A curious case of film and skin tones

I've always been a fan of B&W film for portrait work. For many reasons I stopped using film altogether for past few years. It became very expensive to buy film, process (money) and then scan it (time). Digital is just so convenient. However last Christmas I managed to dust off my Hasselblad and I'm hooked again. I still use both however have started to use film more for personal work. Family portraits in particular. I've always liked the skin tones produced by certain color negative films such as Kodak Portra 160NC. Once you get a hang of processing and scanning results can be as good or better. And of course with B&W, if you are using larger format, tones are just superb. I will leave you with following images to ponder.

The following comparison is recently scanned film from 2009 with a digital image taken with a beautiful, small and fun Panasonic G1 camera.

Schwarzwald (Black Forest, Germany). Panasonic G1 + 14mm

Schwarzwald (Black Forest, Germany). Panasonic G1 + 14mm

Mamiya C220 TLR + 80mm Sekor Blue dot lens. Epson V750 with Vuescan software

Mamiya C220 TLR + 80mm Sekor Blue dot lens. Epson V750 with Vuescan software

Mamiya C220 TLR + 80mm Sekor Blue dot lens. Epson V750 with Vuescan software

Mamiya C220 TLR + 80mm Sekor Blue dot lens. Epson V750 with Vuescan software

Yours truly at work.

Yours truly at work.

 This is last week's portrait session done at home with one light. I've used a (almost) state of the art Sony A7ii with absolutely stunning Leica Summicron 90mm lens for digital capture. For film I used my Hasselblad 501C with 150mm Zeiss T* lens. Film is an expired Ilford PAN F ISO50. I bought it in bulk when Sauter in München (Munich, Germany) wanted to get rid of it. I think I took home some 45 rolls for less than 50€. It all got expired in 2007. Was kept in the freezer and then traveled in a container from Germany to UK. Ended up in our storage for a year or so before ending up in a freezer again. Until last week before it was exposed and developed in Ilford chemistry bough recently.

Sony A7ii + Leica Summicron 90mm designed by Walter Mandler.

Sony A7ii + Leica Summicron 90mm designed by Walter Mandler.

Hasselblad 501C with 150mm Carl Zeiss T*. Ilford PAN F 50 developed in Ilfosol for 7.5 min.

Hasselblad 501C with 150mm Carl Zeiss T*. Ilford PAN F 50 developed in Ilfosol for 7.5 min.

Circle of life

I've always loved theater. There is a minimalist approach to portray everything. Like an ideograph as the theater, film and opera director Julie Taymor puts it. An ideograph is like a brush painting, a Japanese brush painting. Three strokes, you get the whole bamboo forest.  In her most famous work, "The Lion King", she uses the essence of the story. The circle. The circle of life. Very effectively.

Ever since I saw the Disney movie, "The Lion King", I was hooked. To make images that may evoke emotions. I knew someday when I'm able to afford it I will buy a camera and make pictures. And so it all started when I got the Kodak KB 10. I had fun. Of course buying a film and developing it for small prints was a luxury. I had it for a couple of years and took it to Agra.

Summer 1998. Kodak KB 10. Kodak 400 ISO Color film. Scanned Print. It is amazing this came out so well. The camera has no controls what-so-ever.

Summer 1998. Kodak KB 10. Kodak 400 ISO Color film. Scanned Print. It is amazing this came out so well. The camera has no controls what-so-ever.

Moved to Germany and I graduated to a SLR. EOS 500N. Again, had great fun. Many images. Memories. In particular that of being an exchange student in Germany for masters.

Winter 1999. When I was in Germany as an exchange student one of the popular pop-song was "waiting for tonight" by JLo. It was my dream to be in Paris on the  Millennium eve . Unfortunately this was the evening before. EOS 500N + 28-80mm. Some Neg Film.

Winter 1999. When I was in Germany as an exchange student one of the popular pop-song was "waiting for tonight" by JLo. It was my dream to be in Paris on the Millennium eve. Unfortunately this was the evening before. EOS 500N + 28-80mm. Some Neg Film.

Then I got to know about the slide films and I was hooked. Velvia was magic. Projecting it was the next best thing to be actually there.

Summer 2002. EOS 500N + 28-80mm Kit Lens. Fuji Velvia 50

Summer 2002. EOS 500N + 28-80mm Kit Lens. Fuji Velvia 50

Summer 2002. EOS 500N, 28-80mm Kit Lens, Fuji Velvia

Summer 2002. EOS 500N, 28-80mm Kit Lens, Fuji Velvia

And then the bug of larger film hit me. I went from 35mm to 645, then to 6x6, then to 6x7. And eventually a large format camera with 6x7 back or sheet film (4x5 inches). Interestingly the equipment I carried was often the camera with a waist level finder and a standard focal length for the format. That habit has still stayed with me.

Spring 2004. Pentax 645Nii, 55mm. Velvia. I'm yet to see a view-finder to match this one. A friend once said this is so iMAX like.

Spring 2004. Pentax 645Nii, 55mm. Velvia. I'm yet to see a view-finder to match this one. A friend once said this is so iMAX like.

Autumn 2004. Pentax 6x7, 90mm Lens. Fuji Velvia. Image made as part of my "On the way to work" project. Göttingen.

