The learning curve with Cinestill 800T

Since the beginning of September I’ve shot two rolls of Cinestill’s initial offering, the Kodak Vision 3 500T motion picture film (rated at ASA800 for still photography).  In that time, they’ve been pretty busy, packaging up some Eastman Double-X (which I’ve bought a few rolls of but haven’t tried yet) and also the Vision 3 50D (coming soon so I’m told, but unfortunately I just don’t have the funds to order any right now), as well as trying like hell to get the funding to release the 65mm 500T film stock in medium format/120 size.  I’m disappointed they didn’t meet their Kickstarter goal but they’ve been positive about the whole thing and who knows, they might be able to pull it off one day.  I’ve been dying to write about this film but really I don’t know if I understand this film stock yet–I honestly thought that I knew enough about film now and it would be an easy transition to Kodak’s motion picture films.

Well, the truth is that I have plenty more to learn.  Thankfully I still have two rolls of this film and I don’t feel like giving up.  There will be more Cinestill posts in the future.

The story begins back in the end of February when I shot a friend’s show on daylight-balanced Fuji Superia 800.  I thought most of the shots came out pretty well considering my meager Photoshop skills, but I’ll admit that they’d look better with a customized scan job instead of the standard one I get at my camera store.  Back then I didn’t realize that there was a void in my life but now I understand that high-speed tungsten-balanced color film is something that will be very useful for me the more I shoot indoors.  I don’t know exactly when I first heard about Cinestill 800T, probably sometime during the summer, but what finally tipped the balance is when I attempted to shoot another inside show in relatively low light using Portra 400 and a blue filter.  It turned out not to be a good idea; even with my Minolta SRT-MCII’s relatively bright viewfinder and fast 1.4 lens, I was having a pretty hard time focusing.  I wish I could show you my results from that but sadly I messed up when loading the film and didn’t actually take any pictures (the film was reused).  I never realized that the blue filter would cut out so much light that I’d have a hard time focusing, but I won’t be trying that again unless I can find a good rangefinder camera (that works) with a fast lens.  With an SLR it’s just too hard for me, but when I heard about Cinestill 800T, I knew I had the answer.  Here’s my first roll, taken the day I got back from Ohio:

One shot has some mild adjustment to the curves, another had some dodging, both done in Photoshop.  I’m really happy that I have access to Photoshop on any computer on UCCS campus, it definitely gives me an alternative to homework between classes.  If you’ve read up on Cinestill, you know that the remjet anti-halation layer has been removed to make this film compatible with C-41 processing.  Here is the result of that:

I shot the majority of this particular roll at about ASA1200.  Looking onstage from the crowd (there wasn’t actually a crowd), I could have easily gotten away with 1600 and am glad I didn’t give it more light; perhaps I can darken things up with a custom scan but as things are now, these aren’t quite usable, so take note if you’re focusing on a platinum blonde under a spotlight.  Over all, I’d say it was a pretty successful first roll.  I used my Pentax Spotmatic SPII with the 1.8 Takumar lens; while I really wish I had a 1.4 lens in M42 mount, the ability to expose this film at 1600 (and perhaps beyond) without pushing means that it’s not really a necessity at the moment.

For the second roll I decided to put it through its paces a bit more.  My goal was to try using this film the way I’d use Fuji Superia, which is to say I wanted to take a few shots here and there, leave it in my camera for weeks at a time, shoot in all lighting conditions, and take the opportunity to use it outdoors with a filter.  While I think it’s important to take risks in photography, I think I took a bit too many this time around and led to some unpredictable results (I talked a bit about that last week).  Here’s what I think I did wrong:
-Too many variables, including the fact that I used a camera for the first time (Pentax SF-1 with an SMC Pentax-A 50mm 1.7 lens) and didn’t understand what the eyepiece diopter did (it wasn’t quite set correctly I think).  This led to some focusing errors.
-I didn’t use a proper Wratten-85 filter when outdoors.  What I have is a Kenko YA-3 orange filter which works great for black & white photography but I have no idea what its Wratten number is, and I spent about an hour trying to find out.  It did lead to some interesting-looking colors (I’ve included one of the results below)
-I forgot to tape over that little window on the back of the camera and it might be the reason for a blue cast on many of my shots, even those later indoors.  I think this is the big one myself, but I’ll have to shoot another roll to be sure.
-I also might have forgotten to take into account the color temperature of different lights.  Evidently daylight-balanced electric lights are a thing now, so I’m going to need to pay attention to that as well; this is the other possibility to why so many of my indoor shots turned out so blue.

Now that all being said, I’m reserving all the “before” images for a later post I want to write, on what I’ve learned to do in Photoshop.  I think it’s a credit to Kodak and the design of this film that it is so easily manipulated in the digital realm.  However much I’d prefer to see a 35mm print from an optical source, I’ll admit that digital intermediates do indeed have their advantages!  This really is a forgiving film and the colors I was able to get out of it are indeed wonderful:

For the record, there is only one photo in that set that didn’t have digital adjustments to contrast or color curves.  It’s orange.  I found that it was easier to adjust colors and the results were better when I didn’t use my filter.  If I were a cinematographer, I would absolutely insist on using Kodak film for every project, when it looks like this, after all I did to it; I’m sure it’s even better when properly exposed.  The Pentax SF-1 was given to me by a friend about a year ago, and thankfully it took the same battery that I bought for my Minolta Weathermatic.  I feel so blessed to be gifted items like this.  If you have a camera that you don’t use anymore, don’t let it collect dust forever, please give it to someone who will enjoy using it; who knows, you might inspire and cultivate the interest of a budding photographer!  The camera itself, despite being quite modern by my standards, was essentially easy to use.  The LCD menu wasn’t at all hard to navigate and changing ASA on the fly took less time than it does with the dial on a manual camera (not sure the same can be said for shutter speed).  It’s an autofocus camera and came with a Sigma zoom lens which I put aside in favor of an older manual-focus K-mount SMC Pentax-A 50mm f/1.7 lens.  It was easy to use in aperture priority mode, thankfully.  I’m not as familiar with the K-mount variety as I am with the older Takumar lenses but they seem to be just as worthy (I’ve read that the A-series is actually sharper).  While I hardly need another camera system, if a Pentax LX falls into my lap someday I might just have to get a full set of K-mount lenses.

