Recommended Beginner Film for the Canon AE-1 Program

By Nathaniel Stephan
Last Updated: May 10, 2020
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35mm Film To Use

The best film to use in the Canon AE-1 Program should be based on the lens, available light, and type of film you want to use.

Taking advantage of an ISO 400 35mm or higher speed will let you eliminate needing to lug around a flash or tripod.

If you would like to shoot images in low light, such as indoors, make sure that you are using a fast lens. For lens recommendations go read my article on the 5 Best Lenses for the Canon AE-1 Program.

Color Film


Consumer 35mm Color Negative Film

Kodak UltraMax 400 - A fantastic selection for a plethora of conditions. Using this film you should have the ability to handhold the AE-1 Program in just about all situations.

Expect photographs to look a bit warm with amazing skin tones.

Fujifilm Superia X-TRA ISO 400 - Based on your location, this film could have greater availability. It's a great alternative to Kodak film.

Fujifilm images tend to have cooler colors with an emphasis on greens and blues, compared to Kodak.

Lomography 800 - You're limited to just a small number of offerings if you want a color ISO 800 film. For film stocks geared towards consumers, Lomography 800 is the only option.

Additionally, if you have a medium format camera, Lomography 800 is also sold in 120 film format.

Kodak Gold 200 - An excellent way to get that mid-80s through 90s rendering. Use a flash to get the "authentic" look.

Over-expose it by 1 or 2-stops to create the best the film can achieve. This will ensure that you get the appealing colors everyone loves Kodak Gold for.


Kodak Portra 400 ISO Color Negative 35mm Film

Kodak Portra 400 - By far the most popular color negative film among photography enthusiasts online. Overexpose the film by 1 or 2-stops to get the overall look the film is known for.

Plus, ISO 800 and ISO 160 emulsions of Portra. As well as in rolls of 120 film, 4x5 sheets, and 8x10 sheets.

Fujifilm Fujicolor Pro 400H - The Fujifilm film that is closest to Kodak Portra 400, but with a different color appearance. Expect to see more vibrant greens and blues.

4x5 or 8x10 sheets of film aren't produced, but 120 film is available.

Black and White Film


These film emulsions have reasonable costs and excellent quality, making them very popular to use in the Canon AE-1 Program.

The main appeal for photography students and budget-minded photographers is the reasonable price. Even if you don't put yourself in those groups, it is great to have comparatively cheap rolls of 35 film available for trying out newly acquired used gear.

Consumer Black & White 35mm Film

Kentmere 400 - Manufactured by Harmon Technology, which is the parent company of Ilford. This is excellent considering that allows this to be the most broadly sold film out of the 3.

Foma Fomapan 400 Action - It will probably less difficult to find in Europe as the film is made by Foma Bohemia inside of the Czech Republic.

A very good film stock to use for your initial few attempts at developing film at home or analog photography. Also, a good selection if you're trying out a camera to confirm that it's totally operational.

Ultrafine eXtreme 400 - The best place to get this film is online directly from Ultrafine.

If you develop film yourself, you could have used developer produced by them.


The two best black & white 35mm film emulsions are Kodak Tri-X 400 and Ilford HP-5+ 400. While they both possess unique rendering, they possess quite a few qualities that are equivalent that help makes them so well-liked.

You can enjoy good quality photos after pushing both films 2-stops. A roll can be used at ISO 400, 800, or 1600, making them remarkably flexible.

Box of Ilford HP5 Plus ISO 400 35mm Black & White Film

Ilford HP5 Plus 400 - The fundamental differences are that HP5 Plus has lower levels of contrast and is more affordable compared to Tri-X. Low amounts of contrast can be advantageous because contrast can be adjusted when making a print or editing digitally.

The film stock still appears outstanding when pushed 2-stops. It is also recognized for having subdued grain.

Kodak Tri-X 400 35mm Film

Kodak Tri-X 400 - This film emulsion has got a more distinctive aesthetic to it. To bring out the legendary grain structure, contrast, and look of the film, it should be processed in Kodak D-76.

Tri-X certainly has far more contrast. That is beneficial if it is the look you are looking for because it results in not as much work when during digital post-processing or making a print in the darkroom.

Transparency Film

Film emulsions that create a positive image are typically referred to as transparency, slide, or reversal film. That means a lightbox or projector can be used to show the photographs.

Colors don't need to be inverted to be viewed, as opposed to the more commonplace negative film stocks.

Slide films have substantially less dynamic range and latitude compared to negative films and so they are regarded as harder to use.

Kodak Ektachrome 100 35mm Film

Kodak Ektachrome 100 - This is a film known for fine grain and wonderful skin tones. The colors won't show up oversaturated. The film is daylight balanced.

