Trying Out The "New" Lomo Purple

There have already been a number of reviews about Lomography's reformulated Lomochrome Purple XR 100-400 film. I thought I'd throw my hat in the ring and share a bit about my own recent experience with this unique, specialty film.

I've only shot one roll of this new formulation so far, so I'll refrain make any unwarranted claims that go beyond my personal experience. What I have observed is that the new film seems a bit more subtle, and less grainy, than the original version. In a word, Lomo Purple has matured as a product. That's a good thing, considering it's not exactly cheap. It still gives you that faux infrared look, though, which is truly unique among color print films.

The degree to which the purple effect came out in images varied according to subject, and the amount of light in a scene. Greens, most prominently, are rendered as rich shades of purple. Back-lit daffodils took on beautiful pink hues, regardless of whether the flowers were actually yellow or white. In shade, as one might expect, the purple tones were darker overall.

The following examples were all shot at EI 400, and home developed using a Unicolor C-41 kit. The camera used was a Canon EOS Elan IIe, with a Tamron SP 24-135 f/3.5-5.6 zoom. Unfortunately, this camera seems to have developed a light leak, which I corrected for by adding a little vignetting to some images. I applied all my usual edits: curves, dust spotting, some transform corrections.

Home Processing Black & White Film: Getting Down To Business

In the first installment of this two part article, we discussed the materials you need to acquire in preparation for processing your black and white film. Now it's time to get down to the nitty-gritty of how to use it all.

Disclaimer: Photo processing chemistry can be toxic. Be careful handling liquids and developer in its powder form. Please read the instructions for each chemical product carefully, and take appropriate precautions for handling. It's also not a bad idea to wear some disposable latex gloves when you're working with developer and fixer to protect your skin. Handled responsibly, typical photo chemistry shouldn't expose you to any serious health risks, but use reasonable caution.

Pictured above is my changing bag with the items you'll be placing inside of it. Top to bottom, these include: film reel, 35mm film cassette, can opener, scissors, clip, center post, developing tank and screw-on lid. On the left in this image are the elastic arm holes. This end will face your body. You'll stick the film and supplies inside through the opposite end, which is then securely closed with a zipper and velcro fasteners to ensure no light enters. It's helpful to place the items strategically inside the same way each time before you begin so you can find and use items easily.

Getting Your Film Into the Developer Tank

The first order of business is getting your film ready to process. Loading the film on the reel is probably the trickiest part for newbies. It's not that the task itself is super difficult, but doing it blindly in a changing bag can be tricky. Here are some pointers to get you started:

  • Always make sure your reels are completely dry before attempting to load film on them. If they are slightly damp, it can make a challenging task nearly impossible. In the same vein, when it comes time to work inside the bag, you may want to turn on a fan to keep yourself cool while you work; this can help reduce sweaty hands that can cause similar snags.
  • If the film does jam while loading it on the reel, don't try to force it. Stop, open up the reel, carefully remove the stuck film, and try it again. Sometimes you may have to do this more than once with a particular roll. Make sure there are no rough edges on the end of the film strip you're trying to insert. Carefully trim the end so that it's smooth and slightly rounded, with no open sprocket holes.
  • Shorter lengths of film are usually easier to load as there's less length to potentially jam. If you're using 35mm film, stick with 24 exposure rolls at the beginning. (120 film rolls come in standard lengths so any roll should load like any other.) Also, you may find that old, expired film is trickier to load on the reel, so start with film that's somewhat fresh.

No, this isn't a really old photo. It's one I shot about 5 years ago, and it came from the first roll of film I processed at home. I got the "film sweats" while trying to load it on the reel and mangled it - badly. It's important to relax and take your time inside the changing bag.

  • Sacrifice a roll of your least valuable film to practice loading in the light. This will give you a chance to see how the film loads when your hands aren't stuffed inside a bag. Start by keeping your eyes open, then see if you can keep them closed through the whole process. If you can master that, moving to the bag will be a cinch. If you don't want to sacrifice a roll for practice, at the very least use a roll with everyday snapshots or still lifes that can be easily recreated. Irreplaceable vacation photos are not a good idea for your first attempt.

