Not to jump to any conclusions, but since you’re looking for the best film for your Canon AE-1, I’m going to assume that you’re just starting with film photography. If that’s the case, perfect! I have some useful information that I’ve learned throughout my time with film photography that will help you out in choosing the best film stock for your Canon.
Like you, I just started in film photography not too long ago and I hope this information will save you some time and money so you can get going even faster.
The 3 Different Film Stocks
Black and White Film
There is nothing like a good black and white film to put through your Canon AE-1. My favorite way to use black and white film is for street photography, but I also really love it as a film to capture and document everyday life with.
The best part about black and white film is that it’s super easy to develop and scan at home using a monobath solution like Cinestill DF96, which can save you a lot of money in the long run.
When you’re first getting started, I’d recommend you to send your film to a professional lab to scan and develop, but eventually, you should definitely try to do it yourself!
Color Negative Film
Color negative film is probably what you think about when you think of film photography and is my favorite to shoot with. The best part about color negative is that there is such a wide variety of different color negative film stocks to try and each one has its unique aesthetic.
Unlike black and white film, it’s a little more difficult to develop and scan color negative film at home.
Developing is a little harder because there is no monobath solution for color negative and you have to control the temperature of your chemicals a little more. On the scanning side, I have found that the colors of professional lab scans are better, so because of these reasons I usually have my local lab develop my color film.
Slide film is by far the most expensive type of film to shoot with and to develop, so it’s probably not the best film to use if you’re just starting.
The cool thing about slide film is that once you develop it, you can see your photo as it is on the slide film itself. It also has higher resolution, better sharpness, and is known for more vivid colors than color negative film.
I have yet to try slide film because of the higher cost and that it’s not as forgiving as color negative film, but I plan to try it out soon.
Things to Consider When Choosing a Film Stock for your Canon AE-1
For the most part, all film stocks that you come across will have a stated box speed, which is the ISO or ASA of the film stock. The most common ISO you will see is 100, 200, 400, and 800 but there are also film stocks with ISO as low as 50 and as high as 3200.
Similar to digital photography, the ISO represents how sensitive the film is to light. The lower the ISO, the “slower” the film stock is, and the less sensitive it is to light. These slower film stocks perform the best in bright light situations like on a sunny day and don’t do very well in low light situations unless you use longer shutter speeds.
On the other hand, higher ISO film stocks like 800 and 3200 are “faster” film stocks and are more sensitive to light. These faster film stocks are more flexible and can work much better in low light situations. Just keep in mind that higher film stocks usually have a more visible grain.
One important thing to keep in mind is that some film stocks perform better when they’re overexposed by 1 or 2 stops so you will have to shoot it at lower than box speed. For example, Kodak Portra 400 loves to be overexposed. So when I’m out shooting with this film, I will set the ISO at 200 on my Canon AE-1 and meter for it at ISO 200.
Overall Aesthetic of the Film Stock
Each film stock has a different look and is why film photography is so much fun.
If you’re looking for that classic saturated vintage film photography feel that you find in your old family photo albums, Kodak Gold might be the film stock for you. If you’re looking for a less saturated and cooler color palette, Fujifilm C200 might be a better fit. The list goes on and on as each film stock is different.
The best thing you can do is to try as many different film stocks as possible and eventually you will find what your favorites are.
Developing and Scanning Film
Sending your film to a professional lab to develop and scan is the easiest way to do it and you’ll get the best results, but it’s also the most expensive.
The price for developing and scanning film is usually around $15 – $20 per roll of 35mm or 120 films. The cost adds up quickly, but if you are just getting started, I would highly recommend you go with a lab before investing in equipment to develop and scan film at home.
If you don’t have a professional camera lab who will develop and scan film in your area, here are my favorites that take mail-in orders:
- The Shot on Film Store in Seattle: $16.97 for developing and scanning. They developed and scanned all the film photo examples in this post except for the black and white images.
- The Dark Room in San Clemente, CA: $15 for developing and scanning.
- Blue Moon Camera in Portland: $22 for developing and scanning.
Eventually, you should try to develop and scan your own film! I started with developing black and white film as you don’t need to use as many chemicals. What surprised me is that it’s much more accessible and easy than I thought it would be.
Yes, you will have to pay for the additional equipment, but once you’re set-up, you can save a good amount of money in the long run.
Where to Buy 35mm Film?
After pouring countless hours into researching where I could find the cheapest and best selection of 35mm film stock, here are my favorite places to shop for film.
- The Shot on Film Store: An awesome film store in the Seattle area that offers free shipping on orders over $49. They carry a large selection, however, prices have recently increased a little.
