Film Photography News — May 2024 Recap

New Film, New Cameras, FREE Camera, ULF, and Film Canisters

12 min read by Dmitri.
Published on . Updated on .

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What’s new?

Polaroid’s old-school SX-70 film packaging, but even more importantly: a significant update to their B&W 600 emulsions. Foma Bohemia and Shanghai also release new¹ films. Ilford announces their Ultra Large Format order window. I complain about the plastic 135 film canisters, and the internet agrees. Nana (Kickstarter) and Lomo’Instant Automat are the new² film cameras of the month. Plus: northern lights 💫 on CineStill 800T pushed to 6400!

GOLD members get to learn a new creative Polaroid film technique: “Sol Prints.” And, “Developing Film in Cannabis” is free until July 1st! (after this, it’ll become a members-only read).

🪲 New subscribers: A bug in the system prevented emails like this one from reaching your inbox. It has since been fixed, and the normal service is resumed. Expect your next Community Letter on June 25th.

Limited edition Polaroid SX-70 film packs featuring Paul Giambara’s original package design.

New film from Polaroid.

This month, Polaroid sold a limited run of Paul Giambarba SX-70 colour film packs. Paul was a Polaroid designer who worked with the company’s founder, Edwin Land. The pink, orange, yellow, green and blue nested rhombus design garnished some of the first integral instant film packs in 1972.

The limited edition packs are sold out on Polaroid’s website (at $19.99) but can still be found on eBay from a reseller at $34.99.

New Polaroid 600 Black & White film features an improved dynamic range, extended archival properties, and sharper images.

Yet more consequentially to the future of instant film, Polaroid delivered new chemistry in their black and white 600-series frames.

Polaroid film has a notoriously narrow dynamic range (around 3.5 stops), which makes it difficult to use in high-contrast situations. Both new and experienced photographers complain about blown highlights and shadows that swallow important image details.

But on May 8th, the company announced improvements to their 600 black and white film chemistry which includes a wider dynamic range, extended archival properties, and sharper images. Polaroid has also confirmed that the updated chemistry will be gradually rolled across their entire monochrome range.

Given that film is the most important component of a camera, these improvements will likely affect the entire Polaroid instant imaging line, including their I-Type and Go series. A wider dynamic range and a microcontrast boost will almost certainly improve results for both casual and deliberate photographers; which, I hope, will lead to more innovation from Polaroid and better use for our fancy vintage cameras.

Sol Prints.

Speaking of the improvements that Polaroid is bringing to its integral instant film frames, how about taking creative advantage of the medium’s inherent weakness?

Last week, I published a guide for making Sol Prints — a technique for selective sun bleaching to add intricate designs to your Polaroid frames over time.

I haven’t seen this done or documented by anyone else, which is strange, given how long we’ve had instant film around. Perhaps it’s because not all Polaroid packs will produce this effect, and the effect takes considerable time to form.

“How to Make Polaroid ‘Sol Pints’” is an exclusive article for GOLD members along with others, like Master the Sunny 16 Rule!” (a course on measuring light without a light meter).

Northern lights on CineStill 800T.

Speaking of measuring light, photographers on all continents had a unique opportunity to capture northern lights on film earlier this month. Unfortunately, the process isn’t straightforward or well-explained for analogue shooters (all advice is geared towards digital cameras with LCDs).

An extreme solar storm occurred on May 11th, which pushed the aurora borealis display unusually far south. For the first time in many decades, the northern lights display manifested in large metropolitan areas like Vancouver, where I could see it a short drive from home.

Aurora borealis on CineStill 800T pushed +3 stops to 6400 with Pentax K 1000 and a 50mm Pentax-A 1:1.7. This image was exposed for 5s at f/2.0. Naturally, a tripod and a shutter release cable were involved.

Images of auroras aren’t uncommon on the internet — even more so after the 11th when my timelines blew up with photos from across the world. But I haven’t seen that many made on film.

And so, on that day, I dragged my wife and dogs to see the aurora display at a local park. I brought my Pentax K 1000 SLR with a tiny Fotopro tripod, a shutter release cable, and a 50mm lens. Most advice online recommended much wider lenses: a 20 or a 22. But I didn’t think it was strictly necessary for our location since Vancouver is still quite far from the north; thus, we’re looking at something that isn’t necessarily above us — rather at a distance, along the northern horizon line.

