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 film 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.
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.
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.
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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Last updated on 18 March 2020 by Jim Grey