A blog dedicated to the analogue experience!
Not only do we develop film here, but we are also film photography enthusiasts and love making our way through as many available film stocks as possible! Along the way we will be sharing our best hints and tricks to get the most out of your film!
Follow our journey and share your own film experience by tagging us in your favourite shots using #apffeature!
Film Grain 101
If you have taken an interest in film photography, one of the aspects that may have attracted you is the ‘’aesthetic.” That is, how pleasing it is in appearance to which a lot of people attribute to the vintage, raw and natural finish of film as opposed to digital. A huge part of this is down to grain.
WHAT IS GRAIN?
Baked into the emulsion of a film negative are silver crystals which are the light-sensitive halides that transform into metallic silver when exposed to light. This is what allows us to capture images with film and therefore why grain exists in every image ever captured on film. You will notice this grain as speckles, not always uniform, across the image.
The final appearance of these silver crystals as grain in your images will vary based on the speed (ISO) of the film you choose.
If you want to minimise the amount of grain – resulting in sharper images – you would opt for a slower speed film in which the silver crystals within the emulsion are smaller. Keeping in mind that this means that the film’s light gathering ability is very low, so you would need a well-lit scene in order to adequately expose your images and in some cases, a tripod for stabilisation so you can slow down your shutter speed.
If more grain is the goal, then you would be looking for fast film stocks where the crystals are much larger and therefore able to gather more light. Unfortunately, 800 speed is what we are limited to in colour emulsions nowadays (Portra 800 and Cinestill 800T) however in black & white we can reach up to 3200 (Delta 3200 and T-Max 3200).
Of course, exposure is going to play a key part in achieving the level of grain you prefer. If your setting means the film is underexposed, those light gathering particles are working overtime to attempt to pick up information, but if there just isn’t enough light, you will end up with a lot of grain in the shadows.
In underexposing any roll of film, you are likely to see an increase in grain for that very reason; the film is struggling to expose for the shadows and where it can’t, you will see that heavy presence of grain. This is why sometimes you might be shooting a 400-speed roll and end up with grainier images than you would expect – you would have been shooting in lower light conditions than usual and the film had to compensate.
Overexposure can have a similar affect in the highlights and midtones of your images.
More grain = higher ISO = more light gathering ability
Fine grain = small ISO = needs more light to expose
FUNDAMENTALS OF FILM
Film is light sensitive – this is what allows you to expose an image onto it. Once we break it down to the basics, it becomes easier to understand.
How much light you let in through the lens. An aperture of f/2.8 is a wide aperture (the lens is wide open and letting in a lot of light) whereas an aperture of f/11 is a small aperture.
This might seem confusing but once you know that apertures are based on fractions it becomes a lot easier. Just remember the bigger the number, the LESS light is coming in. Your aperture will also affect the depth of field in your image.
DEPTH OF FIELD:
Refers to how much of your image is in focus. In addition to aperture, this is also affected by the distance between your subject and the background. i.e., if someone were standing directly in front of a brick wall and you wanted to have the wall blurred out a bit more, you would need to have the person move further forward away from the wall to create a separation between the two focal points. You also have to factor in the distance between you and your subject as well (meaning you might need to back up to create more distance).
In the example above, adjusting the aperture has vastly affected how much of the garden beyond the book is in focus. At f/2.8, the background is blurred out whilst at f/11 individual branches, leaves and flowers are also in focus.
Individual water droplets could be captured at a high shutter speed of 1/500th of a second - but longer shutter speeds meant that the movement blurred. Water is often photographed at super slow shutter speeds to turn the water to 'milk' but for the purpose of this exercise, we were focusing on what you might photograph without additional gear (i.e. tripods/ND filters).
Shout out to Frank & Teresa at Bean Bar for graciously agreeing to be photographed the old fashioned way!
Automatic point and shoot cameras will control most of these settings for you, often having a few different program modes you can select such as landscape or flash with red eye reduction when photographing people. These cameras will be able to automatically detect the speed of the film once loaded and meter accordingly.
