Gonna wade in here with some professional advice for you all from having worked with pretty much every film type going over the last 15 years (just for some idea of what I’m talking about – between 1998 and 2000 I produced approx 360,000 RA-4 hand contact sheets for commercial and fine art photographers. 500 a day was the benchmark!).
The main factor in choosing a film should be the subject matter and how you want to reproduce the subject’s tones and density in print.
There is no one film that suits all purposes.
One of the key factors is the base colour of the negative itself.
Kodak films all have a creamy warmtone base (great for reproducing caucasian skintones in the style of a beauty image and equatorial sunshine – hence why Kodak is not a common choice with landscape photographers and is pretty much the only film stock used by fashion and beauty photographers).
Fuji films on the other hand have a very clean and neutral base, with almost cold whites and are fantastic for greenery and naturalistic skin tones.
Fuji films also have a 4th layer of coupled dye that adds black to the essential RGB layers. This give Fuji films a better range of density and richer/deeper blacks.
Each brand’s various film types vary but essentially they all still fall into those ballpark base colours.
Your next factor is film speed. Aesthetic choices regarding grain or lighting level nessessities aside; The slower the film the less grain and thus a “sharper” image (this is a misnomer, actually it’s more a case of faster/grainier films make images appear less sharp rather than the other way round. Sharpness really boils down to lens quality, focus screen, and your own ability to focus and not the film. There is some variation between films but it’s pretty negliable even with a microscope!
Another important factor is a film stock’s reciprocity failure rate. I’m not going to go into too much detail here as it’s a complex issue and would bore you all to tears! It’s a really vital aspect if you are shooting in low light or doing lonv exposures. Google it and get your brain ready for some physics.
Cost is an increasingly important factor. Like most things in life cheap = inferior. Cheaper films use less material to produce and as such will provide you with less consistency from roll to roll. More importantly they will be less stable, which obviously is no good thing.
Unfortunately for all of us who shoot film the costs are going to continue to rise as the price of silver is rising. For example both Fuji & Kodak have put our paper costs up by 7% over the last 12 months, which we of course pass on to the customer – as all labs do (that also gives you some food for thought on the environmental ethics of photography; and don’t think digital is any better!).
Personally, I like Fuji film. Alas they stopped making my favourite stock NPH about a decade ago. This is entirely down to the fact that I predominantly shoot landscapes in overcast Britain.
I’m not a massive fan of Kodak as their whole business model over the last 15 years has been to concaternate all their film stocks into 3 stocks – Gold (cheap as chips and sold in 2 for 1 packs for a reason), Ektar (a halfway house between the cost of pro film and the cheapness of Gold. Ironically it’s pretty much Gold in a different packet), and Portra which is the nuts (but pales in comparison to it’s predecessors NC and VC).
Fuji films are much better in quality at the low end of the market, and I stand by REALA as the best mid price film on the market.
I’ve not covered black amd white or E6 in any of the above but essentially most of it still applies. E6 is far superior to negative any day, but it’s not for the faint hearted as there is none of negative’s 2 stop exposure lattitude to save you when you don’t get your exposure bang on!
In regards to things like Lomo film – they are almost always cheap Chinese produced stock that as mentioned above isn’t much cop. Mind you, for running through a plastic camera that is never going to take an accurate photo anyway it’s ideal. My advice is to always use 400 and push it at least a stop in the process (I tend to push it 2.5 stops myself) to counteract the bias towards underexposure and to increase the contrast and saturation.