Reviewing B&W film scans

You can review color slides very easily. They all go thru the same standardized process no matter what lab develops the film. We all look at the same non-interpreted results on a light table. B&W film on the other hand has waaayyy too many variables. To review a black and white film you would have to explain your process in detail so it can be replicated by the person reading your review. 

For example:

  • Tri-X exposed at EI 400
  • Developed in D76 1+1 using distilled water at 20 degree Celcius
  • Using 3 agitation cycles every minute after initial agitation 20 cycles within 1 minute.
  • Total dev time 12:00

Film was then printed onto

  • Adox MCC110 glossy 5x7 paper
  • using Adox MCC developer 1+4 dilution with distilled water at 20 degrees
  • constant agitation for 2:00 mins in developer
  • on LPL 7700 enlarger with a filter head and a Nikkor 80mm lens

Developing a few B&W films according to the massive dev chart and reviewing scans of the negatives makes little sense. Scanners are different. I don't like scanning yet I have five scanners:

  • Nikon Coolscan 5000 something
  • OpticFilm 8200i
  • Canon Flatbed Mark II something  
  • Pakon F135
  • Frontier SP500

I get very different results from the different scanners. What scanners also do is auto-correct badly exposed or developed negatives.  So when I review B&W film in the future I'll try to concentrate on the negatives and how they print and how they scan rather than comparing scans of one film to another. 

In case you didn't know. Ilford Delta 3200 in Microphen is magic. 

 

Yellow & Orange filters vs pushing B&W film

Yellow, Orange, Red etc. are contrast filters for B&W films. Most modern film is panchromatic, meaning it's pretty much sensitive to all colors we can see with our eyes. This is great, the first black and white films were orthochromatic and didn't see red, which would just show as black no the print (clear on the film). Actually exactly what your black and white paper does.

People call these black and white contrast filters. It is true that they change the contrast of black and white images but not the overall contrast, just selected contrast. Panchromatic film sees all colors more or less at the same brightness, meaning a blue sky and light grey cloud of the same brightness appear almost the same shade of grey. We see color contrast between different colors and on top of that the color yellow will always look brightest to us, blue always darker. Even though the blue sky may have the same brightness as the cloud it will always look darker to us and hence the white cloud stands out. A person against a grey concrete wall is another good example. The grey wall may be the same brightness as the skin of the person, but the skin will always look brighter to the human eye. What you want to do with your b&w film is mimic this. You add a yellow filter for example and all light that hits your film now has to travel through the yellow filter first and will mix to a different color. 

The opposite of yellow is somewhere near blue on the color wheel. So the blue sky will now look very dark on your film. The white cloud is a mixture of all colors so a lot of that light will pass through and it will look very bright. A yellow leaf will almost pass through 100% and hence look white on the film (actually black on the film, white on the print)  Human skin has a lot of yellow and hence will look much brighter when adding a yellow filter. This works for all races by the way. Human skin regardless of tone always follows a mixture of Red>Green>Blue or Cyan<Red<Yellow.

Some people may say that pushing film will give you a similar effect but that's not quite true. Pushing film will increase the overall contrast of the picture. Filters will selectively increase contrast. 

For really interesting results, try pushing Tri-X two stops with a red filter. Have fun!

Adox Silvermax in D76 1+1

We're in the middle of the raining season here in Tokyo, which means summer is around the corner. I was thinking I'll shoot some more b&w film this summer and wanted to test a few 100 ISO rated films for those really bright days. I almost always shoot with a yellow or orange filter, but even with that my usual Tri-X is just too fast for a day in the sun. So I tried out a few 100 speed films that I had lying around still. Fomapan 100, Ilford Delta 100 and Adox Silvermax.

I am going to review the Silvermax here and the other two in a follow up post. I didn't want to mess with too many developers, so I decided to soup them all in D-76 1+1, same formula I use for Tri-X. Since I print a lot of my negatives in the darkroom I do appreciate an easy to print negative. For people who only scan their film this may not be worth reading at all. 

