Film Photography

Shooting Ilford FP4 Plus

This post is sponsored by Analogue Wonderland, who make film photography fun and accessible for everyone.

Tulips

You’d think I would have shot Ilford’s FP4 Plus by now. It’s a traditional-grained ISO 125 film, much like Kodak’s lamented, discontinued Plus-X, which I loved. Also, Ilford films are easy to buy in central Indiana given that their US distributor, Roberts, is located here. I can walk into their store and buy any film Ilford makes.

But it wasn’t until the nice people at Analogue Wonderland asked if I’d like to write some sponsored posts for them in exchange for some film from their extensive selection that I thought, “Here’s my chance to finally shoot some Ilford!” FP4 Plus was at the top of my wish list.

On the pond in the office park

As much as I miss Plus-X, I’m not going to compare the two films. It’s been overdone. Search “Plus-X vs. FP4” and prepare for the link avalanche. No, I’m going to evaluate FP4 Plus on its own merits, through the lens of my Olympus XA.

On the pond in the office park

FP4 Plus is a very good medium-speed black-and-white film. Its blacks are inky rich and it authoritatively captures a full range of middle tones. Best of all, it does not tend toward blown highlights like so many other ISO 100-125 black-and-white films I’ve tried. I’m looking at you, Kentmere and Fomapan.

Central Park

Even in mixed lighting, FP4 Plus delivers the details. Its grain is almost undetectable, it’s so fine. It leads to delicious sharpness.

Little Tree

The only time I wasn’t thrilled with FP4 Plus was on a particularly gloomy day. An ISO 400 film would have been a better choice, but FP4 Plus is what I had in the camera and so I shot it. This photo conveys the feel of the day all right, but lacks detail in the deepest shadows.

Wet parking lot

I plowed ahead shooting on this dim day. I had to run an errand in Lebanon after work, so I photographed around the town’s square. You can drive only one way down this alley.

One way

The original Boone County Jail is now a bar and restaurant. You can have dinner in one of the cells.

Cell Block 104

This seriously old house is about a block off the square.

Old house

Down another side street off the square is the First Baptist Church. Just look at the great tones and all that detail!

First Baptist

FP4 Plus is a lovely, lovely film. I regret not trying it sooner. I need to always have some cooling in the film fridge.

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Film Photography

Scanning 120 black-and-white negatives with the Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II and ScanGear

I made one more experiment scanning negatives on my CanoScan 9000F Mk II and its bundled ScanGear software. This time I tried scanning black-and-white medium-format negatives.

I hope to start processing my own black-and-white film, especially in medium format, this year. I don’t shoot as much medium format as I’d like because processing and scanning costs about $17. That’s a buck and a half to two bucks per frame! Processing and scanning my own will manage medium format’s costs better.

I went back to 2016 to find some images I made with my Yashica TLRs, a Yashica-12 and a Yashica-D. These cameras have wonderful lenses that make the most of whatever film I put behind them. Here is a scan I made of a scene on the square in Lebanon, Indiana, on Kodak Tri-X.

Here’s a crop of my scan at 100%. I scanned at 2400 dpi, by the way, and applied unsharp masking and other tweaks in Photoshop until the image was to my liking. That’s some pretty good detail right there.

Here’s the scan Old School Photo Lab delivered, after I tweaked it in Photoshop to my liking. Both my scan and Old School’s scan are crops of the original image to the interesting part of the scene. My scans are about 5200 pixels square, give or take, while Old School’s are slightly off square at 4832×4760 pixels.

Please be seated

Here’s my scan of the Boone County courthouse in Lebanon’s square.

And here’s Old School Photo Lab’s scan. Either scan is acceptable. I like the tonality in my scan a little better as it feels more realistic to me. The Old School scan looks to be a bit sharper.

Boone County Courthouse

The next two images are from my Yashica-D on Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros. I could have done a better job of cleaning minor dust marks off my scan, which is below. It’s otherwise a perfectly usable scan.

Here’s Old School Photo Lab’s scan. At blog sizes, they’re hard to tell apart. Both images are crops of the original frame, by the way.

Moore Road

These two images are from the far-northwest corner of Indianapolis, which is quite rural. Here’s my scan of a cemetery that lies along the road above.

Old School Photo Lab’s scan appears sharper — compare the grass in both scans. But either scan is eminently usable for my purposes.

Pleasant View Cemetery

I am pleased with my scans. I would use them for any of my usual purposes.

These experiments, and your comments on them, have taught me some key techniques. First, thanks to your advice I’ve turned off all the built-in image improvements in ScanGear and scan at as close to 4800 dpi as I can. Second, I’ve learned enough about the Amount, Radius, and Threshold settings in Photoshop’s Unsharp Mask filter to sharpen my images acceptably.

I see I’ve still much to learn about how to look at a photograph and see its details. In these experiments I’ve studied my scans in far more detail than I’ve ever studied a photograph, and compared them in depth to the lab scans, and thought about what I like in a scan. I realize I need to study far more photographs to learn how to see their details and decide what I like.