For the exact steps on how to load either 35mm or 120 film on a reel, I refer the reader to one of the many online demos available via YouTube. This is easier seen than explained, and you'll want to find a video featuring the general type of reel you own. It's a good idea to use your changing bag in an area with subdued light (turn off overhead lights and any nearby lamps), to prevent strong light from straying in through a weak seam.

Along with scissors and a can opener (for 35mm film only), you'll need to place your film, developing tank, screw-on lid, center post and clip inside the changing bag so you can place the newly loaded reel safely inside the tank. If your tank has a plastic red cap, you don't need to put that in the bag  - it's used to hold your chemistry in place during agitation, not to block light. Once screwed tightly shut, you can remove the tank from the changing bag.

You are now ready to begin developing your film.

Processing Your Film

Now that your film is securely in the developing tank, you can begin the process of developing. I perform the following steps in my kitchen sink. As mentioned in the first part of this post, there are three chemicals (plus water) we'll be using to complete the process: developer (D-76), Ilford Rapid Fixer and Photo-Flo.

Here's a typical scenario of times and sequence you'll use when developing your film using the guidelines I suggest:

  1. Developer (9:30)
  2. Water rinse/ stop (3:00)
  3. Fixer (5:00)
  4. Final rinse (3:00)
  5. Photo-Flo (0:30)

The only step that will normally vary in length is the developer, which is dependent on the specific film and developer. Generally speaking, you can find the developing time listed for D-76 (and other popular developers) inside the cardboard packaging for your film. The manufacturer will list a suggested time for the film, although these are only recommended guidelines. While times for various temperatures are often listed, I recommend sticking with the standard 68°F (20°C) for consistency's sake. You can experiment later, but keep it simple to start.

You'll also note that the manufacturer provides guidelines for agitation during the developing process. Agitating should be done fairly slowly and deliberately, by inverting the tank (flipping it upside down and back = 1 inversion). Avoid vigorous shaking. Typically you'll agitate the tank every 30-60 seconds, for about 5-10 seconds at a time. I normally do 5 inversions in 10 seconds once every minute. This will probably earn me some flack from purists who claim otherwise, but I've never seen any difference in results based on specific agitation intervals.

The important thing is that you do agitate periodically and gently. (You may have heard of a popular technique called stand developing, but I'm skipping that here for the sake of simplicity.) Here are some pointers:

  • After pouring the developer into the tank, applying the cap, and doing your initial agitation, be sure to gently rap the bottom of the tank against a sink or counter to get rid of any air bubbles that might stick to the side of the film. There's no need to repeat this step after the first agitation since the film surface should now be thoroughly wet inside the tank.
  • Make sure you follow the developing tank instructions for the appropriate volume of chemistry. If you have a tank like mine, those values are imprinted on the bottom for easy reference. Using more chemistry than required won't hurt, but too little may result in uneven processing along one edge of the film. Processing 2 reels of 35mm, or 1 reel of 120 film, requires more chemistry than a single roll of 35mm to cover adequately.
  • Use your smartphone to help you develop film. There are a number of film developing apps that feature timers and even a database of films and suggested developer times. I mainly use the Massive Dev Chart, which is available for both Android and iOS devices. It currently runs for $8.99, and it's money well spent. Virtually any kind of film you can buy will have presets listed in the MDC, and these can be modified as needed for your own workflow. When you modify an entry, it is automatically saved as a custom entry, and can be easily exported to a file whenever you move to a new mobile device.
  • If you want a free, simple timer for Android, you can also try Darkroom Timer (by Chicken of the Web), on the Google Play store. It's no longer supported by the developer but it still works fine. I use it now primarily for color film processing, as you have greater flexibility to make custom presets. (One little quirk about Darkroom Timer on newer devices is there's no obvious way to add a new entry. No problem. Press and hold an existing preset, choose duplicate, then edit and rename the duplicate.) Unfortunately, I've never been able to export custom entries successfully so moving to a new smartphone means recreating them.
  • I suggest using 1:1 developing, which does mean that your developing times will be about 50% longer than using stock solution For example, 6:45 in stock solution might translate to 9:30 for 1:1 processing. The Massive Dev Chart normally shows the suggested times for 1:1 and other common dilutions. It's not complicated at all and requires no advanced math skills. If your tank says to use 475ml of solution for one roll of 35mm film, just round that up to the nearest easy number (500ml), then divide that by two. In this case, you'd pour in 250ml of stock D-76 solution and add 250ml of water. Be sure to do this in a graduated cylinder, not the developing tank. 
  • Using 1:1 processing will double the return on your investment without appreciably extending the overall time it takes to develop a roll. Diluting your developer will not adversely impact image quality in the slightest; some people even claim it increases apparent sharpness.

