Scary Stories to tell in the darkroom

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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

Ilford XP2 Super Review


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.

Hasselblad 500cm - XP2 Super @ 200 ISO  Image: Dave Waddell

Hasselblad 500cm - XP2 Super @ 200 ISO

Image: Dave Waddell

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?

XP2 Super @ 200 ISO - Rolleiflex Hy6 Mod 2 - 80mm 2.8 Xenotar (Note the range of tones here from black to white. No fancy spot metering here, just a quick incident light meter reading from my Sekonic L-308s)

XP2 Super @ 200 ISO - Rolleiflex Hy6 Mod 2 - 80mm 2.8 Xenotar (Note the range of tones here from black to white. No fancy spot metering here, just a quick incident light meter reading from my Sekonic L-308s)

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.  

XP2 Super @ 200 - Rolleiflex 2.8E Planar - 100% Crop from Fuji Frontier Scan

XP2 Super @ 200 - Rolleiflex 2.8E Planar - 100% Crop from Fuji Frontier Scan

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:

Hasselblad 500cm - XP2 Super @ 200 ISO  Image: Dave Waddell

Hasselblad 500cm - XP2 Super @ 200 ISO

Image: Dave Waddell

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.

XP2 Super @ 200 - Rollei Hy6 Mod 2 - 80mm Xenotar 2.8

XP2 Super @ 200 - Rollei Hy6 Mod 2 - 80mm Xenotar 2.8

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.  


New large file option for Simple Scans!


We are happy to introduce a minor change to our order form and services, with the option to upgrade your scan size! As you may know we designed the scan options around simplicity, and avoided the nickel and dime practice of charging for file size alone.  However, if you're a Simple Scan customer you may still want a bigger file, but not want to outsource your editing. Now you can just check the "Biggah Scans" box. When you do that, we will scan your rolls at the resolution generally reserved for Pro Scans.  Going up in resolution on the Fuji Frontier does more than just increase pixel count, you get a cleaner image generally.  35mm benefits the most from this resolution, and you'll really see that format bridge the gap between it and 645. You will have to pay an additional $3 dollars per roll for this service, but that's still much cheaper than Pro Scans themselves. If you want this option for some, but not all rolls on an order, just make a note of that on the order form.

On Display: Plus Ultra - Further Beyond by Micheal Gilroy


During the last few weeks of 2017, Michael Gilroy (Gil) of Frontier approached me with 75 slides and negatives from his travels, which took place in the late 1980s and early 90s.  He wished to do an exhibition of his work, with many prints ranging in sizes near 20x30 and 40x50.  Knowing that the scans were intended for large scale print, we used our Fine Art scanners to create 5000ppi files from the vast majority of slides and B&W negatives.  For the color negative film, we simply used our Fuji SP-3000 at it's Pro Scan resolution.  The results? Large, beautiful prints, without a hint of pixelation! 

Slides and B&W film from the days of the Soviet Union.

Slides and B&W film from the days of the Soviet Union.

The 35mm slides were a mix of Ektachrome and Kodachrome.  They were a real treat to examine on the light table.  Kodachrome is legendary for its unique color palette and long term stability.  However, even the Ektachromes showed little, if any, signs of deterioration.  I employed techniques such as multi-exposure and multi-sampling to get the best possible file possible, which enabled a surprising amount of shadow recovery with low noise.  The resulting images showed a remarkable level of detail for a 35mm frame, with the same vivid colors you see through the loupe, with much less grain than you might expect.  

A wall of Kodachrome scans from Antarctica.

A wall of Kodachrome scans from Antarctica.

For the color negative film, I decided that the Fuji SP-3000 was the right choice.  While it's true that our Fine Art Scanners create a file that, on paper, would seem to be far superior, I know from experience that the Fuji scanner tends to interpret color in an immediately more pleasing and accurate way. The SP-3000 yields a file that is just over 19 megapixels and from my testing these enlarge very well.  The print on the wall showed rich color, fine detail, and in fact the grain pattern looked extremely close to what you see organically when the film is enlarged in the darkroom.  These files are no different from those we deliver every day to our Pro Scan clients.  It's great to know how far you can push the files.

Color negative film scanned with the Fuji SP-3000.  There was incredible detail in the wood on this one.

Color negative film scanned with the Fuji SP-3000.  There was incredible detail in the wood on this one.

