Category: Film & Film Development

The Creative Camera > Film & Film Development
A walk with Ilford FP4 Plus 125

A walk with Ilford FP4 Plus 125

Skateboarder, Victoria Park Paignton 2021

This is the second roll of film I have put through my aging Pentax KM and I’m very much more pleased with these results than for the Kentmere 400 (also an Ilford product) that I tried first. Now, that could be down to inexperience, it was the first roll of film I had developed in over 40 years, or it could be to the way I was using the camera / lens. I certainly found the lens to be challanging, it was the Pentax 50mm f1.7 lens, which althrough equally aged does tend to get good reviews. The problem I found was in focusing it and the Kentmere images are definately off focus for this reason. For these shots, I went with the Minolta 35-70 F2.8-4 as I’d used this on my Lumix GX-80 with a lens adapter and achieved some really nice results. I felt than that I had a good chance on improving on the 50mm f1.7 and looking at the reults here, I think I did. For the next roll I shoot with the Pentax, I am going to shoot twelve on the Pentax 50mm, f1.7, twelve on the Minolta 35-70 and twelve on the Pentax 55mm f1.8 that came with the camera all those years ago. I’m keen to revisit the Pentax 55mm as I recall images from that lens being quite sharp. This approach will at least enable me to judge whether it is technique, or equipment.

All of the above images were processed in Bellini chemicals. For the developer I used Bellini Hydrofen @ 1:39 dilution for 6 minutes, for the fixer, Bellini FX100 ECO @ 1:4 for 3 minutes. The stop bath was just tap water. I digitised the negatives using a home made digitising rig consisting of a light box (flash lit), Lomography Digitalizer 35mm Scanning Mask, tripod and a Nikon D600 with Tamron 90mm f2.8 1:1 Macro lens.

Nailing the Film Experience

Nailing the Film Experience

Not being able to accurately digitise film makes it pretty difficult to work out if you actually took good pictures or not. Was the focus off, was the lighting good, was the subject matter sufficiently interesting to even bother! This is exactly the position I found myself in recently when I decided to experiment with B&W film and an old Pentax KM SLR that had been sitting in the cupboard for 40 years plus. Truth was, I was really keen to experience the whole emotional journey of taking the photos, developing them and finally, digitising them.

Now each part of that journey has challanges. For example, taking the photos is not quite as simple as pointing a modern digital camera at the scene and pressing the shutter. For those of you you that have experimented with the manual settings on your digital cameras you’ll know exactly what I mean. There’s a lot to think about with an SLR, especially if you have a fully manual lens attached. Firstly there’s managing the light. Old SLR’s such as the Pentax KM expose for the average light entering the lens. That means that providing the light is well managed the highlights aren’t blown and darks aren’t too dark. However, all too often the sky loses detail and the shadows can be a little too dark. Unlike digital though, it’s really difficult to pull any details out of areas that are too dark or too light. Getting the right exposure then becomes an art form and it’s the reason you used to see good photographers use external light meters in order to work out the best exposure for the scene they were photographing. The second problem is capturing an image worth the effort. With digital we are in “a throw away society” and any image not up to standard, whether through poor composition, poor exposure or poor subject matter, is tossed in the bin. Follow that same approach with film and I guarantee you that you’ll have only 5 or 6 decent images out of 36. You simply can’t leave anything to chance with film. Finally, there’s any number of things that can go wrong from poor focus through to incorrectly developing the entire batch. Trust me, you need nerves of steel to get something good with film.

Taking everything above into account, the images below are from my earliest experiments with film, in this case Ilford FP4 Plus 125.I chose FP4 because I liked the look of various images I had seen on Pinterest etc so it seemed a good start point. My very first roll had been Kentmere 400 but while I got some images from this roll, I wasn’t hugely impressed, either with my compositions or my focus. I chose to use the Pentax 50mm f1.7 for that roll and I had some difficulties with nailing focus. With the FP4 I chose to use the Minolta 35-70 f2.8-4 and the results from this lens are shown below. I think that here focus was a lot sharper plus the various images had some interest. Hopefully, you’ll agree.

