Not long ago I decided to spend some focused time shooting Ilford’s PanF 50 Plus. In an effort to minimize variables the decision was made to focus on 35mm using the trusted and favored F6. The F6’s venerable meter virtually eliminates exposure error, and I really wanted to dial in +/-EV, development time, agitation, grain, scanning, wet-printing, etc. The decision was also made to use exclusively Ilford’s DDX developer. What follows are the results. The executive summary: I have ordered lots more Ilford PanF50 Plus film for an upcoming trip to Santa Fe where I’ll look forward to continuing this ‘experiment,’ though I now feel quite comfortable that PanF is all I could hope for in a 35mm film.
I’m not really a numbers guy. I mean – I am – but don’t perseverate over them. I like to use numbers as a starting point; get things figured out, then use that knowledge to extrapolate as I shoot. I’m not one of these people that tweaks and tracks every variable just to reconstruct later. Ilford made recommendations on their film based on good authority. I’m not one to second guess. My interest in numbers is really searching for a baseline – then (rather unscientifically) adjusting exposure based on the scene. If in doubt, bracket (but I hate wasting film). If I think it’s going to be an especially worthwhile shot I’ll bracket – but usually trust in the flexibility of film and the F6’s infallible meter.
Something I have been doing a lot lately is working with filters. Yellow, orange and a couple different reds. Being a Nikkor devotee (and making no apologies for it) – I have a nice assortment of vintage 52mm Nikkor filters I use use regularly – especially when shooting my old pre Ai, Ai and Ai-S lenses. More and more I’m prone to favoring these smaller, lighter primes over hauling around the big-barreled, gold-ringed f2.8 zooms with 77mm filter threads I was infatuated with with in my ‘earlier years.’ I also have a nice set of 58mm B+W F-Pro’s for the Mamiya 645 rig I’ll use with a step-up ring if needed. Usually one of the 52mm Nikkor filters does the trick though.
Where I was experiencing some interesting results was using the deep red B+W F-Pro filter. It’s super dark – darker than the Nikkor R60 Red. Here’s what Schneider says about it on their site: “Compared to the lighter 090 red filter, this one even darkens the reds near the yellow tones in the spectrum, as its transparency only begins in the orange-red region. It produces dramatic effects and extreme tonal separation for graphic effects. That accounts for the large filter factor of appr. 8.” It’s so dark, focusing is sometimes made difficult. And when you shoot a ISO50 film you’re really needing a tripod to get an aperture that’ll provide adequate Depth Of Field. But the real ‘problem’ (if you want to call it that) is, it darkens any greenish vegetation to the near black range. This isn’t something I’m typically after. Enter the Nikkor Y48 Yellow. Especially when working off the hand, I find it just right to deepen tones in the sky and increase separation, but leave other elements largely as is. A bump to deepen midtones, minimal light loss and a relatively unchanged TTL experience.
Not long ago I acquired the lovely, ancient 180mm f2,8 AI-s. I have long been a fan of shooting landscapes with telephoto lenses – but upon close inspection, anything shot with the 70-200VR has been somewhat disappointing. Not to mention its size and weight being a deterrent. The 180 f2.8 solves all those issues and then some. Mounted on the F6, this ancient lens benefits from the F6’s ability to dial in Non-CPU Lenses. Doing so while working with the lens allows the correct shooting information to be recorded in the shooting data for that frame. The 180 has no tripod socket because it doesn’t need one. The L-bracket on the camera is more than sufficient to hold its relatively light weight. The one negative is I’m not about to invest in a set of 72mm filters for it and have to carry them around too. So when I’m shooting the 180 I’m going so with the rectangular front-slide-in filters.
and a few PanF50 Plus shots from the past to show a little more diversity:
The amount of detail and resolution PanF50 holds is remarkable. Without moving to my medium format system, PanF50 provides all I need when exposed, processed and scanned properly. Like other ‘high performance’ films, it’s not as flexible as say a TriX. But getting to know and understand it is well worth the time. I’ve ordered a bunch more for an upcoming trip to New Mexico in July.
One of the great joys of shooting and developing one’s own film is the ability to tweak and experiment. While it’s true one needs to be prepared to have experiments fail – it’s also true that when they succeed, it can introduce a new component to your shooting, furthering your unique creative vision.
Initially I thought of this last roll of my favored Delta 100 as a bit of a toss-away roll. Having spent the first half of the roll playing, around frame 25 I found subject matter that may actually make a nice photograph.
When it came time to develop I decided to try Stand developing with Rodinal again. I’d done so a few times before with medium format film and it turned out well. Images are extremely sharp and contrasty, and a bit on the grainy side. This was my first attempt with 35mm.
