Episode 2 of our Podcast, Scary Stories to Tell in the Darkroom
Large format is where it’s at. It just is. When I first saw enlargements that my peers in college were doing with their 4x5 cameras, my brain basically exploded (thus explaining my GPA). When saw my first Alec Soth show at the Minneapolis Art Institute, I knew I was hooked. There is no conventional imaging medium that even comes close. Phase One can pack as many megapickles as they want into a 6x4.5 sensor, I’ll take a sheet of 4x5 film any day of the week.
But alas, the workflow totally sucks. The cameras are a bit…finicky, to put it mildly. It’s incredibly unforgiving. We used to have this stuff called Polaroid that allowed you to at least preview your shot, but they took that away from us. And labs want you to pay $20 bucks per sheet (!!!) for them to give you an Imacon scan of your mistakes.
No thank you, I think there is a better way.
This summer I embarked on an editorial project for Maine the Way, shooting 4x5 portraits on Provia 100F at a couple of Maine State Prison locations. These images were going to go into publication in a large magazine, sometimes requiring double page spreads. I knew I wanted scans that represented the image the way I would have printed 4x5 in the darkroom. That means all the edge material had to be intact. Imacon scanners can’t really do this. Flatbed scanners are laborious to use and often let you down, and drum scanners are prohibitively expensive.
I decided to try something new.
Using repro techniques that rely on high resolution camera capture, Nikkor macro lenses, and a high CRI Rosco light source, I can quickly and efficiently make high resolution scans of these films that are printable up to 20x25 without up-res’ing.
And now, you can too.
These scans come in at roughly 6063x4048 pixels, which translates to about 25mp. You can hit 20x25 by printing at 240ppi, or 16x20 at 300ppi. Careful upresing will push it even further. They’re incredibly detailed, the files have enormous latitude and potential in the editing process. For C41 the color conversions are based on Fuji Frontier color science, and thus meet the industry favorite profile you have come to expect from Portra & Ektar films (Fuji films being largely extinct in sheets save for their E6 stocks).
You might say, 25mp? That’s crazy, the scans I’m used to are measured in the hundreds of megapixels. That’s true! Traditional drum scans or even properly done flatbed scans are massive, and can be printed to mural sizes. These scans are not meant to compete with a drum scan. In fact, the great thing about film is that it can always be re-scanned when you go to exhibition or a book project. These scans are meant for your day-to-day project work with large format. Whether you be an enthusiast who just wants to try an old Speed Graphic, or you are in the midst of a long term documentary project on 4x5 and you need affordable scans to proof your ideas. These scans are perfect for that.
Inmate, Warren Facility
For this image, I lit the scene with a single strobe held over-head and behind. My inspiration was 1940s era Kodachromes of factory workers during WWII. Shooting 4x5 allowed me to instill a matter of fact visual style, that instantly gives the image the feel of a historical document.
Chamonix 45N-2 - Schneider 150/5.6 APO Symmar - Provia 100F
In fact, I might argue that they’re perfect for 95% of large format applications. If Gerhard Steidl calls you up on the phone and says “Yo Gutentag! We gotta go to press with these sweet photographic gems!” It may be time to order drum scans. Until that happens, these files will edit incredibly well, print large, and allow you to share or proof whatever you may be working on.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating as they say, so I’ve included a couple full resolution JPGs of two scans I did while working on the project for Maine the Way. Check them out here.
4x5 Dev Scans are available now.
Slide film, or 'chromes' were once the undisputed champion of color photography. Professionals stuck with chrome long after consumers had moved on to the more flexible color negative options. On the light-table, the reasons were obvious. You get finer grain, pure color, and unrivaled contrast. Plus no need for an intermediary to view your film. It’s right there for the eye to see and understand.
For years though they've been neglected by photographers who use the hybrid film shooting workflow that labs like Northeast Photographic support. If you have shot a roll of Velvia in the past few years and had it scanned on a Fuji Frontier or Noritsu, you may know why. Washed out colors, noise, blown out highlights. Just a lot of bleh! Whereas your original on the light-table remains beautiful. What happened? Lab scanners are incredible for negative films, they were built for this singular purpose. Chromes were a dying medium, an afterthought. Pros who shot it used drum scanners or dedicated desktop models only. It’s a laborious work flow, and if you’re doing drum scans, quite expensive.
That particular status quo isn't quite good enough for us, which is why we are introducing our new scanner to our chrome workflow. Using Nikkor's best reproduction lenses, and CMOS capture technology, we are able to accurately reproduce all the detail, color, and contrast present in your slide. So impressed have we been with our early results, that we can confidently say we think we offer the best full roll scans of E6 films in the business.
These comparisons speak for themselves.
