Now this image is from seriously far back in my archives – it was taken in the beautiful Cwm Ystwyth Valley in mid-Wales and dates all the way back to 2001. Unfortunately I don’t know the exact date it was taken, as at some point in the past Photoshop seems to have wiped the Exif data from the file. It was shot on my very first digital camera, a Fuji FinePix 1400 Zoom. That camera boasted such specs as a 38-114mm equivalent zoom lens and a 1.3 megapixel CCD sensor. Images were recorded on 16MB SmartMedia cards, remember those things?
The first medium format image I took last year was of a stile I regularly cross as I climb the hillside en route to Hebden Bridge. I’m not sure if I’ve intentionally photographed it before in the years I’ve lived here and used the route, but anyway something made me think it would make for a decent first shot and indeed I quite liked the result when I got the film developed. As I continued my analogue journey, trying various cameras and films, I noticed the stiles and gates on the paths I was wandering often filling a frame or two on a roll. By around the middle of summer I decided that by the end of the year I’d collate all these images together into a bit of a project. The only rules I set for it were that the images had to be on film and had to be of a gate or stile on a footpath. As such it’s a mix of colour and black white, medium format and 35mm across a variety of film stocks.
I call it “In the Way”. It’s presented here in roughly chronological order.
These images were taken on a mix of the Bronica ETRS, Bronica SQ-Ai and Rollei 35 LED. Films used include Kodak Portra 160 and 400, Kodak Color Plus, Fuji Provia 100, Fuji Acros 100, Fomapan 100 and Ilford FP4+.
As usual if you enjoy my photography and writing please consider purchasing a print from the store here or on Etsy. If you see something not on sale you’d like let me know and I’d be happy to make a print for you.
Since getting into film photography I’ve found YouTube to be an invaluable trove of (mostly) helpful information. Generally whenever I’m stuck on how to do something or want to find a detailed review of a camera or film there will be something good to watch on there. I thought it might be useful to other film shooters to list the channels I’ve found particularly interesting or helpful. This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list and I’ve skipped anything that only occasionally deals with film photography, but if you know of another really good film focused channel I’ve not listed here please let me know in the comments so I can check it out!
This channel is really good for its ‘in the field’ gear reviews of cameras and film stocks. There’s a nice mix of shooting environments from studio and on location model shoots, to landscapes and architecture. Unlike some of the other YouTube channels which focus heavily on the top end brands, this channel covers a bit of everything. Both the hosts shoot some excellent images which help to round off the detailed and informative reviews they give.
Eduardo seems to review every imaginable camera, from obscure old Soviet models to the Japanese classics and some higher end gear. He predominately does this through the medium of candid street photography, which he has a real skill for. Generally he’ll show you the whole roll he shoots rather than just the edited highlights which is pretty great as you get to see the good and the bad. The only thing that bugs me about his videos is that he sometimes shoots pictures of kids on the street without seeking permission from their parents – which is totally legal in the UK and should be completely fine, but in our tabloid fear stoked modern world it makes me feel a bit uneasy. I should stress that there’s nothing creepy or weird about the images he takes, it just feels very taboo to take pictures of children that aren’t your own in modern Britain. Still overall don’t let that put you off checking it out as there’s some great stuff on his channel.
Formerly of Digital Rev, Ian isn’t a frequent YouTuber but when he does post it’s always a treat. His Digital Darkroom series is refreshingly thoughtful and very well produced. He uses film as a medium to explore the work of other photographers, ideas and locations in a way I’ve not seen from other channels and that alone is a good reason to check his work out.
This is really interesting channel and covers a huge variety of subjects. Matt shoots a mix of 35mm on a Leica M6, Polaroid with an SX70 and medium format on Mamiyas and Hassleblads. For the most part it’s all black and white shot with Ilford HP5 Plus. There’s something very down to earth about his work which often focuses on his family and home town. He’s good at explaining techniques and gear in a detailed and approachable format. If you’re into Polaroid or Instax then this is definitely one to checkout as Matt is clearly really passionate about instant photography. He also hosts a really excellent interview podcast called The Shoot.
