Sunday, June 17, 2018

Ultrafine Xtreme 400 - A best buy in bulk film

I have been a customer of Ultrafine Online for well over 15 years.  I'm a frugal person, and I appreciate saving money on my film expenditures, so long as the film is providing me with reliably consistent results.  Ultrafine, also known as Photo Warehouse (which is how their print catalogs are labeled), has been an excellent source for all types of films and photographic papers.  I recently spooled up some cassettes from a bulk roll of their Ultrafine Xtreme 400 b&w film, and realized that while I have reviewed some of their oddball film offerings, I have not reviewed what I feel is one of the greatest buys in conventional b&w films - Ultrafine Xtreme 400!

From the Photo Warehouse site:
"Xtreme 400 is a high speed, medium contrast film allowing for exceptional utilization in action and sports photography and also an outstanding selection for general purpose photography. With a standard rating of ISO 400, it provides negatives exhibiting incredible sharpness and yet retains a fine grain under a myriad of lighting conditions. Xtreme 400 was designed to react vigorously to push processing and film speeds up to EI 1600/33 are easily achievable with X-tol type developers, maintaining nice shadow detail and perfectly scaled mid-tones, while still maintaining grain structure."

The film has a very good representation in the Massive Development Chart, meaning it's likely that you will find your choice of developer for this film.

Now I have only shot this film at the box speed, and in a recent trip to Oregon, I shot a few rolls in my Yashica FX-7 and Olympus Trip 35.

A few examples  from the Trip 35 developed in D-76 1:1 for 14 minutes-
Portland Art Museum

Cannon Beach

downtown Portland

downtown Portland

From the Yashica FX-7, all from downtown Portland, developed in Rodinal 1:25 for 7.5 minutes:

More Portland images from the FX-7, but developed in D76 1:1 for 14 minutes:

I am really pleased with the results thus far.  My only complaint is that the bulk roll did not come on a core, and I don't know if that will be a problem or not.  I like the fine grain, and the above images required very little tweaking in the scans.  Another nice feature - the film lies absolutely flat in the scanner film holder.  There is no cupping or curling.  Another nice feature -- a roll of 100 feet is $35 US.  Ultrafine Xtreme 400 is an excellent 400 ISO film that can be pushed to 1600 (which I need to try) at this price is quite amazing.  If you don't want to roll your own, you can also buy it in 12, 24, and 36 exposure rolls at about half the price of a roll of Tri-X.   I'll try processing my next roll in the FPP Super Monobath and see how it goes.  I'm not going to guess who supplies the film stock.  The rebate has Ultrafine Xtreme 400 printed on it.  I'm happy with it, and it doesn't really matter who originally made it -- Photo Warehouse has been selling it for a few years, and it's a great film to shoot with.  

UPDATE - 06/25/2018

I demonstrated the FPP Super Monobath at Photostock 2018 on 06/23.  I shot a couple of rolls in less than an hour with my Nikon F3HP in Harbor Springs. It happened to be a rainy day and the Farmer's Market was taking place in town.  I used one of the rolls in my demo and it came out great.  The standard 3.5 minutes at 74F.  Here are a few scans of the negatives:

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Mano a Mono- Developing film in the FPP Monobath

To be honest, I have been known to dismiss the use of a monobath for developing film.  I was skeptical of such processes, as if they were some sort of alchemy.  The idea of develop and fix in ONE bottle was blasphemy to my ears.  You might as well have tried to convince me that you were transmuting lead into gold.   Of course, I am exaggerating my skepticism, but I certainly needed to be convinced that it was worth trying.

What is a monobath anyway?  - Simply put, it is a solution containing a developer and fixer for b&w film.  Hold on there a bit. Yes, it can also be a color process as well.  If you ever shot a Polaroid or an Instax image, it's essentially a monobath process to develop the film. There is no multi-step process like conventional C-41 or E-6 film. Otherwise, yes, it's magic. B&W films also typically use a 3-step process, with different times for various films and developers. With a monobath, it's just one time for all b&w films.

