Walk in the Park

Bronica SQ-A camera. Zenzanon PS 150mm f/4 lens. Shanghai GP3 120 film. Developed in Kodak D76. Epson V500 scanned film.

I did warn you that puppy dog photos were on the way.  I took this yesterday in Wisbech Park, of Anita and her daughter with Loki, our new whippet puppy.  We are getting some nice light now, for the slower films, even if sometimes a bit sharp.  I had to run ahead of the three of them, and quickly capture a few semi-candid snaps with the Bronica SQ-A and PS 150mm f/4 lens.

I had already finished off a roll of FP4+ (still undeveloped), with an S-18 extension tube.  All that I had in my pocket was a roll of Shanghai GP3 film.  Now, I’ve published a few images from Shanghai here before – but let me reiterate what it is about.

Shanghai GP3 is rated at ISO 100 (some say that it is closer to ISO 80).  It is a b/w negative film made in 120 medium format.  It is made in China.  It is sold on Ebay, and if you buy ten at a time, you can usually get it here in the UK for around £2.00 – £2.30 a 120 roll.  I bought my last ten for £21, but prices do vary on the Ebay markets.  I’ve just ordered another ten for £20.45 including postage from China.  Yup, that works out at just 5p over two quid per roll.  Find cheaper, because I can’t.  For example, I just took a look at a well known UK film distributor’s website.  If I ordered ten Ilford FP4+ 120 films, from them with postage, they would work out at £4.47 per roll.  Over double the Chinese price.

A quirk with Shanghai GP3 – there is no sticky tape at the fully exposed end of the paper!  You might want to carry a roll of sticky tape.  The other quirk – you think that Foma is curly?  Nahhhh!  This stuff is curly.  Hang a lead weight on the end during drying – it’ll still probably curl when you cut it.

Otherwise?  I’m just a pleb, but I think that it is bloody beautiful – the ridiculously cheap price just makes it better.  I wish that the Chinese made something closer to ISO 400 for poorer light and street action.

Another image that I’ve also published here earlier:

As above, except developed in Ilford ID11 rather than D-76.  Shanghai GP3 film.

Monochrome, Rants and discussions

Shanghai GP3 – tight fisted 120 roll film

Anita makes shadows on the headstones at Upwell. Trying out cheap Chinese 120 roll film, Shanghai GP3, in the Bronica yesterday. Bronica SQ-A. Zenzanon PS 150mm f/4. Shanghai GP3 120 film ID11 at 1:1.

How did I miss Shanghai GP3 for so long?  The cheapest 120 medium format b/w negative film on the market.  Somehow, my frail old brain must have filtered it out as “Chinese”, perhaps associating it with those ‘orrible Chinese toy cameras.  My attention was finally brought to Shanghai early in the winter.  I bought a pack of ten on Ebay – which appears to be where they are being marketed.  I shopped for minimum price, and bought this ten pack with free p&p, working out at a cost of £2.10 per film.  Crikey, that is cheap.  When you think that I have to shop around normally to find Foma Fomapan or Ilford HP5+ for around £3.50-£4.20 a film with p&p.  Heck, if I was to pop in a local shop and try buying Ilford Delta Pro, then I’d expect to shell out at least seven quid a film or more.  So you see that Shanghai is incredibly cheap at £2.10 per film.

Taken from outside of the church. Couldn’t resist the beautiful light. Testing a roll of Shanghai GP3 budget medium format film. Specs as top image.

So what is it like?  Well, I mainly use faster film, especially at this time of year – mainly around ISO 400.  A couple of stops saved on the camera are essential when trying to capture street or candid.  Shanghai is rated at an optimum ISO 100, although I hear rumours that it might be nearer to ISO 80.  Still, we’ve been having some mid-day January sun of recent, so a couple of days ago, I thought that I’d have some fun with a test roll, and promptly loaded an SQ film back with Shanghai GP3 film.

Photograph taken yesterday in Upwell church yard, of a headstone leaning against a tree.Trying out the Chinese budget film. Specs as top image.

One characteristic of GP3 that is worthy of note – there is no sticky tape at the end of the roll.  If I was to shoot more than one roll, then I’d need a roll of sticky tape in my pocket.  After a quick shoot at Upwell church, and along a drove, I took the film home, and later that day, developed it in a dilution of 1:1 Ilford ID11 at 20C for 14 minutes.  (By the way, I recently calculated that such a dilution costs me £0.71p per 120 film.  I have been told that I could save money by switching to Kodak D76.).

After processing and drying – the second characteristic – this stuff dries out really curly.  Not a good characteristic if you are to digitally scan the negative in a mask on a flatbed film scanner.  I’ve heard people complain about Foma being curly – but I never had a problem with it.  Shanghai IS curly.

The results.  I never pretend to be much of an authority nor an expert.  However, to my eyes – much better than expected.  Very smooth, fine grained (although having recently shot a lot of Fomapan Action 400 – anything else looks smooth).  Good tones and contrast.  A real surprise – a budget film that looks good.

Although slower than the film that I like for my kind of photography, Shanghai GP3 is definitely going to feature as a medium in my photography in the future.  I’ll keep a film back loaded.

Monochrome, Rants and discussions


Disrespect. Walking over laid down grave headstones in Wisbech. Pentax SP500 Spotmatic. Super Takumar 55mm f/2 lens. Rollei Retro 400S b/w film. Developed in R09.

