DSLR Scanning your 35mm film negatives

So I haven’t posted any blogs in 3 months … what on earth could have caused this to happen … !??

Welcome to the world of DIY 35mm film scanning … who would have thought that such a simple endeavour could cause so much frustration, headaches, sleepless hours, and repeated post-processing !

Let me explain …

So why scan your own 35mm film ?

Having enthusiastically re-embraced film photography the last 2 years, it’s a natural process to wonder how you can get closer to the physical process that is film image creation.

While my favourite dev lab (www.printpoint.ie) was producing amazing images, I slowly began to wonder about two things:

  1. What it would be like to develop my own film – working through the chemicals and producing the negatives myself ?
  2. What would it be like to scan my own negatives – could I get better dynamic range, and higher resolution images ?

The wonderful thing about the internet and social media in particular is the wealth of information available !

So I decided, one step at a time, let’s try the negative scanning & post-processing first, and see how I progress.

After all, how difficult could it be …

DIY Negative Scanning

Negative Scanning – which approach ?

The first thing I had to decide was which approach: a) buy a dedicated scanner (e.g. Plustek Opticfilm) or b) use my DSLR & macro lens ?

After a lot of research on these two approaches, I decided that the DLSR approach was probably the most expedient & cost effective option for me. I already had both cropped & full-frame DSLR’s, and reliable macro lenses.

The alternative approach of buying a new or secondhand Plustek scanner, seemed like a large financial gamble, for what was still in effect an experiment.

Basic DSLR scanning equipment

More research quickly revealed three critical components necessary to make this DIY scanning endeavour successful:

  • A piece of equipment to hold my film in place & flat
  • A piece of equipment to hold my camera & macro lens steady
  • Software that could edit the raw negative files, and translate them to faithful positives

This is where the trial & error truly began, a lot of failures, a lot of headaches but finally some 35mm scans that were acceptable …

The first unexpected discovery was this neat little adapter which Nikon had produced called the ES-2, which attached a film strip holder directly to your macro lens … genius !

Nikon ES-2 (image courtesy of Nikonusa.com)

This little gadget immediately solved equipment needs 1 & 2 simultaneously, and remarkably well too ! Not only that, but I also discovered that there are third-party variations of this device that will cater for all camera makes, not just Nikon, as they include an array of adapters for your Canon / Sony / Fujifilm, etc..

So that left item 3, how to edit the negative raw files … reliably & consistently. This is where I lost a lot of hair and aged rapidly over the period of 3 months !! ðŸ˜Ŧ

Experiment #1 – Basic Lightroom post-processing

As I say, the ES-2 gadget allowed me to get fantastic raw files of my 35mm negatives with relative ease. So being a heavy user of Lightroom (LR) the last 10+ years, that seemed the obvious starting place for the post-processing.

Some basic internet searching revealed that in order to edit a 35mm negative scan, it was simply a matter of inverting the curve – grab the bottom left handle, and drag it to the top. Then grab to top-right handle and drag it to the bottom:

Inverting the curve …

However what I noticed was a persistent cyan colour cast, that proved to be very challenging to eliminate, as it varied from film to film, scan to scan, at different intensities:

‘Invert curve’ cyan cast

Apparently the only way of removing this, is to perform selective min & max curve flattening across the red, green & blue channels individually:

I spent days embarking on a lot of trial and error, to see if I could accomplish a decent end-product. However, it was proving to be a lot of hard work, absolutely frustrating and just not good enough 🧐😕

What made this all the more challenging is that fact that once you invert the curves, the controls in Lightroom work in the opposite direction 😖

Experiment #2 – Use a LR plug-in

Soon after, and following some more research, it became apparent that the LR plug-in “Negative Lab Pro” was the way to go. It was going to cost a little bit, but the few experiments I did with a trial copy were showing some promising results.

As you can see from my screenshot above, Negative Lab Pro (NLP) is excellent, very powerful, intuitive and offers some great controls.

I was finally starting to get some nice images – yeaahhh ! ðŸ’Ŋ

I soon found myself spending weeks enjoying messing about with NLP scanner profiles (e.g like Frontier, Crystal & Pakon) and % scan coverage. Then more weeks experimenting with getting the tonality, white balance and overall colour balance reasonably reliable …

I’ll be honest and say, that after almost 2 months, I was beginning to get frustrated with deleting exported files, re-processing, and re-exporting again … only to find that I was still getting odd colour shifts that the perfectionist in me couldn’t ignore.

What I noticed more recently is that NLP handles FujiColor C200, Kodak Gold 200 and Ektar with consummate ease – wonderful – however Kodak Portra 160 & Kodak Portra 400 films have very strong blue saturation, which needs to reworked afterwards ðŸ˜Ŧ

So my workflow was soon becoming: 35mm film camera –> negative develop –> DSLR raw file scan –> LR import –> NLP raw file processing –> export –> LR jpeg post processing –> export

Conclusion

So three months later, what can I conclude … personally speaking, the DSLR scanning approach to 35mm colour film is just not for me.

I am certainly able to get acceptable images – the resolution has improved marginally, the image size is larger (now averaging 4200-4400px wide), but the dynamic range is the same.

If anything, the whole experience over the three months has made me really APPRECIATE the craftsmanship & skill of my local film lab !

However, as I say, this is just my perspective … you might decide that it’s worth a shot, or you’re perfectly happy with the results you obtain following your particular process and equipment.

Either way I hope my sharing of this experience helps in some way. In the meantime, keep shooting film !

Instagram :: #irishanalogadventures

Kodak Gold meets Sligo & Leitrim

A month or two ago, myself and my wife, Mairead, decided to hit the road and spend a long weekend visiting the wonderful scenery around her childhood hometown of Sligo. It’s a beautiful part of Ireland, that has a lot to offer by way of photogenic sights, and many things to see & do … and so why not bring a few rolls of 35mm along for the trip too !

So much to see !

The happy problem of staying at lovely Milk Harbour for the long weekend is that there’s so many things in close proximity … almost too much choice ! Fantastic ðŸĪĐ

  • Benbulben & Ben Wiskin – the iconic ‘Table Mountain’ of Ireland, while Ben Wiskin looks like a shark fin !
  • Gleniff Horsehoe – a wall of mountain, with a circular one-way road, which has become an instagram mecca !
  • Eagles’ Rock – another iconic sight: a pinnacle of rock towering above the landscape
  • Mullaghmore Strand – a beautiful beach with massive surfing waves nearby, but also providing great sights north & south of the famous Classiebawn Castle
  • Coney Island – nice views across the bay, with the Slieve League Cliffs of Donegal in the far distance (the highest sea cliffs in Europe)
  • Glencar Waterfall – a great little tourist spot for the view & lunch, but more importantly its road back to Sligo city offers the best views of Ben Bulben (in my opinion !)

The photography equipment choice was really simple: a couple of rolls of Kodak Gold 200, a 70-210mm telephoto lens and my trusty 28-80mm walk-about zoom lens 🎞ðŸ“ļ

Into the heart of the mountains

It’s so strange to acknowledge the fact that even though I’m an Irishman, having travelled all about Ireland hiking – I’ve never actually seen Gleniff Horeshoe nor Eagle’s Rock with my own eyes until this mini road-trip !