I shot a test (half-roll) setting my cameras meter to an ISO, then shot one normal exposure, one +3 stops over, one -4 stops under.

Daylight scene: (100, +3, -4), (200, +3, -4), (50, +3, -4)

Grey surface: (100, +3, -4), (200, +3, -4), (50, +3, -4)

The film was developed in D-76 1+1 at 20 degrees for 11:00. 

I judge my personal film speed from the shots of the grey surface. At -4 stops I should see some density starting to build up. The first set, shot at 100, +3, -4 has basically no density at the -4 bracket (frame 29). Over to the 200, +3, -4 set. Frame 35 above is basically clear film base, so this is not it either. Over to the 50iso set.  The -4 frame has a decent amount of density showing up. Maybe even a bit too much for my taste. I like my shadows! So I am guessing that for my developing technique with my tanks and my water and my agitation and my room temperature etc. this film's speed for my taste is somewhere between 50- 100 ISO. Let's say 64ISO.

To confirm, I expose the corresponding frame of the daylight scene (frame 17) onto paper. I do this using minimum time to get maximum blacks. If the print is to dark that means I was wrong and the frame is underexposed. If it's too bright I was wrong and the frame was either overexposed or over developed. In my case frame 17 actually prints OK, but with very low contrast. I can increase the development time to get denser highlights and increase the contrast. (or mess with the contrast setting on the enlarger, but the goal is to get an easy to print negative) Increasing dev time unfortunately does almost nothing to the shadows, hence no change in film speed here. I could keep trying to change the dev time until I get the contrast I want or just use the Silvermax developer they offer, but I decided not to. 64ISO is a little bit on the slow side for my taste. I was looking for true 100ISO and actually found that in Delta 100. I'll review that in a future post.

Adox Silvermax is still a fine film. In D-76 1+1 it exhibits extremely fine grain. By increasing the development time by 20% it will probably have good contrast too. The film has a very clear base, no tint whatsoever, which makes it easy to print or maybe even reverse develop into slides. The only thing that slightly bothered me is that Adox seems to use a half frame perforator to print the edge marking. Not a big deal, but I am used to the proper 36 exposure codes of Ilford and Kodak. Foma also uses half frame markings. Interesting choice, considering there's very few people shooting half frames.

 

** So reading Kodak's D-76 tech sheet it seems that you need at least 237ml of stock D-76 for each 135-36 roll of film. At 1+1 in 300ml I only have 150ml. According to Kodak I either increase the development time or the tank size. That explains the underexposed negatives above.  

Why hoarding film doesn't work

Sometime in 2015 when it was announced that Provia 400X was going to be discontinued I made a decision to buy a 5pack every time I go to Bic Camera. At that time I shot a lot of color film and went to Bic Camera to drop off or pick up film for developing quite a bit. I think I ended up with some 30 pro packs (5 rolls). I believe the film was already discontinued outside of Japan. This was really my last chance to buy the stuff and be able to shoot it for the foreseeable future.

The crazy thing is it's 2017 now and I still have over 100 rolls left of it. Most of the stock I have either has expired already or is approaching expiry. It's all been frozen since purchase and will probably be ok to shoot even post expiration date, but for how long? It could take me years to go through all this film.

The really crazy thing is that I already had a 100 rolls of Ektar 100 in my freezer. I bought that because Kodak doubled their prices in Japan sometime in 2015. Ektar used to be the cheapest color pro film they had. I think it was 3500 yen for a five pack. (700 yen per roll) They increased it to 1350 for single rolls. So the five packs and single rolls were on sale side by side for a while. I couldn't resist buying all the Ektar I could afford when I saw them side by side with a 100% price difference.

Now I had over 200 rolls of film in my freezer already and discovered how nice of a film Kodak Gold 200 is. So I went on Yahoo auction and bought a 100 pack of that for dirt cheap. I was already used to buying film in bulk so it didn't even register how crazy of an idea this was. Well, after shooting Ektar and Gold 200 the entire summer of 2015 I really got into B&W because I loved that I can print it at home. I never bought that in bulk because I couldn't find any deals. I just ordered from B&H in batches of 10 - 15 rolls as needed. 

