Friday, 14 December 2018

Kodak T-Max P3200 - back from the discontinued list

Kodak T-Max P3200
KODAK PROFESSIONAL T-MAX P3200 Black & White Negative Film ⁄ 3200TMZ is a multi-speed continuous-tone panchromatic black-and-white negative film that combines high to ultra-high film speeds with finer grain than that of other fast black-and-white films. It is especially useful for very fast action; for dimly lighted scenes where you can’t use flash; for subjects that require good depth of field combined with fast shutter speeds; and for handholding telephoto lenses for fast action or in dim light. It is an excellent choice for nighttime photography.
T-Max P3200 data sheet
When I wrote my previous post on Kodak T-Max P3200 it had been discontinued for two years; with Kodak's rationalisation of their product lines at the time, I would not have predicted that the film would be reintroduced just fours years later. Many online commentators are more excited by the reappearance of Ektachrome, and perhaps understandably so; some photographers - myself included - would like to see Plus-X return, but it could be argued that as Kodak do already have a medium speed black and white emulsion in T-Max 100, that being able to compete with Ilford's Delta 3200 at the upper end of the speed table makes sense in terms of a market strategy. T-Max P3200 was first introduced in 1988, a whole ten years before Delta 3200; like Ilford's film it is essentially a fast film designed to be push-processed. The data sheet states that T-Max P3200's nominal speed is EI 1000 in T-Max developers, or EI 800 in other developers - some commentators make much of this fact in online pieces about the film, but Kodak are open about what the film is: the P before 3200 in the name denotes that the film is designed for push processing. Of course, the film cartridge is actually DX-coded to 3200, so, in cameras with DX-coding it will be exposed at EI 3200 unless manually set. No doubt, without instructions to the contrary, labs would also develop it as if shot at 3200. Like Delta 3200, Kodak T-Max P3200 is essentially a versatile high speed film, with excellent latitude and manageable contrast - two factors that important to the ability to successfully push a film.

When I last wrote about T-Max P3200, I hadn't made any evaluative tests with it: I had used a couple of rolls of out-of-date film for that post, as well as reflecting of first using the film in the mid-1990s, before Ilford also entered the market for ultra-fast films with Delta 3200. With a new batch of the film, I thought it was worth revisiting T-Max P3200 and I began, as with testing most new films, by making a latitude test.

Kodak T-Max P3200 latitude test contact sheet
The results from this first test appeared to demonstrate that T-Max P3200 has excellent latitude: although developed at the recommended time for being exposed at EI 3200, almost all frames yielded a usable image. Shadow detail was thin at 6400 and clearly lacking at 12800, but this is dependent on the subject contrast: this was less of a problem in images with a narrower brightness range (when choosing the two different shots for comparison at different exposure indexes, I deliberately to framed one shot with a sunlit foreground in the frame and deep shadows; for the other set of six frames, the subject was all in open shade, and therefore less extremes of light and dark). Those shots at lower exposure indexes performed very well indeed, perhaps unsurprising given T-Max P3200's true speed, but even when rated at 400, there was no real evidence of highlights blocking out. For a film with great latitude, contrast was not as flat as one might expect (compare, for example, Ilford XP2 Super, while a very different film - for all the reasons described on my post - it has very low contrast which must in part contribute to its wide latitude). The two images below, which were scanned fairly 'straight', without much in the way of any adjustments, demonstrate a difference of 5-stops exposure, developed together.

Kodak T-Max P3200, rated 400
Kodak T-Max P3200, rated 12,800
Kodak's data sheet for the film list a number of Kodak's own proprietary developers - none of which I habitually use. For the latitude test, I used Fomadon RO9 diluted 1+25, for 8 minutes at 20ÂșC, derived from the Massive Dev Chart; most listings are annotated that the data is taken from a previous version of the film, but there is no reason to suspect the new iteration of T-Max P3200 is any different. With RO9, the appearance of the film's grain is quite pronounced, as one would expect; initially I suspected that I might not like the combination of T-Max P3200 and RO9, but, despite it appearing obtrusive in some images, generally the combination did not seem too objectionable. Of course, a fuller review of the film would include testing some of Kodak's recommended proprietary developers; previously I had used T-Max P3200 with ID11, Ilford's equivalent of Kodak's D76: the grain here does appear smoother than with RO9. The data sheet also warns that T-Max P3200 will exhaust fixer more rapidly than other films, this is presumably due to the emulsion density of the film, and is worth bearing in mind when processing.

