Shooting a Twenty-Year-Old Roll of Kodak Supra 100 Film

Shooting a Twenty-Year-Old Roll of Kodak Supra 100 Film

1800 1012 James Tocchio

Pandemic, day zero plus sixty. I am more mask now, than man; twisted and evil. Yesterday was the last day of a pitiless spring. Today I’m pierced by a blistering sun, a dagger of feverish heat on the first day of Summer. I sit in the dark, a lone torpid creature grey and haggard peering through blinds at a crippled society, eyes sunken into a wretched sku- “Dada can we go swimming today?!”

I snap out of it. “Eh? What’s that? Oh yeah, of course we can go swimming, honey.”

That first paragraph was a laugh. Things ain’t so bad. It’s been a challenging year so far, sure. My kids are struggling with the isolation, they lost half a year of pre-school. My businesses have suffered pretty badly. The pandemic statistics in my country, which had been improving throughout the spring, have now rocketed up with frightening intensity in June and July. There’s a lot to worry about. But I’m healthy, and more importantly, so is my family. Many others haven’t made it this far, those of us who have are lucky, and we need to work together to get through this.

Ian Fleming once wrote about the trials of life, “…there’s no top limit to disaster – that, so long as breath remains in your body, you’ve got to accept the miseries of life. They will often seem infinite, insupportable. They are part of the human condition.” In the novel from which this quotation is lifted, the character suffering miseries eventually does overcome, changed, but alive. We all have to muster up and keep going. I have it easier than a lot of people. Mustering up for me means putting my two tiny daughters into their bathing suits and making sure they have a fun day in and around the pool, that I teach them some spelling, and maybe some numbers (what I call “the devil’s letters”).

There’s also the pressing concern of keeping articles flowing on this website during a time when it’s virtually impossible for me or my writers to get out and shoot interesting photos. To this end, mustering up involves somehow turning this normal day into a day which might produce an article for you, dear readers. I grab my Leica R5 and swap the relatively boring 50mm Summicron for my favorite lens, the far more interesting ultra-wide 21mm Super Angulon, and contemplate my stash of dead stock film.

Within my collection of ancient emulsion-coated acetate are rolls of sixty-year-old black-and-white 35mm films from Kodak. But I’ve written about those before. Portra VC and UC, but Drew covered those. There’s a pack of color Agfa 110 film from the 1980s, but 110 cameras generate within me an involuntary convulsion not unlike those experienced after eating baked stuffed shrimp that has been warming in the sun for eight hours. There’s a roll of Konica VX, but I’ve done that too.

But what’s this; a type of film that I’ve never shot. Kodak Supra 100. That’ll do.

What is (was?) Kodak Supra 100

Kodak Supra first released early in the year 2000. It was available in ISOs of 100, 400, and 800, each offering extremely fine grain (virtually non-existent in the 100 ISO version), high color saturation, and accurate reproduction of light skin tones. The film was immediately popular with professional photographers shooting events, landscapes, fashion, and more, a real all-around performer. Interestingly, it was among the least expensive of Kodak’s film range at the time, which likely added to its popularity.

In June of 2003, after just three years of popularity, Kodak announced that Supra was being discontinued. On June 18th of the same year Kodak’s stock fell ten percent. Now, I’m not saying these two events are directly rela- wait, yeah I am. I am saying they’re related. Kodak slashed one of their most popular films and the company’s value tanked. Don’t do it again, Big K.

The color profile of Supra film (when new) was one of richness, with greens, reds, and blues receiving equal vibrancy. Color temperature trended toward the warmer end of the spectrum. Contrast was high. Grain was super fine. It was a film of gorgeous imaging characteristics. But these are now somewhat moot. Today, even the most recently produced roll of Kodak Supra will be more than seventeen years old. Instead of the wonderful imaging keyword sizzle with which Kodak sold their Supra steak, a marketer marketing Supra today would use words like “color shift,” “increased grain,” and “under-exposure.” This film is past its prime.

Shooting Kodak Supra 100 Today

Ah, expired film. My most hated of all films. An utter waste of time and energy, not to mention money. Why do I shoot expired film? If not for this site, I wouldn’t do it. And neither should you. But if you ignore my wisdom and decide that you’ve an excess of time and energy and money, and you’ve just got to scratch that expired film itch, well then, here’s what you’ll get with Kodak Supra 100.

In a previous The Expired Film Chronicles I’ve written hilariously about the “expose an extra stop for every decade” rule. What a wild ass rule. Man, film photography in 2020 is a real laugh. Anyway, I rated my roll of Kodak Supra 100 at ISO 50, which is simply an extra stop of exposure, if that helps.