Mandatory Selfie …

The weather forecast was predicted to be sunny Friday, wet Saturday and scattered rain on Sunday … welcome to the Atlantic coast ! So it was of no surprise that when we tried to make a quick visit to Gleniff Horsehoe on Saturday, it was a complete wash-out 🌧🌧 In fact it started raining so badly, that we quite literally couldn’t see 10 meters in front of us !!

It was a case of keeping our fingers crossed, and hoping the weather forecast app on my phone was correct … and wow, it was ! The sun came out briefly on Sunday morning and my roll of Kodak film loved it ðŸŒĶ

Benbulben … epic !

The Wild Atlantic Way

Of course being in Sligo & Leitrim puts you directly on the path of ‘The Wild Atlantic Way’ – an amazing 2,500km coastal route along Ireland. It has everything from gentle seascapes, to roaring waves, to nestled waterfalls … of course, with a roll of film I found I had to pay close attention to the light, as it was tricky at times ðŸŽŊ

The above 3 photos proved to be the most challenging of the weekend:

  • The cloudy & hazy causeway to Coney Island was a lot brighter than it looked, and required intentional overexposure
  • The simple low-tide image of the moored boat was really tricky, as it was a lot darker than you’d think – I had to underexpose this by a stop
  • Finally the orange cloudy sunset had so much contradictory shine on the ocean, so I had to underexpose it 1.5 stops

Wrap-up …

I have to say one it was a fantastic weekend, with so much to see, do and photograph ! If you haven’t been to Sligo & Leitrim yet then please put it on your to-do list for 2023 as it’s a gem of a location, and it loves 35mm film 🎞ðŸ’Ŋ

Until next time, keep shooting film ! Paul

Instagram :: #irishanalogadventures

Vero: http://www.vero.co/pleith

Eagle’s Rock as the sun pops through the thick cloud …

Nikon F80 – Serious Autofocus For The Masses

Hello, I’m Back …

It’s been a while since I had a chance to sit down and write blog post, and it’s primarily because of a number of very happy life events: a) I got married 😍💕, b) myself and my wife had a wonderfully romantic mini-moon & honeymoon ðŸĨ°, and c) I changed job roles, and had to skill-up on a new technology stack ðŸ’ŧ, which was both intense & exciting.

So apologies for the quiet spell, but hopefully you can appreciate where I’m coming from 😇

Excited about this blog post !

I’ve been looking forward to writing this particular blog, because having made the decision to stick with the Nikon F mount, I have been able to seamlessly jump back-n-forth between their film & digital cameras, leveraging the same lenses in part.

To that end, the Nikon F80 / N80 has been a big part of my 35mm film photography the last 1.5 years straight, with it being the power-house behind so many of my favourite images, after I hung-up my trusted Nikon FE2 due to it’s two-handed exposure compensation quirks & right-eye dominance becoming a nuisance 😕

The Nikon F80 / N80 with a 50mm f1.8 AF-S G lens …

Nikon F80 /N80 context

This film camera from Nikon was released in early 2000, and represents the very last high-end film SLR released by Nikon (the mid-range F75 followed in 2003 with less F80 features, but improved 25 segment metering vs 10 segment), before the company stopped making high-end film cameras and focused singularly on digital cameras, and its final two professional film cameras (Nikon F5 & F6).

It’s known as the F80 in the USA & Asia, and the N80 in Europe. It has often been referred to as “the poor mans Nikon F100” … having a lot of the same features & specs, without the F100’s weight (515g vs 878g), slower max shutter speed (1/4000 vs 1/8000) and slower flash sync speed (1/125 vs 1/250).

Best of all, in 2022 you can pick up these advanced film cameras, secondhand, for the ridiculously cheap price of ₮45-₮65 ! I often scratch my my head in wonder, and can only assume that it’s because the F80 isn’t trendy ðŸĪŠðŸ§

As you can see below, this 35mm film camera, as plenty of great ‘modern’ features and specifications:

Focus ModesSingle, Continuous and Manual (with helpful range-finder focus indication)
Auto-focus points5
MeteringMatrix (10 segment)
Spot Metering (linked to autofocus points)
Centered Weighted
Max shutter speed1/4000
Lowest shutter speed30 sec (and then bulb)
Flash sync speed1/125 (pop-up flash available)
Flash Exposure compensationYes, dedicated control
Exposure CompensationYes, dedicated control of -3 to +3 (in half steps)
Multi-exposure & BracketingYes, with varied options of exposure levels
Lens CompatibilityAF-D, AF-S, G and VR lenses all work perfectly on this film camera
:: Important Note :: manual focus AI & AI-S lens will NOT work on the F80
DX / Manual film speed encodingYes, and the film speed can also be set manually
Custom SettingsYes, 10+ settings ranging from back-button focus, to bracketing order, to self-timer duration, etc.
DiopterYes, great for those that wear glasses
Batteries2 x CR123 (do NOT use rechargeable CR123’s, as they’re not the same voltage !)
Weight515g
Great ‘modern’ features on this film camera …

A joy to use …

The F80 proved to be an absolute pleasure to use from day #1 … it allowed me to spend more time being creative and concentrate on composing my film photographs, instead of struggling with the quirky exposure compensation mechanism and tough non-diopter focus screen of my older Nikon FE2.

Being able to single-handedly adjust the exposure by -0.5 on fast changing light, while keeping the focus on a swaying tree branch is something that would have been impossible on my FE2 ðŸĪĐ

The bigger picture here is that the F80 can use all the modern glass that my Nikon digital D750 & D610 bodies use, in particular leveraging the advantages of VR (vibration reduction) and in a lot of cases far superior chromatic aberration control & close-focus advantages.

Needless to say, the Nikon F80 was so successful, I immediately bought another one, having two of them ! I would run them in tandem when on road-trips, in the following variations:

  • Variation 1: F80 #1 – Black & White film, F80 #2 – Colour film
  • Variation 2: F80 #1 – ISO 200 Colour, F80 #2 – ISO 400 Colour
  • Variation 3: F80 #1 – ISO 50 Colour, F80 #2 – ISO 200 Colour

1.5 years later …

The F80 film camera as been so good, that it’s been my go-to 35mm film camera for almost 1.5 years, having travelled all around Ireland, getting views of Paris and the Canadian Rockies.

I’ve genuinely had no complaints with this camera whatsoever, except that the 00’s 10-segment matrix metering can get a little confused in challenging light:

  • shooting directly into the setting sun
  • very dark objects / very high-contrast light

In these situations, you MUST use the exposure compensation, even while using it’s advanced matrix metering offering 🧐

In fact, as I write this blog, one thing I can say is that the F80 uses “slide film friendly” exposure calculations, with it erring on the side of under- rather than over-exposure.

The F80 viewfinder, with gridlines activated …

So when you’re facing something bright (think bright skies, bright-pale colours, or bright light amongst strong dark shadows, etc.) always add +0.5 exposure compensation, and you’ll be a happy-camper.

Being very honest, I will say that over the last 6 months, I looked at my collection of manual focus AI-S lens and wished my F80 was able to use them …

So, after a little research, I discovered the prior, single auto-focus point Nikon F70 was a film camera that offered compatibility with both manual focus AI-S lenses and auto-focus AF-D, AF-S & G lenses.