Kiev-4 with Kodak T-Max P3200, developed in Fomadon RO9
Praktica BCA with Kodak T-Max P3200, developed in ID11
One note on Kodak's data sheet in the section on spectral sensitivity caught my eye:
The blue sensitivity of KODAK PROFESSIONAL T-MAX Films is slightly less than that of other KODAK panchromatic black-and-white films. This enables the response of this film to be closer to the response of the human eye. Therefore, blues may be recorded as slightly darker tones with these films—a more natural rendition.
Having hardly ever used Kodak's T-Max films before, this was new to me. Some shots with Kodak T-Max P3200 in daylight with blue skies do look as though these were made with a yellow filter, as one might expect for most black and white films, however, Kodak T-Max P3200 is possibly the one film that might not feel like a natural choice to use for daylight photography in sunny conditions. The image below was shot on a bright autumn morning, and although the contrast between the brightness of the concrete and the sky enhances the effect, I was still impressed by the darkness of the blue sky without use of a filter.

Kiev-4 with Kodak T-Max P3200 at EI 3200, developed in Fomadon RO9
Instead of bright sunny days, Kodak T-Max P3200 is really a film designed for more difficult lighting conditions. At a rating of EI 3200, the film is usually sensitive enough for hand-held night photographs under street lights - with relatively fast lenses - or dimly-lit interiors (it's always seemed to be a popular choice for gig photography, for example). These situations often provide brightly lit but highly localised areas surrounded by deep shadows, conditions less than ideal when pushing slower films, as pushing increases contrast. When it was discontinued, Kodak recommended using T-Max 400, push-processed, instead, but did admit that "The exception [to replacing T-Max P3200 with T-Max 400] would be extremely low light situations where P3200 might be able to pull out some shadow detail that would otherwise be lost". As the data sheet specifies, with T-Max P3200 "...you will obtain better shadow detail and highlight separation when you expose it at EI 3200 or 6400 than you can obtain with 400-speed films pushed by 3 stops."

Kiev-4 with Kodak T-Max P3200 at EI 3200, developed in Fomadon RO9
Kodak's data sheet includes developing times for rating the film up to EI 25,000; when making my tests, as well as shooting it at the 'box speed' of 3200, I wanted to test the film one stop either side of this, rating it at both 1600 and 6400. Judging from the latitude test, one could probably rate frames at both 1600 and 3200 on the same roll and develop this for the times for EI 3200 without any real drawback in quality: it's interesting to see on Kodak's data sheet how close the development times are for each stop in exposure, with some developers giving less than a minute difference between some stops. Quite possibly, most photographers developing the film themselves might have a margin of error in time (and temperature) that could encompass that amount of development fairly easily. Exposed and developed for EI 6400 does allow hand held shots in quite dark situations, which, when the film was new, must have seemed all the more impressive than perhaps it does today; I didn't find myself wishing for an extra stop or two, but further tests in the right developers at EI 12,800 and 25,000 possibly would not be as revelatory as they might promise.

Canon A-1 with Kodak T-Max P3200 at EI 6400, developed in Ilfotec LC29
Although the name of the film rather suggests naturally exposing it at an exposure index of 3200, Kodak's data sheet has the telling sentence, "Because of its great latitude, you can expose this film at EI 1600 and yield negatives of high quality. There will be no change in the grain of the final print, but there may be a slight loss of shadow detail [over rating it at EI 800]." Rating the film at 1600 would appear to be the best balance of speed against grain and retention of shadow detail. For the test at EI 1600, I wanted to use RO9 at a dilution of 1+50, rather than 1+25, having seen a number of examples online where this looked as though the grain may appear a little less pronounced.

Canon A-1 with Kodak T-Max P3200 at EI 1600, developed in Fomadon RO9
I shot much of the roll rated EI 1600 in the sort of conditions in which I would have first used the film two decades ago: in a museum, with low lighting, but with relatively bright, localised sources of light. The rest of this roll was shot in a variety of lighting conditions, and, overall, proabably gave the best results. A higher dilution of RO9 may have helped the sharpness of the negatives; further tests at perhaps 1+75 and 1+100 may be instructive in this regard. Of course, I haven't made any tests with film developers recommended by Kodak for T-Max P3200, but rather I've tested those that I would habitually use instead. I also haven't made any direct comparisons with Ilford Delta 3200, as others have online (these look to show that T-Max P3200 has finer grain than Ilford's film): however, I've found this not to be exactly the case in my experience. Without making side-by-side comparisons (and, ideally, making darkroom prints of both), but looking at shots I've taken with Delta 3200 in 35mm, these may not have as fine a grain as T-Max P3200, but, to me, the grain of Delta 3200 appears softer, with T-Max P3200 harder, sharper perhaps, but perceptually more 'grainy' as a result.