Autumn 2004. Pentax 6x7, 90mm Lens. Fuji Velvia. Image made as part of my "On the way to work" project. Göttingen.

Spring 2004. Mamiya 645 + 80mm. This was my favorite light-weight travel camera for close to 3 years. And with few Velvia roll films in the pocket I was happy as Larry.

Spring 2004. Mamiya 645 + 80mm. This was my favorite light-weight travel camera for close to 3 years. And with few Velvia roll films in the pocket I was happy as Larry.

Autumn 2005. Taschihara 4x5 Field camera with 6x7 back. Velvia 50. Harz National Park, Germany. Large format camera is like a meditating tool. You get under the dark cloth and can keep refining composition and focus.

Autumn 2005. Taschihara 4x5 Field camera with 6x7 back. Velvia 50. Harz National Park, Germany. Large format camera is like a meditating tool. You get under the dark cloth and can keep refining composition and focus.

Summer 2005. Taschihara 4x5 Field camera with 6x7 back. Velvia 50. Image made as part of my "On the way to work" project.

Summer 2005. Taschihara 4x5 Field camera with 6x7 back. Velvia 50. Image made as part of my "On the way to work" project.

Autumn 2006. Beginning of the end of film use. Or was it? Nikon D80 with 18-70mm Nikkor. Film development started to become expensive and digital cameras cheaper. Hesitant but I started to use digital finally. It was not as good as medium or large format scanned film but so much better than 35mm film scanned.

Autumn 2006. Beginning of the end of film use. Or was it? Nikon D80 with 18-70mm Nikkor. Film development started to become expensive and digital cameras cheaper. Hesitant but I started to use digital finally. It was not as good as medium or large format scanned film but so much better than 35mm film scanned.

Autumn 2006. And finally a L lens (Canon 17-40L) to get the best out of the matching sensor. EOS 5D was a revolutionary camera. First full format sensor with those lovely and fat 12 mega-pixels (more than enough for most people).

Autumn 2006. And finally a L lens (Canon 17-40L) to get the best out of the matching sensor. EOS 5D was a revolutionary camera. First full format sensor with those lovely and fat 12 mega-pixels (more than enough for most people).

Autumn 2007. One of the best thing with EOS 5D (and other canon cameras) was that it allowed to adapt legacy lenses. I bought few interesting lenses. One of my favorite has been 35mm Olympus Zuiko SHIFT. This should would not have been possible with the two-way shift this unique lens allows. I still have that lens and use it once in a while. Image made as part of my "On the way to work" project.

Autumn 2007. One of the best thing with EOS 5D (and other canon cameras) was that it allowed to adapt legacy lenses. I bought few interesting lenses. One of my favorite has been 35mm Olympus Zuiko SHIFT. This should would not have been possible with the two-way shift this unique lens allows. I still have that lens and use it once in a while. Image made as part of my "On the way to work" project.

However cameras kept evolving. EOS 5D was my dream camera for years. I bought it second hand as my first full frame digital camera. Technology though was moving fast. I jumped from Nikon and then to Canon before settling on Sony A7 series.

Spring 2012. Nikon D600 with 24-70 lens. Lake District.

Spring 2012. Nikon D600 with 24-70 lens. Lake District.

Summer 2014. Canon 6D with 45mm TS-E lens.

Summer 2014. Canon 6D with 45mm TS-E lens.

During one of the munro bagging trips in the highlands I realized I need to reduce the weight of the equipment. Climbing and heavy equipment, particularly in countries such as Wales and Scotland does not go well together. This was early 2014. Sony A7 was making waves. It also was the best in terms of adapting legacy lenses. The choice was easy.

Christmas day 2016. Sony A7ii + Loxia 50mm. A match made in heaven.

Christmas day 2016. Sony A7ii + Loxia 50mm. A match made in heaven.

Fast forward to 2017. During annual "clean up" of the garage I found a bag of expired (2005!) black and white Negative film and a few Velvia slides. And it just brought smile to my face. I thought what if? Out comes the old and trusty Hasselblad 500CM with Zeiss 80mm. It was almost a decade ago I had developed or even used film. Instead of the instant gratification and mostly forgotten images, here I was carefully working on compositions. Just 12 exposures I told my wife and was delaying the gratification of "review it on the back LCD". I knew there is something better in store. That moment when it comes alive on the paper in the dark-room. That moment of truth when you think have I loaded it correctly?, Was there any light leak perhaps? or Are these chemicals okay to use? And then you hang it to dry. And keep looking at it...And you know what was missing. 

1st Jan 2017. Hasselblad 500CM + 80mm Planar. Ilford HP5+ ISO400. Developed in Ilford Ilfosol3 1:9 for 7 min.

1st Jan 2017. Hasselblad 500CM + 80mm Planar. Ilford HP5+ ISO400. Developed in Ilford Ilfosol3 1:9 for 7 min.

After all it is about memories. Evoking emotions. From the very first image at the top - which brings back the memories of an endless chat with the best friend on Temblai Hill in Kolhapur to the last one on this page - of walks around the house with my son I cherish.  Both made with simple 50+ year old technology....but 20 years apart. Exactly 20 years after the Disney's enchantment act I was also fortunate to see Julie Taymor's masterpiece live on stage. Circle of life.