The 35mm Film Look

Fomapan 400 @ 800 ISO

I’m currently experiencing the nostalgic embrace of 35mm film. I’ve just bought a Nikon F100 for next to nothing (it’s crazy how cheap superb film cameras not named Leica are these days). My F5 has been dusted off ( that damn thing is a brick!) and my M5 is once more following me around the house.

I’m also embarked upon the Sisyphean task of developing over 300 rolls of film  – 100 or so Tri-X, 100 or so HP5, 50ish Kodak XX, 50ish Fomapan 400, all shot at 800 ISO and developed in Diafine. Just finished scanning my first 8 roll batch, some HP5 and some Tri-X mixed together (that’s the beauty of Diafine; everything gets developed the same irrespective of ISO, and you don’t have to stress about developer temp either).

These are a couple of keepers from those rolls, bulk scanned via a Pakon 135 scanner, minor exposure and tone adjustments in LR/SEP. They look like film in a way a digital file can’t be made to look. They lack the crispness of digital files but more than make up for the lack with a certain holistic ‘warmth’.

Or maybe not. Who knows. I just know I love film. Maybe you don’t. That’s OK…maybe.

Leica M5, 35 VC 2.5, HP5 @800

Nikon S2, 35 VC 2.5, Tri-X @ 800

Hits: 1160

23 thoughts on “The 35mm Film Look

  1. Nick

    Good luck with your endeavor. I could never get the right negative contrast with Diafine but I print on paper, no scan. Too bad as it is a very convenient developer as you pointed out.

  2. 32BT

    No, seriously, NO!

    Put those cameras somewhere safe where they can accumulate value for some family member two generations ahead of you to pass on to their heirs, and stop immediately.

    We’ve moved on, beyond film, and this whole fad about “liking some film look” while subsequently scanning to digital and viewing on a digital screen, primarily is an indication that the dinosaur in you hasn’t fully moved on and hasn’t fully adapted yet.

    As far as film is concerned, digital is like a giant comet hitting earth, and film should be buried under several layers of pleistocene rocks and petrified clay, together with the rest of the darwinian failures.

    But I’m sure Rob will chime in and praise you to heaven…

    1. Rob Campbell

      Hey, 32!

      Tim has no need for Rob’s praise and would ignore the opposite just as studiously – the result of that old-fasioned thing: eye. You gotta find his personal site of street stuff, and enjoy.

      But on the level of value for buck – effort buck, I mean – film, for me, is also in the past tense. As much as I grew up knowing nothing else, in my state or relatively impecunious retirement, it’s not an option. If it were, both you and Keith know that even beyond my Nikons, it would be the 500 Series ‘blads and a 180mm or 250mm that would live beside me as I would try to home in to portraiture more than most other genres. Nothing beat that Swedish square for building up an image: you could see the thing without using more distracting buttons and batteries that could die in you. Classic gear leads to classic imagery, and I rather like classical things. Check out Chuck Berry. 🙂

      Digital imaging, after the camera click, is relatively easy to control if you have mileage with wet darkrooms because you already understand relationships between contrast, depth of shadow etc. and can avoid the disastrous siren songs of Photoshop which novices find irresistible.


  3. Rob Campbell

    Tut tut, Tim!

    A gentleman always lowers the seat when he’s done!


    If you have 300 films awaiting dev, don’t shoot anything more until you’ve finished with them first, or your Sisyphean task becomes a hate obsession that’ll drain the energy out of you, never mind the spiritual destruction of all the scanning to follow. I concluded some time ago that scanning fresh material doesn’t make sense unless you have the facility first to make contact sheets, thus removing the chore of 35 wasted scans per cassette of 36 possibilities. Visual inspection of content of tiny negs was never my forte nor, I believe, of anyone else.

    Let the cameras have a longer rest; they are your servants not the other way around. Solve the logjam before going out hunting.

    On the other hand, the silver lining is that your condition is a much better one than was Winogrands!


  4. Keith Laban

    50 years ago whilst working in a dark cupboard I was overcome by toxic fumes and fell into a deep sleep. I dreamt of a time when my photographic prints could be made in my airy studio alongside my paintings, alas, only to awake and to continue with my nightmare.

    40 years later my dream came true.

    1. Leicaphila Post author

      You got something against “toxic fumes?” Me, I love the smell of fixer. Sue me, Keith.

  5. Rob Campbell

    Fifty years ago, when working in my custom-made darkrooms – I had one in the loft and one at my studio – I was happy as the proverbial pig in poop. I had a unique talent developed after many years learning in an industrial photographic setting and the world was wonderful.

    Today, folks can just try, try and try again pressing a button here, a button there, and after a couple of riskless hours or so, come up with something that works for them – like that monkey swinging past his typewriter and hitting a key every second or third swing: et voila, a book!

    Wet was visceral whereas digital is solely cerebral – at best. I’d rather a real fuck than one online.

    Would I go back? Only in my old setup, and with the old materials, but never in Spain.

    I guess I feel one’s an art, the other just a science.


  6. Keith Laban

    Art, talent, defined by medium? There’s a world in which I’d rather not work. Fact is if I had to return to those oft mentioned ‘Golden Years’ I simply wouldn’t bother.