Kodak Retina IIa with Ilford Delta 3200, developed in RO9 One Shot
Kiev-4 with Kodak T-Max P3200, developed in Fomadon RO9
For me, Ilford Delta 3200 has long been my ultra-fast film of choice, partly due to having been always available throughout most of my years of taking photographs, appearing on the market relatively soon after first I began developing my own negatives; that it is also produced in medium format gives it the edge over T-Max P3200. However, the return of Kodak T-Max P3200 is most welcome in what now appears a more volatile film market: some years ago, the variety of different films available was clearly shrinking, and T-Max P3200's original discontinuation was part of that - since then, even with other favoured films disappearing, there has been something of a small resurgence in the range of film currently on the market, a situation to which a company as dominant as Kodak once was has been slow to react.

Canon A-1 with Kodak T-Max P3200 at EI 1600, developed in Fomadon RO9
Canon A-1 with Kodak T-Max P3200 at EI 3200, developed in Fomadon RO9
Kiev-4 with Kodak T-Max P3200 at EI 3200, developed in Fomadon RO9
Canon A-1 with Kodak T-Max P3200 at EI 6400, developed in Ilfotec LC29
Sources/further reading
Kodak T-Max P3200 data sheet (PDF file)
T-Max P3200 on the Casual Photophile
Richardphotolab.com all-about-Kodak's-T-Max-P3200-film
Kodak T-Max-P3200 review on Parallax Photographic

Friday, 7 December 2018

127 Day December 2018

Zeiss Ikon Ikonta 520/18 with Ilford HP5 Plus
Today's 127 Day was also, inadvertently and unavoidably, a 'take your 127 camera to work' day. I shot a single roll of cut-down Ilford HP5 Plus with the Baby Ikonta, mostly during a break at work; but for the weather I might have taken more photographs on my journey to work, and then the conditions turned bright and sunny - at the point in which I had no time to shoot a second roll of film. I finished the roll that I did shoot with a few of frames with long exposures in the darkroom itself, prior to developing the film there and then.

Zeiss Ikon Ikonta 520/18 with Ilford HP5 Plus
Zeiss Ikon Ikonta 520/18 with Ilford HP5 Plus
Zeiss Ikon Ikonta 520/18 with Ilford HP5 Plus
Zeiss Ikon Ikonta 520/18 with Ilford HP5 Plus
Zeiss Ikon Ikonta 520/18 with Ilford HP5 Plus
Zeiss Ikon Ikonta 520/18 with Ilford HP5 Plus
Zeiss Ikon Ikonta 520/18 with Ilford HP5 Plu

Monday, 12 November 2018

Rereading Christian Metz

MPP Micro-Technical Mk VI with Ilford FP4 Plus
Rereading Christian Metz’s ‘Photography and Fetish’ (1984), which can be seen as part of the ongoing ontological project of conceptualising photography in the way Metz sets out the differences between film and photography, it is striking how historically situated his readings are. Possibly, at the time Metz wrote, the respective realms of photography and cinema may have seemed settled within the short history of photography and film. This appears to have been overturned, or at least greatly complicated since: a decisive shift occurred at the end of the twentieth century with the emergence of digital imaging technologies and their distribution. I first read ‘Photography and Fetish’ twenty-two years ago, while researching my undergraduate dissertation on ‘Photography and the Uncanny’. Then, digital cameras did exist, but they were thousands of pounds, and it would be many years before I even held one in my hands. Electronic moving images in the form of videotape existed, but generally as a poor copy of images originating in another medium - as indeed would be any digital images that I then worked with; in its linear construction, one can think of videotape as being a physical but non-indexical medium. Having retrieved Metz's essay online earlier this year, I subsequently found the original photocopy that I had made in 1996. I was initially surprised to find it printed in a landscape format, reduced from being reprinted in a larger volume, no doubt for reasons of economy. The juvenile appearance of my own handwriting also surprised me: at the time, writing by hand was an everyday occurrence: indeed, the first draft of my dissertation had been written by hand.

In ‘Photography and Fetish’ Metz discusses the medium of film largely in relation to the experience of such images within the cinema; television and, importantly perhaps, home video recorders must have been changing the relationship to the moving image at the time he was writing, but this is but lightly touched upon. Rather, a classical sense of ‘the cinema’ - coherent, discrete, but also with its attendant social practices - is used for the purposes of his argument (Metz does acknowledge that he is relying on generalisations). The differences between the experience of photographs and of film that Metz enumerates are now collapsing, or at least becoming less marked, with the access of digital technology and a few aspects of this collapse may be worth exploring.

