The last 20 years has been sad for those who love to shoot film. Even with the resurgence of interest in film there's still the problems of availability and the corpses of many good, great, and terrible options for film. Probably one of the single most important things that has been mostly lost in the digital renaissance is slide film. Sometimes you can still get it, some stocks still exist, but what may have been the greatest formulations of film ever created have been discontinued. To understand what makes Ektar good we need to understand the gap it was trying to fill.
Slide film, most importantly the slide films using the E-6 method of development have a leg up on regular C-41 film when it comes to richness of color and vibrancy. Today we can probably get close to that with digital processing of digital files, but when it comes to using film E-6 films often were better. I'm not a chemist but I suspect this was possible because the formulations could be much more sensitive to tonal variations thanks to the extra steps in developing. E-6 processing uses at a minimum of 6 different baths, C-41 is technically a two step process, developer, then blix.(bleach and fix) Those extra steps in processing each color likely are what gave E-6 such awesome results. There were no dye couplers in the film emulsion so the whole emulsion was thinner.
Films like Kodachrome, Fujis' Acros and Velvia, were objectively more vibrant than the films of today. But for quite a while now no one was developing E-6 and even with some places starting to develop it again there's still a problem of finding non-expired film stocks to shoot. The developing cost is sort of the least of your worries but suffice to say it hurts the wallet.
All if this is to say, there was a hole in the market and Kodak's Ektar 100 has come to our rescue, and it develops with C-41.
What is Kodak Ektar 100?
Ektar 100 is not a cheap film by any means. B&H has it for sale at a whopping $10 a roll. You get what you pay for with Ektar, by that I mean it's amazing, but the cost puts it under the "professional" category. This film is not even DX coded so forget wasting it in your point-and-shoot camera. This film is sold as a "professional" film with the same price and quality that comes with that title. The film is meant to be shot carefully and conservatively by someone wishing to make quality images.
Kodak even says right in their literature:
An ideal choice for commercial photographers and advanced amateurs, KODAK PROFESSIONAL EKTAR 100 Film is recommended for applications such as nature, travel and outdoor photography, as well as for fashion and product photography.
Notice that this doesn't include portraits. That's because Ektar makes skin tones look strange thanks to it's extreme saturation.
How Ektar behaves.
Ektar is somewhat difficult to work with compared to other more dynamic films. Like slide film it must be exposed properly or it will fall off into color shifts. Being a 100 ISO film it's really good at still subjects. You are limited to about half a stop in either direction of latitude with this film. In many settings it becomes almost imposible to distinguish between it and digital thanks to it's fine grain and contemporary saturation.
Here we have two shots of the same subject. On the left is an image taken with a Canon DSLR, on the right we have the same subject shot with Ektar with the same lens and a Canon SLR.
The film saturates strongly across the spectrum with emphasis on the blues and to a lesser extent the yellows.
What this means is that the film will make your sky vibrantly blue and plants lush. Shadows get dark very quickly which helps add to the strong contrast that this film produces. Grain is basically nonexistent in this film. The film loves to provide wonderful renderings of nature.
Compare Fujicolor 200 on the left and Ektar on the right. As you can see the Ektar is drastically saturating beyond what is normal for films.
Despite being daylight balanced this film can do very well at creating the comfy yellow and orange hues we associate with indoors.
Ektar 100 is a racist film.
DUN! DUN! DUNNNNNN! Yes Ektar is great but the saturation curves of the film don't make it suitable for portraits, like at all for anybody. Ektar makes white people red and everyone else look like they are chocolate. Even trying to compensate by reducing saturation in Lightroom or Photoshop leads to white people looking pale and sick instead of red.
A landscape photographer's dream.
If you stay away from people the film shines, even on a cloudy day you will get rich colors that will remind you of slides and photos that you've seen in books. The film is fantastic outside.
The browns of wood and nature are complemented by this film to a very high degree compared to many other films. Ektar is slow enough that you'll have to slow down and shoot with a tripod but given the price you'd probably not want to risk blurry photos if you can help it.
It's a beautiful film and Kodak has done a great job bringing us something we can use to replace slide film. I love this film and have been buying it in packs to save a few dollars because I shoot so much of it. I wish the price were lower but it's fair for what you are getting.
Here's a gallery of photos that I've taken with Ektar.