Tuesday, February 20, 2024

2 years of film

After several years of digital photos, I got to wondering what using film would be like. Unlike some families, photography was not a big part of my life as a child. Even as a young adult, a film point and shoot was as tech as it got. I never considered buying a "real" SLR. Even with the point and shoot we often forgot to take it places.

Then the iPhone came along and I found I liked taking photos. (Don't get me started on the current incarnation of Apples desktop photo app.) People said some of them were pretty good. One trip we were wandering through a garden and Linda suggested that I take a photo of a birdhouse against a clear sky. I didn't, knowing it would be a tiny dot of colour, but it got me thinking about getting a 'real" DSLR. That happened mid 2016, and I fell in love with the world I discovered. I found that I saw the world differently when I was carrying a camera.

Fast forward to late 2021 and really early 2022, thinking more about film. I borrowed a pair of Nikon film cameras from a friend (thank you Sean!) and ran some film through them. I liked the experience, but the cameras never really felt at home in my hands, and I never really got the hang of the focussing split prism thing.

Then I picked up a big medium format rangefinder (Fujica GW690) and was hooked. I liked how it felt solid and comfortable in my hands. The Nikons went back to Sean, and later I picked up a 35m Canon 7 with a nice 50 mm lens. That was fun to use, but it locked up and I sent it away to be cleaned and go for consignment. I traded the lens in for a Canon EOS-3. It's not quite as much fun to use, being essentially an early digital camera that uses film. I've only used a 50mm f 1.8 lens I picked up cheap, but I could use the EF lenses for my digital cameras.

How much film have I exposed? This much. Each sheet is a roll of film, typically 36 images on 35mm film, and 8 images on 120 medium format. They're in an orange binder, which explains the colour. The binder lives in a box, which is in a dark room. I know the digital photos could go away in the blink of a hard drive failure, and yes I have backups. But assuming the house doesn't burn down, that binder of negatives could sit there till my death, and then be put in another box with some photographic heir intending to see what I had done, and it might take them 50 years to get to it, and the negatives will still be here. Not that I think I'm another Vivian Maier or anything. 



I've edited 306 frames of 6x9 from the GW690, and 295 between the several 35 mm cameras. If I count all the exposed frames, which covers a multitude of sins, it's probably over 1000 frames. Note that in the screen shot below that I'm not entirely consistent with keywording. At first I was tagging all the frames, regardless of what they were, and later I switched to just tagging the edited frames. Too lazy to go back and fix it.


Those that have been following along on this and my personal blog know that one of my film related projects was to digitize all the negatives from our point and shoot. While doing that I discovered a trove of old negatives from Linda's family. Both those got tagged with the film old negs keyword. It was surprisingly hard to date our photos, and all are from the mid-80's, to maybe late 90's or so. 

It was fun going back through the photos! Of course, most are poor quality, given that a complete non-photographer was holding the cheap point and shoot camera, and the film was probably the cheapest that Blacks carried. That's to say nothing about the automated development process.

At a high level my process looks like this. Using either camera, expose film. Get it developed at a bespoke lab a short drive from my place. Digitize using a T6i with a Canon EF 100mm F2.8L macro lens, and invert with NegativeLab Pro. I'll tweak the settings a bit, but I've found that moving the sliders too much makes the image go wonky. I'll remove the worst of the dust spots. That gets me photos to go in the blog.

None of the film images have gone up on the wall in a frame, but a few have been printed in my books. Those got a bit of extra attention re: dust spots and editing. A few times I've gone back to get a better photo of the negative using my main DSLR. I've even done some experimenting with gigapixel images from the Gw690 negatives. If I start with a sharp clean negative, I could get a huge print out of it.

Darkroom developing and printing? I haven't done either yet. The lab does a great job with developing and typically turns them around in a day or two. Plus, he has all the chemicals and has the process down pat. I'd have to get the gear, and learn how to do it, though it doesn't seem hard. It would be pretty hard for me to beat his price. As for printing, ACAD, or whatever it's called now offers darkroom printing courses, and I'm planning to take that after selecting a bunch of negatives to try it with. That should be fascinating. 

