Thursday, February 12, 2015

B&W Photography with Ilford XP2 Super and Kodak BW400CN

Most of my photography work over the last four years has been with black and white film, predominantly Kodak BW400CN film. This chromogenic film is developed in standard C41 color chemistry, so it can be quickly and conveniently processed and scanned at my local Mike's Camera store. With great shock and disappointment, I learned that Kodak discontinued BW400CN film production in 2014 – and with great shock and disappointment, my wife learned that I purchased sixty rolls of BW400CN as soon as I heard the news!

I also purchased ten rolls of Ilford XP2 Super 400 film, a similar B&W film. Personally, I prefer the Kodak BW400CN over the Ilford XP2 Super because the Ilford tended to look a bit more muddy in the shadows. I also like the ability to push the BW400CN to ASA 1600 because it enables me to use smaller apertures for increased depth of field in landscape photography and faster shutter speeds in street photography.

Here's a quick compare and contrast of the two films:

Ilford XP2 Super 400 (Amazon Link):
- Still commercially available
- Inexpensive
- Pushing not recommended
- Muddy shadows
- More contrasty

Kodak BW400CN (Amazon Link)
- Discontinued (but still available)
- More expensive (since being discontinued)
- Pushes well to ASA 1600
- Cleaner shadows

After experimenting with the Ilford XP2 Super over the last few months, I've found that over-exposing it by a stop or two results in much cleaner shadows. I'm happy with the outcome and can see myself shooting the XP2 Super as an alternative to BW400CN, when shooting at box speed (ASA 400). Additionally, I've asked the folks scanning the negatives to add less contrast during the scanning process. It's easy to add contrast to the scan in post-processing, but nearly impossible to reduce it. I typically don't do any post-processing to my film scans, but when the scans don't have sufficient contrast, a simple s-curve in Lightroom does the trick.

With a finite number of BW400CN rolls in stock, my new strategy is to use XP2 Super when shooting at box speed (400) and BW400CN when pushing (1600). This strategy should help conserve my limited supply of BW400CN film, enabling me to shoot it for years to come.

Here are a few photos – shot on Ilford XP2 Super 400.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Sunol Solitude

"In my mind's eye, I visualize how a particular...sight and feeling will appear on a print. If it excites me, there is a good chance it will make a good photograph. It is an intuitive sense, an ability that comes from a lot of practice."

-- Ansel Adams

After watching a video on Ansel Adams last night, I was inspired to get out of the house to engage the wilderness with my camera. Before retiring for the night, I packed my Patagonia MiniMass messenger bag with my Nikon FM2 (loaded with Ilford XP2 Super 400 film), lens filters, tripod, water bottle, and granola bars. Rising with the sun, I had a quick breakfast of cereal and coffee, and headed to the Sunol Regional Park, just thirty minutes away. I planned on starting my photographic journey at the bridge that heads toward Little Yosemite, however, the old, wooden bridge was replaced with a more industrial-looking metal bridge. The new bridge lacked the character of the original wooden structure, so I turned around and headed back toward the park headquarters.

I began my hike near the park headquarters, crossed the bridge over the creek, followed the trail to the east, and climbed gently up the Indian Joe Nature Trail. After a short walk, I reached the Canyon View Trail junction. While I've hiked at the Sunol Regional Park a number of times over the years, I don't recall the Canyon View Trail. Since my focus today was photography, something told me to take the trail. How can one pass up a trail named Canyon View?

Hiking alone today provided a few hours of solitude, and allowed me to focus my mind and eyes on the wonderful light illuminating the beautiful, green, East Bay hills. While hiking down the McCorkle Trail, I came across the tree in the photo above. I considered a few framing options, but none of them excited me, so I kept looking for "it." I've found over the years that if the composition in the viewfinder doesn't excite me, the resulting photo usually ends up being garbage. Finally, I climbed a few steps up the hill to the left of the trail and found the composition I was looking for. I liked the lone oak tree on the hill, with the long shadow cutting diagonally across the frame, and the interesting cloud filling the empty sky on the right side of the frame. Since I was shooting B&W film, I used a yellow filter to add contrast to the blue sky and added a circular polarizing filter to further enhance the cloud in the sky. I felt a level of excitement after seeing and taking the shot, and as it turns out, it was my favorite frame on the roll of film. The beauty of film is the excitement and anticipation of seeing the final print.

Here are a few more photos from this roll of film.

A Break in the Fence

Along the Canyon View Trail

The Trail Back

Sunol Regional Park

Here are a few miscellaneous photos from the roll.

No Parking - a photo from my bike ride through Livermore.

The Girls - a photo at the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco.