Hold onto your hats, because, for this Film Simulation Recipe, we’re going to dive deep into the obscure and practically forgotten history of a unique film called GAF 500. We’re going to explore the intriguing history of GAF, discover what made this film unique, and discuss how this new GAF 500 Film Simulation Recipe came to be. You are in for a treat today!
GAF actually began in 1886 as the Standard Paint Company of New Jersey. After acquiring a holding company in 1928 that had (among other things) majority ownership of AGFA, the company changed its name to General Aniline & Film—GAF for short. Also in 1928, AGFA merged with Ansco, so in addition to acquiring AGFA, GAF also got ownership of Ansco, which was founded in 1842. Originally named E. Anthony & Co., after merging with Scovill Manufacturing in 1901 it was renamed Ansco (“An” from Anthony and “sco” from Scovill). Ansco was headquartered in New York, and was Kodak’s biggest competitor for many decades. The merger with AGFA was intended to bring Ansco’s photography products to a global market, which would allow them to better compete against Kodak.
Then World War II happened, and in 1941 the U.S. government seized and took ownership of GAF and Ansco (separating it from AGFA, which was a German-owned business), and officially merged Ansco into GAF. The U.S. government retained ownership of GAF until 1965, when it sold all of its shares.
In 1967 GAF introduced a revolutionary new film: GAF 500. It was a high-ISO 35mm color transparency (slide) film—the highest ISO color film during its time; the second-highest color ISO film (another GAF emulsion) was rated at ISO 200, so it was more than twice as “fast” (as they called it back then) as the second fastest. 30 years prior to the introduction of GAF 500, the highest ISO color film was rated at ISO 8, so having an ISO 500 option was unthinkable back then, and a lot of people wondered why anyone would need such a high-ISO film. While it was mostly sold under the brand name GAF, it was sometimes sold as Anscochrome 500. Was GAF/Anscochrome 500 any good?
From all accounts, you either loved GAF 500 or hated it. The grain was extremely pronounced. Colors were “good” yet muted (a.k.a. “neutral” or “natural”) and generally considered to be not as “nice” as Kodak’s. It didn’t push-process nearly as well as, it wasn’t quite as sharp as, and it didn’t pair with color correction filters as well as Kodachrome or Ektachrome. It was inferior to all other color emulsions except for one fact: it was fast! You could use it when other films wouldn’t work due to low light. If it was dark and you wanted to shoot color, GAF 500 was your best bet.
GAF 500 had a warm color cast—some described it as orange, some said red-orange, and others stated that it was red—not as warm as some Kodak emulsions, but warm nonetheless. The shadows tended to lean blue. If you pushed the film, it had a purple cast across the frame. Some people liked how it looked when shooting under fluorescent lights or stage lights, and was a popular choice for concert photography.
What people seemed to like most about GAF 500 is that it was gritty yet soft. It was grainy, like a high-ISO black-and-white film, and it was contrasty with a very narrow exposure latitude—it was easy to blow out the whites or block up the blacks; however, it also had low color saturation (or was “more neutral” as some put it) , and the gradations were gentle. It was like a biker ballerina, if you will. Some people loved the aesthetic of GAF 500, and would use it even in bright-light situations just for the look that it produced. Many photographers steered clear of it just because there were “better” options, such as push-processing lower ISO films.
There was a time in the 1970’s that GAF was everywhere. It was the official film of Disneyland, and, for a time, was the only brand of film that you could purchase inside the park. Sears sold GAF cameras and film. Henry Fonda was the spokesman. Despite that, GAF struggled to be profitable competing against Kodak, Fujifilm, and other brands.
GAF made a few minor “improvements” to their ISO 500 film over the years, and (from what I read) it seemed to get “better” towards the mid-1970’s. In 1977, due to sluggish sales, GAF decided to get out of the photography business altogether. GAF/Anscochrome 500 was discontinued, along with all of the other GAF films. The Ansco brand name was licensed out to other companies for years to come, although it was largely used for rebranded films and not original emulsions. GAF 500 was gone forever.
Perhaps thanks to Alien Skin Exposure software, there’s been a renewed interest in GAF 500. Alien Skin has a GAF 500 preset that is supposed to allow you to mimic the aesthetic of the film with your digital images. I’ve used it before, and that’s the closest I’ve come to shooting GAF 500. It’s been awhile since I’ve used Exposure software, so I don’t recall too much about the preset (other than it was grainy). So, for this Film Simulation Recipe, I spent significant time studying whatever I could find on the film. There’s a lot of written information out there, but photographs were hard to come by. Still, I found some, and did my best to emulate the look with my Fujifilm X-E4.
Recreating GAF 500 on my Fujifilm camera was tricky for several reasons. First, I wouldn’t have considered Eterna as the best base (just because it lacks the necessary contrast to emulate a contrasty slide film), but after trying Classic Chrome, PRO Neg. Low, and Eterna Bleach Bypass, I decided to give Eterna a go. Bingo! This one had the right tonality (those “gentle gradations”); however, I do wish that Shadow could be set to +5 to get deeper blacks, but that’s not an option. Another tricky aspect was achieving the warm, reddish/orangish color cast that could still produce a hint of blue in the shadows. Fujifilm cameras aren’t capable of split-toning, so I did my best to approximate this with the white balance; I do wish the shadows were just a little more blue, but it’s not possible without sacrificing the overall warmth. Another challenge was replicating the grain. Fujifilm’s option of Grain Strong Large wasn’t nearly as pronounced as it needed to be, so I set out to supplement it with digital noise using high-ISO. But how high? ISO 1600 wasn’t nearly enough. ISO 3200 wasn’t enough, either. ISO 6400… much closer, but not quite there, either. Should I dare try ISO 12800? Yes, that’s it! More importantly, it looks good, which I had my doubts about.
With slide film, depending on the emulsion, you had to nail the exposure exactly, as the dynamic range was extraordinarily narrow. You didn’t know what you had until you got the film back from the lab (or developed it yourself at home); some frames would be underexposed, some frames would be overexposed, and some frames (hopefully) would be correctly exposed—I found examples of all three when searching for GAF 500 photographs. You can achieve similar aesthetics with this recipe if you want, by either dropping the exposure a little or increasing it a little—the exact look of this recipe will vary some depending on the exposure. While I couldn’t replicate every potential GAF 500 aesthetic with this one recipe, and no recipe will ever be 100% spot-on accurate (because of the limited tools available on the camera, and because the results of one film can vary significantly depending an a whole host of factors), I do believe that this recipe is pretty close to replicating the look and feel of GAF 500 film—at least from the perspective of someone who was born after the film was discontinued, so I never had a chance to use it myself.
Because this “GAF 500” recipe uses Clarity and Color Chrome FX Blue, it is compatible with the Fujifilm X-Pro3, X100V, X-T4, X-S10, X-E4, and X-T30 II cameras, and is not compatible with the X-T3 or X-T30. Those with X-Trans V cameras can also use it, and it should render identically, although I have no first-hand experience to verify that. Those with newer GFX cameras can use it, too, although it will render differently. Because of the ultra high-ISO that’s required, I recommend using your electronic shutter and a small aperture (like f/8, f/11, or even f/16) when shooting in bright light outdoors.
Dynamic Range: DR100
Noise Reduction: -4
Grain Effect: Strong, Large
Color Chrome Effect: Off
Color Chrome Effect Blue: Strong
White Balance: 2900K, +9 Red & -9 Blue
Exposure Compensation: -2/3 to +2/3 (typically)
Example photographs, all camera-made JPEGs captured using this “GAF 500” Film Simulation Recipe on my Fujifilm X-E4:
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