When last I wrote on these hallowed pixels (that’s been awhile, my apologies), I was talking about scanning medium format film with an Epson V600. A little over a year ago now I decided that I quite liked this whole “scan a bunch of images in a batch” workflow and decided to look for something that would also handle 35mm in reasonable quality. Well those options are incredibly limited, so I ended up dumping a bunch of cash on an Epson V850, Epson’s high end flatbed. This boasts increased resolution and a large negative scanning area capable of handling up to 3 strips of 35mm film and the ability to even do up to 8×10 if ever the madness truly takes me.
You have to accept with a flatbed scanner you’re never going to get the full resolution of the film and the smaller the negative size the more this impacts. For me the bare minimum acceptable resolution for making up to A3 size prints and looking nice on a high DPI monitor is about 12 megapixels, this needs a resolution of approaching 3000 DPI to achieve with a 35mm frame. That resolution is very much the upper end of what you can expect with a high end flatbed, but with some careful post processing you can get close enough.
Compared to the V600, the V850 is an absolute unit with a very large boxy design. A neat little translucent strip in the lid houses a blue LED that shows the progress of the transparency unit’s light across the negative which is rather a fun detail. The film holders are slightly more substantial than the 600’s and all have ANR (Anti-Newton Ring) glass inserts to help hold the film flat while avoiding those pesky newton rings that can occur when the film isn’t perfectly flat and reflections cause interference patterns. The film holders all have height adjustment sliders to fine tune the focus. These make a subtle change to the sharpness of your scans, slightly improving things when fine tuned. I find it’s easy for the sliders to get knocked out of position though, especially on the 35mm holder which has a lot of them, so attention needs to paid that none have drifted when swapping negatives. The v850 comes with a full duplicate set of negative holders so you can streamline your workflow a bit and have up to 6 strips of 35mm or two strips of 120 mounted and ready to go at any one time. In practice I just use the one set and keep the others as spares should I ever manage to break or scratch any of the glass inserts.
The v850 is still using an antiquated USB 2 connection and the scan speed is pretty slow at working resolutions. How much of this slow speed is necessitated to get a good result and how much is caused by the data processing and transfer speed of the scanner I don’t know. Despite the slow speed however you can set up a batch scan job so you can at least get on with something else while the scanner whirs and grinds its way through your images.
The scanner comes with SilverFast, which I kind of low key hate, and Epson Scan 2 which is kinda good but bad at batch scanning and inexplicably slow even on a powerful system. Epson Scan will be fine for most people and perhaps is less sluggish on Windows? The main issue I have with it is that it overcrops into the image area when auto detecting frames and it’s a tedious process to mark out 18 frames (three strips of six shots) when doing 35mm. At least it can capture 16 bits per channel TIFFs without costing you a fortune to upgrade like SilverFast. Epson Scan also is quite good at producing pleasing colours from negatives which is not to be sneezed at. Personally I use the scanner with VueScan in combination with Negative Lab Pro. VueScan is a confoundingly badly designed piece of software, but once it’s setup “right” it does get the job done. Setting up a batch scan is a painful process as with Epson Scan, but at least it remembers where the frames are so if you have to scan a bunch of 35mm or 120 it’s not too bad, just don’t alternate between formats more than you have to.
Again how any of this scanner software, most of which has been around for getting on 20 years now, still can’t reliably detect frames or even have profiles for the few scanners still on the market that could at least ball park where the negatives are is baffling. But in the cursed world of film digitisation you just have to learn to live with all this bizarreness and accept it will never get better. Just remember DSLR scanning is also a massive pain in the arse too.
Most reviewers who have spent time with resolution test charts, fluid mounting and so on have concluded the Epson pro scanners can achieve around 2400 DPI in terms of real resolution. It’s not amazing, but it’s just enough for 35mm and plenty for medium format or larger. Allegedly there are minor optical differences between the V800 and V850, but I suspect these were dreamed up in Epson’s marketing department as I’ve never seen any evidence of one producing better results than the other. The V850 does produce markedly better results than the V600 though, night and day with 35mm and still noticeably better with medium format. I scan at 3200 DPI and downsample in Photoshop, typically to around 26 megapixels for 6×4.5, 36 megapixels for 6×6 and about 12 megapixels for 35mm. I find Photoshop’s smart sharpen filter tends to provide better results than simply using an edge detect sharpen in either the scanner software or Photoshop. As I mentioned above, I use Negative Lab Pro to handle the colour conversion, so VueScan is relegated to simply providing a decent uninverted tiff as its colour correction is cumbersome and unintuitive to use
Here’s a 35mm shot from my Rollei 35 SE on Kodak Gold 200 with a 100% crop on the right. As you can see the details are pretty decent and you can make out the individual bricks in the tower in this 12 megapixel digitisation (4319×2879). It’s possible to squeeze a little more perceptual detail by cranking up the sharpness slider in Lightroom, but I’ve left it with the basic smart sharpen applied to the TIFF in Photoshop here.
