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Tag Archives: 35mm

I was trolling through some film resources online a month or two ago, and I came across a mention of Caffenol as a developer. Wait a minute thought I, what’s this Caffenol about? That doesn’t sound like a commercial developer…

How right I was! Caffenol is actually a completely home-made film developer, which uses instant coffee as its active ingredient. As soon as I read the description, I had to try it. I dashed off a roll of Ilford HP-5+ 400 ISO 35mm film that I wouldn’t be sad to lose to a bad process, and finally tonight I put together the ingredients, and developed my disposable roll.

The process of mixing Caffenol (I tried for the Caffenol-C-H recipe, though I used insufficient salt after mistakenly thinking it was iodized) is straightforward, and anyone who can afford a cheap digital scale ($10-15 online) and the raw ingredients can put it together. Using it is a bit odd: I’m so used to developer being clear that it felt wrong to pour this pitch-black liquid into the tank. I used the recommended 15 minutes with agitation, though I washed the film a couple times in water before pouring the stop bath in (not wanting it to come out with coffee color, since I reuse my stop bath).

Other than your development process smelling like bad coffee, it was exactly like developing with the XTOL I’m used to.

As a point of comparison, here’s a light table photo of the negatives I developed tonight:

And here is a set of negatives from earlier in the year, developed in XTOL (both pictures shot with the same exposure):

As you can see, the base fog (darkness of the unexposed film stock) is pretty pronounced with Caffenol, but I also used half the amount of table salt I was supposed to (which is specifically to control base fog), so I don’t take this as anything more than a mistake on my part. The shadow detail looks pretty good, and the highlights look very solid.

The scanner has no problem with the film, and the scanned result looks reasonably good. Grain is present, but not substantially worse than XTOL-developed film (I see I also need to work on scanner focus, but that’s a separate issue). I’ve inset a 100% crop from the flowers in the sculpture to show the detail. This was scanned at 6400 DPI, though it has been resized for reasonable web use:

Overall, an interesting experience. Worth a bit more work to see what happens.

Any of my half-dozen readers will remember my post about Opportunistic Landscapes. I finally mixed up a new batch of darkroom chemicals and did some developin’ earlier this week. This resulted in finding the film version of the digital picture I posted in that original post.

Here, for your viewing pleasure, is the film version (shot with a Canon QL17 with a 40mm f/1.7 lens on Ilford HP5+ and developed in XTOL):

Stillaguamish River

And, should you wish to compare, the digital version (shot on an Olympus OM-D EM-5 with a 20mm f/1.7 lens):

Stillaguamish River

The film version is actually quite crisp, and at web size, basically grain-free. It doesn’t hurt that the film version was scanned at 6400 DPI, with a final image size of 378 MB vs. the digital version’s 2.1 MB. I am so glad storage is cheap.

I was out and about today, enjoying a cool, overcast Memorial Day weekend. I was up in the Mount Baker/Snoqualmie National Forest, on the Stillaguamish River, and came across this scene.

Stillaguamish River

Moments like this are always tough. On the one hand, I want to take the best picture I can of the scene, since it’s so beautiful, and there are so many little tiny details to record: in other words, I want the 5×7 camera. But I really wasn’t on a photo expedition — I was on a motorcycle, enjoying the road through the park, so my photographic tools were limited. Instead of the 5×7, I had my “carryin’ around” camera, an Olympus OM-D EM-5 with a 20mm f/1.7 lens. But I also had my Canon QL17, which is a 35mm rangefinder from the early 70s with quite a nice 40mm f/1.7 lens on it. It was loaded with my standard Ilford HP-5+, which is a fairly good 400 speed film. It’s a great film at 5×7, but ends up being kind of grainy at 35mm. I shot the same scene on film anyway, just out of curiosity to see how the two compare (I already know, to some extent: the digital will be much clearer, and the film will be perversely pleasing, precisely because of the grain).

I find myself enjoying the film camera a lot these days, though digital is still my go-to for “real” work, primarily for the ability to shoot hundreds of images if necessary, and secondarily for the immediate turn-around on images. The problem, ultimately, with digital, is that in 50 years, I suspect most of those images will be unreadable. They’ll get lost in some hard drive accident, or everyone will have forgotten what a JPG is, or (more likely) how to decode a Canon RAW file. PSD files may or may not still be readable — Adobe might have dropped Photoshop as a product 20 years earlier when 3D became the only way to go, or they might have gone out of business when everyone got their brains updated with digital storage, and photo manipulation programs became obsolete in the same way buggy whips are obsolete now.