Image results from my day outside are surprisingly pleasant. I enjoy the photos, anyway. I’m not sure how much value they’ll have to those outside of my familial circle, since they’re just snapshots of my kids. But hey, this is my website. If you don’t like it, start your own. It’s easy. Anyone can do it. All you need to do is completely sacrifice your social life, write and edit articles every night from 8:00 PM to midnight instead of hanging out with your spouse or sleeping, and spend upward of $20,000 a year to keep it going. It’s easy!

I shot my roll of film by the pool, trying to really stretch the scene with my 21mm lens. Portraits of the kids, shots made into the sun. Knowing the lineage of Kodak Supra 100, with its ultra-fine grain and incredible color rendition, I sought to emphasize the brightness of the day and the vibrancy of the colors to be found around a glistening swimming pool. I expected little, as always with expired film, and when the roll was finished I sent it off to Richard Photo Lab for processing. They always do exceptional work. And they returned 38 shots from a 36 exposure roll of film, which instantly made me think of Ken Rockwell’s weird flex where he’s always bragging that he can get more than the indicated number of exposures on a roll of film. Chill out, Ken. That’s not even a thing.

Shots came back with lowered contrast than would be found with fresh film and some extra grain in the shadows, which I expect when shooting dead stock. Likewise I see heavy color shifts that are again most noticeable in the shadows. However there’s a generally muted, almost pastel feeling to the color of the images that I actually love. This has replaced Supra’s trademark high saturation, and it serendipitously overlays with the theme of sunny summer days by the pool. I’m not sure I’d be as happy with the look if I were shooting product photography, or portraits where color accuracy is critical, but why would I do that? I mean, I don’t necessarily like myself, but I’m not quite ready to torture myself either.

My favorite child (being held by my daughter).

As an off-topic aside, the Leitz 21mm did a great job. What an amazing lens. every time I shoot it I’m reminded that it’s one of the best lenses I’ve ever used, and one that I’ve never seen anybody appreciate outside of this site. Maybe I’m wrong. It’s happened before. Let me know.

Final Thoughts

I end a lot of my articles with a “Final Thoughts” segment. Therein I attempt to condense the sometimes-2,000-or-so preceding words into a single paragraph or two. I’d love for this “Final Thoughts” segment to be sponsored by a large corporation. Perhaps, and I’m just noodling here, but follow along. Thoughts come from the brain. The human brain is contained within the cranium. Boardgame maker and multinational conglomerate Hasbro, Inc. makes a game called “Cranium.” This would work. Tell Hasbro on Twitter, or something. We need some money.

Final Thoughts (not yet) sponsored by Cranium™, a Hasbro Game

Color negative films tend to perform horribly once expired, but my roll of Kodak Supra 100 surprised me with its vibrancy and punch, even after almost two decades of languishing in unknown storage conditions. I enjoyed the day shooting it, and I enjoy the resulting images. I don’t seek expired film. The risk/reward just isn’t logical to me. But if I run across another roll or two of Kodak Supra, I’ll be happy to give it a shot. Preferably on a nice, summer day.

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio
18 comments
  • Wonderful article, James. Even if you can’t get out and about as much as you’d like, you’ve got two charming daughters to model for you, and how professionall they do it for you, too.

    Interestingly, the shot of them by the side of the pool under the brollies reminds me of the muted water colour pastel colours in a series of French art postcards I purchased many years ago. The scenes varied from small cottages with flowers to scenes at the seaside with children building sandcastles and wearing white cotton sunhats, all very reminiscent of the 1950’s.

  • Looks just like modern Kodak ProImage 100 🙂 What I always think of as ice-cream colours. I was always surprised that Leica never got round to designing their own modern 21mm lens but I suppose the excellent (and very expensive) 19mm Elmarit was their answer. I too have an f4 Super Angulon but mainly use it for B&W with my Leicaflex SL2. I would like to get a 19 Elmarit R-II to use with my R8 or 9 but blanch at the prices these still fetch. I might get an 18mm Distagon for my Rolleiflex 3003 instead, as they are a bit, if not a lot cheaper. I am very conscious at the moment that I may have a pre-ordered Leica M10-R to pay for any day now, as I am #1 on my dealer’s waiting list for this. The rumoured release date for this is July 16.

    Wilson

    • Yeah, it’s a little strange. Schneider made the 21mm and Minolta made the 24mm (at least for R mount). I’d love to try Mandler’s 19mm, which you mentioned. And yeah, the prices are wild on those.