From what I’ve read and what little I’ve learned thus far from personal experimentation – it sounds like slight underexposure is the rule. Without getting technical about Stand developing (again, limited experience), you essentially dilute the developer (not all developers are suitable) more than usual, then let it “stand” for a longer period of time, like hour(s), not minutes – with very limited agitation. Temperature isn’t as important either.
The idea is the developer that’s in contact with the film tires, and because of this – works more slowly to bring up shadow detail than it otherwise would when agitating-which puts fresh developer in contact with the film every minute or so. This ‘tired’ developer works slowly to bring up the dark areas of the neg and because it’s so diluted, in theory – avoids blowing your highlights. If you’re a Stand development expert and I just totally butchered the description please forgive the radical condensing and feel free to correct me.
From one point of view, Stand development is easy. It requires little intervention once the process has begun. After the diluted chemical is poured into the tank you agitate as normal. After 5-10 minutes, agitate again. After that, set the timer on your iPhone and go find something to do for a while. It’s the “for a while” part that’s the unknown, and where the book really helps explain the variables. I had a lawn to fertilize and wanted to watch the news so I set my timer for 2 hours.
When the timer went off I poured, stopped, rinsed as usual. This roll began the practice of PermaWashing after a water rinse, and also saw me switching over from Ilford Ilfotol wetting agent (couldn’t find it anymore) to Kodak PhotoFlow.
As I always do when I hang my films to dry, I hold a light up to the strip and visually inspect all the way down. What I saw was a healthy, thick neg down the line. Encouraged, I knew I’d have something to work with in scanning and ultimately wet printing.
Pick up some Rodinal and give Stand developing a try. I guaranty you’ll learn something. Viva la F6, Viva la film.
There are many film shooters who might be reluctant to fly with your favorite film camera packed for the simple reason that flying with film is too complicated or difficult. I’d like to propose that it’s not as much as you think, and the benefits are worth the perceived cost. Having just returned from a trip to Chicago, recording some information and fresh insights seems like a good idea.
The questions have been asked millions of times: can film go through the x-ray and survive? Do you put your film in a checked bag, or carry it on the plane. Here is what I’ve learned in my own research from different sources including Kodak and Fuji, and from my own personal experience.
First and foremost do not pack your film in checked baggage. The X-ray used to scan checked baggage is stronger (in some cases considerably stronger) than the x-ray used to scan humans and carry on baggage. If you think you can put your film in a lead-lined pouch and be free of worry – you’re wrong. They’ll simply crank up the X-ray to penetrate whatever you put your film in, further damaging whatever is in the bag they’ll eventually see into.
Always ‘carry on’ your film, and ask a TSA agent to hand inspect it. Here are a few tips:
I put my film in a small, black, zippered, padded case made by Eagle Creek Travel Gear. It fits 24 boxes of film perfectly. I always leave my film in its original packaging.
Years ago on a flight to Haiti I made the mistake of removing all the film from its boxes to be able to fit more film in the case. When TSA opened it they had to swab every single canister of film for gunpowder residue, which is protocol. This took forever and I could tell they were a little exasperated by the whole thing.
Live and learn.
Now I leave all film in its original packaging. While it’s true I can fit less film in the case – I still have more than enough for my needs. When TSA opens the case and sees the nicely organized, neat, clean original packaging they’re far more willing to visually inspect, swab a few boxes, and call it good.
My experience has been that TSA agents actually seem happy to break away from the grinding line of scolding people for putting to many items in a bin or being frisked – to step over to their table and investigate this neat, clean package for a brief moment. It seems to give them a break. It goes without saying that smiling, being polite, courteous, respectful and patient is good human behavior where ever you go – especially when someone has the power to either make your day miserable – or easy. Choose easy. Be nice.
Occasionally I’ll have a TSA agent tell me film doesn’t need to be hand inspected if it’s not ‘high speed’ film. Rather than getting into a discussion about what constitutes ‘high speed’ film and arguing the counter points there in line (see below) – I simply add a few rolls of super high-speed film to end the debate. If they care to open the case and check, they’ll see ISO3200 film front and center.
What may not be common knowledge is that x-ray scanning is cumulative. So if you allow your 400 speed film to pass through x-ray on the first leg of the journey it will probably be fine. But if it then passes through again, and again, and again – the effects of x-ray build up and at some point it fogs. I don’t know exactly what the point is.
Empty the camera before sending it through x-ray. They will not hand-inspect the camera so whatever you have in it is going to get x-rayed. There’s no way around this. Best to simply fire off your final frames, remove the roll and tuck in your case for hand-inspection.
