10^3 Words

Everything old is new again
September 12, 2008, 9:11 pm
Filed under: From the Net | Tags: , , ,

Recently, Kodak announced that it would be introducing a new film, Ektar 100. The new emulsion will be an ultra fine-grained color film aimed at fashion photography and similar end users. Its premiere in the US should occur in October or so.

My breath, as they say, is baited; having lately turned to home development for my black-and-white photography, work with color film has been somewhat left in the dust. I’ve come to rely on digital to carry the day when it comes to color photography, and I suppose this is as good a reason as any to bring film back into the fray. As an aside, I’ve also found a great local lab for color work; the fellow who owns it runs one of the cleanest shops around – and he’s a great guy, besides.

Depending on where you get your news, you might see this as part of a product line shift on Kodak’s part, in that it’s very likely that the new Ektar will replace Kodak’s current 100UC “Ultracolor” film. In addition, this post at RFF asserts what has been said by Kodak, that 400UC will also disappear toward the end of the year. It would seem that Ektar promises to fulfill the needs at the “saturated” end of the NC/VC/UC line; one wonders if an ISO400 version will be forthcoming.

With an eye toward history, it’s easy to see Kodak’s move as a re-introdution. For a long time, Ektar 25 was a standby fine-grain film in Kodak’s stable, and bringing the name back suggests a return, perhaps, to a time when color film photography was still taken seriously, if only for its newness. It’ll be fun to figure out how to shoot the new film.

As an aside, did you happen to notice the name of Kodak’s blog? Cute.


Night Light
September 8, 2008, 11:17 pm
Filed under: Gallery | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Night Light; (c) JWR, 2006.

400TX @ EI3200; Leica M4, coll. Summicron 50/2
HC110h @70F for 25 min, agitation 30 s + 5 inversions every 5 min

I spent a week in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood in November 2006 for business, and idled away several of my evenings walking the streets in a random pattern. I’ve always been something of a night owl – especially if my experience in Iceland is any guide – and once I started to photograph things, it was a natural step towards night photography, and low-light work in general.

This image was part of a larger experiment, namely rating 400TX at 3200 in low light and seeing what would come of it. There was plenty of precedent for this, of course, as 400TX (the “new” Tri-X) is remarkably pushable. My experiment was mostly successful – once I figured out the appropriate developing route, of course. Other images from this roll were much higher-contrast scenes, and even the minimal agitation route describe above couldn’t lower the apparent image contrast in the negative.

So far, though, I love what low-agitation processing has to offer. I have a great recipe for “semi-stand” developing (that is, for letting the film sit in the soup for a long time) that I’m dying to try.

The negative itself was scanned with a Nikon LS-50 at 4000 dpi, and per my typical procedure was post-processed a bit in the digital domain. Unsurprisingly, the negative needed some spotting and cleaning, as my developing routine is still not super-clean. Levels, curves, and sharpening followed.

You can see, in the upper right-hand corner, an odd feature that looks like ripples in the frame. I can only assume that it’s an optical effect, perhaps light spill from a streetlight somewhere very close behind my shooting position. I left it in, honoring my tendency to use full-frame crops wherever possible. I also don’t like to be too heavy-handed with digital editing – at least, not at the moment.

Roll Your Own
September 3, 2008, 3:26 pm
Filed under: Technique | Tags: , , ,

At some point, I can recall making the conscious decision to start developing my own black and white film. It was similar to way an epiphany probably feels, I suppose – I was reading a thread on an online forum – probably RFF – and realized that home development wasn’t just possible, but that it was actually easy. And, as it turns out, is incredibly satisfying and vital to my creative process.

Did I mention it’s also cheap? Well, compared to B&W lab processing here in LA it certainly is. I’ve done a lot of shopping around, and have found that even a “process-only” job, where no prints are produced, costs a minimum of $6. But with careful use of chemistry and some experience, I’ve discovered that I can get my recurring costs down to around $1 per 36-frame roll of 135 film. And I’m sure I’m not even scratching the surface, since I develop relatively infrequently; almost spastically, if you have to know, as I tend to do films in batches.

