Sea to Sky With Olympus PEN FV & CineStill 400D

5 min read by Dmitri ☕️.

An old friend.

An old friend came to visit my new hometown for the first time this spring.

We’ve known each other for twenty years, having first met in the dingy dorm rooms at the University of Toronto. But lately, we’ve been busy living in two Canadian cities on opposite sides of the continent. Which means fewer chats about art, politics, and morbid jokes about the tragedies of life.

I arranged a day trip into the mountains to take advantage of the improving weather and catch up in a new environment. (We seem to have made it a tradition to find each other in different corners of the world every few years.) This time, it was en route to British Columbia’s coastal mountains — a two-hour drive from Thaya’s Air B&B.

We took the easy route, opting to ride the gondola up and down the slope — instead of a six-hour hike in deep snow.

Film and camera choice.

I made a list of recommended film stocks for snow photography a while back. But instead of following my own advice, I decided to try something new: CineStill 400D in half-frame format. I knew that this emulsion has a wide dynamic range which should allow me to take pictures of the snow-capped mountains without over-exposing my shots. I also knew that it comes with a remarkably-fine grain at the versatile ISO 400 film speed that suited well my camera of choice.

I wasn’t sure what the conditions would be like up top, so I decided to take my half-frame SLR, Olympus PEN FV, for maximum versatility. I outfitted it with an ultra-slim E.Zuiko Auto-S 38mm 𝒇2.8 pancake lens and Peak Design wrist strap making the whole package light and pocketable (when was the last time you could say that about an SLR?) This allowed me to keep the camera in a jacket pocket and shoot up to 80 frames without bringing any extra film. I packed light, as I thought I should.

Along with the gear, I made the choice to meter light using my Sunny 16 intuition while erroring on the side of over-exposure. This granted me freedom from an external light meter. I wanted my camera to be there to document the trip when appropriate without being a fiddly burden on our limited time together.

The catch-up.

Once we parked at the foot of the Sea to Sky Gondola line, I offered Thaya a weed gummy from the pack I had bought earlier at my local dispensary. We did the cheers, bought the lift tickets, and boarded the ride up.

It was a quiet, smooth ascent, shielded by the tinted plexiglass from the wind and the burning sun that peaked from the clouds occasionally.

Once we got to the top, we were greeted by the blinding rays reflecting off the brilliantly-white snow. It was spring and well above freezing at sea level for many weeks. But above the clouds, it was a winter wonderland. The months-long rain season over my tiny apartment in the city was actually a relentless snowfall over the peaks and its forests.

We caught up as we strolled along short, touristy trails while slipping, sliding, and occasionally sinking balls-deep into snow banks. There were a few clouds and haze, but the sun was bright and warm; our spring outfits appeared to have handled the mini-winter well. Later, we rented spikes that we mounted on our shoes, giving us the power not to slip endlessly — which felt glorious.

It was a fairly long and decidedly joyous trip, which, of course, had to end eventually. Thaya had to return to his life in Toronto, and I needed to go home and walk the dogs.

How did the photos turn out?

I tried shooting snow on CineStill 800T with the same camera earlier, which I thought was somewhat disappointing. It was daytime, and I didn’t use a filter — contrary to my own advice. The results ended up looking flat; the colour correction was tough.

Unfortunately, the 400’s daylight balance was not the improvement over the 800T I was looking for. The film’s extended dynamic range made contrast adjustments a necessity to bring back the dimensionality. The details were all there in the highlights — even when I over-exposed the film, but the resulting colour shifts made creating realistic-looking landscapes difficult.

A (signature) property of colour CineStill films is a missing rem-jet layer. The resulting red halos look fantastic with specular highlights and around night lights. Unfortunately, the same property added pink and red hues to the snow banks and skies. It was hard to fix in post.

I can’t stay mad at the few technical flaws on otherwise decent photographs. After all, they are a memory aid for a rare rendezvous with an old friend.

Knowing why the photos turned out the way they did adds to the story — which I’m hoping to revisit someday to reminisce and remember how much of a film nerd I am.