SLR cameras however will allow you to have more control over these settings that rely on your ability to capture a good exposure. Aperture can be adjusted by turning the aperture ring on your actual lens whilst the ISO has to be manually set on the camera, so your light meter knows how to rate the film. Your shutter speed can be adjusted on the dial on the top of your camera.
If you are indoors, you almost always should be using a flash. Even if it seems well-lit inside, your film will struggle to fully expose the scene and you will lose a lot of detail and see an increase in grain. A lot of the time when the flash is not used in low light scenarios, you might not even have enough light to expose ANY information onto the negative. So, the takeaway is, and we cannot stress this enough… USE THE FLASH!
Always be aware of your light source. Since we are dealing with film, we obviously won’t know the result of the final image until it has been developed so being aware of this is super important to avoid disappointing outcomes. The most common mistake we see is unintentional backlighting.
Now backlighting is when the main light source is coming from BEHIND the subject. So if you had a friend standing directly in front on a window with the sun behind them, then the camera will naturally expose for the brightest part of the image which is not your subject.
Your subject will be end up being rendered completely dark, possibly fully silhouetted while the sun through the window will end up being the brightest part of the shot. You can overcome this either by switching positions and having the sun behind YOU rather than the subject or alternatively you can use a FILL to fill in the shadows by firing the flash.
A classic golden rule when shooting film is to slightly overexpose rather than underexpose (which we might do with digital photography). More detail can be recovered from the highlights than the shadows on film which is why backlighting cannot be fixed after the fact. If the lab attempts to recover shadow detail, the entire image becomes extremely muddy and grainy.
How does film photography work?
When you are taking a photo on film, you are exposing a frame by controlling how MUCH light gets to enter through the lens and reach the film and for how LONG. Since your ISO is fixed (see section below on film speed), you must use your meter to adjust your other settings to correctly expose the scene. For example, if you have a 400-speed film outside on a very bright sunny day, there is going to be more than enough light to expose your film, so you will need to either adjust to a smaller aperture, which will let less light hit the film AND/OR raise your shutter speed.
It stands to reason then, that if you open the back of the camera without winding the film back into the canister, you are suddenly exposing a number of existing frames to light.
At best, if you close the back very quickly upon realising your mistake, most of your roll further inside the camera should still be okay, but the frames directly exposed will suffer from some form of light leak. This will appear as discoloured streaks through your frames.
At worst, you will completely fog part of your film which will essentially turn the negatives black, and you will lose any images exposed along that section.
Shooting film is very different than shooting digital. With digital you are exposing a sensor to light and can change at any point during shooting HOW sensitive the sensor is to light*(Changing the ISO).
*This is a simplification for the purpose of providing a basic understanding in regard to film photography.
With film, your ISO is predetermined before you even start shooting as this is based in the very emulsion of the actual film you load into your camera. This is why it is important to choose the right film for the right application.
HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT FILM
If you like to always have your film camera with you in case the opportunity calls for it, then you would want to have a versatile film on-hand so that you are not confined to having to shoot only outdoors/sunny conditions etc.
We always recommend a 400 speed as a general-use, multi-purpose film if you aren’t sure what you might end up photographing. This will allow you to confidently shoot indoor and outdoors in a variety of lighting scenarios (overcast day, indoors with flash etc).
Try: Kodak Ultra Max 400
If you want to focus on taking your photos outdoors in bright, sunny conditions, then you will have the best results using a film that is LESS sensitive to light. These films will be less grainy because the individual grains are finer and smaller since they do not have to be working super hard to gather light in these conditions.
Try: Kodak Gold 200
Try: Portra 160
Try: Ektar 100
LOW LIGHT SHOOTING:
If you intend to photograph at night or indoors at a party or venue, then you need a film that is MORE sensitive to light because there is not going to be a lot of available light to expose the film. These are also referred to as ‘fast’ films and will have a lot more grain.
