How to Pick the Right 35mm for What You’re Shooting

Over the past decade, analog film photography has experienced an impressive resurgence and along with it, so have film cameras, especially those that use 35mm film. This type of film—originally denoted as 135—was introduced by Kodak in 1934 specifically for still photography. You’re probably familiar with the type of film we’re talking about; even if you don’t shoot film, you know what those little canisters look like.

There are three main types of 35mm film. Within each type of film there are many nuances in speed and aesthetic (think VSCO filters, but baked into the fabric of the photograph). There are also differences in how each type of film is developed. These three types of film are color negative, black and white, and slide film.

Film speed, the number in a film stock’s name, which refers to its ISO and is a measure of how sensitive it is to light—the general rule of thumb is the higher the ISO number, the less light is required, and vice versa—is one of the most important factors to consider when selecting film. Exposure latitude, which refers to the level of detail preserved in both the highlights and shadows, is another important factor. Aesthetic, the look of the film once developed, might be the most important.

The recent increase in film photographers has led to a proliferation of film stocks, some of them bizarre, some brought some back from the dead. With so many different 35mm film brands and ISO ratings, it can be overwhelming to figure out where to start.

In this article, we’ll be focusing on 35mm film stocks and the conditions they are best suited for. Selecting the best 35mm film for your needs can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t need to be. While Kodak Portra 160 and Cinestill 800 will both work in your Canon AE-1 or Pentax K1000 and can both produce excellent results, each one will truly excel in very different environments. With this handy guide, you’ll find shopping for 35mm a breeze no matter the environment you’re heading into.

Don’t forget to check out our guide to medium format film and our guide to the best film cameras.

The Best 35mm Film