If you follow these simple guidelines there’s no reason why you can’t fly with film. It does represent an additional step, compared to simply using a digital camera – but if ease were the main goal we probably wouldn’t be shooting film to begin with.
So why go through all this? Why not just bring a digital camera and be done with it? This year my son went to Latvia for the summer. I remember having the conversation with him prior to leaving about his choice of camera. I offered one of my film Nikons, reasoning it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and he might be glad of something besides his iPhone. It turned into a rather comical skit of millennial vs. whatever I am (Boomer, I suppose). I let it go. A few weeks after he arrived in Latvia we were Face-timing and he admitted he’d made a huge mistake. Upon returning home he bought his first camera – a digital camera – but hey – baby steps, right? At least it was a Nikon. My point is, the trips in our lives come and go. The afterglow of a trip can last for many years if not a lifetime. The question I ask myself when getting ready to travel is, what gear is going to provide the results I’m most satisfied with a month or year after returning. The answer is always film.
Hope that helps. E-mail me with any questions or comments about your experience flying with film.
Kodak first announced the rebirth of Ektachrome way back in January at CES. Along with Kodak Alaris—who will distribute the 35mm Kodak Professional Ektachrome film for stills shooters—the company said it would bring back Ektachrome by the end of 2017… and then promptly stopped talking about it.
But if you were worried that Kodak had given up on the idea, fear not: in a new episode of the Kodakery podcast, a few of Kodak’s higher ups (including Marketing and Product Manager Diane Carroll-Yacoby) updated the world on the progress of the Ektachrome reboot, how they’re making it, and what testing still stand between your hands and a fresh 36-shot roll of the stuff.
You can listen to the entire Kodakery podcast update below:
The first half of the podcast is mostly a photography and history lesson: discussing the origins of Ektachrome, its ‘characteristics’ (read: limitations), and how Kodak has managed to bring it back to life after discontinuing it in 2013. But if you want to get into the “how and when” of the matter, you’ll want to skip to the 22 minute mark.
That’s where we get to learn about how difficult it is to bring back a film like Ektachrome—which is made up of 80 ingredients, some of them no longer available to purchase—and how Kodak is making the economics of Ektachrome work by creating it in smaller, more sustainable batches.
You’ll want to listen to the discussion to really get the details of how the film is made, but here are a few of the most interesting tidbits about the revival process (for us anyway):
Kodak has managed to either find or manufacture all 80 ingredients required to make Ektachrome.
Much of the process so far has involved retooling the formula so it will work on the machines available to them, because they no longer have all of the equipment they had when Ektachrome was being developed previously.
They’ve already produced some ‘pilot coatings’ that they are testing to ensure they’re ready to mass produce Ektachrome that’s up to snuff.
When they’re ready to go, they will be making rolls using a coater that produces the film on sheets that are 4 feet wide and 6,000 feet long. The first of these ‘wide’ rolls will be produced before the end of 2017, and will be used for internal testing.
Kodak will be making a single (4ft x 6,000ft) roll for the first production run, so they don’t have to hold on to too much inventory at one time.
Kodak Ektachrome’s market release is planned for 2018.
Eastman Kodak itself will produce all of the film and plans to distribute the Super 8 cinema version of Ektachrome, while Kodak Alaris will distribute the 35mm slide film for stills shooters. For now, we still don’t know exactly when Ektachrome is coming back in 2018, but as soon as we do, we’ll let you know so you can mark your calendars.
There are different schools of thought on whether one should use filters for their color film photography or not; each having its own merits. For example, why get a super high-quality lens and put a ‘cheap’ filter on it, effectively reducing the quality of glass the image has to travel through? Great question (you should never do this, btw). What about if you put a ‘good’ filter on your lens? What is a ‘good’ filter? Does it matter? Can you stack different filters? Most have thread mounts on the front and back… does image quality suffer when you do this? What about vignetting? If you stack filters then mount the ‘correct’ hood, you’ve pushed that hood out a few more millimeters. Will you get dark corners in your photos?
Another question or concern is, if you don’t use a filter on your super expensive lens does the front element get buggered up over time? Do you ever wipe your lens off with your t-shirt before taking a picture? (I’ve done it ;-).
What about multi-coated filters? What about Polarizers? Warming filters? Cooling filters? UV filters? Skylights, etc., etc. Or do you get a clearer picture with just pure lens? What about a hood? Why bother with a hood?
So a few weeks ago I decided to answer the question for me and my own personal preferences once and for all. I took the F6 up to Rocky Mountain National Park with an assortment of filters I regularly use and did a couple controlled experiments. The results surprised me a little.