I have mixed feelings about recommending this one. A lot of the early videos are fairly interesting and it’s mostly well done, although production values seem to have gone off a cliff edge towards a more ‘vloggy’ style from early 2017 onwards. Depending on how you look at these things you’ll either find this an interesting place to get ideas for cameras and films to check out, or a bit frustratingly light on actual detail and analysis. George Muncey who runs the channel and who presents each episode, seems to mostly favour very high end expensive gear, but then tries to compensate for this by occasionally shooting with bargain bin stuff. This is all very well but it leaves the middle ground of high quality, affordable cameras largely unexplored. On the plus side the interview episodes are really good and the Negative Feedback zine is well worth checking out if you like the “urban snapshot” style of photography the channel mostly shows.
As 2017 is rapidly drawing to a close I thought I’d try and get in one last post for the year. We’ve had an unusually snowy December which has been great for photography – even if it has meant slipping and sliding around and having to blast the central heating a bit more than usual to ward off the chill. This image was captured on the edge of Erringden Moor and shows the route towards Haven Lane.
Incidentally this year I’ve been working on a bit of a mini-project photographing stiles and gates which I’ll try and get put together into a post next year. Finally let me wish you happy holidays and I hope you’ll join me in raising a glass to another year of photographic discovery.
This shot was taken in Sheffield last autumn and had been forgotten about until I rediscovered it the other day. Even though I try and run a fairly tight Lightroom catalogue and make periodic purges of poor, duplicate or uninteresting shots, it’s hard not to accumulate thousands of images and quickly lose things you don’t flag for further attention.
This shot was actually processed in camera, because try as I might, I couldn’t get the colours looking how I wanted in Lightroom. Fuji’s film simulations (in this case with a bit of custom pushing and pulling) can produce some great results.
It’s been ages since I last posted here but a camera has rarely been out of my hand during that time! I’ve sold the GR1s that started my film journey at the beginning of the year and supplemented my Rollei 35 LED with a fancier 35 SE model. I’ve also just shot my first paid wedding job, sold some prints and even some stock images on Alamy. It’s great to have my photography at least paying a little of its upkeep.
Today I want to share some images I took recently in Manchester’s wonderful Northern Quarter; a trendy, bohemian enclave that’s in the early stages of gentrification – so it’s still a nice mix of the rundown and the new and all the interesting people haven’t been priced out yet. It also has an excellent street art scene with a nice mix of posters, sticker art and painted pieces including some big murals.
All of these images were shot on Ilford Delta 400, a film I love using in medium format that is also fantastic in 35mm. I developed them in Ilford’s DD-X in my Jobo rotary processor.
The Rollei 35 is a fantastic camera for street photography because it’s so small and discrete. Set the aperture to f8 (or smaller if the light will allow) and use the hyperfocal markings to get all the depth of field you need for a typical street scene unfolding before you without worrying about precise focus. Unlike the 35 LED which only has markings for f8 and f16, the SE has everything from f2.8 to f22 marked on the lens barrel. It’s great not having to guess where the f11 and f5.6 marks are, even if their tight spacing makes it all feel a little imprecise.
There’s lots of poster art to find including some large cut out pieces. I’m a fan of this type of street art as it doesn’t ruin the lovely old brickwork beneath that gives the area a lot of its charm.
You can find lots of nice little independent shops, bars and cafés in the area – go use them and enjoy them while they last. (The UK has a horrendous record of allowing its towns and cities to become overrun with chain stores which rapidly purge the life and culture from an area).
If you squint hard enough you can almost see all the potted shrubs and happy chatting couples traversing this space that no doubt the architect’s gleaming renderings presented. Of course the reality is a dead quasi-public space no one uses.
Manchester’s old buildings are quickly succumbing to redevelopment and unfortunately that often means demolition. New life being breathed into deprived areas is great and much needed, but it’s hard not to worry what will replace characterful old buildings that in other European cities would be protected and treasured.
I’ll leave you with this final image of a strange figure painted on a wall that reminds me of Spirited Away’s “No Face” character.
As usual if you enjoy my photography and writing please consider purchasing a print from the store here or on Etsy. If you see something not on sale you’d like let me know and I’d be happy to make a print for you.
Since getting into film photography I’ve been keen to try as many different film stocks as I can get my hands on. Despite the resurgent popularity of film you never quite know how long any of these are going to be around, so it’s nice to use them while they’re still being freshly produced.
