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 –
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Have you tried anything similar, shooting colour film as b/w and converting?
Let us know your experiences in the comments below.
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