Love, hate and Kodachrome - or why all of the passion here?

Discussion in 'Color: Film, Paper, and Chemistry' started by Photo Engineer, Sep 15, 2010.

  1. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    Well, here goes the firestorm I guess. It is a subject tender to a lot of people. I hope you enjoy this. It was a long time in coming, as it took some thinking as to how to present this.

    There are two fundamental reasons why people have developed either a love or a hate relationship with Kodachrome film.

    The first involves the turnaround time needed to get your slides back, and the cost of processing. It takes anywhere from 3 days to 3 weeks to get a roll of Kodachrome film processed, and with shipping and processing costs it is now more expensive than E6 processing and more time consuming. The cost and convenience were not always a matter of concern, but in about 1990, as the demand for Kodachrome decreased then the number of processing stations began to decrease and costs went up. This decline directly followed the growth of E6 films.

    Simple things mean a lot. Cost and convenience were the factors here.

    The second one is more complex.

    This involves the dyesets of Ektachrome and Kodachrome films. In the leftmost figure below, I have posted the H&D curves of an Ektachrome film. As you can see, the 3 curves are pretty well matched to give a neutral. This is further shown in the second figure below which is the “unit neutral” of the dye set along with the individual curves of the amounts of the dyes needed to give that neutral. In other words, X, Y and Z amount of each dye (less than D = 1.0) will yield a good neutral with D = 1.0. This will actually translate well into a neutral under almost all illuminants and almost all human eyes. But, as you can see, the neutral is NOT a straight line with equal density across the visible spectrum.

    Those last two sentences are critical. Some dyesets will not look the same under all illuminants and will actually not appear the same to all human eyes due to slight differences in our vision. It is not, however, a straight line.

    If you compare the first figure to the third figure, you can compare the Ektachrome with Kodachrome. You can immediately see that the curves of the 3 Kodachrome dyes are NOT matched, and that the Cyan is considerably higher than the other two. As a result, a visual neutral may look cyanish. To see why I say “may” look at the 4th figure which is a unit neutral of the Kodachrome dye set. You can immediately see that the cyan dye requires more density to give a visual neutral of 1.0 due to the fact that the cyan dye is very narrow in absorption. It is also low in unwanted densities and this introduces a big dip or gap in the neutral at about 600 nm. The lower unwanted absorption of the cyan in the green and blue region of the spectrum are responsible in part, for the improved overall color saturation.

    The result of all of this though is that Kodachrome K-14 products have slightly more illuminant sensitivity than the E6 product family, but since they are all intended to be projected, who cares. It also means that even under identical illumination, some people may view Kodachrome slides differently than others, due to the slight, but normal differences in the color receptor pigment balance in individual eyes. On the other hand, Kodachrome colors have a vibrant saturation with less impurities for this same reason, but in some cases, that advantage is scene dependant.

    In fact, since reversal print materials have a fixed spectral sensitivity, printers will find that the filter packs needed to print E6 vs K14 family products are quite different, but very much the same within the family of products. Ilfochrome recognizes this in their product fact sheets. In fact, this was somewhat true of the older Kodachrome family as well.

    On balance, these product family differences lead to a broad variety of opinions on what is better, Kodachrome or Ektachrome. Well, in the final analysis, the Kodachrome products were built “to make a garbage dump look pretty”, as an EK engineer once said.

    And, one of the driving forces to pick this particular cyan dye was that the final products images were considerably more stable than the predecessor Kodachrome family, even given the older products good reputation for image stability.

    Apart from the differences of opinion about Kodachrome, I think that last but not least thre is one thing that most everyone agrees about and therefore, I must mention the famous Kodachrome sharpness. This comes from two sources. Since there are no couplers in Kodachrome, the layers are very thin giving better sharpness due to less turbidity and less “distortion” due to internal reflections. In addition, after processing Kodachrome has that relief image cause by the formation of the color image which swells, or distorts the coating as a function of the color image formation. This relief image is part and parcel of the sharpening effect as it creates a sort of “knife edge” between colors.

    I hope you followed this and that it is of some interest or use to all of you who loved or hated Kodachrome.

    PE
     

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  2. ntenny

    ntenny Member

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    Very interesting stuff---thanks for posting it.

    Is there any particular technical obstacle to using that same cyan dye in an E-6 film, or was its choice partly an artifact of the K-14 process?

    -NT
     
  3. Photo Engineer

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    Unfortunately, the "peculiar" properties of the cyan dye used in Kodachrome K14, just like the predecessor, is related to it being in the developer and not in the coating. Being alkali soluble and unballasted changes the polarity and also renders it to some extent, microcrystalline as the dye. These are the two factors important in hue and image stability and they do not translate into E6 films very well.

