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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Penn Park

Penn Park
Nikon Nikkormat EL, 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Zoom Nikkor
Foma Fomapan 100
2019

When you photograph the world as you experience it, as I do, the places you get to go open you up to new photographic subjects. Sometimes they even provide a seldom-seen view into the world.

I park in a parking garage Downtown right next to the building in which I work. As a man of routine, I drive by open spots every morning to park in this one area at the back of the garage where Level 3 starts to become Level 4. There’s almost always an open spot there. At the end of the workday I never have to try to remember where I parked.

This is the view from there, down an alley called Court Street. How many people ever drive or walk down this alley? Not a fraction as many as drive down Pennsylvania St., down there at the end of the alley. The Penn Park garage announces itself, as it does here, to a relatively small number of people who work Downtown. It’s an exclusive club of sorts, the people who even know those words exist.

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Film Photography

single frame: Penn Park

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Film Photography

Fomapan 100 in cinematic scale

My Nikkormat EL’s shutter is capping, leaving a black stripe across the top of every photo. It was bummed to find it out after putting film through it. But I hated to waste the images, so I cropped them creatively to make the most I could out of them. My careful compositions could not be salvaged, but several of the photos remained interesting on some level anyway. 16×9 was the aspect ratio I used most. Here are a bunch of those cinematically scaled photographs, on Fomapan 100 through the 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Zoom Nikkor.

Downtown Indianapolis, the former L. S. Ayres building dappled with reflected evening sun.

Washington at Meridian

From the roof of the building in which I work in Downtown Indianapolis, looking northwest.

Downtown Indy

Through a conference-room window at work, looking at balconies in a neighboring building. It’s always amusing during a meeting when residents come out in their houseclothes, or sometimes even less, to sip coffee or sun themselves.

Balconies

Waterman Hardware, one of the oldest continually operating businesses in Indianapolis, on the Michigan Road southeast of Downtown.

Waterman's

The New Bethel Ordinary. I hear their pizza is to die for. Garlic and onions chew my insides alive so I’ll never find out. In Wanamaker, a community in far southeastern Indianapolis on the Michigan Road.

NBO

The New Bethel Ordinary’s patio. Spot the Michigan Road sign!

NBO

The northwest corner of Shelbyville’s Public Square. Another Michigan Road town.

Shelbyville on the Public Square

Some of these photos have a bottom-heavy feel to them given what I had to crop out. But as documentary photos they’re still okay.

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Collecting Cameras

Operation Thin the Herd: Nikon Nikkormat EL

1971 Chevrolet

It was the last of the Nikkormats (or Nikomats, as they were called in Japan): the EL. It was also the first Nikon SLR with aperture-priority autoexposure. Nikon made them from 1972 to 1976. They’re well-built cameras that can take years, even decades, of heavy use.

Nikon Nikkormat EL

This one was a latecomer to my SLR party; by this time I’d settled on my favorites. While I liked this camera fine when I shot my test roll with it I kept reaching for my usual cameras after that. The test roll was Fujicolor 200, and my 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor lens was mounted. This photo from that roll is of two cars I used to own.

Looking Over my Car

This is a fine, capable camera. Perhaps that’s why I waited until near the end of Operation Thin the Herd to shoot it: I expected I’d like it and keep it. I plopped in some Fomapan 100, mounted my guilty-pleasure 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Zoom Nikkor lens, and went to town.

McOuat

I also laid in a fresh battery, a stubby 4LR44. Thank heavens for Amazon, because you can’t get these batteries at the corner drugstore. The battery slips neatly in below the mirror inside the camera. Use the mirror lock-up button to get at it.

Founders Cemetery

Fomapan 100 is far from my favorite slower b/w film, but this roll had been moldering in my fridge for a long time and I decided to shoot it up. This is easily the best performance I’ve ever gotten from this classic film. Highlights are on the light side but at least they’re not blown out, which seems to be this film’s signature move.

Shelbyville on the Public Square

The EL’s tactile experience falls short of luxurious, but everything feels rock solid under use. If you send a Nikkormat EL out for CLA, it will outlast you. That’s what I need to do for this one. Every single frame on the roll showed shutter capping. I’ve just cropped it out of all the photos I’ve showed you before this one. Now you know why some of these photos are 16×9 rather than 4×3.

Capped!

The shame is, you don’t know a shutter is misbehaving like this until after you’ve shot the roll and had it processed. Unfortunately I shot two rolls of film in the Nikkormat before sending them off for processing. The second roll was Agfa Vista 200. Cropping saved many of this roll’s images, too.

Capped Soft Selfie

I brought the Nikkormat out for a day on the Michigan Road. This pizza joint is on the square in Greensburg.

Slices

Half the 35-70’s split prism focusing aid was black on this bright-sun day, a not uncommon problem with zoom lenses. I had to guess focus, and I frequently got it wrong. Between that and the shutter capping I got nine usable images on this roll, which I shot entirely on Greensburg’s square. Not a great day with the Nikkormat.

On the Square

You don’t expect to find a tiki bar in the heartland, but here one is nevertheless. It’s in what used to be Greensburg’s department store, Minear’s.

Tiki Bar

To see more from this camera, check out my Nikon Nikkormat EL gallery.

The Nikkormat EL is a competent and capable tool, its shutter issues notwithstanding. I didn’t dislike using it, but I wasn’t falling in love, either. Its size and weight is similar enough to my Nikon F2 or F3, which truly delight me to use, that I’ll probably always reach for those cameras first. I’m going to pass this Nikkormat along to its next owner.