- Freestyle Photographic Supply: A huge supply of different film stocks at a great price. Unfortunately, they don’t have a free shipping option.
- Adorama: Free shipping options are available. Another good choice for a wide selection of film stock at a fair price.
- Amazon: Surprisingly, Amazon is quickly becoming one of the best places to buy film after taking into consideration shipping fees and customer service especially if you’re an Amazon Prime member.
- eBay: eBay is a great place to look if you want to buy expired film stock to try.
If you have any questions about particular film stocks and want to speak to someone, give The Shot on Film Store a call. They are my favorite local lab where I live and are always very helpful when I have questions.
Best Film for Canon AE-1
Honestly, you’re going to get stunning results with any roll of film that you put through your Canon AE-1. Where I think the Canon AE-1 shines, though, is as a camera that you take EVERYWHERE with you to document your life.
Yes, of course, the camera is capable of more professional work, but there is nothing better than making photographic film memories and taking photos of things that might seem boring at first.
Trust me. When you look back on these “boring things” in a couple of years, it will be nostalgic, interesting, fun, but not boring.
For this reason, I think the best 35mm film for the Canon AE-1 is more budget-friendly film stocks except for Kodak Portra 400. Don’t let the mention of “budget” fool you, though. The results that you can get with these film stocks are anything but budget.
A classic Kodak film stock with rich, warm, vintage, saturated colors. If you ever looked through your old family albums and found film photos, there is a very good chance it was shot on this film stock. It’s one of the great all-around film stocks that you can use while traveling or taking photos of daily life.
It is a 200-speed film, so it works best in situations with a lot of light. If you want to find more information about this film stock and how it performed on my trip to Mount Rainier National park, make sure to check out my Kodak Gold 200 Review too!
- ISO (ASA): 200
- Best Shot At: It’s the best shot slightly overexposed. Try shooting it metered at 100 – 160 ISO.
This is the cheapest color negative film stock available from Kodak and you can sometimes find it at about $1 cheaper than Kodak Gold. It’s another classic film stock with vintage, warm vibes.
Compared to Kodak Gold, it’s slightly flatter and a little less saturated and rich. It’s another great choice for an all-around film that won’t break the bank. I have read some reviews that say Kodak Gold produces more detail in the image, but from my experience, the detail is the same.
It is a 200-speed film, so it works best in situations with a lot of light. For a more detailed look into this film stock, make sure to check out my Kodak ColorPlus 200 Review too!
- ISO (ASA): 200
- Best Shot At: It’s the best shot slightly overexposed. Try shooting it metered at 100 ISO
Kodak Portra 400 is one of the most highly regarded film stocks of all time and is by far my favorite to shoot with.
There is a good reason why it’s so popular. It produces crazy beautiful colors, accurate skin tones (which is why people use it for portrait work so much), and keeps an insane amount of detail in the image. This film stock is a great choice for more special occasions, trips, or professional work as it is about double the price of Kodak Gold or Kodak ColorPlus.
It is a 400-speed film, so it gives you more flexibility with different lighting conditions than a 200-speed film.
- ISO (ASA): 400
- Best Shot At: Best shot overexposed by 1 stop. Try shooting it metered at 200 ISO although it works great at the box speed of 400 ISO too.
Another great budget-friendly film stock to try out. Overall, it has a cooler color palette than Kodak Gold and Kodak ColorPlus, so if you’re not the biggest fan of the warmer tones of the two Kodak film stocks, the Fujifilm could be a good fit for you. In particular, I like how the reds are rendered with C200, which is more of a muted orange-red.
It is a 200-speed film, so it works best in situations with a lot of light.
- ISO (ASA): 200
- Best Shot At: Best shot slightly overexposed. Try shooting it metered at 100 ISO or at box speed of 200 ISO
Ilford HP5 Plus is one of the most popular black and white film stocks and is my favorite to use right now. It gives you a classic black and white look and is extremely flexible in its ability to be pushed.
It gives you great details, a lighter contrast, and very smooth grain. The best part is that for the quality of the film stock, it’s not very expensive, so it’s a great way to see if black and white photography is for you.
It is a 400-speed film, so you have more flexibility in different lighting situations than a 200-speed film. It also performs very well pushed 1 or 2 stops to 800 ISO and 1600 ISO.
Note: If you do push your film, make sure to tell your lab you did so when you send it in for development.
- ISO (ASA) 400
- Best Shot At: It performs very well at the box speed of 400 or even pushed to 800 and 1600.
These are my 5 favorite film stocks for the Canon AE-1 right now, but the most important thing you can do is to try as many film stocks as you can. Film photography is very personal, so a film stock color palette that I find appealing, might not be as appealing to you.
What film stock is your favorite to use with your Canon AE-1?