A couple of months ago I shot some images for a local school's Open Evening advertising. I had an eager bunch of bright eyed year 7 pupils, new to the school (it was their first week!) to act as models in various situations in the Science department. The images had to be bright, interesting and showing the pupils enjoying their time in "lessons".
Up to this point, my experiences with black and white film had been purely with Ilford stock. HP5+ and the different Deltas were what I started with, but many people regularly recommended Fuji Acros. Silverprint UK is usually my go-to site in the UK for film, and once again their price for 120 rolls of Acros was too tempting. Being a 100 speed film, Acros is generally known for shaprness, fine grain and great detail. It is also of course best used in bright conditions. During my visit to Wimpole (see also Kodak Portra 400 and Fujifilm Pro 400H) I tested out a roll of Acros to see what it could do. Of course, being a test I did take some images in less than ideal conditions (think dark pig sheds) to see if you could still have this film in your camera for a general, versatile walk-about film.
Shooting into the sun, the film still retains a great amount of shadow detail, but the sky also still retains texture - it's not blown out as it likely would be in a digital file. (Note - doing this did lead to some light leak onto the following frame. Not a big deal but definitely noticeable...)
Heading indoors, I had to deal with some pedestrian shutter speeds with my Yashica, which only has a maximum aperture of f/3.5. Luckily, the design of a TLR means it is relatively straightforward to brace the camera against your body and take a shot with a shutter speed less than 1/15 (the main time to look out for in terms of technique is pressing the shutter). In some shots I got the exposure a little bit wrong, with one or two images being a little dark - this is recoverable in Lightroom though.
With more unusual lighting, the contrast of Acros can be amazing. For this image I shot into a barn, waiting for the goat to pass by the little door into their outside area. Even in this extreme dark (metering for the highlights of course) there is still detail on the barn wall - the edges of the planks are clearly visible. This is pretty incredible, considering how bright the goat is (there is also detail here too, it is not blown out).
So, what are my impressions? As you can probably tell, I'm a big fan of this film. The latitude, contrast (in the right conditions), great detail, sharpness, pleasing but unobtrusive grain makes this a fantastic film for a wide range of settings. I wouldn't hesitate to put this film in my camera when on the street or at a location such as Wimpole. I would perhaps stay away from it in indoor settings (unless brightly lit), but this is as much to do with the slow film speed as it is to do with the aperture that can be achieved by my Yashica.
There wasn't much information out there in terms of development. I used this method (Ming Thein blog) - Ilford DD-X, 6.5 minutes at 24 degress water temperature, then standard 1 minute of Ilfostop and 6 minutes of Ilford Rapid Fixer. Seemed to work very well, so I ill be sticking with this in the future.
Go on, get some. You won't regret it...
For the last few weeks I have been experimenting with colour film. The first rolls I picked up were the muted, pastel options from Kodak and Fujifilm. Both are 400 speed films, but I had read on various sites that they tend to look a little better (perhaps a bit more dreamy) when a stop over-exposed. So, all the images you'll see were metered at 200 ISO. I tried out the films during two main trips, Cambridge city and Wimpole Hall estate (a National Trust property to the west of the city), and luckily I had sunny, bright conditions! It will be interesting to see how the films perform in more dull conditions. I processed the films myself at home using a Tetenal 1L C-41 kit. The results have been fine, although I have had some problems with chemical spots and the occasional streak. This is a bit weird, as I have had no such problems with my black and white development. I know my technique and steps are OK, so maybe it's a curiosity specifically related to the C-41 chemistry...
The sharpness of both films is great, with minimal grain (much less compared to a 400 speed B&W film e.g. HP5+), but less contrast compared to other film stocks and formats. The main difference between the films is the colour cast you get straight from the scanner. The Portra is much, much warmer, much more yellow than the Fuji. The colours are muted in both, but the Portra images seemed much more summery - perfect if you are going for that look. Take a look at the images below and decide for yourself which film you prefer. Let me know in the comments below. [Again, I have only edited the images to remove dust and hairs from the jpegs, I have not corrected colour, contrast etc]
Kodak Portra 400
Fujifilm Pro 400H
After gaining some experience in using my (new to me) medium format camera (Yashica Mat 124G Yashica) with black and white film, I took the plunge and purchased some C-41 colour negative film. Reading around, Kodak Portra and Fujicolor Pro 400H were described as more naturally toned film (compared to maybe Kodak Ektar), so I went for this. I will be doing a brief comparison between these films in a future post, in case you are only wanting to pick up one type.
I wanted to test the films and the camera out in a range of conditions - luckily Cambridge didn't disappoint, with strong sunshine, deep shadows, reflections, high dynamic range and colourful tourists.
For reference, although these films were rated at ISO 400, I had seen the best results when they are shot a stop lower at 100, so this is what I did.