Could you squeeze more details from this negative with a better scanner or even DSLR scanning? Almost certainly, but you’d probably also make the grain a lot more visible and unless you wanted to print a truly massive image or hugely crop in would you actually gain anything? For me that answer is, “not really”. This is why I think a flatbed scanner with this level of resolution is good enough 90% of the time for 35mm and pretty much 100% of the time for medium format or larger. For that remaining 10% where more resolution is desirable on 35mm I have my PlusTek 8200 which can achieve 4000 DPI of real resolution, and for the occasional shot or even whole roll where I can make use of that it’s a good solution, but the thought of spending literally all day manually feeding each frame of multiple rolls of 35mm is very unappealing.
Is it worth it?
I bought my V850 for about £900 in 2021, since then it seems like the slightly cheaper V800 has been discontinued but despite the rampant inflation over 2022 the price still seems to be in the same ballpark. Now that’s no small chunk of change and I appreciate this scanner will be out of reach for a lot of film shooters. If you don’t need to scan 35mm or don’t mind using a cheaper flatbed scanner in combination with a dedicated 35mm scanner then there are other decent options. If you only need 35mm and don’t mind manual feed then there are a number of decent options for around £300. Compared to the cost of buying and setting up a full DSLR or mirrorless scanning rig with a 1:1 macro, good light source and film holder I think the V850 is still quite a bit cheaper, but your mileage will vary depending on what other gear you already own. For me this Epson is currently the best multi-format film scanner on the market that can still be bought new.
Back in July I wrote about switching away from DSLR based film digitisation and my experiences with a PlusTek 8200i film scanner. The PlusTek has been great, to the point where I’ve been letting my medium format gear gather dust and a few films I shot back in the spring had been left waiting for me to muster the enthusiasm to once again try and get my DSLR setup put back together.
I came to the realisation at the end of October that I was just done with DSLR scanning full stop and that I needed a solution for medium format I would actually use. I once again found myself looking at flatbed scanners as the only affordable and available option. Would the quality be acceptable? I spent quite a long time browsing Flickr shots digitised with various Epson scanners, reading old forum threads and so on before finally deciding that for £230 the Epson V600 was worth a punt and that I could simply return it if all it produced was a blurry mess.
The scanner arrived last Friday and I eagerly set about scanning one of those films that had been waiting months for my attention. Using Epson’s scanner software it was pretty quick and efficient. Soon I had three 6×6 shots digitised. The quality was ok, at 2400dpi the scans were detailed enough but things were somewhat soft looking, even after some generous unsharp masking in Photoshop. The colours were excellent however, and even thinly exposed shadow areas came out much better than I’ve ever managed with a DSLR scan, where when you push the extremes you tend to just get noise or find unwanted reflections on the film surface.
So next I set about trying to improve the sharpness. I’ve read that flatbed scanners often have a bit of variability in terms of the height above the glass where they are in optimum focus. Given the supplied negative holders are pretty flimsy and don’t hold the film especially flat, I thought I’d try the Lomo Digitaliza, that I’d previously bought for DSLR based digitising. I loaded it up with the same strip of film and carefully positioned it under the scanner’s transparency unit. On the V600 the transparency unit forms a strip that runs down the middle of the scanner’s lid, this is where the light source is that illuminates the negative as its being scanned from below.
On hitting preview I discovered that without Epson’s own negative carrier in use, the automatic thumbnail feature stops working reliably. So I had to simply select the relevant parts of the preview that I wanted scanned, apply the basic histogram corrections and hit scan once for each frame. This isn’t hugely onerous for medium format but would be a pain for 35mm using a 3rd party film holder.
It was clear straight away that there was a jump in image quality using the Digitaliza. After putting the resulting scans through an unsharp mask in Photoshop and then applying a little further sharpening in Lightroom I was gob smacked by the results. No it wasn’t as bitingly sharp as a DSLR scan can be, but it was 95% of the way there with better colour rendition, no photo stitching and better handling of shadow detail. Further experimentation led me to find the sweet spot for scanning is 3200dpi, which I downsample to produce 6000×6000 pixel 48bit (colour) or 16 bit (black and white) images.
Given the V600 has inferior optics to the V800, I suspect with a good negative carrier and similar post processing it would likely match a DSLR scan in quality — something I wouldn’t have believed possible given both the prevalence of lousy example scans I’ve seen around the Internet and the general consensus of sites like ScanDig and various long forum threads on the subject. I suppose it’s possible I’ve just been really lucky and have a particular good V600, but like the PlusTek too I think there are just a lot of people that don’t really know what they’re doing and blame their poor results on the hardware rather than their post processing choices.
Above you can see a direct comparison between a two shot stitch taken with my X-T2 and Tamron 90mm f2.8 1:1 macro lens (left) and the V600 (right). I’ve tried to match the processing as closely as possible but there are some inevitable differences in tonality and contrast. The stitched shot from the X-T2 also has some some slight distortion introduced because the camera wasn’t held perfectly parallel to the negative for both shots, hence the slight misalignment. Here’a a detail crop to let you better see the difference (or lack there of) in terms of overall sharpness. The X-T2 digitisation is on the left again, V600 on the right.
In terms of processing my V600 scans, this is my workflow:
Scan in Epson Scan 2 into a folder that Lightroom watches for automatic import.
As soon as the photo pops into Lightroom I then use the Edit in Photoshop feature.
