Film Photography

First roll impressions: Fujifilm Reala 100

A reader who comments here as tbm3fan contacted me recently and asked, “What are the best medium-format cameras you own?” I replied “my Yashica TLRs.” He responded, “That’ll work. I’m going to send you a whole bunch of film. It’s good stuff you can’t get anymore. It’s always been stored frozen. Shoot it on subjects that matter in those Yashicas.”

A box soon arrived containing a whole bunch of film in both 35mm and 120, two rolls of each emulsion he included. All of it is negative film; some of it is color and some is black and white. The first roll I shot, while in Madison, Indiana, recently, was Fujifilm Reala 100 in 120 that expired in April of 2005.

I’ve loved Fujifilm’s ISO 100 color negative films when I’ve gotten to shoot them in the past. Those rolls were always 35mm, though, so I was excited to try a roll in 120. Interestingly, there was no film called Reala 100 in 35mm. There was a Superia Reala 100 in 35mm, but not plain Reala 100. The word Superia does not appear on my two boxes of Reala 100 in 120. Some light Googling did not find data sheets for either film for me to compare them.

No matter; the fun is in the shooting. I shot the whole roll on a long walk along the Ohio River. This is the Lanier Mansion, Madison’s most famous house.

The Lanier Mansion, Madison, IN

I shot the roll at EI 50 to hedge against the effects of age. The whole roll delivered very good color, fine grain, and good sharpness. Straight off the scanner, you could hardly tell this film is expired. Dark areas tended to be a little too dark for my taste, so I lightened them in Photoshop.

On the Ohio River at Madison

On the Ohio River at Madison

Despite having mounted a lens hood onto the taking lens, I got a lot of haze and flare unless the sun was well behind me. It tended to wash out images on this roll. I rescued this one in Photoshop, but it rendered the earth tones extra earthy.

On the Ohio River at Madison

There’s lots of old houses around Madison, and many of them are painted in bright colors like this. I’m not a fan of painting brick — the whole point of brick is that it needs little maintenance, and once you’ve painted it, you have to keep painting it.

Old house in Madison, IN

My experience with Fujifilm’s 35mm ISO 100 color negative films is that the colors are candylike and bright. I found that this roll also returned earthier, burnt colors that were true.

Decay

But it still faithfully renders the primaries.

Chillbilly Treats

In all, this film is a winner.

Table

I’m thrilled to have all of this film to try. But I have a sinking feeling that the more I shoot it, the more I’m going to realize just how much we lost in discontinued films. So many of them did not survive the early digital era, and few if any will ever return.

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Film Photography, Photographs

Expired Kodak Tri-X in the Olympus Stylus

Milton-Madison Bridge

My wife and I spent a long weekend in historic Madison, Indiana, in October. In Indiana’s early days, Madison became the state’s largest and most important city. It capitalized on its Ohio River location as a port of commerce. Nearby Louisville and Cincinnati soon became more prominent, stalling Madison’s growth. It had the effect of freezing the oldest part of the city in time. Lots of buildings from Madison’s earliest days are still in use. The area has been a historic district since 1973, and over the years properties have been restored one by one. It’s a lovely place to take a camera.

Olympus Stylus

I brought a couple of SLRs, a TLR, my little Olympus Stylus, and a whole bunch of film. I loaded a roll of Kodak Tri-X, expired since September, 2001, into the Stylus and slipped it into my back pocket. The rest of the film I shot was color, both negative and slide, and went to a lab for processing. That takes time. But right after I got back I developed the Tri-X myself in HC-110, Dilution B, and scanned it on my Plustek 8100i. So you get to see these black-and-white images first!

The image at the beginning of this post is of the bridge that connects Madison to Milton, Kentucky. It might look old, but it went into service in 2014, replacing a similar bridge completed in 1929 that had lived out its service life.

On the Ohio River at Madison

I made several photos as Margaret and I walked along the river, above the shore on a sidewalk. We also walked down this ramp to the bar that’s on the left and had a couple of beers.

Fairfield Inn, Madison

This building is a Fairfield Inn hotel today, but it was originally built as a cotton mill. It was vacant for a long time, decaying. Its transformation is remarkable. The hotel overlooks the river.

