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.

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.

 

New Experimental Vistas – Exposure Bracketing

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Contax 167MT, Carl Zeiss Flektogon 35/2.4, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 @ISO200

With a typical ISO200 colour negative film, you’ll only get worthwhile results if you expose it perfectly at box speed, correct?

I decided to test this theory with a recent experiment.

The film I chose was AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200. This film is rebranded Fuji C200, their cheapest film, which I prefer to the more expensive Superia 200. It’s also available under other guises, like TudorColor XLX200.

The reason I chose Vista Plus 200 is it’s the cheapest and most widely available film for me.

I have three Poundland stores within about 15 miles, and all sell Vista Plus for £1 a roll. Combining this with processing in my local Asda – which I do four rolls at a time for £12.50 to develop and scan to CD – makes film photography affordable.

Buying the film, shooting it, then having it processed and scanned like this works out at £4.13 a roll.

Fortunately, Vista Plus 200 is a very forgiving film and very respectable results (in my eyes) can be gained.

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Contax 167MT, Carl Zeiss Flektogon 35/2.4, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 @ISO200

For this specific experimental roll I had two main aims. 

First, to shoot the same composition at box speed (ISO200), one stop over (ISO100) and one stop under (ISO400), to see what the differences were in the final image.

Part of the reason for this is that I’ve not found an ISO400 colour film I like very much.

In lower light, and with compact cameras with autoexposure, in theory a faster film will encourage the camera to use a smaller aperture an therefore produce sharper images with a greater depth of field.

At the other end, shooting at ISO100 should force such cameras to use a larger aperture, and increase depth of field, when that was required.

Of course this is only relevant for cameras with some kind of manual ISO control. For auto DX coding cameras, they’ll always shoot a standard roll of DX coded film as box speed, unless they have some kind of exposure compensation control, like some of the excellent late Pentax Espios for example.

The second, slightly lesser, aim of this experiment was to see how Vista Plus looks in black and white.

The motivation is again cost. Even cheap b/w film like Fomapan is still around £3.50 – £4 a roll, and processing is the best part of £10 per roll. A total of £13+ per film makes it too expensive for me, especially when shooting and processing the Vista Plus is a third of the cost.

Yes, I could just shoot one third as many rolls as I do, for the same overall spend, but I currently love shooting film too much to cut down that drastically!

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Contax 167MT, Carl Zeiss Flektogon 35/2.4, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 @ISO400, desaturated to b/w

For this venture I turned to my trusty Contax 167MT.

The MT is a fierce yet beautiful picture taking machine, with reliable exposures, continuous shooting and auto bracketing.

I set the camera to shoot at +1, 0, -1, ie one stop over exposed, box speed, and one stop under exposed. The lens was an M42 mount Carl Zeiss Flektogon 35mm f/2.4, via an M42 > C/Y adapter, a recent lens purchase that I know is capable of beautiful images.

The results were interesting.

What I did first was go through the scans and pick my favourite of the three shots for each composition. This has little scientific basis, it was simply the photograph I was most pleased with the look of.

Of my eight favourites (24 exposure roll / 3 shots per composition), five were at ISO100, one stop overexposed, two were at box speed, ISO200, and only one was at ISO400, one stop underexposed.

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Contax 167MT, Carl Zeiss Flektogon 35/2.4, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 @ISO100

What can I take from this experiment?

A few things.

First, that Vista Plus looks more than acceptable shot a stop either side of box speed.

This is no shock, as according to the DX code on the canister, its exposure latitude is +3/-1. It’s a great film to use when shooting without a light meter at all.

In practice this means I can shoot Vista Plus all year round.

In the summer I can shoot at ISO100, when the top shutter speed of a camera might otherwise max out. In winter, at ISO400, so as to be able to shoot handheld at 1/15s, when 1/8s at ISO200 would probably, and 1/4s at ISO100 most definitely, result in camera shake.

Second, the look of Vista Plus at ISO400 is comparable to, and in most cases better than any colour negative ISO400 film I’ve used.

As with native ISO400 film, shooting Vista Plus at ISO400 results in a little more grain and more muted colours. So there’s no need to buy this more expensive film when I can use Vista Plus.

Third, I have more creative control over the look of the photographs, all with one film. 

If I want the most saturated colours, shoot at ISO100.

For more subdued colours and more visible grain, rate the film at ISO400.

Anything in between, just shoot at box speed, ISO200.

Fourth, desaturated to black and white, Vista Plus makes an more than usable alternative to “proper” b/w film. 

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Contax 167MT, Carl Zeiss Flektogon 35/2.4, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 @ISO200, desaturated to b/w

The last half a dozen rolls of b/w film I’ve used have been CN films – Ilford XP2 Super, Kodak BW400CN and Fuji Neopan 400CN. All of these can be processed as C41 colour film, but they tend to cost £4-6 per roll to purchase, more than the cheapest proper b/w film like Fomapan.

The b/w shots I’ve shared in this post are simply colour ones that I’ve desaturated.

They were not originally intended as b/w shots, so the compositions, contrasts and textures aren’t necessarily what I’d choose if I was shooting b/w.

Hopefully though you will get some indication how Vista Plus looks as b/w, and make your judgement on whether it’s something you like.

At some point I will shoot a whole roll as if I was shooting b/w and see how that goes.

The next experiment.

I plan to repeat this experiment with my Contax 167MT shooting at +1, 0, -1 exposure again, but this time starting with ISO100 as the base value.

