Film Photography

A hike along McCormick’s Creek

McCormick’s Creek State Park is Indiana’s oldest state park, opened in 1916 as part of our state centennial celebration. It’s near Spencer in Owen County, about 60 miles southwest of Indianapolis. I met my younger son there a few weeks ago. He lives nearby, and thanks to the pandemic it had been months and months since we saw each other.

McCormick's Creek

We hiked some of the park’s trails, and ended up on one that hugs the creek itself. As you can see, it’s quite rocky. One of the trails requires crossing the creek. I did that on a long-ago visit and ended up soaking my shoes. Not wanting a squishy hike, we stayed to one side of the creek.

McCormick's Creek

The highlight of the trail is the little waterfall.

Waterfall at McCormick's Creek

Hiking along the creek can be quite rugged. I wore flat-bottomed sneakers that were not up to the task of climbing rock. Why did I not think to put on my waterproof hiking shoes? Fortunately, most of the trail is just a nice walk through the woods.

Path in McCormick's Creek SP
Bridge in McCormick's Creek SP

The highlight of the day for me, aside from getting to see my son, was coming upon these horses. The park offers guided trail rides.

Horses at McCormick's Creek

Finally, I made a portrait of my son. I didn’t think the shadow across his body would come out with such strong contrast — it wasn’t so strong when I composed.

Garrett

I made all of these with my Nikon F2AS and the big honking 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5 Zoom Nikkor lens on Fujicolor 200. Fulltone Photo did the developing and scanning.

Get more of my photography in your inbox or reader! Click here to subscribe.

Standard
Film Photography

Making film photography less expensive

As I’ve said before, film photography has never been less expensive. Great film cameras be had for pennies on the original dollar. Also, film and processing are less expensive, adjusted for inflation, than they were in the 1970s and 1980s.

Yet prices are on the rise. Many old cameras have become very popular, and their prices have soared. Kodak, Fujifilm, and Ilford have raised their prices a great deal in the last year or so. And the popular film labs now charge upwards of 20 bucks per roll for developing and scanning!

Fortunately, you can still manage the costs of cameras, film, and processing. You just have to manage your expectations, too. You can still find plenty of good cameras for under 50 bucks when you look beyond the popular choices. You might have to learn the limits of some lower-cost films that are new to you. You’re not going to get white-glove lab service where they remember all of your preferences. But you can have plenty of good fun, and get satisfying images.

Inexpensive cameras

Ah, for the halcyon days when for 50 bucks or less you could buy a hip Canon Canonet QL17 rangefinder, or a classic Pentax K1000 SLR, or an ultra-compact Olympus Stylus, or a smooth Yashica-D TLR.

Boy, are those days ever over. Fortunately, plenty of film-camera bargains remain. You just need to step off the beaten path.

Nikon N90s

Plastic-bodied auto-everything 35mm SLRs are currently the strongest bargain in film photography. They make great starter cameras. My favorites are Nikons, like the N65. Canon, Minolta, and Pentax made “plastic fantastic” SLRs, too. You can buy them for as little as $15 or $20, often with a zoom lens attached. It’s crazy, but even sturdy, well-featured semi-professional bodies like Nikon’s N90/N90s and Canon’s A2/A2e can often be had today for under $50!

If you must have a manual-focus SLR, plenty of cameras fly under that $50 price tag. I’m a big fan of Pentax and recommend the ME, ME Super, or Super Program. With Nikon, look to the Nikkormats, such as the FTn or the EL. With Canon, try the FTb, TLb, or T70. Or choose a solid Minolta SR-T, like the SR-T 101. Plenty of people sell these with a 50mm prime still attached, and I’ve yet to encounter one from any manufacturer that wasn’t very good.

If you simply must have the cachet of a big name like Voigtländer or Zeiss Ikon, look for models without onboard meters and focusing aids (such as rangefinders). Or look instead at Kodak’s Retina cameras, which in my opinion remain undervalued.