Black & White Films
Ilford PanF+ (ISO 50)
This is the slowest film I’ve shot with to date, rated at just ISO 50. Obviously this is one for bright outdoor shooting or tripod based long exposures. The benefit of such a slow film is the fineness of the grain and the ability to shoot wide apertures without requiring ND filters or very high shutter speeds.
In terms of grain, I’m a bit disappointed with this film. It’s not as clean as the faster Delta 100, Acros 100 or even Rollei Retro 80S. It’s the least grainy of Ilford’s classic emulsions, but if you’re only choosing it for clean and crisp images then you can find better, faster options. On the plus side I’ve found it handles contrasty situations very nicely with good shadow and highlight detail. This film is super quick to develop, requiring a 1:14 dilution of Ilfosol 3 and even then only taking 4 and a half minutes. I’ve read that PanF doesn’t have good keeping qualities once exposed so it’s best to develop as soon as possible after shooting.
Ilford FP4+ (ISO 125)
I really like this film, although it’s a traditional emulsion, grain is well controlled and fine, albeit still fairly noticeable in clear blue skies. Being a fairly slow film its best for use in bright conditions where it produces lovely tones. I’ve developed it in both Ilford DD-X and Ilfosol 3, which both produce similar results. In the later it’s very quick to develop requiring only a few minutes, which is good if you’re impatient like me! FP4+ tends to be very affordable and is available from £4 a roll.
Ilford HP5+ (ISO 400)
This was the first film I shot this year and I found it a bit too grainy for my liking in 35mm. Things are slightly better with the bigger negative sizes of 120 film but it’s still a bit grainier than I’d like, especially compared to Delta 400, even when that’s pushed a stop. HP5 is generally regarded as a fairly forgiving film when it comes to exposure latitude but I’ve not tried pushing or pulling it yet to confirm that. I think I generally prefer T grained films like Acros and Delta, but if you’re more a grain fan then this is probably what you want. I’ve only developed it in Ilford’s DD-X which may not be an ideal match. HP5 is usually around £5 to 6 a roll.
Ilford Delta 100
Delta 100 produces very clean, sharp images with good dynamic range and is practically grainless in appearance. It doesn’t block up shadows as much as Acros, with a broader mid-range. Handily like most Ilford films, you can buy this as individual rolls so it’s cheaper to experiment with. The film develops very well in Ilford’s Ilfosol 3. Delta 100 usually commands a price in the £5 to £6 range.
Ilford Delta 400
Delta 400 is one of my most used films. It’s great at box speed with fine grain and even pushed a stop 800 barely looks any different. It has a fairly flat contrast curve which is ideal for digitising, where you can tweak contrast as you see fit in post.
I’ve developed it in both Ilford DD-X and Ilfosol 3. DD-X is probably its natural match, especially for push processing. Results with Ilfosol 3 diluted to 1+14 have been a bit mixed so far, I’ve developed one roll pushed to 800 which came our great and another at box speed which was unacceptably grainy. I shall try 1+9 and see if that improves things or go back to DD-X. Amazon sell this film at £4.99 in which is about the best price you’ll find it for.
Fuji Neopan Acros 100
This film is stunning and my favourite for black and white photography. The digitised results could be from a modern digital sensor they’re so clean. If you’ve seen this film described as ‘grainless’ and not believed it, well believe it! Ok if you look very hard or try and push shadows or lightlights too much you’ll uncover a bit, but in a well exposed shot it’s amazingly clean.
Another benefit of Acros for those wanting to do long exposures is that it doesn’t suffer from the usual reciprocity failure that many films do. In terms of rendering, Acros tends to block up shadow areas but has huge range in the highlights, this produces some really beautiful results but needs careful exposure. I’ve had good results developing in the rotary processor with both Ilfosol 3 and DD-X. Unfortunately unlike with Ilford’s films, you can only buy this in 5 packs which makes it a little expensive here in the UK at nearly £6 a roll.
Fomapan 100 Classic
Foma is an interesting company producing traditional emulsion films at their plant in the Czech Republic. Fomapan 100 Classic actually reminds me of Ilford’s FP4+ quite a bit in the way it renders, although perhaps with slightly less sharp results overall. Still it’s a rather attractive film and given its low price in Europe, hard to ignore if you’re on a tight budget. It can be found for less than £4 a roll which is an increasing rarity with 120 film.
