Every time I pick up a roll of Kodak Gold 200, I get nostalgic for days long past.
Gold 200 was a staple in my household. It was cheap, and you could find it practically anywhere. So I put countless rolls of the stuff through my dad’s Pentax ME Super and my thrift store Bell and Howell point and shoot.
Characterized by golden highlights and teal shadows, Gold 200 produces images with an almost vintage look to them. It honestly reminds me of warm summer evenings spent grilling in the back yard.
It’s a fun aesthetic that you only really find in supermarket films like Kodak Ultramax or Fuji’s C200, and of course, the subject of this month’s roll review, Gold 200.
And there’s a good reason for this “vintage” look. Gold 200 has something of storied history tracing its roots back to the release of Eastman Kodak’s first color negative films in 1942.
The Gold 200 we know today was initially launched as Kodacolor VR-G 200 in 1986 in 35mm, 120, 127, and 126 film formats.
Today, Gold 200 and its sibling Ultramax 400, which itself was originally sold under the Kodacolor brand, represent the final evolution of Kodak’s original color-negative film.
For this month’s review, I put three 36-exposure rolls of Gold 200 through my Canon EOS-1 over the course of about three weeks.
The images were captured in a wide variety of natural lighting conditions including broad daylight, open shade, golden hour, blue hour, and of course window light. I did not shoot under artificial light, as I don’t own a camera with a flash. I’m working on that, I promise.
The film was developed and scanned by The Darkroom in California, and additional corrections to exposure, color temperature and composition were made in Adobe Lightroom.
You can learn more about how and why I edit my scans here. Any corrections made to the images have been noted in the caption.
Getting to know Kodak Gold 200
Gold 200 is a medium-speed, consumer film stock that can be had in the 35mm format in your choice of 24 or 36 exposure rolls for anywhere between $3 and $4.
For the price, you get a great general purpose film that’s just easy to shoot. Pop it in practically any 35mm camera you can get your hands on, and you’re off the races.
And if you’re going for that Instagram ready “vintage” vibe, this is definitely where I’d start. It has a really unique look with a reasonable amount of contrast and ever so slightly teal blues and orangey reds.
While it may not be the most color-accurate film out there, I was surprised by just how well it rendered skin tones. If you’re looking for something that’s a little punchier than Portra 160 or 400 and don’t mind the grain, Gold 200 is a solid alternative at a fraction of the cost.
Like most consumer films on the market today Gold 200 is daylight balanced. However, if you’ve ever shot Kodak before, you’ll know their film stocks tend to be a fair bit warmer than those from Fuji.
In fact, I found Kodak Gold 200 to be quite a bit warmer than its main competitor FujiColor C200, which I looked at in my last roll review.
This added warmth is particularly pleasing when shooting indoors or on overcast days, when other daylight-balanced films might take on a cooler cast, especially in the shadows.
That said, I did notice a slight green cast in some of the photos taken in overcast conditions. The good news is it’s easily remedied with a few quick tweaks to the white balance in Lightroom. This might sound like cheating, but as I’ve explained in my post on editing film scans, it really isn’t.
And unlike FujiColor C200, I never found myself in a situation where a warming filter was ever necessary.
Metering for Gold 200
Like every other color-negative film, Kodak Gold 200 has a nice wide exposure latitude. That means you can under and overexpose it a fair bit before the image starts to fall apart. This makes it a great consumer film since you don’t need a particularly accurate meter to achieve good results. It’s probably why it was such a popular choice for disposables.
In my testing I found the film vastly favored overexposure, rendering lovely, contrasty images with great colors. However, I would avoid underexposing Gold 200 by much more than two stops, whenever possible. Beyond this, you can run into some wild color shifts punctuated by muddy green shadows.
This actually happened to me on an earlier roll of Gold 200, which I shot on a Soviet-era Fed 4 rangefinder last fall. Since I didn’t have a proper light meter, I had to guestimate the exposure. As you can see, I didn’t do a great job.
Having said all that, take that as a cautionary tale. By my estimate, the image above was underexposed by more than three stops.
On the other hand, the more light you give it, the more washed out and muted the colors seem to get. This is great if you’re going for that vintage look, but otherwise, I recommend shooting it at box speed.
While Gold 200 has a reasonably wide exposure latitude, its dynamic range is more indicative of a consumer film. In practice, however, this isn’t a big deal, unless you’re shooting in high contrast lighting.
In trickier lighting conditions, my advice is to meter for the skin or mid-tones and allow your shadows to fall into darkness.
Kodak Gold 200, like many consumer films, has a fairly pronounced grain structure that is visible across the entire image from the highlights to the shadows. If you like film grain, you’re probably going to like Gold 200.
The amount of grain is very reminiscent of FujiColor C200, though I didn’t find it to be as pronounced.
In my testing, C200 had a slightly larger grain structure than Gold 200, but the latter seemed to have more of it. That said, both are quite grainy for 200-speed films and produce results that often appear grainier than many 400-speed professional films.
Now I should note that grain is not an inherently bad characteristic. Personally, I find film grain quite attractive, especially when shooting black and white. However, for all the character and grittiness it can lend an image it can also rob it of sharpness, a compromise that has to be weighed carefully.
If you’re looking for a really clean look, something like FujiFilm 160NS or Kodak Portra 160 might be a better fit.
Note: because these images were scanned, it is difficult to say how much of what we’re seeing here is actually film grain and how much is noise introduced by the scanner.
What you should know before shooting Kodak Gold 200
1. It’s cheap
Probably the best and most important thing about Gold 200 is it’s a relatively inexpensive way to get into film photography. You can find Kodak Gold 200, or at the very least its speeder sibling Ultramax 400, pretty much anywhere you can still buy film.
Better yet, you can find it on sale online for as little as $3 a roll.
2. Let there be light
Gold 200 has a fantastic exposure latitude. Under or overexpose it by a few stops and there’s a pretty good chance your photos are going to come out just fine. But just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
This film stock likes light. Underexpose it by too many stops and your photos will come out looking like they were developed in swamp water.
3. That vintage look
If you’re after that “vintage” film look, Gold 200 is a great place to start. But this “vintage” look also means the film isn’t the most color accurate. I found it tended to produce orangy reds and slightly teal blues.
This effect seems to be amplified the more light you give it. If you want to recreate the feel of an old summer vacation to the beach, just overexpose the frame by two stops.
4. It’s a great alternative to Portra
Now I’ll probably get some flak for this one, but hear me out. If you’re looking for a portrait film that’s a little punchier than Portra but not quite as vivid as something like Ektar, then Gold 200 is definitely worth a look. I was simply blown away by how well it rendered skin tones, and it offers far more saturated colors then you’ll find from most Portra stocks.
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Kodak Gold 200 is an affordable color negative film, with a distinct style that I really enjoyed.
While it may not be the most color-accurate film out there, I quite enjoyed the aesthetic and skin tones proved to a strong point for the film. Don’t let its consumer roots fool you. I could easily see myself taking Gold 200 over a more expensive portrait or landscape film any day, thanks to its lovely balance between saturation and skin tones.
Because of its price, it’s hard not to draw comparisons to FujiColor 200, which offers a very similar aesthetic. Both are medium sensitivity, daylight-balanced color negative films, and both are prone to color shifts when underexposing.
Having said that, I found Kodak’s consumer offering rendered images with slightly more predictable colors and had a nicer quality of grain.
I still like C200, and I’ve got a fridge full of it, but if you’re looking for slightly warmer tones or that “vintage” look, Kodak Gold 200 is probably a better fit for you.
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