No Film Is Color Film

You may be surprised to learn that technically, there is no such critter as color film. What we call color film typically consists of three layers of very thin black-and-white film sandwiched in between layers of red, green, and blue plastic filters. (See Figure 1-3 in this chapter and also Color Figure 1 in the color insert toward the back of the book.)

Figure 1-3: Basic color film actually consists of three layers of black-and-white film sandwiched in between red, green, and blue filters, all attached to a thicker piece of plastic. When developed, the black-and-white silver halide in each layer is replaced by corresponding red, green, and blue dyes. When composited (sandwiched) and viewed together, they appear as full color. Please also see Color Figure 1 in the color insert toward the back of the book. (Illustration based on another supplied by Foveon. © 1998-2004 Foveon Inc.)

Figure 1-3: Basic color film actually consists of three layers of black-and-white film sandwiched in between red, green, and blue filters, all attached to a thicker piece of plastic. When developed, the black-and-white silver halide in each layer is replaced by corresponding red, green, and blue dyes. When composited (sandwiched) and viewed together, they appear as full color. Please also see Color Figure 1 in the color insert toward the back of the book. (Illustration based on another supplied by Foveon. © 1998-2004 Foveon Inc.)

Why red, green, and blue? Because they are the primary colors that make up RGB, the color model that governs the science behind film (and image sensors, too). Mix red, green, and blue in varying amounts, and you'll get all the different colors that a camera can capture. According to the RGB model, the absence of color (light) is black, while combining 100 percent red, green, and blue will give you white. All other colors are created by varying the percentages of the primary colors. (See Chapters 8 and 20 to learn more about color models.)

Getting back to how we get color film . . . each filter layer allows only its corresponding color through to the black-and-white film layer beneath. Then, when the film is developed, the filter layers are replaced with dye, so the black-and-white image captured beneath each filter is transformed into a red, green, or blue version of the scene photographed. When viewed together, the composite red, urn green, and blue layers appear to our eyes as continuous, natural color. Keep this in mind when you read about how image sensors capture color. It's really quite similar. (See Color Figure 5 in the color insert toward the back of the book.)

The World's First Practical Color Film Was Invented in a Kitchen Sink

Although various kinds of color photography have been around since the late nineteenth century, they were, without exception, difficult, cumbersome processes that often involved exposing three separate plates of the subject and compositing them to create the full-color photo. While Kodak was pumping millions into the search to come up with the first practical amateur color film, an unlikely pair of professional musicians and avid amateur photographers named Leopold Mannes and Leopold Godowsky concocted a color film in 1935, literally, in a kitchen sink in their New York City apartment. Kodak hired the pair and bought the process, calling it Kodachrome. After nearly 70 years, Kodachrome is still considered to be the color film gold standard among serious photographers (although its composition is much different from the original 1935 version).

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