With the naked eye, I could only see a faint light shimmer no more than 40 degrees above the horizon. Light pollution certainly played a role. However, a camera with a long shutter delay, sensitive film, and a wide aperture significantly boosted the spectacle once scanned.

Aurora borealis on CineStill 800T pushed +3 stops to 6400 with Pentax K 1000 and a 50mm Pentax-A 1:1.7. This image was exposed for 5s at f/2.0.

Given that most photos of auroras online are shot with digital cameras, the advice was geared towards them. I could barely find any hints of exposure times; virtually every article suggested looking at an LCD and visually examining the results. Can’t do that with film.

Eventually, I decided to expose for just under -6 EV₁₀₀ or 0.04 lux, which in my case meant pushing CineStill 800T three stops to EI/ISO 6400 and keeping the shutter open for 5 seconds with the aperture set to 𝒇2.0. This seemed to have produced a good balance between keeping the exposure time low to avoid excessive motion blur while staying within reasonable bounds of what colour film can do.

Admittedly, I rated the film at EI 3200 when I loaded it into the camera, which is the speed I used for other shots on the roll. (For reference: the photo of the new retro Polaroid SX-70 film packaging at the top of this article is also shot on this roll). But by the time I was about to process the film, I realized that I had forgotten to compensate for reciprocity failure. So I added another stop in development, which meant over-exposing the non-aurora images on the roll by about a stop. Thankfully, that’s not a problem, given CineStill 800T’s extensive dynamic range.

Aurora borealis on CineStill 800T pushed +3 stops to 6400 with Pentax K 1000 and a 50mm Pentax-A 1:1.7. This image was exposed for 5s at f/2.0. The red streak above is a light leak form the film canister.

As you can see, the results are somewhat grainy, but that’s not the reason why they may look better on a small screen. The aurora display is quite faint; it appears to me that to be seen as a cohesive element in a photo, northern lights ineed need to be photographed with a wider lens. Even if the granules appeared smaller (i.e., as they would with a medium format camera), the aurora would still look faint or hard to identify unless we’re to show more of it. If I ever were to do this again, I’d use XPan, which can take extremely wide-angle shots with its 45mm lens while cropping out the empty skies above and the uninteresting black ground below.

One more thing: before I could share these images with you, I had to correct the colours. CineStill 800T is a tungsten-balanced colour film, which means that it’s made for the yellow artificial light. Photos taken in natural light will show a teal tint with this emulsion. An 85C colour filter can fix this, but I didn’t have it, so I played with the Color Balance Adjustment Layer in Photoshop.

☝️ Learn more about shooting CineStill 800T in natural/daylight.

Foma Bohemia and Shanghai’s new¹ films.

This month, Foma Bohemia released a 35mm version of Ortho 400 film (available only in medium format until now) in their beloved retro packaging.

Orthochromatic emulsions are not sensitive to red light, which is why you could make certain lab prints on black and white paper under a red safety light.

☝️ Learn more about orthochromatic film or read more about Foma’s new Ortho 400 release.

Shanghai Jiancheng Film (Shanghai Shenbei), known for its GP3 black and white film, began selling Shenguang 400 colour 35mm film. The film appears to be ORWO Wolfen NC 500 repackaged in metal cassettes with DX code. More about the film and the release.

¹ — Both Ortho 400 and Shenguang are existing emulsions in a new format and/or packaging.

135 film canisters are better when they’re made of metal.

Speaking of metal cassettes with DX codes, they are not to be taken for granted.

Modern 135 film cassettes can sometimes comprise of plastic casings that some manufacturers choose over the traditional painted aluminum tubes. Unfortunately, my experience (corroborated by film photographers on Mastodon and Bluesky) casts plastic cassettes as relatively fragile and impractical with point-and-shoot cameras.

You can easily identify plastic cassettes by the stickers attached to a black resin body and small locking mechanisms on either side of the canister:

Plastic 35mm film canister (left, plain black surface) vs. metal 35mm film canister (right, with a DX code and a bar code).

