Best Film for the Canon AE-1

By Nathaniel Stephan
Last Updated: August 24, 2020
Best 35mm Film To Use

The best film to use in your Canon AE-1 is going to depend on the lighting conditions, your lens, and if you want to shoot color or black & white.

To avoid having to carry around a tripod and/or flash, pick a film that has an ISO of 400 or faster.

If you want to take photos indoors or anytime there is low light, make sure you have a fast lens. For suggestions check out my article on the 5 Best Lenses for the Canon AE-1.

Color Film

Consumer

Box of Kodak UltraMax 400 ISO 35mm film for cameras

Kodak UltraMax 400 - An excellent choice for a variety of lighting conditions. The film is fast enough so that you should be able to handhold the AE-1 in most situations.

The images will have excellent reds and oranges and tend to be on the warm side.

Fujifilm Superia X-TRA ISO 400 - An alternative to Kodak that may have greater availability depending on where you are in the world.

Compared to Kodak, Fuji tends to be a bit cooler with stronger greens and blues.

Lomography 800 - There are only a few choices if you want an ISO 800 speed color film. This happens to be the only film stock targeted to consumers.

It can also be found in the 120 film format.

Kodak Gold 200 - A surefire way to get that mid-1980s through the 90s look. For the authentic experience use an on-camera flash.

To really bring the best out of this film, over-expose it by 2 stops. This will give you the beautiful color people love the film for.

Professional

Box of Kodak Portra 400 ISO 35mm film

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

Portra is also available in ISO 160 and ISO 800 versions. As well as in rolls of 120, 4x5 sheets, and 8x10 sheets.

Fujifilm Fujicolor Pro 400H - The Fujifilm equivalent to Portra, but with "Fuji colors." Expect stronger greens and blues.

It is not available in 4x5 or 8x10 sheets.

Black and White Film

Consumer

These film stocks have low prices and good quality, making them quite popular for use in the Canon AE-1.

The biggest draw for budget minded photographers and photography students is the low cost. Even if you wouldn't put yourself in that group, it is nice to have inexpensive rolls of film around for testing newly purchased used cameras.

Kentmere 400 black & white 35mm camera film

Kentmere 400 - Made by Harmon Technology, which is also the parent company of Ilford. This is excellent because that makes this the most widely available film of the 3.

Foma Fomapan 400 Action - Might be easier to find in Europe as the film is made by Foma Bohemia in the Czech Republic.

A good option if you are looking to test out a camera to make sure that it is functioning correctly. Also good to use for your first couple of attempts at film photography or home developing.

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

If you develop color film at home, you may have used chemicals sold by them.

Professional

The two most popular black and white film stocks are Ilford HP-5 Plus 400 and Kodak Tri-X 400. While they both have unique looks, they do have many traits in common that makes them so popular.

Both films can be pushed 2 stops and still produce good results. This makes the film versatile as a roll can be shot at 400, 800, or 1600.

Ilford HP5+ ISO 400 35mm Film

Ilford HP5 Plus 400 - Between the two film stocks, HP5 Plus is less expensive and has less contrast. A lack of contrast can be an advantage because the contrast can be increased when making a print or editing digitally.

The film has subtle grain and still looks great when pushed 2-stops.

Kodak Professional Tri-X 400TX Film Stock

Kodak Tri-X 400 - To bring out the classic grain structure, contrast, and look of the film, it should be developed in D-76.

The film definitely has more contrast. That's great if it is the look you want because it means less work in post or when printing.

Slide Film

Reversal film, also known as slide film or transparency film, produces a positive image. This allows the photos to be displayed with a projector.

This is different from the more common negative film stocks that produce images that need the colors to be inverted in order to be viewable.

Slide films are considered difficult to use because slide film has less latitude and dynamic range than negative film.

Box of Kodak Ektrachrome E100 Transparency Film

Kodak Ektachrome 100 - This is a fine grain film known for beautiful skin tones. There is no hypersaturation of colors. You can overexpose the film by 1-stop to change the color tones. Daylight balanced.

