photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

(Black & White Slide) Film’s Not Dead

Phantom of the Opera ?

in Film , Monday, June 17, 2013

I’ve always been aware of the existence of Agfa Scala film, but never got around to using it. I even had a few rolls, with prepaid processing at Joe’s Basement in Soho, London. Both are now gone. Well, at least that’s what the internet says. Joe’s, certainly, sadly shut up shop quite a while ago, and Agfa-Gevaert discontinued Scala around 2004, I think, shortly before parachuting out of the photography business altogether. There are still a few rolls floating around on eBay or elsewhere with a process by data of 2009. So that’s it … or is it ? Because, strangely, I have in front of me a 5 pack of Agfa Scala 200X, produced, apparently, by AgfaPhoto, in Leverkussen, Germany, and with a quite healthy expiry date of October 2014.

So what’s so special about this film ? Well, first, it is one of the very, very few black & white reversal films (“slide films” to you & me) ever produced. It is nominally rated at ISO 200, but can be used up to 1600 with no problem (although apparently not if it is expired). Second, it produces smooth, crisp photos with a very wide tonal range and a sensitivity that touches on the infrared. Third, and most important, it a niche within a niche on an obscure periphery, and totally and utterly pointless in 2013. And its provenance is a little mysterious. Therefore, irresistible.

I was a little bit nervous about using it - I’m a complete novice when it comes to black & white film, but then on the other hand, it is essentially a slide film, which I’m quite familiar with. Anyway, I loaded the first roll into my XPan, rated it a 400 ISO and just trusted it’s ever reliable meter, and tweaking it up by half a stop, just so that I felt in control. And I wandered around the upper part of Colle di Val d’Elsa in Tuscany and took a few photos. Twenty one, to be precise.


My first 18 Agfa Scala panoramic shots, including 2 fantastic shots of the inside of a lens cap. Aren’t rangefinders great ?

Scanning Agfa Scala is easy, just so long as you don’t use any kind of infra-red cleaning (like Digital ICE or LIDE). I discovered this to my cost after about 15 time consuming HDR scans.  And HDR scanning (in Silverfast terminology) is also not really necessary in this case.  Also, don’t trust auto focus. Otherwise, no problem. I scanned at 16 bit grayscale - there might be some advantage to 48 bit RGB, but I haven’t had time to experiment. Here are a few examples:

Xpan toscana1305 sl 02
Xpan toscana1305 sl 05
Xpan toscana1305 sl 15
Xpan toscana1305 sl 20
Of course, these are reduced down to 590 pixels wide. The scans are 12500 pixels wide, and the detail is pretty amazing. So, although I’m very, very late to the party, it’s not over yet, and I’m discovering that Scala 200X is fun to use.  What its status or future is, I really don’t know, and neither, it seems, does the internet. Although it carries AgfaPhoto branding, and AgfaPhoto acquire trademark and marketing rights over a range of Agfa Films (see here, although word has it that Agfa CT Precisa 100 is none other than my old friend Fuji Provia 100F in disguise), Scala 200XT is not mentioned on the website.  So, I’m going to buy a few more rolls while I can.  You can too, but only if you email me to ask for the details, I’m not making that mistake again! Processing is still carried out by a number of labs in Europe at least, including Studio 13 in Zürich.

Lee RF75 polariser on Hasselblad XPan

gearhead stuff

in GAS , Friday, May 17, 2013

This is a quick note which will be of interest to almost nobody, except perhaps the person who asked about it on Flickr, but whatever, I’m in a public service kind of mood.

A while ago I invested in the Lee RF75 filter system, which fits nicely on both my Hasselblad XPan and Olympus micro four thirds lenses.  My source for this kind of equipment is the ever reliable Robert White.

On their website they state:

“The RF75 will take 2 filters as standard and can be adjusted to take a single filter to enable its safe use on the widest angle lenses, like a 30mm on the Hasselblad XPan.”

However, I’ve found to my cost that this is not 100% accurate, at least not when using the RF75 clip-on polariser. Skipping the point that using a polariser on a ultra wide angle lens is not always a good idea - at least not if you’re using it for the basic make-the-sky-prettier application - unfortunately it is not safe on the XPan 30mm lens.

