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 Night With The Golden Gate Bridge and a Manfrotto Carbon Fiber Tripod

Hello everyone!!

I’ve been here and there, but not nearly everywhere. But, I have something new to share with you all, so let’s get to it!!!

Sometime last month (or perhaps the previous), I headed out to the Marin Headlands to photograph the Golden Gate Bridge with a nice wide-angle lens for a few long exposure nighttime shots. I shared a few of the better ones here in the blog, but truth be told that I wasn’t too pleased with any of them. Why, you ask? Well, the tripod that I own is a cheaply made tripod under that was purchased in a big box electronics store. It was the right price for my pocketbook at the time, so I’m not ripping on the thing for being less than what I currently need. As far as tripods for a lightweight digital camera or point and shoot go, the thing is solid. But, strap a 1D mark II N along with a badass Tokina 100-300mm that both weight approximately 7-8 lbs combined and add a little Marin Headland crosswind coming in from the ocean, and you have a shaky platform that does not yield a steady shot.

I tried a few things, like standing in front of the tripod to try to block the strength of the crosswind, but that didn’t work. I tried timing the cross winds along with my 20 to 30 second long exposures, but that worked even less as the wind refused to cooperate. Naughty wind!!! I even tried pushing in a downward motion on the base of the tripod thinking that this may aid in keeping it steady. Wrong again, ol’ chap!!!

What’s the cure to the ailment? Get a freakin’ good tripod!! There’s quite a few names out there that are really good, but it is more than apparent that the Italians have the market cornered on good tripods. Maybe it has something to do with the stereotype of them having a large third appendage earning them the nickname of “tripod” that put them as the frontrunner in the industry. However, it is clear that their dedication to produce quality merchandise on which professionals rest their equipment worth into the several thousands every day is not up for debate, although the same can’t be said about the stereotype…

Manfrotto happens to be one of the names that is usually at the top of every pro photographers short list for their tripods, so when Gasser Photo had one of their Manfrotto carbon fiber tripods still sitting in the rental department this last friday afternoon, I couldn’t resist taking it out with the Bridge in mind for a re-shoot. I believe the combination that I rented consisted of the Manfrotto 055CX3 carbon fiber tripod and the 498RC2 ballhead. Paying full retail price for this combination would put you easily in the $550 range. If you shopped around a bit, you might be able to get closer to the $450-$500 range, but still you are putting out a pretty penny for this setup.

Is it worth it? As Tim Lincecum from the San Francisco Giants said in the 2010 season leading up to the World Series win, “FUCK YEAH!!!!” But, please keep in mind that this enthusiastic response is based on the criteria of requiring a steady tripod at the top of the Marin Headlands while dealing with 20 to 30 mph gusts of wind while trying to keep camera equipment weighing around 8 lbs steady for a 30 second exposure shot. Given all these conditions, the Manfrotto was worth the rental price of $20 for the weekend and the inconvenience of going out of my way on Monday morning to get it back to them before the noon deadline for the rental period.

Although I loved the tripod, am I going to run out and shell out the $500 for the combination right away? FUCK NO!!!! The reality is that I usually don’t have a need for that level equipment in the type of shooting I do. Most of everything that I shoot (or try to shoot) is handheld. Obviously, there was no way around hand holding the camera for these shots, and that is why the camera equipment rental industry is thriving!! They fill a niche of having the investment made in the inventory that most amateur and semi-pro photographers require in order to break into this field with a decent portfolio without having to shell out tons of cash. Without them, I’d be more lost than Clint Eastwood was while rambling off to an empty chair during his speech at the RNC.

So, the night started out with a killer Giants game that netted us a win. The game was over at about 10:30pm, and that was a perfect time to head out. I geared up with the Manfrotto carbon fiber tripod/head combination, a Canon 24mm L series lens that I also rented from Gasser only to not use, my new Sigma 50mm f/1.4 and my Tokina 100-300mm f/4.0. I dressed in layers just to be sure I wouldn’t either freeze my ass off or get uncomfortably hot, and headed out.

