Best Film for the Canon AE-1 (With Photo Samples)

by Tom Shu

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

black and white image of shih tzu dog

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!

Also, some black and white films like Ilford HP5 or Kodak Tri-X can be pushed 1 to 2 stops very easily which can give you more flexibility if you’re shooting in lower light situations.

Color Negative Film

kodak colorplus 200 image of chef cutting meat

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

photo of slide film in front of nature scene

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

 

Film Speed

photo of fujifilm c200 film canister held in hand

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: $15.50 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?

photo of many different film stocks

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: They are offering free shipping on orders over $29 right now and have a great selection of 35mm film. The prices are fair and are usually one of the cheapest options when you factor in shipping.
  • 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: Amazon is kind of hit or miss, but you can find some pretty good deals sometimes. Plus, free shipping if you’re a 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.

Kodak Gold 200

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.

  • ISO (ASA): 200
  • Best Shot At: It’s the best shot slightly overexposed. Try shooting it metered at 100 – 160 ISO.




KODAK GOLD 200 SAMPLE IMAGES



image of girl with kodak gold 200

image of sky with kodak gold 200



image of a truck with kodak gold 200

Kodak ColorPlus 200

image of holding dog hand with kodak colorplus 200

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.

  • ISO (ASA): 200
  • Best Shot At: It’s the best shot slightly overexposed. Try shooting it metered at 100 ISO




KODAK COLORPLUS 200 SAMPLE IMAGES



image of a dog in a bed with kodak colorplus 200

image of a dog on chair with kodak colorplus 200



image of restaurant with kodak colorplus 200

Kodak Portra 400

image of girl in hat in white jacket

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.




KODAK PORTRA 400 SAMPLE IMAGES

image of mountains framed by trees



image of girl in front of lake







Fujifilm C200

image of the front of a barber shop

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




Fujifilm C200 SAMPLE IMAGES

image of front of KFC



image of dog in front of flowers

Ilford HP5 Plus

image of dog on sidewalk

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.




ILFORD HP5 PLUS SAMPLE IMAGES





image of dog near fire hydrant in black and white



image of dog near plants in black and white

Conclusion

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?

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