I started by trying different films, mostly going with what was inexpensive and available. I've had great results from Kodak Gold 200, though it's been hard to find in 35mm until recently. For black and white I went through a bunch of Acros II, but can't find that anymore, however I'm really happy with Delta 100 and FP4+ Although, I must confess I didn't track the settings for every photo and rigorously compare images to get a true understanding of which film gave me the results I liked best.

Neither do I directly compare digital to film, even though some photos are very similar. I don't have the technical expertise or patience to do it properly. And besides, it's already been done, back when digital overtook film. Lots of people didn't believe digital could be better. Just like an iPhone is all the camera that most people need for most situations, a digital camera is the tool for almost all photographers, especially professionals. The camera helps them get great images, they see the result instantly on the back of their camera so they know if they got their photo, and processing is fast. Edited images can be sent to a client right away. In today's world, faster beats better every time. If I'm doing event photography, of course I'm using digital.

So why film? There's two parts of film that I like. One is the slower process. I think more about the photos, especially using medium format. For that I'm trying to think in sequences of eights, since I get eight photos to a roll. I look for nice light and interesting subjects in a setting that plays to the strengths of film. I'm almost certainly not going to click the shutter as much as when I carry a digital camera. Digital makes the 'spray and pray' approach easy. But then all those photos have to be ingested, digested, reviewed, culled, processed, and before you know it you're on the Group W bench. I digress, but someone of you have now have a song running through your minds. With film I look at the scene more carefully and enjoy it for what it is, and sometimes consider deciding to not click the shutter as a form of pre-editing.

The other part is the look of film images. Even now, some of the digital image editing programs have presets or filters to give images a specific 'film look'.  It's hard to describe, but I think the transitions are smoother because of the fine silver halide grains in a random pattern, rather than a digital algorithm. Since the dawn of photography, photographers have been trying to make their photos look as good as possible. They achieved some amazing results considering the technical process limitations. Perhaps the results were because of those limitations.

But with digital there are essentially no limitations, including the human element. With some of the digital tools the human becomes a camera carrier. After they decide what direction to point the camera they have no further role in the production of the image. The camera, the computer editing program, and the printer decide what that image should look like. I look at some images and wonder if it's actually a real place.

My photos are the real world, and I try to present them that way. I don't dress them up in lurid colours, I don't replace the blue sky with a fake drama sky, and typically don't push the sliders too much, unless I'm deliberately doing that for a reason. 

With film images, it's even less processed. Not as flashy, but realer, if you'll accept that as a word. There's so much Photoshop that nobody trusts images any more. With film one could put a print on the wall, with a little light box and magnifying glass beside it and show the negative. I might do that if I ever get brave enough to exhibit my work in public.

A few people have stopped me when I'm carrying the GW690. It's big enough that it's obviously not a digital camera, and they ask about it, or film. There's been some nice conversations along the way. That never happens when I'm carrying a digital camera.

I'm just at the moment musing about putting in an order for a bunch of film, wondering how much I should get. There's a place near here that offers film at a good price, and even better, offers free shipping for orders over $150, which isn't hard to do at $13 to $15 a roll.

You're probably wondering which of my film images I like best from the last 2 years. I keep coming back to these four, and the B&W is probably going to be the first attempt at darkroom printing. All four of these made Image of the Month, two of them made Image of the Year in their year (2022 and 2023, (same link), one was the first runner up, and the other was the second runner up.

Here's my favourite two photos from the GW690. You might have seen them on Vero or one of my blogs, but that's ok. They're worth looking at again, or so I think.

A beaver pond in Yukon. I first saw the glassy clear reflections, then realized the initial letter of my name would appear if stood in exactly the right place. There was very little editing for this photo. Both are Kodak Gold 200. 


A long exposure just upstream of Elbow Falls. 


In 35mm these are my favourite two photos. Michelle projecting a mood of calm serenity. Canon 7, film is Visions 3.


During a walk on what is normally a swamp in Fish Creek. EOS-3 and Acros II.


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Monday, January 29, 2024

Delta 100 in the ice and snow and brutal cold

I'm still working through a big batch of film I bought last year. There's a bit of everything because at that point I hadn't landed on a favourite, other than Kodak Gold 200 for colour.