Check to ensure that your developer is at 68°F before you start. If it's higher or lower, you can stick the cylinder in the fridge for a few minutes or immerse it in hot water until it's right where you want it to be. Then start the timer and pour the developer into the top of the tank in one smooth motion. Apply the cap, and begin agitating according to the manufacturer's guidelines or whatever your preferred app suggests.

Once you're done with the developer, you can dispose of the contents and begin your stop bath, or what I like to call "rinsing it out with tap water."* Since you've not applied fixer yet, you'll need to keep the screw-on lid attached. I don't worry about the precise temperature of the rinse water, but try to keep it in the ballpark of 68F based on feel. Let the tank fill, dump it out, and repeat at least a few times right away to remove developer residue. Then you can let the water flow through until you're done. I've seen various suggestions on how long a rinse/ stop bath should be, but I settled on 3 minutes as a reasonable period of time years ago.

After the rinse is complete, pour out the water and gently shake it upside down to get out most of the remaining water. Don't shake too hard or bang it against the sink, or you could dislodge the little clip that holds the film reel down on the center spool inside. (You don't want the reel to float freely inside or your film may not get evenly exposed to the chemistry.) Once you're satisfied it's mostly empty, it's time to apply your fixer. As with the developer, measure the volume needed in a graduated cylinder. When you're ready, pour the fixer into the developing tank. I do a few gentle inversions at the beginning, although it's not really necessary. Then let it sit undisturbed for 5 minutes.

When the time is up, use your funnel to pour the fixer into a 1-liter bottle for the next use. Remember: Don't just dump your fixer after a single use. You should be able to get at least 12-15 uses out of a single batch - likely more than that. If the film is ever milky looking after fixing it, re-do this step with fresh fixer.

At this point the film is insensitive to light ("fixed"), so the lid can come off for the remaining steps. After fixing your film, you'll want to do a final rinse to get rid of the chemical residue. Again, I do this for an arbitrary 3 minutes. If you feel better with a longer rinse, it certainly won't hurt anything. After unscrewing the top, just let tap water fill the tank and spill over the edge. I gently plunge the reel by slowly raising and lowering the center post as the water flows over it, occasionally emptying and refilling the tank to ensure a steady supply of clean water.

The final step is applying Photo-Flo. Fill the tank up almost to the top with fresh tap water. Then, using your eyedropper, squeeze in 2-3 drops of Photo-Flo solution. Resist the temptation to go overboard; more is not better. Then slowly plunge the reel a few times into the tank until you see suds start to appear on the surface. Wait about 30 seconds and then remove the reel from the tank and the center post. You're nearly done!

At this point, I like to shake the reel over the sink with a snap of the wrist a few times before opening it up to remove the film. This is where the magic happens: you'll lift your film gently from the reel and unroll it. If everything went well, you should see negative images unfurling before you! Gently shake any excess moisture from the film strip, being sure not to touch it against anything, and you're ready to hang it up to dry using your weighted clips. I hang mine in my home office area with the ceiling fan turned on low nearby; just be mindful about not stirring up dust while it's drying. Dust sticking to negatives is no fun.

Some people like to use a dedicated film squeegee to wipe the water off prior to hanging the filmstrip, but many photographers have found that anything but the lightest touch tends to produce scratches along the emulsion. It seems some film types are more susceptible than others. Either way, I'd recommend against it.

You'll want to wait at least 45-60 minutes before you take your film down. Don't be alarmed if your film twists and bends in weird ways as it dries; that's perfectly normal. It should be flat (or mostly so) when it finishes drying. An hour is usually enough time, although there's no harm in leaving it overnight or longer. (If you're processing older, expired film, leaving it overnight will help reduce any excess curliness). You're now ready to scan and enjoy your first roll of film!

*Some photographers shy away from using tap water in the developing process, especially if they live in an area with deposits or other water problems. If you encounter any unexplained issues using tap water, it's worth trying some distilled water as an alternative.


Shoot Like It's 1995!

My Canon EOS Elan IIe, pictured here with a Tamron SP f/3.5-5.6, 24-135mm zoom lens. The lens cost considerably more than I paid for the camera, but has proven to be a solid performer.

Camera reviews typically cover hot, new digital toys (like the newly leaked, 50.6 MP Canon 5Ds). Big name review sites and independent bloggers alike scramble to cover the latest photographic innovation. As in all areas of life, however, not everything worthwhile is necessarily cutting edge. You've almost certainly seen an Ansel Adams print. By the standards of 2015 technology, his camera gear was primitive and crude, yet he produced breathtaking photography; his prints sell very well to this day, and his books remain useful resources for students of photography.

This post is a brief overview* of a 20 year old camera still worth buying. It's decades newer than anything Ansel used, and modern enough to boast the ease-of-use people expect today. I own a number of vintage cameras, many of which require manual configuration. The Canon EOS Elan IIe works like a modern digital camera. The main difference is you have to load a roll of 35mm film, but there's no cocking or winding as with vintage cameras; it features a motorized advance and automatic rewind. Once the film is loaded, you can set the camera to full Auto mode or you can use one of the other program modes - the same ones available on the latest DSLRs.

The Canon EOS Elan II and IIe are basically the same camera, so either one is an excellent choice. (I previously shot with an Elan II, a gift from the kind folks at the Film Photography Project. Unfortunately, it developed a persistent, sticky shutter problem.) The only difference is that the IIe adds a novel feature that lets you program the camera to focus using your eye movement. I'm not sure how well this feature works as I've not bothered to set it up yet. I bought mine from KEH, a widely respected reseller of camera gear, for around $35. You may be able to find one even cheaper from thrift shops or a reputable eBay seller. Adding a basic kit lens, if needed, will likely set you back a bit more.

Stranger at the Knoxville Museum of Art last September. Natural light, shot on my Elan II using the remarkable Svema Color 125 film.

There are several features worth nothing about the Elan II/ IIe. It accepts auto-focus EF lenses, which also work with modern Canon DSLRs. If you happen to be a digital Canon (APS-C) shooter, this means you can share some lenses between systems. (Not all camera accessories will work between generations of cameras; when in doubt, check your product manual.) It has a pop-up flash, so you may find that other accessories are unnecessary for everyday use. You can even buy inexpensive infrared remote controls that let you trigger the shutter wirelessly - handy for including yourself in group photos and other tripod work. 

Both the Elan II and IIe are full-featured SLRs that allow you to control the focus point in your photo. Here I shot wide open, focusing on the front tire to deliberately throw the handlebars out of focus.

Another useful feature of the Elan II/ IIe is that it allows for manually selecting film speed. This is not always the case with other cameras from the same era. It's helpful because you can tell the camera to treat film as faster (or slower) than it's actually rated. A prime example of this would be "pushing" certain films, such as Kodak Tri-X 400 or Portra 400, to ISO 800 or even 1600 - either for creative effect or to compensate for low light conditions.  Being able to manually select your ISO is essential for some "boutique" or bulk-rolled films that may not have the standard DX encoding** on the film cassette. Of course, you can also let the camera select the ISO automatically.