The gear used to achieve these images was as follows:

  • Pentax KM SLR (circa 1980)
  • Minolta 35-70 f2.8-4
  • Ilford FP4 Plus 125 36 exposures
  • Bellini Hydrofen developer & Bellini FX100 ECO fixer
  • Home built flash-lit digitising rig using Nikon D600 and Tamron 90mm f2.8 1:1 Macro lens
A day out with Ilford FP Plus 125

A day out with Ilford FP Plus 125

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A recent shoot using Kentmere 400 resulted in decidedly indifferent results so yesterday morning I decided to shoot and process some Ilford FP Plus 125 B&W film that I have in the fridge using the same camera as for the Kentmere but with a different lens. The basic idea was to shoot the full 36 frames and develop and process the film later in the day. For this particular project I chose to again use my 40 year old Pentax KM which you may know is a fully manual SLR, sturdy but with absolutely no bells and whistles. I also decided to use the Minolta 35-70 f2.8-3.8 short zoom as I had used this on my Lumix GX80 (with an adapter) to great effect so I knew the lens was capable of giving excellent results. In the last shoot I had opted for the 50mm f1.7 and for some reason I had trouble nailing focus as the Pentax is pretty beat up and the mirror / fresnel screen are dirty and spotted and as such, fucusing was hit and miss. Because of this, pretty much all of the Kentmere frames suffered from focusing issues and being a reasonably experienced photographer I know the problem couldn’t all be down to me. This then was an opportunity to come at this from another angle, using the same camera but with a different lens and a different philosophy with regards shooting film. Hopefully the results will bear out that expectation!

With regards to location, I live on the coast so there are always opportunities to capture something interesting, whether on the beaches, piers and promenades or in the little harbours that dot the coast. Then of course we have the urban areas around the waterside which because of their rundown look make hugely interesting places to shoot in. Now, if you have read any of my blogs you’ll know that I am a first and foremost a documentary (candid) photographer rather than a landscape, sports or wildlife photographer. I do take the odd landscape and sports shot of course, but urban photographers rarely have access to the type of long lenses better associated with sports and wildlife. My concept of shooting is to use whatever camera I can lay my hands on with something like a 12mm f2, 12-60mm f3.5 or a 23mm f1.4. I don’t even own a long zoom, well, other than than the 80-200mm Pentax I bought for £5 on Ebay a few years back. This distinct lack of the “right technology” makes shooting wildlife and sports practically impossible, especially when compared to photographers sporting pin sharp cameras such as Sony, Canon and Nikon together with £1000+ long zooms. You pays your money ant takes your choice as they say.

Moving on, my aim as stated above, was to shoot the full 36 frames in one day so that I could process the film later that evening. The light was excellent, although I started at the wrong time of day really, 1pm is not ideal due to the harsh, high sun but it did create some vibrant colours eg blue skies and lots of lovely primary colours. In fact the scenes were so lovely I felt a little dissapointed that I wasn’t working with colour film but as this is an experiment in light management and focus control primarily, I can revisit and shoot colour another time, the coast isn’t going away anytime soon! The areas I visited were also surprisingly busy, a reason perhaps why there has been a slight uptick in the number of Covid-19 cases in the area recently. People were for the most part being sensible but not everyone seemed to have got the government memo about avoiding meeting in groups, even in open spaces. That being said, the vast majority were singles, couples or families enjoying some rare sunshine.

Grabbing a coffee, I can’t function without coffee, my first port of call for this particular area is Paignton Harbour, a quaint little tidal harbour just along from the very prominant pier. It’s always frequented by interesting older people, people out walking or running and the odd fisherman so therefore a rich source of interesting folk. Normally with film I don’t just snap away as each frame is precious but with 36 frames to eat through for this particular project, I wasn’t as picky as normal. All in all I ended up with about 20 frames or so from this location. Walking towards the pier and more importantly, the Geopark, I snapped a few passers by, particularly any lone individuals who foolishly choose to lean against the sea wall and stare into space. A lone person deep in thought can sometimes make an interesting photo. The Geopark is becoming a favourite place of mine because it attracts a very diverse range of people to the little round tables dotted about. There’s a cracking little coffee shop here that also sells chips and burgers so it’s a popular stopping off point for people out on a walk. Being a park there are also lots of kids but I have a rule about taking photos of kids where they can be identified so if I feel compelled to take a shot I always ask parents first. A long shot of a child on a trike or scooter from behind is one thing but I think it’s wise to be wary nowadays bcause many families are fractured and chidren are precious. I actually find this inability to capture children at play a real sadness as I am a huge fan of Shirley Baker who took some amazing B&W photos of children playing in the streets of Manchester etc in the 60’s. These are some of my favourite photographs so it’s sad how times have changed in this respect. Anyay, the Geopark afforded some opportunity, alongside the amazing cranes in the background to fire off another dozen shots.

