History & Poetry of Kodachrome

Note: This article originally was a part of Why I Never Shoot RAW — FujiFilm Simulations, Recipes, and More! published by Moment on September 6th, 2021.

In 1973, Paul Simon famously put to song,

Kodachrome
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, to the dismay of photographers around the world, 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 product: a positive color transparency film. This Kodachrome was the first film that produced reasonably accurate colors, and, because of that, 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. While the most popular Kodachrome during this time was ISO 10, Kodak also produced an ISO 8 version, as well as a Tungsten option in the 1940s.

     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 somewhat 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, and produced more saturation and increased contrast, but was grainier. Kodachrome for cinema had an ISO of 40, and would continue to be ISO 40 until 2009 when Kodak discontinued Kodachrome.

Captured using the Kodachrome II film simulation recipe on a Fujifilm X-T20

     There was a movement in the early-1970s to end Kodachrome because the process to develop it was very toxic. 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 all photographers, some 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 used other films instead.

     In 1974, because of the new less-toxic development process, Kodachrome II was replaced by Kodachrome 25 and Kodachrome-X was replaced by Kodachrome 64. They also introduced Kodachrome 200, a high-ISO version. 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. Due to Kodachrome’s sharpness, grain, color, contrast, and archival characteristics, it was a great all-around option that worked well in most circumstance. Steve McCurry, who is perhaps the best-known photographer to extensively use this era of Kodachrome, said of the film, “It has almost a poetic look with beautiful colors that were vibrant and true to what you were shooting.”

     When Kodak discontinued Kodachrome in 2009, it shocked the photographic community; however, the deeper blow was that Kodak discontinued the chemicals required to develop it. Even if you had an old roll of the film (which I did), you couldn’t develop it, except as a black-and-white film from a specialty lab. By the end of 2010, the Kodachrome era was officially over for good.

Captured using real Kodachrome 64 35mm color transparency film on a Canon AE-1.

     I shot many rolls of Kodachrome 64, and a few rolls of Kodachrome 25. My favorite was Kodachrome 64 because it had more contrast and more saturated colors—while it was a little less true-to-life, it produced bolder pictures more like Paul Simon’s description. It was a sad day for me when Kodak discontinued it. At that time, I was just getting into digital photography; in retrospect I wish that I had paused on digital and exposed a few more rolls of Kodachrome, just for the joy of it.

     Paul Simon shot his Kodachrome on a Nikon camera, and I shot mine on a well-used Canon AE-1. Even though the film is long gone, I now shoot “Kodachrome” on a Fujifilm X100V and an X-E4. Yes, Kodachrome lives, thanks to Fujifilm’s great JPEG output! I’ve created film simulation recipes that mimic Kodachrome 64. While they’re not a 100% perfect match, considering the limited options and parameters that are available in-camera, they’re surprisingly accurate to the film. They certainly attain the “memory color” that Fujifilm’s managers often talk about. Ah, the irony of achieving a Kodachrome look on a Fujifilm camera is not lost on me!

     I’ve actually published over 150 recipes (which you can fin on the Fuji X Weekly app) for Fujifilm cameras, many of which are based on film stocks. Using film simulation recipes, no matter the Fujifilm camera you have, allows you to get straight-out-of-camera pictures that appear as if they were post-processed—or, even better, shot on film instead of digital. This is obviously a big time-saver, but can also be more fun.

Captured using the Kodachrome 64 film simulation recipe on a Fujifilm X100V

     Whenever I go out to photograph, I always have at least one Fujifilm camera with me, loaded with seven film simulation recipes. My favorite color recipe is Kodak Portra 400 v2, and my favorite black-and-white recipe is Kodak Tri-X 400. Some recipes aren’t modeled after specific films, but produce an analog aesthetic anyway, such as my Xpro ’62 recipe, which has a vintage cross-processed look, and my Positive Film recipe, which is intended to mimic Saul Leiter’s style. I like to load a few of my favorite recipes into my camera before going out, and the remaining presets are often experimental recipes that I’m working on, as I’m always creating new ones.

     Kodachrome 64 is one of those recipes that I find myself often programing into my camera—that is, if it isn’t already a C1-C7 preset from my last outing! It has the right amount of nostalgia, delivering those “nice bright colors” and “greens of summer” that “makes you think all the world’s a sunny day.” I can’t help but think, if Paul Simon picked up a Fujifilm camera today to take a photograph, the Kodachrome 64 recipe would be his favorite, and perhaps he’d even write a song about it.