The crazy thing is that now it's 2017 and I still have my freezer full of film. I haven't bought color film in over two years and probably won't have to for the next 3-5 years the way things are going now. The film will probably not deteriorate in quality much over that time since it's frozen. It's just crazy to buy that much film. You just don't know what you're going to be shooting. We can't predict the future, and if I could I would use it for things other than saving some money on film that's going up in price.

Buying and hoarding expired film is even worse. You don't know how the film was stored. Old film will curl a lot more than fresh film. You won't get colors as they were intended. The celluloid base of the film won't last forever either. Color film lasts for about 50 some years I believe until vinegar syndrome sets in and the acetate base will rot away. If you buy film that expired 10 years ago, you are already 10 years into those 50 years, meaning that your photos are only good for another 40 years after developing the film. There are ways to extend the life time of film by storing it in a freezer but who really does that except for Hollywood? I don't know anyone who stores their negatives in a freezer at home.

Maybe you don't care about the negatives because you can hold onto the scans. That's a valid for some people, but why not shoot digitally then and use VSCO to get the film look?

Shoot fresh film. Support the industry and enjoy the film as it was intended to.

Saul Leiter: A Retrospective in Tokyo

So while shooting in Shibuya last weekend I passed by one of the Daikokuya shops in the red light district. It's a place that among many other things resells tickets. I usually don't pay much attention to what they have, but something caught my eye. I saw the words ソール ライター (Saul Leiter in Japanese) on one of the flyers they had posted outside. Amazing, I thought. The amount of information we actually process unconsciously... anyhow I checked it out online. It turns out this is the first time ever to have Saul Leiter's work exhibited in Japan. I am a pretty big fan of his and already have one of his color books. I went back and immediately got tickets and went the same day. 

I initially intended to record a video of the exhibition, but sure enough they didn't allow any cameras inside. 

The show starts with his black and white work he shot mostly for Harper's Bazaar. All the black and whites were silver gelatin prints ranging from at least 20x24 to 5x7 prints. All of them amazing. I don't know who made the prints or how old they are but they look fantastic. The show then moves into his color work. All chromogenic prints except for one cibachrome print I spotted. They were all originals, no reproductions of prints. One small part of the show showed some of his paintings. I have to say I was the least impressed with them, but I am not much into paintings and maybe other people would find that interesting. I know to him it was a big deal and probably what made him such a good photographer.

I was also able to pick up a few postcards and a book of the pictures from the show. See pics below. It really is different seeing all his work in person with your eyes instead of looking at scans of photos of photos online. If you're in Tokyo and interested in photography I highly highly recommend going there. The tickets can still be purchased at the entrance for a slightly higher price (1400 yen) and the show is on until June 25th, 2017.

Enjoy!

 

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What I like about photography and why digital doesn't work for me

I've been trying to figure out why I enjoy photography so much and what it actually means to me. To play basketball it's advantageous to be tall, to skate it's advantageous to be short etc. etc. I can't play basketball or skate in a halfpipe when I'm 60+ years old. In contrast, for photography all I need is a camera. Sure, it takes skill to be really good, but my photos don't have to speak to everyone. As long as they mean something to me that's enough. What I enjoy the most is looking back at photographs I've taken a few years ago. I just love that photographs are a record of light and time. Especially with film or any analog form of producing an image for that matter, I have a physical piece of the past in my hands. I just don't get the same feeling looking at digital images taken a few years back. Every time I open a file, it's being recreated on a computer screen. It's a representation of how that screen and computer interpretthe data, while a piece of slide film or a print (from a negative or digital file) is a presentation of the past. Presentation vs Representation of light and time.