There are several distinctions in ‘Photography and Fetish’ between photography and film that are not quite so clear today. Encountered more readily through a screen, a photograph in many people’s experience may no longer be understood as “a silent rectangle of paper”, changing its place in the “socialized unit of reading, of reception”, while, as a result of digital technology, film (or the moving image) is rather more equal in terms of its production, no longer “less accessible to ‘ordinary’ people than that of photography.” With the platforms of social media, Metz’s claim for photography having “a high degree of social recognition” in the domain of private, family life (“birthplace of the Freudian fetish”) feels diluted and complicated by uses which may have once seemed to properly belong to the private being turned inside out to a new kind of public face. As technology allows for ever-easier production of moving images, their consumption - and, importantly, access to their internal structures.
“Film subjected to repetition and return, when viewed on new technologies, suffers from the violence caused by extracting a fragment from the whole that, as in a body, ‘wounds’ its integrity. But in another metaphor, this process ‘unlocks’ the film fragment and opens it up to new kinds of relations and revelations.”
Laura Mulvey, Death 24x A Second
It no longer feels true to say, as Metz claims, that film is immersed in “a stream of temporality where nothing can be kept, nothing stopped. The emergence of a fetish is thus made more difficult.” Now film can be kept (stored) digitally, easily stopped, edited, re-edited, looped and fragmented. The easy availability of the digital image, its devices (and the attendant social media) put both photography and film more than ever in the hands of practically everyone, and allow far more control over the production, dissemination and consumption of images - of pictures - so much more than at any previous time in history. Yet what these images can be - the choices that inform how these images are made - must surely be determined by other structures: as well as how such technologies are designed, their use is formed by other pressures, social, political, and the idea of what possibilities can be imagined.

With the widespread adoption of the practices of digital imaging technology and its dissemination, one could argue that there has been something of a collapse between the moving image and the still image, even at the simple level of the devices that can accomplish both, embodied in the smartphone. (Intriguingly, some cameras produced early in the twentieth century after the invention of cinema were also designed to accomplish both: the Debrie Sept camera, for example, or the Bolsey 8, could record short sequences of moving images on film as well as shoot single frames; In Painting Photography Film, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy describes the ‘domestic pinacotheca’ which essentially embodies many functions of the smartphone: “‘domestic picture galleries […] brought out only when they are really needed.”) Indeed, in its most recent version, the ever present iPhone’s ‘live photo’ mode records 1.5 seconds of moving image before and after pressing the camera’s simulated ‘button’ on its interface. Early photography was always to some extant concerned with duration. Before the ‘instant’ photograph (which essentially emerged with the invention of the dry photographic plate) exposure times were counted in minutes, or at the very least, seconds, intervals of time that were within human perception, not outside of it, or perhaps more accurately, beneath its threshold, like the fractions of a second that photography became.

Perhaps one key relationship between the forms of photography and film as outlined in ‘Photography and Fetish’ that may remain largely unchanged is in the links that Metz makes between photography’s “immobility and silence” as signs of death, set against film’s signs of “livingness”; however some recent commentators (Garrett Stewart, Between Film and Screen: Modernism’s Photo Synthesis; Laura Mulvey, Death 24x A Second) have found less simplistic oppositions more fruitful, especially as film’s history lengthens. Film’s signs of “livingness” implicitly includes film’s incorporation of recorded sound as against the “silence” of the photograph; but this ‘silence’ can also now be seen in iterations of the moving image in current online practices. The animated GIF returns the moving image to a space where sound is no longer important. One might perhaps think of the moving image with synchronised sound as having always been a hybrid, although perhaps a ‘natural’ seeming one, its sound having such affinity with the moving image that it is easy not separate the two as being distinct while experienced simultaneously. However early cinema existed for thirty years without recorded synchronised sound: Rudolf Arnheim asserted that “No one who went unprejudiced to watch a silent film missed the noises which could have been heard if the same events had been taking place in real life […] People took the silence of the movies for granted because they never quite lost the feeling that what they saw was after all only pictures.” For much of the twentieth century, many people’s home movies before the advent of consumer video cameras would have been mostly without sound. Would this be seen as seen as a lack? Or would silent home movies be seen as more akin to photographs, albeit photographs that move. The occasions of the use of home movies are generally identical to that of the domesticated photograph - holidays, celebrations, and newness: a new baby, a new house, a new car, other new significant purchases.

However, when using the iPhone’s live photo feature the user is still intending to make something understood as a photograph - hence the name ‘live photo’ - and not necessarily a short film as such. A medium can be defined by its use, its practice, and the user’s intentions, as well as its constituent material. In ‘Against Post-cinema’, Ted Nannicelli and Malcolm Turvey argue against the conception of a digital 'monomedium' - with all that implies. 'Post-cinema' can briefly be summarised as the effect that digital technology has had on cinema - the divorce of the moving image from a physical strip of film (and for many commentators, this separates the moving image form the index) - meaning that with many practices being reduced or subsumed into digital technology, emulated by the interfaces of software (and these emulations becoming increasingly opaque), and that in so doing, cinema loses its distinctive qualities: Nannicelli and Turvey take issue with the "post-cinema thesis" which argues "not just that the cinema has been radically altered by digital technology, but that it is no longer a distinct medium because it has been subsumed by another medium. It has been dissolved into a broader medium in the digital era. Indeed, some proponents of this view intimate that digital technology has rendered the concept of a distinct medium obsolete..." Instead, Nannicelli and Turvey state that two senses of the term 'medium' are being confused; (quoting from Joseph Margolis) the medium is both “‘at one and the same time’” the physical material used and the "emergent work" being created. This emergent work is situated within a set of social practices that also define the medium (for example, the medium of paint can both be used to decorate or protect surfaces, or used to create something understood as a painting; one can imagine instances when making a discrete work of art through painting could possibly be confused with painting a wall, but this can be seen as an outlying use of practice); therefore the medium of 'cinema' can mean a distinct set of practices - production, distribution, exhibition and audience expectation (after all, audiences still physically travel in their millions to places called cinemas to watch productions - whether digital or not - called films). That there are crossovers between photography and film in the area of visual arts could be seen to be due to a sense of awareness of the historical practices bound up together with the medium's material characteristics (at the outset, each new medium tends to take on the forms or roles of those pre-existing historically, before an awareness of its own distinct qualities - which include distinct limitations - becomes consciously explored).

In a not dissimilar fashion, in his claims for film as art, Rudolf Arnheim's use of the term 'medium' is distinct from 'art' despite making categorical statements from a formalist position that recognises the properties of the medium as being its defining characteristics: “At about that time [the 1920s] I started to make copious notes on what I called Materialtheorie. It was a theory meant to show that artistic and scientific descriptions of reality are cast in moulds that derive not so much from the subject matter itself as from the properties of the medium - or Material - employed.” Thus, while anxious to place film as art, Arnheim was also aware that the medium of film could be used for other purposes which were 'not art': within the material constitutes of a medium, that medium can produce something outside of the realm of art. He lists: "coloured picture postcards [...] a military march, a true confession story, or a strip tease" as all being uses of mediums that can create art, yet these are not art, which implicitly recognises the social practices around the different mediums these examples conjure up (of course, one can now probably think of examples of all of these forms that are now firmly defined as art).
“Film is much more difficult to characterize as a fetish. It is too big, it lasts too long, and it addresses too many sensorial channels at the same time to offer a credible unconscious equivalent of a part object […] whereas a fetish has to be kept, mastered, held, like the photograph in the pocket. […] Most of all, a film cannot be touched, cannot be carried and handled: although the actual reels can, the projected film cannot.”
Christian Metz, 'Photography and Fetish'
With the touchscreen and its handling, animated by its swipes and other gestures, film is closer than ever to being ‘touched’. Experienced through digital technology, most of the qualities Metz ascribes to the photograph in ‘Photography and Fetish’ can now be applied to film: seen on a small portable screen, with internal access to its content, film can now possess “smallness, [the] possibility of a lingering look.” That a single device can contain both photographs and films, and can make both, opens the possibility that film can take on those qualities that Metz concludes as to how photography, rather than film (which plays on fetishism), is “more capable of itself becoming a fetish.” Metz places photographs in belonging to both “the ordinary sense of the word” fetish, as well as developing its relation to the Freudian meaning. Thus: “The familiar photographs that many people carry with them always obviously belong to the order of fetishes in the ordinary sense of the word”: now, in Freudian terms, the smartphone and all that it contains could be seen as a metaphoric phallus, cut off and kept in a pocket.


Bibilography

Rudolf Arnheim, Film as Art, Faber and Faber, London 1958. First published as Film als Kunst, 1933
Lewis K. Bush, 'The GIF of Life: Vestigial Film Formats as Documentary, http://www.disphotic.com/the-gif-of-life-vestigial-file-formats-as-documentary/ 10/10/16 retrieved 12/2/18 See also: https://www.360.agency/en/blog/the-return-of-the-animated-gif/
Christian Metz, 'Photography and Fetish', October, Vol. 34. (Autumn, 1985), pp. 81-90.
Laura Mulvey, Death 24x A Second: Stillness and the Moving Image, Reaktion, London 2005
Moholy-Nagy, Laszlo, Painting, photography, film, translated by Janet Seligman (Originally published as Malerei, Fotografie, Film, 1927) Lund Humphries, London 1969. Ted Nannicelli and Malcolm Turvey, 'Against Post-Cinema', Cinema & Cie, vol. XVI, no.26-27, Spring/Summer 2016
Garrett Stewart,Between Film and Screen: Modernism’s Photo Synthesis