How does it work?  Magic?  No, of course, not.  What happens is that the developer is aggressive, and the fixer takes a while to kick in, which by that time, the developer has mostly done its job. Because of this dynamic, several things may happen depending on the film and the exposure.  1 - there may be reduced contrast 2 - there may be a loss of shadow detail 3. there may be increased contrast  4 - some films may need additional fixing 5 - some monobaths may cause excessive grain, raise the film speed, or cause fog. Different monobath formulas have their own peculiarities and effects on any single type of film. Monobaths are often used at higher than 20°C.
FPP Super Monobath from the FPP site.

Monobaths have been around since the late 1800s, and were popular in the 1950s and 60s with photojournalists. Quick results meant the image got to the editor sooner. Polaroid's b&w film used a monobath, making photography truly instant.  However,  modern monobath formulations date to about 1974, when G.W. Crawley published a recipe in the British Journal of Photography.  You can easily search for the recipe and its variants, as there are a few.  Some of the monobaths were created specifically for certain film types.  More recently, Donald Qualls came out in 2004 with a monobath recipe that just uses HC110, ammonia, and fixer concentrate. If you want to mix your own, you can easily find the formulas online.  However, most people would rather purchase a product that is ready to use.  It avoids having to find and mix the different chemicals, and is also more convenient.

Earlier this year, the Film Photography Project store started carrying its own monobath.  The FPP Super Monobath comes in a 1 liter bottle, already mixed.  What's more, using it is pretty simple - 3.5 minutes at 24 degrees C.  That's it.  Each liter bottle can develop 10 to 15 rolls of film. After talking with Leslie, Mat, and Mike, I was convinced to try some and have been trying it out on different films.

FPP 200 film, in the FPP Studio, Nikon N2020 :

The FPP 200 film had excellent results with the FPP Super Monobath

Now, a few examples from Svema 200, with a Yashica ME-1:

The Svema 200 scanned pretty well, and I like the punchy results.

Now, an oddball film - Orwo NP-55, a 64 ISO old-stock film (Leica R4, 35-70 lens):

While I felt that the NP-55 negatives looked a bit "thin", they scanned in quite well.  Overall, quite happy with my results!

My workflow with the FPP Super Monobath is quite simple, as are the items that you need to proces a roll of film.
You need: a thermometer, developing tank, Monobath, FPP Archival Wash, water, and a changing bag if you don't have a darkroom.  Why the Archival wash?  It makes the rinsing go much faster, and you'll get the fixer residue completely removed.  Also, some Kodak Photoflo is a good idea for a final rinse to avoid streaks on the film when drying.

I load the film in a Jobo reel and tank because the reels are easy to load for 35mm.  I bring my monobath up to 24°C in a water bath, and  I prewash the film for a minute before adding the monobath.  I pour out the prewash and pour in the monobath.  I agitate for the first 10 sec and then three inversions every 30 sec.  After 3.5 min have elapsed, I pour the monobath back into the bottle. I pour water into the tank and rinse for 30 sec.  I then pour in the Archival Wash and discard after 1 minute, followed by another 1 minute water rinse. A final bath in water with Photoflo for 30 sec and I can take the film off the reel to hang dry. Basically, it takes about 5-10 minutes to develop a roll and hang it to dry.

My results have been quite satisfactory for most of the films that I have tried.  Others have had great results with the typical b&w films from Kodak and Ilford.

You may wonder why use a monobath?  While I have my favorite developers, the FPP Super Monobath is just the thing when I want to test out a camera.  Its simplicity of use makes it an ideal candidate for developing on the road, as you don't have to mix anything.  I'll be trying it out on a road trip later this year!

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Book Review: Between Gravity and What Cheer, Iowa Photographs.

I have long been a fan of traveling around and photographing small towns, and I recently received a new book to review from the University of Iowa Press - Between Gravity and What Cheer. Iowa Photographs by Barry Phipps.  If the title sounds a bit odd, it's because those are the names of small towns in Iowa.   The author relocated to Iowa City from Chicago in 2012, and it's safe to say that the places are quite different.  However, the author began taking day trips across his new state, and in the process, documented the places he visited, in all of the 99 counties of Iowa.  This isn't a travelogue, nor is it an attempt to put the best face on the places he visited.  Barry Phipps' keen eye and choice of using color photographs (for the most part) has resulted in a beautiful and delightful collection of photographs that bring some aspect of each place into our view.  At times, I see echoes of Walker Evans, William Christenberry, Stephen Shore, and William Eggleston. This of course, is unavoidable, and is a compliment to the photographer. Barry Phipps doesn't present the often declining towns in a condescending way, but finds the beauty, the humor, or the strength of the places he visited. Along the way, he also photographed some of the people he met, and the portraits definitely add another dimension to the the richness of the images.  The compositions are excellent and colors are vibrant.  My only quibble is the use of monochrome images on pages 72 and 99 in an otherwise all-color presentation. 

