Film speed. ASA – ISO.

Film speeds range from 100 to 3200 typically. Film speed is often expressed as an ISO setting and many advanced digital cameras allow you to change this setting in a digital way. Film speed really has nothing to do with speed – it would be more appropriate to call it film sensitivity. 100 speed film is “slow” or not very sensitive, it needs a lot of light to make an exposure. 3200 speed film is “fast” or very sensitive.

I’m reluctant to say that slow film speeds are best for bright outdoor situations and fast film speeds are best for action or low light, but that is a general guide line. That said, don’t be afraid to experiment with fast film outside during the day or slow speed films in low light. The important thing to remember is that the more sensitive a film is the more “grainy” your photos will be. Most of the time, 100 speed film will have greater detail and stronger, richer colors than 3200 speed film.

In my opinion, 800 speed is as high as I will go. If I’m shooting black and white, the film can be “pushed” to a higher speed during the developing process. For color, the quality of the image suffers too much at higher speeds. In the photo below, though taken with a digital camera, the quality differs between high and low ISO settings. The effect with film is similar.

vintage and film cameras


13 responses to “Film speed. ASA – ISO.

  1. I agree. Rarely do I go above 800 on my DSLR. For the few times I have, I always have to remind myself to set it back down for the next set of pictures… Thanks for the like! 🙂

  2. Thanks to everyone for posting these helpful hints. I am a newbie to film cameras. I have surfed the internet trying to learn the AE1 I am shooting with. I guess that I don’t know enough to simply ask the question. These posts are great for me. I am also reading the archives. Thanks again,

    Canon AE1 newbie.

  3. I to this day prefer 35 mm to the new digital . I compare it to a man who sails , who is the real sailor the one with the 42ft sailboat that sails out to the wide open sea, or the man with the 42 ft speed boat. There is no comparison.
    I myself prefer black and white. The photo tells a much deeper story.

  4. Hey,
    great post.
    Usually I just go up to ISO 800 as well, but sometimes you can get very fascinating results by pushing film up 2 or 3 stops. I pushed a Provia 400x to 3200 ISO last year, there were massive colour shifts and grain² but I like the results. But in the end this is seriously nothing you should do to all of your films. (I agree 800ISO max. for colour)

    Have a look, if you are interested.



  5. that’s absolutetl ture ! comparing to the DC or DSLR, you can learn more about light level, exposure from film camera! especially,the darkroom gives us lots of fun! dose it ?

  6. Ricardo,

    Thank you for stopping by my blog. I appreciate your time in looking at it. 😉 Right now, I am in the very unfortunate position of not being able to afford a new camera so I’m resigned to my cell phone. I know, I know it’s horrible but I’m hopeful that someday I’ll be able to be a real photographer with a real camera!! Photography has always been an interest of mine and I could go on for pages on how envious I am that you’re able to follow your passion with it. I hope that one day I can join the conversation on film speeds and actually be able to converse intelligently on the subject.

    Until then, I’ll have to stick with my phone app.

    I can’t wait to poke around your blog more. Thank you again for finding mine!


    • Hello, thank You for your comment.

      Let me say this in a very, very short words: do You like photography no doubts about that. Right now You cant get a camera, no problem. You’ve a phone with camera anyway You can take a shots. So keep and going with that, and one day I’ve quite sure You’ll buy your own camera.

      Keep shooting, no matter if it’s with a Pro camera, a old SLR or with a phone, the important is You can make what do You like. 🙂


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