Try: Kodak Portra 800
Try: Cinestill 800T
Try: Ilford Delta 3200
Try: Kodak TMAX 3200
You will likely also need to consider an electronic flash unit for consistent results in low light indoor shooting.
CONSUMER VS PRO FILM
Consumer film nowadays generally refers to the most versatile economical film options and usually can be purchased in packs like Kodak Gold and UltraMax + Fuji C200 and Superia. (Please note that stock of consumer Fujifilm has and continues to face major global shortages).
‘Pro’ film is film that happens to be formulated with more specific genres of photography in mind. For example, Portra is very popular for portraiture given its incredible rendering of skin tones so a lot of studio, fashion and wedding photographers will seek out this stock.
That of course, is not to say you CAN’T use any of these films as you so desire, but unless you have a specific idea in mind, you might end up with a film that doesn’t really complement your subject/s. You can always experiment once you start feeling confident!
How to Tell if a Roll has been Used
The quick answer: you can’t!
There is no way to tell if a film has definitely already been shot. The only way to see if there are images on the roll is to develop the film since it requires a chemical process to allow them to be seen. Of course, this means you take a gamble because if the film does end up being blank, you cannot simply reshoot the roll after it’s been developed.
The best practice to adopt is to ensure that once you finish a roll, to wind it fully back into the canister. This will allow you to distinguish which rolls you have already used from any fresh rolls in your bag.
Winding Back Film
As previously discussed, we need to make sure your film is safely wound back into the canister before you even TRY opening the back of the camera.
Automatic point and shoots typically have an auto rewind function that will trigger as soon as you shoot your final image on the roll. You might see your counter on the LED screen counting backwards down to 0.
If you for whatever reason want to rewind your film before the completion of the roll or just want to be certain that the film has wound back, there is often a button that can be pressed in (usually requires a pen) to manually rewind the film.
On a manual SLR, you must first press in the clutch (usually located on the bottom of the camera) to release the tension on the sprockets which are what help advance your film through the camera. This step is so important because if you just start winding without releasing that tension, you will end up tearing the film off the sprockets. So only after the clutch is fully pressed in, can you start to wind back the film (in the direction indicated on your lever - it is usually clockwise). You should be able to hear a slight 'pop' when you have fully rewound the film back into the canister and then if you keep winding, you will feel no tension at all because there is no longer any film moving through the camera. Only then can you open the back of the camera and take out your film.
- Never open the back of the camera during shooting or until the film is fully rewound back into the canister
- Ensure you are using a fast enough shutter speed (increase if you are shooting moving subjects)
- Your aperture lets more light in but limits your focal point so be careful to nail focus
- Use flash when shooting indoors OR in low light conditions
- Be aware of where your light source is and how it will affect your subject/s
- Press in the clutch before winding back your film
- Wind finished films fully back into the canister when they have been used
Part 2: Why Should you Keep your Negatives? How do you Store them?
Hopefully Part 1 of our Negatives 101 Series provided some insight on the value of your negatives for your photographic knowledge and awareness. Beyond that, there is the simple fact that it comes down to safeguarding your memories!
When you book in a film to receive scans only – we will ask whether you will be returning for your negatives (which we will always recommend).
Why Keep Them?
Your negatives are what you have exposed your images onto, ergo they are your original. If you ever lost the downloaded scanned files due to a hard drive or computer breakdown and we no longer have the scans on file, then the only way to retrieve the images lost would be to rescan the negatives! If you have discarded them, then you have discarded the hopes of recovering them for good. This is why it is good practice to hold onto them - just in case!
You might even want a particular image you took on your roll enlarged, so it would be best to go directly from the negative. This is true in any case when working with images; if you want the best quality results, you start with the original.
Even if you think the pictures you take right now aren’t that important, you may regret not keeping the negatives in the future when it turns out that that fun photo of your family would be perfect for a 50th celebration, or that photo of your pet as a puppy will be a comfort when they pass. The point is – these are memories that you can preserve for yourself by future proofing them right now.