If you’re short on time, here’s the executive summary: yes, using filters matters when you’re shooting film. What filter, and how much it matters is the big question each photographer needs to answer by doing something similar to what I’ve done here. Stacking high-quality filters has virtually no impact on image sharpness, vignetting wasn’t an issue in my situation, and I’ll be doing this a lot more in the future with no fear of negatively impacting the photograph.
I’ll keep it short and sweet. On most of my lenses I run at the very least a UV filter. Here in Colorado, without a UV filter – especially at high altitude, pictures tend to get a bluish cast, stripping the image of all the lovely color nuance your eyes saw when you were standing there deciding to take the picture. UV filters filter out Ultra Violet light and do have an impact on the image.
I’ll say this straight away: I use high-quality (expensive) filters on all of my lenses. Citing the first paragraph above, I’m a believer in using the highest quality piece of glass I can on any lens, no matter the lens.
I did this test with three specific filters:
The Nikkor L39, a medium strength UV filter that filters a little more than some other UV’s. According to the old Nikkor catalogs it’s not suitable to leave on your lens all the time – but I do it, and it doesn’t seem to make a bit of difference.
The Nikkor A2 filter, picked up for $10 at Englewood Camera in Littleton. The A2 filter introduces a slight warming tone to the image that – depending who you are and what you like – will either balance your image out nicely with the ‘real scene’ or make ‘too yellow.’ Different strokes.
A Circular Polarizer, in this case the Nikkor circular polarizer. I also have and use a Heliopan slimline Circular Polarizer, but it’s 77mm and too large for the lens I was using for this test.
A word about filters, lenses and sizes. This is can be a quagmire of a topic. So many lenses have different sized front elements, creating the need for either different sized filters, or step-up/step-down rings to put smaller or larger filters on miss-matched lenses. True – you can do this. But you wind up with a bag of stuff you might not want to carry around all the time. It really depends on your priorities. There’s no absolute right approach.
My priority these days is going as light and small as possible while still getting being prepared for whatever. I decided on a series of lenses I thought I’d use often, then adapt the F6 to accommodate pre-ai lenses. This allows me to use many of the older Nikkor’s, most of which are 52mm front thread. Most of my zooms are 77mm front diameter, so I have basically two sets of filters: big and small. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than spending a fortune on redundant sizes then fumble around with a lot of extra stuff when you’re trying to take a picture.
Enough of all that. Here are two sets of images showing the results of:
a) no filter
b) A2 filter only
c) L39 + A2 warming filter
d) L39 + A2 warming + Circular Polarizer
and a second set:
One of the important things to me is not sacrificing image detail for slight color improvements. Let’s face it, shooting 35mm film is already at a disadvantage to medium or large format film when it comes to holding detail. So anything I can do to hold as much detail in the final image as possible – I’ll do. I was delighted to examine the “stacked” image closely and determine that there was no loss in detail, even shooting through three high-quality filters. To see the final image, click here.
Of course, there are things that will make a difference in your images, like quality and angle of light, haze, etc. so you’ll just have to play around to see what combination appeals to you. But rest assured that if you use a high-quality filter, even if you stack them, you’re not hurting the detail and sharpness of your image – providing you’re doing everything else right too.
For the past few months I’ve been working on scanning/archiving slides for my family. It’s a big job – many hundreds of a mixture of very old (late 1950’s) to just sort of old – made in the last few decades.
Several reoccurring thoughts travel my mind as I sit before the screen, inserting slides, waiting for focus, scanning the slides, and naming them in some orderly fashion so we’re actually able to find them once scanned.
One is, I’m sure glad we have these images. They are the closest thing to a time machine I’m aware of. The other night I was looking at photographs of the Zurmatt Curling Club in Switzerland, circa 1957. Wow… talk about a blast from the past. My father took a trip to Europe after getting out of the army in the late 50’s. He and his Kodak Retina documented the countryside well and now, 60 years later, I’m seeing what he saw. That’s pretty cool.
Another is, as I inspect each slide, many are made on Ektachrome and carry a rather red bias. Thank goodness for the sophisticated software we have available today to bring the very best out of even these ancient (by photographic terms) slides.
I wonder how much longer the film will continue to carry an image? The slides have been stored properly and meticulously labeled providing ample information to name and describe them. Though these images have remained intact for many years, there will come a time they’ll fade away to nothing. Everything has a life span and nothing lasts forever. Digitally archiving them while they’re still viable is a good use of time and energy.
I’m grateful for on-line sharing services like zenfolio, of which I’ve been a part of since 2007, allowing such easy archiving and custom, private sharing of these and other images with select audiences. Sharing these images with family members across the globe with a few clicks is easy, cost-effective and painless. And the delight it brings those is real.