So I snagged a F70 on eBay for ₮15 … hmmm … all the online reviews were true … the F70 is without a doubt the worst camera Nikon ever made ! OMG, the N70 hair-trigger shutter button and the quirky interface are genuinely unbearable ðŸ˜Ŧ So, I put it behind me, moved forward, stuck with my trusted F80, and the modern lens advantages it offered.

Conclusion

As you’ve probably guessed – I’ve nothing but glowing things to say about the Nikon F80. I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a do-it-all 35mm film camera and you’ve got some modern F mount Nikon lenses !

Until my next blog post, keep shooting film ! 🎞

Paul

Instagram :: #irishanalogadventures

Vive la Paris

After all these years, I finally got to visit Paris … for the first time in my life … and it was amazing ! Taking photos only with my 35mm film cameras helped make it even more memorable ðŸĪĐðŸ‡Ŧ🇷ðŸ“ļ

Only 2.5 Days – What To See ?

There’s so much to see & do in Paris – and while it’s important to grab as many sights as you can, it’s also equally important to simply enjoy the ‘experience’ of this beautiful city … coffee along the river Seine, crepes in the Latin Quarter, and a visit to an art gallery or two 🖞

What to see in 2.5 days !

I found the book ‘Top 10 Paris‘ by EyeWitness publications super helpful. I was able to quickly understand what was possible, what wasn’t, what could wait until the next time, and how much walking was required vs. time on the metro.

What to pack ?

I learnt from my road-trip around Connemara and Sligo last year, that having a few rolls of both colour and black & white film is absolutely necessary. That said, when flying and travelling light, you’ve really got to make tough decisions about film ISO, camera and lens combinations !

I ended up settling on the following … after a lot of internal debate ðŸĪŠ

  • Film – Colour: 2 x FujiColor C200 and 1 x FujiFilm Superia 400
  • Film – Black & White: 2 x Ilford Delta 400
  • Camera: 2 x Nikon F80 / N80 (one for colour, and the other for black & white)
  • Lenses: 18-35mm f3.5-4.5, 24mm f2.8, 35mm f2, 28-80mm f3.3-5.6, and 80-200mm f4.5-5.6

Make no mistake, I wasn’t carrying all these items simultaneously as I rambled about Paris … instead I would cherry-pick which lens I needed before heading out, depending on the lighting conditions.

Being Street Smart

When going to a new city / new country / new environment, etc. with treasured camera equipment you really need to use common sense, and intentionally avoid situations & places that could put you at unnecessary risk.

So it was reasonable to assume that I would be walking around Paris with two 35mm film cameras, a couple of lenses, my phone and wallet … and juggling between each of these, sometimes simultaneously …

Consequently I deliberately didn’t draw attention to myself … a tripod was simply not an option, meanwhile I used a small, secure shoulder camera bag, and I kept my phone, wallet & keys deep in the front pockets of my jeans. As I say, simply using common sense when rambling around a bustling city taking photographs.

Make The Effort

Before I dig into the photography, I do want to mention that I found the Parisians to be charming, laugh-out-loud witty, very helpful and accommodating ðŸĪĐðŸ‡Ŧ🇷

A big reason for this wonderful positive experience was that I did some helpful homework in advance …

  • I learnt some basic French phrases – super important !!
  • Researched about ‘a day in the life’ for Parisians – when & where it was chaotic vs relaxed
  • Determined where not to go walking
  • Figured out where I was going to be (approximately) and how I was going to get there

Let me expand upon that 1st bullet point … learning to say a few simple French words like ‘merci’, ‘bonjour’, ‘excusez-moi’, etc. improved the customer experience substantially 😇

Ok, that’s enough tour-guide information, let’s get back to the photography !

Light & Shadows

From the research I conducted online, it became clear that Paris is decidedly monochrome, with an abundance of geometry and leading lines. best suited to black & white.

I can confirm this is mostly true – with the obvious exceptions being the pop of colour from flowers, signage, food, etc., sunset/sunrise along the Seine, and of course the night lights.

For black and white film, it’s a joy … especially if you like architecture, leading lines, shapes & texture, and street-photography !

The long, wide streets and uniformity of the building architecture made for wonderful images on my Ilford Delta 400. Don’t forget to visit the roof-top terraced buildings too, for those amazing panoramic skylines.

I noticed that the metering on my Nikon while pretty reliable 80% of the time, still gets fooled with very bright or dark scenes. So I found myself regularly switching between metering modes, and adding / subtracting exposure as required.

Splashes of colour

When it came to colour, there were surprising elements to be had – I found the architecture, flora & art to be absolutely stunning !🏆

I was extremely lucky in that the weather was glorious blue skies ðŸŒĪ It meant that I was 100% good-to-go with my FujiColor C200 for the day, and FujiFilm Superia (400) for the evening.

The simple ‘tourist’ shots were a breeze, requiring very little effort, at most just a matter of being patient, and waiting for the light to be in the right place.

However there were a number of tricky locations, with deep-shadows or high vaulted, decorative roof spaces, which required some mental gymnastics to work out the optimal exposure settings … and prior experience of how far I could push the film stock.

That ‘famous’ framed entrance to the Louvre was so difficult to capture !! Do I expose for the highly reflective glass, or do I expose for the ridiculously dark shadows, there’s no ‘easy’ mid-tones, etc.

As it turned out, FujiColor C200 has a surprisingly good dynamic range and I shouldn’t have worried – it handled extremes of shadows and bright reflections reasonably well, with only the extremes of whites being lost.

I had a number of situations where I had to improvise, using a street lamp or railing as an impromptu tripod … slow my breathing, and wait just between exhaling & inhaling to click the shutter release, for a steady shot.

Final Thoughts

In summary, the weekend trip to Paris was amazing and unforgettable !

As I say, if you want a weekend city-break to be a ’35mm film success’, you really do need to do some planning:

  • Learn as much as you can about the city before-hand. Think through what can be visited – realistically, determine what places to avoid, and learn some useful language phrases 🏛
  • Make your best choice of camera(s), film & lenses that will help you get those shots with the minimum of fuss ⚖ïļ
  • Finally, make sure you get time to ENJOY the experience of BEING in the city ðŸĪĐ😇

I hope this blog post of my experiences, approach and lessons learnt help in some way. Until next time, keep shooting film !

Paul

Instagram :: #irishanalogadventures

Don’t Make These Mistakes

I like to think that over the last 4-6 months I’ve got a pretty good handle on my film photography technique, but that’s only because I must have made EVERY MISTAKE in the book over the last 3-4 years !! ðŸĪŠ

So allow me to share some of these mistakes with you, so you don’t have to experience the same amount of wasted money & occasional anguish !

This is a LONG read with plenty of my film camera disasters for you to gasp at, however I’ve tried my best to make it speed-readable … so please bookmark this page, dip in & out of it, and come back to it at later stages in your film journey.

New Equipment = New Tests

One thing I’ve slowly discovered with film photography, is that buying more expensive gear doesn’t necessarily produce images any better than cheaper ‘plastic’ versions, in fact, some of my more expensive ‘collector’ items have failed more when least expected and require more maintenance !

So I’ve learnt the hard way, that whenever I get a ‘new’ camera (or lens) the 1st film roll MUST be used for sanity checks … the ‘wasted’ money in doing this exercise, is better than the emotional hurt & pain of defective / blank photos of a beautiful landscape !