I crop any stray edges where I’ve exceeded the film frame and then resize the frame down to 6000×6000 pixels (assuming a 3200 dpi scan setting) using the Bicubic Sharper (reduction) setting.
Next I apply a prerecorded action that:
Uses the Camera Raw filter to apply colour noise correction at level 50. This removes any digital chroma noise introduced by the scanner’s CCD sensor but doesn’t affect the grain or detail of the photo. The Epson seems to produce fairly low noise output but I’ve found this step important on the PlusTek 8200 so I keep it in.
I will then spot any obvious dust out using a mixture of the Healing Brush, Clone Stamp and localised use of the Dust & Scratches filter that is great at removing dust specs from expanses of relatively low detail like skies and shadows.
I’ll hit save and the photo will update in Lightroom. I’ll apply a moderately strong sharpen of around 50~90 with a radius of 1.4 and detail of 25~50. Edit: I’ve also been experimenting with Photoshop’s Smart Sharpen feature, so if you don’t mind baking all the sharpening into the file, this also produces really nice results as an alternative step here.
I’ll make any other colour corrections, crops, etc that I feel the image needs.
Obviously there’s a degree of subjectivity in sharpening an image, but it seems like a lot of people tend to go a bit overboard with it. Looking at some of my earlier digitisations, it’s something I’ve definitely been guilty of myself to some degree. My rule of thumb now is to use the minimum you need to make things look crisp without it becoming a distraction. If someone’s first though on seeing your photo is “wow that’s sharp!” you’ve probably applied too much.
As it is I can heartily recommend the V600 as a very good and affordable scanner for medium format film. I will try 35mm film in it to see how it compares to the PlusTek, but I suspect that without a better negative carrier it would be unacceptably soft for me. Still it’s fantastic news that there’s such a high quality, affordable scanner for medium format film. Even factoring in the cost of the Digitaliza, we’re talking well under £300. Compared to the faff and cost of building a really good DSLR digitisation setup, the Epson V600 either on its own or paired with a dedicated 35mm scanner, stacks up very favourably. I could have saved myself a few hundred pounds if I’d known this three years ago!
After experimenting with scanning 35mm negatives in the supplied carrier, I have to say I can’t recommend the V600 for 35mm scans, I think even with the carrier held at perfect focus height the achievable resolution would only barely be acceptable. With the supplied carrier you couldn’t do anything practical with the images as you’re at best getting ~3 megapixels that will need massive amounts of sharpening to have any definition. Get that dedicated 35mm scanner and a good quality holder for 120 film!
DSLR scanning sucks. There I said it! Since my journey back into film photography started in 2017 I’ve been using my digital camera to digitise my negatives. It works, it can produce arguably great results – on a level with the very best quality you can achieve from a high end commercial scanner. But it’s a terrible solution.
Why is it terrible? Because it requires a shed ton of expensive gear to be done remotely well. Yeah you can just about cobble something together with any semi-recent digital camera, a macro extension tube and a nifty fifty (because proper 1:1 macros are expensive), you can sort of use a tripod, you can find a cheap LED light panel that produces whiteish light and so on. But this creates a really awkward setup, once the initial euphoria of “it works!” passes, you’re left with this really cumbersome and unreliable system that probably produces uneven sharpness and is a nightmare to align each time you set it up again. Oh and you’re on your own when it comes to turning your digitised negatives into positives.
The solutions to improving this setup are all really expensive – once you’ve added up the costs of a high quality 1:1 macro lens (£300-1000 depending on system), a proper sturdy copy stand (£200 or more), a high CRI light box (£50-100) and something to hold the negatives themselves flat (£30-300) you’ve easily spent £1000 or more. That puts you well into the ball park price of the highest end prosumer scanners like the Epson v850, the Plustek OpticFilm 120, the Reflecta MF5000 and so on.
For my DSLR* scanning I’ve tried a variety of things, starting off with the bodged solution outlined above. Trying, failing and trying again, replacing and tweaking each of the many components that make it up. Each step has cost more money and I’m incredibly fed up of it. To give a recent example, I’ve been unhappy with using my old Durst negative carrier as it cuts off about 4mm of the frame in each direction and its a faff to align the film well in it, especially at the ends of the strip. I’ve all but given up on ever receiving my Pixl-Latr so I bought both of Lomograph’s DigitaLIZA masks. The 120 model is excellent and works really well, the 35mm one on the other hand isn’t fit for purpose. So I’m back to the suboptimal Durst carrier again. At least I was able to resell the DigitaLIZA so I only ended up about £10 out of pocket, but still it’s frustrating.
* I use a Fuji X-T2 which is obviously a mirrorless camera, but for the sake of simplicity and brevity I’ll refer to it as a DSLR in this article.
So is the solution simply to buy a flatbed or dedicated film scanner?
Dedicated scanners also suck. Yeah, I know. Most scanners currently on the market are at best anywhere from 5 to 10 year old models. Sure periodically manufactures bump the model numbers, but the fundamental hardware is basically the same. A telling sign of this is that we’re still stuck with slow USB 2 connections, now a twenty year old standard that should feel as anachronistic as parallel and SCSI ports. Scanning speed is glacial – generally the fastest you can find is around a minute per 35mm frame and more typically you’re talking about several minutes per frame, so the process of digitising an entire 36 exposure role is likely to take an hour at a minimum. They also nearly all lie about their actual resolution (DPI) so it becomes a guessing game of what resolution you need to scan at and then downsample from to achieve the optimal result.