Fortunately, a friend of mine happened by just as I was running out of ideas and mentioned that he’d just walked through the park and seen some lads scateboarding there so I decided to move on and see if i could capture one or two images of these lads in action. By this point I only had about 6 – 8 frames left so this would be a great opportunity to finish off the roll. I came across the lads who were hugely obliging and while I didn’t capture the sort of dramatic action shots I had hoped for, I certainly got one or two interesting pictures. At least I know where to go back to in the future.

Having already written an informative piece on processing Kentmere 400 in Bellini chemicals – visit here – I do not intend to duplicate this post. The only difference between the processing of the Ilford FP 125 and the Kentmere 400 was the development time. I reduced this from 6mins to 5mins 10s as recommended in the data sheet provided by Nik & Trick where I had bought my Bellini chemicals. Everything else being exactly the same. I have to say, loading the reel with the 36 frame film was a lot easier second time around thanks in part to practicing in the light with some wasted film and taking things a lot slower. The key is to start the film correctly in the reel (snip off the film corners to load it more easily) and take your time to spool on. This time I was able to wind on the whole 36 frames with relative ease so my comment in the earlier post about the reels only being good for 24 frames is nonesense!! Another thing I did this time was to leave the film on the spool until it was fully wound into the reel, only cutting it off the spool once fully loaded. This stopped the film from springing out everywhere in the bag which I know caused some damage to the Kentmere. I’ve got another box of Kentmere 400 so I will have another go with this film stock over the next few weeks so as to do a real comparison with the Ilford FP4 125.

A note on digitising my images

More images will follow once I get my new (to me) Nikon Micron 105 f2.8 AF D  macro lens later this week. All of the images I am posting, if digitised by camera, will have been done through the Fuji x-t1 with 18-55 f2.8-4 lens so I’m struggling to convert my film to high quality full size digital images. The images above, although looking good on screen, are still of poor quality given that the source is well exposed FP4 film. The new Nikon setup should overcome this issue as i’ll be using the new lens on a Nikon D600 full frame camera. The Nikon 105mm is a highly rated 1:1 macro lens which means that my digitised images will be larger and of much higher quality. Watch this space.

So what does expired film look like?

So what does expired film look like?

Well, that depends on your perspective of course. You could argue that that’s it’s bloody amazing to get anything off a Kodak Gold 200 from 1997, especially since it was from an old Minolta all-weather / underwater camera and in 110 format. That’s almost 23 years sat in a drawer. On the other hand you could argue that they look crapand should be binned. Personally, I’m going for it’s bloody amazing as to be honest, my expectations were more based on hope than any level of success.

One of the most apparent features is the magenta cast which is evident in most but not all of the images. The other obvious feature is the crackling effect, again evident in some but not all of the images.

Overall, I was really pleased to have recovered some long lost memories of a sking trip to Whistler in Canada in about 1996 / 97. This was a time when my knees allowed me to play rugby and go skiing. Regrettably, those days have now long gone.

Processed by Nik & Trick, Folkstone, February 2020.

Kentmere 400 – Development Process

Kentmere 400 – Development Process

PART 2: Film Development

As I mentioned in PART 1, Kentmere 400 is a part of the Ilford stable of products. It’s a low cost B&W 35mm film that often pitches up against Fomapan 400, Ilford HP5+ and Ilford FP125. Now I’ve used Ilford films in the past so I am aware of their characteristics but Kentmere 400, well, that’s another story. This was my opportunity to not only shoot it, but also to develop and then scan it.

Before progressing to the development process, let me summarise the materials and chemicals I was using. I had to figure this out from various facebook groups and websites so having it in one place might help someone else.

