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As opposed to digital photography, the white balance in film photography is fixed, cannot be changed easily after taking the shot and depends on the film. But what is the white balance of film? I know that it will vary between different films, but how much? What setting on a digital camera do common films correspond to (e.g. "sunny", "incandescent")?

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I am not certain, so I won't answer, but I believe that white balance for film is measured in Kelvin, similar to what more experienced and professional photographers use with digital. Film would probably have as much variability as digital, if not more. As I said, I am far from certain so please don't take this as any form of fact. –  damned truths Jun 3 '13 at 11:20

2 Answers 2

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The white balance should be indicated on the box and the datasheet for the film. There aren't too many choices though.

Most films are daylight balanced for shooting in sunlight. If you were shooting in open shade, you were expected to use a slight warming filter to get rid of the blue cast. If you shot daylight-balanced film under tungsten light, you could use a blue filter like an 80A to balance the color.

A few films were tungsten balanced for shooting under artificial tungsten lights. These often had "T" in their names, like Ektachrome 160T [PDF], which is balanced for 3200 K light, according to the datasheet.

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To make another point to what coneslayer said, the "white ballance" of film is very subjective unless that film is ultimately viewed directly, like slides for example. In the case of negative film from which a print will be produced for final viewing, it's not that meaninful to talk about "white ballance" of just the film because there is large latitude in interpreting the color information on the film to produce a print or whatever the final viewable result is.

Take a look at ordinary negative film, and you will see a very dominant orange cast. That would imply a strong ballance towards blue, but that is compensated for in the printing process. Put another way, what really matters for negative film is the white ballance of the overall process, of which the film is just one step.

That said, the white ballance of the even negative film does matter somewhat when you only get to make global color adjustments in the printing process. Dark colors in a negative have little density, so whatever ratio there is between the individual colors matters less since there is little of them. At mid gray, the ratio matters the most, then at white the negative is so dense that the ratio again matters less. This means simply correcting for gray at mid range by changing the color of the light in the enlarger can leave dark or light areas with a color cast if the picture was exposed with light significantly different from what the film was formulated for. The worst was usually taking a indoor picture with tungsten light with daylight film. You could get the mid tones to look right, but the dark areas had a annoying blue tinge.

If the film is scanned digitally, then the digital data used from there, lots of color variations can be taken into account. The dark, mid tone, and light levels can all be given effectively different color ballance. In that sense, any color film will pretty much do, then the color response of that film under that lighting corrected for digitally later.

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