In preparing a book such as this, one obviously has to make the decision "what photo do I use?" If one were simply photographing post offices, town halls, or such, it would be easier.  However, to pick an image (and to make an image!) to represent some facet of a town or county without it becoming repetitive or cliché takes a good eye, serendipity, and the ability to see beyond the obvious.  Small towns in the mid-west are generally not what they were 100 or even 50 years ago.  As large factory farms have replaced the family farm, passenger trains eliminated, local business decimated, and small manufacturing companies lost, many small towns have had a hard time.  It would be unfair to always show the worst, when every place has some interesting aspect, and I think the photographer has done an excellent job in balancing such aspects in his travels.  A photograph may well make you ask questions or make you want to visit.  As a photographer of small-town post offices, I really enjoyed the image of the Gravity post office.  Anyone that has visited a lot of small towns will find resonance with this book, and perhaps it will inspire you to explore your own state or county, and to find something that makes each place memorable.

The author states "The rivers and lines that form the boundary of this state are arbitrary. Nothing changes much in terms of culture or scenery as these lines are crossed, at least not at first. I try to find what is unique to each place. Iowa has all of the things that are in these photographs and not in these photographs, in these moments, these conditions."  I think that is a great statement, and Barry Phipps has provided us with colorful and engaging vignettes of Iowa. Definitely a recommended photography book, and it's all the more appreciated that he shot it on film.

The book Between Gravity and What Cheer. Iowa Photographs is 112 pages, 9x9 inches, and is in soft cover at $29.95.  ISBN 978-1-60938-579-8. Published May 1, 2018 by the University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, IA.

Friday, June 01, 2018

Back from Portland, with lots of film.

Looking E into Portland from Washington Park.
That's Mt. Hood in the background.
Earlier this week, I returned from a week in Portland, Oregon.  It was a fantastic trip, and I am still mentally processing the trip, and have yet to start processing my film.  We flew there and back  on Alaska Airlines, which I had not flown on before, and I was pleased with the service and had absolutely no problems at any time.  I had my film in my carry-on bags, and did not bother with hand-checking at TSA.

I previously listed what I was bringing, and I used all of the gear that I brought, though I used the Holga and the Sprocket Rocket very little.  Aside from shooting 20+ rolls, I also shot about 600 images with the Nikon Coolpix S600 and my iPhone SE.   I'll put a few of those in this post.

A few things that really struck me in Portland:
1. Light rail and streetcars make getting around very easy.  Five dollars gets you an all-day pass, which is really cheap.  I did have a rental car for traveling outside the city, and put 800 miles on it. Except for visiting Blue Moon camera and Machine, I didn't drive to any spots within the city, as I walked or took the rail.
2. It's an easy city to navigate on foot. Watch out for the bike lanes and street cars!
3. There are lots of bridges and elevated highways which make for great subjects.
4. Lots of photography stores are there, and there is probably nothing that you cannot find locally.
5. While the Pacific NW has a wet-and cloudy reputation -- it was almost always sunny while we were there. However, bring a light jacket or windbreaker if you go west to the Pacific beaches. You'll get chilled if you don't.
6. Lots of bars, lots of food.  You won't be thirsty or hungry. Food trucks are everywhere!

7.  Check out Blue Moon Camera and Machine, 8417 N. Lombard Street - analog only, and what a place to visit!
Inside Blue Moon Camera

8. The trees grow very tall and straight.  Make time for some trips to the coast as well as the Columbia River Gorge. Lots to see within a 2-hour radius!
9. Visit Powell's bookstore.  THOUSANDS of photography books.  They will ship to your address, too.
10. There are many fountains and parks in the city that will surprise you.

I also made a trip to Tokeland, WA  to meet up with Marcy Merrill. She's a great photographer and has been operating the Junk Store Cameras website for about 20 years. I'll report on that later.  After I get through my film, I'll post some specific sets of topics here.

Ira Keller Fountain is stunning.

Visit Multnomah Falls if you can!