Pentax IQZoom 170SL

Point-and-shoot 35mm cameras are extra popular — and expensive — right now, especially those with fine lenses. Plenty of fairly priced cameras remain, however. Pentax’s IQZoom/Espio series has some gems. I’m a big fan of the 170SL. There was a whole series of Olympus Stylus cameras and some of them are still reasonably priced. Try the Zoom 140.

In medium format, you’re incredibly unlikely to find a TLR or rangefinder for chicken feed. Even vintage folding cameras now generally cost $100 or more. But you can have a great deal of fun with a box camera! Kodak and others made them by the bazillions and they go for very little. I’m a big fan of Kodak’s No. 2 Brownie, most of which are more than 100 years old. They do surprisingly good work. An Agfa Clack is another fine choice with more modern ergonomics. I’m stepping a little out of my depth here, but you can buy a brand new Holga for $40! You just have to be ready for the lo-fi look you’ll get.

My friends who love Soviet cameras say they’re the best bargains in film photography. They especially recommend the Fed 2 and the Zorki 4 as Leica clones. Or look for a Zenit 11 SLR, or a Lomo Lubitel 166 TLR. They all have their quirks, and the Soviets were not known for build quality, but well-functioning examples can still be had.

If you worry about getting a dud, check out my tips for inspecting vintage cameras before you buy: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Inexpensive film

There are some truly outstanding films today. Unfortunately, many of them now cost $9, $10, $11 or more per roll.

All is not lost: a number of 35mm films cost about $5, and some even less. The king of inexpensive color negative film is Fujicolor 200, which you can often find for under $4. Kodak ColorPlus is another fine choice — it has a classic Kodak look. You can sometimes snag Kodak Gold 200 or Ultramax 400 in 24 exposure rolls for under $5, as well. Unfortunately, I don’t know a color negative film in 120 that costs less than $5. You’ll sometimes find Kodak Ektar or Kodak Portra 400 for $7 to $8, however.

You have lots of choices in black and white:

  • Foma’s Fomapan films, in ISO 100, 200, and 400. These are often rebranded: Kosmo Foto, Arista EDU, Holga. Available in 35mm and 120.
  • Kentmere films, in ISO 100 and 400. These are made by the same people who make Ilford films. 35mm only.
  • Ultrafine Xtreme, in ISO 100 and 400. These are the biggest black-and-white bargains I’ve ever found. 35mm and 120.

I’ve heard reports of iffy quality control in especially the Foma films, but I’ve not had any trouble with them. But in challenging lighting conditions these bargain films sometimes return blown-out highlights or blocked-up shadows where Kodak and Ilford films perform well.

But Kodak Tri-X and Ilford HP5 Plus and FP4 Plus only cost about $7 a roll. Sometimes you can find Kodak T-Max at this price. That’s just a couple extra bucks for those times you want that extra latitude.

I based all of these prices on what is listed today at B&H and the Film Photography Store. You can buy film online at lots of places; here are the places I recommend.

I know some of you are poised to comment: Buy film in bulk and load your own 35mm cartridges! After you buy a bulk loader, yes, this can cut the cost per roll. But bulk-loaded cartridges don’t have DX coding, which eliminates a lot of cameras. Also, cameras that wind automatically have been known to pull the film end right out of the cartridge. This is why I’ve shied away. But bulk loading might work for you, and can slash film costs.

Inexpensive processing

I really miss taking my film to the drug store or to Costco and getting serviceable developing and scans for as little as $6! But even when I was doing this, I knew these services were nearing their end. There just wasn’t enough business to sustain them.

Mail-in developing is where it’s at, and where it’s been at for at least a decade now. There’s been an explosion of small labs! But most of them are expensive. Many of the well-known labs have nudged their prices high.

All is not yet lost. Here are two less-expensive labs that I use.

Fulltone Photo: They charge $7 to process and scan 35mm color negative film, $7.50 for 120 color negative, $8 for 35mm b/w, and $8.50 for 120 b/w. If you spend $15 or more, they waive their $4.50 return shipping charge.