    Hey, Rob, I look forward to seeing those wet darkroom results on your return to Scotland, but wait…damn, I won’t be able to see them in this, the “cerebral” world.

    1. Leicaphila Post author

      Keith: do you yell at kids when they run on your lawn? Asking for a friend….

    2. Rob Campbell

      The Scottish return is still in the realm of fantasy until the right person is sent by God to purchase my Med pad and permit me to return to civilization and, with luck, find a local model desperate enough to risk working with an Ancient last seen on the scene there at the turn of the 70s into the 80s! Well before she was born.

      The next step will be looking for some client looking for somebody capable of shooting genuine à la 60s! That seems likely to offer frustration as great as finding some Brit insane enough to buy in Europe before Brexit is put to bed, one way or the other.

      But even then, the darkroom won’t happen because I won’t buy a house again. Had enough of gardens, lawns, flower beds etc., and no apartment I can buy will be big enough for darkroom space: no cupboards or adapted loos for me – can’t work like that.

      It will be time to consider the then version of the Z7… unless they come up with one with a square sensor, at which consideration would vanish and the credit card come out!


      1. 32BT

        OMG, Rob going high-res on us! That’ll be the day.

        Did you know that they sell houses sometimes via chinese raffle? That could well be an option for your apartment while at the same time generating some extra cash for both that Leica and the roadtrip back home. ^^

        1. Rob Campbell

          You have a point – several, in fact.

          It feels to me that any more equipment will be overkill for what I do. I also feel that my head is about to burst: I think twice this week I didn’t sleep a minute, and this morning follows such a night. Unless I drop off right away the wheel starts to turn, slowly, and then faster than I can keep up with it, from topic to topic, one stupid problem to the other, all of whjch vanish into insignificance when dawn appears, but by then it’s too damned late, and I feel done.

          Selling. I’m starting to think that that’s a big part of the problem, and that I simply won’t have the energy to start again from scratch if I do get it sold soon. On the one hand it sounds like a new interest, something fresh to do, and on the other, that step too far for my energy and health. These things were easy when my wife was alive, but all that changed. Ditto the road trip back… it would probably turn out cheaper and more convenient using taxis if/when I get back to the big smoke, I think getting a new insurance policy in Britain could be problematic at my age, especially with a left-hand drive car. Part of the logic was that if I kept the thing and drove it over, then the same company could change the policy to their UK branch but would they want to? You get why sleep becomes difficult some nights?

          And I neither smoke, nor drink more than that one goddam glass of red a day.

          Maybe that’s another effin’ pair of mistakes!


  7. Keith Laban

    Well, Rob has been a friend for more years than I care to remember. It takes a good friend to exchange banter as we do and not take it to heart.

    Or perhaps you thought I was trespassing on your lawn?

      1. Keith Laban

        Tim, fret not, we’re all round at yours.

        You set the agenda, we merely comment as we see fit. Can’t promise my comments will always gel with yours, but wouldn’t this place be all the poorer if they did?

        1. Leicaphila Post author

          Keith: you’re taking me way too serious. I actually enjoy your input immensely. You bring a much-need contrarian perspective. You, Sir, are not a Lackey.

          1. Keith Laban

            Tim, I know what you mean, I’d hate for anyone to take me or anything I say too seriously. Hell, if I don’t, why should anyone else?


  8. Henry

    I love shooting film. I love the way my old Leicas feel in my hand, I love the act of loading film, shooting film, rewinding film. It’s very zen. The old cameras and lenses still make great images, if I do everything more or less right. There are some great film emulsions out there, too.
    I love the physical act of developing my films. Pulling a wet roll from the reel after washing and seeing real, physical representations of a reality still gives me a kick.

    I do not love, however, bringing these negatives into the digital domaine. It almost always disappoints. At best, I can say, “that doesn’t look too bad.” There’s something about the scanned negative that loses just enough quality to take a little wind out of the sails. The images look great on the new, but not so much on screen.

    Darkroom prints are the way to go – I know this, but I don’t have my darkroom set up. And I’m not sure my wife would appreciate me disappearing every evening to work on prints. (Then again, maybe she would?) As I am at the point that I believe that darkroom printing will “save” my film photography, we shall see.

    1. Rob Campbell

      I understand your zeal, but am not sure I fully agree with the idea that you necessarily lose a lot scanning and then processing in a computer. Yes, at print stage, real darkroom paper is king, though.

      I have turned some 70s and 80s Kodachromes into b/white A3+ prints on an HP B 9180 and they are amazingly good seen within an archival sleeve, not so good out of that glossy environment, but I was one who would only print on WSG papers well-glazed at that! On the other hand, I have almost no film negs left: sold to clients or destroyed most of what could not be sold before I left the UK for the new life in Spain. Worse, some b/white calendar negs I had and loved and would never have destroyed have vanished too! The mothers!


  9. Dogman

    Beautiful work, I admit. Three hundred rolls? And scanning?

    The very thought of having to develop film again makes me start looking for the Xanax bottle.

    1. Rob Campbell

      That’s pretty much how scanning grabs me: worth its weight in gold when I started building my website from trannies, but no way a choice I’d make right now.

      That said, this evening’s certainty could just as easily be out of date if somebody handed me a working 500 CM tomorrow, but that would mean a different scanner…. damn!

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