What’s Is (Ultra) Low ISO Film (and how do I shoot it)?
If you scroll around Instagram or Facebook gazing at gorgeous photography as much as I do, you’re bound to come across stunning, distinctive images shot with Low and Ultra Low ISO Film. Low ISO works for just about any subject matter and is often a favorite of portrait photographers looking for sharpness in detail that holds up when the image is enlarged.
A large number of films with Low ISO in the 25 – 100 range marketed for consumer use can be found online at most film retailers. But what if that amazing, unusual image you saw was shot with a film with an ISO of 6 or lower? I mean, how difficult was that film to shoot? And most importantly, WHERE CAN I GET SOME?
above: Photo by Mark Dalzell shot on Kodak 2254 Color / Nikon s2 camera
I’m happy to say, you don’t have to be a technical shooter to master shooting with (Ultra) Low ISO Film. Let’s start with the basics:
WHAT IS ISO?
According to Wikipedia, ISO is the measure of a film’s sensitivity to light. For film shooter, this means a finer grain film that needs less light but requires a slower shutter speed. Practically, this simply means setting the light sensitivity on your camera’s internal light meter. When shooting digital you can adjust your ISO on every shot. When shooting film, each roll of film has its very own ISO – meaning, you set it for that roll and ride it out until the roll is shot.
WHAT IS LOW ISO? WHAT IS (ULTRA) LOW ISO?
There are many films considered Low ISO in the market. For the sake of this conversation we are considering (Ultra) Low ISO any film with an ISO of 6 or less, since most newer SLR cameras can “dial in” an ISO as low as 6, but at less than 6 you need to get out your hand-held light meter or app!
above: Canon EOS film cameras can dial down to ISO 6 allowing you to use the internal light meter.
HOW DO I SHOOT LOW ISO FILM?
In order to shoot a film with an ISO of 6 or lower, you will need a manual SLR film camera (or a newer auto SLR that can be switched to manual mode). You cannot shoot Low ISO film in a compact 35mm camera (like a Yashica T4 or Olympus Stylus) because the lowest ISO these cameras can shoot is ISO 25.
If the ISO is lower than 6 (like the ISO 1.6 of Kodak 2254 Color), then you will need a light meter app (for your phone), an old-timey hand-held light meter (like the Gossen Luna Pro F) or the Black Cat Exposure Guide. I know, I know, it sounds like a lot of work...but it’s not!
above: Mat Marrash using the Black Cat Exposure Guide.and The Gossen Luna Pro F light meter famous for being the recommended meter for Czech cinematographer Beda Batka
TOO MUCH TROUBLE. I JUST WANT TO POINT AND SHOOT!
If you’re like me, you’ll run out the door forgetting your phone and light meter! What to do? Wing it! For shooting super low ISO films “on the fly”, I recommend using a fast, wide lens (f 1.8 or even better – f1.4). For the focus length, I recommend a 28mm, 24mm or wider. The wider the lens, the less likely you’ll shake your image if shooting hand-held. Everyone here at The FPP will recommend using a tripod because low ISO means longer shutter times when exposing your image. I too recommend the tripod, even though I often ignore my own recommendation.
So, no light meter? What to do? Shoot in broad sunlight. Open up your lens to the widest aperture (f1.4 or f1.8) and set your shutter speed for 1/15th second. That’s it! You may want to bracket your shots – shooting additional images at 1/10th second, 1/30th second. Taking notes will be helpful.
DON’T GIVE UP.
If you shoot your first roll of Low ISO film and are not jazzed by your images, do not give up. Old but true – Rome was not built in a day. Practice really does make perfect (as you can see by the results posted in this very blog)! Keep at it and you will capture magical images!
OK, SO NOW I’M INTERESTED IN SHOOTING (ULTRA) LOW ISO FILM. WHERE CAN I GET IT?
There are several (Ultra) Low ISO films available. Not all of them were manufactured for traditional photographic use, which is one of the reasons they are distinctive – and why you will never see these films factory-rolled by their manufacturer and made available for individual consumer use.
You can buy these films in 1000 ft industrial rolls, cut the film and roll it onto a cartridge with a home hand-rolling machine – then pop the cartridges in your camera!