Monday, 29 October 2018

October's #ShittyCameraChallenge

V. P. Twin with Ilford XP2 Super
With October being announced as the second month this year for the #ShittyCameraChallenge, I wanted to use a different camera from June's contest, the Micro 110, and my first thought was to choose the Elliott V. P. Twin. The V. P. Twin seems perfect for the challenge - no user controls other than the shutter lever, a fixed-focus meniscus lens, a virtually obsolete format, a body made from Bakelite (or a Bakelite-type brittle plastic), and it was once sold in three parts for six old pence each. In my original post on the V. P. Twin, I calculated this to be £3.73 at 2016 prices - and the camera is probably worth hardly any more now; my model of the camera is the post-war version, which was once sold for 7/6, or 37.5 new pence, which would be £6.32 at 2016 prices. This was around the price I paid on a well-known auction site including postage. A handy definition of a 'shitty camera' is one where the camera is worth less than a roll of film: the V. P. Twin takes 127 format rollfilm, and certainly any new 127 film would cost more than the camera. There seems to be a small resurgence of interest in the 127 format, and a new Rerapan 400-speed black and white film is currently available, as well as Rera Chrome and Rollei Crossbird.

Elliott V. P. Twin
However, I didn't use any of these films over the week I was shooting with the V. P. Twin. Instead, I had some cut down medium format Ilford XP2 Super, HP5 and FP4 Plus, rolled with 127 backing paper, as well as some 35mm Kentmere 400. As the V. P. Twin is a snapshot camera and has no aperture or shutter speed controls, whatever film I was using - and these were mostly fast films - the films' latitude was important in order to provide results in a variety of lighting conditions (I did develop the XP2 Super in RO9; C41 process would have been better in terms of latitude for the film). Originally, the camera was recommended to be used for subjects in broad sunlight, of which there was some this October - obviously not as bright as summer sunlight - but I shot with whatever light was available, with mostly acceptable results.

V. P. Twin with Ilford HP5 Plus
V. P. Twin with Ilford HP5 Plus
I did attempt a few shots of well-lit interiors, where HP5 gave good results. The photographs I took all demonstrated the shortcomings of the V. P. Twin: the meniscus lens has very visible vignetting and distortion in all images; there was also some camera shake in a few shots (using the camera this month, I noticed that the shutter appears to trip slower in one direction as opposed to the other); film flatness was an issue in some images (most notably with the 35mm film, as this wasn't supported at the sides of the frame); and the framing in a number of the photographs was clearly off - the curved metal viewinder frame of the V. P. Twin is rudimentary at best. All these factors help to qualify the V. P. Twin to be a 'shitty camera'.

V. P. Twin with HP5 Plus showing camera shake
V. P. Twin with Kentmere 400 - out of focus areas caused by lack of film flatness
V. P. Twin with Ilford XP2 Super - poorly framed subject
And yet these factors are part of the charm of using the V. P. Twin - other than the problems with accurate framing, which rarely provides a more interesting composition than the one I was trying to frame. Ideally, I would have probably shot everything on HP5 Plus, as this would have been the most sympathetic (or C41-processed XP2), but I was just shooting with what I had - what was already cut down and/or rolled with 127 format backing paper for use. Doing this - shooting with what I had - using a simple snapshot camera, over the course of a week, and the results that come out of those restrictions, are one of the chief attractions for taking part in such a thematic 'challenge', and, by doing so, engaging in part of a larger online community of film photographers.

V. P. Twin with Ilford HP5 Plus
V. P. Twin with Ilford XP2 Super
V. P. Twin with Ilford FP4 Plus
V. P. Twin with Kentmere 400
V. P. Twin with Ilford XP2 Super

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Ilford XP2 Super - Part Two

First roll of Ilford XP2, shot with Praktica BCA, July 1994
In my previous post, part one of Ilford XP2 Super, I revisited a film that I had used more than any other for a few years when I didn't have access to a darkroom, and had my interest rekindled by buying a cheap batch of just-out-of-date film. The current version of Ilford's chromogenic film, Ilford XP2 Super, is twenty years old this year; I had first used the previous named iteration of the film, XP2, in 1994 (it was 'updated' in 1996 with no name change to indicate this); in the course of my research for writing about the film, I scanned some of the negatives and prints from the first photographs I'd taken with Ilford XP2, but decided that some of that material would be better as a  separate post, with a more personal reflection on using the film; at the same time, in the interval, I also had the chance to make some prints in the darkroom from some of the tests I had shot for the first post.

In part one, I made two sets of latitude tests, and compared Ilford XP2 Super processed as C41 to that using a traditional black and white film developer. Those comparisons were made from assessing the contact sheets and scans from negatives, but I did feel that I should also make a comparison with printing from the negatives. This confirmed my first results, but perhaps the differences were even more marked. All the prints I made used Kentmere VC Select paper without using Multigrade contrast filters, thereby rendering the paper at a grade 2 contrast: this appeared to be ideal for neither set of negatives - too low in contrast for the C41 negatives, too high for the black and white developed ones.