How to store your negatives?
When your order is completed by the lab, it will be filed in a photo wallet like pictured.
Once you open the wallet, you will find your negatives cut up inside the inner pocket and a 4x6" index print will be filed behind. This allows you to see exactly what was on that roll and can serve as a useful reminder if it was taken some time ago.
If you rarely shoot film, you may choose to keep your negatives just like this and store somewhere safely. However, if you want a more organised system to archive your negatives, we keep Albox archival solutions readily available in-store for this purpose.
Albox Archival Solutions
Albox are an Australian owned and operated company, “specialising in the design of leading-edge products for records management - office, archival and photographic.” (Albox, 2021).
They carry a certified range of acid-free sleeving or ‘pockets’ not only for negatives, but for slides, documents and photographs.
All these pockets pass the Photographic Activity Test (PAT) of the National Archives of Australia. This is designed to, “test the quality of photographic storage materials.” (NAA, 2021).
Read more about the PAT via About the Photographic Activity Test | naa.gov.au
As such, Albox is acid, metal and adhesive free, meaning there are no chemicals or materials that can affect the quality of what you choose to store within their archival albums.
Storing 35mm Negatives
All 35mm film fulfilled by our lab is cut up into strips of 4. Thus if you were looking at a system like this for yourself, you would need the 4-strip pockets.
Carefully avoid touching the actual negative, and handle by the perforation (edges). For the best treatment, consider using cotton gloves.
You always know what way the pockets are supposed to face based on the text imprinted at the bottom.
If you shoot medium format (120) film, you will notice that we already provide the negatives back to you in Albox pockets - so all you have to do is acquire an album!
All these pockets are designed to be stored in their range of photo albums or ‘binders’ which meet the same archival standard.
These albums can not only accommodate your negatives, but also anything else you would like to add (sample of prints/slides/documents etc).
How We Started Archiving Our Negatives
Firstly, we will share a little tip with you that you might find helpful. When you pick up your film order, the receipt from the lab will have a sticker with a number on it and if you check the top of your negatives, there will be a matching number. This is called a twin check and it is how we match orders to the film as it is processed.
I choose to take advantage of it as well for my own record-keeping. I peel off the sticker on my order/receipt and press it onto the index print so I can easily discern what roll is which once they are removed from the wallets.
I then want to be able to have my index prints filed alongside my negatives, so I also use the 4x6 Photo Pockets in between.
The photo albums come in two sizes 25mm and 40mm. Pictured is the 40mm in Black, which can hold up to 50 pockets, whilst the 25mm can hold up to 30. If you shoot film regularly, we recommend the 40mm to maximise your filing space.
Summary: Archiving your negatives earlier rather than later can save you so much time, sweat and tears! It is a great way to track your photographic progress over the years and record what was important to you at that time. Taking responsibility for your negatives means that you can look back at the school/uni/work photos you shot with film 50 years from now!
PART 1: What are they? Why are they important?
Firstly, in the world of film photography you likely will come across the term ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ film. This refers to the way the image appears on the film (and also indicates a difference chemical process for development). For example, with slide film the images can be seen in realistic colour on the very negative – hence, a positive image.
A negative is therefore the opposite; it is an inverted image in which the brightest parts appear dark, and the darkest parts appear light/faint.
Any roll of film (colour or black & white), whether directly from a canister or within a disposable camera will have negatives that you have exposed your images onto, and these can tell you a whole lot about your photography once they have been developed.
Perhaps the most important lesson: EXPOSURE
"Exposure is the amount of light which reaches your... film. It is a crucial part of how bright or dark your pictures appear." Spencer Cox for PhotographyLife.com
If you have underexposed your roll, you will struggle to see much detail on your negatives, appearing almost transparent (also referred to as ‘thin’). This means that very little information has been captured on the film and this will result in a lack of vibrancy and brightness in your images - if anything can be seen at all. In low light without the use of flash, there might not be enough light to capture any information at all, resulting in a scanner not being able to detect anything as there is essentially a blank gap of unexposed film.