Things to remember about Cinestill film:
-Cinestill recommends shooting it within 6 months of purchase (or cold-storing it), and also suggest that it is processed “promptly.”  Remember that a movie production will buy several 400-foot rolls to shoot in a single day, use it all up at once, then send it out to be processed the next day.  Don’t leave it on a shelf at room temperature for a few years and expect anything amazing.
-Tungsten-balanced to 3200K, but won’t get the same results in all incandescent lights.
-If you have a plastic window on the back of your camera’s film door to remind you what film you’re shooting, cover it up with black electrical tape.
-You might find yourself in a situation where you wish you still had the remjet layer.
-It’s designed for post-processing with a digital intermediate.  Your photos might not look the best right back from the lab, even if you scan yourself.  You’re probably going to have to do some work in Photoshop or a similar program.

Now I remarked earlier that I’d rather be photoshopping than doing homework.  I of course would rather do anything than homework.  While I’m extremely happy with the results I got, I wouldn’t say that I enjoy having to manipulate photographs in the first place.  If you already do a lot of digital post-processing in your work, I’m sure Cinestill 800T will not faze you and I’d heartily recommend it to you.  In that case you could probably shoot it in all environments and lighting conditions without having to worry about color temperature or filters because this film is easily correctable in post.  I personally would rather get things right in camera, get the negatives scanned, and have done with it.  I’d rather spend my computer time killing Nazis and my photography time out in the real world.  If you’re more to my way of thinking, this film will be more for special occasions when you’re willing to spend time to make the images look correct.  Make sure you’re willing to put in the time to actually learn how to get the most out of this film with Photoshop/Lightroom/whatever, because there is a learning curve.  If you can get past that, then the results are well worth the effort.

one more note: The Film Photography Podcast also cuts down motion picture film stock and packages it in still photography canisters, evidently a lot of companies like Adorama, B&H, etc. used to offer repackaged short ends back in the day (to my knowledge FPP isn’t selling short ends).  They have several choices available in black & white that I’d like to try one of these days (like Eastman High Contrast copy film), but their rolls are 24-exposure and when one works out the math it is actually cheaper buying Cinestill’s 36-exposure Double-X rolls (when available).  FPP has Vision 3 stocks but they still have the remjet and must be processed in ECN-2 chemistry or by hand.  Who knows, maybe one day after all the drugstore minilabs close down ECN-2 processing will become the standard for us all, but for now I’m grateful for Cinestill making this film available to all C-41 shooters and so happy in general to see these film stocks available now to still photographers.  It seems like we really have more choices than ever, so get out there and shoot more film.

This review of Cinestill 800T is continued here.

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9 thoughts on “The learning curve with Cinestill 800T

  1. Hello, thanks for sharing this very real account of the Cinestillfilm! I’m a fairly new film shooter (in my own estimation) but I’ve been really curious about this film. The price is a really big drawback for me though, with one roll costing close to $20, so I’ve yet to buy it to try it. Gutted that the 120 kickstarter project didn’t make it too.

    Anyway, I’d like to ask about something you wrote, about ‘the ability to expose this film at 1600 (and perhaps beyond) without pushing’. Does this mean that when you are shooting you deliberate underexpose?

    • Thanks for commenting. This film has one of the best latitudes I’ve ever seen, but most of the modern professional films can handle one stop of underexposure pretty well. I’m taking this right from Cinestill’s website:
      Recommended ISO and acceptable exposure for push processing:

      ISO 800 – No push – EI 200-1600
      ISO 1250 – 1 stop push – EI 800-2000
      ISO 1600 – 2 stop push – EI 1250-3200
      ISO 3200 – 3 stop push – EI 1600-3200 (added contrast)

      Where are you that Cinestill film costs $20.00 a roll? I’m seeing about $10USD for America and EUR9.00 for Europe.

      • I’m in Singapore! Exchange rate to my local currency is approximately 1.5x, plus shipping costs (since we do not have a dealer here), which sadly is transferred to us consumers too.

  2. You’ve got some great photos and very valuable information here. I’m really eager to get my hands on some cinestill film ㅎㅎ I’ll definitely keep this post in mind if I ever get the chance to shoot some ^^

  3. Pingback: Cinestill 800T, before and after | The Resurrected Camera

  4. Nice review man! This is what i’m stuck on: I’ve been researching everything I can on Cinestill Film and this review was the best i’ve seen. I primarily shoot with a Canon AE-1, 50mm F1.4 lens, and usually outside. I plan to shoot inside this weekend, low light and all. I feel like my camera will say that it’s under exposed or over exposed because of the low lighting situation, even though Cinestill is good with low lighting situations. Should I ignore what the camera is saying knowing Cinestill is good with this type of situation? Should I use a flash? Do I need to push the film? So many questions lol.

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