However scanners do get some important things right, or at least they try to. Automatic dust removal, software designed to handle the whole process of capture, inversion and colour balancing, consistent results and quick setup. Some scanners even automate the process to the extent they can do whole strips or even multiple strips without supervision.
I enjoy editing my photos almost as much as taking them, but I do not overly enjoy the digitisation process itself so anything that makes that simpler and more reliable is a huge win for me. So I’ve decided to buy a dedicated film scanner, in the knowledge that it’s rebadged old hardware, that it will be slow and that I’m likely to encounter a learning curve to get the quality of results that I demand. In an ideal world I’d have been able to buy a scanner capable of handling 120 and 35mm film, but the only two choices there I can find on the market that produce adequate scan resolutions are both over £1000 and seem if not discontinued, then extremely scarce on the ground. So I’ve decided to keep my DSLR scanning setup for medium format for now, but switch my 35mm scanning to using a PlusTek 8200i. I’ll explain my thought process a bit below.
Why I chose the 8200i
I’ve been researching film scanners on and off for awhile now and have found there is precious little information out there on this subject despite the prevalence of YouTube channels and blogs dedicated to film photography. The only website with comprehensive scanner reviews I’ve found is ScanDig, which itself feels like a time capsule from the early 00’s. Reading their reviews you’ll quickly spot a theme – most of the scanners aren’t that good, they all over state their resolution to varying degrees and that they’re all generally worse than the long discontinued Nikon models. What they don’t provide is any full resolution sample scans or offer any head-to-head comparisons with a reference image for you to make your own mind up. At least they provide a good list of different scanners you can then look up individually on Google.
I quickly decided I wasn’t happy with the quality from flatbed scanners and it sounded like they nearly all had issues with accurately focusing on the negatives which resulted in extremely low resolution being achieved with 35mm, and only barely acceptable resolution from medium format. So next I turned to the dedicated film scanner market that thankfully is still limping along. The two main players here are currently Reflecta and PlusTek. Reflectas are also sold under a few different brands like Braun and Pacific Image.
The Reflecta scanners seem to have a slight edge in terms of resolution, but are more expensive than equivalent PlusTek models. They also had very restrictive warranties until recently (up to 8000 scans) which makes me question the manufacturer’s expected longevity of their products given each photo will generally require at least 2 scans (preview and main), and potentially 3 with infrared dust removal. I also seemed to come across quite a few people complaining about technical problems with their Reflecta scanners, but that may just have been happenstance.
In the world of 35mm scanners they fall broadly into two camps; automatic and manual feed. If you’re sitting there with a huge box of negatives that all need scanning and you don’t have unlimited time and patience on your hands, then an automatic feed scanner is basically essential. You drop the negative into a carrier and it will work out where the frames are and scan each one for you. However for my needs, where in the worst case I maybe have two or three films to scan at any one time, manual feed is fine. As you might expect, manual feed scanners are cheaper. It also seems like one less thing to go wrong. PlusTek sell three manual feed 35mm scanners, the 8100, the 8200i SE and the 8200i AI. The 8100 is the cheapest and most basic model, it doesn’t do infrared dust removal – whether that’s important to you or not will depend on how much black and white you shoot (it only works on colour film). The 8200 models are identical except for the versions of the SilverFast 8 software they ship with.
The 8200i is a compact little unit and takes up considerably less space than any of the various DSLR scanning setups I’ve tried. It comes with a two film holders, one for mounted slides and one for a 6 exposure long negative strip (shorter strips can be used). I was a little apprehensive about the scanning software it comes with, SilverFast SE 8 Plus, as it has a reputation of having a steep learning curve. However it turned out it’s fairly easy to use – but I’ve been using professional level photographic software for over twenty years now so I’m not your average user.
The default scan setting uses 3600 dpi which produces roughly 19 megapixel images. This is definitely the sweet spot for useful detail from any film that’s ISO 100 or over unless you just want more defined grain. Scan times on my computer (3.6GHz i7 9700K, 32GB RAM) are around 55 seconds at 3600 dpi. A preview scan takes around 25 seconds. That time roughly doubles if you turn on the infrared dust spot removal as it has to do a second pass.
The 8200’s top resolution is 7200 dpi. At this resolution you’re not actually gaining that much more information, just inflating the size your file. Scanning at this resolution took 2:45 minutes on my machine. If you downsample this massive scan though you can extract slightly more detail than you get from the 3600 dpi scan so for certain special images it may be worth the hassle. It might also be useful if you need to do a lot of fine repair work on your negative before down sampling.
Scan + iSRD (infrared repair)
1 minute, 40 seconds
2 mins, 45 seconds
5 minutes, 50 seconds
Typical scanning times with and without infrared dust and scratch repair on a high spec desktop PC.