Third Street, Madison

We also strolled the city looking at the houses, most of which are a century old or more, and some of which date to near Madison’s founding in 1810.

Old houses in Madison

The Stylus handled easily as always. It fit comfortably into the back pocket of my jeans. When you factor in the sharp, detailed images it returns, is it any wonder why I shoot it so often?

Joy house

Images near the beginning of the roll didn’t turn out well. The base fog was thickest on the first few frames. This was the first frame on the roll that turned out at all, and as you can see the grain is pronounced and the image is a little faint.

Madison Airbnb entry

The deeper I went into the roll, the better this Tri-X behaved. This is the front door to our Airbnb, a renovated three-story row house. It was a lovely place to stay.

Etcetera

Unfortunately, my Stylus has developed a light leak. You can see it in the upper right of this image. It doesn’t always occur, and when it does I can often remove it from the image in Photoshop. Given the details the leak touches in this image, Photoshop couldn’t repair it without scrambling the lines.

On stilts

I successfully Photoshopped the leak out of this image. The first thing to check is the light seals, of course, and if those are bad I’ll happily replace them. That’s a repair job I’m willing to do myself. The photo forums mention four other causes of Stylus light leaks, all of which involve some disassembly of the camera and in one case replacement of a rubber seal that is probably no longer obtainable. Many of these problems are beyond my repair skills — and willingness.

Gourds and hay

In time, I’ll investigate the root cause of my Stylus’s leak but there may be nothing I can do about it. Time was, Olympus Styluses were cheap as chips. Faced with this problem just five to seven years ago, I’d buy another used Stylus. This is already my second Stylus, as my first one died. A reader empathized with my plight and sent me this one, free. He had picked up four or five of them for next to nothing, 10 or 20 bucks each. Those were the days! Now these cameras sell for $150, even $200, which is straight-up ridiculous.

If my Stylus is not repairable, I’ll have to choose whether to live with the light leak or to sell the camera for parts. But that’s life with an intricately designed early-1990s electronic camera. They are all on borrowed time after 30 years.

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Film Photography

35mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-A

The 35mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-A is one of my favorite workhorse lenses.

I have any number of terrific 50mm lenses for the three SLR systems I use (Pentax, Nikon, and Olympus). For my Pentax SLRs in particular, my 50mm f/1.7 SMC Pentax-M lens is superb. But when I’m on the street photographing the built environment, as I’m wont to do, 50mm is often too constraining. I usually have to stand in the street to put my subject fully in the frame. Sometimes the building behind me blocks me from backing up enough.

This looks like a job for a wide-angle lens!

First I tried the 28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M lens that came with one of the old SLRs I bought along the way. It’s optically very good, and it let me fill the frame with my subject in most cases. But the exaggerated perspective inherent in any wide-angle lens was sometimes too much, making my subjects look strange, even grotesque.

I bought this 35mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-A to see if it would ease the perspective exaggeration while still fitting enough in the frame. The SMC Pentax-M version of this lens would have been a good choice, too — it is optically identical. None my Pentax bodies support the program and shutter-priority modes that the A lenses enable anyway. I just happened to find this SMC Pentax-A version first at a price I was willing to pay.

With six elements in six groups, this lens is wonderfully sharp and free from distortion. It’s also incredibly compact — almost, but not quite, a pancake lens. Paired with a small SLR body like my Pentax ME, this lens makes a light and easy-to-handle kit.

Not long ago I extolled the virtues of a compact short zoom for built-environment photography. I stand by those words! Unfortunately, Pentax never made such a lens. Their most compact short zoom was the 35-70mm f/4 SMC Pentax-A, but it’s nowhere near as small or light as similar offerings of the day from Nikon or Canon. I own one but use it only occasionally.

The reasons I use this lens put me in daylight most of the time, so its f/2.8 maximum aperture is fine. For those who need extra aperture margin, Pentax also made a 35mm f/2 lens in the SMC Pentax-A and -M series. It’s a less compact than this 35mm f/2.8, but there’s always a tradeoff, isn’t there?

These images show this lens’s good optical qualities. I applied some perspective correction on the first image to correct keystoning created when I pointed the camera up a little to fit the brutalist building in the frame. Otherwise, my post-processing was limited to color and contrast adjustments.

