Everything You Need to Know About Cinestill Film
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If you’re interested in film photography, you’ve probably seen or heard about Cinestill film.
Even if you don’t know much about these unique film stocks, you’ve almost certainly seen some photos taken on Cinestill pop up on your Instagram feed.
Every analog photographer should give Cinestill a try at some point – shooting these film stocks can produce results that are quite different from any other type of film you can find.
We’ve broken down everything you need to know about Cinestill film, including tips, plenty of sample photos, and what to look for when buying film from this brand.
*All photos featured in this post were taken on Cinestill film.
What is Cinestill Film?
Cinestill is the brainchild of two twins that call themselves the Brothers Wright – I guess the “Wright Brothers” was taken…
These analog aficionados spent years formulating a new type of photographic film – a direct descendant of the dreamy looking stocks that filmmakers had access to. Some people may not know that plenty of films and TV shows are still shot on film to this day.
The Brothers Wright built their brand from the ground up, eventually creating a way for photographers to shoot photos on some of the most beloved, classic film stocks that were (previously) reserved only for filmmaking.
By removing the RemJet – a backing that protected motion picture film and served as an anti halation agent – they were able to create a film that could be loaded into any 35mm camera and developed easily.
Cinestill film is a motion picture film that has been modified so that it can be developed with the same C-41 process that standard, photographic color film uses.
Different Versions of Cinestill Available
The Cinestill portfolio contains three different types of film, each available in 35mm or 120 medium format.
Cinestill 800T was the first film introduced by Cinestill and is the film that most people associate with the company. The name indicates a film speed of 800 and a tungsten color balance.
Cinestill 50D was next, with a film speed of 50, and a more traditional daylight color balance. This film is notable for its incredibly fine grain and fast speed.
Cinestill BWXX is the newest release – a black and white film with a 250 ASA speed. The film speed has a variable sensitivity depending on your lighting and can be pushed significantly.
The most well-known film of the group, Cinestill 800T comes from Kodak VISION3 5219 Motion Picture film.
While the original movie film has a speed of 500 ASA, the conversion to photographic film yields an effective speed of 800.
Cinestill 800T is unique for both its high film speed (it’s one of the few remaining films offering a speed of 800+), as well as its tungsten color balance.
Almost every other film on the market is daylight color balanced, which is what most people would consider “normal”.
Tungsten balanced film is meant to be shot under artificial light, although you can definitely get beautiful and interesting results shooting Cinestill 800T in natural light.
Colors / Tones
Many people associate the “film look” with warm tones found in popular film stocks sold by Kodak. Cinestill 800T is quite the opposite, producing extremely cool and muted tones that can lead to some otherworldly results.
Shooting 800T under artificial lighting conditions is where this film really flourishes. So much so that photos of gas stations at night, shot on Cinestill film, have become a bit of a cliche.
We pass no judgement here – feel free to shoot all the photos of gas stations and neon signs that your heart desires. There’s no denying that they usually come out looking pretty great.
The colors lean heavily towards blues and greens with nice contrast. For obvious reasons (see: 800 film speed), Cinestill 800T is often used at night, which can bring about photos that look like stills from a sci-fi flick.
When shooting 800T in daylight, it’s recommended to use an orange filter, and without one, the blue hues can become overbearing and lead to some unnatural looking colors.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t experiment with some outdoor shots; the results can be very interesting looking.
One of the most immediately distinguishing characteristics of a Cinestill 800T photo is the red “glow” that shows up in photos, especially those with strong highlights.
Remember how the key to Cinestill was the removal of the RemJet backing?
The function of that backing is to prevent halation, the technical term for that “glow” that you often see in photos shot on Cinestill.
Some people love the look, some hate it. It’s a huge aspect of the overdone gas station photos we mentioned above.
Wherever you fall, just know that you’ll likely see some halation if you shoot a roll of Cinestill 800T, especially at night with a strong light source in frame.
Grain / Exposure Latitude
While already one of the fastest color films available, a benefit of Cinestill 800T is that it can be pushed all the way to a speed of 3200.
Pushing this film even just one stop brings out quite a bit of grain (see above photo), but hey…you’ve gotta pay to play.
When shot at 800, the grain is relatively fine, although let’s be real – if you’re coming to 800 speed film from anything slower, it may seem like a lot.
Darker images usually have more noticeable grain, but it’s hardly ever something that bothers us.
Cinestill 800T has a wide exposure latitude. We usually get decent results whenever we need to over or under expose a shot on 800T – occasionally details can get a little muddy, but we think the flexibility is worth a few sub-par photos.
Never receiving quite the status of its predecessor, Cinestill 50D is still an interesting film stock worth trying out.
Cinestill claims that this stock is “the sharpest and finest color film in the world”, which is reason enough to try shooting a roll or two.
50D also descends from a Kodak motion picture film, this one being Kodak VISION3 50D 7203. With a daylight color balance, this is what most would consider a “normal” film stock.
Colors / Tones
The color palette produced by Cinestill 50D is much more neutral than 800T. While the photos shot on 800 Tungsten look somewhat futuristic, the images from 50D lean more towards vintage and nostalgic.