On the way across the bridge, I noticed that there wasn’t much traffic at the lookout point on the Marin County side just as you cross over the bridge, so I decided to make a pit stop. Although I was there for almost an hour taking many 30 second exposures with various lens combinations, there were very few tourists that came around at that hour. I shared the space with two other photo enthusiasts such as myself and even engaged in conversation with one regarding equipment choices. I found that I enjoyed the Tokina and the tight point of view that 100mm was offering best, so I went with it!! Here is one of my favorite resulting images…

Canon 1D Mark II N, Tokina 100-300 ATX f/4.0 shot in Manual at f/5.6, ISO 100 at 120mm for a 6 sec exposure in AWB

With the northbound traffic being the predominant traffic pattern occurring at that time of night, I was at a real disadvantage trying to properly expose the shot without washing out the bright white of the headlights and maintaining the bridge itself properly exposed.

Since I had the zoom on the camera, I zoomed in and out just to mess around and stumbled upon the next image in passing. As the focal range got tighter, I noticed that I got closer to the towers, but the fascinating part was the orange glow that was coming up from all the bridge lighting in the image. As you can tell from the previous shot, the lights that line the bridge on either side and illuminate the two towers are nowhere near the cool spectrum of white light, but go to the warm extreme of being almost orange. I am sure that this helps the color that the bridge is painted achieve its golden look. Here is the resulting image when zooming in on the north tower with the south tower in the background.

Canon 1D Mark II N, Tokina 100-300mm ATX f/4.0 shot in Manual at f/8.0, ISO 100, 225mm focal range for a 20 sec exposure in AWB

Next, I took off from the lookout point on the Bay side of the bridge and headed over to the Marin Headland side near the ocean. Coming northbound from the City, you would take the Alexander Exit and follow the signs to the Marin Headlands. It will take you under the bridge and over to the other side. Also, keep an eye out so that you don’t miss out on the right turn that comes up right before you get back on the bridge to head into San Francisco.

I decided to only go out to the second lookout point on the road. I keep meaning to head over there during the day so that I can hike all over the place in daylight and find the perfect spot where the hillside won’t be obstructing any of the bridge, as I’ve seen in other photographer’s work. But, pitch black at almost midnight with strong winds and plenty of camera equipment on you isn’t the best time to be hiking around looking for the best shot. I’ll do my homework some other time and revisit this shoot yet again. This bridge is soooo beautiful that I can’t imaging ever tiring of photographing it….

Since I already had the Tokina mounted on the camera, I decided to stick with the tight shots and zoomed images prior to going back to something that would provide more of a wide-angle view. The first image that immediately came to mind was to focus on the top of the north tower and capture the tower standing tall. Although I tried this next shot several times with a smaller aperture setting in order to obtain the star shape around the red light, I found that there wasn’t enough light for a proper exposure with the camera’s limitation of a 30 second exposure. Unfortunately, most of the Canon lineup comes with a max setting of 30 seconds for the shutter being open. There is a way around it though, which involves a shutter timer that allows you to program in any time that you desire to keep the shutter open. This is how very long exposures for nightscapes and star tracking is done. I don’t have one of these just yet, so I dealt with the 30 second exposure limitation and shot this image at f/4.0. I could have shot all the way down to f/8.0, but anything lower than f/4.0 would require a lot of brightening in Photoshop, and it just wasn’t worth it. Here is the resulting image.

Canon 1D Mark II N, Tokina 100-300mm ATX f/4.0 shot in Manual mode at f/4.0, ISO 100 at 300mm for a 30 second exposure

Next, I wanted to take an image that would involve the background lights of the city. In order to do this, I figured I would shoot through one of the spans in the bridge. Although the point was to blur out the background, I was surprised at how much the city was in focus while still maintaining the Tokina wide open at f/4.0. Here is the resulting image.

Canon 1D Mark II N, Tokina 100-300mm ATX f/4.0 shot in Manual mode at f/4.0, ISO 100 at 300mm with a 5 second exposure in AWB

Finally, I switched out the Tokina and decided to go with the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 to see what would happen. Although I did eventually switch over to the Canon 24mm, I found that the extreme wide-angle was resulting in a very small image of the bridge relative to the background it was recording in the image. So, the 50mm fit the bill, but there was no chance in hell I would be able to get the entire bridge in a single image. So, I decided to switch the AWB setting to a custom white balance with a color temperature of K 5200. Yes, it was a little warm for what I was doing, but I knew I would be able to adjust the color temperature in camera RAW in Photoshop and all I needed was to have the white balance in a level plane for when I used my image stitching software to join the three images together.

Just as expected, I turned down the warmth of the K 5200 white balance setting and am fairly pleased with the resulting image that includes a portion of the Seacliff and Richmond Districts lights.