Minton-Capehart Federal Building, Indianapolis
Pentax ME, Agfa Agfaphoto APX 100 expired 7/1998
On St. Clair St.
Pentax ME, Agfa Agfaphoto APX 100 expired 7/1998
House on the Canal
Pentax ME, Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 at EI 200
Federal Courthouse
Pentax ME, Film Washi S

I love it that I can move in reasonably close to details with this lens and if I get any perspective distortion, it’s minimal. A 28mm lens yields results up close that remind me of a funhouse mirror.

Oh my gourd
Pentax KM, Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400
2022-08-07-0027 proc
Pentax ME SE, Kosmo Foto Agent Shadow, HC-110 Dilution B/i
Perrin Historic District, Lafayette, IN
Pentax ME, Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 at EI 200

It’s easy to create a little drama with wider apertures. This 35mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-A lens is no exception.

Second Presbyterian Church, Indianapolis
Pentax ME SE, Kosmo Foto Agent Shadow, HC-0110 Dilution B
Perrin Historic District, Lafayette, IN
Pentax ME, Fujicolor 200 at EI 100
Bridge on State Road 225
Pentax ME, Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 (at EI 200)
Underpass
Pentax ME SE, Kosmo Foto Agent Shadow, HC-0110 Dilution B

This lens delivers a smooth blurred background when aperture and shutter speed are right. I’ve never pushed it to the limit to see if I get little hexagons or circles in the background light, but when I want to do that I’m reaching for a nifty fifty anyway.

Lanyards
Pentax KM, Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400
At the site of the Battle of Tippecanoe
Pentax ME, Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 at EI 200

I’ve used this lens for casual portraits, too. When I mean to make portraits I reach for my long lenses. But when this 35mm lens is on the camera and I want to make a portrait, it works well enough.

Damion
Pentax ME, Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 at EI 200

These are the reasons why the 35mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-A lens is my choice when I’m doing my usual documentary work with one of my Pentax SLR bodies. It lets me travel light while always delivering terrific results.

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Film Photography

Comparing developing and scanning from several labs on the same film stock

Earlier this year I bought five rolls of Kroger 200 color negative film, an expired Ferrania emulsion, from Photo Warehouse. Ferrania stopped making color film sometime between 2008 and 2010, so this film is no newer than that. I don’t know how it was stored, but I presume the whole lot Photo Warehouse had for sale was stored the same way.

I’ve shot four rolls of this stuff now in various cameras. I shot the first roll in a fixed-exposure camera and wasn’t wowed by the color shifts and grain. I shot the other rolls at EI 100, which helped a lot. Yet each roll came back looking different.

Lots of factors play in how images look. The light meters on my old film cameras might not be consistent with each other. The quality of the light varies from subject to subject. Different lenses impart different qualities. But I think the biggest factors are processing and scanning. I sent each of these three rolls to different labs.

Just for grins, I’ll show you a couple images from the first roll I shot. I think Roberts Camera developed and scanned the roll — I didn’t keep a record as I usually do, but the scan dimensions are the ones I get from Roberts. I shot the roll in my Reto Ultra Wide and Slim. The whole roll was underexposed. I remedied that as best I could in Photoshop, to find intrusive grain but reasonable color fidelity.

Little blue house
Yellow box truck on a green wall

I shot the next and all subsequent rolls at EI 100. I sent the first of these to Old School Photo Lab. I wouldn’t normally send them a roll of expired film containing non-critical images, as OSPL is by far the most expensive consumer lab I know of. But I had a few critical rolls to send them, and I just dropped this roll into the envelope, too. I shot my Nikon F3 with the 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor lens on it. Here are a couple images. These look really good to me, with excellent color fidelity and smooth grain. The purple in the first image is just spot on.

Purple flower
Granddaughter

I sent the next roll to Dwayne’s Photo. This time I shot my Nikon FA with a 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Zoom Nikkor. The results were mixed. Images I made at a farmers market had good color fidelity and noticeable, but pleasing, grain. Images I made of old houses in Bloomington, Indiana, looked a little dingy and brown. I was able to remedy that in Photoshop to some extent.

