Why I love Tri-X

It’s Thanksgiving, so what am I most thankful for?  Tri-X, of course.

I suppose it’s all about the mood.  There’s a lot of darkness in these photos, perhaps because I tend to use Tri-X where there isn’t a whole lot of light, and it always gets the image.  You can push it, pull it, overexpose or underexpose it and still get results.  It’s the most versatile film I know of, the best damn black and white film ever made.

You will notice that most of what I have here are people.  I suppose that with larger formats it would work great for landscape photography (which I don’t do a whole lot of in black and white), and I was experimenting a bit with caffenol back in the day, pulling film a stop and using a semi-stand development to reduce grain.  Fuji Acros 100 seems to be the king of black & white landscape photography these days, but I’ve always said it’s Kodak for black & white and Fuji for color (and I’ve always said that I’ve always said).  One of these days I’ll mix it up.

I’m not the only person in the world to love Tri-X, it does happen to be the best-selling black and white film in the world.  Because of its latitude and forgiving latitude in not only exposure but also development, it’s used in a lot of photography programs (including mine).  It was used by newspaper photographers from the 1950s to the 1980s, used by combat photographers in Vietnam, and countless street photographers to this day.  Think of a famous black and white photo and chances are it was shot on Tri-X.  Classic Americana.

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People at the airshow

The Axis Trio strikes back hard!  Seeing all the Allied warbirds was too much for them.  Although it was a perfect day to try out the Ferrania P30 Alpha film for the first time, I underexposed the film by at least a stop (and did in my Spotmatic too, shooting Tri-X).  Thankfully, it wasn’t a big deal:

Even though underexposed, there was plenty of detail, which I am extremely happy about!  The shots were completely usable, though like I said in my previous post, bumping up the contrast so much did start revealing lots of dust and scratches, water spots, etc, and I didn’t have the same problem with the Tri-X (see below). I will say that my local camera store isn’t one of the labs that Ferrania recommends.

Here is all that shooting info again:
Scanned myself with the Pakon F335, edited in Photoshop
D-76 stock at 8min (I think, or it could have been 9min…it was developed by my local camera store)
Canon 7 with the Leitz 35mm f/3.5 Summaron
Very overcast day
Shutter speeds were nominally around 1/125 at f/8 (I was shooting at around ASA100)

Tri-X definitely has a different look to it, slightly more consistent when underexposed I’d say (the middle shot was overexposed by a stop I think).

Alright, here’s the thing with the P30: It’s so fine-grained that I expected it to be much sharper than this, and it looks soft as butter.  I’m not completely convinced it wasn’t my lens, but comparing it to other shots on Double-X those look much sharper.  Here’s a 100% crop from my scan:

So the other possibility is that P30 is sufficiently thicker (or thinner?) than regular film to be out of focus in my Pakon, so I will have to rescan both negatives making sure I refocus using some P30 film.  Then I will have to refocus again with something like Tri-X, for everything else I scan.  It’s on the agenda, but I haven’t quite found time yet.

This is one of the best exposed shots I had.  And here’s the other one from the last post:

And one last one, this is an extreme example of burning in the sky, just to see what was possible:

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Don’t ever trust the meter…

Don’t ever trust, don’t ever trust the meter, it lies!
Don’t ever trust, don’t ever trust the meter, 
When it cries, cries your name…

I’m paraphrasing Queensryche here.  But the point is, that even I’m still making exposure mistakes on occasion, and evidently it had to do with it being a particularly overcast day (a rare occurrence in Colorado Springs, I can tell you).  Evidently everything I shot during the Pike’s Peak Regional Airshow was underexposed by a stop or so.  Not the end of the world, thankfully, as Ferrania P30 seems to just lose contrast when it’s underexposed.  At least, under the circumstances where it’s an overcast day, and using a 1940s lens.  Here’s the worst offender:

 

That was at least 2 stops underexposed.  Even though underexposed, I was able to pull incredible amounts of detail in scanning, it was just a matter of bumping up the contrast and usually lightening things up a bit.  What I couldn’t say is what’s up with all the dust particles and water spots (and I always run my film through the StaticVac right before scanning).  I had a roll of Tri-X developed at the same time and there was nothing wrong with that roll at all; I think I will make an entire post out of unfairly comparing the two films.