Camera Test Frames …
  1. Leave the lens cap on, go outside where it’s bright, and take 2 photographs with the shutter set to 1 sec and the aperture to f5.6 – one held horizontal the other held vertical. This will test for light leaks the foam seals around the shutter box being defective, causing aurora style red/yellow swooshes to appear on your developed film)
  2. Focus on a object in your kitchen, leave the aperture at f5.6 and take photos at 1/30, 1/15, 1/8, 1/4, and 1/2 – your developed film should show 5 photographs getting progressively brighter by the same amount, i.e. the shutter timing is reliable
  3. To test your exposure meter, take 2 test shots of : a) something bright white, ensuring you get your exposure needle/meter in the middle, and b) something dark black, again with your exposure needle/meter in the middle. If you get back two developed photos with the brightness quite dull & boring, it means your exposure meter is working, as it’s pushing you to middle-grey.
  4. The above 9 photographs will inadvertently prove that the film advance mechanism is actually working too … and that you’re not shooting photographs on the same single frame over & over
  5. If you’ve got a ‘new’ lens, then test your lens – take test photos of a close-up object with the aperture wide open (e.g. f1.8) to closed down (e.g f22) through all it’s full f-stops (f2.8, f4, f5.6, f8, f11, f16 and f22). This is to help you see where the lens is soft in the corners vs. when it’s finally sharp edge-to-edge. It will also highlight whether you’ve got a wonderful film camera with a badly defective lens, which is very soft all along one side of the frame … been there. done that, not a very nice experience !! ðŸĨš
  6. Finally, if you’re using a flash-gun, take 4 test shots indoors at f5.6 with: a) the flash on manual 1/2 power, b) the flash on TTL mode, c) flash with the shutter speed at 1/60, and d) flash with the shutter speed at 1/250. This will test that the hot-shoe is actually working, the shutter plane movement, and whether your camera needs more manual assistance with TTL vs it being fully automated.

Camera Calamities

Even when you have a fully-functioning film camera, there’s plenty of things that can catch you out, and leaving you cursing at your newly developed film frames !

Opening the back accidentally (left), rewinding the film too forcefully (right)

Here’s some of the horrible mistakes things I’ve experienced:

Winding on FilmOlder non-motorised film advancing cameras, require you to physically wind the film forward after releasing the shutter. This is where things can go horribly wrong … the dreaded blank film frames !
I once missed an entire sequence of wonderful shots at sun-set because my film wasn’t actually advancing at all … the film had slipped off the spool … entirely my fault ! ðŸ˜Đ

TIP #1 : Do yourself a big favour and watch a YouTube video of how to insert the leader of the film roll correctly onto the spool of your camera. Some cameras require ninja-style loop-backs through narrow slots. You’ll be surprised how a quick 10 sec instructional video clears things up.

TIP #2 : Don’t be fooled by the shutter counter increasing as you wind the film … pay close attention to the take-up dial on the other side of your camera, and ensure it’s rotating too. You should always feel tension in the film advance lever too.

TIP #3 : Make sure that you haven’t left the multi-exposure mode on … sometimes I’ve forgotten I had this mode on, or sometimes forgotten how to actually switch it off ! Urrrgh
Set the ISO correctlySome old cameras don’t automatically read the film speed (the DX code) … I’ve been caught out, to my horror, taking out a roll of ISO 800 film, hastily switching in a roll of ISO 200 film, and not changing the ISO speed ! Urrrrggggh = frames which are a dark, muddy mess ! 😖

TIP #4 : Remember the phrase “before changing lanes, check your speed” … 😉 Get into the habit of checking your film speed setting no matter when you insert a new roll of film.
Make sure your shutter box is clean I once had an entire roll of film get developed and scanned, only to show a thin horizontal streak/scratch across every single frame in the roll !

TIP #5 : Get yourself a small rubber air blower, and regularly turn your camera upside down, and gently blow upwards into the shutter box (do NOT touch the delicate shutter blades). This will help ensure no debris trapped inside, which can scratch your film.
BatteriesOlder 60-70’s film cameras may use LR44 watch cell batteries, while cameras from the 80-90’s may use CR123 & CR2 batteries. However, I’ve been sabotaged by an old battery suddenly dropping voltage in cold weather, causing my cameras’ exposure meter to behave erratically, and not only that but on a separate occasion, cause the lens aperture to become inoperable.

TIP #6 : Always, always bring 2 sets of spare batteries in your camera bag / pouch (keep one set warm in your pocket if you’re out in the cold).

TIP #7 : Always take the batteries out of the camera if you’re not going to use it for a few days, as sometimes they drain away slowly.
Removing FilmSometimes your camera, if it’s automatic film advance, may have speed options for film rewind … sometimes the ‘fast’ mode can damage the film !
I once had a roll of film show strange vertical lines on the last 3 frames, these are film ‘stretch marks’ which appear when too much tension is being applied to film when rewinding ðŸ˜ģ

TIP #8 : Rewind your film back slowly where possible, especially with certain higher ISO films

TIP #9 : I once received a roll that was 90% blank frames from the film lab …. why ? Because I accidentally opened the back of the film camera, without checking if there was film already in the camera first ! Remember the phrase: “Before opening the oven, check if there’s already a cake in there”
Camera Calamities

Technique Tackles

The amount of time I’ve made stupid mistakes, wasting film frames, because I wasn’t taking photographs properly … you’ll see what I mean below:

Exposure meteringWhen I got my very first film camera, it was 95% mechanical – only the little light meter required power from a little A76 watch-battery.
However, I must have had half of my first 4 rolls wasted because I didn’t fully grasp how to meter light correctly. Old film cameras don’t auto-magically nail exposure like digital cameras ! ðŸ’ŧ

TIP #10 : If you’ve got an old-school camera, learn the Sunny 16 rule … it’s a great yardstick for understanding whether you’re in the right ball-park with your aperture choice when shooting outdoors

TIP #11 : Please read my blog post “Getting Centered” it will give you lots of helpful advice, tips and examples on how use 60-80’s center-weighted metering with confidence.
Film loves lightSurprise surprise, film is the opposite of digital – film loves lots of light, easily handles over-exposure and hates being under-exposed (caveat: expect for slide film) !
The minute you start seeing developed frames that are murky, muddy, indistinct … that’s usually a sign of your shutter speed being too fast / your aperture not open wide enough

TIP #12 : if in doubt, point the center of your camera to the area in your photo which has shadows, and lock your exposure on that !
Getting focusA lot of the older cameras will either have no auto-focus, or maybe 1-3 auto-focus points if you’re lucky. The amount of photographs I took which were blurry at the wrong place, drove me nuts, especially at longer focal lengths !

TIP #13 : Practice manual focus technique, rocking the focus forwards, back and then splitting the difference to land somewhere in between. Don’t forget f4 – f8 is your friend !
Technique Tackles

Film Foibles

The final area where I made silly mistakes was not fully appreciating that not every film stock is made equal, that they behave differently.

Know your film stockThere’s essentially 3 film types: slide, c41 colour and black & white. For anybody getting into film photography, just stick to c41 colour and black & white, as they’re more forgiving of technique errors.