This is very easy to do as film is not as sensitive to light as digital – which is what most of us are accustomed to. So, we can mistake a low light scenario as having enough light because our phone can handle it and it doesn’t seem that dark to our eyes. Using flash indoors and in any low light scenario is the best way to avoid underexposing your negatives – particularly if you are using a disposable.
If you have a camera with a light meter, do not attempt to take a shot if the meter is letting you know that there is not enough light. It can be awfully tempting, especially if we really want to take that particular shot, but it’s just not going to have enough light to be worthwhile. If you intend to shoot in low light conditions, opt for a faster film like 800 in which the grain itself is bigger and therefore able to gather more light.
If your negatives appear very dark, you have overexposed them. This can occur for a number of reasons but some of the common ones include: firing a flash too close to a subject (check the minimum distance for your camera’s flash) or you have gone significantly over what your light meter indicates for the scene. For example, if you have a 400-speed film in the bright sun and would like to shoot wide open (with a f/2.8 aperture) but forget to adjust your shutter speed – you might end up overexposing.
We also see it occur very often at the beach where the bright sand bounces the light back - so be mindful of how your environment can impact your exposure (i.e. Where is the sun? Where can light bounce off?)
Slightly overexposing can be done with the intention to increase contrast or saturation, however when a negative has been super overexposed, you will see an increase in grain, a reduction in contrast, and duller highlights. In order to try and recover any other information that might be in your negative, the lab will usually try to compensate by adding density to reduce the intensity of the highlights.
Your negatives can be very telling when it comes to discerning whether the back of the camera had been opened at any point, fogging the film by accident OR if there is a way in which the light is leaking through the actual camera in which a repair is required.
We can see if the back of the camera has been opened at any point whilst shooting as there will be sections of light fogging and surrounding frames might also have discolouration bleeding into them as a result.
Light leaks commonly caused by a deterioration in the black out lining or elsewhere in the camera body can be determined by seeing whether the light leak extends through the edge signing (perforation) and is not confined to the frames.
Fogged negatives are those that have been completely exposed to light. They will appear completely dark, usually black. This could be the result of rewinding the film with the back of the camera open, or forgetting to wind the film back at all before removing the canister, leaving the film exposed. Sometimes it can be a case of someone accidentally opening the back of the camera like a friend or sibling, not aware that film is light sensitive.
Completely blank negatives mean that the film was never exposed to light, so it was likely unused or the film never moved from the loading/starting position.
Old film can often lead to a deterioration of overall colour and added graininess. This negatives also tend to be curlier and much darker.
If you are an avid film shooter or end up being really happy with the results you received from a particular film stock, you might want to know exactly what it was in order to replicate it.
Your film negatives will indicate the brand, the speed/film stock type, and the frame numbers on the edge signing (excluding specialty films as they are originally consumer films that are then carefully pre-exposed to achieve special effects). This is also particularly helpful when you want to have a specific frame reproduced as an enlargement or reprint as we work with the number of the negatives.
For more insight into what you can discern from your negatives and faults and solves, check out this comprehensive guide by Richards Lab.
Summary: Light is the most important aspect of film photography or photography in general since the word photography literally originates from ‘painting/drawing with light.’ It is how we capture an image on film. By exposing our film to light for a certain amount of time and knowing the right amount needed is how we create a good exposure. This is why you need to be paying attention to your negatives. Being able to see what happened and understand WHY is essential to getting the most out the analogue experience!
Famed as a 'must-have' for landscape photography, Kodak's Ektar 100 is a slow speed film with extremely fine grain and a warm tone.
MY EXPERIENCE SHOOTING EKTAR FOR THE FIRST TIME
I would not normally go for something like Ektar for what I prefer to shoot (portraits) but over the last year with lockdowns and isolation, I have been forced to go out of my comfort zone and shoot whatever is available to me in my immediate environment. This meant I was prepared to go on a casual drive through the countryside without a destination in mind; the idea was just to take a road I had never travelled down before to see what I could find.
