120, 35mm, Competition, Film reviews

LomoChrome Purple film review: Lomography’s colour shift classic

Grounded kangaroo, Brisbane Airport. LomoChrome Purple with Canon AF35ML

LomoChrome Purple is a film that I have fallen in love with over the last year. If you’ve never tried it, I hope that this article and the sample images will inspire you to pick up a roll or five.

In this review of LomoChrome Purple, I give a brief historical overview of LomoChrome Purple and the film that inspired it, details on the colour shifts you can expect, the variable ISO nature of the film, an example of the same scene shot at different film speeds, sample images of LomoChrome Purple taken on four different cameras, and lots more! If you prefer audio, listen to my podcast version of this review.

I love LomoChrome Purple so much I decided to run a Purple competition through my film photography podcast Matt Loves Cameras. Entering is easy: shoot a roll of Purple between 1 February 2021 and 15 May 2021, then send me the best four images! The aim of the competition is to produce a film photography community zine by mid 2021.

Southern Queensland has never looked so trippy! LomoChrome Purple with Canon AF35ML

A brief history of LomoChrome Purple

LomoChrome Purple is a film sold by Lomography. Introduced in 2013, an article on the Lomography website from January that year lead with the headline “Introducing LomoChrome Purple – a color negative film that yields infrared results!“. It’s been described as a colour-shift film and even a “purplescale” film thanks to its signature look.

Woah wait, what was that about infrared? Is this an infrared film? No, read that headline again: despite its funky colour shifts, Purple is a colour negative film. This means it can be developed in the same C41 chemicals as other colour print films such as Fujifilm’s Superia lineup and Kodak’s Gold and Portra lines.

Grounded kangaroo, Brisbane Airport. LomoChrome Purple with Canon AF35ML

Purple: a love letter to Aerochrome

Lomography said that the development of this new product was due to demand from their customers. They frequently name dropped a legendary film as its inspiration: Kodak Aerochrome.

Kodak Aerochrome Infrared film 1443 (also known as Kodak Ektachrome Professional EIR) was an infrared-sensitive, false-colour reversal film. Kodak developed Aerochrome for aerial photographic applications, such as vegetation and forestry surveys, hydrology, and earth resources monitoring, where its infrared properties were a big advantage.

Yellow filters (or sometimes orange filters or other colours) were typically used on camera lenses to enhance the effects of the film.

Lomo Purple review
Is that you Aerochrome? No, it’s a lemon tree shot on LomoChrome Purple with the Olympus Pen FT.

Aerochrome was intended to be developed as a colour transparency or slide using process AR-5, but the Kodak data sheet also details how achieving a negative is easy with process AN-6 or C-41. Most infrared film today is developed as a transparency using the E6 process.

Despite their original scientific and military applications, Kodak’s infrared films were often used for artistic purposes due to the unique way that they rendered the world, giving a surreal view of otherwise ordinary scenes.

Enter LomoChrome Purple: an easier way to shift colour

In 2013 the Lomography website was still selling non-Kodak infrared films, but stocks were dwindling. Kodak Aerochrome had been officially discontinued in 2011 and was sorely missed.

Enter LomoChrome Purple, Lomography’s great hope to replicate the feel of shooting infrared films. Purple had two big advantages over infrared: it didn’t require any special filters, and it could be processed in widely available C-41 chemicals.

Lomo Purple sample images
I love this image! Pentax 645nii with LomoChrome Purple

LomoChrome Purple launch

Lomography launched LomoChrome Purple in January 2013, with customers receiving the first rolls a few months later in July 2013. Lomography stated that making Purple “takes a little longer to produce than other emulsions” which could explain the delay.

The first run of the film was 4000 rolls of LomoChrome Purple in 120 (selling for around $11 USD a roll) and and 3500 rolls in 35mm format (selling for around $9 USD a roll). It’s important to note that this was around double the cost of regular colour negative films at the time, yet reports were that the film was flying off shelves during the first couple of years of its release.