Produce
On Bloomington's Brick Streets

Roberts Camera here in Indianapolis developed and scanned the fourth roll. Here I shot a Pentax Spotmatic SP II with a 50mm f/1.4 Super-Multi-Coated Takumar lens. That lens’s wonderful qualities really shone through on these images, but these all had a brown caste that I had to remove in Photoshop. Colors looked more muted than in real life. Grain is managed and looks much like what I experienced in the images Dwayne’s processed.

In Lockerbie
Michigan Road in Burlington

To my eye, Old School Photo Lab wins. The images from that roll look like fresh film to me. But ay yi yi are they expensive, at almost $20 to develop and scan a roll of 35mm color negative film.

I’ll try to make it a point to send my one remaining roll of this film to Fulltone Photo, a lab I use a lot because they do good work for noticeably less than any of the other labs I use.

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Film Photography

35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Zoom Nikkor

In action on my Nikon N2000. Fujifilm Provia 400X (expired)

The 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Zoom Nikkor was a lens of its time. By the mid 1980s, more and more amateurs were buying SLRs and the major camera manufacturers were building more entry-level cameras to oblige them. The industry noticed how amateurs liked zoom lenses for the casual photography they were likely to do.

Major manufacturers designed inexpensive short zooms — 28-80mm and 35-70mm were popular — to put in the kit with their lower-line SLR bodies. This lens came in 1984, Nikon’s first inexpensive short zoom. The lens was popular enough that Nikon made it for 21 years.

This lens is small and light. Nikon made it with a lot of plastic to keep its weight and cost down — the mount is plastic, as is most of the body. Nikon purists recoiled in horror, and then retreated to their built-like-a-tank Nikkor primes. But amateurs were pleased enough with the lens, especially since it was an Ai-s lens, which enabled Program mode on their cameras. It also has a macro mode, making this lens kind of a Swiss Army knife.

Optically, the lens has eight elements in seven groups. It noticeably vignettes wide open, but that reduces the narrower your aperture and the deeper your zoom. This lens also delivers barrel distortion, which is barely perceptible at 70mm but obvious and strong at 35mm. Thankfully, with modern digital workflows that’s quickly remedied in Photoshop. Here’s an image straight off the scanner that shows the distortion. I didn’t keep notes on this roll, but I probably shot this at or close to 35mm.

Nikon N2000, Kodak Ektar

But like I said, a couple of clicks in Photoshop and the distortion disappears.

Entrance to our cabin
Nikon N2000, Kodak Ektar

This lens has plenty of detractors, most notably Ken Rockwell, who puts it on his list of the 10 worst Nikon lenses. He points readers toward a couple other 35-70mm Nikkors with better performance. But in the eight or nine years I’ve owned this lens I’ve used it a lot, and I’ve always been very happy with its sharpness, color rendition, and contrast. Correcting barrel distortion in post-processing is the only downer I experience with this lens.

Everything else is upside. The lens is tight. Controls are smooth. They don’t have the luxurious heft of my Nikon primes, but I don’t care about that when I’m in the world making images. It handles easily and focuses fast. What more could I want?

A short zoom like this is perfect for subjects that are moderately far away to moderately close. For the kind of photography I do, largely images of the built environment, that keeps me from needing to step into the road as much to frame my subject. I made this image on a road trip along US 40 as I surveyed the stunning homes on that road in Casey, Illinois. I was able to make this image from the sidewalk across the street by zooming in just a little. With a 50mm prime, I would have had to walk out into the street.

Main Street, Casey, IL
Nikon F2AS, Fujicolor 200

The 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Zoom Nikkor isn’t exactly a bokeh monster, but you do get a blurred background when the light, aperture, and shutter speed are right.

Coffee and Macbook
Nikon N2000, Kodak Ektar

Sharpness is good to very good, but never outstanding. Even on this expired slide film, the lens delivers gobs of detail.

The Depot
Nikon N2000, expired Fujifilm Provia 400X

Because of this lens’s small size, light weight, and versatility, I travel with it a lot. This is My Old Kentucky Home in Bardstown, Kentucky.

My Old Kentucky Home
Nikon FA, Arista.EDU 200

I’m a big fan of moving in close with my camera, and it’s wonderful that this general-purpose lens’s macro mode lets me do that.