Verdict: Goodbye

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The old barn in the city

The old barn in the city
Nikon F2AS, 35mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor
Foma Fomapan 100
2016

Every time I’ve used it, Fomapan 100 has been good enough as a general-purpose black-and-white film. On bright days I underexpose it a little to avoid blown highlights. But in even light, it really delivers.

I remember the farms of Pike Township in Indianapolis. Some of them, anyway; by the time I moved there in 1994 many farms had already given way to suburban subdivisions.

I used to go to church with a fellow who grew up near this old barn, and he spoke of being able to stand by this barn and see nothing but farmland for miles.

You’ll still find farmland here and there in Pike Township, if you know where to look. But from anywhere you might stand there, you’re far more likely to see rows of vinyl-sided homes or low light-industrial buildings today.

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Film Photography, Preservation

single frame: The old barn in the city

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Camera Reviews

Nikon Nikkormat EL

Why didn’t Nikon just call its non-pro line of cameras Nikons from the start? As they eventually learned, everyday people would pay for the cachet of the Nikon name. Yet Nikon insisted on calling its lesser SLRs Nikkormats (or Nikomats in Japan) in the 1960s and much of the 1970s.

Those Nikkormats became more and more sophisticated over time. By 1972 Nikon had developed its first camera with an electronic shutter and automatic exposure, and gave it a Nikkormat name. Here it is, the Nikkormat EL.

Nikon Nikkormat EL

Large and heavy, the Nikkormat EL offered a reasonable complement of features. Its shutter operates from 4 to 1/1000 sec. It offers depth-of-field preview, mirror lockup, and a self timer. A stubby 6-volt 4LR44 (aka 476A, A544, and PX28A) battery powers it all. It goes in a slot behind the lens mount, under the mirror. Use the mirror lockup lever (left of the lens mount) to move the mirror up. Then lift the battery cover and insert the battery. I thought I’d have trouble seating the battery in that tight space but I snapped it right in with my index finger.

Nikon Nikkormat EL

The Nikkormat EL’s viewfinder is fairly big and bright and features an easy-to-read match-needle system for the aperture-priority autoexposure. There’s no on-off switch; to activate the meter, pull the winding lever back. The EL’s focusing screen offers a central split-image rangefinder ringed with a microprism. It works beautifully. The white button left of the viewfinder checks the battery. Press it in with your thumbnail. If the battery is good, the amber light glows.

Nikon Nikkormat EL

With this Nikkormat Nikon moved closer to the classic 1970s SLR idiom by moving the shutter speed selector to a dial atop the camera, next to the wind lever. (Early Nikkormats placed the shutter speed selector on a ring around the lens mount.) And as you can see, the EL takes films from 25 to 1600 ISO.

I’ve reviewed one other Nikkormat, by the way, even though mine carries its Japanese name, the Nikomat FTn. You might also enjoy my reviews of straight-up Nikon SLRs: the F2, the F3, the FA, and the N2000. You can see a list of every film camera I’ve ever reviewed here.

Nikon finally got the clue when it updated this camera for 1977: it became the Nikon EL, the first Nikon SLR without removable prisms and focus screens. The Nikkormat line died quietly.

This EL was placed on permanent loan in the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras by John Smith, who generally buys his gear in top shape. The EL is said to be prone to electronic gremlins, but this one works fine.

I dropped some Fujicolor 200 in, mounted my 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor lens, and got to shooting. I love to do close-up work and the Micro-Nikkor enables it so well. Yet it’s a fine lens for shooting things at greater distance. These are the reading glasses I keep on my desk at work.

Cheaters

And here’s a gripping photo for the annals of all-time greats: the cruise-control switch on my Toyota. I love it that the Micro-Nikkor lens lets me contemplate details like this.

Cruise Control

We had some striking light one evening, so I went out to photograph it.

Strange Evening Light

This light lasted just a few minutes, before the setting sun and the clouds rolling in obscured it. How often do we get light like this but forget it because it is so fleeting?

Strange Evening Light

I got a nice photograph of my two cars with the Nikkormat.

Looking Over my Car

The challenge with owning so many fine cameras is that it can be years before I shoot the same one again. That’s not great for old gear. When I picked it up again a few years later, its shutter was capping. Edit: I’ve learned that this is not shutter capping — but the battery door working its way loose. If you see this in your photos from a Nikkormat EL, try pushing the battery door securely closed!

Capped Soft Selfie

I shot two rolls before I learned this. I cropped the black area out and made the best of the scans. These color shots are on Agfa Vista 200 through my 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Zoom Nikkor lens.

Slices

16:9 seemed to be the aspect ratio that worked best, so I cropped to that most often. The Nikkormat was otherwise as it always was: sturdy and sure. These black-and-white shots are on Fomapan 100, still through the 35-70.

1971 Chevrolet

Ignorance is bliss. Not yet knowing all of my shots were compromised, I had a nice time with the Nikkormat. It really is a good camera.

Washington at Meridian

For more photos, check out my Nikon Nikkormat EL gallery.

Metal, mostly mechanical 35mm SLRs are my favorite kind of camera, and aperture priority is my favorite way to autoexpose, so of course I enjoyed shooting with the Nikkormat EL. I didn’t enjoy shooting it any more than any of the other mostly mechanical 35mm SLRs I own, though. I suppose it says a lot about the general goodness of SLRs from the 1970s that a camera as capable and well made as this one doesn’t rise above the rest.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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