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Professional film

How is it different from general-use film?


Although the term “professional film” seems to connote an overall better-quality of film, that is not necessarily the case. Yes, it is film at its optimum. But, you don’t want to buy a roll of professional film unless you are going to use it and process it very quickly. The difference between professional and consumer (general-use) film is more a case of protecting the quality of general-use film that has a longer turn-around time between purchase and processing.

Film can be purchased in either Professional or Consumer types.
Film can be purchased in either Professional or Consumer types.


Film changes over time, and it changes more quickly if it is not stored properly. Normal room temperature, for example, speeds up film’s aging, whereas refrigeration will preserve its quality.

The average casual photographer usually buys one or two rolls of film at a time, and may keep film in the camera for weeks or longer, taking a few pictures here and there every once in a while. Film manufacturers take this into account. Emulsions for general-use film have a built-in allowance for changes to the film that may take place over time while it remains unprocessed.

Professional film is fresh film manufactured at its most favorable color balance and film speed. It is generally kept under storage conditions that retain these optimum characteristics, and then sold for almost immediate use. It is intended for professionals who buy large amounts of film at one time, use and process the film quickly, and who store their film under ideal conditions until it is ready to be used.

Professional photographers often expose film within a day of purchasing it and then have it processed with the minimum delay - preferably the same day. Professional film does not need to be treated by its manufacturer so that it will hold its quality over long periods of time from purchase to development, because film makers know that pros use the film quickly and store it properly.

Professional film ostensibly won’t retain its ideal qualities for long if improperly stored, but film for general use will. If you know you will be shooting a complete roll of film very soon after you purchase it, and will have it processed fairly quickly after, then try a roll of professional film. But, don't buy it if it could lie around in your camera for some time before it is exposed and developed. We say this partially tongue-in-cheek, because professional films seem to stand up better over time and improper storage than the manufacturers think they will. You will be hard-pressed to detect the differences between the results of professional and consumer film.

Some retailers won't sell individual rolls of professional film. It can often be purchased only in
Some retailers won't sell individual rolls of professional film. It can often be purchased only in "bricks" of ten or twenty rolls.


You may have to pay a dollar or two more per roll. Professionals do, and they don’t complain about the price increase because they can buy several rolls (100 or more) from the same emulsion batch, which provides them with a guarantee of film consistency - by far the biggest advantage of professional film. Sometimes, though, you may not be able to buy just one roll of professional film, since many retailers will only sell them in packs of ten or twenty rolls.


Most films available in professional (as well as consumer versions) are slide films. This should not be surprising since most photographers who take pictures for publication employ slide film most of the time. However, some negative film is available in a professional version. These include special application films, such as film optimized for the best skin tone reproduction in portrait photography.

At least one slide film that provides super high color saturation and extremely-fine grain is available only in a professional version, and there is no general-use equivalent.


When we say that general-use or consumer film is not inferior to professional film, we are referring to the major brand films. Some cut-rate, no-name films or films that bear the name of, say, a drug store chain (so you can't tell who the manufacturer is), may be inferior. Most well-known brands of film are of excellent quality in both their professional and consumer varieties.