Cinestill 400D: the best film for dynamic lighting conditions?


CineStill film is maxed out, and whether you love it or hate it, they’ve built quite an impressive company and breathed new life into the film community. Thanks to them, we now have stocks of packaged film ready to be shot in film cameras and developed in C-41 chemicals.

The new kid on the block is a dynamic 400-speed film widely speculated to be Kodak Vision3 250D; however, CineStill claims otherwise. So, let’s take a look at my results and take a closer look at this wrap.

Released for pre-order on the same day Kodak announced its return from 120 gold, CineStill 400D quickly reached its required orders in 35mm, 120 and, impressively, 4×5 format as well. Movie shooters have gone from sobbing sadly in their soy lattes, as Matt Murray would say, to rejoicing on social media and emptying their bank accounts to get a roll or ten of that new 400-speed film.

My supply arrived a few days before I had planned to shoot a vintage car festival, so I put it in my Olympus OM10 with its understated 50mm Zuiko and rated it at the speed of the box. 400D can easily be pushed multiple stops, but I wanted my first roll to be a benchmark against future rolls, which I might try to evaluate at higher speeds.

I have to say I’m impressed with the performance of this film, and the results have me wanting to add more of this stock to my fridge film collection. Like everything in life, there are pros and cons, and as expected, a price to pay for quality. Is this quality worth it for you filmmakers?

D is for dynamic

The D in CineStill’s ISO 50 film stands for daylight, but in this newcomer the D stands for dynamic. So what does this mean? CineStill says the base sensitivity of 400D is unsurprisingly ISO 400. What’s really impressive is their claim that it can be rated from ISO 200 to 800. Surprisingly, they also say you can push it up to ISO 3200!

I shot in a very dynamic setting of direct Australian winter sun and heavy shadows, often capturing both in the same frame to really test this film’s ability to exhibit in both lighting conditions. As you can see from my results here, this movie most definitely lives up to his name. Shadow areas retained plenty of detail and a pleasing, almost imperceptible fine grain structure, while highlights were rendered beautifully without blowing out.

A few of these shots look a bit underexposed, which could be because I was shooting aperture priority at around f/8 or f/11 to get as much depth as the light allowed. As many of us know and have heard over and over again, it’s often best to overexpose film to retain shadow detail, but despite this rule of thumb, underexposing produced what I would consider exposures very pleasant.

Tones and color palette

Everything is nicely tanned and beautiful here. A warmth reminiscent of Kodak Gold but not as golden and yellow, more brown and coppery. The reds look great. When aren’t they when using film, right? Not as saturated and bold as Kodak Ektar, but deeper and more distinguished feeling. The tints of the cars work so well with this film, and the subject really lends itself to the nostalgic vibe of film photography.

I had my partner take some portraits of me at the end of my roll to check out how this film renders skin tones. For me they are nice, but maybe in these samples a little washed out. Matt Murray shot some footage of his family in more direct light, which seems to have produced a warmer tone.

Halo Station

Simply put and as CineStill explains on its website: “Halo is the reflection of bright points of light off the film base and pressure plate, causing a ‘glow’ in the highlights of some images.” You will notice that this halo effect is quite present in my images, especially on any highly reflective surface such as the metal fenders of classic cars and, more interestingly, in the portraits taken by my partner. That warm glow radiating from my apricot-colored sunglasses, almost like a halo, is quite an interesting and impressive feature of this 400D film.

While all of CineStill’s stocks feature a halo, I’d say this newcomer is the most glamorous of them all! The film community is pretty split in its opinion of this red “glow,” and some think it’s tacky, distracting, or overused. Conversely, other moviegoers are avid shooters of that stock just for that look. 800T has built its reputation online around shots of gas stations, neon lights and rainy scenes reminiscent of cult movies like Blade Runner. Classic cars shot on film are another big trope in the analog photography scene, often mocked by memes, so I thought I’d pair it with CineStill 400D to try and kick off a new trending combo that’s gone cliché?

A new versatile color film?

So, will the 400D be a new benchmark for filmmakers? Its benefits are extremely good, ISO 400 flexibility, dynamic range to die for, pleasing color palette and just enough to stand out, not to mention flattering skin tones which also make it a good portrait film !

The downsides, however, come into play here and take this film down a notch in its filmmaking ability. The price is less than attractive, coming in at AU$29.90 per roll, making this film unappealing to become a favorite anytime soon. In the US you can grab a roll for $14.99, if you find it available, ie. Even once budget-focused stocks quickly rise in price and become harder to find, sadly paying a premium for the movie is a reality we’ll all have to adapt to.

The other dealbreaker for many will be the love-or-hate halo effect. Some purists or professionals balk at the idea of ​​an unnatural or distracting red highlight in an image and prefer to use an option with more predictable and neutral results.

I can see creative and experimental photographers enjoying this film as a point of difference to see how they can use the unique rendering characteristics and exploit the exposure options. Whatever you think of the look of this movie, I’m grateful to companies like CineStill who are finding exciting ways to make high-quality movie stocks available to more people, and that can only be a good thing.

All images were developed and scanned by Ikigai Film Lab with a Fuji Frontier.


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