I started – as many other home-developers have – with Kodak D-76, both for its popularity and appropriateness for my emulsion of choice, 400TX. In its historical form, Tri-X, this film had a long-successful marriage with D-76, and for good reason. A generation Tri-X shooters used D-76 at a 1:1 dilution to get bulletproof negatives from normally exposed film. D-76 has been around for a long time, and is a “general purpose” developer, one that doesn’t do any fancy tricks (speed enhancement, accutance, grain dissolving, etc.), but rather works pretty much for every situation. A look at DigtalTruth’s Massive Dev Chart for D-76 and Tri-X shows that 1:1 (or 1+1, depending how you see things) suffices for most any realizable exposure index – ISO rating – of this venerable film.

However, I discovered that D-76 has a characteristic that made it difficult for me to love: it has a shelf life of 1-2 months, far too brief to be useful for me. Powder developers like D-76 have in common the need to be mixed in advance of use, and this “stock” solution is the component with the demonstrable shelf life. Sealed, the powder itself will last – if not forever, then a mighty long time – but of course one can’t develop film with powder. Once mixed, the complex chemistries of active developers in solution tend to fall apart over time, it mustI quickly found that D-76’s 1-2 month shelf life, too short for me.

This isn’t to say that paying for convenience and an experienced hand isn’t a bad idea. For a while, my local go-to lab for B&W has been The Darkroom Workshop; they do very good work, and have a very clean process. DR recently closed its retail location, although they’re still doing good business. Lately, though, I’ve preferred the more hands-on approach. However, as a photo hobbyist, this is pure luxury – were I getting paid for photographic work, I would almost certainly turn to a lab for reliability and ease. Of course, some might argue that I should also shoot digital for such a purpose, and I can’t say I’d disagree out-of-hand.

Having learned by frustration with D-76, I’ve zeroed-in on using “one-shot” developers. These are usually – but not always – liquid concentrates, meant to be diluted to working strength before use, then tossed out after the developing step. Handy, if perhaps less economical than D-76 and its compatriots (i.e., those others can be re-used and “replenished” for longer lifetimes). However, the waste is relative: having settled on Kodak’s HC110 as my current favorite, not only do I have a developer which in concentrate form can last nearly forever, but my chosen dilution (1:63, unofficial “dilution H”) makes a single bottle go a long way. Not bad for $13/bottle.

Old Iron
August 2, 2008, 10:21 pm
Filed under: Gallery | Tags: , , , , ,

Old Iron; (c) JWR, 2008.

JPEG ISO200, 1/30 @ f/5.6; Canon 10d, Sigma 30/1.4
Digital post: sharpening and levels

This lonely locomotive, “Minor”, stands quayside at the harbor in Reykjavik, Iceland. It’s one of two of its type, representing the historically hardworking railway that operated in Reykjavik during the early 20th Century. This photograph was taken during a walkabout around the city, several hours spent quietly enjoying the lovely sights and sounds of Iceland’s capital. While staying in the city for business, I managed to steal away in the evenings several times for solitary walks along random streets.

The odd thing about my time in this northernmost capital city was the oddness of the late evening, given the midnight arctic sun; this photo was taken around 11:30 pm, local time. As a mid-latitudes dweller, I found it unnerving to be out and about at night with so much illumination. Local Icelanders apparently enjoy the opportunity, as the city was fairly active until quite late – things only became typically quiet near the 2:00 am hour most nights.

I’d like to say that I’m including this photo just to prove that I shoot digital, but in all honesty I liked the photo itself; the detail I saw in the pushrods and running gear made it stand out for me. As I tend to use my 10d more as a snapshooting tool, I don’t really produce a lot of images that really grab me. This one, though, was different. And I have to add that my Sigma 30/1.4 is really the best part of that kit – it’s a fantastic lens.

I would have liked to have another opportunity to shoot the locomotive Minor again, as I think trains are excellent subjects for my kind of photography. Thankfully, there are good sources of inspiration around my home in Los Angeles, too.

Always a Bridesmaid
July 28, 2008, 10:31 pm
Filed under: Gallery | Tags: , , ,

Always a Bridesmaid; (c) JWR, 2006.