Canon 1D Mark II N, Sigma 50mm f/1.4 shot in Manual Mode at f/4.0, ISO 100 at 50mm for a 20 second exposure at K 5200

That’s what I have for you for tonight, folks. Overall, I had a blast shooting these images regardless of how close I got to frostbite and losing my ears. I spent about an hour at each location and made it back home by 1:45am. A worthwhile outing with a worthwhile tripod that did the job fantastically. If you have the money and want the best for your equipment, please give Manfrotto a real serious look. If you’ll only need every once in a while like I do, you can rest easy in knowing that camera equipment rental houses like Adolf Gasser will have them in stock for you to rent any time.

Good night to all!!!

Different Focal Ranges at The Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park

Today I’d like to share with everyone some images that I took back on May 26th when I headed out with the family to the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. If you recall in one of my earlier posts, I had rented a Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 L series wide-angle lens from Adolph Gasser in anticipation of the Golden Gate Bridge 75th anniversary celebration. The Tea Garden was one of those spots that we had been wanting to go visit for quite some time, but just hadn’t found the time, so we made time to make it happen. I also mentioned that I would be giving a more in-depth review of the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 L lens, but in addition to that, I thought I would also discuss the differences in focal ranges and how most photographers will eventually become more familiar or comfortable with certain focal ranges which eventually help develop their vision. Let me explain further…

As I’ve mentioned plenty of times, I own a Tokina ATX 100-300mm f/4.0 that I absolutely love. This lens is tack sharp and provides the right amount of zoom for most telephoto shots. Obviously, at the lower end of 100mm, that is far from being considered something of a wide-angle, so there are instances where this lens would not be the optimal lens to take along. Not only that to take into consideration, but at almost 3 lbs, the Tokina is quite a load to bear all day long if not being used. Either way, I would be sure to come back with a sore back or neck when taking the Tokina along for the ride.

Almost completely the opposite, the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 L is all about wide-angle. At the high-end of 35mm, I suppose you could consider this a portrait focal range when you consider the 1.3X crop sensor that my camera has. But, this lens really shines as a wide-angle beast. I found the lens to be very sharp and super fast at autofocusing. In fact, it was significantly faster at autofocus than my Tokina. This is one of the perks that Canon gives you for the excessive price tag that L series lenses usually sport. If not, I can only imagine how pissed off Canon consumers would be.

I didn’t feel that there was any vignetting effect in any of the photos that I brought home with the Canon. This was somewhat of a problem with the Tokina wide-angle that I rented for my NYC trip. I was able to contend with it in post processing, but not having to deal with it with the Canon allows me to appreciate the rental all the more. Also, the Canon felt substantial and heavy, which tells me that there’s a lot of glass in there. All in all, I would have to say that the Canon wins hands down against the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 in image quality, sharpness in the corners and autofocus speed. But, at almost three times the price, I would probably opt for the Tokina until someone starts paying me to take photos. That’s just the guerilla photographer in me lashing out against the Canon price tags.

In getting back to the point I was trying to make about focal ranges, it’s only natural that when trying out a new focal range with a different lens that the photographer may feel a little uneasy and feel that the images being recorded aren’t representative of their vision. And having experienced this before, it was all the more reason that I wanted to head out to the Tea Garden to test out the Canon. But, my trusty Tokina was coming along for the ride.

The following images were all taken in one sitting at the Japanese Tea Garden in the span of about 2 hours or so. It was almost noon, so there was no difference in lighting from the midday sun throughout the session. What I noticed when I got home was that I felt that the Canon had performed admirably, but I hadn’t. I kept finding myself not knowing what to focus on in the image I wanted to record. And when I did find what I wanted, I was disappointed in how short the lens was even fully zoomed out to 35mm. The images came out just fine, but in knowing what I want to see in my photographs, I can tell that I was uncomfortable. Could this be simply because it’s not my lens and I wasn’t used to it? Or could it be that my vision in my photography is more of a up-close and personal style of photography to show the detail in things? I think it’s a little of both.

A weekend is very little time to try to get comfortable with a lens. And I don’t mean getting comfortable in the aspect of how the mechanical functionality of the lens works. That’s just silly; a lens is a lens. Where I am going with this is understanding the limitations of the focal range that the particular lens you are working with can give you and using that information to compose the image that you crave. Case in point; had I been comfortable enough with this lens to understand what the output would be along with prior knowledge to where the fireworks display at the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge would be located, I would have pushed my way through to Fort Point to capture the fireworks coming off of the bridge tower for awesome shots. But, in this case, I didn’t know where the fireworks display would be had and I wasn’t comfortable enough with the focal range to understand where would be my optimal spot to stand on.