I think about how there are really no shortcuts. To get the most out of each frame, the image needs to be scanned, optimized, color adjusted and cropped at a decent enough resolution to cover what might be asked of them in the future. I’ve decided on a modest resolution of about 2,700 px on the longest dimension, rather than the full 5,000+ to save some time – and also predicting not many (if any) images will ever be enlarged great than 8″ x 10″.
I purchased my Nikon Super CoolScan 5000 some time around 2008. I remember driving to Denver in a snow storm and buying – new – the last one on the shelf at Wolf Camera for something like $1,000. The kids in the store looked at me like I was nuts. “Don’t you know about digital cameras?” their smirking eyes said as I walked out the door with my prize. I’ve seen LS-5000’s at auction for upwards of $2K. It’s a great scanner – providing you use the right software with it. But that’s another post.
I’m grateful for this moment in time where we as photographers have the ability to choose from the affordable overabundance of such exquisite high-end picture making gear what tools to work with. I’m grateful for the advanced technology available today to get the absolute most out of every frame shot – from scanning software to post-processing editing tools, Digital Asset Management tools and on-line sharing tools. I’m grateful for long-stored analog film in the freezer as well as all-new emulsions rolling off the production lines of Kodak and others.
With the question of what camera to trust finally settled on once and for all, I’m grateful for my F6, which I fully expect to be clicking away many years from now, its corners and rubber grip worn, with a roll-count well into the thousands.
The attributes of film endure, providing us with the ability to – 60 years from now – look at the world through the lens at this great time to be a film photographer.
This past February I returned to New Mexico’s Bisti Wilderness in search of dramatic skies. Armed with the F6, a freshly repaired 645 ProTL (thanks to Dave at Key Camera in Longmont) and lots of Velvia I was in search of drama. Watching the weather for two weeks before had my imagination racing. There was a big system due to hit the Rockies from the Pacific northwest and it looked like either the trip would be scrubbed – or – it was going to be perfect.
Enter the iPhone’s numerous weather App’s. My friend Dan turned me on to Dark Sky, and easy-to-use, paid app providing weather and satellite updates through a great UI. According to the satellite it looked like the southern tip of the storm would camp out just north of Farmington, New Mexico. The Bisti is about 40 miles south, making views of the storm great – but hopefully dodging the mud caused by excessive rain. You don’t want to get stuck in the mud in the Bisti Wilderness.
As the weather picture solidified so did my plans and things looked good. At the last minute my buddy Mark offered up his new Rokinon 14mm. Now, you have to understand I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to gear. I’m not proud of that; it’s just the way its been. So my first inclination was to say “thanks but no thanks.” I’d mostly planned on putting the Mamiya through its paces and wasn’t that interested in adding more stuff to the already full bag. Then I reconsidered, remembering one road and one shot in particular that might really benefit from it (the shot atop this page; Rio Chama just below Abiquiu Lake, New Mexico). We were there a few years ago and I just couldn’t get the composition I was trying for with my already wide 17-35 (Nikkor).
Because the weather was rapidly changing the decision was made to push up departure a day early. The Rokinon hadn’t arrived via UPS and I was a little torn… Then – literally at the last minute as I was backing out of the driveway – the big, brown truck turned up the street and I was handed the package. I was all set.
I didn’t open the box until two days later in the parking area at the Bisti. My first impression of the lens was “holy cow!” I think I even said that out loud. It’s a very impressive piece of engineering. Well built, solid and tight. It’s attractive too – if that means anything to you. But the most impressive feature is the GIGANTIC bulbous front element emerging from the front of the lens. Right away I knew I was fortunate to have it with me, but man – I was little nervous about doing anything to that perfect, HUGE front element. Fortunately the lens has a solid, molded butterfly hood build around it and an equally solid, plastic lens cup (not a cap per say, but more of a cup) which fits snuggly over it all to keep it protected.
Overall I would rank the lens an incredible value at the listed $320. But when you compare it to Nikon’s equivalent 14mm lens at over $1,800 – it’s a no brainer. To be fair, I haven’t shot the Nikon 14mm to do a head-to-head comparison. All I have are the images made with the Rokinon. It’s manual focus and is chipped to indicate when the shot is in focus, as well as pass info through to EXIF. The Rokinon is not a G-style lens, meaning it has an aperture ring so you can use it on film cameras older than the F5, and it does have some vignetting, but it’s easily correctable. I’ve read some reviews indicating sharpness varies copy to copy, but my experience was extremely good. I’ll let the pixel peepers debate things like edge sharpness and let you decide if the image quality is good enough or not. I’m pretty sure of this: when the time comes for me to go ultra wide with 14mm I’m saving the $1,500 and going with the Rokinon.
