May 2005 - Testing Film

In preparation for starting large format photography, I am testing various film emulsions to see which ones I like. For testing, I'm using a relatively old Canon SLR, which will also be serving as a backup to my digital SLR. By late June, I should have a few examples posted to this site taken with a 4x5 camera.

The first roll of film I tested was Ilford Delta 100. The photo of various modes of transportation in and around Commencement Bay was taken on May 11. The geese were photographed May 12 at Wapato Park. From the same roll, I also got a few pics of an Anti War Protest in Downtown Tacoma.

My impression so far is that Delta 100 is a bit grainier than I had expected. There was also a lot of dust in the camera, which required extensive use of the spot healing brush in Photoshop to fix the many artifacts in the scans of the negatives.

Ilford Delta 100
20050511-003 goose
20050511-003 goose
This image is not currently available for purchase
20050511-001 ugly headed goose
20050511-001 ugly headed goose
This image is not currently available for purchase
20050511-021 transport commences
20050511-021 transport commences
This image is not currently available for purchase

I have a film scanner on order, and expect to have versions of these images that are high enough quality to sell in the not too distant future. On May 13, I shot a roll of Velvia 50, which is the first time I've ever shot slides. When I remembered to stop down the lens, everything went well. I think at least one of the Velvia shots will make my portfolio when I receive the scanner. Velvia 50 will probably be the first film I buy a large quantity of in 4x5 sheets. It seems that Fuji is going to discontinue it, in favor of Velvia 100.

For the Ilford Delta 100 test, I didn't keep a record of exposure settings, and I didn't bracket. Many of the images were overexposed. This was probably due to my habit of exposing for highlights, which is the best way to expose digital and slides, but apparently not great for print film. Some images I was able to fix with curve adjustments, others were lost. The sky/clouds are pretty borderline in 20050511-021 transport commences, graduated red and/or nd filters would have been helpful. It will be interesting to see if the scanner I ordered will be able to get more detail out of the negative. The CD provided by the photo lab only had 8 bit 1544x1024 JPEGs.

It is strange going backwards like this. The last time I shot a roll of black and white film was probably '89 (and I only shot one roll of film in all of the Nineties). My feelings are certainly mixed. Usually, I think of an image in color, not black and white. When I do decide that an image should be B&W, I usually use the channel mixer in Photoshop to convert from color. That method of creating a B&W gives a tremendous amount of control compared to shooting B&W film.

Pleasant surprises from working in B&W are the chiaroscuro of the train cars, and the strange look of the neck of the goose in 20050511-003 goose. The full frame viewfinder of a film SLR is also wonderful compared to the much smaller one of my digital SLR.

Most likely, what I'll end up doing is shooting color slides for the vast majority of my large format work. With the hassles of film developing (and no instant review!), I will certainly be keeping an eye out for an affordable digital solution for large format photography.


My initial thoughts on other films

Fuji Velvia 50 (RVP)


2 out of 5 (mediocre)

Very limited latitude and severe reciprocity failure makes this film not very useful to me. It looks OK on a light table, but once scanned it doesn't compare to digital capture. A lot of people have achieved excellent results with this film though.

Fuji Astia (RAP100F)


4 out of 5 (good)

Strong cyans, but an overall cyan color cast (shot near midday). One shot from my first roll of Astia was a keeper. There were about a half dozen more that were almost good enough to make my portfolio. Burned in clouds look amazing.

Fuji Sensia 100 (RA)


2 out of 5 (mediocre)

Not great. I don't like how it renders shadows/dark areas.

Fuji Super HQ 200


1 out of 5 (crap)

Fugly. Blech. Stong blues and yellows reproduce well, everything else is horrifyingly bad.

Fuji Superia Reala


4 out of 5 (good)

I liked it. Interesting color and tonality when scanned. Not Quite Realistic, but very pleasing. Takes curve adjustments in PhotoShop well. The first shots in my color portfolio are almost all from my first roll of Superia Reala.

Fuji Provia 100F (RDP III)


3 out of 5 (decent)

I've shot one roll of it, and the tonality and color seemed decent. Will try again in the future.

Ilford Delta 400


1 out of 5 (crap)

Ugly. Grain pattern is gross, tonality is boring. Extremely unflattering for people, especially those with fair skin.

Kodak EktaChrome (E100G)


undecided on rating

Slides look great, but my scanner doesn't seem to like them. I think it is a fault with the scanner software.

Kodak Portra 400NC


1 out of 5 (crap)

Ugly. It looks like I underexposed the entire roll, but even with curve adjustments in PhotoShop, I wasn't able to save a single image. After getting the film back, I googled this emulsion. Most people recommend rating it at 200 or 320 and say that it can handle being overexposed much better than being underexposed. I have no plans on trying this film again, as I don't ever want to have another entire roll turn out that ugly.

Kodak TMAX 100 (100TMX)


4 out of 5 (good) for people, 5 out of 5 (excellent) for anything else

Realistic skin tones, but lacking in excitement. Very dramatic for landscape/architecture.

Sample TMAX 100 photo of a homeless guy who asked me for cigarette money just as I was putting this roll of film in the camera to test. I gave him a token amount for allowing me to take his picture. I used an adjustment layer to dodge Bob to bring out the detail in his face and clothes.
350001202 bob

Kodak TMAX 400 (400TMY)


5 out of 5 (excellent)

Very nice tonality, so far it is my favorite black and white. The camera I tested it in had a faulty shutter, so I was only able to get one keeper (that I can't post as I don't have a model release).

Kodak TMAX 3200 (P3200TMZ)


4 out of 5 (good)

Wow. I love this stuff. Beats the 3200 ISO setting on my 10D. VERY grainy though.

Kodak Consumer Black & White (BW 400-5)


3 out of 5 (decent)

I wasn't expecting much from this, but it has a nice look in shadow and midtones. Highlight detail blows, grain is unpleasant. Underexpose, and you can get interesting results. Also has the advantage of being processed with normal color film chemistry, so no outrageous waits at the lab! I have two more rolls of this in the fridge, and probably won't buy more after I use it up.

Fuji Superia X-TRA 800 (S-800)


1 out of 5 (crap)

Fugly, grainy, weird colors.

          

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