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.

The Promise Shot

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It starts with someone else’s “Promise Shot”. 

A photograph taken with a camera I’ve become curious about, that shows enough potential to urge me further to get one for myself and see what I can create with it.

Then, hopefully after a roll or two, I manage to make a Promise Shot of my own, one that shows that this new (old) camera and me in partnership can conjure up something that excites and inspires me enough to try to do more with it.

The letterbox above is the first Promise Shot from a Canon Sure Shot Classic 120 I picked up a few weeks back. 

The colours, sharpness and depth of field are more than enough for me to want to take the 120 out again.

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But of course if the camera itself was horrible to use, these Promise Shots would mean next to nothing. 

For me, the experience of shooting with a certain camera is more important than the end result, though it’s even better when you get a few pleasing photographs to show for the experience too.

Fortunately, the Sure Shot Classic 120 is very enjoyable to use. 

It’s genuinely compact size (just about trouser pocketable, certainly fine in a jacket pocket), comfortable hold (the rubberised concave front grip is a delight), decent viewfinder (for a zoom) and thoughtful controls make it an immediate winner.

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Best of all, is the mode dial which controls the main settings of the camera, and has a Personal mode.

Whatever other settings you change when you’re in Personal mode, it remembers, even when you switch the camera off. And very cleverly, is I found out just now, even when the camera hasn’t had a battery in for a week!

These “other settings” are accessed by three buttons in a hidden panel on the back. The first is for flash modes which include the all important flash off and +1.5 or -1.5 exposure compensation – great for over- or underexposing expired film in an auto DX coded camera.

The Personal mode stores these settings remember, so once you set +1.5 exposure compensation at the start of a roll of film for example, it’ll stay set all the way through, until you tell it otherwise. Excellent.

The third button switches been the default metering and spot metering. Again, Personal mode remembers which you choose.

The middle button of the three alternates between single shot, timed shot (ie self timer) and continuous shooting. The self timer setting is not remembered when you switch off (probably a good thing) but whether you’re on single or continuous frame shooting is memorised.

Intelligently, the Personal mode on the dial is just one notch clockwise from the off position.

Also cleverly, the Auto mode is the same single click, but in the other direction from the off position, so whether you use your Personal configuration or just want the all Auto pure point and shoot experience, it’s a very quick single click of the dial to waken the camera ready for action.

It feels like this Sure Shot was designed by people who actually care about photography and the end users of their cameras.

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Two things I don’t love.

First, the flash that pops out sideways every time you switch on. It would have been good if, when the flash was set to off in the Personal mode, it meant this flash itself didn’t pop out. I just always found it trying to pop out where my finger was already resting. I may just put a piece of my favourite black insulating tape over it to keep it inside the camera, as I never use flash. Crude but effective!

The other feature I think could have been better (aside from the obvious fact that instead of the less than stunningly spec’d 38-120mm zoom lens it could have been made with a fixed 35mm f/2.8 lens like in many of the early Canon Sure Shots, or even a 35-70mm like in the Rollei X70 or Pentax Zoom 70 series) is the AutoFocus confirm light. It gives the feedback you want, but in broad daylight is just so tiny it’s hard to always see. I found myself locking focus then pulling my head back a couple of inches to check the light was on and the focus locked, as I couldn’t see it when my eye was up against the VF.

Aside from these minor quirks, both of which can be got around, the 120 has impressed my greatly – as indeed have a number of Canon Sure Shots of the past. 

Whereas with film SLRs my favourite brand by a clear margin is Pentax, in the compact camera genre, Canon with their Sure Shots give Pentax with their equally vast Espio range a very good run for their money.

I look forward to shooting another roll with it soon, and maybe this time black and white.