccd sensor washout highlight area in slide film

Tim Cool's picture

You know what the limited factor here is the scanner, you are actually looking at the dynamic range of the ccd base scanner not the film, you need a prepress tube scanner to see the magic of slide film

Ash G's picture

Prepress tube scanner? Not getting strong search results when I google it.

I’d like to hear more about this. I want to ask my lab if they do this (I just bought a new MF camera and some ektachrome) and I’d like to not sound dumb lol.