Secondly film comes in different sizes … be careful !! If you’ve got a 35mm film camera you need to order film that is ‘135’ / ’35mm’. I’ve had birthday presents that had to be send back to the shop as I received 2 rolls of medium-format 120 film instead of smaller 135 film 🎁
Get to know your filmThe next surprise with film photography is that different film stock can make dramatic differences to the end result … smooth, low contrast vs highly detailed and punchy.

TIP #14 : When you’re first starting out, just try two rolls of Kodak Gold initially – get to know how it behaves, on cold overcast days, warm sunny days, inside your kitchen using flash, and at night. That will help you build up experience, before you try more expensive specialised stock.
Get your negatives backAs I mentioned in my blog post “Negative Experience” the rolls of film are your RAW files, if you ever want to get the highest quality print or scan, you must have the negative frame to work with …

TIP #15 : Always pay the extra little bit of money, to get your negatives sent back to you. You’ll be thankful in the future.
Use a trusted film labPlease, please, please send your film to be developed & scanned at a reliable & trustworthy film lab. How do you know you can trust them ?

Here’s a few quick check-list items to help you decide:

1. Can you get your film negatives back via registered post / courier ?
2. Can they can push / pull film ?
3. Are different scanning sizes on offer, and do they have samples for you to download and inspect ?
4. Will the scans they provide get stored on a proper cloud service, so you can still get access to scans from last year or the year prior if your laptop decides to quit !
5. Finally, do they provide some form of online customer chat channel, where you can contact them, ask questions, and they can offer answers & advice ?

I’m not getting paid for saying this, so I’ll just say it, I’ve been hitting printpoint.ie with rolls of film almost every two months for the last 2-3 years, and they tick ‘yes’ to everything I listed above. The quality of their film dev & scan work is simply jaw-dropping at times ! 🏆
Yes, I know there are other film labs out there too, but I’m just saying – get a lab you can trust 👍
Film Foibles

Conclusion

The journey into film can be both joyous and frustrating at times, however ultimately it’s enriching & rewarding, gaining you hard-won fundamental skills that digital photography can’t offer to the same extent.

As I say, I know this was a long post, crammed with a lot of content, but I do hope it helps you on your film journey 😀 Bookmark it, and revisit it time and again, when you’re getting strange issues, or if you’re about to put new film into a new camera ! 😉

Until next time, keep shooting film !

Paul

Instagram :: #irishanalogadventures

Battle of the High ISO Colour Films

I’ve been very keen to write about this topic, because whether I like it not, high ISO film is often an inescapable fact-of-film-life here in Ireland & UK, as it’s habitually cloudy and overcast.

So over the last 2 years, I’ve amassed enough real-world photos & experience to offer some help & guidance on high ISO 35mm negatives. I hope this blog post helps !

The Contestants

Now, when I say high ISO, I mean anything above ISO 200 … so that rules out all the usual bunch of Gold’s, Ektars, colourful Lomo’s, etc. I’ll be honest and say that being an amateur photographer, budget is an important part of the film negative decision process too.

To that end here’s the five contestants I have to hand:

35mm Film Name & BrandFilm ISO / SpeedApprox. Retail Price 2022
Fuji Superia400₮9-₮11
Kodak Ultramax400₮10-₮12
Kodak Portra 400400₮14-₮16
Lomography Color Negative 800800₮14-₮20
Fuji Pro 400H400₮15-₮25
High ISO Colour Film Negatives

The first disclaimer is that I never got an opportunity to photograph the same subject in the same lighting, and make precise pixel-to-pixel comparisons. That said, I’m not shy about shooting in low-light, night and tough high-contrast situations, so I’ve got a solid understanding of how the films behave.

Fuji Superia

So this is cheapest of the bunch, but wow does it packs a punch, I’m very impressed with how this 35mm film handles itself. On a trip to Paris, it handled dark interiors with ease, catching surprising amounts of details, and very acceptable dynamic range ðŸ’Ŋ.

ISO Rating400
Colour ToneTends to be be a little be a colder blue in tones, with accents of yellows
GrainVery smooth and very fine, looks like an ISO 200 film not 400
Details & EdgesFantastic details and great edge sharpness
Fuji Superia Summary

Kodak Ultramax

This is the high ISO film stock practically all of us start with, as it’s familiar and ubiquitous. It’s genuinely great for those walk-about photos on overcast days, and interestingly enough pretty good for flash photography, with pleasing skin-tones 📷.

ISO Rating400
Colour ToneTends to be a somewhat yellow, with blues taking on a cyan accent
GrainVery noticeable especially in skies & clouds, while not entirely off-putting, it’s definitely something you will not be able to ignore
Details & SharpnessNice details and very good sharpness
Kodak Ultramax Summary

Kodak Portra 400

The image quality, as you’d expect from Kodak Portra 400, genuinely lives up to the hype – it’s quite phenomenal. I’ve put this film in punishing light situations and it’s never let me down – the dynamic range is great.

That said, it’s not the best choice for daylight landscape photography, as the colours are very warm, and need tweaking in post process – unless you’re photographing sunsets 😉

ISO Rating400
Colour ToneTends to be a very yellow with accents of orange
GrainSuperior fine grain, almost like ISO 100 film – quite amazing really
Details & SharpnessSimply superb details and excellent edge sharpness
Kodak Portra 400 Summary

Lomography 800

Now this recent addition to my 35mm film journey has surprised me the most – the versatility of box-speed, 800, colour, film is something never to be ignored. For me, this film has made the impossible possible – capturing images handheld, that I wouldnt have dreamt of !

Now make no mistake, the grain is noticeable, however, it’s very similar to Kodak Ultramax and manageable.

ISO Rating800
Colour ToneTends to have accents of blue and yellow. I would also add that it has punchy colours at night, but less so during the day.
GrainVery noticeable in featureless areas, similar to Kodak UltraMax, and something you will not be able to ignore
Details & SharpnessGood details and pleasant edge sharpness
Lomography 800

Fuji Pro 400h

I found this now-discontinued film, to be in the same league as Kodak Portra 400 – the image quality is simply stunning, considering it’s ISO 400. In addition, as I’m more of a landscape photographer, the dynamic range is fantastic, and colour tones of 400h are definitely more suited to forests & mountains, than Portra 400.

ISO Rating400
Colour ToneTends to be have green accents and hints of yellow.
GrainSimilar to Kodak Portra 400, superior fine grain, almost like ISO 100 film
Details & SharpnessSimply superb details and excellent edge sharpness
Fuji Pro 400H Summary

Conclusion

Considering it’s 2022 there’s still a useful array of high ISO colour film available for everybody, suitable for all styles of photography and budget. It’s simply all about figuring out how much you want to spend, and whether your choice will give you the best flexibility & image style.

I hope these insights, from my own personal experience, helps somewhat. Until my next post, keep shooting film !

Paul

Walking with Ireland Analog

On Sat 29th Jan I got a chance to attend the @IrelandAnalog photo-walk, organised by @marcargentique. It was a fantastic opportunity to participate in a fun day-out, wandering through the streets & parks of Dublin City, shooting rolls of film, along with many other film camera enthusiasts.

Mandatory Phone Selfie !

A Growing Trend

I must say, it was great to finally get a chance to meet Marc in person, have a chat, get his reactions to the day, the film community as a whole, how social media has catapulted the community, and of course the activities underway – as we navigated the streets of Dublin city, dodging traffic and pedestrians 😉

To Marc’s credit the IrelandAnalog community on Instagram has grown rapidly, with there being a steady uptick & interest in film photography – not just capturing photos on film, but developing them too.