  • Enjoyable read as always. Like you, I don’t seek out expired film. But sometimes it finds me, thanks to friends who think of me every time they find an enexposed roll in a closet. As it turns out, 10 rolls of “Ritz Crystal Big Print QX 100” (unknown age) are on their way to me right now. Oh joy 🙂

  • You just gave me a great reason to pull out the remainder of the Supra I bought back in the day! I bought a bunch of it, made my way through most of it but a few rolls remain, still. Was one of my favorites and I used to get great images out of it all the time, now it still looks great, albeit with a different palette.

    Think I’ll pull out my Canon EOS-1v, throw some fresh glass on it and go to town!

    • Hey Carl. This is great. This whole site was created to help people enjoy photography a liiiittttle bit more than they might if it didn’t exist. And when I get a comment like yours, it really makes me happy. I hope you went out and shot that Supra, and had some fun. If you did, please feel free to share your images with us via link or email. Many thanks.

  • Avatar
    Vince Bodie de la Mross July 7, 2020 at 1:23 am

    James,

    I love these shots! I am curious about your scanning protocol. I assume you are posting un-edited scans, but wondering what scanner you use. Or do the scans come straight from Richard Photo Labs?

    I couldn’t agree more about shooting expired negative films unless they are really well stored. The fact that you got such pleasing shots is a testament to how great that film must have been back in the day.

    Expired slide film on the other hand can yield some really pleasing results. Being a native of San Diego, I have a love of all things surf culture, and a cult classic amongst surfers is entitled “Evolution”, filmed in the late ’60s in Australia, France, and northern Africa. Since slide film is so closely related to movie film, and since this particular movie was done on a budget that probably did not allow for cold storage of the film as they traveled to remote equatorial locales, many of the movie’s scenes were obviously shot on some pretty baked film stocks.

    But still the movie has a timeless quality about it that cannot be duplicated today. And in my recent experiences shooting expired Kodak E100 slide film I was quite stoked to see the same lavender hues that I saw in Evolution. How cool!

    Oh and one last thing… your Ken Rockwell comment sent a spray of Maker’s Mark all over my keyboard… thanks for the laughs! Don’t get me wrong, I love Ken’s site, but that was pure gold.

    • That made me smile too – and I’ve now learned the phrase ‘weird flex’, which is a bonus.

    • Hey Vince. Many thanks for the kind words. I get a lot of laughs from Ken Rockwell (all in good spirits). Love the guy. As far as my scanning goes, with this article these scans came straight from Richard Photo Lab. They typically don’t color correct too much, especially with an old stock like this. I’m sure that whatever their Noritsu scanner output is what I received.

      For my personal scanning at home, I use a Plustek 8200 of some sort. I think it’s an “AI.” Most of the film camera reviews or film profiles that I write will have samples scanned with this unit, if that helps. Let me know if I can answer any specific questions for you. Thanks again.

  • Umm, wassup with your dog?

    😉

    • Do you mean, “Why does he lay down like a dead frog?”

      I’ve never known.

      • lol, it’s as if he thinks someone is going to flip the gravity switch to off any second now!

        • I’m just revisiting this article to look at the dog again and I realized that I didn’t mention this – the only reason that picture is there is because I was hoping someone would notice him in the background. So, thanks!

  • Love the hidden Easter egg dog. As for the film, I was given 10 rolls of this, frozen since production. I have 4 left. They always come out well, so well that I forget it is expired. I also shoot it at 50. I tend to stick to black and white so this film was a nice surprise. You get great results no matter the film, because your kids are very photogenic.

  • Avatar
    Michael S. Goldfarb July 20, 2020 at 12:51 pm

    I used to slit 35mm Supra 100 in the dark and load it into Minox cassettes, and use it in my Minox B. The results were splendid, similar to Fuji Reala, which was the fine-grain color print king at the time – though with a somewhat different color palette, as you’d expect from Fuji. 3-1/2 x 5 bordered prints were sharp and saturated. The grain was almost invisible in the best-exposed shots.

    I also used Kodak’s next fine-grain emulsion, High Definition 100, in the Minox. I didn’t stop shooting color in my Minox B until Minox Processing Labs on Long Island finally went belly up some years ago. (And I kept shooting b/w I could develop myself, mostly T-Max 100, in my Minox III-s until just last year!)

    So just out of curiosity, does anyone know how the current Ektar 100 stacks up against Kodak’s earlier fine-grain print films?

  • Would you still shoot it at 50 next time? Or try 100?

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio