Film Photography

Developing 35mm black-and-white film and why you should keep your film in a cool place

I’ve built enough skill developing black-and-white film that I finally made the move from 120 to 35mm. I started with 120 because I could shoot the eight or 12 frames quickly and get to the developing tank. While I was learning I didn’t want to spend the time to shoot 24 or 36 exposures of 35mm film only to bugger up the developing.

I loaded a roll of Arista EDU 200 into my Nikon F2AS, mounted my 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor lens, and took it around with me for a couple days while I was on vacation last week. The film went onto the developing reel with great ease. I used my 290 ml tank instead of the 500 ml tank I had been using for 120 film. I calculated my ratios of developer, fixer, etc., and mixed them all up. I don’t think I’ll ever think of developing as anything other than tedious, but it went without a hitch. But the negatives were mighty thin, and when I scanned them most of them looked like this.

Hobnob Corner, Nashville

I’ve seen results like this only with very expired film with an unknown storage history, such as this roll of Tri-X. I wondered at first if my chemicals were to blame. I used fresh fixer. My Rodinal is less than a year old and has always been capped tightly, so it should be fine.

I used 6 ml Rodinal and 294 ml water for a 1+49 dilution. That’s 300 ml in a 290 ml tank but I chose to do it for easier calculating of the ratio. I developed for the 1+50 time as per the Massive Dev Chart, but that slight difference shouldn’t have mattered. I even researched online whether I’d used too little Rodinal and it exhausted before the film was fully developed. I found plenty of people using an amount of Rodinal similar to mine and getting fine results.

Then it hit me. The space heater.

The fridge in our garage died last summer. I kept my shoot-soon film in the fridge and the rest in the freezer. The kitchen fridge was mighty full, but I did find room in the freezer for my already frozen film. The shoot-soon film went into a plastic box and then onto the floor under my desk. Until a few years ago I always stored my film at room temperature, sometimes for years at a time. I wasn’t worried about my film.

But it’s cold at my desk in the winter. I got out my space heater in January and turned it on every time I sat at my desk until the weather warmed up the first of March. I didn’t notice it at the time, but that heater was less than two feet from my film.

I probably cooked the whole box of film. Here’s what’s in the box. In 120, three rolls of T-Max 100, a roll of Pan-F Plus 50, two rolls of Tri-X expired since 1981, and (most upsettingly) a roll of Verichrome Pan expired since 1983. In 35mm, one roll each of T-Max P3200, T-Max 400, Double-X 5222, Arista Premium 100, Lomography Red Scale, Lomography Purple, and Adox HR-50. There were also two rolls of 35mm Kodak Gold 400 and two Fujifilm single-use cameras in there, all very expired.

I feel 90% sure I’ve found the root cause. But I’ll test this theory anyway with some fresh film. I found a roll of Kosmo Foto Mono and my last roll of Ferrania P30 Alpha in the freezer, both 35mm. I’ll shoot and develop them soon and then we’ll know for sure.

But back to this roll of film. While none of the images looked as good as Arista EDU 200 normally does, many of them looked okay enough to share. Here’s my favorite shot on the roll, of a little statue in a shop window in Nashville, Indiana.

Blow your horn

I shot more than half the roll around Nashville and, later in the day, in Bloomington. But most of those images looked terrible. I finished the roll in Zionsville later that week on a lovely sunny day. Many of those images turned out okay.

Window
Sale

The Zionsville skies all looked post-apocalyptic, though.

House
Houseq

The film’s qualities look pretty good on this tight shot of an old Chevy that parks every day in front of a particular Zionsville house. It’s not a look I strive for, but it’s interesting.

Citation
Citation

Overall I’m disappointed that this roll turned out this way. I was so looking forward to excellent results.

Chairs

I also shot and developed a roll of Ferrania P30 that was in the ill-fated box. It turned out somewhat better. I’ll share those images soon.

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Film Photography

Goodbye Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800

Fujifilm discontinued its Superia X-tra 800 film in 2016, so I’m four years late with this Goodbye post. I’m not sure what took me so long.

I’ve made a few truly lovely images with this film. But for the most part, its pronounced grain disappoints me. I kept shooting it because it was the least expensive ISO 800 color option while I lived on a tight budget.

I bought it primarily to make portraits of members of my church. We have occasional pitch-in lunches in our dim basement. I’ve tried ISO 400 films and an f/2 lens, but ISO 800 and an f/1.4 give me more margin for focusing error. My kit was always my Pentax ME with my 50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M lens.

Dave on Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800
Mother and daughter on Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800

I also made candids at these lunches, trying to build my skill at capturing an interesting moment.

Serving lunch on Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800
Mom on Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800
Sisters on Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800

This may be the film I’ve had printed most often, as I like to give prints to my portrait subjects. I am always surprised by how much better the prints look than the scans from which they’re made. It’s true when I have my usual pro lab make prints and it’s true when I upload jpegs to Walgreens for quick turnaround. The colors are richer, and the grain largely disappears. I would love to understand why.