One thing to watch out for if home developing, is that it’s very flimsy and easy to mark when loading onto a spiral. It’s the first film I’ve handled that when unwound from the take-up spool was very loose – most want to tightly wind up again.
Fomapan 200 Creative
Despite the fairly low speed of ISO 200, this film is rather grainy and characterful making it good for fairly brightly lit scenes you want to give a bit of a gritty edge. That said if you don’t nail the exposure or want to darken a sky in post, things can get very messy. Like Foma’s 100 Classic, it’s a rather flimsy film which can make handling a bit more tricky when home processing. Unlike its cheaper slower sibling, 200 Creative tends to be in the mid £4 to £5 range.
Rollei Retro 80S
Rollei branded films are interesting primarily for their near-infrared sensitivity. In fact they do make purely IR film too, but I’ve not tried it yet. The benefit of having some IR sensitivity means in theory you can cut through haze on hot days which should be a boon for landscape photographers. Unfortunately it’s been a fairly poor summer here in Yorkshire, so I’ve not been able to test this aspect yet. Like the Foma films I’ve tried, Retro 80S is rather thin and while I had no trouble loading it onto my Jobo’s spiral, it’s remained very curly after drying which makes handling a little more fiddly.
In terms of image quality this is a remarkably good film. It’s as clean and grainless looking as Acros or Delta 100 with only a slight hit in speed. I’ve found it really doesn’t like underexposure, quickly losing all detail in dark shadow areas. One image, where I had to shoot what I thought was just 1 stop under to get a hand-holdable shutter speed, barely even registered on the negative!
Overall though I’m amazed at the quality, if you want a cheaper alternative to Acros or Delta 100 it’s a very good option. A roll of 80S will generally set you back around £4.50. The only real downside is that at just ISO 80 you will need brighter light or longer exposures than with comparable ISO 100 films. I’ve found 80S develops very well in Ilford’s Ilfosol 3.
Colour Negative Films
Fuji Pro NS 160
This was the first film I ran through my Bronica and I quickly decided I didn’t like it. I’ve found getting nice colours out of it when digitising to be a real chore, especially compared to every other colour negative film I’ve shot. It’s also expensive (quite a bit more so than Kodak Portra 160) working out at around £6 a roll, so it’s really hard to recommend. On the plus side the grain is fairly fine. It really doesn’t like underexposure and I’ve seen some odd effects at the edges of a few frames that I suspect might be light leaks which I’ve not seen with other films shot in the same camera. So I’m not sure if it’s an artefact from development, me miss-handling it or something else going on. Overall a thumbs down.
Fuji Pro 400H
Unlike NS 160, 400H is actually pretty nice. It digitises well and I’ve not seen any strange ‘light leaks’ or other issues. Overall performance is much the same as Kodak Portra 400. I’ve shot it at box speed and at ISO 200 and had nice results each time. This film handles greens very well so it’s particularly suited to landscape photography. It develops well in Tetenal ColorTec C-41. Available only in packs of 5, the cost per roll is around £6.
Kodak Ektar 100
Kodak advertises this as the finest grained colour negative film and it certainly produces very clean results. Colours tend to be punchy and saturated in bright light, but they can take on blue or purple casts if it’s gloomy or a little underexposed. I’ve found shadow areas in otherwise well exposed sunny scenes can turn very bluish which can require some post-processing to correct. This is certainly a film where you want to carefully expose for the shadows.
I’ve had good results developing Ektar with the two bath Tetenal ColorTec C-41 kit. Amazon has recently had fantastic prices for Kodak 120 films, with five packs selling for £25 or less, that makes this film an absolute bargain at around £5 a roll. More typically it will fetch somewhere between £5.50 and £6 a roll.