What was most inspiring was the diversity of attendees at the photo walk: representing many different walks of life, varied experience levels, and vastly different cameras & film choices … it was simply wonderful !

Decisions Decisions ?

Getting down to the nuts-and-bolts of photography on the day for me: I’ll admit that it was difficult trying to decide what I needed to bring for the day. Hmmm … a day in January around Dublin city when it’s mixed weather, significant differences in lighting, and not exactly sure what I might actually be photographing ðŸĪ”

In the end I decided to be sensible, and just bring the following:

  1. Black & White: Nikon F80, 18-35mm f3.5-4.5, Fomapan 200 film
  2. Colour: Nikon N80, 28-80mm f3.3-5.6 & 35mm f2, Kodak Portra 400 film

I know from wandering around urban-scapes, you definitely need a wide-angle to capture the expanse of streets & architecture. Meanwhile, when you’re finding yourself in deteriorating lighting conditions, you’ll need a fast prime, for myself a 35mm f2 seems to work best, as I find 50mm in the cities just too restrictive.

Light fading over the river Liffey

Variety & Lighting

Being an engineer, I’m always drawn to architecture, leading lines & anything that’s impactful. So I was hoping to capitalise on the uniform rows of Georgian buildings, the intriguing arched alleyways in-between, and of course bricks & cobblestones.

I was rapidly noticing that the biggest decisions I had to make were not about composition and subject choice, but rather light metering & exposure levels !

Glass and Concrete

The variations subject-to-subject were significant: dark alleyways vs bright reflections vs bare vegetation vs strong contrasts. With both cameras on centre-weighted metering, it was all about paying attention to what needed to be truly ‘dark’ vs ‘light’, and by that I mean -1 vs -0.5 vs +1 vs +1.5 over what the meter was telling me. It was a lot of work !

In a lot of situations I was sincerely hoping hand-held 1/15 and 1/30 seconds was going to work … and the good news is that old-school sniper technique of slowing down your breathing, and gently squeezing the shutter release at the end of your exhale really works ! ðŸ’Ŋ

Breaking It Up

Of course, you can’t ignore the art and vegetation – after all, that’s what can break up the seemingly monotonous nature of the city buildings, and what makes Dublin beautiful. Admittedly January isn’t the best time to catch Dublin City in bloom, but if you look hard enough you’ll spot little nuggets of interesting compositions that pop out (even if that happens to be a Badminton shuttle-cock wedged into the gate of the National Concert Hall !)

Closing Time

By 3:30pm at Iveagh Gardens I could see that the low winter light was already starting to fade, getting swallowed up by the buildings. I knew from my phone app that sunset was at 5pm … hmmm, might there actually be a pop of orange or red in the sky over the river Liffey ??

I’m glad I decided to keep rambling further afield, swinging past Trinity College and on down to Custom House quay, as the sky was starting to light-up, and along the banks of the Ha’Penny Bridge there was some glorious colour, which my roll of Kodak Portra happily lapped up !

Conclusion

What an enjoyable day ! It was fantastic to meet new people, with a shared passion in photography, and in particular film photography. It didn’t matter what camera you were using, nor how you used it, just as long as you were there, contributing to something bigger than yourself.

I’m already looking forward to the next one ! ðŸĪĐ

Before I wrap-up, I have to give a few shout-outs:

  • Of course, major thanks to @IrelandAnalog / @marcargentique for organising the film photo-walk event !
  • Big thanks to Alex, Juri & Caleb at http://www.printpoint.ie / @printpoint.ie for the negative dev & scans in record time !
  • A shout-out to @analogue_keith and @thedarkroomlife for sharing their photos of me ! 😜ðŸĪĐ
  • A shout-out to @#analogshootersireland and @addictedtoireland for their support

Until my next post, keep shooting film !

Paul

35mm Film & Flashguns

So Many Lessons !

So I’ve been taking photos for the last 15+ years, with wedding & corporate shoots under the belt, along with assorted photography trips … but yikes, getting to grips with my Nikon FE2 & Nikormat FT2 film cameras and flash was soooo challenging initially ! ðŸ˜ē

So let me share the important things I learnt in the process, so you don’t have to experience these headaches when attempting flash on 35mm film (regardless of which make of camera you have)! 😇🧰ðŸ“ļ

Manual vs ‘Auto’ vs TTL

When it comes to using ‘proper’ flash gun systems, I’ve had experience with Canon, Nikon and Sony. However, it’s been all digital iTTL/eTTL … 100% automated, you can immediately see what’s happening in the image review and tweak on-the-fly (a major plus for digital ✅). However, with 35mm film I had to do a lot of research first, conduct set experiments, wait on the results in the post-development … and only then proceed with confidence.

First & foremost, you need to know which flashgun technology you’re dealing with:

ManualThe most fundamental level of flashgun ‘technology’ … the unit may have a basic power level control (or indeed may have none whatsoever) and you control how much flash is hitting the scene by using your lens aperture, subject distance and the power setting.
This flash technology comprised of a hotshoe with a single contact pin, often accompanied by a ‘PC sync’ port on the camera body, to attach a cable to an external studio strobe light.
AutoThe flashgun itself has the ability to input both the a) film ISO and b) aperture, and the small sensor at the front of the flashgun throttles the flash output automatically 👍
At the time this was a wonderful advancement in flash technology – you no longer had to worry about the distance from your subject (within reason).
However, it’s shortcomings were that it didn’t take into account things you may place in front of your lens .. filters, bellows, adapters, etc.
TTLThrough-The-Lens (TTL) was the great leap-forward in flash technology, both the flashgun and camera worked together sharing ‘real-time’ information about the entire lens & film settings plus light received (by the camera AND the flashgun) = awesome ðŸ’Ŋ
You can easily spot this, as your camera hotshoe will have its central contact point surrounded by one/two other smaller contacts.
Now you could walk around your subject, move about, and add any array of attachments to your lens and not worry !
This was done by the film camera having one/multiple little sensors placed behind the camera’s film plane, which measure the actual flash light received on the film negative itself. This supplemental information was then passed to the flashgun to throttle the output.
iTTL / eTTLWith the advance of the digital camera era, a major issue ensued … the semi-transparent 35mm film negative was replaced by a solid digital sensor, so measuring the light received on the ‘film’ was no longer a possibility !
Enter iTTL/eTTL … a series of rapid, and imperceptible pre-flashes are emitted by the flashgun BEFORE the actual proper image is taken, during which the camera’s processor analyses the information and then works in conjunction with the flashgun to throttle the light output.
This new flashgun technology opened the door to enabling wireless control of multiple flashguns simultaneously with controlled ratio settings = phenomenal ðŸĪĐ🏆
Flashgun Technology In A Nutshell
Note the ‘A’ for Auto, ‘M’ for Manual and TTL (top right slider switch)

Your 35mm Camera and Flash

So now that you got the run-down of the different flash technologies, you need to determine which one your 35mm camera is compatible with (a quick search in the user-manual or a Google search) and proceed to the next step.

