Back in October 2020 I bought a new-to-me camera, the Horizon Kompakt. A Russian-made, swing lens camera for shooting 120 degree panoramas on 35mm film. In January 2021 I added the Horizon S3 Pro to the bag having also played with an Horizon 202 in December 2020. This post is a summary of the key things I have learnt whilst working with this incredible but very idiosyncratic tools. They are in answer to questions I’ve been asked over the last few months and are in the order they tumbled out of my head!
1. So long as you load the camera properly and wind on smoothly there should be no problems with torn film. Unlike my Kompakt and 202 the S3 is relatively very smooth.
2. To the right of the film gate in the S3 there is a silver bar with sprockets – the film goes under this BUT make sure you also thread the film UNDER the black bar to the immediate left of the silver bar. This is important to ensure film lies flat and reduces tearing risk considerably. With all of the models the basic advice is that if it can go under then it should!
3. Some film stock is inherently thinner and prone to snapping, I’ve used mainly HP5+, Tri-X with the S3 although have used self-rolled Kodak XX successfully. The key as I’ve said is to be gentle.
4. I use an app on my phone to gauge exposure and it’s rarely too far out. It’s a wide field of view though so I use my experience to tweak if appropriate, especially high contrast scenes such as the one above. I rarely bracket but that’s an option too I guess. If shooting something like HP5+ there’s plenty of inherent latitude within the emulsion itself.
5. Expect 21 frames on a 36 exp film. Around 14 on a 24 exp film. Don’t be tempted to try and squeeze an extra frame – therein lies film snapping potential 😀
6. Some users report banding at one end of the frame. Not regularly however and when it does appear it is mainly when the sun is around in my experience – so not that often up here! There’s some debate as to whether it’s light leaking in through the shutter hood as it travels. Myself and many other Horizon users I know tend to keep the camera in our shoulder bags until we are ready to shoot. Anecdotally this does appear to work. In my experience, it’s not as big a problem as many make out though and in any event the negative is wide enough that you can crop it without an issue. Interestingly, the more basic Kompakt seems to suffer less from this phenomenon in my experience.
7. If your Horizon has the handle use it as it really helps keep stray fingers out of the shot. I also hold the right hand side of the camera from the back between finger tips to keep stray fingers out of harms way when pressing the shutter. It feels (and looks) a little odd to start with but is worth persevering with.
8. I used HP5+ exclusively to start with as it’s a film I’m very familiar with. Now I’m confident with how everything works I’ve used all sorts of film stock with success, even home-rolled Redscale. In short, I would say that once you know what you’re doing then anything goes film-wise!
9. Metering: I took my spot meter out just the once but decided that this just slowed me down and took some of the spontaneity out of using the S3. Now I take a basic reading when I leave the house using my phone, set that and then tweak as I need to based on my assessment of the scene. If the light changes dramatically I take a new reading.
10. One last thought, make sure the film is tight on the take up spool too as this helps ease pressure on the film as it moves through the film gate.
I’ve not talked about composition here, just the mechanics of using the camera and creating images. I may well pen some thoughts in that area too … but don’t hold your breath as this post is my first in almost six months! I must rectify that.
No, not an Alanis Morissette reference but rather a comment upon the irony of choosing to shoot film as an aesthetic choice and as an alternative to digital only to need to digitise the images to share them to a wider audience. Even creating a book of photographs to be printed requires digitising these days.
So, to compound the irony, here’s a small selection of recent Sprocket Rocket images that ram home the irony by including the sprocket holes of the 35mm film within the frame! All are scans of the negatives; I use an Epson V550 with Silverfast and NLP software..
Like most of us I suspect, I did not get into photography because of the gear, I got into because of its ability to capture a moment or preserve a memory but largely because of the satisfaction I got when the occasional “good” image was created. I got satisfaction from the way it enabled this artistically-challenged teenager (and now an artistically-challenged sexagenarian) to channel some of the inner creativity that always lurked within, unfulfilled but nevertheless a part of me. Curiosity too drove me on. How things work was a childhood interest and as I grew into my teens this developed into a willingness to take things apart (not always successfully reassembling them if I’m honest) and see how they worked. With photography I could experiment with the chemical processes, trying different developers, exposing a part-developed print to light, toning and even physically manipulating the print. Sadly, none of the evidence of these experiments survived the post-teen, starting-work, kids-of-my-own years. At least not physically, they are still real inside my head.
