Day 62: Film Terminology

Welcome to day 62 in my 100 days of photography series! Yesterday we started eight days of film photography and today I wanted to take some time to go over film terminology that you will want to get familiar with before going in! Let’s jump right in!


This one is something you will hear over and over again. “What did you rate this at?” So when you load a roll of film into your camera, you’re choosing your ISO and it won’t change. You can’t change the ISO because it is set and determined in the film. When you load a roll into your camera, you’re supposed to TELL your camera “Hey I just put in a 400 film speed roll” and the camera is supposed to say “K thx!” When you use a light meter to determine what your shutter or AV is supposed to be, you can set your meter to whatever ISO you want. So let’s say I’m shooting 400 speed film, BUT I tell my meter I’m shooting 100 speed film.  It’s going to tell me what my settings are supposed to be based on a 100 speed film which means I’ll be two stops over exposed. Since film is light hungry and since most photographers shooting film want a more light and airy look, you can “rate” your film at a different speed. So when you see people say “Fuji 400, rated at 200”, that’s what they mean!

Check out this great video from D’arcy Benincosa on how she rates different film stocks!


Film is quite good at retaining information when it’s been overexposed. When people refer to “Lateral”, they’re referring to the ability that film has to stretch or compensate itself for under or overexposure.

Medium Format

It’s a type of camera that takes 120 film (see below). This film is so popular because it gives a high quality image and uses a large sensor so your images are of a higher caliber and your skin tones and colors are true to life.

Film Stock

This is the different brands of film and ISO… so Fuji 400, Portra 800, Ilford 3200… those are all film stocks.


Let’s say you lost light pretty fast and were stuck with 400 film, you can ask your lab to push your film a stop or three if you feel your film was underexposed. On the flip side, you can tell them to pull the film if you feel you overexposed and need to come down a stop.

Slide Film

Slide film is also called Color Positive Film and uses E-6 chemicals for processing. These produce slides like what you might see set in a projector.


When you load film into a medium format camera, it goes into the back. The back is removable in case you want to switch rolls mid shoot. You can slide a partition into the back of the camera, remove the back, and put in a new back with a different roll of film to continue shooting.

Color Negative Film 

This is regular film… like, the kind you’re used to. It uses C-41 chemicals for processing and is what most people are used to. You will usually see this compared against slide film (above).

Cross Processing

When you use C-41 chemicals on slide film, it’s called cross processing which gives you very intense greens and blues. You can see this in the image below. (This was just a digital emulation, not the real deal.) You can also do a Google image search for Cross Processed to see more examples.

Noritsu & Frontier

These are the scanners used by your film lab. My lab uses a Noritsu scanner for my work, but you can ask 100 film photographers and get 50 for one and 50 for the other. It’s completely personal preference and each scanner can produce marvelous results. Taken from the FIND Lab blog:

The difference between the Noritsu and Frontier is subtle, but important. The Noritsu is best known for its ability to create scans that are light and airy. It produces images with unparalleled highlight retention and muted black point. It is the ideal match for clients who want peach or pink skin tones. The Frontier on the other hand, has a very rich black point. Scans from a Frontier have punchier color and are the perfect choice for clients who prefer golden skins tones. Because of the vivid colors, the Frontier is a lab favorite!

Box Speed

What the speed is on the box. 400 would be Fuji 400, 800 would be Portra 800, etc. So if someone says “I rated this at box speed,” they mean they rated the 400 film at 400.

120 Film

120 film is a medium format film which gives you lots of detail and good quality. The actual size of the film is larger than a 35 mm film. You can see a comparison below. On the left is 35mm film and on the right is 120 film.

Friends, that was day 62! Join us tomorrow for day 63!

Day 98 is currently reserved for any questions you have throughout the 100 days. To submit a question, please click here! If you’re interested in supporting this project, please share, PIN and comment! Any other questions, comments or ideas, please feel free to email me at denise(at)denisekaris(dot)com

Denise Karis is an Arizona photographer who enjoys musicals, Doctor Who and breakfast burritos. IG @denisekaris