As for Frontier itself, it's a fantastic space in Brunswick, Maine.  They have a theater for film screenings, a coffee shop and a restaurant.  We sat down for lunch and the meal was delicious! If you're in Maine, I highly recommend you stop by and see the show. They also have a good selection of drinks and craft beer. I got to have my personal favorite Maine beer, "Lunch" IPA by Maine Beer Co.  Yum!

My better half in the coffee shop while we wait for our table.

My better half in the coffee shop while we wait for our table.

That's me! the maroon shirt, not with the bread.  

That's me! the maroon shirt, not with the bread.  

It was a real pleasure to help Gil make this show possible. These images are very illustrative of the reason why I love film so much.  After all those years in an archive they were ready to be scanned and printed with the latest technologies.  What's more, pigment prints have far greater stability than most traditional printing materials. What will your Lightroom gallery of .NEFs look like 30 years from now? If you can make a beautiful large format print from 30 year old slide film, imagine what you can do with the very latest emulsions like Ektar 100?  

Also, shouts to Zero Station for making the prints.

Go check it out!  And Make Real Pictures.


Happy New Year!


Hey folks!

2018 will be the 2nd operating year of this new little lab, and we have some great plans and services to introduce over the course of the year.  We're working on solutions for higher-resolution scans straight from the Fuji Frontier, custom printing, and more.  

The outpouring of support from clients and interested photographers has been amazing!  Obviously we couldn't do this without your support, and we hope to hit our lab capacity this year to ensure that Northeast Photographic is a sustainable business for the duration.  After that, we can expand, and double our capacity, adding more services along the way such as 8x10 processing and large format printing. (We really want to get a drum scanner AND an Imacon 848).

Giving back to our clients is a big part of Northeast Photographic's modus operandi.  If you can afford to shoot more film, you're keeping the art alive and hopefully trusting us to process it for you.  With that in mind, I'm happy to announce that all clients who've achieved Pro Scan discount tiers will have their current level carried forward into 2018! Even if you haven't yet reached tier 1 of the loyalty program, the rolls you shot in 2017 will be counted toward this year.  Normally the program will reset every year, but as a way to say thanks, and to account for the fact that we weren't yet open for half of 2017, we're giving you a break.  Maybe you'll factor more film into your shooting budget this year, or maybe you'll have more for your wine & beer budget.

And now for some housekeeping updates and adjustments.

  • Some clients have recently requested TIFFs, so we added this option with a small data transfer related fee.  You can request them in the notes section of the order form.
  • Due to low volume, E6 will now be run once a month in batches.  If volume increases (which may happen when Ektachrome is re-introduced), we will increase our processing schedule. 
  • With the wedding season still many weeks away, our turn around time remains very fast.  2-3 days for most orders.
  • We had more than a few custom print orders, and hope to continue providing high quality printing to those who inquire.  Request a quote in our contact section.  Expect a formal ordering procedure later in 2018.

Two non-holiday lab closures to announce:  Jan 9th - Jan 16th & April 28th - May 5th.  During the closures the lab will still be accepting all deliveries, but they won't be invoiced until we re-open.  Thanks in advance for accommodating the small delay in processing during those breaks.  

Again, if you're an NP client you have our thanks, and if you're curious please, drop a line!  Remember new Pro Scan clients still get 50% off the first order, there is a 25% off kickback for referrals, and on top of that our prices are the best in the business.  

Happy New Year!

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Do's and Don't of Mailing in your Film

For many of us, having to mail your film is a new and risky-seeming experience.  But there are a few ways to minimize your worries by following these best practices.

  • Do trust the postal service.  Lost packages are exceedingly rare, and our package acceptance system is completely risk free!  
  • Don't use a shipping service that can't be tracked.  
  • Do take advantage of USPS flat rate boxes.  
  • Don't pack your film in a bag, envelope, or bubble style mailer.  Some sorting facilities use rollers and they will literally pop out rolls of film.
  • Do seal your film in a ziplock to guard against any form of water damage.
  • Don't pack your box with too much empty space, this can lead to the box getting crushed and developing a hole.  Stuff it with grocery bags or newspaper.  
  • And finally Do clearly label your package with a return address, and include a completed order form inside so that we can follow your instructions and get in touch with you if need be.

We haven't had a client experience a package loss yet, and if you follow these guidelines you can be as sure as possible that your film will arrive safely.  

If you're in Maine, contact us to set up a drop off!