In the series of photos that I am sharing with you tonight, the first 10 images were all taken with the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 L series lens. I found it interesting that the ones that appealed to me were all of up close images. Even with the lens zoomed out to 35mm, I was still having to stand fairly close to the objects that I was photographing. The final images were all taken with my Tokina 100-300mm f/4.0. As you can see, they are all full of intimate detail of the objects being photographed. You would think that I would totally be into macro photography, but surprisingly I haven’t had very much interest. There’s something about being able to stand further away and zooming in to capture detail that appeals to my photographic vision.

The time spent at the Japanese Tea Garden was well worth the effort. If you are in the San Francisco Bay Area and haven’t been to the Tea Garden yet, you are missing out on an afternoon worth of serenity and wonder as you walk through the garden. There is an admission fee of $7 for adults and $5 for kids, but it was totally worth the money. I believe there is a discount if you are a San Francisco resident with valid ID.  The Tea House is a small tea shop that serves teas and cookies that is open during operating hours of the garden. The Garden also features a large souvenir and gift shop. Be sure to walk all around and enjoy the various Buddha statues, concrete lanterns, gently trimmed shrubs, stone pathways and be sure to bring a bag of peanuts for some of the most friendly squirrels you’ll find anywhere, if that’s your cup of tea. There are plenty of open areas, but I believe that picnics are a no-no at the Tea Garden. There is, however, a large drum bridge that can be scaled for the brave of heart, but be sure to be patient with the inconsiderate tourists that are oblivious to the fact that they aren’t the only ones in the garden. There is a large koi pond where you can make a wish and toss a penny. If you toss a quarter, your wish will come true twenty-fifth-fold…

Since you usually save the best for last, I wanted to give my son credit for the last image. He has also been bitten by the photo bug and got a hold of my very first point and shoot Canon to test out. Clearly, he has interest and is deserving of a better camera to work with, so he should have something better in no time. I especially liked his image because of the creativity employed in taking this image. What appears to be a field of yellow brush is actually a manicured potted plant that he decided to shoot over. The effect was spectacular, so I wanted to be sure to give credit where credit was deserved. Well played, buddy…

As always, I’d appreciate your comments and questions. Thanks for looking and have a great night.

Warning!! It’s a Guy Playing With His Yo-yo…

Last Saturday, I decided to go into Golden Gate Park with my Tokina and the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 L series lens that I rented from Adolph Gasser mainly to get a feel for the wide-angle lens before heading over on Sunday to the 75th anniversary celebration of the Golden Gate Bridge. We first went to the Japanese Tea Garden and later walked over to the Conservatory of Flowers. In between both venues, we stopped in the music pavilion between the Academy of Sciences and the DeYoung Museum where a bunch of food trucks were set up for a bite to eat. We decided on a hot dog joint and had great dogs. While we ate, I noticed a large gathering of people and quickly figured that it was some kind of yo-yo competition, as I wouldn’t usually have seen many people openly playing with their yo-yo.

Oh, you were expecting something different from the title?? You sick puppy!! This is a clean-cut, no-nonsense blog!! Yeah, right…

But, seriously folks, it’s a guy playing with his yo-yo. I put the camera into high-speed mode and mowed him down with a series of shots. “Why share these?”, you may ask yourself. Well, we had a family dinner tonight and I didn’t get home until about 10pm. If I pick a topic that requires me to work up a bunch of images, I probably wouldn’t get done until real late and we’ve got our last little league game of the season tomorrow morning. And since I’m the furthest thing away from someone who springs right out of bed all happy, go lucky, I need all the help I can get with plenty of rest. So, I opted to leave the shots I want to share of the Conservatory of Flowers and Japanese Tea Garden for Sat and Sunday before I head off to Chicago for work.

Yep, I’m leaving you again for another week. This time, I’m heading off to the Windy City for a series of meetings. I’ll have the laptop with me, so I may be able to check in on occasion, but with it being my work laptop, I won’t be able to share any new images that I may be taking while traveling that may need work. Luckily, it’s just a series of meetings and not another industry gathering that usually involves late night drinks and schmoozing with potential customers.

So, take this for what it really is, a place setter so that I don’t lose my one post a day rhythm. From what I saw from this guy playing with his yo-yo in the competition, I could only wonder what he does with his other yo-yo…

Good night, all!!