Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Bronica S2 with Kodak 400CN

All my experimentation with the Bronica S2 so far has been with colour print film (namely Kodak's Ektacolor 160). This has largely been for practical reasons, although I'm certainly not complaining about Ektacolor 160 - it's a great film.

I live in a small town with only one camera store, and they don't sell 120 film. So I've had to source my film online - or grab a couple of rolls from a store when I happen to be in a city somewhere (although this option has tended to be horrendously expensive!). When I first got my S2, I wanted a reliable film (not expired), but reasonably priced - because I was only experimenting, so I knew I was bound to make mistakes (and I did). We all know that film costs - so as much as possible I wanted to keep that cost down. Kodak Ektacolor 160, purchased on-line within New Zealand, fit the bill perfectly. And as I said earlier, there's nothing wrong with it as a standard film. I'll certainly be using a lot more of it!

But the more confident I've become with shooting 6x6, using a light meter (it's been a long time), and feeling comfortable with the Bronica S2, the more I've been 'branching out' with other film. I wasted a Fuji Reala 100 film recently when my Yashica Mat didn't wind the film on properly (and it wasn't a cheap film), although I have had success with a second roll through my Bronica. It's not a film that impressed my greatly (I'll write about it soon), and I think I'll stick with the Ektacolor 160 instead (especially considering the price difference!)

13 Mile Beach Reflection. Kodak 400CN. Warm tint added in photoshop.
One film has impressed me however, and that's Kodak's 400CN colour processed (C41) black and white film. I love b&w film anyway - especially shot on medium format. I suppose it's what I think of when I think 'medium format' art photography. I've wanted to shoot some b&w for a while now, but didn't want to have to process the film myself - even though I have all the gear to do it! But that has also been a long time, and I'm a bit unsure as to how reliable my (outdated) chemical is going to be. So I wanted a black and white film that could either be processed by somebody else - or processed by a lab. Enter Kodak's 400CN.

13 Mile Beach Rocks. Bronica S2 & Kodak 400CN
I have used C41 processed b&w film before, with 35mm - but that was quite some time ago. Because I used to teach darkroom processing, most of my b&w experience was with developing films myself.  And I'm sure I will start doing it again - I just have to get off my butt and do it!

But to begin with, I really did want to minimise the risk factors involved - so getting a lab to process (develop and sleeve) 400CN was the ideal solution. What I got back from them was very clean, well exposed (yeah me), and contrasty negatives - that scanned beautifully in my Epson V700 scanner. It really is a great film to use if scanning the negatives yourself is your end goal (and apart from drum scanning, what other options are there?).

Lake Mahinapua Reeds. Bronica S2 & Kodak 400CN.
Of course getting back good looking negatives has a lot to do with the exposure you use in the first place. Since using the S2, my light meter of choice has been the Polaris Digital Flash Meter - a great meter that is simple to use, yet very accurate. As much as possible I use the 'incident' reading, but that isn't always practical when shooting landscapes (is that mountain 20 kms away really in the same light as you are?!).

So for the 400CN, I actually switched to 'reflective' metering - but I took an incident reading as well. Reflective metering is what your expensive camera uses (it measures the light being 'reflected' off your subject) and is generally pretty useable. When the two light readings didn't match up with each other (sometimes they were as much as two stops out!), I would 'split the difference' and set something in-between. This approach seemed to have worked well, given the exposure latitude of film. I'm getting good detail in both the highlights and the shadows with this technique, so I must be doing something right?

Lake Mahinapua Jetty. Bronica S2 and Kodak 400CN
I like a good, strong, contrasty black and white image - and I am certainly able to achieve this using Kodak 400CN. As a judge for camera clubs I get to see a lot of black and white images (99% of them conversions in photoshop), and the single biggest problem is a lack of contrast. The images are all mid-tone grey, dull and flat! I was taught in the darkroom to strive for a rich black and a clean white in every image, and that advice has stuck with me for over twenty years.

I'm not afraid of 100% black, or paper white, yet so many photographers nowadays are afraid of both. Especially shooting digital, where they have it drummed into them that they must never clip the highlights or the shadows! For many, that advice leaves then striving to get everything sitting somewhere in the middle. End result - flat, grey, dull, lifeless images. Want to see b&w done properly? Check out any print by the master - Ansel Adams. No dull boring gray images there. Just heaps of punch, and tones of contrast! Black blacks and white whites.

If you haven't ever shot with Kodak 400CN - either in 35mm or 120, then do yourself a favour and pick up a couple of rolls today. Use a light meter to get your exposures bang on, boost those contrast levels to get some really punchy images, and then marvel at the results. A great film, highly recommended. I'll definitely be getting some more for my Bronica.

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