Saturday, July 08, 2017

Ilford FP-4+ - A great medium-speed B&W film

I have long been a fan of Ilford's films -- and if you shoot a lot of monochrome film, you'll know that Ilford is a brand that is monochrome only.  I have reviewed a lot of films on this blog, but have skipped many popular emulsions, because I figure that everyone knows about them.   However, with the resurgence of film, I realize that some films definitely should get a shout out.  A few years ago, Kodak discontinued their Plus-X Pan film.  Plus-X was a very good old-style film with good grain, latitude, and with an ISO of 125, it was great for allowing a shallower depth-of-field in brighter light than Kodak Tri-X.  Kodak felt that the Tmax 100 was a good substitute and it also used less silver than Plus-X, thus saving them money. In any case, Ilford has been making FP-4+ for a long time, and it remains an excellent medium-speed black and white film.  I feel the images from it have a great tonal scale, and there is no type of subject that it does not do well with.  It has excellent latitude and sharpness, depending on your developer.

I have been shooting with FP-4+ for almost 20 years, and while it is obviously not the only 100-125 ISO film out there, I consistently get good results with it.  My typical developer is D76, diluted 1:1 for 11 minutes.  D-23 for 6 minutes also works well.  Since it is a current film, the Massive Development Chart will give you other choices.  It is available in 35mm, 120, 4x5, and 8x10.  I find to be the ideal "every day" film for me.

Here is a small sample of images from my archive of images shot on Ilford FP-4+ film:

Monday, June 26, 2017

Back from Marquette, MI

My wife and I took a short vacation in the Upper Peninsula to visit our daughters, and while we were only there for 4 days, I made a point to get out and do some photography.  Normally, I would paack a few bags -- one with a Nikon DSLR and  bags with some film cameras. This time, I only brought film cameras and my iPhone SE.  Some of my shots on film were made after I did a version on my iPhone to see how it would look in b&w, for instance.  Aside from that, the camera phone is a creative tool, and I enjoyed seeing what I could get with it.  My arsenal was 2 Nikon FMs, Pentax 6x7, Leica M2, Olympus Trip 35, Ondu 6x9 pinhole camera, and my Canon AW-1.  The Ondu got to shoot Reany Falls, and I look forward to seeing how those negatives come out. The weather had its moments, as Sunday morning was cool and wet, with some fog.  It felt more like September than June, but that's why I love the UP.  The weather can change quickly, and it is rarely dull along Lake Superior.  On the other hand, I saw a most glorious sunrise while out walking on Friday morning. The Iron Ore Heritage Trail that runs from Harvey through Marquette is right along the lake shore, and offers a fantastic view.
While at Black Rocks in the fog and mist, I shot two rolls with my Pentax 6x7.  It will be interesting to see how they come out.  Here are some iPhone shots while I was out on the rocks.    It is a very special place to photograph.  I always enjoy going there, and the many moods of Lake Superior cast a different aspect each time.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Caffenol, the Universal Developer?

One of the interesting aspects of film photography is that it is a chemical process.  Therefore, there are myriads of combinations of developers and films that give us differing results. The process encourages experimentation, and while there are varying opinions on what constitutes the ideal developer, ideal film, and so on, the results are a reflection of a photographer's eye and what he/she considers acceptable results.  In addition to that circle, there are people that look for the unusual and one of those is to find the household "chemicals" that allow us to develop a roll of traditional black and white film.  This is one of those aspects of developing film that I find quite interesting.  One popular "household" developer is Caffenol, which contains a strong mix of dissolved instant coffee. The cheaper the brand, the better.  There are various formulations of Caffenol, and the typical mixture contains instant coffee, Vitamin-C, and Sodium Carbonate (washing soda).  There is a really great resource for those wanting to know more about it at   I have made my own Caffenol concoctions with decent results, but it's been a few years since I have used it.  However, a few months ago I received a packet from the FPP store of the pre-mixed Caffenol sold by Labeauratoire.  If you just want to try using Caffenol, this is a good way to sample it without buying all of the components and mixing it yourself, and you can decide if it is worth going that route if you like the results. Note -- you can also use Caffenol to develop prints - and "tone" them at the same time, but I have not tried it myself.