Ilford XP2 Super, rated EI 400, C41 process
Ilford XP2 Super, rated EI 400, developed in Fomadon RO9
The comparisons when rating the film as low as 50 varied even more. As Ilford suggest with XP2 Super, it can be rated at EI 50 for 'finest grain'; this also reduces the contrast further. Developed in RO9, essentially the opposite effect is achieved: the appearance of grain is more prominent and the highlights start losing detail, adding to contrast.

Ilford XP2 Super, rated EI 50, C41 process 
Ilford XP2 Super, rated EI 50, developed in Fomadon RO9
As the scans from the negatives seemed to indicate, from making prints in the darkroom, the practice of rating the film at EI 50 for 'finest grain' does also appear to reduce sharpness; there is nothing to be gained in rating the film at EI 50 if developing it in black and white chemicals - the best results I achieved were at exposure indexes of 200-400. The grain with black and white chemicals was fairly consistent, perhaps even a little more apparent grain than one might expect with a 400 ISO film, but this might be more prominent due to the relatively high contrast of the images, which in itself exaggerates grain.

As I wrote in the previous post, one of the chief advantages of using XP2 is that, as it is designed for the C41 process, it can be developed at any lab that processes colour negative film, and so it would be possible to produce proof prints for a whole roll of film in an hour. However, in my experience from using XP2 over many years, relying on the standard C41 lab prints, the results would often vary widely. When I first used XP2, I would take it to Boots for developing; generally, they used to provide very warm sepia prints, at least in the 1990s. Later, using Kodak processing via a big supermarket chain, I would often receive prints with much cooler colours in a blue-tinted monochrome. Sometimes though, the prints from a lab would come back with a colour cast varying from orange to green to magenta across a single print as in the example below; sometimes shop prints might have as good as no detail in the highlight areas, or, more commonly in my experience, the midtones and shadows might be compressed.

Ilford XP2 Super - scan from lab print
Ilford XP2 Super - scan from negative
At the time that I was using Ilford XP2 regularly, I often used the resulting lab prints as reference material to make paintings from. To begin with, these were often from enlarged photocopies, then from scans of the prints, which at times became quite elaborate, sometimes numerous photographs joined together in a seamless fashion digitally as a basis for the more complicated paintings that I was doing. As can be appreciated from the comparison above, the variations in the prints do make a large difference - the print has very little shadow detail, and the colour cast also affects tonal relationships - and as such, this could be a problem when working from lab prints. Scanning from the negative above has pulled out all the available shadow detail, while retaining the modelling in the sky, producing a much more usable image.

First roll of Ilford XP2, shot with Praktica BCA, July 1994
In the summer of 1994, I bought a secondhand Praktica camera body - a BCA for £26, my second 35mm SLR camera, which would be my main camera until I replaced it with a Canon A-1 in 2001 (it was my only SLR, which was later supplemented by a Zeiss Ikoflex Ic, an Olympus Pen EE3 and a Kodak No.2 Brownie). The reason for buying a Praktica BCA was, as well as being cheap, that I already had a lens from my previous 35mm SLR, a Praktica BC1, as written about in the post Twenty Years Since. That summer, with my new-to-me Praktica BCA, between college courses and without access to a darkroom, I could get XP2 developed for the same price as colour film and with the same turnover time, in comparison to normal black and white film, which I'd just started to use over the previous few months. Ilford XP2's other distinct characteristics - its fine grain for a fast film, its latitude - were not considerations at the time: cost and convenience were the main reasons for choosing it. There were two photographs on XP2 from that summer which I still have as both the original lab prints, and as prints I'd made myself in the darkroom a year later; from the negatives, I made scans of  these as a point of comparison to the two very different prints.

Praktica BCA with Ilford XP2, scan from lab print
Scan from print on Jessops VC paper
Scan from negative
In the original lab prints, the low contrast of the XP2 negatives appears to be a little problematic: detail in the highlights is retained, while compromising the relationship of the mid-tones to the shadow areas. However, I do remember that I liked the sepia effect of the monochrome prints on colour paper, and this was something I used in a number of collages I made at the time, incorporating these prints. These were from the first rolls of XP2 that I shot, and I didn't experience the variability that was possible in lab prints of the film until some years later.