Even now though there is one aspect that has always stayed with me – the satisfaction that comes when you hear that shutter “click”. Or more accurately the noise, and sometimes feel, as that mirror slaps and bounces itself out of the way of the film or sensor. These small things shouldn’t be overlooked or down-played either. My Fuji X100T camera is virtually an extension to me now. I use it almost every day and can intuitively do anything that I want to with this diminutive but highly capable digital masterpiece. But, it has no mirror so that satisfying “click”, or “slap” as some describe it, is conspicuous by its absence. Even after around 16,000 images with the X100t I still miss the satisfaction of that audible memory of starting in the 1970s with a Zenith E.
So, if I didn’t get into photography because of the gear why do I have these recurring bouts of what resembles GAS? I don’t admit to GAS by the way. GAS, or Gear acquisition syndrome, is a bit of a buzz word in the photographic community, and of course it is not a legitimate medical condition, but nevertheless I do feel it is a legitimate concept. Camera and lens manufacturers and the growing list of firms making must-have gadgets and add-ons for the “serious” photographer rely on GAS to provide an ongoing stream of customers for their new products. Economically they have to keep selling to stay afloat and stimulating demand for new products is one way of keeping the cash flowing. With this in mind it is tempting to say that GAS is driven entirely by manufacturers and retailers of photographic gear but that doesn’t explain why I, and many others, still choose to shoot with old film cameras and to add more of this old kit to our collections. Incidentally, I am definitely not a collector, I am a photographer and so everything I own gets used, some of it more often than others admittedly, but none of it has been purchased to satisfy a purely acquisitional desire.
My most used cameras at the moment are a pair of Bronica cameras hailing from the late 1970s (a Bronica ETRS) and from the early 1980s (a Bronica SQ-A). I bought the former in February of this year with two lenses, one film back and a speed grip. By mid-March I had a third lens, a 2x converter, a set of extension tubes, three more film backs and a set of 62mm screw-in filters for black and white photography. This week I took possession of a set of macro bellows too. In early April, having watched far too many YouTube videos I found that I “needed” a 6×6 camera, specifically the Bronica SQ-A. On the surface a reasonable, if very swift, upgrade to the 6×4.5 ETRS. But, it neglects the fact that I have a Mamiya RB67 (6×7) and a Mamiya C3 (6×6) in the cupboard with a pair of lenses apiece. I therefore have the larger medium formats covered already so despite having perfectly good options for 6×6 I “needed” an SQ-A … GAS! Pure and simple GAS.
But is it as simple? True, I had existing cameras to satisfy that creative requirement. I also have a full digital set-up comprising three Fuji mirrorless system cameras, a range of lenses covering all eventualities from fisheye to macro to long telephoto. So, I do not actually “need” any more cameras or lenses, my digital set-up covers everything I am ever likely to need and I have a selection of film cameras from 35mm SLRs, through 120 folders and TLRs to the beast that is a Mamiya RB67 to satisfy my interest in using old cameras and reliving the simple joys of producing my own negatives and darkroom prints. So, yes, on the face of it, simply GAS.
It is this feeling that ones existing camera is somehow devalued by the release of a shiny new upgraded version that is a major indication of GAS and it is this that manufacturers rely on to some degree to keep their business model afloat. But I have not bought a new digital camera model since 2018. I did not buy the Bronica ETRS because of any perceived gap in my kit or because I thought it was superior to anything I already owned. I bought it because of a “feeling”.
