Kodachrome 64 is probably the most requested film that people have asked me to create a recipe for. Kodachrome has a long history, with the first successful version debuting in 1935 (film simulation recipe here). In the early 1960’s Kodak replaced that version of the film with Kodachrome II and Kodachrome X (film simulation recipe here). In 1974 Kodak made the final version of Kodachrome, available in ISO 25 and ISO 64 (and later ISO 200) versions. This Kodachrome was discontinued 10 years ago. Kodak also discontinued the chemicals to process Kodachrome, and nine years ago the last roll was developed. This film simulation recipe is meant to mimic the aesthetics of Kodachrome 64.
In the early 1970’s there was a movement to end Kodachrome. The process to develop the film was toxic and complex. Kodachrome is actually a black-and-white film with color added during development, which you can imagine isn’t a simple procedure. Instead of discontinuing their most popular color film, Kodak made a new version that required a less-toxic (but still toxic) and less complicated (but still complicated) development process. This appeased those who wanted the film gone, but the new version of Kodachrome was not initially well received by photographers, many of whom liked the old version better. William Eggleston, for example, who used Kodachrome extensively in his early career, wasn’t a fan of the new version, and began to use other films instead.
The photography community did come around to Kodachrome 25 and Kodachrome 64. Due to Kodachrome’s sharpness, grain, color, contrast and archival characteristics, this film was a great all-around option that worked well in almost any circumstance. The film became incredibly popular, and was found on the pages of many magazines, including National Geographic, which practically made its use a requirement. Steve McCurry was perhaps the best known photographer to extensively use this era of Kodachrome. He said of the film, “It has almost a poetic look with beautiful colors that were vibrant and true to what you were shooting.”
I shot many rolls of Kodachrome 64, and a few rolls of Kodachrome 25. My favorite was Kodachrome 64 because it had a little more contrast and was slightly more saturated. It was a sad day for me when Kodak discontinued it. I was just getting into digital photography at that time, and in retrospect I wish that I had paused on digital and shot a few more rolls of Kodachrome. Kodak has hinted that they might resurrect it, but I would be surprised if they actually did because of the complex development process.
When I decided to attempt a Kodachrome 64 film simulation recipe for my Fujifilm X-T30, I did some experiments, and after a few tries I thought that I had it figured out. Excitingly, I snapped many frames with these settings, but then I figured that I should consult some actual Kodachrome 64 slides to make sure that it matched. It didn’t. Kodachrome 64 looked different than how I remembered it. I was close, but not close enough, so I went back to the drawing board. A handful of experiments later I got it right, which is the recipe that you see here.
Of course, the issue with all of these film simulation recipes that mimic actual film is that one film can have many different looks, depending on how it was shot, under what conditions, how it was developed, and how it’s viewed, whether through a projector or light table, a print (and how it was printed), or a scan (and how it was scanned and perhaps digitally altered, and the monitor). There are a ton of variables! Kodachrome looks best when viewed by projector, no doubt about it, but that’s not how Kodachrome is seen today, unless you own a projector and have some slides. While I don’t think that this recipe will ever match the magic of projected Kodachrome, I do think it’s a close approximation of the film and it deserves to share the famed name.
I have Grain set to Weak, but I feel that when using this recipe at higher ISOs Grain should be set to Off. While I chose DR400, in low-contrast situations DR200 is a good Dynamic Range option. For X-Trans III cameras, which obviously don’t have Color Chrome Effect, this recipe will still work and will appear nearly identical, but it will produce a slightly different look. To modify this recipe for Kodachrome 25, I suggest setting Shadow to +1, Color to -1, Grain to Off, and Sharpness to +3.
Dynamic Range: DR400
Noise Reduction: -4
Grain Effect: Weak
Color Chrome Effect: Weak
White Balance: Daylight, +2 Red & -5 Blue
ISO: Auto, up to ISO 6400
Exposure Compensation: +1/3 to +1 (typically)
Example photographs, all camera-made JPEGs using this Kodachrome 64 film simulation recipe on my Fujifilm X-T30: