Sugar Rush (Why This Big Kid Has Such A Sweet Tooth For Expired Film)

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Thank you Mr Postman!

One of the delights of film photography is the range of film emulsions available.

With brand new film there’s still enough of a range available to suit every need for an enthusiastic amateur like me, from the very cheap yet surprisingly versatile and impressive AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 upwards.

But if you’re prepared to delve into film’s (recent) history a little, the number of emulsions at your disposal multiplies many times over. 

I love shooting expired film, and have had great success doing so.

Aside from the sometimes unpredictable outcomes (in a good way), being able to try film that’s no longer made is both exciting and refreshing, yet somehow nostalgic and slightly melancholy all at once.

Added to this, the physical, tactile aspect of the film is hugely appealing.

Much like CDs with their artwork and inlay cards (and records before them) added another layer of creativity and interest to the music itself in the past, compared with the uniform anonymity of a digital mp3 file, film in its bright and varied packaging makes it feel so much more special to see and hold in the lead up (the photographic foreplay before the actual picture taking, if you will) than slipping a tiny black SD card into your digital camera.

The latest batch of expired film I’ve picked up is pictured above. 

The Kodak Colour Plus 200 is an excellent alternative to AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200, and in my experience gives very pleasing results even up to a decade or so expired.

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Ricoh FF-3D AF Super plus Kodak Color Plus 200 expired film
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Contax 167MT with Yashica ML 50mm f/1.4 lens plus Kodak Color Plus 200 expired film

Jessops Diamond Everyday 400 I’ve used before and is rebranded Kodak. The slightly muted tones are appealing for certain subjects and moods.

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Pentax Spotmatic F with Asahi Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 50mm f/1.4 lens plus Jessops Diamond Everyday 400 expired film

Incidentally, the far more common ISO200 version of Jessops Diamond is even better, being repackaged Agfacolor XRG200. It can create some lovely rich tones and textures.

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Contax 159MM with Yashica ML 50mm f/1.4 lens plus Jessops Diamond Everyday 200 expired film
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Contax 159MM with Yashica ML 50mm f/1.4 lens plus Jessops Diamond Everyday 200 expired film

Truprint FG+ 200 has become one of my very favourite expired films, and it was no surprise to me to find it’s rebranded Ferrania FG+ 200. The similar Ferrania Solaris I’ve shot dozens of rolls with and has been just as good, and very similar in colours.

The FG+, depending on how expired, can give some lovely autumnal, amber tones.

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Minolta Dynax 7000i with Tokina SD 28-70mm lens plus Truprint FG+ 200 expired film
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Minolta X-700 with Minolta MD 28mm f/2.8 lens plus Truprint FG+ 200 expired film

When it’s a little fresher, you get just as special results, with the kind of richness and depth of colour that is so appealing about film photography.

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Contax 167MT with Yashica ML 50mm f/1.7 lens plus Truprint FG+ 200 expired film
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Contax 167MT with Fujinon 55mm f/1.8 lens plus Truprint FG+ 200 expired film

The Konica VX100, Agfa Vista 200 (the original German emulsion from Agfa, not the AgfaPhoto version that is rebranded Japanese FujiColor C200) and Agfa Ultra Color 100 are all new to me, so I look forward to seeing what results they can bring too.

All in all, a very appetising package, and being ever frugal, to me great value, working out at just £1.02 per film (another appeal of expired film, especially when found in mixed batched like this).

The phrase “feeling like a kid in a sweet shop” is over used, but with me and expired film, it’s exactly how I feel…

How do you feel about picking up expired film like this? What about the physical feel and look of those tiny coloured boxes and canisters?

Please let us know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

Why I Share My Photographs

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Minolta AF-C plus Ferrania Solaris 200 expired film

A few conversations recently have made me rethink why I share my photographs, and how that has evolved over the last few years.

The places I share are pretty few.

Here on 35hunter, on my Flickr, and occasionally on Instagram.

Offline, I rarely share my photographs with anyone.

Here are the major reasons I share my work –

  1. An underlying need to remind myself and others that the world is beautiful. 

    Much of the time the world feels chaotic, busy, out of control, even ugly. By seeking out tiny pockets of beauty and wonder, then immortalising them in a photograph, it helps shift my focus and remind me that there is always something beautiful and interesting to be found in the often overlooked details.

    I seem compelled to share this with others to try to remind them too.

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    Olympus LT-1 plus AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 desaturated to b/w
  2. To connect with like minded photographers.

    We can’t really find other photographers (and camera collectors, in my case), unless we have something to share ourselves.

    Yes, I could just follow other people and even comment on their blogs and work, but it seems more genuine, and completes the circle if I’m creating and sharing my own photographs too.

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    Contax 139 Quartz with Yashica ML 50mm f/2 lens plus Truprint FG+200 expired film
  3. To inspire others that they can make similar photo with the same cheap humble kit.

    Ansel Adams said 12 great images is a good achievement for any year. I share somewhat more than that, and I don’t claim to be anywhere near the legend of Adams! The reason I don’t just share what I consider my very best work, is so others can see what is possible with various cameras, lenses and film. in the same way others have done for me.

    If I come across a new (old) camera/lens/film that looks interesting, the first thing I’ll do is seek out images online made by others to see what it’s is capable of. I hope when others do the same, by having my images well tagged, they find photographs by cameras/lenses/film I have used and are inspired enough to try that particular one themselves.

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    Canon EOS500 with M42 Fujinon 55mm f/1.8 lens plus Fuji Superia 100 expired film
  4. To create a natural extension to my hobby.

    I love using old film cameras to make photographs, and whilst this is the major element of my photographic hobby, sharing online is a natural and enjoyable extension.

    Times in the evening when it’s not feasible to be out photographing due to darkness, weather, family etc, it’s good to have the option to still focus on something directly connected to my photography, and deepens and enriches my enjoyment of the art.

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    Olympus XA plus AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film
  5. So people tell me I’m a good photographer.

    I’m not beyond the reach of ego, and yes it’s great sometimes when someone you admire and respect (or even a random stranger) lets you know they like your photographs and are pleased you shared them.

    Obviously if I kept them entirely to myself this couldn’t happen.

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    Contax 167MT with Yashica ML 50mm f/1.7 lens plus Truprint FG+200 film

Why do you share your photographs?

Please let us know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

New Experimental Vistas – Black & White

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Fuji DL-300 plus AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 desaturated to b/w

A little while back I wrote about experimenting with AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 at different exposures.

Since then, I’ve been trying Vista Plus as a black and white film.

First, some background as to why – 

  1. Cheap film. AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 is the cheapest film available – £1 a roll at Poundland. I have plenty stocked in my freezer. When film is this affordable, it encourages me to experiment with it more. As stocks of other film I have dwindle, it’s likely I’ll be shooting Vista Plus more and more.
  2. Cheap processing. Colour Negative (C41) processing is also currently affordable and readily available. My nearest Asda – around 9 miles away – has a Fuji minilab and they process my film and scan to CD. I’m more than happy with the standard for my uses.

    I have four films processed at once, and scanned to the same CD. This works out at £3 per film.

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    Olympus Mju-1 plus AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 desaturated to b/w 
  3. Expense of pure black and white. Conversely, black and white (b/w) film is far more expensive to buy and process.The cheapest black and white film is probably something like Fomapan, which is about £3 a roll if you buy in bulk.

    To have it developed I either have to drive much further to a lab, or send via mail order. Either way, it’s about £10 per film, plus postage/fuel/parking costs.

    So if I shot and processed four rolls at a time, it would cost a minimum of £12 for the film plus around £45 for processing, a total of £57. Gulp. Which is £14+ per film. Being a cheapskate, currently, I can’t justify this cost per roll of film.

  4. CN b/w isn’t working. I have in the past shot a fair few rolls of the CN b/w film that can be processed as Colour Negative (C41) – Kodak BW400CN, Fuji Neopan 400CN and Ilford XP2 Super. There are three reasons I’ve stopped doing this.

    First, the film itself costs more than “pure” b/w film, at around £5+ a roll.

    Second, although the processing is cheap, you end up with images with a colour cast – either green, purple, brown or somewhere in between. I then end up desaturating these to get just b/w images. I realised if I was going through this step anyway, why not use a cheaper colour film?

    Third, the results, whilst good enough, are not sufficiently impressive to use this film over colour negative film desaturated to b/w.

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Fuji DL-300 plus AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 desaturated to b/w

We’ve talked about the whys then – largely the affordability of this method compared with using pure b/w film.

Let’s move on to how I shoot colour negative film as b/w, and the associated mindset.

It’s easier here to explain what I don’t do. I don’t load a roll of Vista Plus colour film, then walking around shooting it as colour film, then once it’s processed, converting the images to b/w, just to see if any of them might just look better in b/w than colour.

For me, shooting colour and shooting black and white have different mindsets. If you’re shooting black and white, you need to commit to that mindset the moment you load the film.

Whilst there are aspects common to both – composition, subject matter, textures and so on – with colour film I’m looking for interesting, vibrant colour. I’m curious about how this colour will be rendered in the final image with this particular camera, lens and film combination.

This is why I photograph a lot of red post boxes and telephone boxes – they’re often a very vibrant pleasing red!

With a b/w mindset, I’m looking for for shapes, contrasts, shadows and more.

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Fuji DL-300 plus AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 desaturated to b/w

With a film camera of course it doesn’t matter what film is in the camera, you can choose a colour or b/w mindset when you’re shooting it, unlike a digital camera where you might switch the camera itself to a b/w mode to aid shooting.

I much prefer trying to translate the colour world around me into b/w in my head – the reward when it works is much greater than having let the camera visualise for you. 

(I confess that back in 2011 before I’d shot my first roll of film, I used a fantastic little Nikon Coolpix for all of my photography. It has a high contrast monochrome mode, which I used extensively.

Whilst I don’t do this with digital cameras now, with hindsight I’m sure the thousands of photographs I shot with Coolpix on its b/w mode helped me see the different kind of qualities of a composition that work better in b/w.)

So, when I load a roll of Vista Plus intending to shoot b/w, I just try to have that outlook and mindset as I find and capture photographs.

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Olympus Mju-1 plus AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 desaturated to b/w

Finally, how I turn images shot with colour film into black and white.

Obviously the CD I get from the lab has all the images in colour, it’s a colour film. I simple open the whole batch, and in Preview on my MacBook choose Tools > Adjust Colour and slide the saturation right down to the b/w end, then save. I then browse through the images in my usual way and decide which I might want to share.

I have no idea whether there’s a better way of doing this with Photoshop, Lightroom, or anything else, and at this point don’t much care.

I just want a simple process to extract the colour from the images, and this works.

My workflow for processing film photographs is – insert CD, copy and paste all the images to an “unposted” folder on my desktop, then using the original negatives and my notes on which film I shot with which camera and where, put the images into subfolders, eg “2016_10_01 OlympusMju1 AgfaPhotoVistaPlus200 as b/w”.

Again, I’m sure there are ways to use Lightroom for example to have a highly polished workflow, but I just like to keep it simple, and this works. Plus the less time I can spend post processing, the better!

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Fuji Dl-300 plus AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 desaturated to b/w

 

So how do I feel about the AgfaPhoto Vista Plus I’ve shot as b/w so far?

In short, I’m very happy.

I’m sure some will be horrified at the the thought of shooting b/w images without using b/w film. A while ago I was!

But for my level of photography (enthusiastic amateur), and my limited budget, Vista Plus is looking a very workable option for shooting b/w.

I’m not going to pore over my older images shot with Kodak TMax or TX and compare contrast, grain or anything else, because I’m happy with how the Vista Plus images are.

Plus again, TMax or TX now would cost me £15 a roll to buy and process compared with £4 for VistaPlus. And for someone who loves using film cameras as much as I do, I’m not about to cut my shooting rate in quarter.

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Olympus Mju-1 plus AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 desaturated to b/w

Have you tried anything similar, shooting colour film as b/w and converting? 

Let us know your experiences in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

 

Mju Little Beauty

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Olympus made more than a few of the Olympus Mju 1, or to give it its full name, µ[mju:]-1, and over the last four years, I’ve had three of them.

The first two I enjoyed using but struggled to get any memorable pictures from them, and ended up selling them off, greatly disappointed.

My third example had similar beginnings, with a lacklustre test roll, so I was almost ready to give up on the promising little Olympus once and for all.

But something implored me to try one more roll, and though most of the shots were once again a let down, a couple were impressive enough to encourage me to experiment more. 

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After another roll still, the keeper rate (the number of shots I like enough to share online) has shot up vastly, and I’m sold on the charms of the Mju 1 for good.

Here’s why I’ve finally realised why Olympus’s tiny AF wonder is such a beauty – 

Size

One of very few genuinely trouser pocketable compact film cameras out there. I’ve had dozens that can be persuaded (ie forced) into a coat pocket, but the only ones I would call truly pocketable are the Mju 1, its older siblings the XA and XA2, the Minox 35 range, and Minolta’s AF-C. The Mju 1 excels in its sleekly streamlined shell adding further to its compactness.

Yes, its successor, the Mju II, is as slender, but for me the handling is poor and for the brief time I had one I nearly dropped it every time I went to use it. For me, Olympus took the compact design too far, and failed. If you can’t use the camera effectively it doesn’t matter if it’s as small as a box of matches.

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Ergonomics

Which ties in with the small size. The killer curves of the little Mju, which are excellent when the sliding lens cover is closed and even better when its open, make it a joy to hold and shoot with. The combination of the curved rear thumb rest and shaped front finger grips are an inspired design.

When you want to photograph in a slower and more contemplative way, the Mju’s handling is just as reassuring. When shooting two handed and/or at awkward angles, I use my left hand with thumb and forefinger at right angles to rest the camera upon. It really could not fit better in my hands.

Immediacy

Or in other words, the “pure point and shoot-ness” of the camera. The Mju 1 is I think the only camera I can take out of my pocket, slide open the cover, take a photo then close it and return to my pocket in a matter of a couple of seconds. With one hand. In my book its exquisite design make it the definitive point and shoot compact.

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Auto Focus

First of all the AF seems very reliable. I can’t recall having a shot yet where the camera hasn’t focused where I wanted it to.

Second, the AF confirm light in the viewfinder is clear, bright and logical. If the camera has locked focus (with a half press of the shutter button), the AF light remains steady green. If you’re too close (or the camera can’t focus for another reason) it flashes slowly. Simple, but so many compacts don’t give you this feedback.

Thirdly, and probably best of all, the Mju’s little lens focuses down to just 0.35m, an absolute delight for someone like me who loves shooting up close, but where the standard close focus for compacts is 0.8-0.9m. The difference between 0.8m and 0.35m is huge in terms of how many more creative options are available, and how much more of the world it becomes possible to capture.

As much as I love the Olympus XA, and its lens is very impressive in the final result, I struggle hugely to focus with its tiny rangefinder patch, and half the shots I take seem to be slightly off in focus. No such frustrations with the Mju 1, meaning ultimately I’d reach for the Mju now ahead of the XA.

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Lens

Although there are a plethora of compacts with very impressive 35mm f/2.8 lenses, the Mju’s humble 35/3.5, 3 elements in 3 groups lens is very good once you find what it likes.

At my level of photography (enthusiastic amateur), and for someone who doesn’t make/need large prints, the best photographs I’ve made with the Mju 1 have been more than good enough to not make me want to ditch the baby Olympus and reach for a more sophisticated f/2.8 that’s two or three times the bulk.

The focal length of 35mm is pretty much perfect for a compact, allowing a decent depth of field when shooting wider scenes, but still, combined with the Mju’s aforementioned close focus of 0.35m, gives some pleasingly shallow depth of field. In fact it’s more capable of “SLR like” shots than nearly all other compacts I’ve used.

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Autoexposure range

Cleverly, the Mju 1’s shutter range is 1/15s to 1/500s. Which means you needn’t worry about camera shake, as long as you have a reasonably steady hand. I’ve shot handheld at 1/8s with SLRs without any problems.

