The bright, elusive Kodachrome we love

We all know what Paul Simon wrote about this legendary film; it sold well for decades in a few different incarnations because people liked the pictures they got with it. It had good contrast, wide tonal range, and rich colours. In fact it wasn’t terribly realistic, but reality doesn’t always look that great anyway. Daily life is often improved by having a more rosy outlook.

In my search to find a way to approximate the Kodachrome I remember (and you may remember it differently) I read a few others’ efforts on simulating it digitally. Along the way it was even pointed out to me that Fujifilm makes cameras with the ‘film selector’ I so often complain about not having. I looked it up, and although true the nearest equivalent from Fuji cost literally twice what my Canon did. Seems like a lot to spend for a feature that could easily be built in to less expensive machines. (Yes there are other differences between the two cameras, but they don’t make that much difference to me.)

In the end I knew what I was looking for in results compared to the T100’s standard output, and made quite a few tries at getting them. It helps knowing the film should be finer grain with wide, rich colour tones and good contrast; you can make more than one change at a time and evaluate them as you search for that ‘ideal’ formula. The paradox of the experiment was that lowering the effective ISO to 25 (perhaps the most famous iteration of Kodachrome) using an ND4 filter turned out to be just about the last step. It was simply easier to try the many other required variations at ‘full’ ISO 100.

Among the many changes I tried were external filters to adjust colour temperature and tone, internal camera settings, and post-shoot processing. Most of this proved to be undesirable results and a lot of extra effort. One of the most accurate results I got came from reprocessing a pseudo-Ektachrome image. That’s really a bit silly, considering it had to be processed to give that look to begin with. All the efforts gave clues to what worked and what didn’t, and eventually I got it down to just a few changes to get the results straight out of the camera.

One thing that had to be changed when using the ND4 is resetting the white balance to “custom” using a white card shot through the filter. On other film simulations I have not done this because the filter is there to alter the colour tone on purpose. Despite claims, your typical ND4 (gray) filter does alter tone, and it leaves whites looking like a dingy ‘before’ ad for laundry detergent.

The main changes were to the ‘picture’ setting on the Canon. “User Defined 1” became a modified version of “Standard”: sharpness +1, contrast +3, saturation +2, colour tone -2. The only other alteration was adjusting the exposure step to ½ stop increments, which is more typical of film photography anyway. I found -⅓ was not enough and -⅔ to be too much. Exposure -½ stop was just the right amount to give me the results I was looking for with no post-shoot processing. You can argue with the results if you like, but to me they look as I remember Kodachrome looking.

On the whole I like the results well enough to save that setting as a standard to go back to. Also, if I reset the white balance and leave off the ND4 filter I’ve got Kodacolor equivalent.

2 thoughts on “The bright, elusive Kodachrome we love

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