First Impressions with Expired Kodak BW400CN Film at Princeton-By-The-Sea, CA

Hey, folks! I’m back with another non-technical review and this time I’m focusing on a particular type of Kodak film that never really found a true following and has since been discontinued as of their Aug 14, 2014 notice. I am referring to Kodak’s BW400CN, which stands for a B&W chromogenic 400 speed color negative. Black and white color negative, you ask? What kind of oxymoron is that?? Well, it was actually a very intelligent move on behalf of Kodak years ago as photo developing was taken over by fancy machines that could crank out color negatives in a matter of ten minutes.

Traditional black and white negatives were developed using a calculated method of temperature, developer and fixer to match each particular film for optimal results that a streamlined process was never made available. To date, most photo labs that process B&W films still do it by hand and is obviously more labor intensive. Yet, as color negative film was manufactured across all platforms and brand names to use the same developing process (C-41), a machine capable of streamlining the developing of the negatives was a godsend. So, what better way to satisfy a consumer market still in love with black and white images than by developing a black and white negative that can be developed in standard chemistry found in the available machinery that would allow for 1HR service for a quick turnaround even at a pharmacy developer? Bingo!

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BW400CN satisfied a market for photographers that wanted to shoot b&w but didn’t want to pay the price tag and potential human error factor of hand processing traditional b&w film OR didn’t want the hassle of developing their own traditional b&w film at home. And you would expect that this new fangled film would be mediocre at best, right?? Abso-freakin-lutely NOT!!!

Most of my adventures in film have all revolved around the excitement and sense of satisfaction of developing my own film in my bathroom-turned-darkroom with the aid of 3 yards of thick, black felt purchased at the local fabric store that gets pinned to the bathroom door to help seal out the light coming in around the door frame. It’s a ventilated bathroom free of windows, so other than the door frame, I don’t have to contend with any other light leaks. In fact, I only require complete darkness for the process of loading the film into the reels that are then loaded into the developing tanks. Once in the light proof tanks, the lights turn back on and everything happens in the light. Given my enjoyment, I really had no desire to go after a color process b&w film.

One of the golden rules that I heard over and over again was that only b&w was able to be home processed. “You can’t possible process your own C-41 at home!!”, I heard many times. Yet, when I would jump on YouTube or read the photo forums on related topics, I would see people successfully developing their own C-41 at home. There had to be something to it, right? I took the leap of faith with Freestyle Photographic (a huge website for anything and everything for film fanatics and more) and ordered one of the C-41 developing kits.

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Prior to taking the leap, I had come across a few great deals on both the Kodak and Ilford versions of C-41 b&w films and figured I would have to try this stuff out myself. I found a singular auction that was cheap enough for me to use some Ebay rewards points I had accumulated and used them to purchase an expired roll of Kodak BW400CN to test out. The film was expired by just a little over a decade, so I figured I would have to make some adjustment to compensate for the aging of the film and however it may or may not have been kept. Since this film is a 400 speed, I figured I would go with the recommended adjustment of 1 f-stop per decade to compensate for age and shot this roll at 200 speed.

I used my Pentax 6X7 with a 90mm f/2.8 lens while visiting the neighboring town of Princeton-By-The-Sea, CA. Just a few minutes north of Half Moon Bay, Princeton is a tiny little town with the biggest working fishing community south of San Francisco. Home to one of my favorite seafood restaurants, Barbara’s Fishtrap, Princeton is a frequent hangout for us when we want to get away just a bit and have some great seafood.

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On the weekends, the locals can be found hovering around the boats returning from their rounds ready to sell the fresh catch just as it comes off the boats. We happened to head down there this April just as the Dungeness crab season was coming to a close. The fishing industry is all too interesting to me and always a great subject for testing out a new roll of film, so I had at it!!

It wasn’t until months later that I took the leap to purchase the C-41 developing kit, and to be perfectly honest, I had almost forgotten all about the roll of BW400CN. What a pleasant surprise to see the beautiful images come to life as the negatives were drying. Just like standard color negatives, the roll of film came out looking murky and with a film on the entire length. I had read that as the film dries, the clarity comes in, so I remained patient. Within a few hours, the images appeared to be popping and my adjustment of the 1-f/stop to shoot the roll at 200 speed was proven accurate.

