Olaf? Agfa Clack Ilford FP4 Plus LegacyPro L110, Dilution B 2021
I seldom have nice things to say about living in this vinyl village. Here’s one nice thing: plenty of families here do fun things together, like build snowmen.
I suppose families are the whole point of neighborhoods like this. For far less than anywhere else in this surprisingly wealthy town, you can get your kids into good schools. This neighborhood overflows with children. In nice weather, lots of them play in their yards and sometimes in the streets. One family down the street wheels a portable basketball goal to the curb, and the kids shoot hoops for hours. Another family on my block rents a bounce house at least once a summer, which brings in kids from far and wide.
It reminds me a little of the neighborhood I grew up in. There were so many kids, the parents took to calling it Rabbit Hill. Families on Rabbit Hill weren’t nearly as well off as families in this neighborhood, so we didn’t have bounce houses or portable basketball goals. But we still made plenty of fun together. Those houses were cheaply built, as are these. It didn’t matter to us. It was grand to have so many kids to play with. I’m sure the kids here feel the same.
Mail station Agfa Clack Ilford FP4 Plus LegacyPro L110, Dilution B 2021
It’s useful to know which old cameras work well in the cold. It’ll be only a small, select group — old mechanical gear usually gums up when temps fall below freezing.
I took my Agfa Clack out to see how it performed. It went on two frigid photo walks after a snowfall. I have this Korean War-era, wool-lined Army trench coat, and I get it out when it’s either below zero, or below freezing and I’m going to be outside for a while. The Clack fit into the roomy side pocket. But that pocket isn’t lined. The Clack was only slightly warmer in it than it would have been if I had held it in my hand. Every time I got it out, it performed fine.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I shot my family’s 2020 Christmas celebration on film. I decided to do it when I stumbled across a roll of Kodak T-Max P3200 I forgot I had. I shot it in my Nikon N90s with the 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6G AF Nikkor lens attached. I developed it in LegacyPro L110, Dilution B, but I misread the Massive Dev Chart and developed it for a few minutes less time than specified. The negatives looked plenty dense, but when I scanned them on my flatbed, the grain was pronounced.
I decided to print them. I don’t have a darkroom; I just sent the scans to my nearby CVS pharmacy’s photo department. The paper they use in their machines is thin, nowhere near as sturdy as the stuff they used as recently as 10 years ago. But the prints looked all right. I laid them on the dining table with the Christmas tablecloth still on and photographed a few of them with my Canon PowerShot S95. Even rendered this way, you can see the huge, ugly grain in these photos.
These scans are straight off the scanner. No amount of Photoshopping made them look any better, so I quickly gave up. I did tweak VueScan’s settings to bring out shadow detail, however.
When that roll was done I wanted to keep going, but I was out of P3200. Then it hit me: I develop my own film now and can easily push process it. I had some Ilford Delta 400 in the freezer, so I thawed a roll, loaded it into the N90s, mounted my 50mm f/1.8 AF Nikkor lens, and set the camera to ISO 1600. I knew this stuff would push well because fellow photoblogger Alyssa Chiarello did it recently and got great results.
Ilford still prints developing instructions inside their film boxes. They listed a developing time in Ilfotec HC (their HC-110 equivalent, also equivalent to the L110 I use) for the film at 1600! I followed their instructions and got gorgeous negatives and the best scans my flatbed can deliver (which still aren’t great). They look better than the P3200 photos — the grain is smaller and much more pleasing. Delta 400 is a darn sight less expensive than T-Max P3200, too. I think I need never buy P3200 again — I’ll push an ISO 400 black-and-white film to 1600 instead. I had CVS print these scans, too.
This was fun, but I don’t see this experience leading me to print my work more often. I get it that a photograph is meant to be printed, a physical object. But I’m an online kind of guy and that’s the way I show 99% of my work. My wife prints family photographs all the time, and I figured she’d like to add these to her collection, so I gave them to her.
I’ve been unhappy with the 35mm scans my Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II produces. They lack sharpness and shadow detail. I’ve done everything I can figure out in VueScan to make them better.
I’ve complained about this before, and reader P paid sharp attention. He contacted me recently to recommend a dedicated 35mm scanner he found used for a good price, refurbished, at KEH. I bought it straightaway.
It’s the Minolta DiMAGE Scan Dual II, which was manufactured in about 2003. This scanner’s maximum output is 2,820 DPI, yielding images of roughly 3680×2580 pixels. That’s nearly 10 megapixels, which is enough for anything I do with my images.
When it arrived, I quickly scanned a negative strip from a roll of Ilford Delta 400 I shot in my Olympus XA in December to make sure the scanner functioned. It did, but my scans weren’t sharp. So I tried again later with the same strip, digging into the manual and into VueScan’s settings to get focus right. I got very good sharpness that time.
I’m going to show you all four frames from both scanners. In each pair, the Scan Dual II scans are first and the CanoScan 9000F scans are second. I’ve tweaked both in Photoshop to my liking, within the limits of the scan — but the ScanDual scans didn’t need very much help. They are far better than the CanoScan scans, especially in contrast and sharpness. The contrast is apparent right off, but you need to see these scans at full size to appreciate the sharpness difference. To do that, click to see them on Flickr and then click them there to see them larger.
Even though the Minolta is 17 years old and relies on a USB 1.0 interface, I got scans faster than I ever do from the Canon. This is in part because VueScan was able to accurately detect frames in the Minolta, and it can’t in the Canon for some reason. I have to painstakingly select each frame before scanning.
The Minolta scans are far sharper than the Canon scans straight off the scanner. No amount of Photoshopping can make the Canon scans look sharp, while a tiny bit of unsharp masking makes the Minolta scans look great.
This scanner’s native software doesn’t work with Windows 10. Fortunately, VueScan recognized this scanner instantly and was ready in seconds to make scans from it.
I kept going, this time with a strip of color film. This is Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400, shot in my Olympus OM-2n using the 50mm f/3.5 Olympus Zuiko MC Auto-Macro lens. I sent this film to Fulltone Photo for developing and scanning. My scans from the Scan Dual II are first, and Fulltone’s scans are second. I adjusted VueScan’s settings as best I could but still got rather cool scans. So I adjusted white balance and a few other settings on them in Photoshop.
The Scan Dual II scans are not far better than the Fulltone scans. I rather prefer the color Fulltone delivered — but it could be that after all these years I’m just used to the color a lab’s Noritsu scanner delivers. Now that I’m looking at these again, the ScanDual scans might have a slight magenta cast, and removing it might help. Yet these scans are acceptable for the day I might choose to develop color film at home, or wish to rescan an old color negative.