Allow me to ramble a bit about how simplifying is better than amassing a large collection of gear when you’re out and about.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!