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It wasn’t until I scanned the negatives that I truly appreciated the film for what it was. Although I tend to favor the high contrast films, I found that I rather enjoyed the neutral tones and found the images to be incredibly sharp, yet smooth. The film has very good shadow detail and a low propensity to blow out on highlights. Kodak advertises the film to be the finest grained b&w they offered until its announced discontinuation date, but I don’t know about all that. I do admit that it looks great, but there was still plenty of apparent “grain” to the image. Could this be a result from the grossly expired film? Quite possibly, but after the discontinuation notice, I doubt I’ll be able to readily find the film at my local photo shop.

So, what’s the verdict, you ask? I say grab some BW400CN and go to town!! I will be actively looking for auction lots on EBay for both expired and current offering to continue to play with until all stock runs out everywhere!!!

Another one bites the dust…

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A Previous Excursion with the Mamiya 645 AF at the Ferry Bldg and Justin Herman Plaza

Hi folks! I’m back from the Chicagoland area where I was fortunate enough to listen to our San Francisco Giants clench our third trip to the World Series in the last five years. Yes, listen and not watch, to my dismay. Not only did my hotel not have a sufficient cable package to offer Fox 1, but the hotel bar’s TV sets were fixed on Thursday Night Football. I tried the MLB at Bat app, but the Wi-Fi service was crap and only had one bar of service on 3G that didn’t get me any closer. So, I had to go all MacGuyer and use the hotel alarm clock radio. Luckily, I was able to track down the ESPN radio station and rode the ups and downs of the game until victory.

For today’s post, I thought I would continue in the theme of the shots taken with the Mamiya 645 AF w/ 80mm f/2.8 lens. A few months earlier than our dinner party, I headed down to the Ferry Bldg area on a weekend. I was able to figure out that it was on January 24-25 of this year since the ice-skating rink was still out, which tells me I need to start keeping better track of my equipment rental dates. The only reason I was able to determine those dates were thanks to the record keeping habits of Gasser’s. After placing a quick call to my friends in the still rentals department, I was able to determine the rental dates. I have to say that having a date imbedded in digital file is extremely convenient…and the point goes to digital on that front.

I do recall having a bit of trouble figuring out the selector button on the body of the 645 AF that would allow the change between manual focus, single autofocus and continuous autofocus. The previous renter of the camera had placed the body in continuous focus, so as I focused and composed my shot, I noticed that the focus point would always shift to the center of the image. I only recall all of this because I had reached a stand in the artisan marketplace just in Justin Herman Plaza that sold handmade coffee mugs with very interesting and funny catch phrases. I managed to snap a picture of one of the mugs, that I included below, before I started playing with the buttons to figure out the focus issue. I happened to continue to pick his mugs as my focus test spot to his displeasure since he figured that I was taking “too many” pictures of his mugs. He was rather rude about it, so I was happy to hand the rudeness right back and mention that I would have bought one of his mugs, but his lousy attitude got in the way. He tried to take his foot out of his mouth when he realized that I had a film camera and had no intention to copy his mugs for profit, but we walked away.

The optics available on the autofocus lenses for the Mamiya 645 AF system are top notch. Although the body is more than happy to take the manual focus lenses as well, the autofocus lenses transmit data about the image to the camera that allow it to meter and expose the image properly, such as focal distance and aperture settings. Although I did find with this particular shoot that the small hood available on the 80mm f/2.8 is rather shallow, it did the job on most every shot. There was one shot that I put the hood to the test, and as you can see below, it appears as if it manages to block out the direct sunlight in only part of the image, while the rest of the image is blown out quite a bit.

Other than that, the camera is rather brilliant. It is very intuitive, quick to respond on the autofocus and appears to have its meter tender spot on exposure settings for awesome images time after time. The biggest perk of the camera is that the film back used with the cartridges is replaceable with the Mamiya and Leaf line of digital backs that make the camera completely digital with one simple (yet extremely expensive) accessory. The camera even with the film setup is on the pricey side, but photographers understand that most of the time you have to pay for quality.