My grandpa used to shoot a lot in his days. I've been trying to get a hold of his photos for the past few years. It isn't easy with my family being spread over four different countries and continents! I know that he shot a lot and I wanna see what he saw then, what interested him and how stuff looked back then through his eyes (or lens). I then suddenly realized that the only way we can ever do that is by not only having a digital catalog of our photography. Unless you print your work or shoot film and have a physical copy of your photos it will die with you.

When I shot digital, I had all my photos in Lightroom on my computer that was obviously password protected. I also had a backups online, and those were obviously protected, too. When our time is up, all this data will stay locked on hard drives or cloud accounts until the dormant accounts finally gets deleted by whatever company you hosted the data with. Unless you know when you're gonna drop, and somehow manage to share your password in time, all your photography will die with you. Imagine if Vivian Maier shot digital. Her work would've never seen the light of day. It's arguable whether she would've liked it or not, but I am trying to point out that it would've been impossible. Her photos would not have been locked up in some storage, they would've been on some hard drive or cloud service. Lost forever.

Make sure you print your work or have some sort of physical copy of it.

The 50mm focal length. Not for me

I somehow prefer focal length below 50mm. I know that sometimes the "bi-pedal" zoom just doesn't work. Some places you just can't get to by walking up. Now, when you're shooting a wedding or need to grab shots of a crime scene what's important is to get the shot. It'll be more about the situation and the record in time than the esthetic of the shot itself. 

I just don't like the compressed look of photos taken with a long lens have. To me even a 35mm lens looks a little bit "zoomed in" but it's still natural.

The sweet spot for me would be somewhere between 28-35mm but in Leica world there's not much. The other issue I have with wider than 28mm is that Leica's frame lines suck for that focal length. You can barley see them. 28mm probably is a better focal length for an SLR. I'd go as far and say that the only really usable focal length on a Leica rangefinder are 35mm and 50mm. Since I don't really dig the 50mm look I am stuck with 35mm on my Leica. Maybe a blessing in disguise, considering the steep prices of Leica lenses.

I get that it's a lot easier to shoot with 50mm lenses. You can isolate your subject and have less distraction in the frame. Easy doesn't equal better. Easy photos also look boring. There's no sense of place or surroundings. If I shoot a cat on a 50mm at f/2 you have no frame of reference. The photo could've been taken 50 years ago and it'd look the same. I'd rather give up on the higher keeper rate and have a natural look to my images. But that's just me. I like to have a sense of time and place to the pictures I take. I like to look at old photos and every time I do I just feel this "wow this is a from that time. This is how things were back then and it's recorded right here." If my photos are all of isolated subjects with blurred out background, I am not getting that. Don't fall into that bokeh trap.

The other great benefit of 50mm lenses is that you have less problems with distortion.  On a 35mm lens you really have to already make sure that you keep the lens parallel to your subject. (Unless you shoot a tilt-shift). What that means is a lot of squatting with your 35mm lens!

So with a fifty you don't have to squat, you can easily isolate your subjects, you get better bokeh your photos look more impressive to other people, you'll get more 'likes' online. 

On a 35mm it's quite different. It's either right or wrong. Once you tilt the plane with a 35mm lens it just looks wrong. You cannot easily isolate subjects. You barely get any bokeh. Your photos have neither the cool wide-angle nor the bokeh compressed looks. In fact 35mm can look quite boring. It really is a lot harder to get keepers on a 35mm I find. But when you do, they are really good! 

So yes, a 50mm is the gift that keeps on giving. You'll have so many keepers and the best thing is they will all look very similar. You don't even have to go places to shoot anymore. Once you bokeh the crap out of your background it doesn't matter where you are. It all looks the same. Blurrrr. 

Anyways, I don't mean to dis 50s, or anybody using 50s. In fact I have good friends shooting 50s and I actually like their photos but whatever makes it work for them, it doesn't do it for me. I am jealous. I want more keepers, too!

I wrote this article in May 2016, and kept in in 'drafts' just in case I change my mind. It's May 2017 now and I still agree with the above. Thought that was worth mentioning.