D3200 @ ISO1600; Canon P, Jupiter-8 50/2
pro lab developing in Xtol

This image was shot during a spare moment following a wedding ceremony in 2006. The rest of the wedding party was busy bustling around for group photos, and this lone bridesmaid took a moment to catch her breath.

Recently a fellow member of RFF commented on this photo, comparing it to the work of Tina Barney. I was embarrassed to discover that I’d not heard of Ms. Barney’s work, but once I began browsing around, I’d have to say that while I don’t perhaps get the same impression, I’m nonetheless flattered.

Walking the Walk
July 26, 2008, 12:30 am
Filed under: Gallery | Tags: , , , ,

Walking the Walk; (c) JWR, 2005.

D3200 @ ISO1600; Canon P, Canon "Serenar" 135/4
pro lab developing in Xtol

I was able to capture this image while sitting at a wedding (on the bride’s side, if that matters), using a long lens on a rangefinder. The Canon P has framelines for 135 mm lenses, and they came in handy for this moment. The lens I was using didn’t have great light-gathering power, but shooting Ilford’s Delta 3200 certainly helped. I usually rate it at ISO1600, which depending on who you ask is actually a push; its “true” ISO is known to be less than 3200, probably more like 1200. The Unblinking Eye, among other places, has some good information on exposure and development for this film.

I’ve always liked D3200 for its push performance, which it’s obviously designed for; in my experience, contrast stays manageable and the texture can’t be beat. Since this is a relatively low-light photo, grain tends to be exaggerated; this gives an atmospheric quality that I like.

Film is Dead; Long Live Film
July 22, 2008, 10:19 pm
Filed under: From the Net | Tags: , , ,

From the “Is this guy serious?” department, allow me to present the coolest thing I’ve seen in a long time, the homebrew film-making machine:

Screengrab of film-coating machine

Screenshot courtesy of flickr

Given the amount of time I spend idly browsing the net, you’d think I would have run into this before now. This crazy fellow has managed to somehow construct his own film-coater – that is, a machine that can make photographic film, from scratch – and has it in his garage. When you really look into the details of this process, it’s easy to see that it’s not trivial.

Never having to worry about buying your next roll of Tri-X? Priceless.

I’ve had several brief glimpses into the scuttlebutt on the much-touted demise of film, and the gist of it is very much in the spirit of Mark Twain; i.e., “The report of my death was an exaggeration.” The production of photographic film is undoubtedly a tedious process, albeit commercially viable, but will survive as long as it keeps its backers financially solvent. I’m not personally worried.

That isn’t to say, however, that there aren’t numerous examples to the contrary. Through time and tide, there have been many film products that have gone the way of the dodo. Several of these types have traditionally been carried in small amounts by specialty houses when demand exists for their unique imaging capabilities. J and C Photo was such a distributor, but unfortunately has also disappeared. Thankfully, places like Freestyle Photo continues to serve this market.

That’s where I think the DIY film-coating machine comes in, both figuratively and literally. Retention of small stocks of especially unique films is important to the photo community, and if older films can be created from recipes, the possibilities are almost endless. Such a capability, especially on a grassroots level, can help to soften the blow of losing especially irreplaceable emulsions.

A good example of this is Polaroid’s recent decision to discontinue its instant film products. This was seen as a sudden decision by some, an inevitability by others. Unfortunately, many feel that this move will also produce a shift away from the uniquely expressive art form of the instant photograph, many excellent examples of which can be found on flickr if one knows where to look. For now, a reprieve exists in the form of Fuji’s instant film products, but Polaroid’s decision is still lamentable, especially since Fuji produces nothing equivalent to Polaroid’s type-600 integral print film.

The official word from Polaroid is that their film supply will last until mid-2009, so the message is to stock up now. Unfortunately, instant film is known not to keep well, even when refrigerated; furthermore, it cannot be frozen. Personally, I need no excuse to shoot more Polaroid.

Now, if the fellow with the photo-coating machine can figure out how to mix up some Polaroid goo and slap it on a piece of filmbase, then we’ve really got something. Are you listening, Mr. Crazy DIY-Guy?