So in effect I’ll be shooting ISO50, ISO100 and ISO200. As I mentioned, Vista Plus has a latitude of +3/-1 so this should present no problems, I’m just curious to see how ISO50 comes out compared with ISO100 and ISO200.

Maybe I’ll even try another roll beginning with ISO50, so I get ISO25, ISO50 and ISO100 results. Again this is within the film’s published tolerance, I’m just intrigued at how it behaves as it’s further over exposed.

Finally, a few samples from the roll next to each other so you can see a direct comparison, and draw your own conclusions. 

Above three shots – Contax 167MT, Carl Zeiss Flektogon 35/2.4, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 shot at, from top to bottom, ISO100, ISO200, ISO400.

Above three shots – Contax 167MT, Carl Zeiss Flektogon 35/2.4, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 shot at, from top to bottom, ISO100, ISO200, ISO400.

Have you experimented with shooting with different exposure settings on the same roll of film?

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

Three Precious Things

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Pentax MG, Pentacon Auto 50/1.8, FujiFilm Superia 100 

As my photography has evolved, it’s gradually become apparent to me what I value most about it as a pursuit, as well as what I best appreciate in the cameras I use.

Whilst I’m still growing and learning, I’m far more knowledgable now about the “magic formula” I need to enjoy film photography as much as possible.

Three precious things come to mind –

1. A beautiful viewfinder. 

For me the essential joy of photography is being able to see a tiny snapshot of the world, in a specific moment, and for that moment it be the entire world.

When I’m focused on a single composition through the viewfinder (VF), as I squeeze the shutter button (and for a second or so after), my entire relationship and connection with the world is simply what’s captured in that little rectangle.

It’s meditative, spiritual and visceral all at once, and one of the greatest experiences of life.

So, it follows that for these vital moments, one has a viewfinder that heightens the experience to the full.

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Minolta X-700, MC Rokkor-PF 58/1.4, a gorgeous lens/ viewfinder combination

Pretty much all of the SLRs I use have very good viewfinders. The combination that is king of the mountain is my Minolta X-700 paired with my Minolta MC Rokkor-PF 58mm f/1.4 lens.

The huge front surface of the glass allows a great amount of light into the also huge viewfinder of the X-700 and the result is wonderful, and often literally breathtaking.

Recently I got an AutoFocus (AF) Minolta Dynax 7000i, which has a surprisingly great VF too. Not as vast as the X-700, but not that far off, and the view I get with my latest lens, a Minolta AF 50mm f/1.7, is very enjoyable. I’m become quite attached too, to how the lens snaps into focus, and the VF view changes accordingly.

Presently, I can’t see myself returning to compacts or rangefinders any time soon, because the VF experience of an SLR is just too intoxicatingly joyful.

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Minolta X-700, Minolta MC Rokkor-PF 58/1.4, FujiFilm Superia 100

2. How a camera feels.

This is a far more subjective one, and has a few component parts. It begins when you pick up a camera, before you even raise it to your eye. How your hand moulds around the camera’s body, the texture and temperature of the materials, the width, the weight, the girth.

This has to combine with the lens the camera has attached. Staying with SLRs, the lens you use can make quite a difference to the overall feel and balance and pleasure of a camera.

As one hand is almost constantly around the lens, that tactile experience is very important.

Again for me, Minolta come to mind, with both the aforementioned X-700 and 7000i. The latter especially is very well shaped for my hands and has a reassuring weight. With a zoom lens it can feel a bit too much, but with the little 50/1.7 AF it feels far more compact and balanced.

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Minolta Dynax 7000i, Minolta AF 50/1.7, very satisfying to hold and use

All of my Pentax cameras feel great, well balanced and bring a smile to my face. Sometimes I prefer the weight and size of the older Spotmatic F or K2, and others the compact lightness of the little MG is just what I’m craving.

Bottom line is if a camera doesn’t feel good in my hands, even if it’s the most capable and expensive lens/body in the world, I’m not going to enjoy it much.

Which brings us to…

3. The photographs.

I have commented in the past that even the few times I’ve shot a roll of film only to find the film hasn’t wound on and I’ve shot 24 or 36 blanks, I’ve not enjoyed the experience any the less. And those 24/36 shots I took, I still captured with my eyes, mind and memory, even if they weren’t recorded on film.

Elements 1 and 2 above are the most crucial, and 3 is the chocolate sauce on top.

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Pentax MZ-5N, Pentax-M 50/1.7, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200

I’ve learnt, via a series of revelations, not least of all realising that when you put a len-less SLR on B mode, open the back, press the shutter release button and look through, there’s nothing but fresh air, that cameras are really just boxes.

In other words, and at the moment of exposure, it’s the lens only that dictates the characteristics of how the light lands on the film.

Then there’s film of course. Again via endless experiments, I’ve found the films I enjoy most – the super cheap, readily available and surprisingly capable AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200, the rich and colourful Ferrania Solaris 200 and, my most recent discovery, the fantastic FujiFilm Superia 100, which even ten years expired produces a beautiful balance of sharpness and grain.

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Pentax K1000, Pentax-M 50/1.4, Ferrania Solaris 200

Two out of three isn’t bad, and a camera with a wonderful viewfinder and lens will give a rewarding experience out in the field. But combined with poor film it’ll disappoint in the final image.

So to have the optimum experience of the delight that is film photography, I need all three elements – a camera with an excellent viewfinder, and that feels wonderful to hold, plus a lens and film that I know will give pleasing results.

What are the three most precious things for you in the magic formula for rewarding film photography?