Film Photography

Five (relatively) inexpensive films you should try

Inexpensive films aren’t as inexpensive as they used to be. Not that long ago, several films could be had for under $3 a roll. Sadly, those days are over. But plenty of films cost less than $10 per roll, several cost less than $5 per roll, and one or two get close to that magic $3 per roll.

I use these five relatively inexpensive films all the time and recommend them!

Kosmo Foto Mono

This classic ISO 100 film offers rich blacks with managed contrast and fine grain. It’s similar to Foma’s Fomapan 100, which is also sold as Arista EDU 100 and Lomography Earl Grey 100. When you buy Mono you support a small business run by a pillar of the film community. Available from most online film retailers (and at the Kosmo Foto site itself) in 35mm and 120.

Flowers
Yashica-12
The old barn in the city
Nikon F2AS, 35mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor
Macy's Chicago at Christmas
Olympus XA

Fujifilm Fujicolor 200

This might be the ultimate cheap and cheerful film. I’ve shot way more Fujicolor 200 than any other film — when you test as many old cameras as I have, you need an inexpensive film that performs well and consistently. It has a classic look with well-saturated color and fine grain. This film has great exposure latitude; it’s hard to over- or under-expose it. I often shoot it at ISO 100 on purpose because it brings out extra color richness. Available from online film retailers as well as many drug and big-box stores, in 35mm only.

Kirklin
Olympus XA
In the War Memorial
Sears KS Super II, 50mm f/2 Auto Sears
Ford F-500 fire truck
Konica Autoreflex T3, 50mm f/1.7 Hexanon AR
Happy student
Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80

Foma Fomapan 200

Fomapan 200 is my go-to inexpensive black-and-white film. (I like shooting at ISO 200!) It’s also sold as Arista EDU 200. It offers managed grain, good tonal range, and moderate contrast. Some say that this is best shot at about ISO 125. I’ve found that to be true when I develop it myself, but when I send it out to a lab I always get great results at box speed. The labs must have some magic that I lack! Available at most online film retailers in 35mm and 120.

My Old Kentucky Home
Nikon FA, 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 AI-s Zoom Nikkor
Margaret
Nikon F3HP, 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor
Callery pear
Pentax ME, 50mm f/1.7 SMC Pentax-M

Kodak UltraMax 400

For some, this is the ultimate cheap color film. I still reach for Fujicolor 200 first, but I’ve never been disappointed by UltraMax 400’s warmth, managed grain, and bold color. It also offers tremendous exposure latitude, making it very hard to misexpose a shot. I like UltraMax 400 slightly more than Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400, which costs about the same. I find this film to be especially long-lived — several rolls of the UltraMax 400 I’ve shot were ten years expired, and most of it behaved like new. Available at online film retailers and sometimes in drug stores, in 35mm only.

Melts in your mouth, not in your hand
Nikon F3, 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Zoom Nikkor
'murica
Olympus Stylus
The house across the street
Olympus OM-2n, 50mm f/3.5 Zuiko Auto Macro

Ultrafine eXtreme 100

The Ultrafine eXtreme films are the least expensive black-and-white films I know of. Its ISO 100 version is a classic-grained film offering great definition and sharpness with fairly high contrast. Available at Photo Warehouse in 35mm and 120. Stock is limited as of this writing; keep checking their site for availability.

Carpentry Hall
Minolta XG-1, 50mm f/1.4 MD Rokkor-X
Dad and Sons
Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK
AT&T
Olympus XA2

Other inexpensive options

I didn’t include any lower-priced ISO 400 black-and-white films here because I’ve not shot any of them (yet). But based on the performance of the Foma Fomapan and Ultrafine eXtreme films I have shot, I feel good recommending their ISO 400 offerings.

You can sometimes find a good bargain on Kodak Gold 200 (example images here) and Kodak ColorPlus (example images here). Gold offers well-saturated color and fine grain. ColorPlus is a real throwback, offering a classic Kodak look from years gone by. Some say it’s the old Kodak VR200 film formula from the 1990s.

