The Lomography revolution of the 1990s wasn’t just down to the cameras.
Sure, the contrasty, punchy lens of the Lomo LC-A, with its moody vignetting and attention-grabbing sharpness, was a big part of it.
But a lot of it was also down to the film. Lomography’s most dramatic colour palettes came when the cameras were used with cross-processed slide film (slide film developed in the C-41 colour negative process rather than the traditional E6 slide chemicals). The colours were more dazzling than traditional negative film, the colour shifts rich and impressive, the contrast bold and brilliant.
And in the 1990s, there were a lot more slide films to choose from.
So big was the film photography market in the 1990s that almost all of the slide producers made consumer slide films alongside their professional ranges. In Europe, Agfa’s CT100 Precisa was the slide film of choice for photographers wanting to shoot something other than negative on their holidays. It was made in enormous quantities and sold in multi-packs and plastic “film safes” for those photographers who liked to buy in bulk.
The mighty Kodak also made the Elite Chrome range aimed at consumers alongside the pro-spec Ektachrome films. Like Precisa, these films were more wallet friendly than their professional grade brothers. And if there’s one thing that Lomographers liked, it was cheaper film.
Some 25 years after the Lomography craze took hold, the slide market has completely changed. Up until 2018, Fujifilm had been the only game in town for the last seven or eight years. Their Velvia and Provia 100F films are superb slide films but the definition of nastiness when they are cross processed; the Velvia films go a deeply unpleasant purple/magenta, and Provia a toxic, sickly green.
Kodak have indeed resurrected the mighty Ektachrome 100 film, but with prices nudging £14 a roll here in the UK, it’s not exactly priced at a point that makes don’t-think-just-shoot experimentation a very good idea.
So if you want to shoot cross-processed slide film, what do you do? You have to find expired film, either from camera shops or online auction sites like eBay. There aren’t as many rolls available as there were five or 10 years ago, but the more popular films from the likes of Agfa and Kodak can still be found pretty easily.
So which ones should you shoot? Kosmo Forto has been shooting cross-processed slides for nearly 20 years on a clutch of quirky compacts like the LC-A, so I’ve got some pretty clear views on the five films you should be looking out for.
1. Kodak E100VS
The American film’s giant’s answer to Fujifilm’s super-contrasty Velvia films, E100VS (VS stood for Vivid Saturation) was aimed at landscape photographers when it was released in 1999. It remained one of the last slide films in Kodak’s roster until it pulled the plug on the Ektachrome films in 2012.
A film great for travel, landscapes and architecture (but not weddings and portraiture unless you wanted to enhance red complexions) E100VS was Kodak’s secret xpro weapon. I must admit I used to shoot this as a slide film – especially in winter light, where it enhances the naturally rich, red light – but when I cross-processed my first roll it was nothing less than a revelation.
E100VS is the ultimate cross-processing slide film. When cross-processed it tended to enhance blues, though it also gave extra punch to reds and yellows, keeping green relatively restrained. Blue skies on E100VS look achingly beautiful.
What’s more, this 90s-era film benefitted from decades of know how, so it’s both sharp and fine-grained. Cross-processing will always enhance grain, but with E100 it is definitely less dramatic.
2. Agfa CT100 Precisa
Lomographers across the world mourned the loss of this film when Agfa’s consumer film division went to the wall in 2005. CT100 was relatively uncommon in the US but a hugely popular ‘slide film for the masses’ in Europe.
Being a consumer film it was more robust than the likes of the RSX films, which meant it could be stored on the shelf instead of the fridge; this was a film aimed at enthusiastic amateurs and was cheaper as a result. Agfa ruthlessly aimed this at holidaying photographers, making it available in a bewildering array of multi-packs, including the 10-roll “film safes’ and tubes that you might normally expect to find jellybeans in.
If one film can be said to have been integral to Lomography’s look, this is the one.
Cross-process Precisa and you’ll realise what all the fuss is about. It’s another film that heads for a blue bias when cross-processed. This means less fiery reds in skin tones and a super blue sky – you’ll be wasting its best qualities if you choose to shoot this film on a cloudy day. Like E100VS it also boosts strong reds, golds and yellows. Silhouettes and shadows become rich blacks.
There is something to be aware of though – even after it was discontinued in 2005, the film had a second life. Ultimately, the Precisa name was used for a repackaging of edge roll Provia 100F by the German-based Lupus Imaging, which had bought the rights to the name, as Agfa Photo CT100. Cross process this at your peril. But up until 2009, Agfa Photo Precisa was produced to the original recipe by Italian film producer Ferrania. The only surefire way to spot this is via the box – the Ferrania-produced rolls have a boat on the box, while the rebadged Provia has beach huts. Go for the boat.
3. Kodak Elite Chrome Extra Color 100
Niot all Elite Chromes are equal. The standard Elite Chrome tended to bump up the greens aswell as the blues – in Kosmo Foto’s opinion, not the most flattering palette. Much better is the Extra Color version of Elite Chrome, introduced in the early 2000s. The film’s rebate says EBX 100, a bit less of a mouthful.
Why is this film better? The formulation is based on E100VS, so the colour palette is much nicer, biasing towards blues, golds and reds. Because it was a consumer film, like Precisa it was cheaper. It was very popular and this means it’s still a relatively common film to find – especially in the US, where Kodak was king.
Like Precisa, a roll of this is always in my camera bag if I’m travelling in the summer. It’s sharp, the grain is reasonably restrained, and the blue-yellow colour bias is particularly pleasing. If you love the warm tones of Kodak film and you’re not lucky enough to find E100VS, this is the next-best bet.
4. Agfa Chrome RSX 100
Agfa’s Chrome RSX range was their equivalent of Provia or Ektachrome – an all-purpose, professional-grade family of slide films. The 100-speed example went through a few redesigns, with the Chrome RSX II film being the most common.
Made from 1999 to Agfa film’s demise in 2005, this film was particularly popular in Europe. It still crops up regularly on eBay, especially on eBay.de, the German version of the site. It’s a very lenient film, Agfa engineered it so that this pro-level film didn’t need to be refrigerated but could be happily stored at room temperature. Happily, that means that expired rolls are still often usable.
Though the Precisa emulsion was based on RSX 100, there are subtle difference. There’s a red/pinkish bias with this fine, but it’s balanced by exaggerated blues, so it’s not over-the-top. It doesn’t quite have the punch of Precisa, so the effect is a little more restrained – nostalgic even.
5. Lomography Xpro Slide 200/Rollei CR 200
Lomography brought out a range of branded slide films when film was king, and the last one left standing is Xpro Slide 200. In reality, this film is Agfa’s Aviphot Chrome 200 film. This is an aerial film that has been manufactured long after the end of Agfa’s consumer slide films.
This is another film that cries out for sunny days, where it shows a tendency to lean yellow – though not as much as it does when it’s processed in E6. Why the yellow cast? There’s all manner of conjecture online – some will say this aerial film had a yellow-filter-esque quality added in, others say this is in fact compromised Agfa Chrome RSX 200 that’s warped to yellow.
Either way – it’s interesting, especially on a sunny day.