Will I run out and spend nearly $1,000 for a body alone anytime soon? I seriously doubt it when I have the convenience factor of being able to rent it from Adolf Gasser’s nearly anytime I desire. But would it be a welcome part in my photographic arsenal? Oh, hell yeah!! For now, I’ll stick to my photographic guerilla tactics of taking the cheap route until someone chooses to start paying my ass for my imagery!! Ha!

Justin Herman Plaza Ice Rink

Justin Herman Plaza Ice Rink

Inside of the Ferry Bldg

Inside of the Ferry Bldg

Mexico City F-Line Street Car

Mexico City F-Line Street Car

Ferry Bldg clock tower

Ferry Bldg clock tower

F-line Street Car

F-line Street Car

Handmade clay coffee mugs. I do LOVE killin' me some zombies...

Handmade clay coffee mugs. I do LOVE killin’ me some zombies…

Ferry Bldg clock tower

Ferry Bldg clock tower

Justin Herman Plaza ice skating rink

Justin Herman Plaza ice skating rink

The 80mm lens hood could be a little longer...

The 80mm lens hood could be a little longer…

How about we stop in the middle of the street and take a picture...

How about we stop in the middle of the street and take a picture…

Buns of steel!! Or maybe just bronze...

Buns of steel!! Or maybe just bronze…

Clock tower

Clock tower

Justin Herman Plaza artisan kiosks.

Justin Herman Plaza artisan kiosks.

More kiosks...

More kiosks…

Dolores Cemetary in Mexico City in Black and White / Panteon Dolores en Blanco y Negro

Hello everyone!! I’ve been pursuing a few opportunities to further my portraiture experience and have more pin-up and portraits to post on here, so I have not been posting a whole hell of a lot. Be patient, grasshopper, I hope to have some good stuff soon enough. After all, I have to give my public what they want to see, and it was clear with the number of visits I got to the blog when I listed the few pin-up pictures I have that you demand more!!!

But, today’s post takes us back to my last trip to Mexico City. One afternoon after my meetings ended for the day, I found myself with a few hours to kill. Yep, I could have slept a bit, but I grabbed the camera instead. When I asked the driver to take me to an old cemetery, I first got the “are you crazy?!?!?” look that I was expecting. Not only because that is the last request that he would expect for me to make, but also because the cemeteries in Mexico City are so convoluted, that they are not very safe at times. Stories of people who have been assaulted and robbed at gun point at the cemeteries had even reached my ears, so I needed to be sure that I would be safe. Once he got over his initial shock and got a chance to think about it, we decided on Panteon Dolores, which is one of the oldest cemeteries in Mexico City. He would accompany me throughout my walk around the place, so I felt pretty good about going.

I couldn’t have imagined the size of this place. Living not too far from Colma, which is has the largest population of deceased folk in all the Bay Area, I didn’t expect to be taken aback by a large cemetery. Holy shit!! This place was waaaaay bigger than anything in the Bay Area!! We drove around for a good fifteen minutes before we found the right stuff that I wanted to photograph.

The majority of the images featured here were either taken at the Italian or German cemetaries within Dolores, which were meticulously kept with caretakers in both areas when I arrived. Actually, both cemeteries had their respective chains with opened padlocks that I had to remove in order to gain access through their gates. I went to the Italian cemetery first and was immediately greeted by the nervous grounds keeper asking what I was doing with the camera. Obviously, my 1D with the Canon 24-105mm lens doesn’t exactly give me the option of saying “nothing…” He gave me a line about how it wasn’t allowed to take photos in the cemetery. So, my initial response was to ask, “Are the tenants going to complain???”