    PE
     
  4. MaximusM3

    MaximusM3 Member

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    Well, Ron, if I start reading too much about Kodachrome I just get teary eyed so, I'll leave that to others.

    In the meantime, I'll keep singing its praise until it's buried...here are new scans from the most recent three rolls of KPA25, just posted on Flickr, and for everyone, (aside from Sirius Glass :smile: to enjoy! Peace

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/leicaman/
     
  5. Photo Engineer

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    Max;

    Your photos are great. But, Kodachrome is gone. I never really adapted to it and used Ektachrome. Sorry to say that.

    PE
     
  6. Ektagraphic

    Ektagraphic Member

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    I sort of agree with this. I have to wrap up my Kodachrome pretty quickly! An interesting post PE, thanks for sharing.
     
  7. MaximusM3

    MaximusM3 Member

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    I know, Ron :sad: I meant not quite buried until dec 31st. Never used Ektachrome myself and unfortunately missed many years of Kodachrome while chasing digital.
    Btw, those pics are all from rolls expired in 1999.
     
  8. MaximusM3

    MaximusM3 Member

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    Yes, maybe, but unless I'm color blind, it is VERY pretty garbage dump.

    Thanks from me as well, Ron, for posting another very informative piece.
     
  9. MaximusM3

    MaximusM3 Member

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    Ron,

    By the way, how busy do you think Dwayne's is now with K14? I've been getting my slides back in 3 days flat. Also, do you think they will push the cut off to a little later or is dec 31st set in stone? Just curious.

    Max
     
  10. Photo Engineer

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    IDK. Sorry.

    PE
     
  11. Colin Corneau

    Colin Corneau Subscriber

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    I'm not a technical person. Correct me if I'm wrong (and I'm paraphrasing) but I think it was Steve McCurry who said it best -- Kodachrome just looked like real life.

    I re-discovered a love for film relatively recently (less than 5 years) although I shot tons of it for my work when that was still the thing to do. Unfortunately, my tardiness meant I missed years of chances to use Kodachrome. If only I'd used it on previous trips to China, for example...just imagine.

    Well, thanks for the info. I'll be using all the rolls I have left on a pending trip...I appreciate things that are unique and things that work. For me, K64 was both.
     
  12. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    The love/hate relationship with Kodachrome is quite complex. K25 was a superb film but it's low ISO made it often impractical, many of us didn't like K64 which is a poor film on dull overcast British days.

    If K25 had been available in all formats 35mm through to LF, K64 improved, and more K14 processing labs (UK) then it would have been a much higher selling product range. To be fair Kodak did eventually offer a faster UK over-night processing service for professionals, with collection points in a few cities, and one London lab trialled a Kodachrome minilab but by then it was already too late.

    I'd have loved to have used K25 as my main 35mm slide film, but the downside was the slow process times, relying on postage 2 ways. Kodak tried a number of ways to boost Kodachrome sales, K200, 120 versions then the K14 minilabs but the processing in the UK was the weak link that most of us hated.

    Once you got used to Fujichrome or Ektachrome then you didn't look back.

    Ian
     
  13. railwayman3

    railwayman3 Member

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    That's fascinating technical stuff, PE...thanks for posting, shall enjoy trying to get my brain around it.

    I can't altogether agree that the processing time was the only factor in turning users away from Kodachrome...a lot of amateur photographer friends of mine had used it since the 1950's and could be patient to get the quality and continuity in their large collections of Kodachrome slides, not only photographic collections, but those for other hobbies and work record requirements.
    A very big factor was the deterioration in processing quality control...scratches,
    blue dots, drying marks and burns from heat mounting. This has been blamed in an earlier thread on the requirement to subcontract processing to people like Qualex.
    Maybe in the US (although where was Kodak's QC?), but I'm in the UK, all Kodachrome was sold inclusive of Kodak processing, all processing was by Kodak's own lab in Hemel Hempstead and subsequently Switzerland, so that excuse doesn't work.
    If a small lab likes Dwaynes can produce the quality and consistency which they do in these last few months, something was wrong bigtime?
    I stopped buying any Kodak products when some Kodachrome taken on an holiday in Australia in the early 1990's was spoiled in lab, and have only returned in the last couple of years to enjoy a last summer of Kodachrome.
    As with Colin, I'm annoyed that I've missed about 15 years of possible Kodachrome shooting. And Kodak lost a lot of business from the millions of loyal users
    who switched to Fuji, Agfa and Ilford....not knocking Kodak, it was sad really.
     