Over Christmas we had the opportunity to visit Chicago again. Growing up in the suburbs I’d never had occasion to overnight in the city, with home being only 30 miles away. This trip we decided it was time we changed that.
One of the wonderful things about spending the night in the city is – the night! Chicago, as many other cities, is so active at night, with so much light that it’s easy to photograph hand held with the right setup.
In anticipation of various low-light scenarios on this trip I stocked up on Ilford HP5+. In the past I’ve shot it at rated 400 with success. One goal for this trip was to simply drift about the city at night to see what I could see. Pushing HP5 was an excellent way to avoid a tripod and open the experience up to simple creative experimentation. This outing was shot with the Nikkor 17-35 f2.8 ED (remind me to tell the story of how I stumbled upon this incredible lens some time…) at ISO1600, off the hand, just having fun. Processed in Ilford DDX at 71° for 12 minutes.
The creative liberty of shooting film, then processing your own film to desired tastes, is what film photography is all about. With what seems to be a true resurgence interest in film, there’s no better time to dive in. With a camera like the F6 that is flexible, dependable and durable for the rest of your natural life – it’ll be a robust adventure attempting to exceed its creative capabilities.
*A big thank you to Chris, our Canadian F6 Project reader, for pointing out he felt the Olympus OM-2 and Pentax ME Super actually have larger, brighter viewfinders than the F6. What a great time to be a film photographer, with so many wonderful tools accessible to work with.
Above: From left to right: Mount Meeker, Longs Peak, Keyboard of the Winds, Pagoda Mountain and Chief’s Head Peak. At center-right you can see the very tip top of the Spear Head, a triangular slab of granite jutting up through the clouds from the valley floor beneath. Glacier Gorge, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado (2017). [Nikon F6, E100VS, Nikkor 28-70ED f2.8 @ 70mm; 1/250 @ f7.1]
Flying commercially isn’t my typical MO, preferring instead to drive through places rather than fly over them at 30,000′ and 600 mph. So when a skilled pilot offers to take you flying low and slow over the heart of Colorado’s Rocky Mountain’s High Country simply for the sake of the experience – just say yes – please, and thank you. A few weeks ago I had the privilege with my son and a few good friends to see this country I love so much from a completely different point of view, and make a few photographs for those of you who may never get to see it.
We’d been planning the flight for several weeks but as is sometimes the case at the last minute weather decided not to cooperate. When morning came for the scheduled flight, rain from the day before left the cloud ceiling too low and visibility wasn’t happening. Texts flew to and fro debating logistics and eventually one party fell on their sword, letting go of their seats because of an afternoon commitment. This opened the door for an afternoon flight if weather cleared.
Because the opportunity to fly low over Colorado’s High Country doesn’t happen often I wanted to make the most of it. Considering how to approach it photographically briefly included going digital. A few years ago I was in another Cessna and appreciated the flexibility shooting digitally provided. Instead, I spent some time going through my previous shots looking at ISO, shutter speeds, lens choice and aperture and decided The F6 + some recently acquired Ektachrome 100VS was the winning combination. As a back up I had the F5 + Portra 400 in case light became an issue.
Camera nerd: focal length, shutter speeds and aperture info is provided for anyone interested in such things; some day you may have opportunity for such a flight and this could provide a head start setting up. Shutter speeds were typically between 1/400 and 1/250 at f7.1. The plane was traveling about 200 miles an hour but the ground was so far away the overall impression through the camera’s lens was that it passed slowly below. Most of the time the lens was zoomed to about 70mm. I also had the 70-200 with me but it was unnecessary – and too large and unwieldy in the small cockpit.
I wasn’t sure what plane we’d be flying and held my breath as we walked across the runway. Beggars can’t be choosers. To my delight it was a Cessna Centurion II, a high wing aircraft with retractable landing gear and no wing struts; the perfect plane for aerial photography. Wing struts and extended landing gear have a habit of creeping into the frame when you’re pointing the camera towards the ground.
We enjoyed a brief introduction to the plane and flying in small aircraft then climbed aboard, donning headsets and fastening seatbelts.
Beginning in Loveland, Colorado the first leg of the flight was into the afternoon sun. Clouds along the Front Range had dissipated and skies cleared allowing navigation by site and gorgeous views below. Given the angle of the sun, even with the large hood of the Nikkor 28-70 flare was a problem. We zig-zagged and spiraled our way up and over the unbelievable terrain of Rocky Mountain National Park accompanied only by sound the single turboprop spinning at 2,500 RPM’s (the miracle of flight, right?). Every once in a while a robotic, female voice broke the silence with, “warning, terrain… warning, terrain.” At one point – as casually as I could fake – I asked our pilot if that was anything we needed to be worried about. He assured me it was not. In less than an hour we were in Kremmling. It would have taken me three hours by car.