Looking back at reviews of the film from 2013-2014, there was the usual mix of enthusiasm and scepticism from the community. Some people loved it, some hated it, others couldn’t see the point. In other words, the reaction was pretty much like any other new product launch in the photographic industry.

Lomo Purple sample images
From left to right: LomoChrome Purple 35mm box, limited edition canister, and roll of Purple in 120.

In 2017 Lomography announced a reformulated emulsion which “increased the film’s sensitivity to red hues, improved exposure at the recommended setting of ISO 400, and significantly reduced grain”. Curiously, these were the same benefits stated with the launch of the 2019 formula a couple of years later. All recent boxes of LomoChrome Purple bear the text “New 2019 formula”.

In early 2020 Purple became available in 110 (a format Lomography have long championed), as well as in Lomography’s simple use 35mm cameras.

What effect does LomoChrome Purple film have on photos?

To quote Lomography: “blue becomes green, green becomes purple and yellow becomes pink! Red tones stay red though, which keeps skin tones looking natural in a sea of trippy hues.”

While all of this is true, your results may depend on the lighting conditions that you shoot in, and how you rate the film in terms of its ISO value, or sensitivity to light. You might also find some cool surprises along the way: what they didn’t mention in their promo material is that pink becomes yellow!

As for natural looking skin tones, well, they’re not bad, but I’m not sure I would describe them as natural. Let’s just say that they’re a whole lot better than LomoChrome Turquoise which made people look like smurfs!

LomoChrome Purple review
Portraits are super fun with Lomo Purple! Taken on the Pentax 645nii rated at ISO200.

Colour comparison: LomoChrome Purple versus colour negative film

For a side-by-side comparison of Lomo Purple versus a regular colour negative film, compare the two images below.

The top one was taken on my Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim with Lomochrome Purple. The bottom one was taken on my Superheadz Wide and Slim with Kodak Ultramax 400. The Superheadz camera is a copy of the Vivitar that has the same design, focal length, and quirks such as harsh vignetting. Both cameras have the same fixed aperture and shutter speed.

As you can see, the pink boat becomes pale yellow, the golden brown sand becomes purple, the blue sky becomes green, the yellow buoy becomes pink!

One of my favourite LomoChrome Purple images taken with the Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim.
LomoChrome Purple review
One of my favourite LomoChrome Purple images taken with the Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim.

What ISO should I shoot LomoChrome Purple at?

LomoChrome Purple is a variable ISO film, meaning that you can expose it within a wide range of light sensitivity (as measured by the ISO standard) with good results.

If you are shooting Purple in a camera where you can set the film speed or ISO yourself, Lomography recommend any speed between 100 and 400 for best results. Your choice will depend on the effect you’d like to see and the lighting conditions available to you.

If you have a newer camera with lots of fancy electronics, you may not be able to set the ISO yourself, which might be an issue. These cameras typically read the DX code on the film canister to set the speed of the film automatically for you, but LomoChrome Purple film canisters have no DX code.

In this case, the camera will typically default to its standard ISO speed, which is often 100. Check your camera manual though – some brands like Konica default to ISO 25 for non-DX coded film!

Lomo Purple review
Palm trees, Capalaba. Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim with LomoChrome Purple.

If you want to be really adventurous, you could use the film in a camera like the Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim, which has a single shutter speed, single aperture, and no way of setting the ISO at all. Pop the film in and go shoot in bright light for best results. I’m very happy with the images I achieved with this combination in the beautiful Queensland light.

What effect do different film speeds have on LomoChrome Purple?

A higher ISO speed such as 400 will typically produce more intense red and purple colours, whereas a lower ISO speed such as 100 will be a paler rendition of the film.

You can see in the images below, the ISO 400 image (far left) has more intense red and purple colours, with the sky being more green. The ISO 100 image (far right) is a paler, more muted version of Purple, still retaining some of the films characteristics. The ISO 200 image (middle) is a mix of the two, though perhaps more like the ISO 100 version.Apart from the three images below, all other images in this review were shot at ISO 200.

