They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summer
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day
Kodachrome is probably the most iconic photographic film ever made. It was legendary, and many people saw the world through its colors. Kodak produced Kodachrome film from 1935 through 2009, when it was suddenly discontinued.
The Kodachrome name has been used for many different films over the years. The first Kodachrome product was a two-glass-plate color negative that was introduced in 1915. Like all other color photography methods of its time, the results weren’t particularly good and the product not especially successful.
In 1935 Kodak released its next Kodachrome, which was a color transparency film with an ISO of 10. This Kodachrome was the first color film that produced reasonably accurate colors and was the first commercially successful color film. It became the standard film for color photography for a couple decades, and was even Ansel Adams’ preferred choice for color work. The December 1946 issue of Arizona Highways, which was the first all-color magazine in the world, featured Barry Goldwater’s Kodachrome images.
Kodak made significant improvements to Kodachrome, and in 1961 released Kodachrome II. This film boasted more accurate colors, sharper images, finer grain, and a faster ISO of 25. While it was still similar to the previous Kodachrome, it was better in pretty much every way. A year later Kodachrome-X was introduced, which had an ISO of 64.
Another generation of Kodachrome, which came out in 1974, saw Kodachrome II replaced by Kodachrome 25 and Kodachrome-X replaced by Kodachrome 64. The differences between this version and the previous weren’t huge and image quality was nearly identical. The biggest change was going from the K-12 to the K-14 development process (which was a little less complex, but still complex). This generation of Kodachrome is what most people think of when they picture (pun intended) the film, gracing the pages of magazines like National Geographic.
I personally have shot plenty of Kodachrome, mostly Kodachrome 64. It was a good general use film that produced sharp images and pleasing colors. I haven’t used it in more than a decade. Its days are gone. Even if you can find an old roll of the film, there are no labs in the world that will develop it.
Plenty of people have attempted to mimic the Kodachrome look with their digital images. It’s not as simple as it sounds. Alien Skin Exposure software has what is likely the best one-size-fits-all Kodachrome presets, but I don’t think they’re exactly right because the results vary from camera to camera.
Besides, it all depends on exactly what Kodachrome look you are after. There are different versions, including about a dozen that I didn’t mention above, each with their own slightly varied look. Perhaps filters were used in conjunction with the film (which was more common in the film era than the digital era). How it was viewed, whether projected, light table, printed or scanned, also effected the appearance. Kodachrome has a long shelf life if stored in a dark, cool space, but if not stored properly it can fade or become damaged, and maybe you prefer one of those looks over the other. It’s really tough to pin down exactly what Kodachrome looks like because there are so many variables.
Fujifilm X cameras, such as the X100F that I own, have different Film Simulation options. One of those is called Classic Chrome, which is supposed to mimic the general look of Kodak color transparency film. Some have suggested that Classic Chrome imitates Kodachrome, but I think it more closely resembles Ektachrome.
A couple of days ago I accidentally discovered a vintage Kodachrome recipe for my Fujifilm X100F, based on Classic Chrome. By “accidentally” I mean that I had no intentions of creating a Kodachrome look. I captured a RAW image and played around with it in the camera’s built-in RAW editor. I was trying to see what crazy looks I could get if I really messed around with the settings. One of the versions that I created reminded me of vintage Kodachrome.
I dug out my old Kodachrome slides, plus my grandparent’s really old Kodachrome slides (which I happen to have at my house), looked at some vintage magazines and did some internet searches, and studied what real Kodachrome looks like. Relying strictly on my fading memory isn’t always the best idea, so having actual samples to compare was useful. Thankfully I found plenty of old Kodachrome pictures from many different eras to examine.
The original picture (above) that I thought looked like vintage Kodachrome was somewhat close to the 1935-1960 version of Kodachrome, but it needed some adjustments. I played around a little more and I think that I have created a pretty good Film Simulation recipe for that generation of the film. Some images seem more convincing than others, but overall I believe it is surprisingly accurate.
One thing that I’m not completely thrilled about with the recipe is the film grain. I think that strong is too strong and weak is too weak. I wish that there was a medium option, but there’s not. On real Kodachrome the grain is not uniform and tends to clump, and so the grain looks much different than Fujifilm’s more regular faux grain. Beginning with Kodachrome II the grain was more fine, and so I definitely wouldn’t pick strong grain if I was trying to simulate a later version. The reason that I chose strong instead of weak is because it furthers the impression of vintage, despite the inaccuracy.
A characteristic of the 1935-1960 Kodachrome is the color shift. Blues veered toward cyan, reds were a bit darker, and skin tones had more of a bronze/orange look. It wasn’t as true-to-life as later versions of the film, but for its time it was considered very accurate.
I think my Vintage Kodachrome Film Simulation recipe is a great way to create in-camera retro-styled images. The example photographs in this post are all straight-out-of-camera JPEGs. It’s pretty darn close to that first era of Kodachrome slide film, and while not 100% accurate, it definitely has the right aesthetic to be convincing.
Dynamic Range: DR200
Noise Reduction: -3
White Balance: Auto, +2 Red, -4 Blue
ISO: Auto up to ISO 6400
Exposure Compensation: -1/3 to -1 (typically)