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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.

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!!