CineStill 800t Review: The Greatest Night Photography Film?

7 min read

Cinestill gets a wrap for being kitschy and expensive. But their products fill a niche that was previously unfilled by the major manufacturers: creating a film stock for night photography.

But just how good is Cinestill 800t?

Cinestill 800t is the fastest color film on the market as of 2023 and is purpose-built for shooting in low-light conditions. 800t is the only tungsten-balanced C41 color film on the market, making it the perfect choice for street and night photography

Daylight-balanced film stocks often need to be rated two ISO stops below their box speed, meaning a pro film like Portra 400 will need to be used at ISO 100 to create a perfectly-exposed image. 

In this review, we’re going to go over what Cinestill 800t is, how to get the best results with it, and why it has quickly become my favorite color film of all time. Get a roll of CineStill 800t on Amazon here.

The red around the streetlamps are halations, which are caused by the removal of the remjet backing layer.

What is Cinestill 800t?

Cinestill 800t is made from Kodak Vision 3 500t cinema film, that has had the remjet or backing layer removed and packaged into 35mm and 120 rolls. 

CineStill isn’t creating a new film — they are repurposing cinema film for stills photography — hence the name Cine Still. 

The remjet removal means 800t will produce halations, which are that red glow around streetlights, neon, or around the edges of back-lit subjects. Halations occur when bright light scatters off the backing plate and re-exposes the film.

Halations will always be red since they traveled through the red backside of the film — much like how film is red-scaled when inserted in the camera backward.

All other color film contains a backing layer that prevents these halations, which washes out in the first rinse. However, cinema films use a carbon-based remjet layer instead of water-based backing layers to reduce friction in high-speed video cameras. Before remjet, film could experience static that created the appearance of lightning, or even cause jams inside the camera.

Halations are something Hollywood and Kodak spent a lot of time and money to researching the best way to remove them. But now they’re back with a vengeance and I’m all in.

CineStill 800t shot at sunset in the forest. The natural blue cast of this film in daylight helped make the greens more pronounced.

Sharpness and grains

One of the prevailing features that make Cinestill 800t so unique is that it retains its sharpness even though it’s a high-ISO film.  

Even zooming in 100 or 200% in Lightroom Classic, it’s hard to spot the dye clouds or grains that form the color in this film — especially in 120 format. 

This film uses a mix of t-grains and classic grains to create images with rich tonality, while significantly reducing the appearance of grain on the images. Kodak’s Vision 3 film, which this stock is created from, made such major leaps in cinema technology in the 80s and 90s, that it won Kodak an academy award. 

In stills, the grains will certainly be much more noticeable than they are on a movie screen, but they are far from a distraction in your images. 

If Cinestill is made from Vision 500t, why is it rated at ISO 800?

Vision 3 film is normally meant for developing in ECN-2 color film developer, which gives film a flatter appearance perfect for color grading in Hollywood post-production. 

But ECN-2 isn’t as active as C-41, which is the developer used for color film and chromogenic B&W films like Ilford XP2. That means C-41 creates denser, brighter, more saturated negatives than ECN-2, and can be rated at a higher ISO. 

This is true for any cinema film. For example, Kodak Vision 250D can be treated like Portra 400 for color stills (though never take 250D to a commercial lab without telling them, or removing the remjet at home, as this can seriously mess up their machines). 

CineStill 800t used to capture a gas station on the water in Vancouver, BC.
Blue hour on CineStill 800t is a big vibe right now.

Why Cinestill 800t is the best night photography film stock in 2022

Cinestill 800t is a fantastic all-around film that can be underexposed by up to 2 or 3 stops and still create detailed exposures at night. Its incredible overexposure latitude also makes it particularly useful, as you can expose for the shadows and still retain plenty of detail in the image highlights.

You will get the best results when using this film in low-light conditions, such as street photography at night, taking photos inside the home, in restaurants, or around a fire. 

Using Cinestill 800t at sunset or sunrise may end up with a cooler color balance than what appeared naturally because the film is designed to balance out very warm light. For those cases, it’s often recommended to use daylight-balanced color films, which will create an overall warmer look.

This is the only film that is designed for use under streetlamps, or in dimly lit bars, making it the street photographer’s film stock of choice. Use it to isolate subjects as they walk into the light for a moody photograph, or at blue hour when warm indoor lights are turned on, even if there’s still enough light in the sky to fill in the shadows. In those scenes, there’s no better film to have in your camera than 800t.

CineStill 800t is the ultimate film for hipster photos
The ultimate hipster photo of 2023.

Shooting Cinestill 800t in daylight 

When shooting this film during the day, CineStill 800t will exhibit a blue color cast. The best advice for fixing the blue cast is to use an 85C warming filter (like these on Amazon). Though in many cases, it will be possible to adjust these color casts in Lightroom Classic, and it may be automatically corrected when converted using Negative Lab Pro.

You can find an example of the color shifts on Analog.Cafe. Dmitri is a friend of Learnfim.photography, and always puts out awesome content on the Analog.cafe blog. I highly recommend checking out his blog for in-depth reviews and film analysis.

Jacks Drive Thru in Spruce Grove, Alberta captured on CineStill 800t
CineStill 800t is for anyone who wants to make photos like this

Who is Cinestill 800t for? 

There was a time when Cinestill 800t felt like an overpriced, gimmicky film on the marketplace. But with the insane costs of Portra 400 in 2022, it may be worth considering bulking up on some Cinestill while the prices are still low. 

The reason Cinestill 800t is the only tungsten-balanced color film on the market is that tungsten films aren’t as great at capturing photos in daylight — which is when most people use film.

Tungsten-balanced films are made for capturing images under streetlamps, in dark and moody bars, or just in the cozy warm comfort of home — places where Portra 400 kind of struggles to create a proper exposure. 

Cinestill 800t is the secret sauce that allows photographers to capture the action at when it’s too dark for other films. But it’s also one of the more expensive films on the market and doesn’t really look its best in daylight. 

What are your thoughts on Cinestill 800t? Let me know in the comments below if you think halations are just a gimmick or if they add something special to the images. 

By Daren

Daren is a journalist and wedding photographer based in Vancouver, B.C. He’s been taking personal and professional photos on film since 2017 and began developing and printing his own photos after wanting more control than what local labs could offer. Check out the print shop to see his latest photos.

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