  • Paterson Developing Bag (or similar)
  • Jessops Dual Development tank (with 2 x 35mm reels)
  • Scissors & bottle opener (both knocking around the house)
  • The film (of course) – in this case Kentmere 400 B&W
  • Bellini Hydrofen developer
  • Bellini FX100 ECO fixer
  • Bellini Ornano Imbibente BB C 97 (this is to wash the film after fixing)
  • Dev IT App (for your phone) to time the development cycle
  • Thermometer
  • Several Paterson graduates – 45ml, 125ml and 600ml
  • A plastic measuring jug capable of holding 2L of water (for washing out etc)
  • A household water supply (or bottled water)
  • Some bulldog clips / coat hanger to hang out your drying film
  • Some 2L HDPE bottles to pour your developer, fixer and final wash into. The later two can be reused, the developer needs to be disposed of responsibly.

From loading the film to completing the developing process takes about 30 – 40 minutes if you go straight from loading the film in the developing tank and going straight into developing the film. I recommend that you use the graduates to measure out the developer (small one) and fixer (mid sized one) so they are ready to go into the larger 600ml graduate before adding to the tank as required. I also recommend putting your phone on airplane mode if you are doing this in daytime or evening as you really don’t want to get a call on your mobile while your timing the various cycles.

First and really important job, put the scissors, bottle opener, film cannister and development tank and reels into the Paterson darkroom bag. Forget any one item and you’ve got a problem. Check and double check!

Having not done any film development since the mid 1970’s I knew that there would be a few challanges along the way but I didn’t expect the first of these being how to get the 36 frame film on to the reel. Bearing in mind everything was being done in a Paterson darkroom bag, all went well until I tried to squeeze the full 36 frames on a single reel. Although I am sure that they should hold a full 36 frames It seems like the reels are best suited / designed for 24 frames because I found it really difficult to wind on the full film. In the end, I decided to cut the film at the point where it refused to go any further, and to wind the last frames on to spool two. Interestingly, when I checked later, I had cut exactly at the 24th frame which does rather reinforce the message to shoot 24 frame film in future!! That’s disappointing of course from a cost perspective. I can still shoot 36 frames but I’m going to have to sacrifice one frame around the 24th point. Other than this, I found loading the film relatively easy. Interestingly, as I was working on the loading in the bag, I fould I was doing it with my eyes closed!! No reason for that of course, just strange. My wife thinks it was the brains way of concentrating. Maybe, that makes sense!

Once the film was loaded, I was able to work in light. Using Bellini hydrofen, which I’d bought from the ever helpful. Nik & Trick in Folkestone, the quoted development time for Kentmere 400 is 6 minutes dead. Nik and Trick had already told me that the dilution was 1+39, which was confirmed by the info on the Bellini website, so I measured off 600ml total (17ml hydrofen + 583ml tap water) at just over 20 degC and set to one side while I did a prewash, again at 20 degC. This was a case of just filling the tank and agitating slowly for a minute. Pouring this away, I checked the temp of my developer mix to ensure it was at 20 degC – close enough. I’d already set the timer on Dev It, a natty little free app to 6mins DEV (at 20 degC) + 1 min STOP (I decided just to use water for this) + 3 min FIX (again from Bellini). I’d already measured off the 1+4 ratio needed ie 150ml fixer + 450ml water (600ml total) at 22degC so I was now good to go. 

I started the timer and poured in the developer agitatating for 30 seconds to thoroughly wet the film. There after the timer prompted me to agitate on the minute mark with I did for 15 seconds (using the agitation stick). After the 6 mins the timer prompted me to go to step 2 which was to pour out the developer and do a STOP wash. As mentioned, I’d already decided to use water as the STOP bath and I’d prepared 2L of this earlier. I wanted to give it a good wash over the 1min so I decided on fill, 15s agitation, pour out, replace, 15 seconds agitation, pour out, replace, 15 seconds agitation. That filled up the 1 min about perfectly.

Moving on, I poured out the water and added the prepared FIX, this time at 1+4 ratio and again at 20 degC (or near enough). I don’t know if it’s necessary but I followed the same 15s agitation at the beginning of each minute as for the DEV cycle. After the 3mins was complete, I poured the mix into a 2L container as I have read that, unlike the DEV, this can be reused. 

