Slide Film vs Print Film

Slide film vs print film. What is the difference? Which type should you use in your film camera? What happens if you play with the processing of these films?

First off, let’s start with the basics. You probably know what print film is. It’s what most people use. When you develop print film, you end up with a roll (or sheets) of negatives. From those negatives you can shine light through them onto light-sensitive paper to make prints. Those prints are the things that you put into photo albums, tuck into your wallet, and frame to hang on the wall. Prints are the “normal” way most people think of photography.

Slide film is used to make slides to go into slide projectors. Here, for example, is a Sawyer Rotomatic 700 slide projector I owned for quite a while.

When slide film is developed to make slides, the negative is physically cut up into squares. There is nothing else left over. The film is chopped into squares, those squares get put into paper sleeves, and those constructs are now called slides. The slides get used in slide projectors. With a slide projector, a light is shone directly through that negative and onto a screen for viewing.

So that’s a pretty big difference. With a print negative, you always have those negatives to make as many prints as you wish. With a slide negative, it’s chopped into a square and now it is a unique slide.

Because the uses of the film are so different, the way the film works is also quite different. The characteristics needed of print film, to let it make clear prints in a developing room, is different from the characteristics needed of slide film, which has to be able to project a clear image onto a distant wall. The chemicals used to develop these two different types of film are also different.

So, to summarize the basics, print film is used to make prints, perhaps repeatedly, from a negative sheet. Slide film is chopped up and turned directly into slides. Slide film is sometimes called E6 for shorthand. Print film is sometimes called C41 for shorthand.

The fun with the Holga is if you take slide film and do NOT process it with slide chemicals to turn it into slides. Instead your process it with PRINT film and then use it to make prints. The result is that the prints have a bright, enthusiastic color to them:

That is a casino in St. Maarten that I took with slide film but then had “cross processed” with print film chemicals. I then had prints made from those resulting negatives.

You can also do the reverse – you can shoot print film and then process it with slide chemicals. This creates the opposite effect – muted colors and a softer palette.

Film will always indicate on the box whether it is print film or slide film.