I also now realize just how much the quality of a lab scan might have affected my views of various cameras, lenses, and films, and how excellent scans might have enabled the praises I heaped on particular gear or films.

I feel like a man who thought he’d climbed a mountain, only to find that he had scaled but a foothill to see the real mountain emerge from the mist.

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Photography

Revisiting the Canon PowerShot S80

Mary Love.

Encouraged by fellow photo-blogger Dan James, I carried my Canon PowerShot S80 around with me everywhere for a few weeks. It was my primary camera for a couple years ending in 2010 when I got my PowerShot S95, the camera I’ve used more than any other ever.

The S80 is chunkier than the S95. It seemed giant in my pocket compared to the S95. Funny, because I’d call a film camera this small a marvel of miniaturization and brilliantly pocketable.

The S80 also lacks the S95’s ability to directly dial in common focal lengths like 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, and so on. I didn’t realize how much I love that feature of my S95 until I didn’t have it on the S80. It led me to just shoot at the default 28mm most of the time. That leads to stretched proportions on deep subjects like my car.

VW

The S80’s color that impressed me. Even on this dreary day it managed to make what color was present look good.

Lamps

My poor S80 isn’t without troubles. Just look at all the fringing among the branches at the top of this photograph of the Maker’s Mark distillery. Beneath that sci-fi sky, the S80 captured great color and clarity.

At the Maker's Mark Distillery

Check the upper right of this image — it’s out of focus. I found this on many shots, and I suspect that the lens has become misaligned.

Cluster III

It also happened in this portrait shot of a Bardstown, KY, door. The entire top of the image is soft.

Bardstown, KY

I tried the camera’s built-in black-and-white mode for this photo of construction near where I work. It’s okay.

Duke HQ

Shooting some early spring blooms, I was reminded that the S80’s macro mode struggles to lock focus unless it is at minimum zoom, 28mm.

Bardstown, KY

As with every camera, you just learn to live with its limitations. So when I want macro, I zoom all the way out.

The Mosler Safe Co.

The S80 shone brightest outdoors at middle distances. Its lens is plenty sharp and contrasty.

Bardstown, KY

The S95 is a better camera and the one I’m going to keep reaching for. But even if I didn’t own the S95, my S80’s probable lens misalignment consigns this otherwise decent camera to the bin.

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On a walk

On the walking path
Apple iPhone 6s
2019

That’s the building in which I work, there across the pond. My desk is near one of those windows and has an unobstructed water view. I gather that there was some consternation among the longtimers that this prime location went to the new guy.

There’s a walking path all around the pond, accessed through the building’s back doors. With afternoon temperatures in the low 50s now, it’s often just warm enough for a walk. When my schedule allows it, I’ll make two loops of one mile each. The hard part is avoiding the geese, who think this is their turf and hiss at me as I walk by.

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Photography

single frame: On the walking path

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Road Trips

It’s always a good day when I get to drive across the Astronaut David Wolf Bridge!

I originally published this post in 2013. This year I started a job in a building right by this bridge, so I drive over it frequently. It made me want to dust this post off and share it again.

It is the last steel truss bridge in Marion County (Indianapolis), Indiana, and it’s named after one of Indy’s most famous sons, Astronaut David Wolf. And I love to drive over it!

DavidWolf
David Wolf

The Astronaut. David Wolf was born and raised in Indianapolis, got his undergraduate degree at Purdue University, and earned a medical degree from Indiana University. He then became a flight surgeon in the United States Air Force. Soon he joined the Johnson Space Center in Houston and later the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where was selected to become an astronaut. He’s since spent more than 168 days in space.

True story: My first wife was a photographer in the Indiana Air National Guard when I met her, and had a framed, autographed head shot of David Wolf. The inscription read something like, “To the best photographer I know.” She took the photograph! (That’s not her photograph at right.)

The Bridge. It is a two-span riveted Parker through truss bridge with Warren pony approach trusses on either end. The Indiana State Highway Commission built it in 1941 to carry State Road 100; back then, this was way out in the sticks. But since then the city sprawled out this far, and later the state relinquished the road and the bridge to the city. Remarkably, the city has stepped up to maintain this bridge (it hasn’t with other former highway bridges, such as this one). When it widened the road to four lanes in the late 1980s, it built a new neighboring bridge to carry westbound traffic and routed eastbound traffic over the old trusses. The city carefully restored this bridge in 2008. It carries more than 40,000 cars across the White River every day!

Because this bridge is so long (547.8 feet) and is tightly hemmed in by strip malls on all sides, it is difficult to photograph. I’ve never found a place to stand were I can fit the whole thing inside my lens. Here’s the western Parker truss.

The Astronaut David Wolf Bridge

The Drive. This bridge and I both live in the same township, and it’s between me and major shopping, so I’m out this way frequently enough. It always lifts my spirits to drive over it. I love watching it come into view and then experiencing the truss shadows as I drive through them. Here, experience it with me!

Is it silly of me that every time I drive over this great bridge, I exclaim, “It’s always a good day when I get to drive across the Astronaut David Wolf Bridge!”? Never mind, don’t tell me. I’m cool with being silly.

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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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