Digital’s looking shaky, though
in Film , Friday, March 17, 2017
Just recently as I was contemplating my great gear sell-off, two candidates for the chopping block which got a very late reprieve were my two "operational" film cameras, the Voigtländer Bessa 667 III and the Hasselblad XPan II. It turns out that 2017 was the first year, essentially "ever", that I did not shoot a roll of film. I did actually buy some Porta 400 but it is still on the shelf.
Then, somehow, I remembered reading about CineStill film
, and idly decided to take another look. While their tungsten balanced 800T film doesn't interest me so much, the 50 Daylight film intrigued me, so I bought a couple of 35mm rolls from ars-imago
, and popped one of them in the XPan. And it still works. And even more remarkably, so does my Opticfilm 120 scanner.
My very first shot on CineStill 50, to see if I could still work an XPan, and following a double shot of real espresso
Actually, I've just remembered why CineStill popped back into my head. It was actually because of ars-imago, although I didn't immediately realise it at the time. I recently backed the Lab-Box
film processor initiative on Kickstarter (yes, I know, hardly consistent with my desire to reduce gear and give up film. Did I ever claim to be consistent ?), and that led me to various links about currently available films, and therefore, to CineStill. And then I realised that Lab-Box is an ars-imago project.
Ah yes, films. That reminds me of something. Back in September 2014, I backed another Kickstarter project
. I was hoping to use my first rolls of FILM Ferrania's new product on my 2015 trip to Iceland. Well, my 2015 trip was postponed to 2016, but now, in March 2017, Ferrania's film still hasn't turned up. However, there is some degree of light at the end of the (drying) tunnel, as is evidenced by the following receipt.
I am also not all that interested in B&W film, but since it seems I'll be getting a processor, I need to have something to feed it with. And I could hardly pass up the opportunity to finally buy some new Ferrania film. Forza Ferrania!
So we seem to be heading towards some kind of convergence. Genuinely new E-6 film producers, to be joined by the revival of Kodak Ektachrome, various "niche" negative film producers ramping up production, and real innovation rather than reintroduction with the Lab-Box. I wonder when the camera manufacturers are going to start noticing ? Apart from Lomography, that is. After all, with digital camera sales falling off a cliff, they're going to need new markets to turn to.
Hipster factor 11
in Film , Wednesday, October 14, 2015
I’m not feeling much like verbose, deep & meaningful posts at the moment. After all, it’s only photography. Nothing important, right ? Except, of course, when it’s on artfully 2-stop over-exposed Portra 400 film (gasp), giving it that automatic je-ne-sais-quoi. Then, the subject, the composition, all the rest of it, nothing matters at all, ‘cos it’s got that great ethereal washed out, damn the highlights hipster look.
So, here you. Four examples of absolute medium format filmic gorgeousness, freezing unique moments in time Down South in Puglia.
Sorry. I’m in a funny mood today.
Not as quaint as it looks
in Film , Friday, June 19, 2015
Hot on the heals of Camera of the Week #1 comes another fabulous new addition to my range of state-of-the-art imaging machines! Actually, this one is, sort of, state of the art. It is a Voigtlander Bessa III 667 medium format rangefinder, released just a few years ago, and featuring probably the best RF viewfinder I’ve ever seen, along with an excellent metering system and great ergonomics.
Don’t let the quaint-looking bellows deceive you, this is the most modern - and compact 6x7 camera ever built.
I was attracted to this, in it’s alternative Fuji GF670 clothing, when it was first released, but the list price was - and is - a little north of excessive for my budget. But I was very fortunate to win a bid for this example on eBay, complete with lens hood and leather case, for well under half the retail price. It was absolutely spotless, but as it has just spent two weeks trolling around Norway (geddit??), and had to put up with the way I generally treat cameras, it isn’t quite perfect anymore.
I’ve shot 7 rolls of film so far, three Portra 400 and four Provia 100. They came back from the lab today, and here below are the first two frames shot with the camera.
It’s great fun, and easy to use, and the film looks fabulous on the light table. Scans at full optical resolution of my Opticfilm 120 weigh in at over 900Mb, so I might have to dial back to something more reasonable.
If you like shooting film and can find one of these (or a Fuji GF670), or indeed the wider angle, and more expensive, 667W, grab it. You won’t regret it.
in Film , Tuesday, May 05, 2015
I do wonder why I keep coming back to film. Apart from feeding the XPan, where I don’t have a choice, it really doesn’t make much logical sense. It may make emotional sense, which is probably more important in a creative context, but to what degree that emotion is nostalgia is debatable. Up until 2003 I shot exclusively film, apart from photography intended for multimedia and illustration work, which I was a lot more interested in that straight photography up until around the turn of the century. I carried on dabbling a little with Medium Format film for a while, but found it too cumbersome to fit in with my very limited photography time.
