Film Developing

The Simple and Reliable Sekonic L-308S

There's are only two things that I always have on me when I'm shooting film. The first is a camera loaded and the second The Sekonic L-308S is one of them. I actually started out with the more complicated and feature rich Sekonic L-358 but sold it because I never really used the flash sync and studio features. The basic Sekonic L-308S is a perfect shape, able to slip into my pocket pretty easily and barely larger than a deck of cards.

In use it's extremely simple, I usually keep it in ambient mode and take a reading of shadows and direct light. If the emulsion is versatile I'll just set my settings for shadows and overexpose the film a few stops. In cloudy weather where exposure is constantly changing, I'll remeasure my exposure whenever I think there's a large shift in light.

The device is pretty durable being able to take drops and get bounced around without affecting use. It also doesn't break the bank and can be had for around $50-$100. I got mine through a Craiglist purchase and wouldn't be surprised if there aren't a few available in your town as well.

It's rare in photography when a great tool doesn't come with a high price tag. When shooting film being able to know your exposure is correct and you are not underexposing frames is great insurance. The simple and affordable Sekonic L-308S delivers on that promise every time.

Kodak Ektar 100, My Favorite Medium Format Color Film

When it comes to 120 film you don't have as many choices with color film, or even black and white film for the matter. When you think medium format my tendency was to first consider slide films but the flexibility and cost savings of C-41 make it fit my workflow much better. What I look for in every film is versatility, consistency and value. And after 3 years of shooting various color films in 120, I've landed on Kodak Ektar 100 as my favorite color film for medium format.

Versatility

It seems a bit counterintuitive that a 100 speed film would be really versatile but the thing that makes Ektar great is the ability of it to be overexposed 3-4 stops with little downsides. When shooting medium format cameras like Hasseblad 500CM and Rolleiflexes, I'm less inclined to make quick changes in focus, aperture and shutter speed. My favorite combination at the moment is to have a 50mm lens on the 500CM and keep the aperture fixed at F4 and shutter speed at 125. This exposes the shadow fine in direct sunlight and allows me to hand hold the camera. It also adds the risk of overexposing the film multiple stops.

With other C42 films like Lomography 800 pushing the film 3-4 stops results in a pretty big loss of contrast and saturation. Ektar absorbs the extra stops well and only gives you a slight color shift, deep blues turn turquoise, and the images keep their characteristic contrast.

When shot at box speed and accurately exposed the film is saturated and contrasty. I especially likes how vibrantly Ektar renders reds and greens. It's a perfect film for landscapes and nature. Ektar is a natural extension of Kodachrome, albeit with toned down saturation and vibrancy.

The one downside of Ektar is that its ISO is so low. I only shoot Ektar when the sun is out and I have a lens that can stop down to at least F4. If it's cloudy out or getting later in the day I'll have to make sacrifices that are uncomfortable with Ektar. Either using specific lenses with larger apertures or lowering my shutter speed and hoping my hands don't shake.

Consistency

I haven't had a bad roll of Ektar yet even while making mistakes. The film reacts consistently to all lighting scenarios and is something I'm comfortable using in many different cameras. It's something I trust the more I use it and now something I can predict how how images will come out. That gives me a lot of pacee of mind in using it as a film for every scenario. Basically I grab it and go, it'll be fine.

Value

You'd think that a film this consistent with such good color rendition would cost a lot but Ektar currently hovers around $5 a roll and $25 for a five pack, a bargain. With Ektar I get a characteristic look I really enjoy at a really great price point. It's a great film to start with and a great film to get stuck with in the long run.

In the end Ektar comes out on top because it behaves nicely and gives me a consistent image that I'm happy with. While there are maybe better options out there in terms of color rendition and possibly quality I don't think anything matches the value proposition of Ektar. It's the film you'll find me shooting on most days with nearly every medium format camera I own.