This was how I stumbled upon a stack of crates on the side of the road near a vineyard on a Saturday morning as the sun was rising. The sun was creating a wonderful backlight through the crates and long shadows were forming on the ground, so I immediately had to pull over and snap away!
As my journey continued, I stopped to capture a few scenic shots to see how the warmth of Ektar would render the cool blues I was seeing in the landscape.
I love how saturated the colours ended up being and it actually handled the blues really well, particularly in the shadows. Where the light touched the leaves through the tree really boosted the green and I was glad to see this accurately captured in my film!
The film definitely has super fine grain, being one of the sharpest film stocks on the market. Kodak proclaims on its own packaging that it is the “world’s finest grain.” This can really help images pack a punch and I appreciated it even more in the details like brickwork and imperfections in the rose petals for example.
To put the prominent red tone of Ektar to the test I decided to shoot the sunset, a time when the lighting is already going to be very warm. I found that it really complemented the natural colouring in the sky and was particularly magical when using the sun as a backlight.
VERDICT: The warmth of Ektar 100 really provides a sense of depth and richness to your photos. It is very saturated in colour, particularly in more direct sunlight with high contrast. I would advise against it for portraiture given that same warmth and saturation in skin tone would not be ideal, but the rumours are true - this is the film for landscapes! Definitely have a roll spare for road trips or your general travels as it is fantastic for capturing nature and locations along the way!
ADVICE: My experience with Ektar was that it was very easy to overexpose. Of course, with film generally you can recover more from the highlights than the shadows, which is why I always tend to overexpose a tiny bit (more so with faster films) but with this film, it was not necessary. You can be confident that exact metering will provide stellar results!
DELTA 3200 at 800 ISO
Pushing and Pulling: "A technique of using a different ISO speed than what the film is rated for" (box speed).
DEFINITION PROVIDED BY THE DARK ROOM LAB
The beauty of shooting true black and white film is that we have the ability to push and pull the film since it is hand-processed by a lab technician. This can give you more flexibility when shooting if the conditions change or if you decide to over/underexpose a stop.
Keep in mind that this process is not a miracle solution to recovering a film that has been completely underexposed or overexposed i.e., shooting a 100 speed at 800 ISO.
It can also be interesting to see what affect of the film you get when not shooting at box speed. Delta 3200 is designed to be pushed up to 3200 ISO but usually it is recommended to be shot at 1600 for best results. I decided to see what would happen shooting at 800 to see a direct comparison to the fastest colour film stock available today. Portra 800 for example, maintains a pleasing grain even at this higher ISO.
As expected with the Delta 3200, there is a heavier film grain which evokes a true vintage feel, however shooting it down at 800 it is very pleasant and almost fine in even lighting. You notice the grain more where there is more contrast in the scene.
For my 800 test I took some images in low light as the film is designed for, but also out and about during the early morning. With more available light I was able to avoid shooting super narrow (aka where my lens struggles) and this was ideal for more scenic shooting. Obviously shooting in brighter conditions did wash out some more of the contrast but it still has a pleasant overall finish (maybe a little too flat for some tastes).
It is the versatility of this film that is what champions it for night photography and creative applications! If you know you want to shoot a black and white for a particular occasion (event/party/gig) you can be pretty safe with Delta 3200!
Reusable 35mm Film Camera
Agfa and Ilford have now provided film users the opportunity to shoot 35mm film without needing to own an old school camera. This means you can ditch the disposables and enjoy better picture quality!
*PICTURED HERE IS THE AGFA PHOTO REUSABLE, BUT ALL MAKES HAVE THE SAME CORE DESIGN
HOW TO USE
Remember: Film is light sensitive, so once you have successfully loaded your film – DO NOT open the back of the camera until the film has been rewound back into the canister.