There is of course a debate which precedes “Film v. Digital”, and that is “Positive (aka Slide) v. Negative” (not to mention “Glass Plate v. Wax Cylinder” or “Vinyl v. Polyester”). I was firmly in the Positive camp, and indeed when I talk about “coming back to film” I actually mean experimenting with negative film. I’ve used Kodak Portra 400 in the XPan, and under a certain type of light, essentially strong Mediterranean sunlight, it works pretty well. Indeed, it is quite difficult to distinguish from my favourite slide film, Kodak E100G, although the E100G is a little denser. I also find Portra gives a slight reddish hue in mid tones, but that could well be down to scanning. And there lies the main issue with negative film: there are a million interpretations of the negative, and they’re all largely subjective. With positive film, you have a reference - the developed slide itself. There is a certain amount of leeway for altering the look of a positive scan - more so than many give it credit for - but essentially, if you got your exposure right, the main objective of scanning slide film is to get as near a match to the transparency itself on a light table, although nothing quite matches that look.
With all that in mind, I nevertheless took my newly acquired Olympus OM4Ti, loaded with Portra 400, to my reference pre-alpine glacial valley, along with my Olympus EM-5 as benchmark. The results are, well, interesting. Being impatient, I had the film processed at a 1-hour photo lab, which was perhaps not ideal. I also had them do some auto-scan JPGs for me as an index. I then scanned a few frames using Silverfast 8.5 and the Opticfilm 120. Next, I spent a rainy Sunday tuning a film profile for Portra 400. This is actually a thankless task, as it all depends on exposure, lighting, and intent, and getting one fits-all profile just isn’t going to happen. Silverfast’s new Portra 400 NegaFix profile is a good starting point, but my guess is that it assumes nominal exposure, and I’ve followed the current Portra gurus and dialled in +2 stops. Fiddling around with film profiles is far too much like hard work, but I eventually got something I liked. Although once I’d loaded the processed scans into Photoshop, I found them to be too warm in the midtones. Seems most serious Porta users contract out their scanning, but that’s not much to my taste.
The other thing is that my 35mm photography skills are obviously very, very rusty. Being used to Micro Four Thirds focal lengths and depth of fields meant that I got the focus point and aperture completely wrong on the OM4’s 35mm lens. Still, what I’m really interested in here is the colour and to discover if thee is actually any benefit in 35mm negative film. Here is the evidence for the defence:
And here, roughly processed with CaptureOne’s Film Curve tuned for Olympus E-P5, is the evidence for the prosecution:
I guess that if you look just at the general scene rendition, there’s not that much in it. But the film images took more than a few hours and quite a lot of money to get to that point. The digital image took a few seconds and is essentially free.
So why bother with film at all? Good question. At 35mm I’m not sure there’s any point at all, at least for landscape, but at larger film sizes (including 24 x 65mm) the story is a little different. Film cameras are fun to use, of that I am in no doubt. But digital cameras can be ok too. And getting the final result out of film is another matter altogether.
I’m not quite done yet. Film deserves a better chance, with more careful technique and optimisations with filters and stuff. And for some reason, the digital advantage seems lesser in urban settings. Also, the positive v. negative debate remains. Perhaps I should treat the OM4 to one of my few remaining rolls of E100G, or more sensibly, a roll of Provia 100F. And on the other hand, there are clearly scenarios where Portra 400, or perhaps Fuji 400H, makes the XPan a far more flexible tool. But ultimately, what I miss about film is seeing transparencies on a light table. There’s no better way to edit a shoot, in my opinion, and you lose that with negative.
Going all negative
in Film , Thursday, November 06, 2014
In film circles, Kodak Portra 400 is a very popular choice. Actually there’s not all that many alternatives left these days, but even if there were, I suspect Portra 400 would still have a considerable following. Based on the name, I always assumed that the film was designed for portraiture, and as I’m not really into that, I never really tried it. I think I used a few rolls of Portra 800 many years ago to shoot a flamenco show, and that’s about it. But it also has developed a following in landscape circles, where it seems to be the anti-Velvia option.
As a negative film, Portra lends itself very much to broad daylight photography, unlike most slide film, given soft, luminous, pastel tones. I’ve read advice to overexpose it, so I did so, using it in my Xpan with +1 stop exposure compensation. The fun thing about this film is that it seems almost impossible to burn the highlights. On the other hand, the shadow density is a bit weak.
One drawback of negative film is that it can be very trick to scan. However in this case, using the Silverfasrt Portra “NegaFix” profile worked pretty well straight out of the box. As you can in a previous post, the overall colour compared to an E100G slide film shot is pretty close.
Here are a few examples, shot in and around Dorgali and Oristana in wonderful Sardinia:
This was possibly the first time I’ve really set out to mimic a style. It seemed to work out quite well. However, as enjoyable as it was, it’s not really me. I’d just better remember to reset the exposure compensation on the XPan before I go back to slide film!