The Yashica is a TLR camera, so the viewing lens sits above the taking lens. Therefore, it was pretty easy to get obstacles in the frame, as you can see above! These images have only been cropped from the scan to tidy the margins.
I am still new to metering, so at times I might have got it a little wrong, especially as I'm already technically over-exposing the film. However, even when over-exposed, the films stood up really well. Colour and clarity were maintained, and I still got pleasing shots. Overlooking the Mathematical bridge in Cambridge is always a great spot, as there is a punting station behind where I was stood here meaning the river is always busy with plenty to shoot.
Shooting with a shallow depth of field was really satisfying with the ground glass viewfinder of the Yashica (although when using it my niece always thinks I am taking a picture of the floor...!). I was really impressed with how much detail this 400 speed film records, so much so that I'm even more excited to take some 160 film to Paris and see how that performs (it is supposed to be some of the sharpest film available). Cambridge is brilliant for street photography and interest shots - some of these are almost look like they're from the university prospectus, students and bikes everywhere!
One of the major advantages of using a TLR with a waist-level viewfinder is the discretion. People just don't look at you, so you're able to capture people going about their business. I managed to get pretty close to these preachers who were having a tough time converting a skeptical heckler to their cause. Perhaps a university town like Cambridge, with a strong science tradition, is not the best place to start up an argument about the existence of God...Again, the film performed really well. Yes, if you zoom in to these massive files you will spot a bit of softening, you will spot some facial features that aren't razor sharp. But, if you were to print these I'm not sure you would notice those slight imperfections. At this point, I was becoming seriously impressed with this combination of Yashica and colour film.
Shooting directly towards the sun (bottom right image) shows how well these films cope with retaining detail in very bright conditions. I would hazard a guess that if this was a digital file, the highlights would be completely blown, or you would have had to sacrifice shadow detail and general IQ to keep the highlights. Clouds seem to look 3D on the negative, there is so much detail in the sky with these films. Again, I would love to see this on a 160 film for even more sharpness and detail.
I did encounter a couple of problems during the day however, number one being focus. This shot I just got completely wrong in terms of focus. I seem to be focused on the branches on the right hand side, not my intention! Sometimes in shadow it is difficult to get focus bang on with the Yashica's screen, as it can be a little dark. It does work perfectly in bright sunshine, so this wouldn't be a problem all the time.
Problem number 2 was actually with the developing. On one of the rolls (both rolls were developed in the same tank) I ended up with what look like chemical spots on some of the frames (but not all). This was a little weird, and a little frustrating as it does take a loooong time to correct these marks in Lightroom. You can see some of the spots on the image above. I think it was probably due to me not tapping the tank enough after each agitation, so I will pay close attention to this next time I develop some rolls.
So, that's all for now. You have probably already noticed some differences between the images in terms of colouring, and you might also have noticed I did not say which images came from which roll. I will post a brief comparison between the two films shortly, and I'll talk through what I think my preference is (it's a tough call...).
Finding time to go out shooting is usually my problem. With limited free time, sometimes that motivation to go out with the camera is missing. But every time you do, you remember why, and this trip to Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire was one of those times to remind you not only how enjoyable making images can be, but also that we are so lucky in Britain to be surrounded by such varied landscapes. Wicken Fen is a National Trust property between Ely and Cambridge. There's a good variety of things to shoot, with an old wind pump, wheat fields, waterways and Konik ponies.
The boardwalk around the marshy fens takes you around the old windpump. A light breeze added a nice bit of motion to the wheat in the foreground of the shots I was taking of the pump. Not being a full-time pro, it is a lot more difficult to get the (cliche?) sunset/sunrise shots, but luckily the April weather was being kind, providing some lovely clouds and rain storms on the horizon. It was actually a blessing in disguise, as recently I've been trying to move away from the traditional thinking of landscape photography - the more you look on sites like 500px, the more the landscape shots begin to look the same!
Looking to the skies also gave me some different looks. The D750's
much derided flippy screen is so useful when trying to get alternative perspectives...and without looking like a prat bending over in less than flattering positions! Shooting at f/8 with the highly recommended Nikkor 16-35mm f/4, the images I was getting were brilliantly sharp with lovely contrast.
The absolute highlight of our visit to Wicken Fen was seeing the wild herd of Konik ponies. These were absolutely beautiful animals who seemed completely at ease in their environment. In the case of the stallions in the herd, perhaps too comfortable...The horses were curious to the point of following you along the fence, which made them great subjects for some portraits. Of course, coming here on a landscape shoot meant I did not have anything longer than 35mm, but they got so close that ended up being the perfect focal length.
Wide angle lenses can actually be great for unusual portraits of animals. The image above is not right - the focus is on the middle of the snout and not the eye, and there's a hand on the right. But, actually, there's still something charming about that horse. If only the focus point had been in the right place...