A Short History of Camera Color

A Short History of Camera Color by Art Adams

When I started out in this business as a camera assistant every film stock had a signature. Companies had overall looks — Kodak was the “warm” company, Fuji was the “cool” company, etc. — but each stock had its own personality.

Kodak was known for warm and cozy film stocks that emphasized healthy flesh tones. Occasionally a stock came out that went a bit too far, as was the case with an early high speed stock that made shadows a bit too red, and it wasn’t hard to create moody cool looks, but generally Kodak stocks had a lot of red and orange in them.

Fuji was much, much cooler by comparison. I’ve been been told that the Japanese prefer cool tones the way we prefer warm, and this stock seemed to reflect that. Blues and greens predominated, and while flesh tones didn’t look unpleasant they didn’t look overly warm and healthy the way Kodak’s did. They just made people look… normal. For some — those who were tired of Kodak’s warmth — Fuji was a wonderful alternative.

French company Agfa-Geveart made stocks with very muted color palettes. Kodak was known for fairly vivid color, with Fuji a little less so, so Agfa offered a strong counterpoint by offering low contrast stocks with subdued color palettes.

Eventually Kodak made most of its stocks neutral in color response and similar except for grain, in order to maximize control in the DI process and ensure that its stocks cut together seamlessly. Some DPs like this, but others switched to Fuji so they could create stronger looks in-camera. Now Kodak is the only real choice for color negative film as Fuji no longer makes film and Agfa stopped in the ’90s.


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