It should be noted that these are from 35mm Ektachrome. Medium format looks even better. Honestly if you are shooting 120, you’ll never lust after medium format digital again.
This new way will be our standard method for scanning chromes. We can honestly say that for full roll scanning, no-one else in the business is providing this level of quality. And we’re not raising prices!
This post is not about how and when to shoot slide film, we will save that for later. This is about letting you know that if you use NP, you’re getting scans that actually bring to life the potential of your film.
Cropping is for farmers, as my former professor Dan used to say. Sadly in the hybrid workflow era cropping has become somewhat standard. This is because the scanner technology we use is generally not designed to include those nice black borders we know and love from our favorite printed photographs.
This was never acceptible to me. A border is not only a great way to indicate the edge of an image, show that you did your composing in camera, and advertise the film stock or camera you may have used, it's also just simply super cool! Those iconic Hasselblad notches are there for a reason. You want people to know that you shot Ilford FP4+ damn it! (Not flippin HP5+, duh)
Well as Justin Timberlake might say if he was a photographer, I am bringing sexy borders back.
Using the same technology that we use to make the best E6 scans in the business, we can also overscan your film frames to include the border. This works in every format all the way up to 4x5, and it's even possible to scan to the edge of the sprocket holes in 35mm. You will also benefit from a higher maximum resolution over a Frontier scan.
Because this is a style primarily associated with B&W images, we are starting the roll out of this service as a Monochrome only option for full rolls. 4x5 film will always be scanned with the border regardless of process type, of course.
However, we aren't totally leaving color photographers out in the borderless cold. Full border scans are available as single frame scans, and if you've processed your film at NP we will do these scans at a discounted rate. You could think of our simple scans as your contact sheet, and your bordered scans as final prints.
What’s more, our conversions are based on Fuji Frontier color. We are quite pleased with the results. While not a perfect match, we actually prefer our manual conversion.
You can order bordered scans for your B&W film right now! We’ll roll out color within a few days once we work it into the framework of our online store.
Hey! Welcome to the 90s! We realize that many of you no longer have or have any use for home printers, and I feel your pain. To make things easy for you, we are launching an e-commerce based ordering system!
Simply enter our online store, which has all of our services and options listed. Fill up your cart with whatever quantity of film you may need processed and scanned, plus the options you have in mind, and check out! You can then mail in your film as you would normally. When it arrives, we will have your instructions on file.
Want your film returned immediately? Just make that clear in with a note in the box, and we'll invoice you for return shipping. Otherwise your film will be sleeved and stored in your 'tube' until full.
You can also purchase gift cards! Horray! (Gift cards must be used with online ordering).
We hope that most of you will switch to the online order entry option, but if you want to continue using order forms, you still can! They're online same as always.
Thanks for choosing NP!
Happy New Year folks! Please enjoy this pilot episode of the podcast we’re launching. We plan to release new episodes every 2 weeks, covering topics such as film, the lab, photography gear, photographers we love, interviews etc. It’s not all about analog either, we have no fear of discussing digital techniques and cameras, which mostly gives me the opportunities to trash them.
Hope you enjoy! We’ll be releasing the first proper episode soon.
-Mark & Brennan
I wanted to get this up here because it’s very very late! But now that my office is nearly finished I have time to share some of my first images shot on Kodak’s new Ektachrome E100. I am loving this film so so much, and I hope this video partially explains why. There will be more content on Ektachrome to come!
I’ve also included some full res jpgs of my scans, which you can download here!
Nearly grainless, high speed, inky blacks, good highlight retention, and tones for days. These are qualities that B&W photographers have sought since the beginning of roll films. It is also cheaper to process at a lab, and does not require time consuming dusting when scanning. So why don't we see very much of this wonder film? It's a mystery to us. XP2 is a fantastic option for B&W photographers who rely on a lab for their scans. So lets talk about what it is, what it isn't, and if it has a place in your camera.
What is XP2 Super?
XP2 is a chromogenic B&W film made by Ilford. Chromogenic? Doesn't that mean color? Well yes, sort of, but no. It uses the technology of color negative films, meaning you normally process it along with other color films, instead of traditional B&W chemistry. More on that later. It is nominally a 400 speed film, but it can be shoot normally from ISO 50-800 without modification in development (according to the data sheet). But Ilford already makes two 400 speed films, one 200 speed film, and another 3200 speed film, why another 400 speed film?
Why XP2 Super?