Messing around with too many film stocks

Why stick to only one film?

In short: To eliminate variables.

It's very tempting to try out new films and see what results you can get with different films and developers. Ferrania for example just announced their first film. An 80 ASA B&W film in 35mm. And Yes! I was tempted at first. I'd love to try it and help them test the film, but I just went through a testing phase for 100 speed films. I shoot 400iso 80% of the time and 3200iso for the remainder. I rarely need a 100 speed film for my type of shooting. Sometimes it does come in handy though. On the beach or on a snowy mountain in full sunshine, I just can't make the 400 speed film work without stacking filters. So I got myself some Fomapan and Silvermax to test and I don't like testing films. It costs money and takes time. I don't feel like going through another test for this new P30 film.

The problem with shooting many different films and processing them in different developers is that your number of variables grows. If something goes wrong or you don't like the results you don't know where to start fixing it. If you only scan your film this makes very little difference, but then you might as well just shoot digital and apply a film filter. I like to be able to print my work. I don't print all of my work, but I like that I have the option to print it and when I do print I noticed that having a good negative makes all the difference. There are many ways to arrive at a good negative and it can be overwhelming.

FilmStock^n + Dev^n + DevDilution^n + Agitation^n + Temp^n + DevTime^n + EI^n + Paper^n + PaperDev^n + etc... = # of ways that you can tweak to get a decent negative.

This is nuts. If you keep changing things  you'll never arrive at consistent results unless it's by luck. Keep as many variables constant as you can. If something does not come out to your liking you can start tweaking one variable and observe if that makes a difference without having to guess. starting by these three makes the most sense to me:

  • Shoot 1 film stock
  • Use the same Developer
  • Keep temperature constant * (more on that below)

* Keep the temperature the SAME! I know people argue that chemical reaction speeds up with increase in temperature and you just adjust the dev time and arrive at the same results. While that is true in general, there is more to it than that. When you change temperature there are a few things to consider. The gelatin of the emulsion absorbs developer at different rates depending on temperature. This is change is most likely not linear with how silver halide reactivity changes. Even worse the developer itself is made up of:

  • Developing agent
  • Preservative
  • Accelerator
  • Restrainer
  • (buffer)

Unfortunately these components don't change linearly when you increase temperature. To make things easier, just keep everything at 20 degrees until you get constant results that you like. 

In my case I try to stick to Tri-X and Delta 3200 for most situations. The D3200 I only use for indoor low light situations. I find it too flat for anything else. Tri-X, or any other 400 speed film is actually really versatile. I shoot mine at 500iso. Usually I have a yellow filter on the lens which brings it down to an effective speed of 320iso. If I need even slower than that I take out the orange filter which puts it to 125iso. 

f/16 1/125, f/8 1/500, f/5.6 1/1000

I can work with that.

Pushing Black & White Film

I have recently gone through some re-organization of my film archive and noticed that one of my first few rolls of film, in fact number 2, was Tmax 400. I shot it in my Ricoh GR1v and had it developed at a local lab. I was new to film and new to the GR1v, which is now broken beyond repair. The GR1v reads the Dx code on the film canister and sets the ISO speed automatically. I thought I had no choice but shoot it at that speed. I now understand that you can just set the exposure compensation to -2 stops for example. 

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How to be cool

 

  • Don't scan your film because scans don't look good
  • Print your negatives because prints look nice
  • Shoot Tri-X because it's romantic
  • Develop in Xtol because it's awesome
  • Make contact sheets, avoids having to use Lightroom
  • The only digital pic you take are smartphone snaps of your prints
  • Pray for Kodachrome to come back at least once a week
  • Fix your Tri-X in a neutral rapid fixer
  • Use acetic acid to stop film
  • Use citric acid to stop paper
  • Own an enlarger
  • Don't push film!
  • Keep a yellow filter on when you shoot B&W
  • use very few hashtags should you ever post on social media
  • don't sell stuff that you end up buying again later anyhow
  • Lift weights

I will probably have a follow-up post sometime in the future on how to be cooler.