Finally, I did a final wash using tap water and a tiny amount of Ornano Imbibente BB C 97 which basically creates what looks like a soapy wash. I used a little too much the Ornano though, only a few drops are needed apparently, so it was pretty soapy but as for the FIX, I saved what wasn’t spilled / lost for future use. I’d bought some 2L HDPE containers from Parallax Photography in London just for this purpose. However I think I’ll also get some 5L ones as well as I think you can create a lot of waste fluids, especially the non usable DEV. 

At this point I was able to open the Dev tank and see if I’d managed to develop anything. This is both exciting and traumatic in equal measure as hours of trudging around in the cold plus the last hours efforts would have been for nothing. As it was, I was greeted by some decent looking, contrasty negatives which I duly hung out to dry after squeeging off the excess water. All this being done at midnight meant there was no inclination to fiddle with the negatives, it was time to sleep. Fortunately they looked equally as good on inspection in the morning so it appears I’m good to move on to stage 3 which is working out how to get them into the digital domain. Final job before then is to trim them to fit the sleeves. A job for after breakfast. 

Once I’ve figured out how best to turn them into digital images, I’ve two ways in mind, I’ll document that process too. In the meantime, here’s a pretty crap mobile phoned scanned image just to see what I had managed to capture. The film wasn’t flat, hence the distortion and I was just using a phone app to convert B&W negative to a B&W positive (with some basic snapseed editing) so don’t expect too much at this stage!!

Kentmere 400 – Worth the Effort?

Kentmere 400 – Worth the Effort?

PART 1: Using Film Again!!

Recently I decided to step back 40 odd years and shoot 35mm film. I’m fortunate in that I still have my old Pentax KM from the 1970’s so a quick check over, new battery and a good clean, and bingo, the old girl purred back into life. Not knowing how light tight she was I decided to go for Kentmere 400, an easy to locate, cheap but well thought of black and white film. The other thing going through my mind was that I’d not played with developing since the mid 1970’s so another hurdle and another reason not to go mad. As it was, buying the films, some basic darkroom gear and chemicals still set me back £70 and that was only because I had some equipment to hand.

First step, take a wander, find interesting subjects and take great pictures. I’m lucky in that I live in the southwest UK so there’s plenty of good subjects around, both on the coast, a little inland and, importantly fo rme, on the streets. That doesn’t necessarily mean my photos will be any good but good subject matter is all around me. My only problem, grey sky’s and rain. Weeks of it. Hardly a blue sky in sight. Undaunted, and keen to see whether the Pentax KM still had it, I pushed on and shot 36 images over a week or so. I’ve no idea what I shot of course so it’s going to be interesting to see exactly what’s on this roll assuming I’m able to develop it without issue. That’ll be part 2 of this blog by the way.

One of the key things I learned, or more correctly, remembered during this project was that with film, you need to slow down and think about what you’re shooting or going to shoot. Not only that, with the Pentax KM I was working old school. No A, P or Auto settings, just manual. The lenses I have are also all manual focus. Now, to be fair, there’s no big problem working in manual, thecamera has a light meter so set the ISO (or ASA as it says on the dial), set your desired shutter speed and open and close the aperture to let in the right amount of light. Once you’re correctly exposed, it’s just a matter of focusing and pressing the shutter button. Prefer to shoot in aperture mode, no problem. Set your aperture, and then adjust the shutter speed to achieve the right light into the camera. You can slightly under or over expose of course, plus you can use an external light meter to better capture shadows or highlights. Yo can even use the fabled zone system to expose your film but that’s for another day. Which ever method you choose, it’s pretty difficult not to capture anything and to be hones, you’re more likely to be slightly out on focus than exposure.

Did I enjoy the experience? Well, it was a little strange not being able to see the image on the screen straight after shooting and of course, capturing anything using fully manual settings and a manual focus lens does mean you tend to miss more than you capture as it’s a much slower process overall. There’s also a learning curve to master. That all being said, it was huge fun to go back 40 years plus it was actually good to slow down and think about the shot. Some shots I would have snapped on my digital camera I let go because I didn’t think they were good enough. That’s a relatively new and enjoyable experience.

PART 2: Developing Film (Coming Soon)