Film Photography

Goodbye Kodak BW400CN

Kodak has announced that it has ended production of BW400CN, a black-and-white film.

Film manufacturers keep shrinking their product lines because digital photography has all but collapsed demand. Only technophobes, certain pros, and hobbyists like me still shoot film. That’s enough to support some film production, but not on the scale of just five or ten years ago. I think it’s safe to say that I will write more film “Goodbye” posts in the next few years.

BW400CN’s appeal was that any drug store could develop it in an hour because it was processed just like color negative film. Traditional black-and-white films such as Tri-X and T-Max use a different processing method that the one-hour labs couldn’t do. You always had to send traditional black-and-white films to a pro lab or process it yourself. But now that almost all of the one-hour labs have disappeared, so has BW400CN’s main advantage.

That’s not to say that BW400CN wasn’t worth shooting for its own sake. I shot a roll two years ago in my Olympus OM-1 with its wonderful F. Zuiko 50mm f/1.8 lens. After removing a slight purple caste in Photoshop, the photos were contrasty with rich blacks. BW400CN has a look that the traditional black-and-white films can’t duplicate.

Peppy Grill on Kodak BW400CN

With that F. Zuiko lens, I got plenty of good detail on BW400CN. I love how every word is crisp in this view of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, which is on the circle in Downtown Indianapolis.

To Indiana's Silent Victors, on Kodak BW400CN

My neighborhood CVS Pharmacy processed this roll of Kodak BW400CN. If they had not removed their one-hour lab last year, I might have shot more of this film. Alas.

Here’s an instant film that ceased production recently.

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Film Photography

Chromogenically characterized: Olympus OM-1 and Kodak BW400CN

I’ve shot a lot of film since discovering during the summer that my nearby CVS still has a one-hour processing lab. They return processed negatives and a CD of scans for an astonishingly inexpensive $6! But I’ve been hankering to shoot black and white lately. Normal black-and-white film is processed differently from color film, and one-hour labs aren’t set up for it. Kodak produces one black-and-white film, BW400CN, that is processed in the same way as color film. CVS sells it, so I bought a roll and loaded it into my Olympus OM-1 (with the 50 mm f/1.8 lens attached) one recent Saturday.

I think it’s great fun to burn through a 24-exposure roll of film in an afternoon, and that’s just what I did. I first visited Fountain Square, an Indianapolis neighborhood just southeast of Downtown. Except for the cars, this could be 1942 or 1922.

Virginia Ave.

These images turned out all right after more post-processing in Photoshop Elements than I’m used to or even like to do. They all had a purplish caste to them, which wasn’t hard to get rid of. But then I had to seriously jack with the brightness and contrast to breathe some life into them as they all seemed flat to me. I also darkened all the skies in these Fountain Square shots to make the clouds show up, which probably wouldn’t have been necessary had I attached my yellow filter before heading out.

You Are Beautiful

But hey, at least I got to spend some time in Fountain Square. The more I go down there, the more I like it. It’s architecture reminds me of a small town’s downtown, except it’s part of the big city. I’m sure these storefronts once hosted merchants the neighborhood needed, but today they’re filled with galleries, night clubs, restaurants, and the odd antique shop.

Murphy

I love Fountain Square at night as it’s brightly lit. One of these nights I’ll go down there and shoot all the glowing neon. I did shoot the lights under the Fountain Square Theatre marquee on this afternoon trip, though.

Bulbs

It’s called Fountain Square because of the fountain, of course.

Fountain top 2

Later I drove the short distance to Downtown to shoot at Monument Circle. Even though this shot is a little busy, I liked the contrast I ended up getting from it.

On the circle

The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument is at the heart of Indianapolis. For decades after its 1901 completion it was the tallest structure in town. For this shot, the sky had so much contrast that no darkening was necessary.

Monument sky

My enjoyment of shooting this roll of film and getting it processed on the same day was blunted by all the work I had to do to liven up these images. Part of me still just wants whatever I get back from the processor to be good enough! But I’m coming to see that post-processing is just part of this game. All the same, I’m sure I would have needed to do less work with these images had I shot them using regular black-and white film such as Kodak T-Max or Fujifilm Neopan Acros.