We refueled in Kremmling and decided to make our way back the way we came. After take off I put the camera down and flew the plane for a bit, my first time flying. But when we approached the big mountains I handed the wheel back to the pilot and it was time to get to work. The light was perfect, skies were clear and the views were, well…
F6 Nerd Stuff: As each roll finished we were flying over something else I just didn’t want to miss. Fortunately the F6 rewinds and reloads fast (Custom Setting D:2 set to ‘Auto’ automatically rewinds the roll at the end of the the last frame. Custom Setting D:3 tells the camera to leave the leader out rather than sucking it all the way back into the canister, and Custom Setting D:4 tells the camera when to rewind the film – at frame 35, 36 or whenever the end of the roll is detected). Auto rewind pulled the film back into its canister in mere seconds, the new roll was put in place and the leader pulled out to the red line. The back snapped shut and just like that I was shooting again.
For this flight, focus mode was set to Group Dynamic auto focus (the little diamond icon on the focus selector switch). I also re-coupled auto focus with the shutter release button (Custom Setting A4: AF Activation Release/AF-On). Plane cockpits are small and making my thumb do the autofocusing on the AF-On button required swinging my arm up a little higher as I turned my body at an already awkward position in the seat, trying to avoid the wings and adjust to whatever reflections and glare were coming in through the window. It’s amazing how one little tweak can simplify shooting – something the designers of the F6 well understood and planned for. There was no need for selective focus as the camera quickly and accurately acquired whatever ground it was pointed at.
Keeping horizons level can be a challenge in flight. Between composing quickly, a shifting horizon line out the window and dodging reflections in the window, often times you get as close as you can and rely on straightening in post production. If you’re close in the original shot you’re not throwing a lot of image away when you straighten the frame.
Often I found myself simply gazing out the window in silence, trying to imagine standing at that line where the shadow begins. I’ve been there many times; experiencing the mountains as warm, inviting, beautiful friends basking in the glow of afternoon sun. When the sun sinks and that shadow line rises they become cold, foreboding places leaving one feeling vulnerable and alone. These Rocky Mountains are a treasure and deserve our utmost respect.
At the end of the flight we glided gently back to the Loveland-Fort Collins airport as our pilot stuck a perfect landing. He smiled as he said, “you guys don’t know how lucky we were on this flight… it’s never like this.” Afternoon flights are prone to a lot of upheaval from warming air, sending the plane into various lurches and making for a bumpy ride. Our flight was smooth as glass making shooting that much easier and more enjoyable.
A big thanks to my good friend Kole, an awesome pilot and generous guy allowing the use of his Cessna Centurion II for the flight.
Those who’ve followed the F6 Project know I started developing my black and white film again in early 2016. I’d developed film many years ago but it had been a while. Fortunately it’s just like riding a bike and once I got around all the stuff again – with a little help from my friends – remembered what to do.
This year I decided it was time to develop my own color film. I’ve never developed color film before, instead choosing the convenience of sending it to a local lab. What I’ve re-realized developing black and white is that processing my own film has become a matter of creative liberation – and convenience. Working with the medium from start to finish without relying on external variables or influence contributes to the authentic artistic experience. Keeping it all in house. Less of a ‘control freak’ thing and more of a ‘control enthusiast’ thing.
Ive also grown impatient with even the most expeditious labs (I don’t know what it is exactly I resist when it comes to mailing my films…). And then of course there’s the cost savings. With shipping, this kit came in at about $40 and will do 20 rolls. That’s north of $200 at the lab. But perhaps the most compelling reason to develop one’s own film is, some of you may simply not have another option. What good is even the best film camera if you can’t process your film?
There are a few key differences between developing color vs. black and white films at home – most notably – temperature control. Black and white film is much less sensitive to minor variations in temperatures. Temperature matters – but in the ball park is usually good enough. Color is different. Minor variations in development time and temperatures can dramatically swing an image’s color one way or another. This is what always held me up. And, wanting it to be simple, inexpensive and of course reliable. I’m all for experimentation and the whole lomo experience as a means of having fun and trying new things. But if I’m going through the time and expense of shooting color film I need to be able to depend on what comes out the other side. I care a lot about color and I want it to be right. Just on the other side of that though is, if you scan your color images (as I do), correcting minor color shifts in Photoshop or Lightroom isn’t a big deal.