Here are all the stats for this:
Scanned myself with the Pakon F335, edited in Photoshop
D-76 stock at 8min (I think, or it could have been 9min…it was developed by my local camera store)
Canon 7 with the Leitz 35mm f/3.5 Summaron
Overcast day
Shutter speeds were nominally around 1/125 at f/8 (I was shooting at around ASA100)

The Axis Trio makes its first appearance, here’s a pic:

(Shot with the Spotmatic SPII on Tri-X) – Japanese camera body, German lens, and finally, Italian film!

As far as first impressions go, I wasn’t expecting much at all because John at Cameraworks said they were very underexposed and the negatives were quite thin.  I don’t know how to describe what I mean, but looking at the curve I provided, the picture was there right in the middle, where with something like Tri-X all that information would have been way to one side where it’s much less usable, and usually is a lot grainier.  And this film certainly has some fine grain!

I shot that 35mm Summaron at f/8 all day and it looks incredibly soft, compared to my beloved Takumars (this is really the first time I’ve put it through its paces), which threw me for a while.  Having had a couple weeks to think it over and studying the rest of my scans, I think I might be dealing with a focus error here.  Is P30 a different thickness from most other films?  I’m going to rescan all the negatives when I have a chance, and make sure I run the autofocus wizard using this particular film.  I assume that I will also have to run it again to refocus it to all the other films I use.  Again, nothing wrong with that roll of Tri-X I scanned at the same time.

I’m hoping that the dust/water spots were just so noticeable because of the underexposure.

Why I love Fuji slide film

I might shoot a whole lot of Double-X and Tri-X, but when it comes to color, Fuji still has my heart.  If you need a reason to shoot a roll of slide film, look below.  I mean, what’s not to love?

The price, I suppose, so I usually save this film for special occasions.  And it’s the processing costs that really can drain one’s bank account fast, around $20 for developing and scanning (plus $10-15 for the roll of film itself).  Yikes.  But then I look at a slide on a light table or scanned, and all misgivings go by the wayside:

I don’t shoot a whole lot of slide film, but that’s changing the more I get good results.  While I will shoot Ektachrome when it returns (and with Ferrania not too far away either), Fuji is still my first love for color film.  As I look through these pictures, I notice that a lot of them have very striking shades of blue, a favorite color of mine.  To be honest, Velvia 50 and I didn’t get on very well, but then I’ve only shot one roll and I probably need a bit more practice with it.

The modern slide films are remarkable.  Compared to Velvia 50, which is a bit of an older emulsion from the early-’90s, the more modern Provia 100F and Velvia 100 are pretty remarkable in their latitude, being able to survive one stop of over- or underexposure with only slightly noticeable differences in color.  Color, in fact, that is supposed to have an archival life of 300 years.  Color negative film doesn’t come anywhere close.

It’s a bit sad the direction that Fujifilm as a company has gone, and I don’t doubt that at some point in the next decade we will be holding the last-ever Fuji slide film.  I’ve been on the fence about whether or not to continue supporting their business when they have obviously abandoned film photographers.  Perhaps it would be better to not get attached to anything Fuji makes, because I know that whatever it is, its days are numbered.  But then I look back to the point when I knew Plus-X was discontinued, and only bought one roll to shoot, or when I passed up the opportunity to buy a few rolls of Provia 400X, or Superia 400 in 120 size.  Or the fact that I never got a chance to shoot Kodachrome (or Ektachrome, Astia, Sensia, Fortia, or Velvia 100F); I regret those things.  And so, like marrying a person with a terminal condition, all I can do is enjoy the time that is left, knowing that at some point all good things must come to an end.

What is Kodak ColorPlus 200?

I found this at one of the stores in the Springs a few months back, and originally thought it might be something new, but it seems it’s something mainly for the overseas market.  I have no idea why the cartridge says Kodacolor and the box says ColorPlus.  I think Kodacolor was something that was sold back in the ’90s, had no idea it had come back.  Or has it?

 

As an all-around consumer film it does alright, especially with the blues.  It doesn’t seem to pull detail out of the shadows as well as some of the others, and I really hope this isn’t being brought in as a substitute for Gold 200, because I think Gold beats this by a significant margin.  Like with Gold 200, I shot it at ASA100.

Now the bad stuff: the first few shots were of wind generators in Eastern Colorado.  I don’t know what was up with the film, but there was some strange mottling that’s most apparent during those frames, plus reduced contrast, almost looks like it’s expired.  I suppose it has its uses as an effect, but I would have expected better from Kodak.

Unfortunately it wasn’t just that roll either.  I took my second roll to Durango with me and had the same problem with that one.

I spent $8.00 a roll on this.  Never again.