Dwayne’s Photo: This well-known lab charges $9 to process and scan 35mm or 120 color negative film, and $11 for 120 or 35mm black-and-white film. Shipping is $5 for the first roll and 50 cents for each additional roll.

Persistent Googling might turn up other inexpensive labs. If you know of any, let me know in the comments!

Developing your own film can dramatically cut costs. But first, you must buy a bunch of developing equipment and a film scanner. If you buy everything new, you’re laying out no less than $250. Each roll costs you time, especially in scanning, and there’s a learning curve to get consistently good results. But if you shoot a ton of film, after a long while you will break even and then start to save money this way.


There you have it: my best tips for saving money in film photography. If you have more of your own, share them in the comments!

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader, click here to subscribe!

Standard
Film Photography

Up close with the Olympus OM-2n

The fellow who gave me the Olympus OM-2n gave me another, so I put a couple rolls through to test it. The first roll was Kodak T-Max 400, which I showed you recently. The second roll was some Kodak Gold 400 expired since January, 2008, that I had lying around. I mounted a 50mm f/3.5 Zuiko Auto Macro lens that the fellow also gave me. This is one generous fellow.

What the heck is this?
Flowers up close
Flowers up close
Bee in the flower

These images look very good for film 12 years expired that was never stored cold. They needed very little post-processing. Color shifts are slight. Grain might be enhanced, but I never shot Kodak Gold 400 fresh before it was replaced by Kodak Ultramax 400 to know for sure.

Suncatcher
Ash leaves
High voltage

This 50mm macro lens performs beautifully. I own at least one more of them and have for years. This lens raises any color film above its station. This is also a fine lens for non-macro photography. Leave it focused at infinity for anything beyond a couple feet away. It makes your OM camera almost point-and-shoot simple.

The house across the street
Retention pond by the Interstate

The OM-2n is just a wonderful SLR. I’m smitten. My SLR loyalties have been to Pentax first and Nikon second. The OM-2n threatens to have Olympus usurp at least the #2 position.

Get more of my photography in your inbox or reader! Click here to subscribe.

Standard
Film Photography

Kodak T-Max 400 in Adox HR-DEV

Into the tree tunnel

I still have a lot of Adox HR-DEV to use up after buying a small bottle to develop a roll of its companion film, Adox HR-50. I’m developing other films in it to see how it performs. I liked Arista EDU 200 (aka Fomapan 200) in it not long ago, so this time I tried Kodak T-Max 400.

I also took this opportunity to test a second Olympus OM-2n body given to me by the same benefactor who gave me the first one, as well as the Olympus OM-4T I recently shot. This very generous fellow also gave me a whole bunch of lenses and other OM gear. He hadn’t shot his OMs in a long time and he was ready for them not to take up space in his home anymore.

I mounted a large, heavy 35-70mm f/4 S Zuiko Auto-Zoom lens. It’s probably this hefty because of its fixed f/4 aperture — if I recall correctly, variable-aperture zooms can be made much smaller and lighter. Despite the weight, I slung the OM-2n over my shoulder and took it on a long bike ride.

To the left

HR-DEV is supposed to enhance sensitivity, better differentiating light from shadow. I don’t know if I see that; this looks like normal T-Max 400 to me.

High-powered cornfield

But I very much appreciated how sharp these scans were off my flatbed. They still needed a little unsharp masking in Photoshop, but far less aggressively than normal after developing this film in any of my usual developers.

Farmhouse on the hill

I finished the roll on a few walks through the neighborhood. What I especially appreciated about these negatives was how little Photoshopping they required to look good. About half of them needed only that touch of unsharp masking.

In the vinyl village

I made these neighborhood shots on full-sun days, and I think I detect the light areas being lighter than I’m used to with this film under these conditions. Or I could be seeing things.

In the vinyl village

Just a side note: it’s crazy to me how much of the sides and backs of houses you can see on any walk through this neighborhood, and how often windows are placed haphazardly on them.

