The False Affordability Of Film Photography?

We spoke recently about how you can quite easily get started in film photography for £27, and then even more recently how film photography on a shoestring can cost a mere £12 to begin.

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Since writing 35hunter, I’ve been all in favour of proclaiming the affordability of shooting film, and hopefully puncturing some myths that it’s an expensive and exclusive hobby only for the well heeled.

So why do I now seem to be suggesting that this affordability of film photography is false? 

It all comes down to my own story.

I’ll try to keep it short, but detailed enough to give you enough insight that you might avoid some of the pitfalls yourself.

In those posts linked to above I talked about one cheap body and one cheap lens to get going, then using cheap film and processing.

Take the £12 example as a starting point, which bought me a Canon EOS 500, Helios 44-2 58/2 M42 lens, M42 to EOS adapter and a couple of rolls of AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200.

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If we assume buying a film and having it processed is around £5, and that we shoot a roll of film a week, this adds up to 52 x £5 + the initial £12 outlay, a total of £272.

Divide by 12 and we have a hobby that costs a shade under £23 a month. Within the realms of affordability for most of us.

Especially when I consider people I know who spend double that every month on gym membership, or a satellite/cable TV subscription. Or more than that on coffee every single week.

It’s very little to pay for such a vital passion as ours.

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The problems for me started when I realised just how affordable it all was. 

My inner bargain hunter / thrift seeker / cheapskate / Scrooge revelled in this heady excitement and the fact that beautiful vintage lenses and cameras could be mine for a few pounds.

All kinds of weird and wonderful expired film could also be mine for a few pounds too. Plus it was usually cheaper bought in bulk lots of four or eight or 28 rolls.

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So £5 here, £12 there, occasionally £20 elsewhere, and certainly more than a few 99p triumphs, all seemed innocuous, bargain purchases in isolation.

But then one day I realised I’d hoarded not just one or two bargains, but one or two dozen.

Some days later still, I decided to lay it all out together to see the full damage (it’s amazing how much you can cram in boxes), and realised I had close to 60 cameras and maybe another 20 lenses.

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Estimating that each camera/lens probably cost on average £15, and that I had around 80 in total, the maths was rather frightening. 15 x 80 = £1200.

Now I didn’t spend this all at once of course. But if I’d bought just that one shoestring camera and lens for £12, I’d still have nearly all of that £1200 left over the same period. 

Plus arguably I’d be more focused on the real purpose on why I photograph with less options to distract and confuse me.

Looking at it another way, there isn’t a dream camera (for me) I’m aware of that I could have mine for maybe £500, let alone £1200.

I could have bought that Contax S2b and a couple of Zeiss lenses. Or even one of those German L cameras. 

Or spent it on trips to new places that would have given me fresh inspiration, or a couple of handfuls of books by some of the photography greats of the past. Or, at that £23 a month, funded over four years of buying and processing film.

£1200 goes a long way in this hobby.

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On reflection now, I don’t have any major regrets.

I’ve sold a lot of the stuff I bought, and rarely lost money, often making a decent profit.

I am the photographer I am today, with the experience I have, because of the paths I’ve chosen in the last ten year or so.

However, if I was starting again now, I would not have bought so so many cameras and lenses that ultimately all do much the same thing.

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I’m still looking for ways to simplify, and cut through to the raw essence of photography. 

My entire photographic arsenal now fills three small shelves in a bookcase. But what if it could fill just two. Or just one? Or just my pocket or the palm of my hand?

This reducing in itself can be just as dangerous and addictive.

I’m currently thinking of thinning my digital kit (I’m not quite ready to rely just on my iPhone though I do enjoy it more than ever) by buying an older 8 or 10MP CCD Ricoh GRD compact to use as my main camera, replacing both the iPhone, my DLSRs, and the NEX for most occasions.

Which of course costs an initial outlay, even if I could get it back by selling what it might replace afterwards.