I didn’t get even a chuckle. He continued on with his complaining that if his boss came by he would get in trouble since it was listed in the cemetery policy that photos aren’t allowed to be taken. So, I decided to do what naturally you would do when in Mexico. So, I asked, “what if I gave you $20 pesos to go grab a soda and take a quick break and I’d be gone by the time you get back?? You can always tell your boss that you didn’t see me cause you had to go to the restroom…” He nodded his head that it seemed like a good idea, so I forked over the $20 pesos and off he went. What did that cost me with the currency exchange? It was about a dollar fifty…

I was out well before he got back and went on to the German cemetery. There I found myself with another groundskeeper that stood up to look at what I was doing. I waved at him, he waved back and went about his business. I guess he didn’t want a soda break…

After the German cemetery, I headed over to an area known as the Rotunda of Illustrious Men. It was a large rotunda that includes prominent authors, musicians, artists, and military figures that have helped shape Mexico into the cultural powerhouse that it currently is. This rotunda featured the tombs of the likes of Diego Rivera and David Siqueiros.

There was only one image that I took in the “regular” part of the cemetery that houses the general population that I decided to include. I must say that I was extremely disappointed with the lack of maintenance that the general population’s area received. There were overgrown weeds, memorials that had been defaced or damaged, there were many stray cats and dogs all over the place, garbage left over and around graves and a lot of food left for the deceased that perpetuated all the filth that I was witnessing. The Mexican culture believes that leaving your deceased loved one’s favorite dish will help them in the afterlife or will please them now that they are deceased. I’m no one to say that my beliefs are any better than theirs, but I just don’t understand why they can’t go out and buy prop food like all the restaurants do so that it doesn’t rot. I guess that can be funny how it came out, but I’m serious on a practical standpoint of not having all the strays and garbage that edible food left out results in.

Anyway, here are the images that I liked best. I converted them all to black and white for additional impact and used a lot of structure to make them pop. There were two images that were too tempting to use masks to allow the color to pop through for an added creative look to them. I like how they turned out.

Enjoy the images and feel free to leave any comments below. Good night all!!

Midtown Manhattan Is Beautiful In Dreary and Rainy Weather

Most folks would think that dreary, overcast or rainy weather is time to put their cameras to sleep. But, if you know what to look for, you would be surprised at the awesome images you can take by waking that camera up and taking it out for a walk. Obviously, I am not endorsing going out in pouring rain where you will not only get soaked, but your camera equipment’s weather resistance may be put to the test. That kind of experiment may end up a very expensive one if you don’t have pro level equipment. Better yet, let me describe the weather I was faced with in Manhattan last Monday when I flew in. The forecast was of 50% precipitation with an overcast day. It was pretty dreary, and yes, it did rain on and off, but it was a very light series of showers that I was able to wait out under overhangs or in assorted shops while pretending to be a shopper. The sky was completely gray and it made everything look colorless.

I would have thought like a great deal of you to just stay in the hotel room and rest up for the week-long marathon of meetings, but I was determined to take advantage of my being in Manhattan while a few hours with an open schedule. Then, I remembered a few years ago reading an article somewhere that said that dreary and overcast weather is the perfect opportunity to photograph in black and white. So, with this in mind, I headed out of the hotel with a small umbrella in hand ready to take on that colorful world with a black and white mentality.

My camera has a black and white preset, but I chose to shoot in color to see what would happen and later adjust the image to black and white in post processing using Photoshop or something of the sort. I did a fair amount of walking around all of Midtown Manhattan, but focused most of my efforts around the mile or so area surrounding the hotel to make a quick getaway back to the sanctuary of my room if it got to wet outside. I visited Grand Central Station, the Chrysler Building, The Rockefeller Center and St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

I photographed Grand Central Station inside and out, and featured a few of the indoor shots earlier this week. The Chrysler Building has been one of my favorite buildings for a very long time, probably since I became aware of architecture and how it can be the artistic expression of an engineering and structural masterpiece. I don’t care that it’s not the tallest building in the city or the country. I fell in love with the art deco styling that makes it one of the architectural wonders of this country.