Thanks and good luck with the above.

Against the Grain

Fall/Autumn time in Tokyo and leaves are finally starting to change color. People are going crazy about capturing the fall colors. Camera stores are pushing new gear and people love the excuse to buy a new camera. As if a new digital camera could somehow capture the colors any better than a 10 year old D700. 

Meanwhile I am shooting the trees in black and white and on film. I don't need instant gratification and I really like it when I can stick the middle finger up to the fast paced world trying to continuously sell me new gear. 

My film camera has zero shutter lag and focuses every time. Perfectly. It shoots when I want it to shoot, unless I'm out of film...

Tri-X, I'll never betray you again

Yeah I didn't like he purple-pinkish tint of my Tri-X negatives. You know that from my last rant.  So I shot through all of my old Neopan Presto stock and then started buying HP5+. While both, Neopan and HP5+ had a noticeable stain, too, it easily washed out every single time. The purple/magenta negatives supposedly don't affect anything. That's what Kodak and other wise people on the internet claim. I actually believed that until I started printing some negatives that were 2-3 years old. I noticed that the purple stain fades unevenly. I am pretty certain that uneven patches like these will have an effect on my prints or scans. 

I started printing more of my negatives on the new Adox MCC110 fiber paper and Tri-X just looked better every single time. HP5+ and Neopan can be nice, too, but Tri-X just had that extra little something. I don't know what it is, but I like it. I since stopped shooting the other two films and went back to Tri-X.

Kodak Tri-X two years after developing the film.

Kodak Tri-X two years after developing the film.

Very, clear and neutral negatives.

Very, clear and neutral negatives.

Update: Solution to pink, purple and magenta Tri-X

So after searching forums online and asking friends how to get rid of the tint on Kodak's Tri-X I finally decided to actually ask Kodak itself. 

If you follow Kodak on Instagram and/or Twitter you may have noticed their recent enthusiasm for film. What can I say? I like it! So I thought if they are so pro-film now maybe they actually care and will answer if I ask them. So I went to Kodak's website and clicked somewhere on "contact me" and sent them an email.

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Artisan & Artist Review

Artisian & Artist is a Japanese company that makes camera bags and camera straps. According to their website they provide "a wide range of high quality camera accessories". 

I've had three of their straps now.  

The ACAM-103N wide fabric strap. The ACAM-262 leather strap and the ACAM-310N silk cord. 

I mostly bought them because stores here in Tokyo were pushing them as "superior quality" straps. They all cost over a 100 USD and look beautiful. That is when you but them they look impressive. The packaging and presentation is awesome, but so far not one of them has lasted over a year. Every single one of them had threads at the ring attachment slowly dissolve and come off.

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Expired Black & White Film

Once in a while when I get tired of shooting in the city I take a day trip or weekend trip to the Inaka (countryside) to shoot landscape or random stuff in old towns. On my trips out there I noticed all the expired film they had in the stores. In the 90s and early 2000s basically every store was selling film. Flower shops, supermarkets, convenience stores and of course camera stores. When I saw Neopan 400 on the shelves, long after it was already discontinued, I asked them how much it was. They gave me all the rolls they had for free!

After that, every every time I saw a "Fujicolor" sign outside of a store I just asked them if they had black and white film for sale. Long story short, every time I asked I got a bunch of free Neopan 400. In Japan it's called Presto 400. The oldest rolls expired in 2006. The best ones are expiring sometime now. I wasn't sure how to shoot or develop them but gave it a shot anyhow.

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Anniversary Post

Can't believe it's already been one year since I wrote my first post here. Lot's of things have changed within one year. I have a lot more time to photograph and blog now. I don't know what the next year has in store for me, but I'll probably keep blogging at the same rate, talking to myself... 

Also gave myself a little birthday present. A Fujifilm Instax Mini 90. More instant pictures to come soon. Stay tuned!