Fujifilm Velvia 50 - Creates signature looking pictures that have high levels of contrast and saturation. It is a sharp daylight balanced film emulsion. When compared with all the transparency films available, it has the top resolving power.

An ISO 100 speed is also offered.

Fujifilm Provia 100F - Produces vibrant and realistic colors with moderate contrast and color saturation. It has ultra-fine grain with a daylight color balance.

Foma Fomapan R100 - This is a black and white reversal film, reported by Fomapan as having high resolving power, fine grain, and higher levels of contrast. It's also billed as a replacement for the long-discontinued Agfa Scala transparency film.

Film Basics

Consumer vs Professional Film

Pro film stocks cost more since they have a greater dynamic range, are easier to push, and expanded latitude.

You should be prepared for a big difference in businesses that sell 35mm rolls of film. Consumer films can commonly be seen in big-box stores and pharmacies in meager amounts. Pro film stocks often need to be bought online or from a photography store.


Film speed is shown as ISO, which may also be thought of as the film's sensitivity to light.

The less light available to get an image, the bigger the ISO of the film will have to be. Also, be prepared for larger sized film grain.

It might be challenging to handhold the AE-1 Program with ISO 100 or slower speed films (ISO 25, ISO 50, etc). This is because if you do not have full sun, the shutter speeds will probably take longer than what you’re able to handhold without causing motion blur.

To stop motion blur you are going to need to use a fast lens, flash, and/or tripod. Using a fast ISO 800 or ISO 400 film will likely make the additional gear not needed.

The ISO knob is marked as ASA on the Canon AE-1 Program. The shift to labeling ISO from ASA (American Standards Association) happened after the creation of the International Standards Organization (ISO).

Film Latitude

Latitude is the number of stops a film can be overexposed while producing adequate results. Pro film stocks have a larger latitude paired with a somewhat higher cost.

Negative film has more latitude when compared to reversal film. That is a reason it's perceived as difficult to shoot.

Dynamic Range

The range between the darkest and brightest details of a photograph is referred to as dynamic range. Parts of a photo that don't fit within this range will be rendered as completely black underexposed shadows or totally white overexposed highlights.

A bigger dynamic range is better due to the fact that it helps make shooting in variable lighting situations easier.

  • Digital cameras 14+ stops
  • Negative film up to 13 stops
  • Slide film 6-8 stops

The limited dynamic range of slide film is a further factor it's considered to be tough to shoot. Golden hour is the ideal time to use transparency.

Film Type

35mm film that is sold in metal canisters is used by the Canon AE-1 Program. The film can also be referred to as 135 film, and it's the most widely used film format.

120 or 220 film, used in medium format cameras, is the only other film format you are going to encounter.

One of the terrific things about film is that you can swap the film stock you work with and get a fresh look to your pictures.

DX Coded Film

DX Encoding on a 35mm Film Canister

All commercially available 35mm film for sale these days has DX encoding. This allows cameras to detect and set the ISO of the film loaded into the camera.

The ASA (ISO) on the Canon AE-1 Program is required to be selected manually. This means that DX-coding is not going to be of any use.

Canon AE-1 Program Resources

Where to Get 35mm Film Developed?

You will find a few possibilities for where to process 35mm film. For a more extensive discussion of the choices take a look at my article on Where to Get Film Developed.

WARNING: Film is no longer processed on location at pharmacies and big box stores. They send the film away to be processed by a separate company. As a consequence, you won't be given your negatives back.

  1. Develop Film at Home
  2. Use a Local Photography Lab
  3. Use a Mail Order Photo Lab
  4. Pharmacy or Big Box Store

The least complicated method and the method I would suggest doing if you're just getting started shooting film is to send off your film to a photo lab to be processed and scanned. If you consistently use film, this can be a downside due to the fact that it can get really expensive.

Assuming that you're going through a moderate to high volume of film, there are a couple of activities that you are capable of doing to minimize your expenses.

Bulk Loading Film

Getting a bulk roll of 100 feet of film and loading it into canisters by hand is certainly one of the most common ways to lower expenses.

A 100-foot bulk roll will load roughly 18 canisters of film containing 36 frames. Count on cost savings of 20-30% based on your pick.

Be aware that you are limited to bulk rolls of black & white film. This is in part because black & white film is easier and less expensive to develop yourself.

Home Developing and Scanning

All film can be processed at home. In fact, it's an intelligence method to lower your costs so you can use more film with your Canon AE-1 Program.

Black and white film is much easier to process at home. Developer temperature and development times are not as vital to get correct with black & white film as time and temperatures are for transparency or color negative.

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