Mixing is easy -- just follow the instructions on the packet, and allow it to cool to 20C before developing your film.  The contents of the packet makes enough developer to do 4 rolls of 35mm film.  The beauty of Caffenol, absent of any other advice, is that you typically develop for 15 minutes for any film. Pretty simple, right?  Of course, the smell of the concoction is not the greatest, and if you were expecting the aroma of a fresh cup of coffee, you'll be disappointed. You are not supposed to drink the stuff, anyway.

I developed 2 rolls of 35mm and 1 roll of 120 film before I dumped the Caffenol down the drain.  One of the rolls was Agfa Copex Rapid film - a high contrast film that is similar to Kodak technical Pan film.  I have heard that people have gotten good results with TechPan in caffenol, so I was curious as to how the roll would come out.  The other 35mm roll was expired IIlford Pan-F, and a 120 roll of Agfa APX 100.  Standard Kodak fixer was used, and the stop bath was just a water bath, which also washed away the dark Caffenol from the film.

Results -- very good. In fact, far better than I expected. All the negatives looked good, and the Agfa Copex was contrasty, as I would have expected.  However, the cool thing is that I developed the Agfa and the Ilford 35mm films together in the tank.  That would not have happened with other developers.

Some samples

expired Pan-F at ISO 32, Olympus OM-2

expired Pan-F at ISO 32, Olympus OM-2

expired Pan-F at ISO 32, Olympus OM-2

Agfa Copex,  Minolta X370

Agfa Copex,  Minolta X370

Agfa Copex,  Minolta X370

I think you can see that this developer gives you really nice tonality. low-grain, and it's as easy as can be to use.  While the pre-made packet is about the same price as a bag of D-76, it has low toxicity, and can be assembled on your own quite a bit cheaper in quantity.  It's a lot of fun to experiment with developers, and take a look at the Caffenol information online. There is a very enthused community of users out there.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Monochrome C-41 - Ilford XP2

A decade ago, if you wanted to shoot b&w with a C-41 film, we had several choices -- there was one from Konica, one from Kodak, and one from Ilford.  Kodak's version had an orange mask like most C-41 films, but Konica's and Ilford's did not (the orange mask made conventional b&w prints more challenging, but I did get good results).  The reasons why someone would want to shoot C-41 b&w are simple -- at the time, it was easily processed by any one-hour lab and did not require any special treatment.  The films were quite good, and I felt that the tonal scale was excellent, especially the Kodak's many iterations of its C-41 B&W. Now, Ilford is the only manufacturer of a C-41 b&w film.  Years ago, I shot XP-1 that was already about a decade expired, and was astonished at how good the results were.  I have shot XP-2 a few times over the years, and found it often was better at an ISO of 320.  Last year, I exchanged a bulk roll of Tri-X for a 10 pack of XP-2, as I wasn't using Tri-X any more.  The XP2 film was a bit expired, and I have been shooting it a bit.  Now that I am doing my own C-41 developing, it's certainly worth noting that it's as easy as any color C-41 film to work with.  Of course, if you wish, you can develop it in b&w chemistry, too, but I have not tried it.  The neutral gray mask allows easier darkroom printing.  Best of all, it scans beautifully, too.   If you are new to film shooting, and want to try b&w, XP2 is a good choice.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Catching Up this Month

setting sun, Cobblestone Farm, iPhone SE
Here it is, already the end of May, and I realize that I have not put up a post in 2 weeks.  I have been busy developing and scanning all those films from April and early May, and have more to go before I catch up, that is, if I ever do.   To me, that has always been the fun aspect of film.  While I do shoot a fair amount of digital images, and appreciate the immediacy and creative aspects that it offers, my first love is film.  Developing a roll that I shot last month gives me a different sort of appreciation for "the moment" and of course, a much different interaction than if I were just downloading a hundred images off my SD card.  There have been numerous arguments put forth about the benefits of "slow photography", the "love of film" and so forth, and of course they all have some merit.  The developing and scanning routine for film isn't for everyone, of course, and if your main interest is sharing on social media, then maybe film isn't the best thing.  What really matters is what YOU like.  If you love shooting photos with your phone and are happy with it, keep doing it.  Don't take up shooting film just because it's what all the cool kids are doing.  I recently got my first Apple iPhone, and it's an SE model.  I love it.   I find myself doing things with it that allow me to create some fun and interesting images (IMOO), and it's always in my pocket.  That's not a bad thing. It's a great creative tool. Sometimes, having those tools inspire us to try different shots that we can then later say,  "I want to shoot that same thing on my Pentax K1000."  So, the iPhone (and other cellphones) can also be a sort of  "idea notebook" to augment and improve our photography overall.  We can also use them to document our set-up for a shoot, which is also valuable.  You've seen all this before, but since this is primarily a blog about film cameras (though I daresay I have a more than a few digi-entries), I figured that I may as well state the obvious.  The iPhone can make you a better artist, if you choose to let it.  Yes, those Hipstamatic filters are fun, but never confuse the results with the real deal, okay?