It’s growing on me…

I’ve always been more a fan of Fuji when it comes to color, even with Ektar, which really, I’ve yet to get the hang of.  However, I’ve seen so many good results for Kodak Gold 200, thanks to its popularity on the Pakon F135 users’ group on Facebook, and I decided to give it a go myself.

I have to say, I’m quite happy with what it can do so far.  As a plus, it’s readily available at the grocery store near my mom’s house, at a price of $9.00 per 3-pack no less.  I’ll definitely shoot more.

On vacation with a roll of JCH Streetpan 400

It seems like it’ll be every two years now, that my Ohio State friends from Blackburn House (now sadly demolished) get together for a weekend of shenanigans and nostalgic activity.  I’ve sort of appointed myself official weekend photographer (can’t trust anyone else anyway so why not?) and took more pictures with the SLR this time.  Not that they’re anything special, but it’s good to have some output to post here.

This roll of film is courtesy of my fellow blogger/film shooter (and really nice guy) Mark Ewanchuk. We were having some discussion over problems scanning it with the Pakon F135.  I’ve asked the Pakon group on Facebook, and they tell me that it has to do with being a polyester base, and that only machines with a true black & white mode can handle it (there are workarounds and patches to PSI for the F135, I’m told).  Well, my F335 is currently in storage while I try to thread my way through a housing crisis, but since the local camera store uses an F235, I wanted to see if they’d have problems with it.  I didn’t talk to them about it, but evidently it turned out fine.  They run the machine on automatic so the scans (especially those where the exposure isn’t quite on) probably aren’t quite as good as they’d be if I were doing them myself, but still good.  Mark, whatever problem you’re having with getting your F135 to scan it, I’m sorry, if you care enough to ask on Facebook, I’m sure that they could help you out.

JCH Streetpan 400 is an AGFA traffic surveillance film from the ’90s that has been brought back to life, not a brand-new film emulsion.  And in reality, we’ve probably reached the end of technological progression in chemical imaging with Kodak Portra 400 and Ektar 100.  No new R&D is being conducted so I don’t expect that there will be any more advances now.  I don’t necessarily consider this a bad thing, however: we have over a century of different films that have been gone for a long time, that my generation never got to shoot with, and the possibility of delving back in time with long-discontinued emulsions is an enticing thought for me.  That’s what JCH is, that’s what Ferrania will be.  The possibility exists of a Kodak Etkachrome revival (I hope this happens, I’ve never shot Ektachrome).  It’s interesting times we live in.  The Resurrected Camera meets The Resurrected Film.

My first thoughts are that it doesn’t handle incorrect exposures all too well, seems to be pretty high-contrast (at least in D-76 1:1 which is what the local camera store processes), and while occasionally grainy, is quite sharp.  Not unlike Double-X, but faster–a good film to shoot with older lenses.  The newest film on the market right now, JCH Streetpan 400 is lovingly brought to us by Bellamy Hunt of Japan Camera Hunter.  I’ve had thoughts about this film before, and that mostly revolves around the question of competition.  Off the top of my head, we already have: Tri-X, T-Max 400, Delta 400, HP5, Bergger Panchro 400 (on its way in 135 size), Bergger BRF400, ORWO N74, Kentmere 400, Ultrafine Xtreme 400, Rollei RPX 400, Rollei Retro 400, Fomapan 400.  Maybe more that I don’t know about.  Did we really, really, need another 35mm 400 speed black & white film?  Was that really what the majority of photographers expressed a need for?  I don’t know a lot about AGFA films, maybe there weren’t a whole lot of choices available, but I’d think something more toward the high or low end of the speed spectrum would do better and be more relevant, where there are much fewer choices.  Maybe a native-1600ASA film?  Or how about AGFA Scala?  Something more unique.  Something that fills an empty niche.

Maybe I don’t want to judge too quickly having only shot one roll of the stuff, but it’s not going to replace Tri-X in my camera.  And that’s the main problem.  I think it’s an uphill battle to convince people that they need this film, and with the rising exchange rate of the Yen, it’s going to get more expensive to buy.  Right now, expect to pay somewhere around $8.50 a roll.  I’m not saying it’s not worth it to buy, it’s just that I don’t see why we needed it in the first place.  So why should you buy it?  Because it’s there.  Because it’s there at all.  Because someone cared enough to pull a long-discontinued film out of the pages of history and give it another chance at life.  I plan on buying a few rolls soon and putting them away, just to have them, and also because I want to support Bellamy in his efforts.  I hope he is successful, and that more emulsions follow.  I just hope that next time, it’s a film that’s actually worth making is a bit more unique.