 

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Back to the pint of writing and sharing this post. If I was to advise anyone starting out with film (or anyone trying to reduce their film photography kit), I would still point them to a simple, cheap set up.

Like that Canon EOS and Helios lens, or a Spotmatic and Takumar or a Pentax M or A body with an M or A series lens.

More importantly, I’d further suggest they stick to it – focus on mastering that one set up, shooting lots of film (of the same type) and getting to know their equipment, and themselves as a photographer.

More stuff and more choice is just an unnecessary distraction from this invaluable journey.

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Have you fallen into to the false affordability of film trap yourself? Please tell us about it in the comments below. 

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

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How I Keep Photography Simple (Film Edition)

Recently I described how I keep my digital photography approach simple and as straightforward as possible by simplifying lens choice, camera settings, adjustments whilst shooting, editing and processing.

Let’s look at how this is different (and how it’s similar) when I’m shooting film.

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Contax 139 Quartz, Asahi Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 M42 lens, FujiFilm Superia 100 film

Broadly, I have two approaches.

First, shooting without a light meter, with an all mechanical camera, which I wrote about a while back.

The second approach is, not coincidentally, very similar to how my digital approach has evolved.

Let’s break it down as before.

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Fujica ST701, Asahi Super-Multi-Coated-Takumar 50mm f/1.4 lens, Kodak Color Plus 200 film

1. Simplify lens choices.

My five years of experimenting has drawn a few solid conclusions, not least of all that my favourite mount is M42 and my favourite M42 lenses are Asahi Takumars.

With film I have very few cameras now, and if I’m not shooting fully manual with my Spotmatic F, I’ll pick either a Pentax Program-A or one of two Contax – 139 Quartz or 167MT.

With all three I need an M42 adapter, and shoot manually stopping down the lens. Exactly the same as with the DSLRs. Whichever I choose, the Takumars make most sense.

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Contax 139 Quartz, Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8, York Photo 100 film

2. Simplify settings. 

This is easier than with digital, I mostly use ISO100 film, sometimes ISO200 and shoot maybe a third or half stop overexposed. Then I just go with Aperture Priority (Av) mode. Um, that’s about it.

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Fujica ST701, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Pancolar 50mm f/1.8 lens, FujiFilm Superia 100 film

3. Simplify adjustments.

I focus with the lens wide open, then usually stop down two or three stops, depending on the lens, and the light. I balance the depth of field I see in the viewfinder with the shutter speed, ensuring I don’t go too slow and end up with camera shake.

Occasionally I’ll have to move my shoulder strap because it’s slipped down a little. Um, that’s really about all I adjust once the film is loaded.

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Asahi Pentax ES, Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 50mm f/1.4 lens, Kodak HD2 200 film

4. Simplify editing. 

Once the film is processed and scanned to CD, I just browse through and discard any that I don’t like or don’t think work. Then I’ll do it again, and maybe one more time, until I’m left with just the best. This might only be one or two shots per roll, a great hit rate for me is say six shots.

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Pentax ME Super, Asahi Takumar SMC 55m f/2 lens, Rollei Digibase CR200 cross processed film

5. Simplify processing. 

Processing is non-existent, I let the lab take care of it, then just use the scans on the CD they provide. This is for two reasons. Firstly because I tried scanning my own film for a few months and it took a crazy amount of time I didn’t want to spend on it. Second, I just like the unpredictability of film, and the excitement of getting the scans back and not knowing which shots (if any!) have turned out well and will put a smile on my face.

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Pentax ME Super, Asahi SMC Takumar 55mm f/2 lens, Tudorcolor XLX200 film

You can see that my film shooting process is considerably more straightforward than shooting digital.

It genuinely surprised me how little I had to write for this post.

And yet it is this simplicity that has hugely influenced my digital shooting, and helped me evolve it to where it is now.

When I first started shooting film it felt a whole other world to what I thought digital was.

But the experience of shooting film for around five years has helped me understand what is most important to me about photography overall, and how these days I can shape my digital experience to be very close – in both the experience and the final results – to the one I discovered and fell in love with with film.

