Seeing red (in black & white) – and the 400S film enigma

Pentax SP500 Spotmatic. Super Takumar 55mm f/2 lens. Hoya 25A red filter. Firstcall (Agfa Gevaert) 400S b/w film. Developed in R09. Scanned film on Epson V500.

I’m starting to brave the infrared b/w film world, as another step on the learning curve.  These photographs barely qualify – shot with a simple 25A red filter, onto Agfa Gevaert 400S budget film.  However, I’ve now got my hands onto an R72 infrared filter, and I have some Agfa Infrared 400S loaded in the Spotmatic.  It’s sitting there waiting for the right light and subject.  I might try it out tomorrow if they are still harvesting pumpkins hear to my home.  I’ll see what light and sky is available.

Actually, I have a question – should any readers be in the know.  I’ve been buying (and loving) FirstCall 400S budget b/w 35mm film for the past year.  It’s actually made by Agfa Gevaert in Belgium, and sold by FirstCall for £2.49 per film (time of publish).  I ordered another 10 films recently, but my provider has been having trouble sourcing them.  They’ve today sent me ten rolls of Agfa Retro 400S.  Now, is there really any difference between the budget FirstCall 400S, the Agfa Retro 400S, the Rollei Retro 400S, and the more expensive Agfa Infrared 400S?  Are they all the same emulsion and film?  Does the Infrared have any special properties to the other 400S versions?

As above image – SP500, 25A red filter, FirstCall 400S.

As I said – these two images were branded FirstCall 400S.  I know that it has near IR sensitivity.  Both of these images shot in the Spotmatic with the plain jane 25A red filter.

Expired Commerce

Expired Commerce. Pentax SP500 Spotmatic. Super Takumar 55mm f/2 lens. Firstcall (Agfa Gevaert) 400S b/w film. Developed in R09. Scanned film on Epson V500.

I like this one.  I think Nita noticed the antiquity of the shredded advertisement posters first.  We were walking down one of Wisbech’s old alleyways – this leading from the river, to the old market, when she spotted what we all pass everyday without seeing.  I had to step back into the back doorway of a nightclub, in order to frame it through the Super Takumar 55mm lens.  Just after I pressed down the shutter release on the Pentax Spotmatic, I was pushed in the back by a cleaner exiting the club.

Your photography is your view on the World

Street performer and harp, Cambridge. Pentax SP500 Spotmatic camera. Super-Takumar 55mm f/2 lens. FirstCall 400S b/w film. Developed in R09. Film scanned Epson V500.

I’m presently reading through Paul Hill’s Approaching Photography 2004 (first published 1982).  I’m using it as I guess, a training manual, to improving my photography.  I guess that is where the title for the post came from – as it has made me more aware that however we take our photographs – what we photograph, how we photograph – it’s very much individual, and shaped by our own perspectives of the World around us.


Enter the Spotmatic

My Pentax SP500. Taken with Sony A200 DSLR and Sony 50mm f/1.8 SAM lens.

There, I’ve done it again.  I visited a car boot sale, determined not to buy more cameras, and I did.  One of them however, appears to be my next primary 35mm film camera – replacing the Olympus XA2, the Olympus Trip 35, even the Pentax ME Super – as my No.1 35mm tool.  I really should settle – but each time that I think that I have, another beautiful old camera comes along and steals my heart.  This time it is a Spotmatic – a Pentax SP500.

I paid fifteen quid (GBP £15) for it.  An immaculate, or at least VGC Pentax Spotmatic 500, circa 1971/2 build – only 42 years young, and still in perfectly good working order.  Even the seals are intact, and yes, the light meter works.  The old battery was flat, but I used a cheap LR41 for a few days until a 1.35V zinc/air battery arrived in the post.  So far I’ve only tried it with FirstCall 400S b/w film.  I’ve set it a stop under, as 400S tends to underexpose – so I’ve selected it as ASA 200 on the Spotmatic.  I’m impressed so far by the photographs.  The camera comes with the m42 thread and highly rated Super Takumar auto 55mm f/2 lens.  Very clean, smooth and fungus free – even with the original lens cover as shown above.

The Pentax SP500 was late in the Spotmatic range – a range that was launched in 1964, as cutting edge technology.  An electronic sensor light meter – that is activated with a toggle button on the camera body – you then stop down the aperture ring to the light meter indication in the viewfinder.  The SP500 was a budget member of the range, with a more expensive brother – the SP1000.  The SP1000 had a timer, and … a top shutter speed of 1/1000!  This is the hilarious thing.  They sold the cheaper SP500, with a top shutter speed of only 1/500 indicated on the dial – but in reality, it used the same mechanics as the SP1000 – they merely removed the legend 1000.  It has a the higher speed of 1/1000 on an unmarked position on the shutter speed dial!

Expect to see a lot of images from this camera in future posts.

The old agility dog

Bronica SQ-A camera. Zenzanon PS 150mm f/4 lens. Ilford FP4 Plus 120 film. Developed in Firstcall R09.

I took this photograph on a dog walk yesterday (yes, I can just about hold the Bronica with my hand surgery).  She is an old dog.  She recently lost her best border collie pack mate, and apparently is pining for him.  Together, they were champions in the agility rings of England.  Both the dogs, and their master grew too old to any longer compete.  Still, they still have each other, and a terrier mate.  They get to run with his disability carriage every day.

Black and White – simple III (and final)

More comparisons between my black & white images originally captured on b/w negative film, and those captured on a digital sensor.


Bronica SQ-A camera. Zenzanon PS 80mm f/2.8 lens. Ilford HP5 Plus medium format film. Home developed in R09.


Sony DSLR A200. Sony DT 50mm f/1.8 SAM lens. UFRAW b&w conversion.


Pentax ME Super camera. SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7 lens. Ilford HP5 Plus film. Developed in ID11.


Pentax K110D DSLR. SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7 lens. PP software Adobe Photoshop CS3.


Bronica SQ-A camera. Zenzanon PS 150mm f/4 lens and S-18 extension tube. Ilford HP5 Plus 120 film. Developed in FirstCall R09.


Pentax K110D DSLR. SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7 lens. PP software Adobe Photoshop CS3.


Again, I feel that the images tell their own story.  I have enjoyed creating digital monochrome images in the past.  My favourite method that I developed, was to shoot in RAW, then convert to b/w using the Channel Mixer tool in the UFRaw program. – generating grayscale .jpeg files.  Some of the above images were earlier, when I still used Adobe (I since moved to Open Source software).  However, digitally scanned, home developed b/w negative film photography still gives me the ascetic finish that I prefer.  The pop factor – a combination of dynamic range, tones, grains, and to be honest, quite often, the better lens available for the technology at an affordable price.

Personally my short term plans are to restrict my digital photography to colour.  I do not get along with C-41 processing, and I can’t afford to spend on photo lab processing.  Therefore, I’ll use my digital cameras for colour.  I’ll continue otherwise to use film-hybrid technology to produce the finished monochrome images that I’m pleased with.  I enjoy simple b/w film processing and scanning.  I regard my b/w film images more as my true photographic ‘work’, whatever that is.

I hope that anyone else curious about hybrid photography, or comparing b/w images from both film and digital sensors come across these three posts.

Black and White – simple II


Pentax ME Super camera. SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7 lens. Ilford HP5 Plus 35mm film. Developed in ID11.


Sony DSLR A200. Sony 50mm f/1.8 SAM lens. Open source pp: UFRaw b/w conversion in channels, fine pp in Gimp 2.8.


Bronica SQ-A camera. Zenzanon PS 150mm f/4 lens. S-18 extension tube. Ilford HP5 Plus 120 film. Home developed in ID11.


Sony DSLR A200. Sony 35mm f/1.8 SAM lens. Open source pp: UFRaw b/w conversion in channels. Fine pp in Gimp 2.8.


I’m comparing the results of my black & white / monochrome photography, captured initially on; a) true b/w negative film, and b) an APS-C digital sensor.  In either case, the final images are actually digital representations of captured light.  The film exposures have been chemically processed (home developing)  but then digitally scanned to produce the above images.

Both have had some post process adjustments in software, with final editing conducted in the open source Gimp program.  Therefore this is NOT a film V digital discussion.  I’m weighing the merits between digital  b/w images caught on b/w film, and b/w images caught on a digital sensor.  I want to judge for myself according to results, not by technology.  Although I enjoy the workflow of film hybrid technology, I want to know if it has any advantages.  I’ve selected the above images from my Darker Shades of Grey album on Flickr – a collection of my own favourite monochrome images, taken by digital and film, over the past few years.


As I look at the above images, I feel as though I’ve answered the question before even starting a discussion.  The film images have a clear advantage in the range of tones.  They handle under exposure better – with more detail in shadows, while at the same time, they handle over exposure better without blown out highlights.  In other words, b/w film appears to have a superior dynamic range.  It forgives poor exposure rather well compared with digital.  It explains to me, how I get away with relatively simple light metering – or no metering, and manual exposure.

The disadvantage of b/w film is cost (including process chemicals), although this is probably offset by the much lower cost of equipment.  Another disadvantage is dust.  I dry developed films in my bathroom.  Although I do try to minimise dust – in a small busy house, it’s impossible.  To an extent, hybrid film images can be cleaned post digital process using software clone and heal tools.  However, it can be tedious and imperfect.  I also carefully puffer blow films clean before scanning.

Of course, do I always need to remove dust?  There is presently a school in film photography of embracing dust, hair, and even scratches, for ascetic reasons – a stamp of authenticity, and a nostalgia for pre-digital perfection.  Post process software, used on digital images usually includes filters to add simulated dust, and scratches to images, even those that started out life on a clean digital sensor!  Therefore, I have the option on some images of purposely leaving dust and hair, for ascetic purposes.  It is an option.

In conclusion, I don’t feel that I need to worry yet about abandoning my film-hybrid technologies.  I can produce final images that are perhaps richer in tones , and have something else – a different exposure value, to that of entry level DSLRs.  They look different.  It is still worthwhile in 2014, to pursue this technology.

Black and White – simple

Our lurcher. Pentax ME Super. SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7. Ilford HP5 Plus 35mm film. Developed in ID11.

I’ve not posted on this subject before.  Strange really, considering the majority of my photography over the past year has been monochrome, or black and white, grey scale, grey tones, b&w, b/w, call it what you like.  I quite like the term argent at least with reference to er… black n’ white …. captured initially on a film coated with an emulsion of silver salts.  Argent.

Bugger, I’ll continue this into a future post or two.  For now, a photograph of me that Anita took yesterday.  Using a box camera.  In argent of course.

Kodak Brownie Flash III box camera. Foma Fomapan creative 200 film. Developed in Firstcall R09. Scanned film on Epson V500.