The other thing I have been doing is mentoring a young woman in film developing.  What I have found, contrary to my previous expectations, is that C-41 processing is probably the easiest intro to film developing!  EVERYTHING has the same time.  You only need to watch the temperature, which is easy with a water bath.  No confusion about times for different films and developers, etc.  Since a 1 liter kit is $20 at the Film Photography Project Store, and I can easily get over a dozen rolls developed from a kit, it is a huge money saver for a beginner.   Then of course, there is the scanning, which has various price points. In the end, it is all quite cheaper than sending your film out, and certainly more satisfying.

I recently had my two Nikon FE bodies fully serviced, so there will be a post about that soon.

So, as we enter the summer, I'm well-stocked with film, and hope to get a lot of photography done. I want to experiment more with color IR, and do even more shooting with medium-format.  I'll also be sharing my exploits via Instagram (mfophotos), if you care to follow.

A few examples of recent C-41 developing...
Minolta X700, Superia 800 film

Minolta X700, Superia 800 film

Minolta Maxxum 5, Superia 800 film

Minolta Maxxum 5, Superia 800 film

Lomo Sprocket Rocket, Kodak Profoto, 200

Olympus Trip 35, Kodak Profoto 200

Olympus Trip 35, Kodak Profoto 200

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The MVP- 35mm Plastic Camera from Taiwan

Introducing the MVP Camera, AKA The "Optical Lens" plastic cameras, also known as Taiwan-35s.

Whether it started with the TIME camera, or any number of plastic cameras that have that SLR/Rangefinder look, the cameras share similar features.  They have an aperture range of f/6-f/16, one fixed shutter speed, no adjustable focus, and the bezel around the front of the lens says "Optical Color Lens" or "Optical Lens".  The cameras are plastic, and often have some sort of metal weight in the bottom to give them more heft, and therefore, the "appearance" of quality.  Make no mistake, there is not a lot of quality in these cameras, but they are pretty much on par with a Holga.  Some models have a chrome shutter release that accepts a remote cable, and all have a standard ISO flash shoe.  The viewfinder is just a window that gives you an estimate of what may appear in the frame.  Use a small auto flash, and you'll be able to shoot indoors.

With my recently-acquired MVP camera, I was pretty sure that the shutter speed was around 1/100 sec., but in tests with the Phochron Shutter tester, the speed is around 1/250 - 1/300 second.  So, assuming you are following the sunny-16 rule, ISO 100-400 is fine for sunny days, as C-41 color film has a pretty wide exposure latitude.  I shot some 100 ISO Svema B&W film in my MVP camera, and on a sunny day the exposures looked just fine. Yes, that IS a Ford logo on the lens cap. I guess Ford had some promotion in the late 1980s.

Are these serious cameras?
Um, no.  Most of these cameras were given away in promotions.  Some factory (or factories)  in Taiwan must have made millions of them during the 1980s.  While yes, they are cheap and inconsistent in quality, they are a lot of fun.  You can find series 6 filter adapters (48mm)  that push into the front of the lens that allow you to use filters, providing you with even more possibilities.  It's too bad that these cameras don't have a B setting, since they do have tripod sockets.  Nonetheless, your results may be somewhat dreamy, they may resemble a Holga image, or may just be low-contrast and somewhat blurred -- it all depends on the camera.  McKeown's 12th edition lists the TIME camera as a "minimum-quality 35mm camera from Taiwan."  The 2006 "value" is listed at $1-$5, which is pretty much unchanged today.

What to look for
Since these plastic cameras are becoming less common, they have also become somewhat collectible (low-end collectibles, at that.)  Due to them being offered in promotions, there are a variety of logos printed on the front, but there are basically just a few "typical" models that share the same features. The appearance of a grip on the right side was a good thing, enabling better holding of the camera.

