Stoating in the dark with the Nikon F801

It was a forgone conclusion that having spent several evenings perambulating the streets with a digital camera that I would then proceed to load a roll of film and give that a try. Indeed, I intimated as such in an earlier post:

As night-time photography will of necessity mean pushing the film you can expect some blog posts on the subject. I’m thinking that a roll of Ilford HP5+ rated at ISO 3200 and developed in Microphen will be a good starting point but watch this space!

Dave in Elland

I’d been looking at the EXIF detail from my Fuji X100T image files and noted that ISO 3200 and 6400 were the two most common settings (I was using Auto-ISO) and so that gave me a ballpark for choosing a film. I wanted to use a film stock that was available in 35mm, 120 and also 5×4 formats – I was looking even further ahead than simply a 35mm SLR. The logical choice for me was Ilford HP5+, my go-to black and white film, but I still did my research online to understand other peoples’ experiences. To cut a long story short I stuck with HP5+ but decided that, to start with at least, that ISO 3200 would be my ceiling. Let the testing begin!

Now, I’ve never used a digital camera in the field to meter a scene for a film camera but nevertheless I thought that studying the EXIF data further might be a useful place to start thinking about shutter speeds and apertures. I’d used the Fuji wide open, so f2.8, and the most common shutter speeds were in the range 1/15th to 1/60th so that gave me my starting point.

In terms of an aesthetic I am looking for images with inky shadows and bags of contrast so after studying the images from the Fuji I set ISO 3200, f2.8 and 1/60th of a second on my Nikon F801 paired with the 24mm Nikon lens. The logic in my lens choice was that as it’s a wide angle lens it might be a little more forgiving of being handheld at slower shutter speeds.

The other consideration was developing the film. I’d kept this in mind whilst researching what film stock to use and had tentatively decided on Microphen, a box of which has been in my chemicals box for several years. How I came by it I’ve no idea, I’ve never used Microphen, but as it was in powdered form I was confident it would be fine to use. However, one of the benefits of the #believeinfilm community is that there is generally someone online ready to offer support. So it was that Andy (@holga_pics) and I had a conversation during which I laid out my proposed treatment of the film and Andy offered his views and a slight tweak to my proposals. I was ready to go.

Before I left home, I put the F801 into manual mode, set f2.8 and 1/60th of a second and was thus prepared to go outside as soon as the street lights came on. I’d also set the ISO manually to 3200 so I could keep an eye on what the camera was thinking of my exposure settings. I found that for most of the time it was able to autofocus quite happily but when needed the 24mm lens was easy to focus manually too.

Having little or no previous experience of night photography I’ve now got a fair few urban stoats (that word again!) under my belt and I’m comfortable with both my film choice, the developing thereof and the camera settings.

All images Nikon F801, 24mm Nikon lens at f2.8 and ISO 3200

My long term aim is to create handheld 5×4 large format black and white film images of my local urban environment in the dark (there I said it) so everything needs to be capable of scaling to an aperture of f5.6 which is the widest aperture on the lens I use with the Snapshot. Realistically, this means that I may need to compromise in terms of ISO but thus far I’m thinking that I might just get away with it at ISO 3200!

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