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Camera Reviews

Olympus OM-1

Olympus set out to make a smaller, lighter SLR, and thus was born the Olympus OM-1. Released in 1972, it blazed a trail that many other camera makers would soon follow. OM-series cameras were produced for the next 30 years and retained a loyal following for a long time. These cameras still have a cult following today.

Olympus OM-1

Deservedly so. Even this many decades after their debut, an OM-1 feels sleek and modern. One in good condition, as mine is, operates with smooth precision. With the standard 50 mm f/1.8 F.Zuiko Auto-S attached, this is still a formidable kit.

Olympus OM-1

Looking at the camera from the top, it’s easy to see that its curtain shutter operates up to 1/1,000 sec and that it can be set to use film up to ISO 1,600.

Olympus OM-1

While the Olympus OM-1 is a mechanical camera, it does contain two CdS light meters inside the lens and they don’t work without a battery. It was designed to use the dreaded, banned 625 mercury battery. I use 625 alkaline cells in mine. The voltage isn’t quite the same, but they work well enough.

The light meters don’t drive the OM-1, however. When you look through the viewfinder, a small needle appears near the lower left corner. When you’ve set the aperture and shutter speed for a good exposure, the needle is horizontal, smack dab between the + and – symbols. North of there the photo would be overexposed; south of there, underexposed. On some other OM-series cameras, the meter set the shutter speed for you against your chosen aperture, but of course a photographer needed to cough up extra dough for the privilege.

By the way, if you like compact SLRs like the OM-1, also check out my reviews of the Pentax ME (here) and the Nikon FA (here). Not quite as compact but still on the small side are the Canon AE-1 Program (here) and the Minolta XG 1 (here). Or just check out all of my camera reviews here.

I didn’t miss aperture-priority shooting very much when I loaded a roll of Fujicolor 200. It was plenty easy to twist the shutter-speed ring on the camera and the aperture ring on the lens until the needle lined up, even with my eye planted firmly against the viewfinder. With the F.Zuiko 50 mm f/1.8 lens mounted I took this self-portrait in my car’s side mirror.

Side mirror selfie

This gem of a lens does nice work up close. The little golden smudge near the top left is my dog.

Petunias

My friend Debbie came to visit, and we went to the zoo. My OM-1 came with an ugly beast of a zoom lens, a Vivitar 70-150 mm f/3.8 Close Focusing Auto Zoom. This guy seemed deep in thought.

At the Indianapolis Zoo

The lens did its basic job of letting me zoom in close to the distant animals. It’s decently sharp and captures good detail, but I’m not wowed by the way it rendered color onto the Fujicolor 200. The 50mm F.Zuiko lens is brilliant in this regard.

At the Indianapolis Zoo

The OM-1 calls my name every so often and I must go out with it. Once I took it and the 50/1.8 to the Indiana State Fair and photographed people. It’s not exactly the kind of inconspicuous camera best for street work.

Chatting

But it handles easily, and that 50mm lens surely loves Fujicolor 200.

Singing the shaped notes

Another day I walked around Fountain Square, a hip Indianapolis neighborhood, with the OM-1, the 50/1.8, and Kodak’s BW400CN film loaded. That film’s main advantage was that it was developed in C-41 color chemistry at any drug store. But drug stores don’t develop film anymore, and so BW400CN is no more.

You Are Beautiful

The OM-1 truly fulfills its mission: so light and easy to carry, feels so good to use, gives such outstanding results. I can sling it over my shoulder all day and barely notice it’s there.

Peppy Grill

If I have a complaint about the OM-1 it’s that the shutter-speed control is a ring around the lens mount, rather than a dial atop the camera as with most SLRs. It takes me half a roll of film to adjust to it each time I pick up the camera. Here we’re back to Fujicolor 200. This is my bike, a 1986 Schwinn Collegiate three speed.

Schwinn Collegiate

But that’s not a dealbreaker. Even though I’ve focused my SLR collection on my Pentaxes and Nikons, I keep my OM-1 because it’s so brilliant.

Circle Tower

My OM-1 also came with a 50mm f/3.5 Zuiko Auto-Macro lens — it focuses down to just a few inches. I shot some Kodak Gold 200 with it.

Field notes

Finally, I was in the right place at the right time to capture this butterfly as it paused.

Butterfly

To see more from this camera, check out my Olympus OM-1 gallery.

The Olympus OM-1 is a gem, full stop.

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