Yes, a feeling. Remember why I got into photography. The opportunities that photography gave me to explore, to satisfy my curiosity, to exercise some creativity and to experiment. Remember too that satisfying “click” or “slap”? I bought into a new (to me) camera system in February for precisely the same reasons I bought the humble 1960s Zenith E back in mid-1970. For the same reasons I bought a secondhand Canon AE1 in 1978, two years after that debuted. For the same reason I made a pinhole camera last year and purchased a vintage Polaroid SX-70 (manufactured from 1972 to 1981). For me photography is a way I can satisfy my need for creativity, experimentation and exploration wherever I am and whatever the situation I find myself in – even incarceration in my own house for the past two months or more hasn’t stopped me experimenting and creating.
Hang on – with a full digital set-up at your disposal surely all these film cameras are evidence of GAS? Well, for me, film photography is both a nostalgic nod to my past but also a way to further develop (pun intended) my curiosity and with the benefit of experience to reconnect with the spirit of experimentation and exploration of my teenage self. I also enjoy the physicality of these old cameras. I can’t flick a switch and start shooting within milliseconds. The Mamiya RB67 is fully manual; I have to unlock the focusing system, remove the dark side, lift the mirror (great big clunky lever on the side) and manually advance the film. I then need to read the light in the scene and transfer these settings to the lens – yes the aperture and shutter speed are both set on the lens which incorporates a leaf shutter. All of this provides a satisfying tactile experience and a feeling (warranted or not) that I have created each image myself. Each of my film cameras works differently and this variety also appeals especially to someone like myself who has the attention span of a goldfish and is constantly seeking something new to explore. The fact that I can do so with gear that was financially way out of reach to me in the 1970s is a bonus.
So, do I have GAS?
Well, despite my implied protestations above the answer is probably “yes”. However, in my defence I would point out that all of my gear gets used and rarely gets sold-on these days as I regularly return to them. I am also not upgrading to the next miracle-electronic-marvel every time Fuji release an upgraded model (my X100T is two generations old) but I am expanding my creative opportunities with new purchases. This past week I have used all three of my Fuji mirrorless digital cameras, both my medium format Bronicas, the Mamiya RB67, an Olympus Pen EE3, a Nikon L35AF, a Canon ACE, the Fuji X100T, the full-spectrum (infrared) converted Fuji X-T1 and not forgetting my smartphone!
All of which suggests that there are degrees of GAS in the same way that real illnesses have degrees of severity. That GAS is not necessarily a “bad” thing and that GAS does not always benefit manufacturers. But this is not the forum for such a discussion – and that is not a bad thing either!
Yes, we’ve moved! Not the family you understand but me and my enlarger. Having had to close my previous darkroom so one of the older grandsons could have a bedroom I then set up a darkroom in the corner of the cellar last year and whilst I had some good sessions down there it was never a place I was keen to go. The last time I used it was February and that had been the maiden session for 2020. Once I received the instruction to isolate I thought that I might at least get some darkroom time but eleven weeks in and I’ve not been down there once.
The drawback is the need to set up and then pack everything away; the cellar is in daily use and just recently there have been more things to store as we have been doing one large shop every fortnight rather than smaller shops three or four times a week. It’s amazing how much extra space is needed for two weeks worth of groceries rather than the usual two or three days! It’s also uncomfortable. I’m over six foot tall and the ceiling is barely half an inch from my head. The floor joists are level with my forehead and the light fitting attacks my nose if I forget to duck. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve nearly knocked myself out!
Add to the physical constraints the difficulty of keeping developer at twenty degrees when the ambient temperature is a constant fourteen and the picture hopefully becomes clearer. Washing prints means a walk up some old, steep stone steps to the kitchen or if that is in use up to the first floor to use the bathroom. I’ve also lost count of the number of times someone has opened the cellar door forgetting I’m down there – fortunately only two prints have been spoilt this way.
So, after eleven weeks of endless opportunities and not having once been down those stone steps with a bucket of water (for holding prints until washing) it was time to take some action. One option would be to mothball the darkroom equipment again but given the number of rolls of film I’ve developed this year so far (over fifty B&W and 25 colour) that wasn’t very appealing. I have nothing against scanning, the so-called hybrid approach, but much prefer darkroom printing largely because of the sense of satisfaction it gives me. Selling the gear was not even an option but where was I going to put a darkroom in a house with very little spare space?