SilverFast has lots of modules you can add to your work flow for sharpening, grain and noise removal, auto-contrast and so on. I’m not using any of them – I want my scans to be relatively neutral because I will be post-processing them in Lightroom and Photoshop. I’m not really convinced any of them hold a candle to what you can achieve in Adobe’s apps either. Take the infrared dust and scratch removal feature – it does a fairly decent job of spotting the blemishes on your film, but the actual corrections it applies are ham fisted compared to what you can achieve in a few minutes with the dust and scratches filter in Photoshop (applied locally) and the clone stamp or healing brush. It’s fine for dust specs, but if you have scratches or damage to the emulsion it will do more harm than good.
What SilverFast does do a very good job at is converting colour negatives into positives. It has an extensive range of presets for all the common films from Kodak and Fuji, including many long discontinued ones from other brands. It is however missing anything that’s come out in the last few years like CineStill or Lomography films and surprisingly also Kodak’s ColorPlus. However you can easily switch profiles without needing to rescan to see how the colours change, so it’s just a case of choosing something that looks pleasing.
For black and white films the profiles tend to mess with the contrast and sometimes introduce a slight warming or cooling effect. I just look for which ever is neutral enough – I don’t want to bake a load of contract into my scans. Unless you scan your black and white images in colour mode you’re unfortunately limiting yourself to 8 bit output (that is only 256 shades of grey) which feels a bit unforgivable in a piece of software as mature and expensive as SilverFast.
When it comes to fine tuning your scans the first port of call should ideally be Photoshop (or a similar tool). You can fix any obvious blemishes and then a little colour noise reduction will leave your image looking pretty nice if still a little soft at the pixel level. Applying a moderate level unsharp mask (say around 100% with a radius of 0.9 and threshold of 2) and your image should begin to look pretty crisp, but not over sharpened. It’s at this stage that I import the photo into Lightroom for any colour correction or further sharpening. You could skip the Photoshop step and go directly to Lightroom, but I find Photoshop faster for dust spotting.
So how does the 8200i compare to my DSLR setup?
So far I’ve found the 8200i compares favourably to the best scans I’ve managed to make with my DSLR and macro lens. In terms of raw detail, when the macro lens is perfectly focused the results look as good as the 7200 dpi scans downsampled to around 24 megapixels (the native output of my DSLR). But where the scanner excels is that it’s always properly focused, something that is not easy to achieve with a manual focus macro lens like the one I use. So that means the regular 3600 dpi scans look as a good as or better than my typical results with the DSLR. I’ve found this especially true for slide film. I thought slide film just wasn’t that sharp – turns out I was wrong, I just could never focus on it properly!
Top right, DSLR capture. Note the mushy green foliage with very little fine detail. This is already a weak spot of my Fuji X-T2’s X-Trans sensor, but even non-green areas are this lacking in detail and I tried refocusing on the slide several times.
Bottom right, 8200i scan. The fine detail of the leaves in the distant trees here really surprised me – I just didn’t think ISO 100 slide film could resolve that much detail!
SilverFast also does a hands down better job at creating pleasing and balanced colours from colour negatives than I’ve ever been able to achieve myself. I’ve always found correcting for the orange mask kills my reds leaving them looking more orange and washed out than they should be. Films which I thought looked a bit washed out because of my low temperature home processing are suddenly bursting with vibrant colours, it’s a total revelation!
So in terms of raw image quality and colours I’m honestly thrilled, it’s a marked improvement over what I had. I have discovered some downsides though. The first is that SilverFast can only output 8 bit per channel tiff files*, that somewhat limits your headroom for pushing and pulling highlights and shadows. It’s especially egregious for greyscale files where you are dealing with only one 8 bit channel. To get true 16 bit output you have to spend a fortune on Silverfast Ai Studio which is an expensive upgrade for such a basic feature.
“So in terms of raw image quality and colours I’m honestly thrilled, it’s a marked improvement over what I had.”
* it can also output to its own proprietary HDR raw files which do offer 16 bits per channel but which of course require an expensive dedicated piece of software from Silverfast to work with 🙄.
I decided to try rival scanner software VueScan to get 16 bit greyscale output and it works fine, however it seems to produce a little bit of banding that I don’t see with Silverfast, although it only effects the extreme edge of the scan so I can crop it off easily enough and only lose around 20 pixels. I don’t find VueScan’s colour output especially good however, I’m sure with enough patience and trial and error you can make it good, but in this regard Silverfast is hands down better as it works out of the box.
The second major downside is that it turns out scanners can ‘see’ damage to the surface of a negative that my DSLR could not. I’ve never mistreated my negatives, I keep them all in glassine sleeves and I don’t squeegee them when drying. However I still seem to have scratched a lot of them, I can only assume during my previous digitisations pulling them through the negative carrier. I’ve not come across anything that was especially hard to fix in Photoshop, but if you’re going to be dealing with less well treated films then this is something to keep in mind. As I mentioned above the automatic dust and scratch removal is limited and it’s particularly poor at correcting scratches turning them into coloured gashes that clearly disrupt the grain pattern and any other fine detail they pass through.
So I should buy a film scanner?
If you’re totally happy with whatever setup you have at the moment and that doesn’t already involve a film scanner, then obviously no. However if you’re at all unhappy with the faff, the colours, the sharpness or whatever and you primarily want to scan 35mm then yeah, you really should invest in a dedicated scanner because the results are that much better. I wish there was an equally good and affordable solution for medium format. Maybe an Epson v850 is a good enough as a stop gap, but I hope either PlusTek or Reflecta will step up here and refresh their offerings for the new generation of film shooters.