Of course I’ve also realised that shooting digital doesn’t mean having to use an ugly bloated plasticky everything auto body with an equally horribly plasticky everything auto zoom lens. 

I’ve not given up on film, but I have far less a need for it now.

Who knows where I’ll be a year from now, but I’m pretty sure I’ll still have at least a handful of Takumars and a Pentax body or two.

How do you simplify your film photography process? 

Please let us know in the comments below.

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

Film Photography On A Shoestring

There are still many myths around how much it costs to get set up with film photography.

I want to shoot a few more down.

A while back I wrote about how to start start film photography for £27. Based on at least two of the three rolls of film I’ve just got back from the lab, this amount is hugely generous.

Let’s just look at one set up, a 35mm SLR.

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Canon EOS 500, Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 M42 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film as b/w

The caption above kind of gives away the kit I used, but to elucidate further –

Camera – Canon EOS 500

These are abundant on the auction site online and often in charity shops too. Though I also have a more sophisticated EOS 300v which cost a heady £15, the 500 does everything I need and more. It’s great if you’re coming from a DSLR as it looks and feels similar – like a baby DSLR with no LCD screen on the back, simpler controls and that only weighs 350g. It cost me 99p plus a couple of pounds postage.

Lens – Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 M42 Mount

I bought this from a jumble bin at a camera show. It’s battered, bruised, has lots of dust and a couple of bubbles inside. Plus a dent in the filter rim where it was rapidly encouraged to the floor from a table by a three year old. But it keeps on ticking. The dealer wanted £10, I got it for £7. Try these other three underdogs for equally affordable alternatives.

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Canon EOS 500, Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 M42 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film as b/w

Film – AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200

This rebranded Fuji C200 film is £1 a roll in Poundland. It’s very versatile and I’ve used it extensively to shoot colour, DIY redscale and black and white. Though there are other emulsions I like, this is my Olympian Decathlete film – a fantastic all round champion.

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Canon EOS 500, Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 M42 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film as b/w

Of course the Canon EOS isn’t a native M42 mount body.

So I need an adapter.

I actually have three, as a couple of sellers have included them free when I’ve bought M42 lenses. If you do have to buy one, they start at 99p. With free postage. Mine is a simple all metal adapter with no fancy focus chips. On Aperture Priority (Av) mode on the EOS it works a treat.

Adding it up, this set up cost me about £12, including film.

Obviously the film you can only use once, and there are development costs each time.

But there are no excuses on the grounds of cost in getting started with shooting film (or resuming the passion you retired to the sidelines years ago).

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Canon EOS, Helios 44-2, complete with dented filter ring badge of honour

What else does £10 buy you these days?

Are you making excuses about getting started in shooting film? 

Or, like me, do you try to shoot on a shoestring budget?

Please let us know in the comments below.

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

Redscale Film – How To Make And Shoot Your Own

One of the major reasons I love film is the experiments you can try that have no direct digital equivalent.

Shooting redscale film is an excellent example.

You’ve probably already seen redscale images, that look monochrome, but with a burnt orange red as the base colour rather than white.

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Canon T70, Sigma Mini Wide II 28mm f/2.8 lens, Ferrania Solaris 200 DIY redscale film

These photographs are obviously distinctive overall, but redscale remains one of the more unpredictable and exciting aspects of film, along with cross processing (x-pro), shooting expired film and film soups.

But although the photographs appear dramatic, radical, and otherworldly, the process of creating redscale film is actually very simple.

You could go out and buy pre-made redscale film off the shelf, and pay £5-10+ per roll for the privilege. Or you could, like me, ever the cheapskate, make your own from cheap consumer film like AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200, costing £1 a roll at Poundland.

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Pentax Espio 120Mi, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 DIY redscale film

You’ll notice from the above shot also, that redscale doesn’t always have to be those extreme fiery oranges. It can be more subtle graduations too. More on that later, but first, what redscale film is.