Film photography’s ongoing revival created tremendous demand for 35mm film, which legacy manufacturers (i.e., Ilford, Kodak, Fujifilm) can not fully satisfy alone. This is why small and medium-sized businesses stepped in with their offerings — from rebranded stocks to entirely new colour and monochrome films. Unfortunately for the new players, casings that make their films useful in cameras are difficult to manufacture at scale; whereas some brands had theirs made for them by Ilford, many firms ended up using alternative plastic canisters.

I think it’s good for us photographers to have more options. The alternative is film shortage, which is pricey and annoying. I’m happy to try new films no matter the packaging, but given a choice, I’ll pick whatever’s packed in a metal cassette. Here’s why:

Plastic cassettes have issues with the adhesives holding the strips of felt in the film slot that keep them light-tight. Once they come undone — due to friction caused by film movement — the glue sticks to the emulsion and jams the cassette. This does not usually happen on first use, but if you ever try to reload or bulk-load your used cassette, expect trouble.

Plastic cassettes do not have DX codes (which look like sets of black and silver squares). Whereas this isn’t an issue for manual film cameras, this could cause problems for point-and-shoot film cameras. Whereas most P&S’ will default to ISO 100, some will assume ISO 25, making correct exposures challenging or impossible with plastic cassettes.

New² film cameras from Lomography and Film Never Die.

Lomography has extended its collection of Lomo’Instant Automat cameras with new artist designs. If you’re looking for something to shoot Instax Mini film with and are a fan of William Klein, Vivian Ho, Suntur, Jarb, Opbeni, el Nil, Park Song Lee, or Gongkan (or just like their art), there’s plenty of options to sport both.

Lomo’Instant Automat cameras come with a 60mm 𝒇8-22 lens, an electronic shutter with speeds between 8s and 1/250s, and a wireless remote trigger. Focusing is done manually between .6m/2’ and infinity using the zone method. You will need two CR2 batteries and one CR1632 for the remote.

Lomography is selling these cameras from around $160 to $230 on their website. The prices range based on options (e.x., are film or lens filters included?)

Film Never Die’s Nana is a new film camera that got itself a surprise win on Kickstarter this month. I observed the campaign stagnate around the “50% funded” mark a few hours before closing, only to receive news that it went just over 100% in time for the deadline. I suppose this can be taken as a sign that we film photographers can be persuaded to pick the looks and the cool touch of a metal body over lens performance:

Designed by an Australian film lab, Film Never Die, Nana features premium metal casing but falls short when it comes to optics. Offered at ~$150 as part of the funding campaign, Nana is to sell for around $250 after launch. Unfortunately, it would still come with a 31mm 𝒇11 single-element fixed-aperture lens and a top shutter speed of 1/125s. These specs are similar to what you’ll find in disposable/reusable plastic lens cameras like the Harman EZ-35, which costs less than $40 and comes with film.

A photo taken with Lomography Super Sampler — my first plastic-lens film camera that sparked my obsession with the analogue medium.

The original specs for Nana featured an 𝒇8 lens and a unique two-step autofocus system — an ambitious design for a small business to take on. I was looking forward to seeing that materialize, but unfortunately, it’s unlikely to happen in this version of the camera.

While I am disappointed that Film Never Die’s ambitious plans to deliver better optics did not work out, I still think there’s value in new and interesting-looking film cameras. Lomography Super Sampler’s cheap and quirky multi-lens design introduced me to the diverse and rich world of film photography back in 2011. Of course, neither sharpness nor image contrast mattered when I could make unique images with a tiny, fun-looking box.

² — Lomo’Instant Automat cameras mentioned here aren’t new (they were launched back in 2016), but their design is refreshed.

I am giving away my Kodak Ektar H35N half-frame film camera and Lomography 30th Anniversary Metal Sticker + Officially Exclusive pin.

Win this camera!

If you are looking for an affordable film camera or don’t mind trying one of the hottest new Kodak-branded items, you may not need to spend a penny:

I’m giving away my Kodak Ektar H35N half-frame film camera along with a couple of extras!

Post a comment here telling me why you’d rather shoot film and share it with your friends. I’ll pick a random winner (maybe you) on June 23rd — details.

Ilford ULF event.

If half-frame film isn’t your thing (perhaps you’re looking for something enormous?), you have until Saturday, June 1st, 2024, to place orders with participating resellers for Ilford Ultra-Large Format orders.

Find brief details about the event plus documents here and the Ilford ULF page with more info here.