Example: a great case in point, is that not all cameras implement TTL the same way within the Nikon family, as I learned via a lot of trial-and-error:

  • Nikon FE / Nikkormat FT2 – no TTL at all, just a single hotshot contact point. So you’ve got to use a flashgun that provides manual control of its power output, or at least offers an ‘auto’ mode. You can assume manual & auto are the lowest common denominator for all cameras …
  • Nikon FE2 – it has TTL, however, it does not have the ability to send the camera’s aperture & ISO settings to the flashgun, they must be entered manually into the flashgun. As you can imagine, this was a MAJOR lesson-learnt … I wasted a lot of frames until I unearthed this crucial piece of information ! It also means, you can only select a number of old compatible flashguns that offer this manual input capability if you wish to avail of TTL …
  • Nikon N80/F80 – it has TTL, and not only that, it sends all the camera settings automatically to the flashgun = completely hassle free ! This invariably means you can also use more modern flashguns too (e.g. cheap third party Godox strobes, which have wireless functionality, etc.) ðŸ’Ŋ

So now let me share some helpful lessons-learnt across all the above flashgun technologies, when using using flashguns for real (on your unsuspecting family, friends & pets) !

Manual Flash

When I started using my Nikkormat FT2, I realised I was entering a manual-only world of flash (I never knew ‘auto’ existed), which was alien and laden with many mistakes. However here’s a few helpful tips:

  • As you’ll be mostly using flash to photograph indoors, determine what your most common aperture usage is … for me it was f2.8. Take note of your film ISO, and then take 4 test photos of something that’s not overly bright nor dark :
    • F2.8 (or your favourite aperture) with your subject 2m away, at half flash power
    • F2.8 (or your favourite aperture) with your subject 1.5m away, at half flash power
    • F2.8 (or your favourite aperture) with your subject 1.5m away, at quarter flash power
    • F2.8 (or your favourite aperture) with your subject 1.5m away, at an eight flash power
  • When you get your negatives developed you will quickly see the affect of the flashgun power levels … at the same subject distance and the same aperture. This will be invaluable information !
  • You can now make a quick ready-reckoner of what flash power settings you need for that ISO @f2.8 (or your favourite aperture) at 1.5m, and most likely a good approximation for 1m (slightly less) and 2m away (slightly more).
  • I wrote these on a post-it and taped it to the back of my flashguns !
  • Spend time practicing your ability to recognise when something is 1, 1.5 and 2+ meters away … (even a piece of string with knots tied at these distances is a great hack) 🧐
My Manual Flashgun ‘Cheat Sheets’

Auto Flash

The biggest learning here was that most modern flash-guns don’t have this legacy capability at all … they’ve ditched it 😕 For my FT2 & FE2 I had to do a lot of research and found that the Nikon SB-25 (and similarly related flashguns) offered manual, auto & TTL (manual input & direct send from camera) mode capabilities … and I could get them on eBay for ₮25-₮45 perfect !

I found using the ‘auto’ mode to be very straightforward and reliable – simply punch some dedicated buttons on the flashgun to enter the film ISO and the aperture, and off you go.

However, you need to be careful – it can be easily fooled:

  • Reflective surfaces (water, kitchen units, mirrors, etc.) can quickly fool the sensor on the flashgun into thinking it received enough light.
  • Dark surfaces (subject in a dark t-shirt, the shadows, etc.) fool the sensor into drastically over exposing the scene
  • Finally it can be difficult to balance ambient light with flash light

So you cheat, and intentionally set the aperture or ISO settings on the flashgun to be lower/higher to compensate for this.

However, the ‘auto’ mode does become cumbersome when you start changing your aperture a lot … you’re having to remind yourself to also change the flashgun setting too : you’ve been warned ! 😏

TTL Flash

As mentioned above, please please double check whether your particular 35mm camera is capable of automatically sending all its film ISO & aperture settings to the flashgun, or whether you have to enter the info manually (like ‘auto’ mode described above). Just because a camera has TTL flash doesn’t necessarily mean it can communicate all of the required information to the flashgun …

That all said, if your camera has the ability to send its film ISO & aperture settings to the flashgun, then the sky is the limit ! ðŸĪĐ You have the ultimate flexibility in terms of using your flashgun and potentially embracing more modern flashgun features (high-speed sync, strobe, front vs. rear curtain sync, red-eye reduction, etc.)

I love fully-functional TTL flash … which is why I get a lot of mileage from my ₮70 Nikon N80. I’m able to attach a small TTL flashgun and enjoy the advanced abilities of bounced flash on 35mm film.

Flashgun Technique

Let me wrap-up this blog by sharing a few hard-won nuggets of practical info you ought to be be aware of, which will help give your 35mm film photos that extra polished look when using flash.

Flash Sync Speed : this is the fastest shutter speed your camera can go when using a flashgun, if you exceed this speed you will see strange dark horizontal bands appearing in you negatives … ! The sync speed is important, as it effectively states the maximum extent to which your camera can block out ambient light when using a flash : especially important in a studio scenario.

Dragging The Shutter : if you blindly set the camera to it’s sync speed (e.g 1/200, etc.) you might be in danger of producing film photos which have the background behind your subject looking like a pitch-black cave …. So photographers got smart and realised they could lower the shutter speed (e.g. from 1/200 to 1/30) to drag more ambient light into the frame, with the advantage of the flash still ‘freezing’ the action of your subject = no subject blur and nicely exposed background too ðŸ’Ŋ

Bounced Flash : in my opinion the modern-day masters of flashguns are David Hobby (aka ‘Strobist’) and Neil Van NieKerk. The biggest lesson I learned from these two guys was to never shoot the flashgun straight at your subject from the camera … if your flashgun permits it, rotate the head of it so that it’s pointing “over your shoulder” (or even take the flashgun off the camera completely and trigger it remotely – a whole topic in itself). In summary, always bounce your flash, if you can !

Conclusion

This has been 2 years of trail-and-error distilled into a single blog post, but hopefully it helps fast-track you into exploring film + flash with confidence. Until my next post, keep shooting film !

Paul

FujiColor C200 Film

With a very late autumn in full swing, I decided to throw a roll of old ‘consumer‘ FujiColor C200 into my trusty Nikon N80 and go for a forest ramble … the dev & scan photos that came back from my good friends at http://www.printpoint.ie had me almost fall off my chair, wow ! ðŸ˜ŪðŸĪĐ

Autumn in Tollymore Forest Park

20+ years ago I regularly used FujiColor C200 and Fuji Superia 400 when I had my old Canon EOS 3000, in fact I remember clearly how easy it was to pick up a 3-pack of Superia in the local shops & grocery stores … yikes 😇 However, with my rediscovery of analogue photography, I did some deeper research into this consumer film, and ended up buying 15 rolls of C200 a year ago (a few still remaining in my fridge).

So for the last 1-2 years, I’ve been using C200 as my ‘walk-about’ film, with Kodak Portra 160 / 400 being my ‘serious’ film. However, as I’ve become more familiar with the various film types, FujiColor C200 takes images of a quality & standard that are often stunning ðŸ˜ēðŸĪĐ

About FujiColor C200

A little history about this unassuming 35mm colour film:

  • Fuji Photo Film Co Ltd. was established in 1934, with the company being a significant rival to Kodak Eastman, enjoying almost a monopoly of film sales in Asia, particularly Japan
  • Fujicolor negative colour film comes in a number of different flavours: FujiColour Pro (160S, 160C, 400H and 800Z), Reala, Superia, and Press.
  • FujiColor C200 has been around since the 1990’s with it being updated in 2017 to avail of Fuji’s “super fine-grain technology”

Specs:

  • ISO : as per it’s title, it’s ISO 200 sensitivity
  • Colour: it’s daylight balanced (if used indoors under tungsten light, you’ll need a 80A filter)
  • Grain: it’s fine grained and sharp
  • Reciprocity failure: C200 is pretty good in that it’s perfectly fine up to 4 seconds of exposure, with 16 seconds only requiring an extra 2/3 of a stop, and 1 minute an extra 1 stop
FujiColor C200 – Under The Hood

What’s it like to use ?