Fujifilm Velvia 50 - A very sharp daylight balanced film with high levels of saturation and contrast, giving photographs a unique look. It has the highest resolving power of any available slide film.

You can also get it in a ISO 100 version.

Fujifilm Provia 100F - Produces vivid and natural colors with medium color saturation and contrast. It has a daylight color balance and ultrafine grain.

Foma Fomapan R100 - This is a black and white transparency film, described by Fomapan as having very fine grain, high resolving power, and higher contrast. It is also billed as a replacement for discontinued Agfa Scala.

Film Basics

Consumer vs Professional Film

Professional film stocks cost more because they have greater latitude, dynamic range, and can more easily be pushed.

There will also be a difference in availability. Consumer films can often still be found in pharmacies and big-box stores in small quantities. Professional film will need to be purchased from a specialized photography store or online.

ISO

The ISO represents the film speed, which can also be thought of as the film's sensitivity to light.

The higher the ISO, the less light is needed to expose an image. This comes at the cost of larger film grain.

ISO 100 and slower speed films (ISO 50, ISO 25, etc) can be difficult to use handheld. Without full sun, the exposure times will be longer than what you can handhold without causing motion blur.

To get around this you'll need to use a tripod, a fast lens, and/or a flash. Using a fast ISO 400 or ISO 800 film will make the extra gear unnecessary.

As a quick note, the dial to select film speed is listed as ASA on the Canon AE-1. The switch to using ISO from ASA (American Standards Association) came after the creation of the ISO (International Standards Organization).

Latitude

Latitude is the number of stops film can be overexposed while still retaining acceptable quality. Professional film stocks have a greater latitude along with a slightly higher price.

Slide film (reversal film) has less latitude than negative film. That is one of the reasons it is more difficult to shoot.

Dynamic Range

The dynamic range represents the difference between the brightest and darkest parts of an image that can be captured. Areas of a photograph that fall out of this range will be displayed as solid black underexposed shadows or solid white overexposed highlights.

A larger range is preferable because it makes working in a variety of 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 another reason it is considered difficult to shoot. A great time to give it a try would be during the golden hour.

Film Type

The Canon AE-1 uses 35mm film that comes in canisters. It can also be referred to as 135 film. It is also the most commonly used type of film.

The only other type of film you are likely to encounter is 120 or 220 film that is used in medium format cameras.

One of the wonderful things about film is that you can switch the film emulsion you use and get a completely different look to your photographs.

DX Coded Film

DX Encoding on a 35mm Film Canister

Most commercially available 35mm film sold today has DX encoding on the canister. This allows electronically controlled cameras to automatically detect the ISO of the film loaded.

The ASA (ISO) on the Canon AE-1 needs to be manually set. So DX-coding doesn't matter.

Canon AE-1 Resources

Where to Get Film Developed?

There are several options for where to get film processed. For a more thorough discussion of the options check out my guide on Where to Develop Film.

WARNING: Pharmacies and big box stores no longer develop film on site. They send the film off to be developed by a third party. As a result, you will not receive 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 easiest option and what I would suggest doing if you're just starting to shoot film is to mail off your film to be processed and scanned. A downside to this is that it becomes expensive if you regularly shoot film.

There are a couple of things that you can do to reduce the expenses involved in shooting film, as long as you are shooting a moderate to high volume of film.

Bulk Loading Film

One of the most popular ways to save money on film is to buy a bulk roll of 100' of film and load it into canisters yourself. You'll need a daylight film loader and a daylight loading bag or darkroom to load the film into the bulk film loader.

All said and done, you'll end up with around 18 rolls of 36 exposures. Depending on the film stock you can expect to save 20%-30%.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you're only going to find bulk rolls of black and white film. This is in part because black and white film is easier and less expensive to develop at home.

Home Developing and Scanning

You can develop and scan any film at home. In fact, it is a great way to save money so you can shoot more film with your Canon AE-1.

Black and white film is by far the easiest to develop. Temperature and time are both not as necessary to get correct with black and white film as they are for color negative or slide film.

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