Since I’ve decided to rekindle my interest in working with the older and slower medium of black and white film I came to the conclusion that I should practice with 35mm film before making the considerable investment in film for my 8×10 camera.
I spent a little time online researching which films are currently available as 8×10 sheets and then ordered a couple of rolls each of the same emulsion in 35mm size. Somehow I forgot to order one I wanted to try, Ilford FP-4, so I’ll pick up some of it later. One of the films in the photo, Ilford SFX200, is an outlier as it’s not available in sheets. I’ll say a bit more about it below.
I haven’t exposed any black and white film since the mid-1980s. At that time I was pretty much in a Tri-X rut. It’s an old dependable film, but a bit heavy on the grain and somewhat contrasty. I’ll probably load it in my camera first as I start making test exposures on all these different film stocks. Each one will behave a bit differently and I want to find out which “look” I prefer at this stage in my career.
Seriously testing different film stocks is something I’ve never done. My plan now is to shoot similar subjects, in similar light, with all of these films. I’ll include a color checker and a gray scale. I’ll shoot in the studio with strobes and outside in sunshine and shade. I’ll photograph people, trees, and buildings. I’ll make notes of what I did, particularly the exposures and how they compare to my light meter readings. Once I’ve processed these test rolls I can lay them out on my light table and make comparisons under the loupe.
I’ll also return to processing film. I unearthed my 35mm stainless steel developing tanks, my darkroom thermometer, and other tools I’ll need which I’d packed away in 1988 when we moved from the last house where I had a darkroom. I need to buy chemicals and find jugs to store them in, but otherwise I’m set to go. I can load the developing reels in a changing bag and then process anywhere I have running water. Printing is another story, and for that I’ll need a proper darkroom.
This is all an adventure and I don’t know how it will turn out. I may come to the conclusion that I prefer the speed and convenience of modern digital photography. My hope, however, is that I find some satisfaction in the new / old way of working with film.
Finally, the Ilford SFX200 is a near-infrared film with what they call extended red sensitivity. I’ve seen several examples of black & white infrared photos in the last few years, mostly made with modified digital cameras, and I decided this film is the way to try it rather than getting an old digital body modified. Without a filter, SFX200 reportedly acts like a normal black & white film. But with a deep red filter exposures are rendered much more with infrared. Skies turn inky black and foliage becomes a pale shade of gray, nearly white. It’s an otherworldly effect you can’t get any other way. It’s going to be fun to play and see what I come up with.