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Kodak Tourist

A truly crappy camera
Kodak EasyShare Z730
2008

I learned a lot about how not to select a vintage camera when I bought this Kodak Tourist. At the time, I wanted to build a collection of folders and rangefinders. I set the Tourist in my sights as the last folder Kodak made.

What I didn’t realize is that most old folders could be had with a range of lenses and shutters. There would be an entry-level lens/shutter, a top-of-the-line lens/shutter, and often several choices in between.

I wound up with a Tourist packing the entry-level lens and shutter. The fixed-focus Kodet lens is probably a simple one-element meniscus; its widest aperture is a narrow f/12.5. The shutter offers one speed, probably 1/50 sec, plus Time and Bulb. My Tourist had specs similar to a box camera, and was about as versatile. When I put film through it (review here), the soft, poorly exposed results were disappointing.

Kodak offered the Tourist (and its similar successor, the Tourist II) with several other, better, lens/shutter options. Most of them were 100mm or 105mm Kodak Anaston lenses, a classic Cooke triplet, at f/4.5, f/6.3, or f/8.8. They were set in various Kodak shutters, the least of which offered speeds of 1/25 to 1/100 sec., and the best of which offered speeds of 1/5 to 1/400 sec.

I could also have held out for the Tourist II with the 101mm f/4.5 Kodak Anastar lens, a Tessar. It was set in a Synchro-Rapid shutter of 1 to 1/800 sec.

I would have had much more fun, and gotten much better results, from even the least of these improved Tourists! Perhaps I should look for another, better specified Tourist so I can find out for sure.

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Film Photography

single frame: A truly crappy camera

This camera sucks.

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COVID-19, Stories Told

Changing jobs during a pandemic

Even as I approached the building, all was strange. The front was still boarded up after last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, the only such building on the block. My key card let me in the front door. It was irrational, I’m sure, but I thought it might not still work after not having used it in ten months. The lights were off in the lobby, as they were on my floor as the elevator doors opened.

My desk was as messy as I’d left it. I didn’t know when I took the week off in early March that I’d never use it again. The company ordered us all to work from home starting the Monday I was to return.

Fast forward to December. I received a fantastic offer from another company, one I would have been foolish to ignore. I took it. On my last day, I drove to my soon-to-be-former office to clean out my desk.

I’ve left jobs before, a dozen times. I have it down. I take stuff home little by little during my last two weeks so my desk is clear on my last day. After lunch I walk around and say personal goodbyes to everyone I can find who I ever worked with, wrapping up with my boss. Not only will I miss the people, who I genuinely enjoy, but also I want to leave a good final impression. The market I work in is small enough that I’m likely to work with some of them again. When I’ve said my final goodbye, I slip out the door.

This was all different. There had been a Zoom happy hour in my honor, which was a nice gesture. I said goodbyes in my normal meetings all during my final week. Anyone I didn’t see, I Slacked. But it all felt so disconnected.

Stepping off the elevator, the floor was silent but for the whoosh and hum of the HVAC. The last time I was on this floor it buzzed with such activity that I needed noise-canceling headphones to be able to focus. I sorted through my things, leaving a healthy portion of it in the wastebasket. I left my laptop and my key card on my desk, picked up my box, rode the elevator down, and walked out for the last time.

Monday morning I started at the new job. My commute didn’t change a bit: I came downstairs, sat at my desk, and started Zoom. But the faces I saw on the screen were all new.

The new company did a terrific job of onboarding, easily the best experience of my career. They committed to everyone’s first full week being nothing but group meetings with various people in the company telling us the company’s history and mission, how we make money, how administrative things work, and what our product looks like and how it works. We got to meet all of the executives.

Yet I kept wishing to see my old team in those little boxes. I really missed them! I always miss the good people I worked with when I leave a job, but never this acutely. But then, I didn’t get to say a proper goodbye.

This post also appeared on my software blog earlier this month.