Kodak Portra 400
As the name suggests, Kodak wants you to think of this as a portrait film. To date I’ve yet to shoot a single portrait with it, but the colours lend themselves well to landscape and street photography too. Grain is fine and not overly apparent. I’ve shot several rolls of this over exposed by a stop at ISO 200, which has a nice effect on the colours. I’ve seen reports you can overexpose this film by up to 6 stops and still get very useable results. Of course like most film it’s less a fan of being underexposed, but then at ISO 400 you already have good latitude and Kodak produces an ISO 800 version if you need further flexibility. I’ve found this film can be a little bit grainy in the sky, at least developed with Tetenal’s C-41 kit. Pricing is around £5.50 to £6 a roll.
There are still quite a few films I’d like to try which I’ve not yet had the opportunity to. In particular these are on my list:
- Kodak Portra 160
I want to see if this is a good alternative to Ektar with a little more exposure headroom.
- Kodak TMax (100, 400)
I want to see how this compares to the Ilford’s Delta films.
- Fuji Velvia
This film is legendary so I’m keen to try it sometime.
- Fuji Neopan 400 CN
There’s only two Fuji B&W films so I might as well try them both, this is a C-41 process one.
- Rollei Digibase CN 200
This is an interesting film in that it doesn’t have a colour mask so it should be easier to digitise. After being floored by how good Retro 80S is I’m keen to try more Rollei films.
- Ilford Delta 3200
I’m interested to see what the quality is like from such a fast film, probably one I’ll save for the depths of winter when there isn’t much light!
- Ilford XP2 400
I’ve heard good things about this but I’ve been avoiding using my expensive colour chemistry on B&W films so far as this is another C-41 process one.
- CineStills 800
I’m really keen to try this film as I’ve seen some lovely images taken with it. It can be a bit expensive and hard to find in the UK unfortunately.
If you’re wondering why I’ve not listed Kodak’s Tri-X, it’s because I have shot it in 35mm format and didn’t like it much. I’m not a fan of grainy films generally, especially where equal speed cleaner films exist, and my experience with HP5+ has taught me that moving up a format size doesn’t really change the overall characteristic that much.
Exploring a local antiques shop recently, I came across a beautiful 6×6 format folding camera that appeared to be in very nice condition. After giving it a once over and determining nothing was obviously wrong, I plunked down £9 ($12) of my hard earned cash to take the thing home. It turned out I had bought a Yorkshire camera. A GB Kershaw 110 to be precise, made in the great city of Leeds some 60 or so years ago. It was in very nice condition for its age, with just some dust in the optics and a tiny bit of corrosion here and there on the aluminium parts.
The biggest worry with any camera that makes use of soft bellows is pin holes and tears that could cause light leaks. These are usually found around the folds where the material is under the most stress. Thankfully the bellows on this camera are in tip-top shape, requiring no repair at all. Another common problem to look out for in old cameras is worn out light seals, where foam or felt has disintegrated or worn away over the years. Helpfully the Kershaw’s design made no use of either material, so there were no concerns there either.
The lens and viewfinder were very simple to clean of dust, both being made of just two elements. After I finished cleaning things up I loaded a roll of Ilford FP4 Plus. The use of bog standard 120 roll film means the Kershaw is as usable today as when it was new. Getting the film into the camera took a few attempts given the slightly awkward swing out spool holders, but I got there in the end.
In terms of operation, the Kershaw 110 is a very basic camera. A button on the top plate makes the front pop open, extending the bellows and putting the lens into shooting position. A single knob lets you wind the film on, with a red window in the back to let you see which frame you’re on*. The lens is anonymous, but I’d estimate it at around 80mm (45mm equivalent in 35mm terms) with its focus fixed to give you a depth of field from around 3m to infinity. It has a single shutter speed of somewhere around 1/50 of a second and a choice of two apertures, f11 or f16. Its only other features are a bulb mode and a flash sync port. Getting an accurate exposure is rather out the window with such limited control so you’re fairly reliant on the wide latitude of film and hoping for the best!
* 120 roll film is paper backed and that paper has frame numbers printed on to it for cameras like this without mechanical frame counters.
I found the camera simple to use in practice, even if I had a degree of ‘exposure anxiety’ while using it, worrying that for the light conditions I was hopelessly under or overexposing. In the end just about everything turned out fine. The ISO 125 film I’d picked meant I wasn’t too far off in terms of exposure when I was out of the shade.
