My review of Kodachrome

Started Jun 25, 2009 | Discussions thread
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Tom Stone
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My review of Kodachrome
Jun 25, 2009

I fondly remember Kodachrome from managing camera stores since the 1960's and later becoming a commercial photographer for a while. I wanted to give my quick take on this legendary film series.

I don't go back to the original Kodachrome which, I believe, had a daylight ASA speed of 6. The Type A version might have been 12. I had a few old rolls come through for processing but I think they had discontinued development for the original stuff by that time. I even got to see some old 4 x 5 Kodachrome transparencies...WOW!!!

Kodachrome II (25) and Kodachrome X (64) were very good but they had almost clown-like color rendition. People liked it though because it made things look better than real. K II was, by far, the superior film. KX tended to be a bit grainy and more subdued in color. The famous Kodachrome reds would almost glow. Overall, it had a warm color rendition.

Kodachrome 25 and 64 were the best slide films, ever. K25 was unbelievably fine grained and incredibly sharp. Much sharper than its predecessor, K II. The dynamic range was quite wide in some respects but the truly accurate exposure range was extremely narrow. A quarter of a stop could make or break an image. Unless you knew your equipment extremely well and had built up a Kodachrome intuition, you always bracketed your shots. You might have wasted some film but the results were amazing. Many photographers purposely under exposed it to enrich the colors. Color accuracy was far better than K II. It was darn near perfect except for the tendency for juicy reds (it is Kodachrome after all)

I did some commercial architectural photography using K25 with my Nikkor 28mm perspective control lens and made 30" x 40" Cibachromes for the client. They were amazed at the quality and wondered what type of large format camera system I was using. I had to show them the original transparencies to make them believe that it was 35mm. However, printing good Cibachromes was a nightmare so it just wasn't a very practical combination. I wish that affordable dye transfers would have been available at the time.

K64 was very good but, again like KX , it was grainier and more subdued than K25 albeit less notably so compared to its predecessor. The extra speed was necessary in some cases so you lived with it. You always compared it to K25 which was probably unfair. K25 was the acme to which everything was compared.

K200 was very sharp but the grain was pretty bad and the color was kind of dull. Fujichromes and Ektachromes were better choices in most cases. Anscochrome, Agfachrome and a few others had interesting attributes but they aren't the subject of this discussion.

People would always complain about the slow ASA speeds (ASA was the predecessor to ISO in case you didn't know) but I believe it made me a better photographer. The slow film speed forced me to slow down and approach the shot as though I was using a large format camera. Most people just snap away and hope that something would come out OK. You just could not do that with Kodachrome 25. Also, a good tripod was your best friend.

Processing was a hassle sometimes and Kodak, plus the few independent labs, would have occasional hiccups at their labs that would cause subtle color shifts. If that happened, you could be in big trouble because reshooting wasn't always an option. The average person usually didn't notice but the real Pros and art directors did. We had photographers that insisted on a certain Kodak lab for processing and would only turn film in to the lab on certain days of the week. Film envelopes could also come back with a "Damaged in Processing" sticker. That could be really bad. Film shreds might pour out of the envelope!

Alas, all things must end. Kodachrome will be missed by some but not all. It represented the best that photography had to offer during its day.

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