My study has two desks and computers (his and his – mine and another of my Grandson’s) so no space there.
A surprisingly quick negotiation with Senior Management and I had permission to move his desk and computer into the spare bedroom. He’s been doing his schoolwork there, ironically on my original darkroom table, so it made sense to put his computer and all his bits and pieces together with his “school” books. I’d moved everything within three hours of completing negotiations.
The next job was to create a black-out. Usually a simple job – visit to the DIY store, pick up what I need and home to sort the job out. But I’m “shielded” so that wasn’t going to happen even if I wanted to queue for hours to get into a DIY store. Wickes home delivery to the rescue and amazingly I managed to get delivery within 48 hours too. The materials arrived at two pm and by four-thirty I was testing how successful the job had been. Our house is over one hundred and fifty years old and there is not a right angle in the place. Windows are almost rectangular, door frames are rhomboid, you get the picture. I’ve still got a few niggly bits to sort out but to all intents and purposes I have a functioning space.
So, I now have my darkroom in the corner of my study (see picture above) and I’m now sat in the living room feeling very smug because less than a week after first starting the train of thought I have prints hanging to dry and I’ve just resolved a couple of teething problems with my new set-up so am ready for a “proper” session tomorrow.
The one big compromise I’ve had to make is in the way I process the prints. Since I first started printing I’ve always used open trays. Watching the image appear in the developer was what hooked me back in the 1970s and even now it’s not lost any of its impact. But, there is simply not enough space in my study for a proper wet-side. So, I’ve had to use the slot processor I impulse bought last year but have never used for various reasons. It was this that caused teething problems but they were quickly resolved and I’m now looking forward to being able to print a negative without having to schedule it up front and then spending forty-five minutes getting everything set-up and put away afterwards.
In my previous post I ended by saying I was off to put some 35mm colour film into a Mamiya RB67. Well, I wasn’t joking so here are the first three scans just to show I’m a man of my word. Once I’ve finished the scanning I will post a full update. A small spoiler though: my first attempt with the RB67 produced 10 negatives, but I managed 13 on the first roll of colour and 14 on the second.
So, having scratched the itch, I also successfully tried the 35mm-in-120 project with the 6×6 Bronica SQ-A which gave a negative 1.5cm longer than the ETRS. I was still forgetting on occasion though that horizontal and vertical are reversed because of the way the film is loaded onto the Bronica back, resulting in some odd compositions. Then I had another thought (awful habit, must stop doing this thinking malarkey) the film back of the Mamiya RB67 runs in the conventional 35mm manner, lengthways, and the film back itself can be rotated to shoot the 6×7 frames in vertical format. The itch flared up again!
So, despite saying that this was to be a project that I picked up very occasionally, I found myself loading 35mm film into the somewhat larger film back of my Mamiya RB67. One thing to note however. The RB67 film back did not detect the presence of a film and so the first time I tried this I ended up winding the entire 35mm roll onto the 120 spool without shooting a frame. So, out with the changing bag and I removed the now unwound film from the back and rewound it into the original cassette. The solution was the multi-exposure mode of the RB67. In normal use this enables the shutter to be cocked without winding on the film thus allowing multiple exposures on a single frame but I found that by leaving the camera in multi-exposure mode I could still wind the film through without a problem. The longer throw of the 6×7 mechanism means a bigger gap between frames and potentially more waste but I still managed ten shots by attaching the leader of the 35mm film to an eleven inch strip of 120 backing paper to reduce wastage at the start of the film.
The film still needs to be removed in a changing bag (I transfer it straight onto a reel and store it in the developing tank) but that is still only a minor issue especially when shooting at home! I cannot envisage this being something I would spend a whole day doing but if I did for any reason the changing bag is light enough to tuck into a corner of my rucksack.
No one needs to read an account of loading the film, shooting the images (the rotating back on the RB67 and the horizontal orientation of the film were a huge help) or processing the negatives. The first thing I noticed however when removing the processed film from the tank was the bigger spacing, but then the length of each negative struck me. It’s only 1cm longer, but that is an increase of 1/6, almost 17% longer than the 6×6 negatives and over 50% longer than those from the 6×4.5 film back in the Bronica ETRS.