Find these film simulation recipes on the Fuji X Weekly — Film Recipes App!

23 comments

  1. Jörg · October 12

    Hi Ritchie, no expert here but I’ve always wondered why Classic Chrome would be a good starting point for creating this Kodachrome look. Classic Chrome produces very muted colors and blue is turned to cyan. In turn, Kodachrome was famous for its bright and saturated (and true-to-live) colors, so wouldn’t other film sims (Provia or Astia?) be a better starting point? And one more question regarding the white balance: your Kodachrome recipes all come with a fairly warm look. Did K64 also had this warm look or was it more typical for the Portra films? Thank you! Nice article.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ritchie Roesch · October 12

      Classic Chrome has the Kodak color palette, so that it is why the Kodachrome recipes use it. Classic Chrome out-of-the-box is more like Ektachrome than Kodachrome, and not exactly like either.
      How Kodachrome is viewed largely affects the exact aesthetic. Back in the day, Kodachrome was mostly viewed through a projector (and the bulb used had an impact on the image) or via a light table (again, the quality of the light had an impact). Printed Kodachrome was obviously impacted by the paper and printing process. Kodachrome wasn’t designed to be scanned, and scanned Kodachrome looks much different than printed or projected Kodachrome. Kodachrome when viewed via a projector or light table was (generally speaking) significantly warmer than scanned Kodachrome.
      There’s a misconception on the vibrancy of Kodachrome. It was a neutral (or true-to-life), film but did lean a little towards vibrant and contrasty (speaking more of Kodachrome 64 than Kodachrome 25), especially compared to many old negative films, but it was very far from the most vibrant color transparency film–there were many that were more vibrant. I think “memory color” might explain some of it, and some of it might be explained by scans or prints that were made to be more vibrant. There’s also nothing quite like viewing a slide through a quality projector, which can make a picture come to life almost. I don’t think Kodachrome was nearly as colorful as some believe, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be more colorful, depending on how it was handled and viewed. My Kodachrome slides aren’t particularly colorful, but they aren’t bland, either.
      I appreciate the comment! I hope this answers your questions.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jörg · October 12

        Thank you Ritchie! I didn’t know all this. Much appreciated.

        I guess that I always associate K64 with those vibrant NatGeo photos and therefore have a wrong idea of how K64 looked in reality.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ritchie Roesch · October 13

        Well, it’s not wrong, but I guess just know that if you compared the slide projected vs printed in National Geographic, it’s not going to be 100% identical. And you might be surprised to learn that NatGeo was digitally editing their pictures going back pretty far… the 1990’s for sure, the 1980’s I think. Even Afghan Girl was edited to a degree.

        Like

  2. Eric Anderson · October 12

    Hello,

    Love it! Kodachrome 64 is my all time favorite analog and now digital film. Being a 1970s long time film shooter, I switched to digital in 2003 – I was in need of a new camera and digital rang all the right bells for me.

    I’ve been shooting a Fuji X100T (now IR / UV converted) for six years, and newly the twin set of X100V & X-Pro3 where both have the same seven rolls of digital film loaded into them.

    C1: Fuji Astia, slightly modified for a default film, used mostly for long exposure night shots that include stars. Grain is turned off to rely on the grain from high ISO 3200 and above.

    C2: Ektachrome 100 for those times where I want a film more closely matching every other digital camera image, but with a beautiful film aesthetic.

    C3: Kodacolor for when I want something a little different than K64. I’ve slightly modified this one along the lines of the Steven Shore version with color bumped up, as well as dropping Highlights & Shadows and a plus tick of Clarity to prevent detail loss of shadows and highlights – one of the things I always fought with when shooting film and then scanning the negatives for digital printing.

    C4: Kodachrome 64, my all time favorite used for pretty much every situation. I dropped Shadows one tick to prevent loss of shadow details, same reason as noted above form my old film shooting days – If I could make one change to the film stock, this would be it. This is my go-to digital film.

    C5: Tri-X 400. Need I say more.

    C6: Disneychrome – This one is interesting to me. I was never a Fuji Velvia fan as it gave colors too saturated for my taste, the slide chromes always looking like over-the-top Cibachrome prints. My personal terminology for Velvia was Disneychrome, and hammered home when Fuji released the limited run of Fortia. That all said, I’ve taken The Rockwell simulation and Kodakized it – simply moving the Whitepoint Offset to +2 Red & -3 Blue in the direction of Kodachrome 64. I also dropped the Sharpness from +4 to +3 to prevent halos around high contrast areas of the image. These changes to The Rockwell are, to me, what is needed to give the Disneychrome aesthetic without the over-the-top Cibachrome look.