I’ve also used Superia X-tra 800 whenever I knew the light would be challenging. I rather prefer it for that application. Here’s my all-time favorite photo I made on this film, from my Olympus XA. The grain is still omnipresent, especially at the bottom, but the film’s muted palette worked very well with the setting sun.

State Fair at dusk on Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800

Here’s another good State Fair shot on this film, from the Pentax ME and that 50/1.4. I featured it in my book of photos from the Pentax ME — you can still buy a copy here.

I'm workin' here on Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800

Sometimes I pushed this film too far. I know many people like a look like this, but it’s never what I envision when I compose and shoot. Pentax ME and 50/1.4 again.

Thunderbolt on Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800

Superia X-tra 800 was at its best in diffuse, even light, as here. This is where the film delivers its best color. Nikon F2AS and 50/2 AI Nikkor.

Farmall on Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800

It even works fine in full sunlight, as here. You just get tiny apertures and gobs of depth of field. Still Nikon F2AS and 50/2 AI Nikkor.

Roann Bridge on Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800

Looking back, I’m not sure now what made me choose this fast film on such sunny days! Olympus XA.

Bridgeton bridge on Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800

I did some nice close work with this Superia X-tra 800. I shot these flowers in a hothouse on a gloomy day. Pentax ME and 50/1.4.

Hothouse flowers on Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800

This film looks especially good in this photo of some phlox on the grounds of Newfields. It was known as the Indianapolis Museum of Art then. Pentax ME and 50/1.4.

Phlox, I think on Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800

I think I expected this stuff to look just like Fujicolor 200, the color film I shoot most. That’s not a great way to approach any film. If I had it to do over again, I would have spent more time figuring out what situations this film excelled in, and I would have found a film that came closer to delivering the look I wanted in my church’s basement.

We’re not at a loss for ISO 800 color films despite Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800’s exit. Kodak Portra 800 is the obvious film to try next at a pitch-in. It is famous for its fine grain, and I can afford it now. I know CineStill and Lomography offer ISO 800 color films and it would be fun to try them someday. Also, I’ve heard of people having good luck shooting Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 at EI 800 and then push-processing it by one stop.

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Camera Reviews

I’ve extensively revised my review of the Nikon F2AS, one of the finest, if not the finest, mechanical 35mm SLR ever made. This is a go-to camera for me; I’ve put a lot of film through it. It’s a truly great camera. See my review here.

Nikon F2AS

Updated review: Nikon F2AS

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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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Film Photography

Cold days, suburban neighborhood, Agfa APX 100

Royal Run clubhouse

I don’t know why I thought an ISO 100 film made sense during the gray days of an Indiana winter. I need to tattoo it on my film-loading hand: fast film in poor light, you kook!

Rural scene

But I liked the results I got on original-emulsion Agfa APX 100 (expired 7/1998) so much the last time that when I came upon another roll in my film fridge I let impulse rule.

Snow-tipped bush

It had been an age since I shot my Nikon F2AS. A 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor lens was already attached so I just went with it. It was good to catch up with my old friend, even if I was relegated to slow shutter speeds and wide apertures and the resulting need to stand stock still or brace myself against fixed objects to avoid camera shake.

Snowy pine

I shot these images just before Christmas, during the loose-ends phase of my recent unemployment. I took a lot of walks on the two-mile main-road loop of our neighborhood. It was something to do and it burned the extra calories I was taking in thanks to always being near my refrigerator.

Pine on the walking path

Much of December was white around the edges, but a warm spell the week before Christmas erased all that.

In the subdivision

The bare trees are the only clue to these photos’ time of year. But even they can’t narrow it down all the way.

In the subdivision

I’m getting to the point in my photography where I almost don’t care what my subject is, as long as I can arrange an interesting composition or capture interesting light. That’s a good thing, because this vinyl village subdivision I live in is anything but interesting.

In the subdivision

On one walk I got a little direct sun. APX 100 goes all silvery in direct sun — it’s this film’s endearing charm. The soil in this flowerbed reminds me of those old TV commercials for Folger’s Crystals, all sparkling and rich.

In the subdivision

One more from before the snow melted. This road near our subdivision is an old alignment of a decommissioned state highway. It dead ends just behind me.

Side street

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Carmel Arts and Design District

Carmel Arts and Design District
Nikon F2, 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor
Agfa APX 100 (expired 7/1998)
2018

I don’t remember downtown Carmel, Indiana, before it was built up. I guess it wasn’t much, just a handful of old buildings. I don’t know; I never spent any time here.

Which, I suppose, is why the city built up its downtown. It’s now full of restaurants, shops, and galleries. My wife and I come here from our Zionsville home several times a year, sometimes just to have a pint of Guinness at Muldoon’s, but just as often to attend one of the many events here. They have an annual car show I really like.

Calling it the “Arts and Design District” feels like a ridiculous affectation, a name affixed in hopes it would one day come true. But as small-city downtowns go, it’s pretty nice.

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Film Photography

single frame: Carmel Arts and Design District

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