Slide films make positive images designed for projection and viewing on a light table, so they are designed for higher contrast and thus have a correspondingly small dynamic range. Most slide films are developed using the E-6 process, with Kodachrome being the main exception. There is one lab left in the whole wide world who can develop Kodachrome.
For 35mm (and, back in the old days, 126 and 127) film, you tend to get film back in 4cm x 4cm frames that you can shuttle in and out of slide trays, slide pages, scanners. If you want, you can also get them in sleeves like other kinds of film. For medium and large format, I've never seen any options other than getting it back in sleeves, although they have 6cm x 6cm and 75mm x 75mm frames for projection usage and projectors to hold them if you want to do it yourself.
You can also crossprocess slide film (put it in the chemicals for negative film) to get a negative. You keep the film's inherent high contrast but you get a negative that doesn't have the orange mask. The dye formulations are different and only similar enough to mostly work, so even if you correct for the lack of orange mask, the colors still go weird.
The way the chemicals work is that the first developer generates a negative image, then that negative image is bleached away, the film is either chemically or optically fogged, and then one or more second developers develop a positive image. Then the film can be fixed, bleached, and washed just like any other film.
E-6 uses dye couplers that are built into the film and a chemical reversal agent. It's been said that the E-6 chemistry is temperamental in ways that C-41 chemistry isn't. So, even though E-6 is fairly common, you generally don't see it in the minilabs at the drug store. There are kits to do it at home if you are confident with your temperature control.
There's one film lab in America and a bunch of homebrew recipes that can take most black and white films and make black and white slides out of them. I've never tried them. They work for most, but not all, films, and they generally change the working properties of the film.
This works fairly well in my workflow for most subject matter, especially if I have a polarizer and my flash handy so I can control the lighting.
Velvia has beautiful saturated colors, high contrast, and beautiful deep blacks with impressive shadow detail. Great for scenery, awful for people. I found that it takes a lot of Photoshop time to make people not look funny. There's a lot of tricks that Fuji's applied to it that make it record an image that looks good but differs from reality.
For most people, shooting Velvia for the first time is an eye-opening experience and you will either love or hate it. Either way, you should definitely try it at least once.
Velvia 100 was the intended replacement for the famed Kodachrome-killing Velvia 50. Most folks still prefer Velvia 50, so it's coming back. I haven't tried the new Velvia 50 yet, but I prefer the extra stop, finer grain, and dramatically improved reciprocity. I also never tried the old Velvia 50.. during its heyday, I was shooting Kodak Gold 100 because I didn't know better.
There was a Velvia 100F, but I never bothered trying it. The way I understand it, 100F was made when Fuji considered the elaborately crazy saturated colors of Velvia 50 to be an abberation and an accident and make a saturated film for scenery that didn't make people look all messed up. Which, it turns out, meant that they ruined the exact colors that everybody was loving. Velvia 100 is better.
It's been said that Velvia 50 is even better, but given my propensity for nighttime photography, reciprocity is important.
It's also said that Velvia is unforgiving. The most frustrating part is that it's got mad crazy DMax, so you can see a very dark image on the slide even if you can't get the image out with a scanner. In general, however, I haven't had too much trouble getting consistently exposed Velvia slides because I understand my meter quite well.
If Velvia gets pulled from the market, I'm buying a digital SLR. Seriously.
Kodak makes E100VS to compete with Velvia. It's grainier. It's got better reciprocity than Velvia 50. I don't think it can really compare to Velvia 100, however, given that it doesn't have the same DMax or color distortions. It's also more expensive. I've tried it and it didn't seem to be that different in most useful measurements, except that it's more expensive. According to photographers more hardcore than myself, Velvia 50, Velvia 100, and E100VS each emphasize a different set of colors best, so if you want to carry all three, you can use all of them.
Provia 100F is a good general purpose film. The only film with better reciprocity is Acros. It's easy to scan, great for all kinds of subject matter, and often times suffers from a master-of-none problem. If you only use one slide film, this is it. The color balance is a little cool for noontime sun, but it's fine otherwise. I buy it in bulk.
Kodak makes E100G and E100GX to compete with it. E100GX is designed to be more orange for outdoor photography without a filter. Reciprocity is important to me with my style, so I use Provia 100 instead. Some folks I've talked to like the grain pattern of the Kodak films more. By the RMS numbers, they are neck-and-neck. I tend to like the colors of Provia more, even though a lot of folks complain about how blue Fuji slide film is.
I was shooting Fuji Sensia for a while, which appears to be vaguely similar to Provia, but there's something subtle about Provia that's better.
Generally, I use this in situations where I might be taking pictures of people or of scenery. If I know I'm going to be doing one or the other, I'll shoot Velvia or Astia.
Kodak is positioning their new Ektar 100 as a viable alternative, but it's C-41 print film, not slide film.
I shot the same model with Provia and Astia in the same light and conditions and they aren't kidding when they say that Astia's meant for people and fashion. It's the polar opposite of Velvia, so the colors aren't realistic, they are more pastel-ish, but still punchy.
It somehow manages to warm up skintones without making the scene look like it has been put through a warming filter, which I suspect is being done through careful tuning to the wavelengths the film is sensitive to and not by simply making the film orange.
They always say that it's got a bigger dynamic range, although I've found that it's just as unforgiving of exposure as the other films. The biggest problem is that if you don't expose it correctly, the tonality doesn't look so good anymore.
It's finer grained by the numbers, although I doubt you'd notice an actual difference when you compare it to Provia.
Kodak E100GX seems to be the closest Kodak equivalent.