I found the CineStill Cs41 video on line:
It looked pretty straight forward – and they even had the solution for heating water to the correct temperature. Unfortunately my experience with the footbath heating solution was unsuccessful. Water took too long to heat and when it did, the maximum temperature listed in the literature was 95° – not the 103° expected. So I have a new, in my opinion better option for heating chemicals. TRU makes a triple slow cooker, each bay with 2 quart capacity and individual three-level heat settings. The low setting seems to top out about 100° to 101°, so just under the recommended 102°. The medium and high settings exceed the recommended temperature, so working tap water and the dials on the crockpots to maintain temps isn’t difficult. Remember too that during development you need to keep the temp consistent at 102° for 3 and half minutes. That’s not a long time and you can put your tank in the tub between agitation to keep temps consistent. During the blix phase temp is less important and a few degrees either way isn’t going to matter. Again – you can put the tank in the 2-quart containers of water to keep the temp up between agitations. The TRU triple slow cooker ran about $40 at KOHL’s. And – we can use it at Thanksgiving to keep the stuffing warm.
One reader commented on a bit of misinformation in the video above: Stabilizer is not optional. “B&W film has silver in it that prevents fungal growth, but colour film doesn’t have enough silver. The stabilizer contains an anti-fungal as well as a wetting agent, and if you don’t want to find your negatives mouldy in a couple of years you must use it.” Thanks to Chris from Ca!
The Cs41 quart kit cost $24.95 and with shipping it’s more like $40 (you get free shipping with orders over $75, but one thing at a time… I want to make sure things actually turn out before spending more money). After the order processed the kit didn’t ship for 3 weeks, but it finally showed up and I was excited to dive in.
I opened the box and found instructions – printed in 5 point text, folded up on a 8.5″ x 11″ single piece of paper. I found my reading glasses and started to work through what it took to actually use the Cs41 kit. It’s called “Cs41 “Color Simplified” Quart Kit for Color Processing at Home.” There is also a short-cut card provided with all the times and temperatures you need.
Once the chemicals are mixed it’s pretty straight forward. If you use the recommended developer temperature of 102°, development time is short – only 3:30. The Blix and rinse cycles are longer, at 8 minutes and 5 minutes respectively. You can use the same tanks and reels you use for black and white.
I took a deep breath and did two rolls; a roll of Ektar with some mixed lighting situations and a roll of Portra 160 with all daylight exposures. The Cs41 kit handled both with ease. Color emerged natural and unbiased.
I few things I learned on my first batch:
It takes a while to get the chemicals heated to the recommended 102° so start the heating well before you want to begin processing.
I’m unclear what the shelf life of the mixed chemicals is, but understand it’s finite. To maximize chemical’s effectiveness a good strategy seems to be to mix a batch of chemicals once you have a large batch of film to process.
The instructions list a pre-rinse as optional. I elected to do so, and judging by the amount of gook that poured out of the tank afterwards I’d recommend the same to anyone. If you don’t pre-rinse, all that gook makes its way into your developer. Because you re-use the developer I can imagine the cumulative effect not helping maintain color as the roll count climbs.
The Cs41 kit ships with a small Push/Pull Processing & Variable Temperature Development Chart. This is hugely valuable because it concisely provides all the information on time and temps you need. Though 102° is listed as the target developer temperature, the chart provides optional times for lower temperatures – all longer than the 3:30 suggested at 102°. If you’re not in a hurry and want to experiment with lower temps you have the info needed.
The stabilizer left some pretty harsh residue on the film. Though I’m certain I mixed the dilution properly, after speaking with a colleague he recommended I dilute it even more. I’ll try this next round. I’m also going to try a squeegee to trim excess liquid from the roll rather than allow it to simply drip-dry for an hour. I’m not a big fan of water spots and residual nasties on the film once dried.
Something new to me – but not those who’ve developed C41 before: unlike black and white, you can mix different film speeds in the same tank. C41 development times remain the same regardless of ISO speed, unless you push or pull. So you can run a ISO800 film with your ISO100 film.
Pay attention to recommended agitation. It’s not a ‘more is better’ scenario. According to the instructions, “variation in agitation may result in slight color shifts. Insufficient agitation shifts words red/excessive agitation shifts towards cyan. In hind site, I probably leaned a little toward the excessive agitation on these first two rolls.
As a friend of mine once said, “if you can bake a cake, you can develop your own film.” I’d expand that for the culinary challenged and suggest even if you can’t bake a cake, you can successfully develop your own black and white and color film. It just takes the right tools, a little time and the desire to learn something new. My bottom line is, I’ll be ordering more Cs41 from Cinestill soon.