Essentially, redscale is regular film that is exposed on the wrong side. So to make your own, you need a canister of film that’s been loaded back to front. Easy.

What you need

A roll of fresh film, a donor film canister, some scissors, some sellotape, a dark room.

How to make the redscale film

First, take your two rolls of film.

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The purple roll on the left is the fresh roll of film. The red roll on the right contains just a few inches of film, still attached inside the canister. You can’t pull any more film out than is showing here. This is the donor canister.

The easiest way to get a donor canister is sacrifice a roll of film the first time you try this, by pulling it all out and cutting it off to leave just those three inches or so at the end.

After you’ve done this once, you will then always have a new donor canister at the end of making the redscale film – you won’t need to sacrifice a fresh roll of film every time.

Next, cut the leader from the fresh film so you have a vertical straight edge. Keep the offcut, you’ll need this later.

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Then with the fresh film and donor film canisters the same way up, overlap maybe three or four sprocket holes and tape. It helps if you try to keep the film neatly aligned top and bottom.

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Notice that one film has its regular side facing us, the other its reverse. This is obvious with any colour negative film – one side is a dark grey, the other brown. Because redscale film is regular film flipped over, it’s essentially we join the films with their opposite sides showing like above.

After the joining, wind in the donor spool (the red one that is currently empty) so the two canisters touch and you can’t see the film.

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You can do the next part anywhere that doesn’t have strong light present. If you’re nervous, go to a dark room.

I’ve done this with my arms the wrong way down the sleeves of my jumper in a field on a sunny day, and it’s worked perfectly, so don’t worry too much. Especially if you keep the two canisters close together like the image above, so there’s little chance of light getting in.

Wind the red donor roll in with your finger and thumb until it won’t wind anymore. Then, back in the light, pull a little film out again so you can see it between the two canisters.

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Then simply cut down the middle, leaving a few inches on the new donor roll, ie the purple roll that has just been emptied of film. This is then ready to be donor next time.

With the redscale roll (here the red one) which now contains all the film, use the leader you cut off at the start as a template to cut a new leader. The longer part of the leader is always at the top end of the canister where the knob sticks out.

DSC05639Now you have your new freshly rolled roll of redscale film. I find it useful to mark an R on the side to remind me it’s redscale.

DSC05643Pop your other, now empty canister in a pot and write “donor” on it, ready for next time.

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How to shoot redscale

As I mentioned at the outset, redscale photographs are typical intensely red and orange.

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Canon AE-1, Canon FD 50mm f/1.8 lens, Kodak 400 Max DIY redscale film

But once the novelty of that vivid effect wears off, you’ll likely want to explore the more subtle graduations. Especially as over exposing redscale film a few stops gives a lovely subtle vintage feel.

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Olympus XA2, Fuji C200 DIY redscale film @ISO25

Different films give different intensities of red. AfgaPhoto Vista Plus 200 (which is rebranded Fuji C200) works very well.

At box speed it gives vivid reds and oranges, and over exposed three or four stops gives the kind of tones as above and below. I’d recommend using a camera with manual ISO control, so you have this creative control.

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Olympus XA2, Fuji C200 DIY redscale film @ISO25

Ferrania Solaris 200 gives very red results, even if you overexpose it a few stops.

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Olympus XA2, Ferrania Solaris 200 DIY redscale @ISO25

Solution VX200 (rebranded Konica VX200) gives very interesting greens and yellows.

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Pentax P30T, 55mm f/2 SMC Takumar lens, Solution VX200 DIY Redscale film

Especially when combined with multiple exposures. It’s like autumn in a canister.

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Canon AE-1, Solution VX200 DIY redscale, double exposed

Hopefully you found this guide easy to follow and are inspired to try your own redscale, if you haven’t already. It’s a unique, rewarding and often surprising way to make the most of film.

Please share your thoughts, experiences, and any questions, in the comments below.

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

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.

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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.