Film Photography

In praise of ISO 200 film

Please be seated

Sears KS Super II, Auto Sears 50mm f/2, Fujifilm Fujicolor 200

Cruise the photo forums for a while and you’ll find that many film photographers wrinkle their noses at ISO 200 films. Those photographers do have a point: there’s less grain at ISO 100 and more low-light ability at ISO 400. But their claim that ISO 200 is a useless compromise just doesn’t hold up.

With ISO 200 film I’m simply ready to go in more situations. I almost always have film in one of my cameras. I’ll shoot a little today, a little tomorrow, and more a couple days after that. Who knows where I’ll be and what kind of light I’ll encounter? ISO 200 film bridges the gap.

Thingy

Nikon F3HP, 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor, Fomapan 200

In dim light grateful for the one extra stop of exposure ISO 200 gives me over ISO 100. I can shoot at slightly faster shutter speeds to control camera shake — or, more importantly to me, I can use slightly narrower apertures to get more depth of field. ISO 400 film would give me even more control, but 200 works well enough. I lose few shots to ISO 200 film.

When the light is bright, ISO 200 film’s need for one less stop of exposure over ISO 400 film only slightly limits my ability to stop action, and it gives me shallower depth of field when I want to move in close. ISO 100 film would give me even shallower depth of field, of course, but I’ve yet to be unsatisfied with the results I get from 200.

At the bar

Canon TLb, 50mm f/1.8 Canon FD S.C., Kodak Gold 200

That’s not to say I shoot only ISO 200 films. When I know what light I’m going to encounter, and especially when I expect to shoot a whole roll in that light, I’ll choose the film that fits the job. When I shoot an event in my church’s dim basement, I like ISO 800 films, or maybe Tri-X 400 overexposed by a stop. When I shoot documentary in good light I reach for ISO 100 films because the grain really is reduced.

And there are moments when ISO 200 is a bust. Inexpensive point-and-shoot 35mm cameras seem to be optimized for ISO 400 film and you get best results from them when you honor that. And ISO 200 film is just too slow to shoot handheld in very low light, such as on the street as the sun sets.

Ford F-500 fire truck

Konica Autoreflex T3, 50mm f/1.7 Hexanon AR, Fujicolor 200

But in everyday light and with everyday subjects, my favorite ISO 200 films give me color/tonality and sharpness limited only by my camera’s lens. Many of ISO 200 films even offer good enough exposure latitude to shoot them at ISO 100 or ISO 400 with no adjustments to developing and little discernible difference in image quality.

So my refrigerator is full of my favorite ISO 200 films. I don’t see that changing!

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17 thoughts on “In praise of ISO 200 film

  1. Nobby knipst says:

    Exactly my thinking, I always have a 200 ISO film in the camera. Only in the darkest winter or in the brightest summer on the beach I rarely put a 400 or sometimes a 100 film.

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  2. I used to go to some trouble to find ISO 100 film for my Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim camera which has just one speed of about 1/125 and one aperture. I’ve since discovered that the Fujicolor 200 has enough exposure latitude to perform in quite a wide range of lighting conditions including bright sun.

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    • Oh yes. Check these three photos out, on Agfa Vista 200 (rebranded Fuji 200) in my Nikon FA with the 50/1.8 Series E attached. +1, 0, and -1 respectively:

      Exposure test +1
      Exposure test 0
      Exposure test -1

      These are straight from the camera and scanner. There are subtle differences at the two extremes but all photos are fully usable as is.

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  3. Andy Umbo says:

    Certainly for ‘old-timers’ the old Kodak Super XX in sheet film form was the bomb! Back when I was using it, it was ASA 200 and seemed to be heavy with silver and gave beautiful results outside! Most of the people I knew using the zone system used Super XX. Some of the “pluses” from a defunct film website:

    Advantages: Very, very long, almost perfectly straight-line characteristic curve, great latitude made it ideal for variable developments, both longer and shorter, water-bath development, special compensating formulas.

    Special attraction: Zone System users. Much missed by large-format film photographers, some of whom stockpiled huge amounts in deep freeze.

    When I get back situated again, I’ll be testing most of the 200 speed black and whites to see if there’s something I can use there!

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    • I remember as a kid seeing a few exotic-sounding Kodak films on store shelves, and seeing ads for even more in the photo rags. The one I saw in stores most often that wasn’t Kodacolor or Verichrome Pan was Panatomic-X. Sounded like a comic book super villain!

      I’m not aware of many 200 b/w films available now. Fomapan 200 is the main one. I like it in 35mm. And it’s not expensive. There’s also Kodak Double-X 5222, a movie film, but that’s only available hand-rolled from the Film Photography Project. I like that film a lot and just shot two rolls.

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  4. It’s fun to try other speeds, and high-speed film has its place, but I always come back to consumer-grade 200 film. It’s easy to forget how good film got in its final years of development until you’re shooting drug store film in a cheap camera and still can’t get it to over- or underexpose.

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  5. I just had three rolls of Fuji C200 developed (I’m not sure what it’s called in the U.S. The codes on the film are Fuji 200 C78 CA24) and the colour and sharpness were very good at 4×6. Not much grain, either. I printed a family photo at 8×10 once and while the grain was very noticeable, the colours were still good for the Caucasian, Asian, and Feline complexions of our household. Sharp, too. I like to use it when I don’t mind wasting film on walkabouts because it’s 1/3 the price of Kodak Portra 400.

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    • I’m pretty sure C200 is the same as the Fujicolor 200 I buy. I have printed 8 x 10 enlargements from that film with good success. It really is my favorite color film. Ektar has bolder colors and Portra has probably more accurate color rendition, but as you point out, Fujicolor 200 is hard to beat for the price.

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  6. Kevin Thomas says:

    Much love for 200 ISO film here. Let’s me shoot Sunny 16 with older cameras and their slower shutters, colors are vivid, latitude is wide, its readily available… and it’s cheap! As you say, would be good if there was more B&W at that speed.

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