However, we’ll still have eyes. We’ll still have some way of recording a thing optically, into whatever format is current. Film, in other words, will still be readable and useful. I think about this, and frequently find myself very consciously taking pictures of people with film. It’s almost superstitious: that image, assuming I can take reasonably good care of the negative, will continue to exist long after I’m gone, just as my grandparents’ negatives and slides continue even though they’ve all passed away. In a way, the person pictured will live on in that moment. It has a kind of poetic beauty that I can’t similarly ascribe to digital photography.

I suppose this all makes me a film snob in some people’s eyes. I’m really not. Film is neat because it’s so simple and so real, unlike many things in life. Digital is still where I’m going to do 90% of my photography, but I doubt I’ll ever stop being interested in film, as long as I continue on this photography lark.

In my work as a photographer, I typically come to the photograph: I’m in the time and place where I know a photo is going to come together. Usually it’s a show, or a headshot session, or something else I’ve scheduled. I signed up in advance to be there, with a camera, and make awesome photos happen. It’s gratifying how often that happens.

Then, other times, a photo will more or less jump up and punch me in the eye, insisting that I take it. At these times, I’m glad I pretty much always have a decent camera with me: I can pull out my camera and oblige the photo by capturing it. It’s not terribly often that this happens, but when it does, it’s simply not a thing that I can ignore. I suppose this is a good signpost on my journey toward being the best photographer I can be.

Yesterday was one of those times. I walked into the garage ready to get on my bike and huff and puff my way to work. The day was bright without being sunny, and while I wasn’t exactly late, I wasn’t looking to dally on my commute. But then there was this sight staring at me. My old vintage Honda CL175 was sitting in a pool of light without any intervention on my part. The picture more or less jumped up and punched me in the eye. With a muttered “Aw, jeez,” (poor old me, I know) I turned around, unpacked my camera from the pannier, and took the photo. This was also my first day with the new Rollei 35 S, so I checked what exposure numbers the digital camera had used (1/80 at f/1.8 at ISO200), did some quick and not terribly accurate mental math on stops, and tried to simulate that exposure with the Rollei, which only goes down to F/2.8, and was loaded with ISO400 film. I think I ended up with 1/30 and f/2.8 at ISO400, with a safety at 1/15.

I’m still missing a good way to scan the film I shoot, so here is the digital version, which came out quite well.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The film shot came out alright, but focus and sharpness (the things I’m most curious about with this Rollei) are not a strength when shooting a negative on a light table with a digital camera, even a carefully focused digital camera. A film scanner is clearly on my short-list if I’m going to continue with this film binge.

Update: here’s the film version, done up as well as I can for the moment. This was re-photographed on a small light table with a Canon 100mm/2.8 macro lens on my 7D. The focus was pretty good, and the depth of field should have taken care of any slight imperfections. I think I’m going to call this the Rollei being not as clear as I might have hoped, but with an interesting character all its own. Still need to get this negative into a real scanner, though.

rollei-shadowbike-web

Sometimes, you pull out the old camera gear, and get started down a path. Then you’re reminded of things you’ve wanted to do for a while. Then you do them.

Thus came it to pass: I now have a Rollei 35s. I’ve wanted one for a while, and now that someone (ahem) splurged on a bulk roll of 35mm film, well, one simply needs cameras to use up all that film, yes? Yes. Say hello to the smallest camera in the Dangerpants collection. It is adorable and wee.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was wandering through Value Village the other day, and spotted this big, pro-looking SLR in the display case. I took a closer look, and noted the model number. Next time I hit a computer, I looked it up, and it looked interesting. And Value Village was asking $60 for it, which was roughly on par with what KEH was asking (if they’d had any in VG condition, which they didn’t). Plus it had the accessory vertical grip. What the hell, thought I. So I bought a Canon EOS A2e 35mm film camera.

I just got back from my first brief session with a 35mm film camera in years. I only took 10 pictures, which is a shocking change from my digital habits. Thinking of that $5 roll of film in the camera dramatically changes my priority. It’s very interesting to work within that limitation again. I grew up shooting film, so this habit is nothing new. It’s just that I’ve been utterly spoiled by digital cameras, where even shooting RAW, I’m able to take many hundreds of photos before I have to think about storage space.

So now of course I’ve got thoughts of setting up my full darkroom again (I held onto all the equipment, figuring I might get interested again), and like some kind of gateway drug, it’s now ok in my brain to go troll through Ebay looking at crusty 35mm rangefinders and funky old cameras I never would have considered even a few days ago. It’s like a kind of madness.

Time to go home, mix up a fresh batch of XTOL, and see what I’ve got. It’s odd, disconcerting, and surprisingly calming to be back.