This, even though I haven't used any in nearly three decades.
Kodachrome images of my childhood from the late 1930s still survive with all their bright, saturated colors intact. I grew up with this stuff in the 1940s and 50s, and used vast quantities of it during my previous career as a professional photographer. Photos I took of Japan during my stint in the U.S. Army from 1957 through 59 are as good today as the day they were taken, long after slides on other color films have faded.
To fully appreciate Kodachrome's incredible quality and its impact on the world of images you must dig a little into the history of color photography. Although experiments in adding hues to photos began in the 1840s, the first commercially viable process was Autochrome, invented by the Lumìere brothers of France in 1903. This was soon followed by another French system, Dufaycolor, in 1908. Both were "additive" processes made up of microscopic bits of solid colors deposited on a glass plate. By 1932 these emulsions became available on a flexible film base, suitable for use in movies and regular amateur cameras. While the resultant photos could be quite lovely, they fell apart when substantially enlarged as the individual color dots became apparent. The glass plates also required a great deal of exposure and were difficult to view.
In the mid-1920s two professional musicians who were long fascinated by the idea of color photography, violinist Leopold Godowsky Jr. and pianist Leopold Mannes, met an important scientist employed by Kodak. He arranged for them to be financed in their experiments, which by 1930 had led to a viable two-color movie film. They then became employees of Kodak and by 1935 had perfected Kodachrome, a three-color "subtractive" process that consisted of three Black & White emulsion layers, each representing a primary color. These were then dyed during development. This singular fact is what has for 74 years given Kodachrome such pure colors and such longevity. It also made Kodachrome incredibly complex to process, a service that for years could only be done by Kodak itself, and later by only a few laboratories.
The new Kodachrome was first marketed in 1935 in the 16mm home movie format, and in 1936 in 8mm as well as in 35mm and 828 roll-film sizes for amateur still photography (photo, left). Later it also became available as 120 roll film and 4x5 sheet film for professional use. Initially it had a "speed" equivalent of ISO 8 in today's terms, but later versions had "speeds" of 25, 40, 64, and 200.
One frame of 35mm Kodachrome, when digitally scanned, contains the equivalent of 20 megapixels of data, resulting in an exceptionally high-definition image suitable for considerable enlargement. This, and the purity of its colors, is why it became a favorite among professional photographers.
Over the years, however, other color films by Kodak, Agfa, Fuji and others had improved to the point of being almost (but not quite!) as good. These could be easily processed by the user or by small local labs. Consequently, Kodachrome sales declined — and then came the digital revolution. Yesterday, on June 22 2009, Kodak announced that no more will be made and that current stocks should last until about Fall of this year. Processing will be available until the end of 2010.
So, thank you, Kodachrome, for all the wonderful color you brought into our lives.