I found I had no trouble remembering to wind on the film after each shot, so avoided any accidental double exposures. I didn’t have especially high hopes for the optical quality of the anonymous two element lens, but it actually produced some alright results. It’s a little soft at the edges, but the main portion of the frame is pretty sharp – if you can hold the camera still enough.
Indeed the slow shutter speed and awkward handling were the camera’s main let down and I lost about a quarter of the film to camera shake. It’s too bad it can’t take a threaded shutter release as I’m sure that would help quite a bit. It’s made me quite curious to see how good the results could be from a slightly less basic folding camera which could achieve better hand-holdable shutter speeds and with a more serious lens.
Exploring Flickr proves that Agfa Isolette’s and Zeiss Ikons can certainly produce wonderful results. The challenge with such old cameras is finding a copy in good working order without parting with too much money. Certain models are popular with collectors which can push the prices up to silly amounts.
So if you spy an old folding camera in an antiques shop, charity shop or at a car boot sale, don’t just brush if off as a relic from the past – it may be a very capable little camera in your hands. If it’s inexpensive and looks in fair condition, definitely give it a go!
I guess the trouble with medium format is that once you start down the route of ‘bigger is better’ you start itching for the next format size up from what you have. My Fuji GS645 and Bronica ETRSi are both 6×4.5 cameras and for awhile I’ve been thinking it would be really nice to have a camera that could do 6×6 square format. The big benefit of this is that it allows any kind of crop you’d like (if any) without losing too much image area. Since my preferred way of shooting is with a waist level finder on the Bronica, square format also takes away the ‘landscape only’ limitation that comes from having a non-rotating film back. In portrait orientation, even ignoring the very awkward ergonomics, the image is upside down without a prism to correct it. I can cope with the horizontally flipped image in the waist level finder, but putting it upside down is a step too far!
My first though was to find another range finder camera to get a slightly lighter setup, but after a couple of failed attempts at acquiring a working Mamiya 6 I shelved this idea and decided to go with a Bronica SQ-Ai as they are both reasonably priced and very reliable in my experience. With some eBay luck I was able to purchase an immaculate copy from the early 90s that looked barely used for £299, which is a steal frankly. It may not have the desirability factor of a Hasselblad (or the price tag), but in terms of image quality, usability and durability it’s got nothing to be ashamed of.
So far I’m really loving the square format. I feel like 12 exposures per 120 roll is a good compromise between image size and film economy. The 80mm f2.8 PS is a really lovely lens (about 40mm f1.5 equivalent) and definitely seems sharper than the 75mm f2.8 on the ETRSi, especially when shot wide open). In terms of handling the SQ-Ai, while a couple of hundred grams heavier and definitely a bit bulkier, feels much nicer to use even without a grip. I always found the on-body shutter button on the ETRS bodies a bit indecisive, seemingly needing varying amounts of pressure to fire from one shot to the next. The SQ-Ai by contrast is consistently firm and feels very deliberate. I think this along with the added heft makes it easier to get sharp results at slower shutter speeds more consistently. The SQ-Ai also has a vastly improved mirror lockup mechanism that resets after a shot is taken unless you set it not to. This is unlike the ETRSi where if you forgot to flip a switch the mirror would flip up as you wound on to the next frame.
Anyway enough of my waffling, here’s a few photos taken so far:
This was shot wide open at f2.8, the grass right into the corners is tack sharp where in the plane of focus. This is such a improvement over the 75mm f2.8 on the ETRS and honestly not a common characteristic on many modern lenses which are geared only towards centre sharpness until stopped down.
Finally, I’m working on doing a round up of all the various film types I’ve shot with my thoughts on their rendering, easy of digitising etc. so keep an eye out for that. If you enjoy my writing and images please help support me and the site by purchasing a print from my store here or on Etsy.
Time inexorably slips by and I realise I’ve not updated this blog in far too long – so to break the silence here’s another image from my archive. This was taken fairly recently, returning from a trip to Manchester a few days after the awful terrorist attack there. Trains were still not running to or from Victoria so I had to change at Rochdale where this shot was taken in the underpass beneath the platforms. I call it ‘Underlined’. Shot on my X-Pro 2 with the 23mm f2. It was a spectacularly bright and sunny day, so the strong highlights and deep shadows begged to be portrayed in black and white and allowed to block up into something inky and graphic.