It comes back to this whole chromogenic thing. XP2 Super is process C41. C41 films have a standardized processing system. Meaning all C41 films (when being processed without pushing or pulling) have the same development time and temperature. This benefits labs to an extreme degree, and photographers too. When I have 5 clients submitting Fuji, Kodak, or other C41 film, each of a different speed or type, all of them can be processed in the same development run. If those same clients submit rolls of Tri-X, Acros, HP5, or Delta 3200, each of those films require separate development runs, it can take all day if we have a lot of B&W (Some labs run all your B&W according to generic times, which yields inferior results, we never do that). The secondary benefit is that the C41 process removes the silver present in the film, and leaving only dyes (usually color dyes but in this case B&W). This means that XP2 Super does not require dusting in Photoshop or Lightroom, because scanners can automatically remove 95% of the surface level aberrations present through digital ICE. This is a huge benefit both to you the photographer and we, the lab. Dusting is laborious and boring as hell. Don't do it if you can avoid it! XP2 does not require dusting from scans! All of this simply means that you pay less for scans that require less work for everyone, and they still look freaking beautiful.
What's more, this film is incredibly sharp. It has the grain of a 100 speed film, even though you can expose it at 800 if you want. Second, for whatever reason the dye based technology really extends the tone curve beyond what you normally find in traditional film. This B&W film has beautiful midtones, and I may even say exquisite highlights, and inky blacks. These are the kind of tones that zone system photographers dream about, and they're right here in a very forgiving C41 B&W film.
Lastly, should you want to, negatives you get from XP2 are still fully darkroom printable, without the need for a special paper or developer. In fact the film's base is not the signature C41 orange, it's neutral so it won't effect contrast in an enlarger.
How to shoot XP2:
ISO 200: Smooth Tones/Contrast
ISO 400: Good Snap like pushed Tri-X
ISO 800: Very Contrasty (Personally I would push at this speed)
(ISO 100 & 50 is really too flat, but usable with adjustments in PS or LR. This speeds will also yield the finest grain. Beyond 800 we recommend pushing, or Delta 3200)
According to Ilford's own data sheet, XP2 can be exposed from ISO 50-800 without modification in development. In fact, this is a critical way to understand how to get the results you want. Because C41 films handle over exposure so well generally, you can really modify contrast through exposure. Shooting this film at 200 gives you those remarkably smooth tones and highlights, with an excess of shadow detail. They're the kind of negatives you have to work pretty dang hard for with traditional silver gelatin films (in my opinion). As you go up in ISO, you tighten up that contrast to a significant degree. ISO 400 has good snap, and 800 is even more contrasty. Personally I would recommend pushing when shooting this film at 800, or 1600. When shooting this film at ISO 100 and lower, expect to have to do a bit of work to normalize the low contrast results, but they will still be quite usable.
Ilford does not recommend pushing, but I have done it and it can yield good results, though not passed 1600, whereas a film like HP5 is great up to 3200. We also do not recommend using expired XP2.
It should be noted that all of the images in this article were shot with simple metering techniques, such as in camera metering in the Hy6 Mod 2, or a handheld incident meter in the Hasselblad or Rolleiflex 2.8E. XP2 is simply a forgiving film, and you don't need the zone system to get beautiful gradation across the available range of tones.
Why not XP2?
I've pitched this film as some kind of miracle B&W stock, however there are some reasons why you may want to shoot traditional silver gelatin emulsions. For one, C41 technology will never be as archival as normal B&W film. The dyes don't last as long, and will probably fade over time. I might expect these negatives to last 30-50 years before degradation, but that's a guess. Color film is subject to shifts, so I presume the non-color dyes will have fewer issues. Properly processed silver gelatin film will last hundreds of years. If you are doing an important documentary where historical preservation is paramount, reach for Delta 100 and selenium tone it.
You may prefer a film that has more distinctive grain, XP2 certainly minimizes granularity. In fact it's distinctive tone and sharpness are quite recognizable if you know what to look for in an image.
XP2 is also simply not a film you want to develop at home. In fact many of the benefits I've listed here are subject to the workflow you have when using a lab like Northeast Photographic. When I am developing film for the purpose of printing in my darkroom, I use traditional stock. I can be fairly creative with B&W development techniques in ways that C41 simply does not allow. Take away the automatic dusting through digital ICE, and the advantages of XP2 are less clear. I really recommend this film for people using the lab workflow.
XP2 Super Summary!
If you are someone who shoots black and white film with the intention of getting scans, you should try XP2. If you are a pro who needs beautiful black and white images quickly and cheaply, you should try XP2. If you want to get some scans done before you get your film back in the mail, and you still want to make darkroom prints someday, there are few reasons not to use XP2. When it comes down to it, this is just a very often overlooked tool that film photographers have at their disposal. It certainly doesn't have the cultural cache of classic stocks like Tri-X, but it still delivers the goods, and then some.
If you have any questions about this stock, let us know in the comments!
XP2 Super is available in 35mm and 120 formats, and even in Ilford disposable cameras.