Is Ilford FP4 Plus 125 still the darling of film photography?
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, focusing 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.