The negatives were scanned using my old Epson V550 flatbed scanner and the Vuescan software. Rather than lay the negatives flat on the glass as before I used a Lomography Digitaliza 35mm scanning mask to hold the negatives. The Digitaliza holds the negatives by the very edges leaving the sprocket holes revealed. I had read mixed reviews but thus far its proven to be effective and relatively fiddle-free. The loaded mask needs to be handled carefully as it is very easy to nudge the negative out of its magnetic grip – especially with a blast from a can of compressed air! I also varied my technique for converting the negatives into positives but that’s for another day.
Here’s to the next itch – I’m off to load a roll of colour 35mm into a RB67 film back!
Back in January when I was stocking up with film for the Spring/Summer months I picked up a few single films of different stocks to my usual to try out as the opportunity arose. I think that in the back of my mind was that these would be used for something “special” or a specific project that took into account each film stocks particular properties or quirks. As an enthusiastic (digital) infrared photographer, I have an IR-converted Fuji X-T1, and so I picked up a couple of rolls of 120 Rollei Infrared 400 intending to use it whilst in Devon for a family wedding. Well, I’m consigned to barracks and in any event the wedding is postponed until 2021. So, the first roll, which I bought to test before using the second in “anger”, has now been exposed within the confines of my back yard.
Now before any one shouts I realise that Rollei INFRARED 400 is not a ‘true’ infrared film, but one with near-infrared sensitivity to about 820nm. I’m not going to quibble though and in any case this was about experimentation.
My weapon of choice for this experiment was a Bronica SQ-A, for no reason other than I like using it, plus the mirror lock-up would be useful. The film was rated at 400 ISO per the box and I shot a couple of frames without any filtration at this speed. I then attached a 720nm infrared filter and based on what I had been reading metered the scene at 12 ISO, an increase in exposure of five stops. Finally, I developed the film in Rodinal (1+25) at 20°C.
Contrary to some reports I’ve seen elsewhere on the web, the film went onto the reel very easily with no obvious curl to the acetate.
So, to the pictures. My first impression on hanging the roll of negatives to dry was how sharp and crisp they were. Some were clearly over-exposed but as I kept detailed notes that will enable me to learn from these. Popping the dry negatives on the light pad was an exciting moment as it was then I saw just how successful the experiment had been.
The first three frames (see above) had been taken with no filter, a polarising filter and lastly a 720nm infrared filter that I use with a full-spectrum Fuji X-T1. Just looking at the negatives I could see the dramatic differences between the first and third negative; even the negative has an ethereal feel. The third of these frames is shown, fully processed, below.
So, what did I make of this quirky film? Well, I have to admit that I was predisposed to the idea as I’ve shot a lot of infrared on my digital cameras as can be seen on my FLICKR account. What I wasn’t prepared for was how much I liked these simple front/back yard images. They add a whole new dimension to the portfolio of images I’m creating during the Lockdown. The day I chose was cloudy with sunny intervals and not the full-on sunny day with blue skies I had hoped for but I love the feel of these images nevertheless.
So, what special project will the other roll be saved for? It is simply being saved for the next sunny day here in my back yard. I want to see what effect blue skies will have and can’t wait until I finally get released from the house. Never fear though as I’ve ordered another five rolls to keep on hand for when I do get back out with the camera!
When you‘ve got an itch – you’ve gotta scratch it!
Sometimes an idea pops into the head and the only way to get it out again is to stop what you are doing and attend to it. It happened to me last Sunday, and by 7pm, just as I was about to settle down with a book for the evening, the itch became unbearable. So, I grabbed my Bronica ETRS, the 220 film back that I’d purchased in error and a roll of expired 35mm B&W film and headed into the garden. By 7.30pm I was mixing chemicals and by 8pm the still-wet negatives were hanging in my bathroom to dry.
So, what got me so motivated? And surely that’s a typo – 220 back and 35mm film?
