Chromogenically characterized: Olympus OM-1 and Kodak BW400CN

I’ve shot a lot of film since discovering during the summer that my nearby CVS still has a one-hour processing lab. They return processed negatives and a CD of scans for an astonishingly inexpensive $6! But I’ve been hankering to shoot black and white lately. Normal black-and-white film is processed differently from color film, and one-hour labs aren’t set up for it. Kodak produces one black-and-white film, BW400CN, that is processed in the same way as color film. CVS sells it, so I bought a roll and loaded it into my Olympus OM-1 (with the 50 mm f/1.8 lens attached) one recent Saturday.

I think it’s great fun to burn through a 24-exposure roll of film in an afternoon, and that’s just what I did. I first visited Fountain Square, an Indianapolis neighborhood just southeast of Downtown. Except for the cars, this could be 1942 or 1922.

Virginia Ave.

These images turned out all right after more post-processing in Photoshop Elements than I’m used to or even like to do. They all had a purplish caste to them, which wasn’t hard to get rid of. But then I had to seriously jack with the brightness and contrast to breathe some life into them as they all seemed flat to me. I also darkened all the skies in these Fountain Square shots to make the clouds show up, which probably wouldn’t have been necessary had I attached my yellow filter before heading out.

You Are Beautiful

But hey, at least I got to spend some time in Fountain Square. The more I go down there, the more I like it. It’s architecture reminds me of a small town’s downtown, except it’s part of the big city. I’m sure these storefronts once hosted merchants the neighborhood needed, but today they’re filled with galleries, night clubs, restaurants, and the odd antique shop.


I love Fountain Square at night as it’s brightly lit. One of these nights I’ll go down there and shoot all the glowing neon. I did shoot the lights under the Fountain Square Theatre marquee on this afternoon trip, though.


It’s called Fountain Square because of the fountain, of course.

Fountain top 2

Later I drove the short distance to Downtown to shoot at Monument Circle. Even though this shot is a little busy, I liked the contrast I ended up getting from it.

On the circle

The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument is at the heart of Indianapolis. For decades after its 1901 completion it was the tallest structure in town. For this shot, the sky had so much contrast that no darkening was necessary.

Monument sky

My enjoyment of shooting this roll of film and getting it processed on the same day was blunted by all the work I had to do to liven up these images. Part of me still just wants whatever I get back from the processor to be good enough! But I’m coming to see that post-processing is just part of this game. All the same, I’m sure I would have needed to do less work with these images had I shot them using regular black-and white film such as Kodak T-Max or Fujifilm Neopan Acros.

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10 responses to “Chromogenically characterized: Olympus OM-1 and Kodak BW400CN”

  1. Dani Avatar

    Have you noticed how today’s cars have a nostalgic look when shot in black and white? I did a double-take of the first photo to make sure the cars were not classics.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Seems like everything has a nostalgic look in b/w!

  2. Mike Avatar

    Those look good. I’m always impressed by the fine grain and smooth tonal gradations of that film. That square looks like a place well worth exploring at different times of the day and night.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Yes, Fountain Square is a great place to take your camera. I had my digicam on me one night a few years ago when I went down there and I got a few shots, but handheld it didn’t always work out so well. I’d like to go down at night with my tripod.

      Fountain Square at night

  3. Ted Kappes Avatar

    I have never used the BW400CN. It is interesting that it takes so much post processing. My experience with regular b&w is that it requires very little post processing. At least for me regular b&w requires some restraint because I am so used to doing so many processing steps with digital. I have gotten into the habit of always looking for some tweak that will make the picture better.

    That fountain square looks like a great place to do photography.

    1. Jim Avatar

      I’ve had to do very little post processing on Neopan Acros, which is my go-to b/w film. I just shot a roll of 120 in my Voigtlander Bessa, however, and did choose to punch up the contrast on most of the shots I got back. So I dunno.

  4. Bill Avatar

    Great photos and I was very interested that you used your OM1. I have had an OM1 since the 70’s and I recently acquired an OM-2n. I love that camera. I mainly shoot Acros 100 and I’m fortunate to have local dark room access. Great blog.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Bill, I have several 1970s SLRs here that I like to use. I reached for my OM-1 a couple times this summer. It’s a fine performer. I’m partial to Acros 100 too, though I won’t turn down a roll of T-Max.

  5. Lone Primate Avatar
    Lone Primate

    Been a few days since I’ve checked back here… you’ve been busy! I was scrolling down from the balloon posting and just marvelling at everything you’d added and the shot with “YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL” just took me like some Yellow Submarine moment. I had stop there for a minute. What a great shot to have mingled, so enegmatically, in among the others.

    Yellow filter, eh? That makes me feel blue. I started getting into things like that and getting an understanding of that kind of thing back in 2005 when i bought my Rebel XT. I hardly ever go out with it anymore. The P&S cameras, especially the gimmicky ones, keep me busier. I like that you’re doing serious work. It drives me to want to do better.

    1. Jim Avatar

      The “You Are Beautiful” sign is similarly arresting in person, which is why I shot it. The composition of that photo is only so-so, yet the sign totally makes up for it somehow.

      Truth be told, I like the ease of shooting with my P&S digital. I still take most of my photos with it.

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