Step 1. Place a AAA battery in the chamber at the bottom of the camera – this is what will power your flash.
Step 2. Open the side latch to open the back of the camera to reveal where you will be loading your film of choice.
Step 3. Your new roll of film will come with the tongue hanging out in order to be loaded. Place your film into the film chamber on the left side of the camera and ensure that it is locked in place (do so by pushing down the rewind lever knob).
Step 4. Now gently pull the film out of the canister, only enough to catch onto the take up spool (sprockets) on the right-hand side. Once you start to wind the film on, it should begin to move into the camera.
TIP: A good way to tell whether your film has been loaded correctly is to wind the first few shots through and as you do so, your rewind knob should move in the opposite direction. This indicates that the film is being pulled out of the canister and through the camera. Remember not to pull the film too far out of the canister when loading or else there will not be enough tension to allow you to see this.
Step 5. Once the film has been successfully loaded, close the back door completely.
Step 6. Advance and fire through the first few shots until your counter at the top of the camera reads 1. This is done to shoot through the film exposed during loading.
Step 7. Now you are free to shoot your roll! If you are taking photos indoors or in low light conditions, flash must be fired in order to capture enough light. To charge your flash, simply flick the switch on the front of the camera to charge and allow a few seconds until you see a red LED glowing on the top of the camera. This means that when you press your shutter down for the next photo, the flash will fire.
REMEMBER to switch the flash off when you are no longer using it. If left on you will drain your battery.
Step 8. When you reach the end of the roll, you will feel obvious tension preventing you from winding the film through any further. DO NOT force an extra shot. You risk tearing your film!
At this point, at the bottom of your camera is a tiny button called the clutch. This releases the sprockets which have been helping advance your film through the camera and will allow you to wind the film back.
TIP: We recommend holding this button in whilst rewinding
Now at the top of your camera on the left-hand side is your rewind knob. Unfold the lever across the centre but DO NOT pull the entire knob upwards.
Start to wind the film back in a clockwise direction. You should hear or feel a slight ‘pop’ once the film has wound itself fully back into the canister. Now you can confidently open the back of the camera and remove your roll ready for developing!
THE TEST ROLL
There are a number of reasons to shoot what is often referred to as a ‘test’ roll of film.
TESTING A NEW CAMERA
If you have just acquired a new film camera and are either a.) unsure whether it works or b.) unfamiliar with shooting it, then shooting your first roll as a test is a great way to gain confidence in either your camera or yourself!
I recently acquired a Canon EOS 1N which is compatible with my digital lenses (hallelujah) but thought it best to shoot a test roll since it had not been shot for about a decade. Stuck at home, I just shot off an old roll of Fujifilm Superia 400 that I had lying around. I paired the camera with my 100mm Macro and casually explored the back garden for anything to shoot.
What should I choose?
We recommend opting for a 400-speed consumer film like Kodak Ultra Max rather than anything super fancy or experimental to minimise the disappointment if the roll does end up being unsuccessful. As film shooters this is something we must be prepared for – but we weigh up the risk. If you are super stoked about a camera then it’s worth giving it a shot (or 24)!
What to shoot?
On a test roll we recommend shooting a variety of subjects and across different lighting conditions i.e. indoors and outdoors.
I personally like to check how well my lens performs so I will find something like a big sign with text and focus on that. Bracketing comes in handy here as well as I will often take a couple of consecutive shots at different apertures so I can see how the sharpness falls off. This was how I discovered that my nifty fifty on my Pentax was struggling wide open which is unfortunate for me since I favour portraiture over landscapes.
Another thing to take onboard is to identify what it is you really want to use the camera for. If you want to shoot portraits – then make sure you take some casual shots of your friends or family on the roll. Have some fun with it and don’t take it too seriously.
Essentially the gist is: don’t photograph someone’s graduation day with your test roll!