The examples below are straight uncorrected scans direct to JPG.

Evidence, case 1.  The “blue sky” test.

Rf75 1 30mm 2slot

XPan 30mm lens, clip-on polariser, RF75 holder as shipped with two filter slots. Extremely intrusive.

Rf75 1 30mm 1slot

XPan 30mm lens, clip-on polariser, RF75 holder with one filter slot. Still some intrusion, but salvageable (not that you’d want the sky looking like that. This is a TEST!).

Evidence, case 2, Vegetation, reflections test - something you might conceivably want to do even at 30mm.

Rf75 2 30mm 2slot

XPan 30mm lens, clip-on polariser, RF75 holder as shipped with two filter slots. Extremely intrusive.

Rf75 2 30mm 1slot

XPan 30mm lens, clip-on polariser, RF75 holder with one filter slot. Still some intrusion, barely noticeable in this case. Probably you’d get away with it in this kind of scenario

So, in conclusion, the RF75 polariser can be used on the XPan 30mm, but you need to remove all but one filter slot, and be very careful. And take a safety shot without it on.

This is really an extreme case, and is in no way a criticism of either the Lee RF75 (or the similar “7” system) or of the Robert White team. They’re both excellent.

p.s. - there is no issue using the polariser on either the 45mm or 90mm lens, or indeed any Olympus lenses I’ve tried it on. This, I repeat, is an extreme case.



an XPan in Antarctica

in Antarctica , Friday, April 12, 2013

Although I’m hopelessly addicted to wide-format photography, using my Hasselblad XPan film camera, there’s no question that it lacks the immediacy of digital. It has taken over two months to get the 10 rolls of Ektachrome E100G which I put through it in Antarctica developed, scanned, cleaned up and somewhat edited. Of course this time I was sidetracked by a trip to Venice as well as several other tangents I shot off on, not to mention earning a living and keep the garden under control. And having a life. Well, marginally. At the same time I still have another 12 rolls from Patagonia which remain in their boxes, and a veritable avalanche of digital photographs from Antarctica which I have had but a cursory look at. I tend to get very linear about this stuff, so apart from the distraction of my Venice projects (which were also a bit linear), I have really concentrated on this process.

Coaxing the best results I can out of my ageing film scanner is time-consuming, as is removing the artefacts it generates. But that’s just part of the deal. The challenge is to get some approximation of the fantastic way the slide film looks on the light table onto the screen.

The next step is to select a dozen or so for a gallery page, but here’s a quick preview.

Xpan antarctica05 10
Xpan antarctica06 13
Xpan antarctica08 01
Xpan antarctic03 11


move on, nothing to see here

in Antarctica , Sunday, February 24, 2013

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was inspired by reading Stuart Klipper’s “The Antarctic: From the Circle to the Pole“ to attempt to capture some feeling of Antarctica away from the more usual high drama of high contrast, mirrored, dramatic landscapes. I hope this doesn’t descend into plagiarism - after all it’s hardly the first time I’ve tried this, or something like it - but I can’t deny that I was compelled to get the hell out of the library, and work with this soft, dull light while I still had the opportunity.  Actually, there would be all too much opportunity in the days ahead!

Xpan antarctic01 14

Xpan antarctic02 6

Both photos taken with the Hasselblad XPan, 90mm lens, and Kodak Ektachrome E100G


Revenge of the Fungii

Unwelcome guests

in Hasselblad XPan , Thursday, December 27, 2012

I got a unwelcome blast from the past this evening when preparing my XPan gear for it’s trip Southwards. I decided to give the lenses a quick clean, and while doing so, I saw this inside the 30mm…


The white specks are fungi growing inside the lens. This is bad news, and has happened to me before: see my rant from 2003, The IKEA of camera manufacturers.

So is this a chronic fault of this lens ? Whatever, this time it’s going to have to live with it at least until February. In any case my local dealer has long since closed shop, and it would probably have to go to Leica Switzerland (no bad thing from a customer service point of view, but not cheap either). If any XPan owners reading this have any similar experience, and in particular, short term damage limitation advice (stick in the oven?), please, please get in touch.

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