Or, you can purchase Ultra Low ISO film originally from industrial rolls that has been cut and rolled onto a cartridge with a home hand-rolling machine by someone else! Here is a short list of three types of hand-rolled films available to shoot immediately, and you can find them all at the Film Photography Project On-Line Store (or specifically Kodak Panchromatic 2238) at UltraFine Online and other online stores like photographer Michael Bartosek’s Etsy store.
above: Stunning portrait shot on Kodak 2254 Low ISO Color by Nopawach Gajajiva
KODAK 2254 LOW ISO COLOR
Kodak Super Low Speed (35mm) is a low-speed duplicating film. That means it is intended for making digital dupes in motion picture film labs. When using in your 35mm camera to shoot, this film will produce a film negative. There is no rem jet associated with this film (like other color Vision stocks) and can be self-developed at home (in the FPP C-41 Negative Development Kit). This film can also be commercially processed by The Darkroom and other commercial labs that process C-41 films.
above: Photo on Kodak 2254 Low ISO Color by Mickael Kaplan - https://www.instagram.com/kaplanme/
below: Studio portrait on Kodak 2254 Low ISO Color film by https://www.instagram.com/coma_vision/
Is Kodak 2254 Low ISO color film Daylight or Tungsten (Studio Light) Balanced? Neither! The film is designed to be exposed under laser, CRT, and LED light sources. Since this film was not manufactured for in-camera use, colors may be a bit off-beat. Also, this film does not appear to have a standard anti-halation layer. It does have an Anti-Static Layer! According to Kodak, "the anti-static layer remains with the film after processing, eliminating the electrostatic attraction of dirt particles to the processed film, even at relatively low humidity. A very thin polymeric backing layer coated on top of the anti-static layer provides improved resistance to back-side scratches, cinch marks, and abrasion of both raw stock and processed film. The backing layer also contains process-surviving lubricant and matte to optimize winding and transport characteristics".
Gorgeous portrait shot on Kodak 2238 Panchromatic BW Film by Will Alexander on Flickr.
KODAK 2238 PANCHROMATIC BW FILM
According to The WikiPedia, a panchromatic emulsion “produces a realistic reproduction of a scene as it appears to the human eye, although with no colors. Almost all modern photographic film is panchromatic.” Films you know like Kodak Tri-X or Ilford HP5 are panchromatic.
Michael Bartosek shot this "painterly" landscape on his Pentax K1000 slr camera. Michael LOVES this film so much that he started a Kodak 2238 group on FaceBook!
Kodak says, “KODAK Panchromatic Separation Film 2238 (ESTAR Base) is a black-and-white film intended for making archival black-and-white separation positives from color negative originals. Other product applications for this film include special effects, density cover mattes, panchromatic masters from black-and-white negatives, and restoration work.”
Establishing that this is also a film not made for pictorial use, shooters world-wide shoot it regardless of the intended usage. We’re established that this is an ISO 6 film.
above: Photo shot by Michael Raso on Kodak 2366 / Canon EOS 10s camera
KODAK 2366 BLUE SENSITIVE BW FILM
According to Print-Wiki – Blue Sensitive film is "A type of photographic film which is only sensitive to light in the blue portion of the visible spectrum (or, in other words, light having a wavelength between 450 and 500 nanometers) and in the ultraviolet portion of the spectrum. Also known as color blind film, blue-sensitive film—unlike orthochromatic and panchromatic films—can be used somewhat safely outside a darkroom, and is often used for photo imaging utilizing ultraviolet light."
What does that mean for your photography? You will achieve an amazing fine grain look and skin tones may look “chrom-ee”. Definitely a very unique look!
above: Shot by long-time Film Photography Podcast listener August Kelm on Svema Blue Sensitive 35mm bw Film/ Yashica FX-3 Super 2000 set to 1/8 of a second, an adapted Helios 44-2 lens at wide open (f/2), and a cheap $10 monopod!
There you have it, the low-down on Ultra Low ISO. Get shooting!
Low ISO Films at The FPP On-Line Store
KODAK 2254 LOW ISO COLOR
KODAK 2238 PANCHROMATIC BW FILM
KODAK 2366 BLUE SENSITIVE BW FILM
Other (Ultra) Low ISO films to explore at The FPP – Svema BLUE Sensitive, Svema Super Positive Film, Kodak Kodalith, Kodak Fine Grain 5302 and Svema Mz3
Additional reading: What is Blue Sensitive Film?
About Michael Raso - In 2009, Michael’s enthusiasm for traditional film photography inspired him to found the Film Photography Project and its fortnightly internet radio show, the Film Photography Podcast (FPP). Today, the FPP and its instructional videos, exclusive products and Walking Workshops have converted photographers around the globe to the joys of film photography. And most rewarding, the FPP’s popular Camera Donation Program continues to place analog cameras, film and lenses into the hands of kids and instructors world-wide.
In 2019, Michael (along with fellow FPP contributor Owen McCafferty) began testing new, unusual, laboratory film stocks with the intention of altering them to 35mm, 16mm and 8mm film formats for consumer use in your still and motion picture cameras! Stay tuned for the results!