TIME - The Time camera was a 1985 promo camera from Time-Life to induce people to subscribe to the magazine. I am sure there are several camera variations, and the best examples will have the "LAVEC OPTICAL GLASS LENS."  That should be a minor improvement over the "color optical lens."   One variant of the Time camera is actually branded LAVEC, produced by Lavec Indsutrial Corp., Taipei, Taiwan.  In fact, a Google image search turns up a slew of cheap plastic cameras with Lavec branding.  The MVP camera shown here is also branded as a "YUNON" camera.  There are all kind of variants of this main theme.

HACKING - One site - Instructables - has a page on hacking the Time camera, and while the ideas there are worth exploring if you have more than one of these cameras, the best thing one can do is put a 48mm diam filter adapter on the front so that you can use any number of filters that are suitable for the effect you want.  The double -exposure feature would be the one thing that would appeal to quite a few people. These cameras are also easy to hack if you want to put a vignetting mask in the back, or even make the frame mask 24x24mm.  Easy to to with black tape or cardstock.

There is another class of cheap plastic 35mm cameras that attempt to fool people into thinking they are getting a modern auto-focus camera with a big "pro-style" flash.  They are usually branded with names like Canon, Olympia, etc., that sound like a legit brand, but alas, they are not.  I have not used any of them, but I know a few people that have, and they pretty much give the same results as the Time cameras, but with more bulk. Also, these counterfeits are made in China, not Taiwan. They usually show up at flea markets in showy packaging. Alas, they might be worth $5, but not more.  Of course, there are plenty on eBay.  I suspect that the "single-use" cameras that appeared and proliferated  in the 1990s was the end for these Taiwanese cameras.  While there are other promotional cameras, they just don't exude the cheesiness of the Time-style cameras.

To summarize -- the Time-style cameras can be a lot of fun, and a way to get a Holga-like experience in 35mm.  Because of their size, you can have several in a bag with different films, ready for the next adventure.  Used within their parameters, you'll get images that are certainly different from your typical 35mm camera.  They are cheaply-made, in several styles that emulate a small SLR or a rangefinder. Don't pay more than a few bucks for one.  Have fun!

My first results with the MVP, using Svema 100 ISO b&w film.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Point and Shoot Review - Canon Sure Shot A-1

I recently saw one of these at a local thrift shop for $20, and passed. It's still there. Then, I found one for $3.00 at the Kiwanis sale, and picked it up.  I have always been intrigued by the looks of the camera, as it has a toyish, non-threatening appearance.  Of course, it is also water-proof, at least to a depth I would be happy with (no more than 6 feet), and is therefore perfect for canoe trips, rainy days, and the shore.  I thought it might also be good as a street camera, and as you know by now, I am always looking for a good, but cheap "street camera."  Based upon the quietness of the camera, its toy appearance, auotofocus, autowind, and the somewhat wide-angle 32mm f/3.5 lens, I would think it's a good candidate. But, what about the photos?

I took it along on Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day and shot a roll of Kentmere 400.  Results were fine, and right now I have a roll of Fuji 64T chrome film in it.

Caveats - it uses DX codes to set the ISO, so no hand-loaded cassettes unless they have an DX code on them. No external flash ability. Best at objects over 1 meter away.
I like the ease of handling, the bright viewfinder, and the quietness of the camera.  I also like being able to turn off the flash.  It's a bit Fisher-Price looking, but that's okay!  Nobody will take you seriously. The single 32mm focal length is quite good for the street, too.

Specifications- the camera appeared in 1994, so it's not terribly old!

  • Lens: 32mm, f/3.5 (6 elements in 6 groups)
  • Programmed shutter: 1/250-2s.
  • Viewfinder: large and bright for use with swimming mask, autofocus frame, ready light, flash warning. Especially good for glasses-wearers
  • Flash: Automatic, but can be disabled. GN: 7.5m at ISO 100.
  • Automatic winding.
  • Waterproof: To five m, using rubber seals and O-rings.
  • Power: One 3V CR123A battery
  • Dimensions & weight: 133x88x56 mm, 385 g (with battery)
  • DX-coded ISO cassettes, 25-3200

Rather than go into great detail on the camera, there are other reviews out there that provide that perspective, including shooting under water, so check out Forgotten Charm,  Film Advance and 35mmc.   Of course, you can find a manual online at!