One could even describe photos taken on Cinestill 50D as “cinematic”, which certainly accomplishes the goal of shooting photos on motion picture film.
We’ve found that 50D really does best in extremely bright, well lit situations, although it can definitely produce some odd results.
Some people find the colors to be unrealistic, although that can oftentimes be attributed to the scanning, which a lot of labs seem to have a hard time getting right with this particular film stock.
The halation, or “glow” we talked about with 800T still can present itself on 50D, but it’s usually less likely because of what you’ll be shooting with a 50 ASA film.
Grain / Speed
As we said, Cinestill 50 Daylight effectively has the sharpest, finest grain of any film stock on the market.
In the right conditions, you can create some absolutely stunning, high resolution images. We can only imagine that getting enlargements of a photo shot on 50D would be breathtaking.
Exposure latitude is still great, and we’ve had good results slightly over exposing this film.
When we’re shooting a roll of 50D, it’s got to be incredibly bright out, so we’re usually perfectly happy to shoot at the box speed of 50 ASA.
Cinestill’s newest offering, BWXX, comes from one of the most iconic black and white motion picture films of all time.
Kodak Eastman Double-X film has been used on films all the way from Raging Bull to Kill Bill, even more recently in the production of American Horror Story.
Cinestill BWXX is a fantastic addition to their already stellar lineup of photographic film stocks. As with the others, BWXX is available in both 35mm and 120 medium format.
Contrast / Tones
If you’re looking for a punchy black and white film with heavy contrast, it’s worth giving BWXX a try.
Shadows are very dark and may not be quite as detailed as other black and white stocks, but we like the look.
When we think of classic black and white movies – dark, gritty, and punchy – Cinestill BWXX unsurprisingly produces a similar result. It also reminds of some classic, documentary style B&W photographs.
While the shadows are quite dark, the midtones are smooth with an appealing silver tone.
Highlights can become blown out, but with extra attention to exposure, you should be able to preserve most of the detail, even in bright, natural sunlight.
Grain / Speed
Cinestill BWXX has a variable speed depending on your lighting conditions – 250ASA in daylight and 200ASA in artificial, tungsten light.
For bright daylight shooting, the 250 speed is comfortable to shoot, although when shooting black and white, we’ve become quite accustomed to 400 speed film stocks.
Cinestill claims that BWXX can be shot anywhere from 200-800 (1600 if pushed), but we find that this film stock has less exposure latitude than other black and white options.
Some folks love shooting black and white for its flexibility in this regard, but we’d probably recommend another film stock (like one of Ilford’s offerings) if you’re looking for an extremely forgiving option.
We’d consider the grain produced by BWXX to be comparable to most other 400 speed black and white films on the market.
Grain is definitely visible, but it feels appropriate for the punchy look we expect from a high contrast black and white film.
You’re definitely not going to get anything excessive, like if you were shooting a high speed film (such as Ilford Delta 3200), but some shots do produce a fair amount of grain, especially in the shadows.
Tips and Tricks
To get the most out of Cinestill film, there are some tips, tricks, and precautions to take into consideration.
Rules are meant to be broken, so feel free to deviate from the suggestions on this list, but know that these are the recommended ways to get the most out of Cinestill film.
- Store Cinestill in the fridge
- Try to shoot each roll within 6 months
- Develop each roll as quickly as possible after finishing
- Keep Cinestill in the container until you’re ready to shoot
- Try to load the film in a dark environment
- Vertical light leaks are somewhat common, but usually only on the first frame or two
- 800T should be rated at 500 ASA and/or an orange filter can be used when shooting in daylight
- If you aren’t pushing your 800T, it does best when rated between 400 and 800 ASA
- Old versions of Cinestill came loose (just in the plastic canister), the new version comes in a box
- Cinestill has a shelf life of two years
- Old versions (without a box) are likely to be age-fogged and should be avoided
Where to Buy Cinestill Film
2021 presented some of the most significant film shortages ever seen. While this was common among all brands, there’s no denying that Cinestill has a tendency of going out of stock more frequently than other film stocks.
Assuming that the supply is moving freely, most dedicated photo shops that carry film will stock Cinestill.
Amazon has been known to have all three types of film for sale, sometimes even when other places are out.
eBay is also worth checking, although you’ll want to confirm that they’re the new version.
If you’re still looking for a reason to try shooting Cinestill film, we’ve gathered plenty of sample photos to show you exactly what these unique stocks are capable of.
Featuring a variety of photographers, subjects, and lighting conditions, you’ll see that Cinestill is great for more than just photos of gas stations.
Thank you for this excellent review. I’m about to load my first roll of BWXX into a mid-90s Nikon n90s with an early 60s Nikkor 50mm F1.4. There’s a total lunar eclipse tonight. We’re way up high in the Colorado Rockies. I’ll probably use mostly my Lumix GH5 and shoot color, but one never knows. Juan never knows. Magic happens so be prepared.
Thanks for the kind words, Andrew! Hope the BWXX did you well – hard to go wrong when you’re shooting vintage Nikon glass.