The C35 was an entry level colour 35mm enlarger made by Italian firm Durst in the early 1980s. It had a sister model called the C65 (yes65) that was designed for up to 6×6 negatives. The only difference between the two models was the supplied mixing box, negative carrier and lens, they otherwise shared all the same components. From my searching it seems like the C65 is rather rare, especially compared to the C35 which can be easily found on eBay or at specialist photography stores that carry secondhand kit, usually for around £50 or less.
Upgrading to an LED light source
The main weakness of the C35 (and C65) is the light source. They were originally designed to be used with a 55W reflector bulb. When paired with the mixing box diffusor this was decidedly dim compared to an enlarger using a condensing lens. Luckily the lamp fitting takes a standard E27 Edison screw mains voltage bulb, so we can bring things into the 21st century by fitting a much brighter LED bulb.
I recommend the Philips Corepro LED bulbs, you’ll want a cool white version because photographic paper reacts primarily to blue light. Don’t cheap out on the bulb as you want something that will emit an even and wide spectrum of light.
To level up the light bulb even more for our purposes I recommend (carefully) removing the opal diffuser from the bulb itself. This means more of the light will go directly into the mixing box instead of bouncing around in the lamp housing. On the Corepro bulbs this is simply held in place with adhesive and can be pried loose with a flat head screw driver without too much difficulty. Obviously don’t do this while it’s plugged in or turned on and don’t touch the exposed LEDs or you risk electric shock! Once installed in the enlarger the bulb will be safely behind a glass heat shield.
Note that I’ve only tried black and white multigrade printing with an LED bulb, I can’t guarantee you’ll get great colour results using one; but then if you’re serious about colour printing the C35 isn’t a good option anyway given the lack of a proper cyan filteror voltage regulator.
Upgrading the Lens
The C35 comes with a fairly basic, plasticky 50mm f2.8 lens Durst brands as a Neotaron. Mine was full of fungus and refused all attempts at disassembly so I was unable to clean it. The C35’s lens board will take any Leica M39 screw mount lens so you have plenty of upgrade options.
Durst also made a very nice premium 50mm f2.8 lens with the Neonon name. This is an excellent quality lens that generally sells for a lot less than other popular enlarging lenses from the big brands. If you’re looking for a 50mm lens for your C35 this is what I’d recommend.
Note that due to the maximum column height of the C35 you won’t be able to make much more than a 9.5×12″ print with a 50mm lens. If you want to print bigger you either need to find a wide angle 40mm lens or rotate the column on the enlarger so it projects on to the floor. Sadly you can’t rotate the enlarger head to project on to a wall.
If you have a C65 or an upgraded C35 that can handle 6×6 negatives, you’ll also need a 75 or 80mm lens. Durst made a fairly dark 75mm f4.5 lens, but I’d recommend looking for something a little brighter. I have an inexpensive Meopta 80mm f4 that came bundled with my old Gnome enlarger. Unfortunately it’s too big to use the C35’s swing in red filter, but that’s not the end of the world.
Upgrading the C35 to handle 6×6 negatives
As I mentioned at the start of the post, the only differences between the C35 and C65 are the negative carrier, mixing box and lens. So it stands to reason you can simply upgrade by swapping these components. Indeed Durst sold a kit called the MEKIT 65 for just this purpose. Unfortunately despite how common the C35 itself is, these kits are exceptionally rare*. So this part of the guide will probably only be helpful to a small number of people, but given the absence of any real information about it online I thought I’d try and fill the void.
* Another source of these components (other than the kit) might be a broken C65 – as long as you have at least the negative carrier and intact mixing box you should be in business.
I was extremely lucky and did manage to find a MEKIT 65 the other week by chance, albeit missing the 75mm f4.5 lens. As mentioned above I already own a Meopta 80mm lens so this wasn’t an issue.
However it wasn’t until after ordering I noticed a problem when examining pictures of the kit – on my C35 the magenta and yellow filters are integral to the mixing box, but the MEKIT 65 seems designed for a version of the C35 where this is instead fixed to the lamp housing. Oh dear!
So it turns out there are two versions of the C35, my one that is presumably a late model, whose main differentiating feature seems to be illuminated scales on the mixing box and the original which didn’t have this. The illuminated scale model for some reason moved the yellow and magenta filters to the mixing box itself, where as on the older model this was on the lamp housing.
Checking the manual that came with my C35 it still talks about the enlarger being upgradable but makes no mention of the MEKIT 65 and instead mentions MESIXKIT 65. Searching for MESIXKIT 65 turned up nothing of use.
After further inspecting both my mixing box and pictures of the MEKIT 65 one, I became convinced it would be possible to retrofit the colour filters to it as the overall design of the box itself was largely unchanged. Today I put that to the test as the upgrade kit was delivered!
It was straight forward to remove both the metal plate from the 6×6 mixing box and the colour mixer from the 35mm mixing box. They both attach in the same manner at the top of the box with two little hooks that clip into the plastic, but they are screwed into slightly different locations at the bottom.