It's fairly hard to do gross color balance when you are shooting slide film. A good filter to adjust daylight film to tungsten is going to suck up several stops of light and you are pretty much guaranteed failure if you try to do it after the fact. So, there's a market for tungsten color balanced slide film in ways there hasn't been for tungsten color balanced print film.
There used to be more films available, now it's just Fuji's T64 and Kodak's 64T. It used to be that you'd shoot Ektachrome 320T and push it a few stops... but you can't anymore.
I started out shooting more Tungsten film, but lately it just sits in the freezer.
Either way, the intended use is generally to shoot indoor shots where, if there's a window, it's been covered up with a huge piece of 85N6 or 85N9 plastic to turn the sunlight into tungsten color balance and cut the amount of sunlight coming in. So, the film is designed for long tripod exposures.
I've heard noises from people who really hate the difference in colors between the previous generation (Fujichrome 64T) and the current generation (Fujichrome T64). I haven't shot much of either one, but I haven't noticed much difference either. Some folks prefer Kodak's 64T. I was starting to like 160T, but it's gone.
I've been working on a project to shoot all of the films and materials that are likely to disappear, so I shot some Kodachrome 64.
For the most part, I think Fuji's latest slide films have surpassed it in all possible ways, which is why people generally don't shoot it anymore.
The thing I found interesting about it is that it's got a DMax like Velvia but doesn't have the high saturation. The colors are distorted, but not in a particularly interesting fashion -- kinda greenish.
The basic technological principles of Kodachrome are superior to Ektachrome. It is easier to make a Kodachrome emulsion that won't fade in dark storage than it does to make an Ektachrome emulsion that won't fade. It's also easier to make it fine-grained. Even better, the way the layers work ends up creating an approximation of an unsharp mask in the slide to increase the perception of sharpness. The problem is, you can't get around how fiddly the developing process ends up being. Towards the 80s and 90s, Kodak tried to develop new versions of Kodachrome using their tabular grain technologies and improved dyes and they might have been able to go somewhere with it, but they didn't get sufficient response from the community and shelved any further effort on it, so the colors of Kodachrome are what you'd expect from other films that were formulated around the same time.
The real thing that kills Kodachrome is the K-14 process. See, unlike everything else, Kodachrome film doesn't have incorporated dye couplers, so the chemistry is much more complicated and requires you to expose it carefully to light in the middle of the process. It's also fairly toxic compared to E-6 or B&W chemistry, so you need to be much more careful and you need to go through more efforts to dispose of the chemicals safely.
The guys at Kodak used to develop Kodachrome by hand in the lab if they wanted to run tests, but pretty much everybody else would use huge machines. Kodak did at one point make a minilab-sized Kodachrome machine that didn't really catch on.
So, while I suspect that a notational new-research Kodachrome would out-perform any slide film on the market, E-6 seems to be good enough for most folks.
This is an old film. I shot it because I've shot it crossed a lot and wanted to try it shot normally. I don't think there's too much to recommend it over modern films for normal use, unless you are matching an existing shot taken with EPP.
It's really grainy in 35mm. I haven't tried it in medium format, but based on how its cousins look, I bet that it looks much better in medium and large format.
The big thing about EPP -- and Ektachrome 100 (EPN) and Ektachrome 64 (EPR) -- is that they were formulated at a point where Kodak was pretty good at getting the colors accurate, but before everybody started really playing with getting the colors right. And also because they were the standards for so long in various markets that everybody compensated for any inadequacies by shooting medium or large format and adjusting when you made the printing plates.
It's pretty much the standard film for crossprocessing, which is where I use it the most.
Now that EPN and EPR have been discontinued, this and Kodachrome 64 are the only color films that aren't modern t-grain emulsions.
E200 is a fairly specialized film for me. Normally, it's just like Provia or E100G, just one stop faster and a little grainier. However, if you pull it out right around sunset, it looks totally different and makes the sky an impressive shade of purple.
But I haven't shot it in 35mm format yet, so I can't talk about grain. It used to have a decent advantage in grain size over 400 speed films, but Provia 400X has closed the gap quite a lot.
Most modern films have been tweaked to have very little sensitivity in the extreme red region. This is great for making people look better and awful for astrophotography because that's where the hydrogen alpha line lives that's important for making nebula look impressive. Except for E200, which keeps the red region around. I'm pretty sure that's what's making my sunsets purple in a good way.
Much has been made about Provia 400X by the remaining slide film shooters. It's got the grain of a 100 speed film, supposedly, but at 400 speed.
I tried it. The colors are decent, just like Provia 100F. It's better than Provia 400F (the previous generation). The grain is rather much like an old pre-T-grain 100 speed slide film, so I really don't like it in 35mm format. It is good in medium format, however, so I use it for light paintings outdoors.
It's fastest slide film on the market. Ektachrome 320T, Ektachrome 400, Ektachrome P1600, and MS 100/1000 have all disappeared from the market.
This ends up being Fuji Provia 100F. If I don't have at least a few rolls of it around, I get tense.
When I know I'm going somewhere on vacation, I tend to order Velvia in bulk.
Slide film is a tricky market, because a lot of practitioners went digital. A lot of films have been going away with no replacement. Kodak used to make 64, 160, and 320 speed tungsten slide films. Now only the 64 speed is left. Also gone is their 400 speed slide film and a bunch of their corner-case films.
Kodachrome is down to one developer throughout the whole world. Who knows how long it's going to last now...
Fuji grabbed a huge chunk of the film shooting mindshare in the nineties so their lineup is healthier and they haven't been dropping as much.
Rollei Film / Maco are going to start selling a 200 speed slide film that's pretty much like RSX II soon. Should be very interesting to experiment with.