I often like the medium-format version of a film better than its 35mm counterpart. The larger negative opens up the film and shows you what it can really do. This goes for the new 120 Mono film from Kosmo Foto.
When friend-of-the-blog Stephen Dowling, the man behind Kosmo Foto, announced this new film, I preordered immediately. My order arrived in due course, but it took me a couple months to find a day to spool a roll into my Yashica-D. I took both on a walk up and down the lovely Main Street in Zionsville.
Dowling makes no bones about it: this is an existing film, repackaged for Kosmo Foto. This classic emulsion features strong contrast and managed grain, much like black-and-white films of old. Best of all, it’s reasonably priced. If you’re curious, get yours here.
It was a full-sun summer day as I strolled Zionsville’s charming brick Main Street. A lot of classic emulsions struggle to keep highlights in check on days like this; no so Mono.
Moving in close, as close as my TLR would let me anyway, Mono shows good resolving power.
I don’t mind doing a little work in Photoshop to make my photos more presentable, but it sure is nice when I can use them right off the scanner. Such was largely the case with these images. The only thing I did consistently was rotate them slightly so the verticals were vertical and the horizontals were horizontal; I do struggle to hold a TLR level.
It’s not a photowalk in Zionsville unless I photograph the great Black Dog Books sign.
Rich blacks, reasonable midtones, good contrast, barely detectable grain. What’s not to like about Kosmo Foto Mono in 120?
I wonder why square photographs aren’t more common. Maybe it’s because starting in the 1980s 35mm point-and-shoot cameras became popular. That could have cemented the format’s 3:2 ratio as normal for photographs.
In the digital era the DSLR kept 35mm’s 3:2 aspect ratio. Point-and-shoots went with 4:3 for some reason, but that’s close enough to 3:2 to not look weird. My digital point-and-shoot, a Canon S95, has a 1:1 setting buried somewhere in its menus. My iPhone 6s also offers a square setting. But no digital camera I know of shoots square by default.
For me, however, shooting square feels like going back to my roots. For the first eight years of my photographic life, I shot nothing but cameras that made square photographs. It was the 1970s and early 1980s; square was very common then thanks to the wildly popular 126 format.
Here’s a scan of a print from my first-ever roll of film, Kodacolor II in a Kodak Brownie Starmite II, August, 1976. Side note: just look at how beautifully these drug-store-print colors have kept over the last 40+ years! These are my childhood friends Darin, Colleen, Christy, David, Mike, tank-topped kid whose face I can’t see and therefore whose name I can’t recall, and Craig just entering the frame from the right.
Here’s a scan of the negative, cropped 3:2 to the subject. Conventional wisdom calls this the better composition because the subject fills the frame. But what it lacks is the big blue sky we used to play under and the city infrastructure that lay all around and above us. The crop also cuts off the rounded tip of Mike’s grand walking staff. The square format brought in all the details.
That’s not to say that square format is inherently magic. Just like with any aspect ratio you have to find the subjects and compositions that work best. Here are some decent square photos I’ve taken more recently.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’m experimenting with scanning medium-format color negatives in my CanoScan 9000F.
I’d shoot more medium format if it weren’t so expensive per frame to get scans. Every lab I use charges about the same to process and scan both medium format and 35mm, around $17 shipped. A roll of 35mm yields 24 or 26 images, while a roll of 120 or 620 yields only eight or 12. If I can get credible scans from the CanoScan without too much fuss it would cut about $5 out of that equation. I might shoot my TLRs, folders, and boxes more often.
I first scanned some Kodak Ektar 100 negatives I shot last year in my Agfa Clack. (Ektar is my go-to medium-format color film.) Old School Photo Lab processed and scanned the film.
Here’s a photo from that roll, scanned through the CanoScan and ScanGear. I scanned at 1200 dpi, the maximum ScanGear allowed to avoid enormous file sizes. This resulted in images 3968 pixels long. I left all image enhancements off in ScanGear. I applied unsharp masking and other enhancements in Photoshop. I shrunk the scans to 1200 pixels long to upload them to the blog.
Here’s a crop of this image at 100%. The Clack is a box camera with a simple lens that’s acceptably, but not exceptionally, sharp in the middle. This is a pretty reasonable result.
Here’s Old School Photo Lab’s scan. It’s 3569 pixels on the long side. I like both scans equally.
Here’s another scan from this roll using the CanoScan and ScanGear.
In this case I like the Old School Photo Lab scan better, as its colors look more true to life. I did the best I could in Photoshop to get better colors from my scan but they just weren’t there. Either scan is acceptable for my usual bloggy purposes.
Next I dug out some Kodak Ektar 100 negatives I shot in 2017 with my Yashica-D and a closeup lens attachment. Old School Photo Lab processed and scanned the images.
ScanGear let me scan at 2400 dpi but no larger to avoid extremely large file sizes. This yielded images of about 5200 pixels square. Again I left all image enhancements off in ScanGear and used Photoshop to apply unsharp masking and other enhancements. I shrunk the scans to 1200 pixels square to upload them to the blog. Here’s my favorite photo from this roll.
Because this scan is so large, a crop from 100% shows only a small portion of the image. But as you can see it’s reasonably sharp and detailed.
The Old School Photo Lab scans are about 2400 pixels square. My scan offers more contrast and a lovely purple in the sky, but the OSPL scan offers a more limited and nuanced color palette.
Here’s another CanoScan/ScanGear scan from this roll.
The Old School Photo Lab scan is flatter and warmer. Both scans have their charms.
Finally, a CanoScan/ScanGear scan of this lily. I made all of these shots in my old house’s front garden, which I sorely miss.
The Old School Photo Lab scan is again warmer. It’s been a while since I’ve seen these lilies but I believe my scan’s purple is more true to life.
Unsurprisingly, the CanoScan and ScanGear do credible work making scans of color medium-format negatives. It was far, far easier to get good enough scans from these negatives than with any of the color 35mm negatives I’ve scanned. When it comes to negatives, there’s no substitute for size.
Scanning isn’t a joy any way you look at it. The act of scanning mostly involves waiting, which isn’t terrible. The real work begins after the scanner produces the files. The worst of it is removing dust marks. Even after gently wiping these negatives with a cloth designed for the purpose, a lot of dust remained on them. It was tedious to remove all of the marks in Photoshop.
My first wife made brilliant portraits. Through wit and charm, and sometimes even a little flirting, she was very good at drawing spark and life out of her subjects as she worked the shutter. She made many portraits of our young sons with her Pentax K1000, several of which were framed around our home. Two black-and-white portraits of Garrett, aged about five, somehow found their way into my hands and are framed in my living room. His eyes are full of light and joy.
I shied away from photographing people for a long time. I didn’t think I could ever be as good as my ex, so I wouldn’t even try. What a logical fallacy. But I let it be for years.
I wanted annual portraits of the boys, so we’d go to the Target portrait studio. They did reasonable work for the money. But after several years the photographer moved on, and the new one wasn’t very good. I figured I could do at least that well. So I started trying.
I bested the new Target photographer right out of the gate.
I don’t own any lighting gear, so I photographed my sons outside. Broad daylight turns out to be challenging for good skin tones. I relied on my cameras’ meters; I see I should have underexposed by at least a half stop.
I used slower films for the finer grain, but found the in-focus patch could be mighty narrow even in blazing sunlight. I got lots of soft-focus photos, and even some that were clearly out of focus. I shoot handheld; perhaps portraiture calls for a tripod. Or faster film.
I even started dabbling with 135mm lenses, because portraits are supposed to be taken with long lenses, right?
I could really fill the frame without having to put my lens right in my son’s face, which they liked. But I think a 100mm, or maybe even an 85mm, lens would be more useful.
And soon I busted out some medium-format equipment, and even started experimenting with poses, trying to do something artistic.
I still haven’t mastered the art of posed portraits. I just don’t have that ability to be engaging and charming with my subject as my ex did. She had a gift. I’m too buttoned down, too unsure of myself yet. My sons frequently look like they’re trying too hard to smile. Damion usually doesn’t bother.
But now and then I do nail it, usually at a more candid moment. Garrett was just watching YouTube videos in my easy chair when I asked him to look up. He was relaxed and content, and it shows in his eyes.
Now that the boys are moving on into their own lives, they’ll be around less for portraits. Maybe now I need to put Margaret in my lens more!