In the vinyl village

If you look at these images at full scan size, which you can do by clicking any of them to see them on Flickr, there’s detectable grain here. But at blog sizes they look smooth enough.

In the vinyl village

Bottom line, this combination works. Don’t be afraid to try it if you, like me, have some HR-DEV to use up.

Get more of my photography in your inbox or reader! Click here to subscribe.

Standard
Film Photography

The mysteries of exposure and film exposure latitude

I thought it was a shame I hadn’t shot my Nikon F2AS in a long time, so I put some film through it recently. The meter led me to shutter speeds that seemed slow for the full-sun conditions, out of line with Sunny 16.

I shot four subjects twice, once using the F2’s meter and once using the my phone’s light meter app. The app consistently had me expose two additional stops!

I shot Ilford FP4 Plus through my 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5 Zoom Nikkor lens (which I like less and less the more I use it). I developed the film in Rodinal 1+50 and scanned the negatives on my Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II using VueScan. I brought the scans into Photoshop where I unsharp masked them all, corrected perspective if that was necessary, and on one shot toned down the highlights, but otherwise left them alone.

There are so many possibilities in any scene, from how you expose it to how you develop it to what you do with the negative in printing or scanning and post-processing. These pairs show it well. The F2 metered shot is first in each pair. In this first pair, I like the second shot more for its better definition in the houses, and the more silvery reflection in the pond.

Reflected houses, overexposed
Reflected houses, underexposed

In this pair, I prefer the second shot again for its rich, smooth tone in the tennis court surface and the better definition in the houses.

Tennis net, overexposed
Tennis net, underexposed

In this pair, I like the first shot better for its slightly better shadow detail. The first photo is the one where I toned the highlights down slightly in Photoshop. The path was a little washed out in the original scan.

Path, overexposed
Path, underexposed

In this pair, I like the first shot better for its slightly better shadow detail and its better definition in the sky.

Lowe's, overexposed
Lowe's, underexposed

What do you see in these photos? In each pair, which do you like better?

I think to some extent what we’re seeing here is the good exposure latitude of FP4 Plus — these are all technically decent photographs. Also, what we all like in a photograph is subjective.

After I finished this roll I checked my F2’s meter under a bunch of lighting conditions and couldn’t reproduce the odd meter readings I was getting. Soon I’ll mount a lens I know and like better, probably my 35mm f/2.8, and shoot this F2 again to validate the meter’s functioning.

Get more of my photography in your inbox or reader! Click here to subscribe.

Standard
Film Photography

Arista EDU 200 at EI 125

Before I started developing film at home, I really liked Fomapan 200, which I usually buy from Freestyle Photo rebranded as Arista EDU 200. I shot it at box speed and the labs I used always returned scans with good contrast and dramatic dark tones. And the images always looked so smooth, with almost imperceptible grain.

But I wasn’t so thrilled with the film when I developed and scanned it myself. It just lacked the punch I was used to, with muddy middle grays and blocked up shadows. In Rodinal, sharpness was pretty good, but not in HC-110.

A couple of you mentioned in the comments that this film does better when shot at EI 125 or 160 and developed normally. So I loaded my last roll of this film into my Olympus XA2, set it to EI 125, and shot it around the neighborhood.

It would have been a better test if I had developed it in Rodinal, but I used Adox HR-DEV instead, diluted 1+35 and developed for 9:29 at 22.9° C. And so I don’t know whether it was the extra exposure or the developer that gave these results. But these are the results I was used to getting from this film when I shot it at box speed and sent it out for developing and scanning!

Retention pond
Over the retention pond
Vinyl village homes
Lots of cars
Vinyl village homes
Vinyl village homes

I used the HR-DEV because I have no idea of this developer’s shelf life and I have a lot of it left. I found a recipe for this film and developer on the Massive Dev Chart, so I went ahead and used it. I’m sure I’ll buy more of this film one day, and when I do I’ll shoot it at EI 125 and develop it in Rodinal to see if I keep getting results like these.

Get more of my photography in your inbox or reader! Click here to subscribe.

Standard