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  15. Photo Engineer

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    There are many more reasons and explanations that can be given than the two I presented. I did not go into color reproduction in a big way at all. And QC was another issue, but if Dwaynes is doing a good job and the English and Swiss labs did a poor job then you would have to look to local workers and management for the source of the good and bad. The European labs were run under local control and problem reports would go back to them.

    The process control issue is another problem not mentioned of course.

    This just shows how you can build a good case for a lot of issues.

    PE
     
  16. Lionel1972

    Lionel1972 Member

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    Thank you a lot for posting all this fascinating details. It only makes me love Kodachrome more and feel so sad that we have lost it.
    Dear PE, do you know the reasons behind the fact that Kodachrome stopped being produced in sheet film as early as in the 50's?
    I don't know the difference in production processes between sheet film and roll film. Do they come from the same production machines?
     
  17. Casey Kidwell

    Casey Kidwell Member

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    Thank you all for a beautiful job of arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. I'm now going to write a suicide note and drink a gallon of R3.
     
  18. M.A.Longmore

    M.A.Longmore Member

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    Before You Go

    .
    Can I have your iPhone ?

    Enjoy The Weekend ...

    Thanks


    Ron
    .
     
  19. Rick A

    Rick A Subscriber

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    I gave up using Kodachrome in the 70's when it became feasable to home process Ektachrome. I really never missed it, and could never understand why people gave it god ststus, its always been a PITA to use and process.
     
  20. Lionel1972

    Lionel1972 Member

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    I love the Ektachromes I get and have first fell in love with slides on Ektachrome, but then I hadn't been exposed to Kodachrome. I wish I could home process my Ektachromes (hopefully I will someday). I recently discovered the Velvia and Provia Fuji line and these also give me great pleasure. I just wish we could still have the Kodachrome option to add to our tools. If there was Kodachrome in 120 it would be my choice of film for 90% of my photos and if there were Kodachrome in 4x5" it would likely be 99% of my color large format slides. So far I don't get complete satisfation with my attemps with C41. I still need to try Ektar in 120. I don't really like the way blue skies look in C41, makes me miss the deep blue skies I get on slide.
     
  21. Photo Engineer

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    I have no idea why sheet film Kodachrome was discontinued, but I suspect it was sales. Sheet and roll film are coated differently due to the fact that sheet film uses 7 mil thick support and roll film uses 5 mil or thinner (220 is a bit thinner IIRC). Sheet film must be thicker to prevent buckling in holders and to facilitate processing.

    I suspect that there were also problems processing the sheet films in the newer roller transport machines.

    PE
     
  22. Photo Engineer

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    I really thought that the thread on the "retirement" of Kodachrome did that, and did it very well. So well in fact, that it had to be closed!

    Remember, suicide can be very painful and it brings on many changes, to paraphrase a song! :wink:

    PE
     
  23. Lionel1972

    Lionel1972 Member

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    Thank you for your quick reply, PE.
    I wonder if sheet film machines need less sales of products to stay viable. If so maybe E6 sheet film has more future than roll film E6, and who knows maybe we can dream of a ressurection of Kodachrome sheet film!
     
  24. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    I never heard of any quality issues of Kodachrome processing in the UK or Switzerland, I have friends who shot no other slide films for well over 30 years with no problems.

    Any lab can have a breakdown or develop a fault, and no amount of servicing/maintenance can prevent that. Parts can fail with no warning particularly with a complex process line. Good QC will pick up a problem quickly and keep process losses to an absolute minimum.

    There's plenty of posts on the internet where people have complain about Dwayne's quality but I never saw or heard any about Kodak's own facilities in Europe or the US, other than postal delays & turnaround time.

    Ian
     
  25. Photo Engineer

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    Ian;

    I have heard complaints all around. My post that you quote was simply replying to a complaint about the European labs. I have never had any quality issues with my Kodachrome regardless of processing station be it US or Far East.

    PE
     
  26. railwayman3

    railwayman3 Member

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    I guess it's all down to individual experience and an element of luck....I too know people who used Kodachrome happily for many years, others like myself just got so frustrated that a flagship product and our own modest photographic efforts were being spoiled by careless work.

    Of course, any plant can have a major breakdown however good the management,
    and even a film totally destroyed might be understandable. But the faults in Kodachrome, such as scratches, ingrained dirt and spots, would seem to be more of a routine QC matter? Whoever was to blame, it's now history so really not worth prolonging a discussion, but in the end the buck stopped with the parent company in lost sales and goodwill.

    I still love Kodachrome. :smile:
     
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