In short, this is a modern camera in every way that really matters for making photographs. If you have thought about exploring film photography, but don't want to struggle with figuring out the manual controls on vintage gear, this would be an excellent way to ease into the world of film with minimal fuss. And if you're a bit shy, the Elan II/ IIe is unlikely to draw attention as its design will easily pass for just another digital camera on the street (as long as nobody asks to see the image on the back after you take their photo).

*For an in-depth, photographer's review, complete with technical specifications, see this online review from 1996.  

** DX encoding was developed in the 1980s as a way of automating film speed selection. One of the first cameras to offer this feature, the Konica TC-X, also happened to be my first SLR that I purchased new back in 1987. 

Awesomely Retro: Adox Color Implosion

Regular readers know that I like to alternate between cutting-edge and old school tech when it comes to photography. So, on the heels of my last post about using super-fast SSD drives to boost computer performance comes my review about a limited edition film that's both new and retro: Adox Color Implosion 100, "Surreal Color Negative Film".

"Limited Edition" means Adox went with paper labels on both the canister and the film roll.

This 35mm film was introduced by Adox just a couple of years ago.  Adox is a German film company with a long, international history. Today they make a small range of specialized films, as well as photographic paper and chemistry. Color Implosion is as quirky as the name sounds, and somewhat resembles color film that was shot back in the 70s but left unprocessed and stored in a warm place for the past couple of decades before being developed - but in an artistic sort of way.

While it's nominally rated at a speed of ISO 100, you can shoot it anywhere from ISO 100-400 in your camera. (Check your owner's manual to see how to change film speed manually; simpler cameras may default to ISO 100, which will work OK.) The speed you choose affects the overall warmth of the final images. At a speed of 100, the film has cooler, bluish tones. Punch it up to ISO 400, and the color "temperature" increases - with warm, vivid reds. At any speed you select, the colors are different enough to really stand out. Besides the unusual color palette, Color Implosion features lots of bold, beautiful grain. It's seriously and unapologetically grainy!

Adox Color Implosion loves antiques.

There's nothing subtle about this film, and it's definitely not well-suited for every subject. Looking to shoot photos of a newborn baby? Color Implosion is probably not your first option for an infant.  (Use Kodak Portra film if you want flattering, fine-grained portraits.) But if you're looking for the right gritty film for shooting vintage cars, old buildings, and adventurous human subjects, Adox Color Implosion may provide just the look you want.

Sure, you can probably achieve something close to this effect with Photoshop filters, but it's not the same as loading a roll of film and sending it out for processing while you eagerly wait to see the results. There's something very satisfying about the experience of creating photos on old school film that digital doesn't quite replicate.

Old cars with beads of rain? Color Implosion has you covered!

Since it uses normal color (C-41) processing, you can get it developed at any 1-hour photo lab. If you don't have a lab nearby that still processes film, I recommend mailing your film to The Darkroom - I've always been pleased with the timeliness and quality of their work.  They'll process and scan a roll for $11, and you can view your photos online as soon as they're done. As for the film itself, I've bought mine from Freestyle. At the time of this writing, a roll of 36 exposures will set you back a modest $6.99. It's not as cheap as Instagram, but it's a whole lot more fun!

Model Chryseis in downtown Knoxville, shot on Adox Color Implosion.

Do They Still Make Film For That?

I own a fair number of cameras - too many, in fact.  I've been in the process of paring down my collection, and am probably just a few over the right number for my "stable".  Aside from a couple of sentimental or display pieces, I'm not so much a collector as a photographer who uses a variety of gear.  My working cameras run the gamut from antique to "vintage" to newer models made in the 1990s through the present.  If you have some old cameras on hand - perhaps handed down from older family members - and have wondered if there's any life in them, then this article is for you!

One of the most frequent comments I hear when out shooting my film cameras is: "I didn't know you could even still buy film!" Or it's phrased in question form as in the title of this article: "Do they even still make film for that?"  (Interestingly, Millennials are more likely to express genuine interest and respect for film usage than people of my own generation and older.)  I'm occasionally tempted to say something along the lines of "No, I just like to pretend I'm taking photos with this old camera." But of course I don't do that because I'm not a snob.

