“The Autochrome process was the first fully practical single-plate colour process to reach the photographic public. It was easy to use. The plate was loaded into a conventional holder, glass to the front. The exposure was made through a yellow filter which corrected for the excessive blue sensitivity of the emulsion. A normal exposure for a landscape in summer, by midday sun, was one to two seconds at f/8, while a typical portrait exposure in a well lit studio would be ten to thirty seconds at f/5. The exposed plate was developed to a negative, and after a rinse the silver formed was bleached in an acid potassium permanganate solution. After another rinse the plate was redeveloped in the light to produce a positive. Fixing and washing completed the operation, although the dried plate was usually varnished for protection.

The Autochrome plate could record both saturated and subtle colours with fidelity, and since the screen and the image were combined, there were no registration problems. Nonetheless, it had drawbacks. The exposure times were long, and the processed plates were very dense, transmitting only 7½% of the light reaching them. Although the starch grain filters were microscopically small – about four million to the square inch (620,000 to the square cm) – their random distribution meant that inevitably there would be clumping – groups of grains of the same colour. Probability theory predicted that in a square inch (6.5 square cm) there would be thirty-three clumps of twelve grains or more. In practice about fifty of such clumps were present in each square inch, and were visible to the naked eye. A further drawback was the cost.


The Autochrome plates remained on the market until the 1930s.”

(Coe, Brian (1978): Colour Photography. The First Hundred Years 1840-1940. London: Ash & Grant, pp. 52-53.)

Secondary Sources

Alt, Dirk (2011): “Der Farbfilm marschiert!” Frühe Farbfilmverfahren und NS-Propaganda 1933-1945. München: Belleville, on p. 39. (in German) View Quote

Bertrand Lavédrine; Gandolfo, Jean-Paul (2009): L’Autochrome Lumière. Paris: Editions du CTHS.

Beyer, Friedemann; Koshofer, Gert; Krüger, Michael (2010): UFA in Farbe. Technik, Politik und Starkult zwischen 1936 und 1945. München: Collection Rolf Heyne, on p. 44 View Quote and on p. 45. (in German) View Quote

Cauda, Ernesto (1938): Il cinema a colori. Quaderno mensile. Roma: Bianco e nero, anno II, nr. 11, on pp. 38–39 View Quote and on pp. 58–59. (in Italian) View Quote

Coe, Brian (1978): Colour Photography. The First Hundred Years 1840-1940. London: Ash & Grant, pp. 52-53. View Quote

Finger, Ehrhard (1998): Die Pioniere des Wolfener Farbfilms. In: Industrie- und Filmmuseum Wolfen e. V. (ed.), Die Filmfabrik Wolfen. Aus der Geschichte, Heft 2, p. 18. (in German) View Quote

Lavedrine, Bertrand (1998): History and Technology of Colour Photographic Processes. In: Luciano Berriatúa et al.: Tutti i colori del mondo. Il colore nei mass media tra 1900 e 1930. = All the colours of the world. Reggio Emilia: Edizioni Diabasis, pp. 117-119, on p. 118. View Quote

Mees, C. E. Kenneth (1928): The Processes of Color Photography. II. Screen Plate Processes. In: The Journal of Chemical Education, 1928, 5,12, pp. 1577-1582, on p. 1579. View Quote

Mees, C. E. Kenneth (1937): The Development of the Art and Science of Photography in the Twentieth Century. In: Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, 28,1, pp. 3–20, on pp. 12–13 View Quote and on p. 17. View Quote

Nowotny, Robert A. (1983): The Way of All Flesh Tones. A History of Color Motion Picture Processes, 1895-1929. New York: Garland Pub., pp. 101-104. View Quote

Pénichon, Sylvie (2013): Twentieth Century Colour Photographs. The Complete Guide to Processes, Identification & Preservation. London, Los Angeles: Thames & Hudson, on pp. 26–27 View Quote, on p. 62 View Quote, on p. 64 View Quote and on p. 71. View Quote

Pierantoni, Ruggero (1998): One Colour for All Seasons. Knowledge, Measures and Myths at the Beginning of Cinema. In: Luciano Berriatúa et al.: Tutti i colori del mondo. Il colore nei mass media tra 1900 e 1930. = All the colours of the world. Reggio Emilia: Edizioni Diabasis, pp. 95-104, on pp. 100-101. View Quote

Pierotti, Federico (2012): La seduzione dello spettro. Storia e cultura del colore nel cinema. Genova: Le Mani-Microart, on p. 87 View Quote and on p. 116. (in Italian) View Quote

Pinel, Vincent (1992): La forêt des techniques. In: Michel Ciment (ed.): Ciné mémoire. Colloque international d’information (7-9 octobre 1991). Paris: Femis, pp. 17–24, on p. 21. (in French) View Quote

Wall, E.J. (1923): The Chances of Color Photography in Motion Pictures. In: American Photography, 17, Mar., pp. 166–170, on p. 166. View Quote

Contemporary Reception

Anonymous (1908): The Use of the Lumière System of Color Photography in Medicine. In: Moving Picture World, 2,5, p. 138. View Quote

Coustet, Ernest (1921): Le cinéma. Paris: Librairie Hachette, on pp. 175-176. (in French) View Quote

Hopwood, Henry Vaux (1915): Color cinematography. In: Henry Vaux Hopwood: Hopwood’s living pictures. Their history, photoproduction, and practical working. With classified lists of British patents and bibliography. London: The Hatton Press, new ed., rev. and enl. by R.B. Foster, pp. 253–273, on pp. 259–260. View Quote