Film speed

From Academic Kids

Film speed is the measure of a photographic film stock's sensitivity to light. Stock with lower sensitivity requires a longer exposure and is thus called a slow film, while stock with higher sensitivity can shoot the same scene with a shorter exposure and is called a fast film.

The standard known as ISO 5800:1987 from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) defines both a linear scale and a logarithmic scale for measuring film speed.

In the ISO linear scale, which corresponds to the older ASA scale, doubling the speed of a film (that is, halving the amount of light that is necessary to expose the film) implies doubling the numeric value that designates the film speed. In the ISO logarithmic scale, which corresponds to the older DIN scale, doubling the speed of a film implies adding 3° to the numeric value that designates the film speed. For example, a film rated ISO 200/24° is twice as sensitive as a film rated ISO 100/21°.

The most common ISO film ratings are 25/15°, 50/18°, 100/21°, 200/24°, 400/27°, 800/30°, 1600/33°, and 3200/36°. Consumer films are generally rated between 100/21° and 800/30°, inclusive.

The following table shows the correspondence between these scales:

ISO linear scale ISO log scale example of film stock
(old ASA scale) (old DIN scale) with this nominal speed
6
8 10°
10 11°
12 12°
16 13°
20 14°
25 15° old Agfacolor, Kodachrome 25
32 16°
40 17° Kodachrome 40 (movie)
50 18° Fuji RVP (Velvia)
64 19° Kodachrome 64
80 20° Ilford Commercial Ortho
100 21° Kodacolor Gold, Kodak T-Max (TMX)
125 22° Ilford FP4
160 23° Fuji NPS
200 24° Fujicolor Superia 200
250 25°
320 26° Kodak Tri-X Pan (TXP)
400 27° Kodak T-Max (TMY)
500 28°
640 29°
800 30° Fuji NPZ
1000 31° Ilford Delta 3200 (see text below)
1250 32°
1600 33° Fujicolor 1600
2000 34°
2500 35°
3200 36°
4000 37°
5000 38°
6400 39°

A film speed is converted from the linear scale to the logarithmic scale by this formula (plus rounding to the nearest integer):

<math>\mbox{log-scale speed} = 3\,\log_2\left(\frac{128}{100} \,\mbox{linear speed}\right) \!<math>

Conversion from the logarithmic scale to the linear scale is analogous, except that results must be rounded to the conventional values of the linear scale listed in the table above.

Speed is roughly related to granularity, the size of the grains of silver halide in the emulsion. Fine-grain stock, such as those used for the intermediate stages of copying original camera negatives, is "slow", meaning that the amount of light used to expose it must be high. Fast films, used for shooting in poor light, produce a grainy image. The image actually consists of a mosaic of developed and undeveloped areas of the emulsion, and each grain of silver halide develops in an all-or-nothing way. If the subject has an edge between light and darkness and that edge falls on a grain, the result will be an area that is all light or all shadow. An accumulation of such areas breaks up the visible contours of the object, the effect known as graininess (or grain).

Fast films are also relatively contrasty, for the same reason. That is, an area of the image will consist of bright areas and dark ones with few transitional areas of midtones.

In the early 1980s, there were some radical improvements in film stock. It became possible to shoot color film in very low light and produce a fine-grained image with a good range of midtones. In advertising, music videos, and some drama, mismatches of grain, color cast, and so forth between shots are often deliberate and added in post-production.

Certain high-speed black-and-white films, such as Ilford Delta 3200 and Kodak T-Max P3200 (TMZ), are marketed with higher speeds on the box than their true ISO speed (determined using the ISO testing methodology). For example, the Ilford product is actually an ISO 1000 film, according to its data sheet (http://www.ilford.com/html/us_english/pdf/delta3200.pdf). The manufacturers are careful not to refer to the 3200 speed as an ISO speed on the packaging. These films can be successfully exposed at EI 3200 (or any of several other speeds) through the use of push processing.

References

  • Leslie Stroebel, John Compton, Ira Current, and Richard Zakia. Basic Photographic Materials and Processes, second edition. Boston: Focal Press, 2000. ISBN 0-240-80405-8.
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