Purple crock
Nikon F3, Kodak Gold 400 expired 1/08

Here’s one more image in macro mode, just because I like macro so much. I’ve never had any issues with flaring or ghosting when I’ve used this lens, by the way.

Produce
Nikon FA, expired Kroger 200 at EI 100

I shoot a lot of color film with this lens, but it does great work in black and white, too.

0 mph
Nikon Nikkormat EL, Foma Fomapan 100

Because of its smallish maximum aperture, you need faster films in low light. I shot Kodak T-Max P3200 here — I shot most of this roll inside, but made a few photos outside because that was the film I had in the camera.

7th & Wabash, Terre Haute
Nikon FA, Kodak T-Max P3200, HC-110 Dilution B

Now I’m just showing you some images that I liked seeing again as I put this post together. I’ve made hundreds of images with this lens and have plenty of keepers from it.

SoBro homes
Nikon F2AS, Kodak Tri-X expired 2006
Heating the coals
Nikon F3, Kodak Gold 400 expired 1/08
Holly on the holly trees
Nikon FA, Agfa Vista 200
Downtown Bardstown
Nikon FA, Agfa Vista 200
Corner Wine Bar
Nikon F2AS, Fujicolor 200

The measure of a lens is whether it delivers the results you want. I can think of all kinds of photographers who would never use a lens like this 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Zoom Nikkor. But I walk around and photograph the things I find interesting, and a light and small short zoom like this is often just the right tool. It is sharp and contrasty enough, it mounts to every manual-focus Nikon SLR body I own, and it keeps me from needing to step out into traffic to photograph the built environment around me. To get these things, I’m willing to post-process images I made at the wide end of this lens to correct barrel distortion, when it’s noticeable.

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Film Photography, Old Cars

First roll impressions: Tura 125

Cowl Induction

Early this year a reader sent me a Minolta Maxxum 5, which I reviewed here. In the box were four rolls of film: two of the original Agfa Vista 400, and two of a film I’d never heard of: Tura 125. This is a black-and-white film from a German company that made some of their own films and papers and white-labeled films from other manufacturers. They primarily rebranded Agfa and Ilford films, I gather. Tura appears not to have made it after those two companies declared bankruptcy in 2004 and 2005.

I dropped a roll of the Tura 125 into that Maxxum 5 during my birthday week in August and brought it to a local car show. On advice of the fellow who sent it to me, I shot the film at EI 100.

At the car show

There’s not a lot of information about this film on the Internet. The fellow who sent me the film gave me his development time for the stuff in D-76, but I don’t keep D-76 here. I’m HC-110 and Rodinal all the way. Persistent Googling finally led to a long-ago forum post where someone said he used the times for the original Agfa APX 100. The Massive Dev Chart didn’t have an HC-110 time for this film at EI 100, but it had a time for the similar Ilfotec HC, so that’s what I used. It worked beautifully.

At the car show

This is a beautiful film with rich tonality. I especially enjoy how it renders blacks, and how silvery the film looks overall. This matches my experience with the couple of rolls of original APX 100 I’ve shot, so I am inclined to believe that Tura 125 is that film. I’ve heard speculation that Tura 125 is Kentmere 100, but I’ve shot enough of that film to know that it doesn’t look this good.

Mustang

This car show is an annual event at the local American Legion. It’s a “bring what you got” kind of show that draws cars mostly from this county. Entries run the gamut from newer supercars to old pickup trucks to true classics like this 1927 Buick.

1927 Buick

These cars were a great trial subject for my first roll of Tura 125. The 35-70mm f/4 Maxxum AF Zoom lens attached to my camera brought out this film’s sharpness.

Explorer

As you can see, this film’s grain is imperceptible in blog-sized images. When you look at the scans at full resolution, the grain is barely perceptible. And the grays on this truck’s tailgate are positively creamy.

Chevrolet

This 1950s Ford F-1 truck was painted in a bright metallic blue. The Tura 125 did a great job picking up the metallic flecks in the paint. The chrome trim looks so rich.

F1

Even if Tura 125 isn’t rebranded original APX 100, it’s still a gorgeous film and I’m glad I got to try it. I have one roll left, and it’s worth saving for something special.

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