But during a Calgary winter there isn't much outdoor colour so I reached into the box for some black and white. The Delta 100 was what came out. This is what Ilford says about it, "ILFORD DELTA 100 PROFESSIONAL is a medium speed, black & white film that uses our latest Core-shell™ emulsion technology to deliver superb image quality and maximum sharpness. Excelling in scenes that are detail rich, its exceptionally fine grain makes DELTA 100 the perfect choice for many applications or genres. Showing outstanding quality at its recommended rating of ISO 100/21°, DELTA 100 will also produce stunning results rated between ISO 50 and 200."

I started a roll Nov 27 and finished it Dec 15, then started another roll Dec 24. Along the way it got brutally cold out, well into minus WTF territory. I wasn't so worried about the camera, but suspected that if I was out for very long the film would get brittle and snap during winding. I'm using an EOS-3, so there is no 'gentle wind'. It's motor driven, whir snick, ready.

All but a few of the photos are outdoors, often in Fish Creek Park. If I don't have a particular place to go for photos, but want to be taking one of the cameras for a walk, I just think about where in Fish Creek I haven't been lately. It's such a huge place there's always something new to see, what with wildly diverse landscapes that are always changing because of weather or the seasons, or the light at that time of day. 

There was a bit of an adventure one day in the Glennfield Day Use area. I was walking on the snow covered ice, following some ski tracks, when my right leg went through the ice, up to just above my knee. That was a bit of a surprise, since most places are typically about ankle deep, and this was right beside the river bank. There was a bit of thrashing to get out, making sure that neither my camera or phone got wet. I wasn't so worried about my wallet, since we have plastic money now. It was about -18 C so I didn't waste any time getting back to the car. My pants were almost dry when I got there.

Generally I'm out during the middle of the day to late afternoon. I like the harsh shadows on the snow, and figured that would be a good challenge for the film. My usual process is to point the camera at the darkest part of the scene and adjust shutter speed and aperture for a middle exposure, then at a bright part of the scene, and see what the difference is. Then I'll think about the image I want from that scene, and work with viewpoint and aperture. Then check exposure again. I'll usually center the exposure based on the shadows, but sometimes I'll over expose by half a stop or a full stop, depending. 

The photos. What is common to all the photos is that they are lightly edited in NegativeLab Pro, and then in Lightroom. Only one of the images is cropped to remove the border from the digital scan (T6i using a Canon EF 100mm f2.8 macro) and you'll know it when you see it. I'm not sure why I didn't crop, but suspect that seeing so much white snow, on a white blog background, wouldn't be the best look for the images. I made a pass through to remove the worst of the dust spots, but if you want to look for them, you're going to find them. 

1. I liked the ice forming in the running water in the first three images.


2. I especially liked that ridge of ice. Pity I couldn't get closer.


3. Look for the sharp edges of the frost and snow. I was wishing I'd brought the macro lens to get up close and personal. I think that would show up pretty well on film.


4. Shadows!

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7. I know perfectly well this lens (Canon EF 50mm f1.8) doesn't like being pointed into the sun, but I like how it flares, especially when there's ice crystals in the air. And yes, it took a while to figure out the exposure for this image.


8. Reflections in dark water are always fun.


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10. Bridge 8, one of the least attractive bridges in the entire park. I liked the play of light on the railing, and this turns out to be one of the better photos I taken of it. 


11. I stopped and stared at this scene just to enjoy it, then hustled to capture it before the wind blew it away. Another tricky exposure.


12. Playing with composition in the river bed can be fun.


13. An abstract of ice and snow.


14. It's not just rocks in the river bed.


15. Trees are gorgeous after fresh snow.


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17. The only indoor photo, though you have to look carefully to see Celina, who thinks the Christmas tree is there to give her a little kitty cave of security.


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20. This was a brutally cold day. The car thought it was -41C. I was only out to drop Linda at the eye center and pick her up after. I cruised around looking for images till they were done. It did not take me long to get out of the car, compose, tweak settings and click.


21. I was getting back into the car when I saw this. Another quick exposure.


22. More trees in nice light. I love what my eyes see, and film captures only part of the magic.


23. There's lots of creatures in Fish Creek, and most of them are not afraid of humans.


24. Part of the big log jam near bridge 3.


I'd tried some Delta 100 in medium format, but that was mainly to put some rolls through the GW690 and try to get the hang of using it. The images were nice, (you can see them here) but I didn't really think about film characteristics. 