    C7: Kodacolor VR Expired. I use C7 for my more transient digital films, but this one may just stay put for a long while as it is a good replacement of the Bright Summer simulation I really dig, unmuting the image a bit.

    I guess it looks like I’m a Kodak kind of kid – and yah, the irony is also not lost on me.

    Cheers,

    Eric

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ritchie Roesch · October 13

      Sounds like an awesome combination! I’ll have to try DisneyChrome. Thank you for sharing, I love seeing things like this. Really, I’m honored to have a part in your photography somehow. How’s that IR converted X100T?

      Like

      • Eric Anderson · October 14

        Disneychrome would have been a fantastic film to sell in the Kodak kiosk at the Happiest Place On Earth way back when.

        The full spectrum converted X100T is a petty fun diversion in these times of isolation, a niche tool in the camera toolbox for sure. I’ve just uploaded a film simulation for the X100T and 720nm IR filter — there is are right settings for this, but produces nice images for those with IR converted Fujifilm cameras. I’ll upload another for use with an NDVI Blue IR filter (UV / Blue + 720nm IR).

        Here is a weblink of a bench guide for the UV / IR converted X100T:
        https://specialeditionartproject.com/the-special-edition-art/making-of-the-arts/fuji-x100t-uvir-full-spectr.html

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ritchie Roesch · October 16

        Super useful article! Thank you for sharing! It will definitely help some people, I have no doubts about it.

        Like

  3. tonyh2005uk · October 13

    Hello, I’d just like to ask a stupid question. I hadn’t used the Kodachrome 64 recipe on my Xt-30 for some time when I read this and thought, “Mmm, I’ll give it a go again.” I then thought, “why not save it as the Colour Chrome preset and I’ll simply change the white balance shift as and when I use it.” Having saved the preset I suddenly realised that the white balance and white balance shift had been saved as part of the preset too. I can’t remember being able to do this in the past. Am I wrong in thinking this? Thanks for listening, Tony.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ritchie Roesch · October 13

      Do you have another preset that uses Daylight WB? The camera will remember one shift per white balance type, so that could possibly explain it. Unless the latest firmware added this capability? That would be amazing if it did.

      Like

      • tonyh2005uk · October 14

        I did just upgrade the firmware the other day and wondered if they had sneaked this in under the guise of a ‘bug fix.’ I wasn’t aware of the ‘one preset allowed’ though so I’ll have to check that with other presets. I was just getting excited about it too! I’ll let you know what I find when I get the chance, off to work now.

        Liked by 1 person

      • tonyh2005uk · October 14

        Unfortunately I have to bow to your superior knowledge and weep. My dreams are dashed. Only one daylight preset allowed as you say. Thanks for putting me out of my misery! If Fuji only gave me one more firmware update, this is the one that would make me happy, T.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ritchie Roesch · October 14

        I’m sorry that Fujifilm hasn’t fixed this. Sadly, Fujifilm wants you to spend a grand to upgrade to the X-T30 II to get this, which should be a firmware update.

        Like

  4. Khürt Williams · October 13

    Ode to Kodachrome 64?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: The Fuji X Weekly Story | FUJI X WEEKLY
  6. Pingback: My Fuji X70: Kodachrome64 film-simulation | Fotoeins Fotografie
  7. Mike Cowell · October 18

    I worked for Ilford Films for a while during the introduction of Cibachrome. Ilford are most widely known for their black and white films the surprising thing is that the did make a product to compete with Kodachrome but they shelved it because it wasn’t any different. While doing test runs, however, they did produce some remarkably good images, but, it was on 4×5 film. Some of the top photographers of the day were given it to produce specimen images. Some of those were printed onto Cibachrome. The results were beautiful.
    I don’t know if there is any one from those days who can vouch for this, but, I was there and saw it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ritchie Roesch · October 19

      This is such a great story! I’ve shot Ilford films for many years, but I had no idea. They should revisit this prototype film, I bet it would be popular. Thanks for sharing!

      Like

  8. Pingback: History and poetry of Kodachrome - Gipsy Mall
  9. Pingback: No Edit Photography: 7 Tips To Get The Film Look From Your Digital Photos | FUJI X WEEKLY
  10. Pingback: Top Articles of October (Plus Some You Might Have Missed) | FUJI X WEEKLY
  11. Pingback: Fujifilm X-E4 Film Simulation Recipe: Kodachrome 25 | FUJI X WEEKLY

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s