The first film I ever shot consistently was probably Kodak Tri-X, back in the 1970s and I can remember that my teenage photography was very mono-centric. Sadly, there are very few negatives surviving from that time but most are Kodak Tri-X although there’s a fair smattering of Ilford HP5 too. Colour was very much a “treat” and I vaguely recall that a roll of Kodachrome 64 (I found K25 too limiting) was almost a months pocket money.
I stuck with black and white initially therefore for two reasons. Firstly, and most importantly I guess, was the relative cost of black & white versus colour. Secondly, was the practicalities of developing in my Mum’s kitchen. With a changing bag and a few inexpensive items a roll of Tri-X could be developed just as easily then as it can now. Within a few hours I could get a look at my negatives and see which of my experiments had worked, whilst the shooting of them was still fresh in my mind. Kodachrome took ten days at least from leaving me to its return and whilst there were some nice results it was a very costly way of working especially as I was still finding my way with the hobby. No internet or YouTube in those days to show me how to do it or cut down the time taken to figure things out. There was a lot of wasted film at the start and a lot of disappointment.
Looking back through the material that has survived there are very few colour prints and those that we have tend to be snap shots of days out with the family. I’ve never really shot colour negative film it seems.
Fast forward to 2018 and my decision to return to film photography. You would have thought I would immediately return to the old faithful Kodak Tri-X. Well, I thought so too until I popped in to the local camera shop and saw the retail price differential between Kodak and Ilford at that time. I had shot Ilford HP5 occasionally “back in the day” and once again it was economics that drove the choice of film stock as I left the shop with a stash of HP5. Black and white again you will notice, I don’t think I ever seriously considered colour film at the time although over the last two or three years I have shot a handful of rolls of Kodak Ektachrome and Fuji Velvia.
Press the fast-forward button again to early 2020 (pre-pandemic) and I’m edging away from 35mm film towards medium format film and also starting to investigate the range of weird and often wacky film stocks now available alongside the traditional staples. I ordered a brick of Ilford HP5 recently but in order to get my moneys worth on the fixed P&P costs I also picked up a handful of single rolls of these more esoteric offerings. As an aside, my film drawer has never been so full; there’s currently around forty rolls of 120 in the drawer. However, when I look at the boxes lined up … Ilford FP4, HP5, PanF+, some Fomapan, a handful of single rolls of “ones to try” … but not a single roll of colour amongst them.
A few months back a friend of mine gave me a bag of out of date film and amongst these were half a dozen rolls of Fujicolor Reala. The film expired around 18 years ago but it would be rude not to use it so I rated it at 50 ISO (box speed 100) and put a few rolls through various medium format cameras. Sitting with half a dozen rolls of exposed film I then looked in to processing and scanning options. Blimey! I’ve home developed black and white for a long, long time so hadn’t kept up with commercial processing costs but it quickly occurred to me that perhaps now was the time to learn how to home process colour negatives! So, long story short, and I’ve not written about this properly yet, but back in February I started home processing colour too. Almost twenty rolls on and I’ve used up all the out of date colour negative film I had been given plus various odd rolls of film I bought as singletons to have a play with. I’m no expert but I’m producing consistently decent results so now is probably a good time to consider shooting more colour which then leads to the question – but which one?
I had thought that finding the right colour film would be simpler in these days of YouTube and Google. But not so. I found some examples shot with Lomography 800 and thought this would be worth trying myself. I didn’t particularly like the results I achieved during a walk along the canal however and as I delved further into this colourful world I realised that the “look” of a film nowadays was as much influenced by the photographers use of scanning and post-processing software as it was on the film stock or developer choice. I found that by playing on the computer I could get similar results from the Lomography 800 that I’d seen online, and more suited to my taste, but that to me defeats the purpose. I am trying to reduce my time spent post-processing on the computer not increase it and add in the additional step of processing film too!
So, it seems that despite the benefits of the Internet-age I shall be returning to the methods I employed in the 1970s in choosing the colour film stock I will be using moving forward: cost and trial and error. I’ve just ordered five rolls of Fujifilm Pro 400H as the starting point; the price point is palatable and talking to a fellow film shooter who eschews computer post-production, the 400H has, in his experience, a fairly neutral tone particularly in the shadows. However, one thing I’ve learnt over the decades is that tastes in film stock are very personal. Once I’ve shot and developed these five rolls I will know if it’s for me or if I need to look further. Sadly, I will only be shooting in the garden and not down by the river or canal but I will have to make the best of what I have.
Fast forward once again to Lockdown Britain. As it was thus with Tri-X – I tried it, I liked it and looked no further until the price became such that a rethink was needed. Forty plus years later will history repeat itself and I standardise on the first colour negative film I try as I did with black and white all those years ago?
Watch this space!