4 Ways to Save Money Shooting Film

With all the ways we have to take photos now, shooting film is definitely not one of the cheapest. You constantly have to buy film, develop it and find a way to scan it. I still love it for the surprise factor and that it forces you to pay a little more attention. But what about the costs? For about 15$ a roll with scans things can add up fast. For me, one roll a week would add up to 676$ a year! That hurts even doing he calculation.

Even though it cost more, doesn't mean there aren't ways we can make shooting film cheaper. Here are my top 4 ways to cut costs.

1. Developing Film

The biggest way to save money on film cost is learning to develop film yourself. Black and white film development, which is a bit simpler than C-41, cuts cost down to about $7 for each roll and even less if you develop in bulk. You'll learn a lot more about the development process and have total control over how the image comes out.

Some negatives I developed back in the day.

Some negatives I developed back in the day.

The reason I don’t develop my own film is time. The development part isn’t too bad but the scanning part can be very tedious. You’ll need to get a flatbed scanner and spend time getting your images into a digital format. A lot of people enjoy scanning and having absolute control over the entire process. If you do everything in house you'll save a lot of dollars too.

2. Choose your chemistry wisely

Different types of films are gong to cost different prices to develop. If you’re developing yourself or going through a third party the cost of processing from highest to lowest is typically going to be slide (E6)/Black & white/color negative (C41). C41 at third parties developers is going to be the cheapest because the process was pretty well automated since the early 2000s, or peak film use. We used to have one hour film development in every drug store and camera shop and those same old machines are still in use today.

Back in the early 2000's C41 was the most widely available and accessible film. E6 slide film was more niche and professional and typically sent out for development from specialized labs. The same is true now, there are three film developers in Austin and none of them develop E6 on the premises anymore, it’s all sent out of state for development.

Lastly E6 film is typically more expensive than C41 films. You can get three rolls of Fuji Superia 400 for the cost of one roll of Fuji Velvia 100. The additional developing costs due to having to send the film out compounds the cost of shooting E6 over C41.

3. Shoot more films per roll

My local camera store sells expired film at $2 bargain basement prices. I’ve been a huge sucker for it and purchase whatever seems interesting at the time: Superia 200/800, York film, even garbage Walgreens film. It let's you get a taste of what the film is like at a ow cost. But I realized it was also eating my paycheck and making me shoot less.

You really don’t lose out on shooting a roll of 24 but you pay for it in development costs, which is typically the same for a roll of 24 vs 36. So let’s just say a scan and dev cost you 13$ a roll. That’ll be $0.54 an image for the roll of 24 exposures and $0.36 for a roll of 36 exposures. The number of images adds up too. Shooting 10 rolls of 24 exposure rolls is going to be 240 images vs 360 on 36 exposure rolls. There aren’t many 36 exposure roll color films out there but seeking them out is going to save you a pretty penny.

4. Making Sure Your Gear is Solid

You can lose a lot of frames due to light leaks, underexposure and flare. Sometimes the effects are very cool and for some, a big reason why they shoot film, the random organic chaos you can have in an image. When I'm not experimenting I like to have consistent images and repeatability. Here are some simple tips to keeping your camera in check.

That’s a leak.

That’s a leak.

When light seals go bad you get light leaks, usually really small ones add a little flavor to your images but big ones destroy images. Changing your seals is pretty simple and something worth learning. It'll save you a lot of time and money down the line.

Second, use a lens hood. It's one the best ways to cut down on flare, haze and increase contrast in an image. My camera feels a bit naked without it so I have a few metal ones I use on different lenses with step-up and step-down adapters. It's one of the best $10 investments you can make for a lens regardless of film or digital.

Even after shooting as many rolls as I have, I'm not comfortable in guessing my exposures with film. I always carry around a simple light meter to start any shoot. This has saved my butt in difficult metering circumstances like cloudy days and shooting indoors. I recommend the classic Sekonic L-308 which is a workhorse and just dead simple to use. I get more usable shots using a light meter and that saves me money and time.