PREPARING FOR A GIG
If you have a particular shoot in mind whether that be for band photography, fashion or even an indoor birthday celebration, then you might want to shoot a test roll for the conditions that you expect to experience. In lower light situations you might have to turn to faster films than you would normally shoot and even then, that might not even be enough.
In the film market now, we are limited with super-fast colour emulsions maxing out at 800 in Kodak Portra and CineStill 800T. That may mean you turn to black and white which can expand up to 3200 and can easily be pushed in development. Consider Ilford’s Delta 3200 or Kodak’s T-Max P3200 which can give you peace of mind if you are shooting at 800 and it might not be working out. These films you have the option to shoot at 1600 if you just need one more stop of light.
A test film in this case lets you know whether your shoot with a particular emulsion or setting is going to be possible or if you have to amend your original plan. This preparation means you don’t end up disappointing other people who might be depending on you for some incredible shots.
CONCLUSION: Shooting a test roll can ultimately save you blood, sweat and tears!
Rollei Retro 80s First Impression
This black and white film produced by Agfa is an affordable slow speed emulsion packaged by Rollei (another old name that exists long in the mind of film users!)
A recommended use for this film is landscape photography, given the unique extended red sensitivity of the emulsion which can eliminate haze and if used in combination with a red filter, can mimic the effects of infrared film!
Rollei also suggests this film for general shooting in bright conditions so that’s exactly what I decided to put to the test!
In taking this film for a test run, I chose not to shoot with a red filter and just see how it rendered scenes without it. I set my ASA/ISO to 100 on my camera just to see how it might compare to other 100 speed black and whites (Kodak T-Max 100, Ilford Delta 100, Fujifilm Acros 100 II).
A lovely slow speed film should ideally render subjects nice and sharp with minimal/fine grain so in my mind, ideal for portraits.
In typical photographer fashion I coerced my best friend to impromptu model for me.
In order to try and accurately capture her skin tone I did have to slightly overexpose the shots, but I deliberately positioned her under the shade for more flattering even lighting. It is very easy to blow out the highlights with this film, so I do recommend shooting portraits in more overcast conditions or controlled lighting scenarios than for out and about snapshots.
Though I mainly prefer shooting portraits, when trying out a new film, I force myself to shoot for a variety of applications including landscapes, street, and wildlife to get a better overall feel.
Verdict: This film has lovely contrast with true blacks & whites plus assorted midtones throughout which keeps it interesting and dynamic. I would highly recommend lovers of landscape photography to try it with a red filter and experience some of the incredible features associated with infrared film (black skies anyone?)
If I were to shoot this film again, I would likely choose it for environmental portraits as it does have a ‘soft’ finish which is very much what evokes the ‘vintage’ its name suggests.
For a super affordable black and white, it’s great fun to experiment with!
Shifting Hues! Lomography Lomochrome Purple XR 100-400
An experimental hue shifting film that has an extended range of 100 to 400 - which will alter the effect depending on how you shoot.
To be fair, this was shot at a time where there was not a lot of green, instead a lot of fallen leaves resulting in the more pinky colour).
Our second roll we experimented at varying speeds to see how it affected the hues in the image.
Shot at 100, 200 and then 400 speed
It became clear that the super purple tones across the whole images were best achieved shooting at 400 speed, whilst the most subtle was at the lower sensitivity of 100 - affecting mainly the highlights whilst leaving a lot of the existing tones cooler. Our personal favourite result is the happy medium; shooting at 200 ISO which rendered most of the scene in both rich and lighter shades of purple whilst allowing a peak of the cyan to come through.
Shot at 200 ISO resulted in a pleasing result that included both the cooler purples in the foreground and the richer tones up the hill.
This film is designed to preserve red tones so you can still enjoy the colour shifting effects without jeopardising your subject.
Verdict: If you love shooting landscapes, we definitely recommend giving this film a try! Personally we weren't a huge fan of the film for portraits but think that if deliberately styled and being vary aware of the colour scheme - some incredible images could be captured that way!
Give it a try yourself!