As I say, I found C200 to be quite an extraordinary film to use – it’s a ‘consumer’ grade film, that packs a punch: it’s very sharp, great colour reproduction, and captures a shocking amount of detail.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the details, from this 3000px wide scan. What you’ll quickly appreciate is that this film captures waaaaaaay more detail than you’d expect from a ‘consumer’ grade film, it’s quite phenomenal really ðŸĪĐ:

Details – 100% Zoom

Meanwhile, let’s have a closer look at the grain … the sky is always the best place to see how film grain truly behaves, and to be fair to this film, the “super fine grain technology” shines through:

Grain – 100% Zoom

Verdict

It’s very clear that FujiColor C200 is a film that punches well above it’s weight ! If you require accurate, detailed and realistic photos, without paying over-the-top prices that you’d expect from Kodak Portra or rare FujiFilm 400H, then C200 is the film for you.

The only issue I would raise is the difficulty of getting your hands on it 😉

Until my next post (which with a bit of luck with be a review of Lomography 800), keep shooting film !

Paul

Film scan editing – Analogue meets Digital

This is one blog post I’ve been really looking forward to writing and sharing … !

On my 35mm film journey, it became obvious that even though film has the ability to capture surprising levels of detail and cover an impressive dynamic range, the ‘final product’ was often in the hands of the operator behind the printing and / or scanning equipment, especially in these 3 situations:

  1. High contrast scenes – landscapes with deep darks and detailed skies, all of which have to be retained
  2. Dark scenes – evening / blue hour scenes, where film has to keep those dark elements
  3. Mixed lighting – jumping between tungsten & sunlight in the same roll of film

Something had to change … I had to try take back control, but setting up a darkroom wasn’t on the cards : enter the digital editing suite, Adobe Lightroom ðŸ˜Ŋ

However, let me share a few use cases, which will help explain more about why I had to bring in this digital tool into my film photography workflow.

Example #1

On this beautiful autumn morning, I could clearly see through the viewfinder of my Nikon FE2 a hazy, a deep sunrise creeping slowly over the misty fields below. Even though my 35mm negative scan did an amazing job at pulling out the details from the film, it was still lacking the overall image balance, with crucial elements being ‘lost’ in the shadows.

The original film scan is on the left, while the version with a little bit of Lightroom editing fairy-dust is on the right:

Sunrise – before & after

Example #2

This unforgettable spring scene saw strong sunlight from the left hitting the beautiful architecture, and the bold green wheat, coupled with dark moody cloud elements overhead.

The original scan (left) seemed to be overly yellow, missing the cloud elements I could clearly see with my eyes, and the green wheat lacked contrast … a few Lightroom tweaks later (right) brought my film scan closer to what I saw with my eyes:

Spring – before & after

Game Rules …

The funny thing is that I embraced analogue photography to escape the clutches of the mindless automation with digital photography, yet there I stood, realizing that in order to unleash the full potential of 35mm film scans, a little bit of digital era spit-n-polish was inescapable !

However, the important thing I have to point out is that there are a few game rules to editing 35mm film scans, as it’s all about balancing authenticity after all:

  • Rule #1 – it’s not a digital RAW file so “keep it real” and authentic to the medium of 35mm film ! The grain shouldn’t suddenly disappear, the overall colour tones shouldn’t shift dramatically, the contrast shouldn’t shift radically !
  • Rule #2 – use the editing to address highlights & shadows which may not be fully realized in the scans
  • Rule #3 – use editing to help resolve strong colour casts and / or white-balance issues that reduce the overall impact of the image
  • Rule #4 – use editing to address blemishes & artifacts that take away from the power of the image
  • Rule #5 – I repeat, keep it authentic !

Edit Walkthrough

So let me walk you through my film editing process, what it is I change, why I do it, and how I do it.

My hope is that by sharing this information, in an honest & forthright manner, it might encourage you to explore new avenues to maximise the potential of your 35mm film scans, other than the physicality of the medium (film choice, lens choice, lens filters, etc.)

Editing Process – Before (left) vs. After (right)

So what changed ?

  • The clouds are now visible & present ðŸŒĨ
  • The yellow colour cast from Kodak Portrait 160 has been dialled back somewhat, to reflect the colder bluer-greener morning scene that was actually there 🎛
  • The shadows have been opened up & the highlights have been closed in ⚖
  • The Lilly pads at the bottom have been brightened up a touch, as they’re the star of the show ðŸ“ļ

Step 1 – Overall Content

The first step is to realise and maximise the overall content by addressing the exposure, contrast, highlights & shadows in one bold step:

Step 1 – Cheat sheet

What I’ve noticed with my film scans over the last 2 years is that I always have to reduce the ‘contrast’ and reduce the ‘exposure’ first and foremost to start revealing a lot more underlying structure, which in turn makes the changes to the highlights & shadows more effective.

The scans can also look a little flat (which is great initially as it implies the underlying content is being maintained), so a punch into the ‘whites’ and ‘clarity’ help bring this next level of content across the line:

Step 1 – Maximising basic scan content

Step 2 – Skies

For me, the skies in my 35mm scans always seem to be the weakest component that needs to be resolved, even when using soft/hard graduated filters. So now that I’ve increased the amount of content in step 1, I begin addressing this deficiency by using the simple application of a gradient mask.

Step 2 – Gradient cheat sheet

Note how I am being sensitive to the overall feel of the film – I’m intentionally reducing the contrast, as I lower the exposure, while applying the highlight reduction. It’s a delicate balance to reveal the detail without getting all digital about it:

Step 2 – Bringing back the skies

Step 3 – Colour Cast

Certain types of film will have different colour casts – Kodak Portra adds yellow, Kodak Gold adds orange, Fuji C200 adds green, etc. Most film is designed for daylight (approx. 5500k) so it’s natural to expect additional colour shifts when you’re taking images at dawn vs. evening vs. heavy overcast vs. summer blue skies.

What’s crucial here is that overall colour tone ‘look’ shouldn’t be lost, after all that’s what makes the image recognisable as 35mm film … but instead unnecessary shifts in colour are balanced sensibly:

Step 3 – Dialling back colour casts

This step is something that’s conducted on a frame-by-frame basis, depending on the photograph.

Summary

Ok, so that was a lot of info … however, I hope this detailed behind-the-scenes walkthrough of what happens with some of my 35mm film scans helps. As I say, it’s not something I do with all my film photos – it’s primarily the 3 situations I mentioned at the beginning.

I absolutely realise this digital workflow step in the realm of analogue photography is NOT for everyone, however in my case, I feel it helps me address the small gaps in what I saw through my optical viewfinder vs. what I received 😇

Until my next post, keep shooting film !

Paul