I like how really bright can shade into really dark so smoothly. Go back and look at 11 again. I've deliberately chosen to edit these without pushing the shadows brighter. My thinking is that on a really bright day the shadows are dark, and showing the detail starts smelling like HDR images.

I think I have a now have a favourite black and white film though I've still got a few other rolls to try out. There's 3 rolls each of Kentmere 100 and Lomography Earl Grey to try. If I was ambitious I'd get one of them into the camera and go for a walk, even though the light is dull and ugly right now. 

If you're new to the blog and don't want to miss the next one, just leave a comment asking to be added to the blog notification list. Or email me at keith@nucleus.com.

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Medium format Ilford FP4+ in Jasper

 I have exposed several rolls of Acros II in my GW690 and quite liked it, but when the time came to buy more, there wasn't any. Such are just one of the trials of a film photographer. I picked out some Ilford FP4+ to try.

The first chance came in Jasper during a mid October trip with Neil Zeller. This was during the Dark Sky festival, but must admit the skies were not as dark as I had hoped. There's a story there, but that's for another time.

One of the nights we went out to a road that's closed for the season. We walked around the gate to the nearby bridge, and set up there. I had a number of digital photos that turned out well, but this is about film. Since it's difficult to aim and focus a rangefinder at the dark sky, I set the focus to infinity on the dial, which I know from experience is quite close. Composition? Given where the clouds were, I set up and aimed the camera straight up. 

One difference between digital and film is the exposure time to produce star trails like this. With digital the photographer figures out the settings to take a photo of the night sky. For me on a dark night, using a f1.8 lens, an exposure of about 15 seconds at ISO 1600 is a good starting place. From there I might tweak the settings depending on how the images look.

Once dialed in, the photographer will set the camera to take photo after photo with no time between them. That's about 4 photos a minute for about 20 to 30 minutes depending on how long you want the star trails to be. Then drop the photos into one of several software programs to stitch the photos together. It can look pretty amazing. Or stitch the images together in a time lapse movie. That's fun too.

With film, one sets up the camera, opens the shutter, and leaves it alone. Oh, and start a stop watch so you know how long it's been open. How long to leave it open is a bit of a question. It depends on the camera lens and the individual film characteristics, and they're all a bit different. My light meter isn't particularly accurate in the dark, and I'm not keen on spending lots of money for an accurate one. Reciprocity failure becomes a relevant word, which is why I liked Acros II for this. 

Which is better? I decline to answer that. They're just different. One difference is that if someone shines a light on the digital camera, that one image is probably ruined. You could drop that one out, and probably nobody would notice. Do that to the film camera, and it might ruin the whole exposure. I'd told people that I was running a film camera down at the end of the bridge and don't walk into it. They didn't. But gradually people migrated down there, and they brought their lights with them. Red lights, but still. I'm a little surprise that third one isn't brighter.

The negatives look a bit odd, in that they are almost entirely white. Once digitized, they are surprisingly easy to tweak to look nice. 


1. 15 minutes exposure.

2. 25 minutes exposure. No change to camera position. I advanced the film and clicked the shutter again. I could probably have gone 30 to 45 minutes.
 

3. About 20 minutes. At some point during this exposure the dew settled so the white in the middle of the photo is probably condensation. I'd been hoping to let it run for 30 minutes, but people were tired and wanted to pack up.


4. The rest of the photos are around town one morning, wanting to see what street scenes looked like under overcast skies. This is Jasper the bear.


5. Look carefully and you can see the tramway terminus at the top of the mountain.


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Overall, I'm not sure what I think of the film. The light was flat and it was tough to figure out exposure with a fairly bright overcast sky, and mostly shadowed streets. I did a bit of extra processing to bring up the shadows and get some cloud definition. Next time I think I'll try in a daylight scene with lots of light and lots of detail. 

Friday, July 28, 2023

HP5+ in an EOS-3

 There's been some bumps on the film road. I'd taken the Canon 7 out on Canada Day for some street photography and ended up having some problems with it. Eventually it locked up entirely. I just got the film back, and let's just say the results were interesting. There's some good frames, and lots of overlapping overexposed frames. My next project is to scan those particular rolls.