The idea of putting 35mm film through a medium format film camera is hardly new or innovative but it’s been niggling away at the back of my mind for a while now and I’ve been itching to try it for myself. I’ve seen a handful of images online and even watched a couple of YouTube videos on the subject so I did have some thoughts on how to approach it. So long as it is loaded carefully into a medium format film back, it is possible to shoot images that extend across the sprocket holes of the 35mm film to cover the whole surface of the film and with my ETRS back you get 45x33mm negatives, including the sprocket holes. If I was to do the same with my SQ-A then the negatives would be around 60x33mm although I’ve yet to try this. I say careful incidentally because you need to ensure the film runs centrally down the film plate as you wind on if you want to be reasonably certain of your compositions.
Spoiler alert: this experiment with the ETRS worked and I’ve already loaded the ETRS 220 back with a roll of 35mm colour negative film for a more “serious” session – when the sun decides to reappear.
I chose the 220 film back as it was designed for longer rolls of medium format film which allowed for 30 shots on the ETRS so I would not be advancing the film back past the number of shots the 35mm film would provide. There is however a lot of wasted film at the start of the roll due to the way the Bronica winds on the 120 film at the start of a roll, the back is designed for roll film and needs to pull sufficient backing paper through to reveal the film buried inside the roll. I did however manage 21 exposures on this 36 exposure test roll (remember this is a 6×4.5 back and not 6×6 so if using a 6×6 format camera the number of images obtained will be less although they will be wider). I could try sticking a length of old backing paper to the start of the 35mm film I guess to minimise this wastage but that is an idea for another day.
As the image above shows the idea worked and the subject is lined-up correctly and not sloping due to wonky film loading. So what did I learn?
Vertical = horizontal and horizontal = vertical!
As the picture of the loaded film back shows, first and foremost: vertical = horizontal and horizontal = vertical! The film in a Bronica ETRS back runs top to bottom unlike a 35mm SLR where it runs left to right. Which means the 35mm film inside the 220 back is running down the middle rather than width-ways. It takes some getting used to, and I may cut a mask for the viewfinder to remind me, but basically when holding the camera normally the film is covering a vertical strip down the middle of the viewfinder. Tip the camera on its side (as you would normally to shoot a portrait or vertically orientated image) and the strip now runs horizontally across the middle of the frame.
That aside, and I have a lot of spoilt images because I hadn’t noted that quirk earlier, everything else went well. I used a pair of adaptors on the 35mm cassette which enabled me to insert the film in the same way I would have inserted a 120 roll. In a traditional film camera the 35mm film is loaded with the glossy side towards you but as the emulsion is on the other side of the plastic strip you need to reverse this when loading 35mm film into a roll film back (see above); basically the emulsion (non-glossy) side needs to be foremost in the holder so it is exposed to the lens when the film back is attached to the camera and the slide removed.
This quick and impulsive test was in most respects successful. Yes, every frame is orientated in the opposite direction to that in which I shot it and so many do not make compositional sense but this was not about creating masterpieces but about seeing if I could make it work – and I did. The first few frames were horribly under-exposed as the light meter I was using was still set to 800 ISO from an earlier session and I had also chosen to underexpose by a couple of stops, partly to give a darker frame to the main subject but mainly to achieve a shutter speed at which I could handhold the camera.
There were a couple of images however where, by dint of the 40mm lens I was using, the subject was centrally placed and therefore the composition does still work. Sadly, they were also amongst the first few underexposed frames but I have salvaged one of Grandson Harry which gives an idea of the kind of image I was hoping to capture.
Like many of these techniques, this one is unlikely to become my go-to method of shooting and needs to be used sparingly if it is not to become cliched and, dare I say, a little boring. The occasional 35mm cassette for a bit of fun is all I expect to be exposing in this manner. That said, I have ordered a 220 film back for my 6×6 Bronica SQ-A so I can try out the larger format. I’m hoping to shoot some panoramic images of the rooftops opposite for a sub-project within my main 366 project. There is also a roll of 35mm colour negative film in the ETRS 220 back .
So, as has been said countless times before – watch this space!
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?