What I do care is that it no longer has an observation deck, and hasn’t had one in my lifetime. From what I’ve been able to find on the internet, the last time the Chrysler building had an observation deck was back in the 40’s. I can only imagine that the Empire State Building being much taller, offered visitors a higher view that left the Chrysler Building in the shadows. What surprises me is that today’s inhabitants of the upper floors of the building haven’t thought of opening it back up and charging admission for a glance out of that iconic building. Hell, I would pay $40 to $50 to hang out for 1/2 and hour on one of the upper floors that have the Chrysler eagles on the sides just for the photo opportunity. That building oozes BADASSNESS!!!

I have a funny story that I’ll share with you. Later in the week, I had dinner open to myself, so I thought I would get out there and see what trouble I could get myself into. Then I thought that it would be pretty cool to find a restaurant that was close by to the Chrysler building, possibly get a window seat that faced it and take the camera along for a good meal and some great up close pics. I had seen in my room that the hotel featured a top floor restaurant that boasted great views. It was a little pricey, but I figured I’d call to get a little more detail.

My first call was to the front desk. I’ll keep my part in standard text and will italicize their responses. I kinda went like this: Front desk. Hi, I was thinking of having dinner at the restaurant on the top floor and was curious if you knew what kind of view I would have. Well, you would see all of Manhattan. Okay, well, from the pictures on the brochure here in the room it looks like all I would see is Queens. No, sir, you could ask for a view of Manhattan. Okay, do you know if we can see the Chrysler Building from here? Absolutely; would you like me to make you a reservation? Nah, I think I’ll hold off a bit and think about it. Then I hung up. It was pretty weird, so I thought to call the restaurant itself. Here is that conversation.

Blah blah blah restaurant, may I help you? Hi, I am a guest at the hotel and was just asking the front desk if you guys would happen to have a view of the Chrysler Building from any one of your tables. Well, sir, we haven’t seen the Chrysler Building in about 15 years. Do you mean that you haven’t been allowed to leave the building in 15 years?? No, sir, I mean that in the last 15 years another building has obstructed our view of the Chrysler Building. Oh, the way you said it sounded weird. Well, if you’d like to come up for dinner, I can sit you at a table that gives a view of a building that resembles the Chrysler Building. But it wouldn’t be the Chrysler Building?? No, but most people can’t tell the difference at night. Well, I can and wouldn’t want to be staring at a building that looks like the Chrysler Building if it isn’t the Chrysler Building. (At this point, the conversation starts to get testy by both parties…) At what time would you like to make your reservation? Well, I don’t want a reservation if I can’t have a view of something interesting. Do you have a view of anything else? Well, the Empire State Building is further away, but I can offer a corner table by the window that would give you a partial view. Partial view? What’s that? Well, it means that if you lean a little towards the window, you are able to catch the corner of the Empire State Building. Oh, well I once sat through the Phantom of the Opera in a “partially obstructed view” seat and it really sucked. I would venture to say that this might suck as well. You may be right, sir. Is there anything else I can help you with? Nah, thanks for your time, you were very helpful. Click…

I ended up going out for pizza down the street from the Empire State building, but that was just one of many odd conversations I had while in NYC…

Going back to my photos, the color renditions of the following photos I am sharing with you came out very bland and flat due to the dark and gray sky. They almost looked to be black and white, even though they were taken in color format, because of the weather. I converted all of these to black and white using Photoshop and enhanced the sky a bit by bringing out the contrast in the angry and rolling clouds. I added a little sharpness and away we go…

After photographing the Chrysler Building, I made my way over towards Rockefeller Center. I stopped at St. Patrick’s Cathedral only to find it covered in scaffolding on one entire side. I did have a very enjoyable photo session inside that I will share with you guys tomorrow. After leaving the cathedral, I went over to Rockefeller Center and decided to spring for the admission ticket to the observation deck. It was totally worth it, even if the admission ticket gal warned me that the observation deck wasn’t offering a clear view of much of the city that day. I decided to go up anyway and still enjoyed myself. The pic of the Empire State Building with the city all around was taken from the Rockefeller Observation Deck.

The black and white photo of the Brooklyn Bridge that I featured yesterday was thrown in just to give an example of what can be done with pictures even on the clearest days in black and white. It is simply a classic medium that will never go out of style and adds class to just about any image if contrasted well. Enjoy!!