Shooting with film should be fun, and it shouldn't bankrupt you either. With a couple of tweaks to your practice you can save a few dollars that will hopefully allow you to tackle bigger projects. Do you have other ways to save money shooting film?

Old School Photo Lab: Mail Order Reviews

I'm lucky enough to live down the street from my film developer, Austin Camera. While that is great for me now, I've also lived in a smaller city and had to take my film to a store that shipped out for development. To help everyone out I'll send some rolls out to popular online mail order developers and let you know what I think about their services. 

Starting off is Old School Photo Lab which is based out of New Hampshire. They have been active in the film photography community on social media and seem like genuinely nice people. The twitter community swears by them and they were easily the first service I wanted to test. 

Ease of Use

Old School Photo Lab (OSPL) has a very straightforward process. You first decide what you want in terms of development: film format, film type, prints, scans and extras like push processing and cross processing. After that you add the items to your cart. If you are have multiple rolls with the same needs you can just increase the number for those settings. You then print out a mailing label and a receipt and send it off. Postage is included in the price so no need to go to the post office.

I found  only one issue with the service. While I was using the mobile system I could not figure out how to delete a messed up item. I had to go to my laptop and redo my order, this isn’t a huge deal but with mobile being so prevalent it’s something that should be fixed or made simpler. If I’m missing something really blatant about this let me know. 

Where's the delete?

Where's the delete?

Although it has some extremely small quirks OSPL is still super easy. 4.5/5

Timeliness

I sent out my film on October 24th and received my scans on October 31st and the negatives came on November 3rd. That’s one week for scans and 10 days for negatives to get back to you. That’s pretty darn fast, I bet the biggest driver of time is how long it takes the film to ship to them in NH. 

Not sure how they can make it faster and still be economical  5/5

Quality of Scans

Scan quality was great. I had sent 120 film and went with regular scan quality. They were sized at 2416x2380 and I really liked how the they handled my scans. The images were scanned to allow the customer to choose the final look of the image and OSPL were restrained when it came to contrast adjustment and saturation. This approach is really what I’m looking for in a scanning service that are not super familiar with what I like to do with my images. 

To get your scans back you are emailed a link to their website with a password. I’m used to having a dropbox link emailed to me and adding the folder to my account but I’ve filled up my dropbox doing this pretty quickly.

Using the secondary website was easy but I didn’t like that in order to download the images on the website required a zip file to be sent to you. I’m not opening that at work. To get around this they offer an app in which you can download the images directly which really is the best of both worlds. I’m not a huge fan of downloading another app but if you use OSPL a lot it is a lifesaver and very smart move on their part. 

5/5

Customer Service

I didn’t have any issues with my order so I didn’t need to call them, which in reality can be the best customer service. When I got my negatives back in the mail they included a hand written thank you card and some complimentary prints. While these things don’t cost a lot they didn’t need to either. I’ve heard other people getting candy back with their negatives and weird requests for the film canisters as well. 

Another part of customer service is servicing the community that supports you. Check out this exchange with Jon. OSPL knows their position in the community and that they can really help people out when they have problems. It doesn’t take a lot of time or money but this type of care really shows. 

jon_wilkening_on_Twitter___Hey__OldSchoolLab__I_developed_3_rolls_of_Ektar_this_morning_and_they_came_out_blank_and_bright_pink__Are_the_chemicals_spent__.png

They go above and beyond 5/5

Value 

One roll of 120 film cost me $16.00 and was shipped free both ways. If I was to ship it on my own it would cost about $6, I’m pretty sure OSPL get’s some type of break but that’s about $10 for development and a total steal. 

Not sure how much lower you're expecting. 5/5

Overall

I couldn’t be more happy with the service and only really had some minor issues with the ordering process which I think could be easily fixed. I probably should keep this review just to the service they provided me but their impact on the community shouldn’t be under emphasized. They care about the community that they serve and when do that you help people who may never spend a dollar with you. That’s paying it forward. 

Maybe the best out there. 5/5