The max shutter speed of 1/500s at f/16 is fast enough enough in bright sunlight and with ISO400 film, which is the fastest film I use. Mostly I use ISO200 or 100, so in the less than scorching UK the Mju with its smallest aperture of f/16 shouldn’t ever max out.

Flash control

I never use flash. So being able to switch it off is pretty important to me. The flash of the Mju can’t be permanently switched off like some of the early 80s compacts where if the flash isn’t physically popped up, it can’t fire. Neither is it like cameras like the XA series or Minolta AF-C which require separate flash units. Disabling the flash requires two presses of a fairly small button, and this needs to be done again every time you switch the camera on.

But, crucially, the Mju tells you when it wants to use the flash. In the default start up mode of Auto Flash, when you half press the shutter button to lock focus, the red flash light comes on in the VF to advise you of its intentions. At this point, you can then release the shutter button, disable flash with the double button press, recompose and shoot.

In practice, as I shoot mostly in decent outdoor light, this rarely happens, so I can confidently shoot in the default Auto Flash mode without fearing I’ll be unexpectedly blinded at any moment, like with some cameras. Yes I’d rather have no flash at all, but having the camera intelligently warn you is the next best thing. Well done Olympus for giving us the best of both worlds.

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Of course, like any camera, as good as the Mju 1 is, it isn’t perfect. 

So what does it lack?

A big VF

The viewfinder isn’t the biggest or brightest you’ll ever find, and the early 80s compacts by Nikon, Canon, Konica, Pentax, Ricoh and Olympus themselves give a far bigger, clearer view. But they’re all two or three times the bulk of the Mju 1. And at least two or three times more noisy!

The VF of the Mju 1 is perfectly adequate for composition, and to set where you want the camera to focus. It also has parallax correction frame lines for when you’re shooting really close. Once you’re used to it, and you remember how small the camera is overall, the VF isn’t an issue.

Manual ISO setting

I use this mostly to overexpose expired film to get more saturated colours. The majority of film I use is ISO200, so I can either just shot this at box speed in the Mju, or if I want to overexpose a stop, simply put a piece of black tape over the DX code. Because for non-DX coded film, the Mju defaults to ISO100, so it’s an easy way of tricking the camera to overexpose ISO200 film a stop.

Yes ideally I like to shoot expired rolls of the beautiful Superia 100 at ISO80 or 64, but it’s not a massive deal, an if I was really concerned I could use/ make some DX code labels to fool the Mju to rate the film at ISO50, the only speed it has lower than ISO100 anyway. ISO200 film plus the black tape trick if and when I need it is just fine.

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Manual exposure

In truth, even with an SLR I stick around the same kind of aperture – f/5.6 to f/8. With the Mju’s strength (in my view) being closer shots (it focuses down to just 0.35m remember), at this distance the depth of field is going to be far more shallow anyway, and so far in using the Mju I haven’t been disappointed and thought “I wish I could get a more shallow depth of field”.

The autoexposure seems very intelligent, so much so that I can’t recall a single image where I wished the camera had used a great smaller or larger aperture. This is a tiny AF compact remember.

Having said that, considering it is a compact, the pictures I’ve been able to make are probably more SLR-like than any other compact camera I’ve used. So in practice, not having manual exposure isn’t really an issue at all, especially when the Mju as designed to be a pure point and shoot.

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All in all, once I’d made those couple of breakthrough images, the final piece of the Mju puzzle fell into place, and I realised how much of a(nother) little gem Olympus had created.

Right now, if I had to pick just one AF compact from my collection and put away the rest, the Mju 1 would be first choice.

So enamoured am I, I very recently bought an LT-1 (essentially a Mju-1 in a fancy leather jacket) and an AF-1 Mini, reputedly the same lens as the Mju-1, but in a lighter yet weatherproof outer casing. I’m hoping these two will bring as many smiles to my face in the coming weeks as their original sibling has.

If you haven’t tried one – or like me tried a couple of times with lacklustre results – please pick up a Mju 1 and have a(nother) go. Once you start to understand their beauty, there really is no going back, and those bulkier “compacts” start to look a lot less appealing…