I had used significantly more contrast in the darkroom prints made in 1995, and, although I was probably happy with the results then, I am less keen on the blank skies now, and would probably try to retain detail through burning or split grade printing, or a combination of both. I had also made my own negative carrier in order to show the edges of the negative and a part of the perforations at the bottom edge of the image, something I now think of as an affectation - no doubt I had seen this effect in a book and had wanted to emulate it. The darkroom print from the photograph below is squared up with a grid to use the image as reference for a painting - and subsequently used for a second painting, too. Coincidentally, this location with the gasholder was photographed for the cover of the Tyrrel Corporation's single 'You're Not Here' with the two band members sitting on the low wall in front of the arch. The single was released in 1994 and I remember flyposters advertising it on hoardings in Ilford town centre around the time I took my photograph below: also, coincidentally, the cover of the single and the images on the posters happened to be in sepia.

Praktica BCA with Ilford XP2, scan from lab print
Scan from print on Jessops VC paper
Scan from negative
After scanning the original negatives of these two photographs alongside the two different prints, I had the idea to revisit these two locations this summer, to photograph them again on Ilford XP2 Super, twenty-four years to the day. I had thought that these images had come from my first roll of Ilford XP2, but, on closer inspection of the dates and diary entries, these turned out to be from my second roll of the film. The first had been shot over the preceding two weeks, including the shot at the top of this post, but I did get both rolls processed at the same time - at Boots in Ilford, of all places - I had handed in the first roll beforehand, to Jessops I believe, but they returned the film undeveloped, telling me that they couldn't process it (perhaps they had been thinking of XP1, which had its own developer), at which point I took the two rolls to Boots: Ilford XP2 provided them without any difficulties, and I had Boots process a few more rolls of film after that.

As I no longer have my Praktica BCA, I used a Zenit 11 in order to shoot with a screw-mount 50mm f1.8 Prakticar lens - the same lens as used on the BCA (which would have been a Praktica bayonet mount of course, but the lens design would be the same; at the time I only had the standard 50mm lens; later I would get a 28mm and a 70-210mm zoom). The weather twenty-four years ago had been overcast (my darkroom prints made a year later simply omitted the cloud detail in the negative through using high contrast filters); shooting the same subjects this summer, at the tail end of the longest heatwave for forty-two years in England, the weather was unfailingly sunny.

Rotherhithe, August 2018; Zenit 11 with Ilford XP2 Super
Rotherhithe, August 2018; Zenit 11 with Ilford XP2 Super
The subjects of the two photographs from 1994 which appear in the lab and darkroom prints are only a few metres apart, on the south of the river Thames in Rotherhithe; the first shows the southern ventilation shaft to the Rotherhithe Tunnel. The shaft building itself remains, although this now has a roof; the gate and gateposts are the same, but the outbuildings have been replaced by a newer residential block since, a process that has changed the view of the gasholder in the second photograph even more radically. By 1994 most of the operations of the London docks had moved miles further east to Tilbury, and this area alongside the Thames was in between cycles of speculative building: the boom of 'Docklands', largely on the Isle of Dogs on the other side of the river, had slowed in the wake of the recession of the early 1990s. Redevelopment of the area was restarted towards the end of the decade and into the 2000s, with the impetus of the Millennium Dome and improved transport links, as well as the general economic climate of the time.

Rotherhithe, August 1994; Praktica BCA with Ilford XP2
Rotherhithe, August 2018; Zenit 11 with Ilford XP2 Super
Discovering photography and exploring London went hand in hand, and I would return to these areas a number of times in subsequent years, shooting in medium format when I bought my Ikoflex Ic a couple of years later. This was an area relatively close to where I had been attending college in east London earlier in 1994, a couple of stops down on the old East London line on the Underground from Whitechapel. Its proximity was one attraction; the other was the sense of abandonment - that there were still second world war bomb sites in London that hadn't been built on, fifty years after the end of the war - and the mild illicit thrill of climbing through holes in fences or over walls to take some of these photographs. One particular location that I photographed on Ilford XP2 in 1994, on the other side of the river from Rotherhithe, in Wapping, was that of Watson's Wharf on Hermitage Wall. This had been derelict since the war; it had been the site of a large air raid shelter which had also been the base of the 'Dead End Kids', local teenagers organised into a group of unofficial air raid wardens and firefighters, some of whom had been killed while on duty. Local residents had wanted to turn the whole site into a memorial garden to commemorate Londoners who had died in the Blitz; around the time I had photographed it, the site had then been recently sold to the London Docklands Development Corporation and there were notices from a group called Civilians Remembered along the railings and fences around the site. The building seen side on in the photograph from 1994 below marks what would have been the boundary of the proposed memorial garden. In the photograph from this year, it can been seen face on, behind the tree, just to the left of centre: the foreground of the first photograph is now built over with the large block of apartments that takes up the whole left hand side of the second photograph.

Watson's Wharf, Wapping, August 1994; Praktica BCA with Ilford XP2
View of Wapping, August 2018; Zenit 11 with Ilford XP2 Super