A 35mm Konica FS-1, introduced in 1979.  I'm a big Konica fan, and this model is one of my current favorites.  It was one of the first SLR cameras to feature a motor drive for advancing film.  You do have to rewind  the film manually, however. Konica lenses are still widely recognized as high quality.

The simple answer to the question is "Yes" - a thousand times yes! Film has most certainly become a niche market but it's not gone away even if it is less visible to the general public.  While "Who Uses Film Today?" could be its own blog entry, suffice it to say that today's film market caters to significantly more people than senior citizens who don't want to mess with new-fangled, digital kerjiggers.  Certainly such customers constitute a shrinking but important demographic of film users. But today's film shooters include teenagers, college students, artists, everyday adult hobbyists and even some professionals who use film exclusively or as one component of their photographic arsenal.  There are also a number well-known TV and movie producers who prefer the aesthetics of film and choose to shoot mainstream features using old-school film reels.

Film is admittedly harder to find in traditional retail outlets.  It's out there, but you may have to look a bit harder to find it.  I can usually find a small stock of popular film at Walmart or the local Walgreens (our local Walgreens has it nearly hidden behind the photo service counter). Typically these stores will stock Fuji Superia 200 and 400 speed 35mm films - both of which are great consumer films.  CVS stores sometimes carry a bit more in the way of selection, although they seem to have scaled back their selection in the past year or so.  Of course if you're fortunate enough to have an old school camera shop still open in your community,  you may find a decent local selection there.  (If you're in the Knoxville area, check out Thompson Photo.) Other retail outlets are hit or miss, but film hasn't disappeared entirely from store shelves - at least not yet.

Two rolls of 120 film I shot yesterday at a photography meetup event in Knoxville: Kodak Ektar and Kodak Portra.  Also called medium format film, 120 has been around for over a century and is still popular among photography enthusiasts. 120 film frames can be several times larger than 35mm negatives, and due to the larger size it yields detailed and beautiful scans.

So where do you find the biggest selection of films?  It's the same place where many of us buy everything from books to electronics to toilet paper: the Internet, of course!  One convenient place to buy film is Amazon.  The prices are usually competitive, and many of their offerings are covered by their Prime membership; assuming you're a Prime member, you get free, 2-day shipping on a huge selection of films.  

If you're looking for the best prices on black & white films (and related chemistry and supplies for developing your own), I recommend Freestyle Photographic Supplies.  Another great source for a huge variety of films - including a growing number of hand-rolled specialty films you won't find anywhere else - is the Film Photography Project.  Their prices are competitive and their shipping is priced at actual cost.  The FPP features a fun and informative bi-weekly podcast, along with other great content on their website.  I'm a huge fan of the show.

The chances are good that if you own an old camera you can find film for it.  Common film formats, including 35mm and 120 (aka medium format), are widely available in a variety of types. Even the humble 110 film has returned to the market several years after production had been halted.  Depending on the format of the film you need, you may still be able to choose between regular color print film, slide film or black & white.  Unfortunately, some films are gone and unlikely to return; these types include disc film and APS film (you can still buy remaining APS film online even though production stopped in 2011).

Before I close, let me clear up a common misapprehension about Kodak.  Contrary to popular belief, Kodak film is still being produced and sold.  While Kodak proper is no longer in the consumer film business, Kodak sold off that division to another company, now known as Kodak Alaris.  The new owner has publicly affirmed their commitment to continuing the existing product line.  That means you can still buy a wide assortment of fresh Kodak film.  In fact, I regularly use Kodak Portra, Kodak Ektar, Kodak Tri-X, Kodak T-Max and even the occasional Kodak Gold and Ultramax consumer films.

In a nutshell, you can still buy film for a large number of old cameras.  And with continued usage and support, these companies hopefully will produce beautiful films for years to come.  In a future article, we'll take a closer look at the different types of film in production today.