DX codes are digital encodings present on modern 35 mm film cassettes. They were introduced by Kodak, but, as far as I can tell, all film manufacturers have adopted them.

The codes are "machine readable," that is to say, 35 mm cameras may contain digital electronic circuits that read and interpret them. Not all cameras read and interpret all DX codes available on the cassette. In fact, most do not. However, even among "the most," some do a better job at it than others.

The film cassette is typically made out of black light-proof plastic. The DX codes are implemented in thin metallic foil placed at a very specific location on the cassette, creating two rows of seven bits each. The cameras "read" the codes using metallic pins located in the film chamber in such a way that when the film is properly loaded, the pins are in contact with either the conductive foil (the bit is 1) or the non-conductive black plastic (the bit is 0).

Most cameras only have one vertical row of pins, which allows them to read the film speed, but not the rest of the information (which is the number of exposures, and exposure margins). However, some of these cameras have six pins (for five bits of data), while others only have four (for three bits). The four-pin ones assume their owner is a less sophisticated photographer than the six-pin ones. The DX encoding was designed carefully, so that three bits are enough for the most common speeds.

For the rest of this write-up I am going to assume you place the cassette in the left side of the camera (looking at the back of the camera). If your camera loads the film from the right, simply reverse the words "top" and "bottom", and "left" and "right", in the rest of this write-up.

The Common

Both rows use the bottom sixth as the electronic common. This section is always conductive. The camera will typically connect it to the common ground (usually the negative battery terminal). If it connects the rest to a more positive voltage source, it can then check whether electricity flows through. If so, the bit is 1, otherwise it is 0.

For the rest of this write-up we will refer to the sixth right above the common as bit 0, the sixth above that as bit 1, etc up to bit 4 on the top, for a total of 5 significant bits.

Film Speed

The bits of the left row encode the film speed. If a camera contains only one row (vertical), it reads the film speed as well.

As mentioned above, the bottom-most section is the common. As for the rest, it follows this code, with bit 0 being the most significant bit (note that not all possible combinations are used):

    ISO   DIN    Bits
     25    15    00010
     32    16    00001
     40    17    00011
     50    18    10010
     64    19    10001
     80    20    10011
    100    21    01010
    125    22    01001
    160    23    01011
    200    24    11010
    250    25    11001
    320    26    11011
    400    27    00110
    500    28    00101
    640    29    00111
    800    30    10110
   1000    31    10101
   1250    32    10111
   1600    33    01110
   2000    34    01101
   2500    35    01111
   3200    36    11110
   4000    37    11101
   5000    38    11111

As you can see, the last two bits allow the increase by one degree DIN. There are only three combinations of the last two bits since the increase of three degrees DIN means the doubling of film sensitivity to light (as well as the doubling of the ISO/ASA speed rating.

The cameras that only have four pins ignore these last two bits. Most people could not care less, but for me that is a good reason never to buy a camera with just four pins (though I might buy one with no pins since I prefer manual exposure control anyway).

Number of Exposures

If the camera has two vertical rows of pins, it can read the number of exposures from the right row (vertical). As usual, the bottom section is common, the section right above it is bit 0. Bits 0, 1, and 2, encode the number of exposures, with bit 0 being the most significant:

    12   100
    20   010
    24   110
    36   001
    48   101
    60   011
    72   111

Exposure Margins

The remaining two bits (3 and 4) of the right (vertical) row encode exposure margins in stops:

  -0.5 to +0.5    00
  -1.0 to +1.0    10
  -1.0 to +2.0    01
  -1.0 to +3.0    11

Please remember to switch "left" and "right", and "bottom" and "right" if your camera holds the cassette in the right compartment.

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