You can see the effect of shooting Lomo Purple at different ISO speeds above: (L-R) ISO 400, ISO 200, ISO 100. All images taken with my Olympus Pen FT.

Who makes LomoChrome Purple?

The manufacturer of LomoChrome Purple has been the subject of much speculation in the film community. Some of the original 2013 films were “Made in Europe” while others were “Made in China”: all of 2019 formulation films I have say the latter.

Could it be that LomoChrome Purple is a regular colour negative film made by one of the big manufacturers then finished in China? Or is there a factory somewhere in China pumping this stuff out from scratch?

For now that seems to be a closely guarded secret. Chinese involvement would typically point to China Lucky Film, but it’s reported they stopped the manufacture of colour films several years ago.

Warwick Town Hall, Southern Queensland. Canon AF35ML with LomoChrome Purple.

Why does Lomography use the word “chrome” in their colour negative films?

A common complaint you will hear from seasoned film photographers goes as follows: “Chrome is a word used for slide films, why are Lomography using it on colour negative films?”

It’s true that the suffix -chrome has been used throughout photographic history for slide films such as Fujichrome, Kodakchrome, and Agfachrome. So yes, you could be forgiven for being confused by the name, but it wasn’t always that way.

The first ever film to use the suffix -chrome was sold by a company called Wratten & Wainwright at the dawn of the 20th century. It was a black and white film called Verichrome. The company was bought by Kodak in 1912, and the Verichrome name was resurrected years later for a Kodak black and white film.

Marshall Dalmatian has never looked so good! Olympus Pen FT with LomoChrome Purple.

Somewhere along the line, Kodak used the suffix -chrome for their colour reversal films (Kodachrome) and the suffix -color for their colour negative films (Kodacolor). This has also been the case with other film manufacturers such as Fujifilm (Fujichrome, Fujicolor).

My take is this – go easy on Lomography. The name “LomoChrome” seems to be a hat tip to the inspiration behind Purple: Aerochrome. In the last few years, Lomography has named other colour negative films with this branding i.e. LomoChrome Turquoise and LomoChrome Metropolis.

My thoughts on Lomo Purple

Throughout 2020 I shot four rolls of LomoChrome Purple on four different cameras:

  • Canon AF35ML (classic 1980s point and shoot with a fast f1.9 lens)
  • Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim (the cult classic plastic fantastic)
  • Olympus Pen FT (the beautiful 1960s Japanese half-frame camera)
  • Pentax 645nii (medium format magic).

I absolutely love the images I’ve shot with all rolls of Purple, perhaps more than any other film I’ve shot in recent memory. There’s such a fun, dreamy feeling to the images shot on LomoChrome Purple, giving you a different perspective of the world.

I’ve had way more keepers using Purple than I’ve had on other rolls. Perhaps the only time when I’ve had less than fantastic results was during a weekend away when it rained for 48 hours and the sky was grey (see below).

This shot would’ve been fantastic with a blue sky. Unfortunately the sky was grey… Pentax 645nii with LomoChrome Purple.

Who would enjoy shooting LomoChrome Purple?

I’ve always thought that there’s an art-science continuum with photography. At one end you have experimental, arty photographers that embody the philosophy that Lomography promotes: “don’t think, just shoot”.

At the other end you have the technical photography crowd that like every shot metered and exposed correctly and only shoot with precision equipment. In between those two extremes there’s everybody else. I think that LomoChrome Purple is more likely to appeal the arty crowd rather than the technical crowd.

Is LomoChrome Purple the new Aerochrome?

No. Although there are similarities, it’s unfair to compare the two as they’re fundamentally different emulsions. Is Purple a fantastic film in its own right? Yes, yes it is. Get out there and shoot a roll and find out for yourself.