Interestingly there are indents where the screws should go on the 6×6 version of the box, presumably that isn’t a coincidence! I removed the black card baffles and swapped the metal filter holder over from the 35mm mixing box. It fit perfectly so that was a good sign (the 35mm box still has a 6×6 aperture where it meets the lamp housing).
Next up I tried to fit the colour filter plate and thankfully it simply slotted into place. The metal plate from the 6×6 mixing box would not fit the 35mm box however – although that’s not a concern here, it does mean you might have difficulty if you were trying to fit a MESIXKIT 65 to an older style C35 for some reason.
Now it was just a case of screwing the colour filter plate into the 6×6 mixing box. First I removed the diffuser from the bottom of the box to make sure I wouldn’t be damaging anything with the screws (and to give it a clean). There was just an empty void where the screws were going so I had nothing to worry about. The plastic is fairly soft and it wasn’t hard to drive the screws from the 35mm mixing box into it without risking cracks.
After getting the screws in, I blew out any remaining dust with a blower, gave both sides of the diffuser box a gentle clean and then screwed that back in place.
The final step then was to simply affix the mixing box with colour filters back to the enlarger. This is super easy as there are four fixed bolts on the back of the colour filter plate that correspond with holes on the lamp housing, then it’s just a case of tightening 4 plastic nuts to lock it into position.
So that’s how you fully upgrade your Durst C35 to handle both 35mm and 6×6 negatives, at least if you end up with a mismatched enlarger and upgrade kit! Knowing now that there are multiple versions of the C35, if I were buying one today I’d look for the older model as it would be easier to upgrade and the illuminated scales are really not worth the extra hassle.
Back in May my partner convinced me to go climb Pen-y-ghent with him, one of the Yorkshire Three Peaks. At 694m, or 2,277 feet, it’s not the tallest mountain but it’s still a fair challenge, and the total hike which took us from Horton in Ribblesdale to Ribblehead was on the order of 12-13 miles. I took two film cameras to document the trip, my Rollei 35 SE loaded with Fuji Neopan Acros 100 and my Rolleicord Vb loaded with a roll of Provia 100F. I had the 16 exposure kit in my Rolleicord as I wanted to maximise the number of shots I had. I didn’t break out the Rolleicord until after climbing to the top of the mountain so all the shots in colour are from the decent.
The path was pretty gentle to begin with and we joined a fairly steady flow of walkers, setting off at about 10 in the morning.
The path got gradually more rocky and uneven as we neared the foot of the mountain.
The path gradually gave way to a stony steps. As the route is so well walked these stone paths are essential to prevent the terrain from getting eroded into gullies.
Looking up towards one of the peaks with the scree slopes beneath. There are a few points where some mild scrambling and rock climbing are required to reach the summit from this side, but it’s all pretty tame really.
Getting near the top the views are already looking pretty spectacular with clear views for a good few miles before the haze sets in. Being a national park, there are no pylons or big roads to mar the landscape.
Looking back at the long way down the mountain side.
On reaching the summit we waited our turn to get a selfie by the OS trig post. I forgot to get a shot on film so this is from my iPhone, looking back at the path we’ve just climbed up. Now with the hard bit done it was time to breakout the Rolleicord and get some colour shots.
The previously clear blue skies started to get a few clouds as we began our decent on the opposite side of the mountain. The path on this side is largely made of big stone steps.
You can just make out the white line of the path we’ll be walking, snaking off into the distance. You can even just make out the Ribblehead Viaduct over the cloud shadow on the mid-righthand edge.
Looking back over my shoulder I could see the peak of Pen-y-ghent slowly receding.
Getting a little more cloudy still.
Every structure was encrusted with a mix of moss and lichens, as seen here on this old gate post.
I used a yellow filter on the Rollei 35 which helped brighten the path and some of the moorland reeds and grasses.
Towards the end of the hike, the footpath took us through a farm yard. Look at the date above the door of this farmhouse – that building has stood there since 1681!
With the exception of the ever present winding drystone walls, the land is pretty bare. This ruined barn sits in rather splendid isolation.
We encountered a lot fewer walkers on the far side, you can just start to make out some of the cool limestone pavements the area is known for in the distance in this shot.
I’d love to come back here when I can spend a bit more time to explore and photograph the limestone pavement.
The background haze gradually increased as the afternoon wore on.
The last stretch of the walk ran along the road to Ribblehead and as it wasn’t very visually interesting, this part of the hike really felt like it dragged out. When the amazing Ribblehead Viaduct finally came into view though it was all worth it. Unfortunately to get a good shot of the viaduct would have required a fair bit more hiking down into the valley it crosses – something neither of us had the energy to do at that point. So instead after having some refreshments at the fairly mediocre Station Inn pub, I quickly ran up the road to get this view from behind the viaduct before we had to dash off to catch the train home. The trains only stop every 2 hours at Ribblehead so we were keen not to miss it.
I should preface this by saying I’m really not that interested in football, and find myself somewhat bemused by the wave of fervent excitement (and almost always dashed hopes) that wash over the nation every 4 years with the World Cup. But this year was a little different, for once our team actually did fairly well, and I found myself fascinated by the St. Georges flags that were suddenly popping up everywhere. The idea for a project sparked into my mind. So here I give you, Hopes & Dreams. A mini project documenting how England’s brief blaze of glory at the 2018 World Cup expressed itself in the windows, on the cars and down the streets of my corner of West Yorkshire. All shot on my newly acquired Pentax MX on a mix of Fuji Neopan Acros 100 & ADOX Silvermax 100.