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Stories Told

Dreading snow

When I was nine years old, my parents bought my brother and I snow shovels, put a bow on each of them, and leaned them against the fireplace next to the tree Christmas morning. I mark that moment as the day I began to hate snow.

My hometown of South Bend is one of the snowiest cities in the nation. It ranks eleventh, actually, netting 66 inches in an average winter. (Syracuse, NY, the snowiest city, gets almost twice that!) Given that winters were colder and snowier during my 1970s and 1980s kidhood, I’m certain that South Bend got more than that then. I shoveled it all.

First snow fell in early November, last snow fell sometime in April, and we usually didn’t see the ground in between. More than once, snow piled up in strip-mall parking lots was still melting the first of June!

The rule was that we had to have the driveway and sidewalks (on our corner lot) cleared before Dad got home. Heaven forbid that Dad have to pull into the garage over snow, leaving tire tracks that would freeze and be nigh onto impossible to remove!

It was common for my brother and I to shovel the drive and walks two or three times in a day, often while snow was still falling. When you had more than a foot in the forecast, you didn’t want to wait until it was all done falling. Even healthy, energetic kids like my brother and me would wear ourselves out trying to remove a giant snow dumping all at once.

The city snow plow left huge deposits across the end of our driveway and on our tree lawns, sometimes six or eight feet high. Once Mom painted a sign reading FREE SNOW and stuck it in the pile in the tree lawn. A photographer for the city paper happened to see it and made a snap. It ran on the front page the next day.

Central Indiana winters are mild compared to what I grew up with, and they’ve done nothing but get milder with each passing year. I had to shovel snow for the first time this winter just the other day. I shouldn’t complain. But I still do.

Do you enjoy my stories and essays?
My book, A Place to Start, is available now!
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Blogosphere

Recommended reading

💻 If you read this blog, it is likely you consider yourself to be creative. Has your creativity tanked during the challenging times we’ve been living through? Geraldine DeRuiter‘s sure has, but it’s led her to notice the creativity all around her. Read How To Be Creative When Everything Is Bad

Kleptz, Terre Haute
Minolta XG 1, 45mm f/2 MD Rokkor-X, Fujifilm Fujicolor 200, 2017

💻 Do you write? Do you ever feel blocked — the words won’t come? Johanna Rothman‘s perspective is that you’re suffering from fear, uncertainty, and doubt. She gives practical tips to push through. Read Writer’s Block: Don’t Allow Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt Into Your Writing

💻 During the pandemic our grocery bills went through the roof. Then I started shopping at Aldi, and they went right back down again. Nick Gerlich tells Aldi’s story. Read Lebensmitteleinkauf in Amerika

💻 They say it’s either money or sex that makes the world go around. I think rather that it’s investment, the kind we make in each other. Scott Galloway tells a story of a man who invested in him, and how it paid off. Read Cy Cordner

📷 Jerome Carter enjoys vintage Minolta gear. He recently acquired a Minolta SR-3 35mm SLR and put it through its paces. Read VMLP 7: The Minolta SR-3 — The Best Version of the Minolta SR-2?

📷 Countries in the former Communist bloc made film cameras, including some sturdy SLRs. But they never quite made the transition to autofocus. Praktica in East Germany came close, though. Stephen Dowling has the story. Read East Germany’s plans for a space-age autofocus SLR

Do you enjoy my stories and essays?
My book, A Place to Start, is available now!
Click here to see all the places you can get it!

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Stories Told

A Facebook group for writers and readers of personal essay, personal story, and memoir

I’ve started a group on Facebook for people who like to write and/or read personal essay, personal story, and memoir. You can join it here.

If you write about your life, this is the place to share your writing, wherever you publish it online. It’s also a good place to promote your books if you have published any. Just don’t spam the group with posts about your books — give as much as you take!

If you like to read stories about peoples’ lives, it’s my hope that in time it will be a consistent source of new material.

I believe everyone’s life is interesting — it’s all in how you tell the stories.

I hope you’ll join the group! Check it out here.

Books
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