Clip, judge and run

Strange how with the passage of time you start to look back with rose tinted spectacles. Three times over the last week I have had conversations about missing the routine of hanging round a film lab after a shoot. For me it was pretty much a daily occurrence, though at the time, I saw it as a real inconvenience.

The last E6 film I had processed was on 21st December 2004. I remember the shoot vividly. A freezing cold day at the Top Gear test track at Dunsfold. Forward 24 hours and a phone call from my lab… “There’s a problem with your action shots”.  “Are they a bit dark?” I asked. “No, only about four shots have come out on each roll”.

I immediately left the Christmas party I was at and headed to the lab in Richmond. Three rolls of film were on the lightbox. Most frames had just half a car. Shutter failure.  My trusty 14 year old EOS 1 had finally given up. The final straw. Digital beckoned.

Even Steve the E6 manager, who was part magician, part agony aunt, couldn’t help. He was usually there to reassure me with a cup of coffee. “Push that half a stop and it will be fine,” he would say. And he would be right. I frequently ran clip tests – a couple of frames cut off and processed for assessment before running and correcting the remainder of a roll. (See below). Not even he could work his magic this time.

Audi at Top Gear Test Track, Dunsfold

Audi at Top Gear Test Track, Dunsfold

Luckily there were enough useable photographs to salvage the job, which required action images to run over a DPS. More fortunately,  I had used another camera for the rest of the shoot, so nothing else was effected.

Rose tinted spectacles? I went back into a pro lab for the first time for many years last summer. The slightly sweet smell of the warm chemistry, combined with filter coffee did bring back some fond memories. I suppose the time spent at a lab was a debrief session, where you caught up and gossiped with other snappers. This still happens, but in isolation, like much communication now, via  email or Twitter. So would I really turn the clock back? No. For a lot of things, digital is too good.

One step forward, one step back

It’s a long time since I played with a video camera. Apart from the occasional school nativity play or pantomime, it must be 10 years since I videoed my daughters as toddlers. After my trusty old Sony camera started to play up I reverted to taking stills of the family. So it was with some hesitation that I read the instruction manual for my Canon 5D MKII, to investigate the DSLR’s moving image capabilities. After two years of ownership, I’m not sure the manual had even been opened! I also fired up iMovie on my Mac Book Pro for the first time, to edit the test shots. So……..the results of about 15 minutes shooting and a couple of hours on the computer:

Obviously a bit rough around the edges, but it was interesting to try out!

Having learnt something new, I couldn’t resist buying a piece of older technology – namely a Nikon FM2. I used to have one of these in the mid to late 1980’s, but I sold it, along with all my other Nikon equipment in 1991, and jumped ship to Canon and their EOS 1. They were a long way ahead of Nikon with autofocus systems. From memory,  Nikon needed four years to catch up. As the EOS cameras were revolutionary, they became a must for anyone shooting sport, and I never regretted moving to Canon.  But I did regret not holding on to the FM2. So a couple of days before Christmas, after seeing an immaculate example on Ebay , I became an owner for the second time.

My new Nikon FM2

My new Nikon FM2, taken with my iphone

Both my daughters were used as more or less willing models while I put around half a dozen rolls through the camera to test the functions. I think it will have more use for portraits, so I guessed this would be a good starting point. The results:

Katie - Nikon FM2 with Kodak Color Plus 200

Nikon FM2 with Kodak Color Plus 200

Katie - Nikon FM2 with Kodak Color Plus 200

Nikon FM2 with Kodak Color Plus 200

Katie - Nikon FM2 with Kodak Ektar 100

Nikon FM2 with Kodak Ektar 100

Beth - Nikon FM2 with Kodak 400 colour negative

Nikon FM2 with Kodak Ultramax 400 colour negative, converted to B/W in Photoshop

It’s interesting to see how your approach to taking photographs changes when using film, as each frame has a value. Greater consideration is given to a scene before the shutter is pressed. I tried an experiment two years ago where I allowed myself only one frame to capture an image. Using a Contax G1 35mm camera with colour negative film, it was strange relying on pretty much your first impression. And refreshing too. There was no preview, and no histogram to distract, no matter how hard I looked at the back of the camera. It took me back to how I was working 10 years ago, and in some ways led to more spontaneity. It’s worth trying every now and again. Even though I love using digital and doubt if I’d could go back to shooting much film commercially, it does help you think differently.

bin in La Linea, Spain

bin in La Linea, Spain - Contax G1 with Kodak Ultramax 400 colour negative film.

Kodachrome – no more!

Austin Healey rear badge

One of my last Kodachrome images - taken in 1990

I’ve recently been reading postings on forums regarding the demise of Kodachrome, a film which has been used by generations of photographers, amateurs and pros alike.  Introduced in 1935, it was available in various forms until 2009, when Kodak announced it would cease production due to a fall in demand. If you are one of the few who have any rolls left, remember you have until 30th December 2010 to get it to Dwayne’s Photos in Parsons, Kansas, the last place still processing this film, when even they will stop.

I shot my first rolls of Kodachrome in 1979 and was amazed at the saturated colour which could be achieved compared to contemporary offerings, such as Ektachrome 64, also from the Kodak stable. At that time, most of my professional work was in black and white and I don’t remember using it for commercial photography until 1988, when I started to contribute to Car Magazine.

Car was the leading automotive magazine of the period, and under the art direction of Adam Stinson, it produced some of the most innovative car photography in Europe and the USA, influencing many magazines worldwide. Adam favoured Kodachrome, so when I was invited to start shooting for Car, I spent many an hour negotiating the Fulham Palace Road during the London rush hour, trying to get to the Kodachrome collection/delivery point in time to meet the evening deadline. At that time, barmy as it may seem, film shot in the UK could only be processed in Paris. I think it was a 24 hour turnaround, and it was always an event opening each of the returned boxes and spreading the frames, in their classic card mounts, over the lightbox.

Ultimately, for me and I suspect for many others, this impractical method of processing was the beginning of Kodachrome’s downfall. As a new generation of films emerged around 1990 which provided equally great colour rendition and saturation, practical alternatives were established. For many Fuji Velvia, still in production today, became the alternative of choice. It was possible get this, and other E6 slide films, processed quickly and easily and in front of an art director in under two hours. Commercially it made sense to move away from Kodachrome – sadly, it no longer fitted into a lot of photographers’ workflows. Then digital came of age!

The last time I used Kodachrome was around 1990, when  I was asked to shoot a series of car books. After the first book, I made several calls to the publisher asking to switch from Kodachrome. He saw the quality of the Velvia test rolls I had sent, and (reluctantly at first) agreed to let me shoot the remaining books on Fuji stock. To this day, I still think this was the right decision!

Despite it being something that I currently wouldn’t have much use for, I’d love to see Kodachrome survive in some form, as it adds to the flavour and mix of the photographic world. Unfortunately the process is so complicated, I doubt it will be viable for anyone to try to take it over.

As a footnote, Polaroid pretty much finished instant film production a couple of years ago – but with the Impossible Project taking over what remained of the production plant, the concept of Polaroid instant film is still with us. (Fuji instant film has been in constant production for many years, but doesn’t have the same following). Polaroid themselves have taken an about-turn and have produced a new camera and instant film, the Polaroid 300 – and have appointed Lady Gaga as their Creative Director, so there may well be hope for analogue devotees!