Football did indeed, for a little while, come home.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you’ve read my previous blog post, you’ll know that at the beginning of this year I started shooting film again on a Ricoh GR1s, a tiny 35mm compact camera from the late 90s. Well, from there things have snowballed somewhat!
Getting a medium format camera
By the end of January I decided I’d really like to try medium format to see what all the fuss was about (especially with Fuji’s new GFX system launching to much fanfare). So I paid a visit to West Yorkshire Cameras in Leeds, a specialist camera shop handling only film cameras. The helpful salesperson showed me several different systems and after seeing how they worked and handled I settled on a Bronica ETRS with AE prism finder, speed grip and 75mm f2.8 lens.
The Bronica is a fairly big, late 1970s-early 80s era, modular camera that shoots in the 645 format. With the AE prism and speed grip it handles like an oversized SLR with the option of fully manual or aperture priority shooting.
I’ve never shot with a modular camera before and it’s really rather interesting. The core is a roughly 4 inch cube that houses the focusing screen, electronics and mirror. Everything else – the film back, viewfinder, lens and any other accessories you might want, all bolt onto it. This means you can configure the camera just how you want it and based on what you’re shooting. The speed grip and AE finder mean you can just treat it like any 35mm SLR, hand holding shots and rapidly firing frames with the camera metering for you. Attach a waist level finder, put the camera on a tripod and grab a light meter and you’ve got a more traditional studio or landscape setup.
Taking advantage of the modularity of the system, I’ve since gone on to upgrade the camera body to the slightly newer ETRSi model (I found I needed mirror lockup to avoid mirror slap blurring photos on my lightweight tripod), bought a waist level finder to see what that would be like and acquired a 150mm f3.5 portrait lens and 50mm f2.8 wide angle.
A different type of film
Medium format cameras all shoot on the same type of film, known as ‘120’*. Unlike 35mm film which starts and ends inside the same canister, 120 film is backed by paper and winds from one spool onto another as you shoot. Once fully exposed, you tape up the end of the roll and the paper backing keeps the film light tight until it can be developed. It takes a bit of getting used to and does make loading a bit more tricky than 35mm, but you soon get the hang of it.
The height of the negative is around 6cm, but the frame width (and therefore the number of shots you get on a roll) is down to the camera. 645 is the smallest format and the most economical to shoot with, producing 15 to 16 images on a roll that measure around 55x42mm each – dramatically bigger than 35mm/full frame and even making most medium format digital cameras (like the GFX) blush with envy. Other common formats are 6×6, 6×7 and 6×9. Typically as the format size goes up so does the camera body and lens size and of course you get fewer and fewer frames per roll.
(* You used to be able to get ‘220’ film as well, which was basically twice the length of 120, letting you double your number of exposures per roll, but sadly no one makes this anymore.)
120 film is available at specialist camera stores and easily found on-line through major resellers like Amazon. Fuji, Kodak, Ilford and a few other brands produce quite a wide range of negative, colour reversal (slide) and black and white films. So far I’ve shot with Fuji Pro 160 NS, Fuji Provia, Ilford Delta 400, Ilford FP4+ and I’ve got some rolls of Kodak Portra 400 sat in the fridge waiting to be used.
That medium format look
Describing what’s known as the ‘medium format look’ is rather difficult. You often hear people talking about things that are hard to quantify, but in the end the images rather end up speaking for themselves. A lot of the benefit is clearly derived from having such a large negative – the grain size in a particular film stock is going to be constant regardless of format, so the larger the area your image fills the more detail you’re able to record before that grain size becomes the limiting factor.
The huge negative is a real plus when it comes to digitisation. While I’ve struggled to extract more than 14-16 megapixels from my 35mm negatives, I can easily get 30-50 megapixels from a 645 frame by stitching multiple shots.*
* I use the digital camera plus macro lens approach rather than a scanner.
The images once digitised just look incredible, producing a resolution that’s competitive with modern digital sensors, while giving all the wonderful characteristics and colours you’d expect from film.
Anyway that’s enough words, lets look at some photos! All of these have been digitised with either my X-T1 or X-Pro 2 using the 60mm f2.4 macro, in some cases stitched from multiple shots to extract the most detail. Everything has been processed to taste in Lightroom – negatives are much like digital RAWs and require some processing to be turned into a pleasing image. The black and white shots were developed at home using Ilford DD-X and the colour shots processed by Ag Photo Lab in Birmingham.
I absolutely love the results I’m getting with the Bronica and I’m continuing to find the whole process of analogue photography really rewarding, especially now I’m developing a lot of my own films – something I’ll no doubt write more about in the future.
If you’re thinking about shooting film and know your fundamentals, I’d really recommend looking into medium format. I think it’s going to be a long time, if ever, that digital medium format becomes something most hobbyists (and even many pros) can really afford to use. So why not give it a go while the cameras are cheap and still easily available and film isn’t too hard to find or expensive to process?