Mid July I attended a B&W photography session through The Camera Store. They gave us each a roll of Illford HP5+ ISO 400 film. At this point I didn't have a functional 35mm camera so I took the big medium format camera. I haven't finished that roll yet.

Shortly after that I found out the Canon 7 needed major repair work. It needs a complete disassembly and cleaning, and who knows how many parts are worn and need to be replaced. (If you want to take on this project, comment below.) 

I was looking to see what another one would cost compared to the cost of repairs, and found an EOS-3 for sale. This is one of the last film cameras made before digital took over, and was aimed at the so-called 'pro-sumer' market. It was what I had first looked for in a film camera, but couldn't find any locally, and went with the Fujica GW690.

In many ways it's a digital camera that uses film rather than a sensor. I traded in the lens for the Canon 7 and the EOS-3 was mine. The partial roll I'd rescued from the Canon 7 lockup was the first roll in, just to run it through the camera and see how things worked. Just looking at the negatives things appear just fine.

Then the HP5+, wanting to capture a variety of scenes to see how the film responded, plus work with the camera a bit more. I'm still learning to expose B&W film because what works for colour doesn't always work for B&W and vice versa.

Conclusions first. The EOS-3 is a dream to use, and that's before trying the eye focus system. I'm told it's unreliable if the user is wearing glasses with an antireflective coating, which I do. The controls are intuitive if you've been using a Canon 5 or 6 series digital. It handles well, and takes EF lenses. I think all these were taken with my 24-105mm lens. I've since picked up a 50mm lens, and can't wait to try that out.

The viewfinder is bright and clear, but the exposure compensation is vertical on the right side and it seems to pick up reflections that make it hard to see. I solved this by wearing a hat, which I normally do during photo sessions anyway. It's a similar size and weight to my 6D, and the shutter click is quite loud, so this isn't a stealth street photography camera. I might write more about the camera after I use it more.

The presenter (I think it's Chris Donovan) noted this is a forgiving film with wide latitude for exposure and pushing or pulling. I exposed these at box speed, aiming for a normal exposure, but looking for scenes with both dark shadows and bright light. Negatives were developed by Paul Stack, but I don't know the specifics. The negatives were digitized by me using a camera and a good macro lens, then inverted in Negative Lab Pro. Except where noted below, there was very little editing in NLP, typically increasing contrast a bit, and making the darks a little darker. In Lightroom there was only a bit of cropping and dust spot removal.

Out of the 36 exposures, all were in focus and nicely exposed. There's only 25 below, with the others being poor photos or having enough dust spots on them that I want to redo the digitization process. 

1. Linda in afternoon sun. She might be slightly under exposed since there's a bit of grain showing.


2. Our library. As you'll see, I love reflection photos.


3. The library again. 


4. Some outdoor nature photos, looking for the reflection from the hill above Votier's Flats in Fish Creek.


5. Looking for the clouds in the sky, but without a filter.


6. Near bridge 2.

7. The famous bridge 2, the most scenic bridge in all of Fish Creek.


8. I wanted the blades of grass in focus to play with the depth of field button. More experimentation needed. 

9. Reflections.

10. More reflections.

11. There was a photo of the underside of the bridge, but with lots of dust spots, and a bright lens flare on the left side.

12. My favourite reflection this walk.


13. Scrambling up the hill east of bridge 2. The rest of the photos till you get to Michelle are late afternoon light, taken on the escarpment loop from bridge 2, scramble up the hill to the south side of the park, then down the hill through the forest to bridge 1, not taking the paved path. In places this is hang onto a tree steep.


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18. This burl is a highly contrasted black and white. I worked with this a bit to bring up the contrast to more closely resemble what I had seen. In the real world the background was a bit darker, and the centre part of the burl was whiter. 


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20. A steep path down, with lovely light through the trees.


21. Another burl not far from bridge 1. Somehow, I've never really been happy with any of the photos I've taken of this.


22. A parking lot reflection.


23. My favourite model Michelle, willing to pose to finish off the roll. Every camera I have loves her, and this film loves her. There's one more photo from the very end of the roll that I need to scan again. There were some dust spots, and I think it's easier to re-scan than edit the spots. These are mid-morning, with fairly strong light.


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