University Lowbrow Astronomers

Storage Media for Analog Astrophotography!

(Film for your Astrophotos)

by Clayton Kessler
Printed in Reflections: May, 2002.

Film, that is actually available, is one of those things that changes seemingly every other day.  In reality it is not all that bad but you must keep up to date on what works and what doesn’t if you want to get the best film for your use.  Kodak and Fuji are constantly “improving” their film for their normal markets.  This is usually bad news for astrophotographers.  The wonderful Fuji Superia 400 and 800 are a case in point.  The latest versions have the “New 4th Color Layer Technology.”  This probably works well if you are taking vacation pictures but all of the response to red emission nebulas is now gone.  There are still some good films available at your local store.  A short list and description is as follows:

Color Negative Films:

Kodak Royal Gold 400 - Reputed to be the same or very similar to Supra 400.  A great film for piggyback shots and it has pretty good reciprocity failure properties.  The only caution, if it is actually the same as Supra 400 I have found that film to be sensitive to humidity.  The dryer the night the better the film seems to work.  RG400 is available almost anywhere.

Kodak Supra 400 - This is considered a “professional” film.  This means that you must buy at least 5 rolls of it at one time.  It seems to be a nice film aside from the previously mentioned sensitivity to humidity.  Not a bad choice at all!

Kodak LE400 - LE400 or “Law Enforcement” 400 is Kodak’s best astro film.  It is said to be the same emulsion as the old PJ400 (Photo Journalist 400) that was discontinued a year or so ago.  It is difficult to get and must be special ordered in 20 roll bricks.  The good news is that it is available in 12 exposure rolls.  LE400 works well unhypered but it works even better when hypered for 5 hours at 50C.  Even with the difficulty to get it is my choice as “Favorite Film.”

Kodak Royal Gold 200 - This film may elevate itself to “Favorite film” status after some more testing.  It is commonly available but there is a catch.....  In order to be at it’s best it must be hypered for 2 hours at 50C.  Unhypered it is not nearly so good and is eclipsed by other 400 speed films.

Fuji Super “HQ” 100 - This is a very common and inexpensive film not yet “improved” and quite nice for piggyback astrophotography.  While it works fairly well out of the box 90 minutes of hypering brings this film into it’s own.  Once the weather breaks I hope to do a lot more testing with this very fine grained film.

Slide Films:

Slide films are interesting.  I seldom use them because I feel that a negative film has a much greater exposure flexibility but some astrophotographers won’t use anything else.  There are some that are reputed to be “standouts” for astrophotography and these are:

Kodak E 200 - This is a professional film that is aged to a specific point at the factory and shipped and stored cold to preserve it’s consistency.  It is available from big camera stores and is - in my opinion - somewhat pricey.

Kodak Elite Chrome 200 - Elite Chrome 200 is the same emulsion as E200 but it is not aged and cold shipped / stored.  It is available from a variety of stores and is substantially lower in cost.  If I were using slide film this would be my choice.

Fuji Provia 400 - I have not used this myself but it is getting great reviews on the internet.

I would stay away from Black and White films at this time.  While there are some great ones available it is harder to get these developed than color negatives.  I will say that the “All Time” best black and white film is Technical Pan film 2415.  This film requires extensive hypering (maybe up to 20 hours) and is fussy in development technique.  All that being said it is the highest resolution film by far and can be a challenge to your equipment as it shows flaws that most films cannot resolve.

This gives you a few film choices but remember that any of them could be discontinued or improved at any time.


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