I’ve not posted much recently, because besides recuperating from my injury, and trying to learn to play a musical instrument (for the first time in my life), I’ve been reading.

Recent reads include a few on photography:  The Street Photographers Manual, by David Gibson; The Minds Eye, by Henri Cartier Bresson; and presently, Henri Cartier Bresson, by Clement Cheroux.

What can I say?  I’m in awe of some of these works.  Inspired?  Sure.  Cartier Bresson photography, it doesn’t get much better.  A range finder, 35mm film, no colour, no set ups, no flash or artificial light – not even a reflector, no darkroom post process edits.  Yet brilliance in un-posed b/w 35mm film photography.

Other news on the photography front?  I’m presently trying out some Foma Fomapan Action 400 film in 120 roll.  It’s cheap, but reports by others suggest that it isn’t the best, and suffers from stains that appear to originate in the backing paper.  I did recently have this problem myself, while using the slower Fomapan Creative 200 in an Isolette.  I developed it in R09, so with this 400 stuff, I’m trying to develop it in dilutions of ID11.  The first trial is presently drying.

On the subject of cheap medium format film, I’ve ordered some even cheaper and perhaps nasty b/w film from China to try out.  It’s called Shanghai GP3, and even with delivery works out at a mere two quid per roll.  Apparently it is rated at ASA 100, but can be a little slower.  I’m also told that I’ll need to keep a roll of sticky tape with me, as there isn’t any at the exposed end!  But two quid per roll!

I’m also using a different fixer chemical – FirstCall / Agfa AG Plus Fix.  I made up a litre last night, but I’m sure that’ll be fine.

I recently found my first car boot sale Olympus XA with an A11 flash unit at a booty – the range finder, as opposed to the much more common XA2.  I’m suspicious that it’s not a worker though, and haven’t yet had the interest to fit it with a battery.

Now I’d better get back to making awful noise with that mandolin.


Dogs and animals, Sony DSLR A200 and Sony DT 50mm F/1.8mm SAM prime lens

A broken finger and other changes

The dog that broke my finger. Sony A200 DSLR. Jessops Flashgun mounted on camera to bounce off ceiling. Sony 50mm f/1.8 SAM lens.

It’s all change at Tight Fisted Studios.  First of all, I made the decision to learn about portrait photography with artificial light and a digital camera – I excavated my poor old neglected Sony A200 DSLR from a dark cupboard, and decided to revamp it a bit .  Then on the 35mm film side,I received another Pentax ME Super body – a gift from a friend.  Finally, I had to perform a rugby tackle on our lurcher doggy, in order to prevent him from behaving very badly with a staffy.  When I got back up, I found that I had a broken finger – on my shutter hand (right hand).

First of all, the studio bit.  I joke about Tight Fisted Studios but seriously, artificial lighting has always been a mystery to me, and I fancy a new learning curve.  It’ll also be a reason to start using that digital camera again.  The long term plan is to master speed lighting with the ease of digital, then extend that knowledge to medium format film photography.  I’ve always considered digital to be a good learning tool.

So, I did a bit of tight-fisted shopping on the Internet.  First, I bought two Jessops 360AFD flashguns for Sony.  I know, I know, they are a poor substitute for a Sony flashgun – but come on, the price is ridiculously low.  For a brand new Jessops Flashgun, that has TLL, Manual, Zoom, swivel / tilt head, a guide number of 36m/ISO100, diffuser element, and operates wireless in slave mode – £39.97 each.  I think that Jessops has reduced them from their original price considerably.  So, I bought two of them.

Got to have somewhere to mount them, right?  I’ve bought a cheap Chinese umbrella stand kit.  Two stands, with umbrella / hot shoe fittings.  One shoot-through white umbrella, and one reflective silver umbrella.  How much for this kit?  A ridiculously cheap £37.95.  with free postage.  I already had a round reflector.  I could do with a background backdrops later.

Only one problem…. I then discovered that Sony have their own hot-shoes.  I’ve now got to wait for a pair of cheap Chinese hot shoe adapters to arrive. Then the dog broke my finger…

Film, 35mm, and scans, Monochrome, Portrait

The cheapest film photography?

Nita holding the Bronica in town. Taken with a Boots disposable film camera that expired in 2009. Developed cross process in B/W chemistry ID11 at 20C.

Go to any half sized car boot sale in the UK, there’s a fair chance that you might spot some unused but expired disposable film cameras laying in boxes or unlikely, displayed on tables.  These are part of that classic British household junk assemblage, that makes it’s way to the sales.  Some very basic, some with flash, and even a little electronics.  Bought maybe for a holiday or a trip, or a party, but never used.  Price? Always point out the expired date on the camera, and that any developing contract on it is out of it’s date.  Then haggle – aiming for 10p to 50p.  After all, it’s useless, isn’t it?  Don’t pay more than pennies on one.

What you have bought is in essence, rather similar to a hip Chinese Toy Camera, although at a tiny fraction of their bloated prices.  A plastic lens.  An expired film.  You may indeed choose to use it that way.  Perhaps have them developed in C-41 – or even cross processed to E6 at a local photolab.  You might be handy at C41 yourself, and have the chemistry at home.

Personally, I cross process them in B/W chemistry at home.  It makes for the cheapest ever photography – no more than 50p for the camera/film, and perhaps a similar cost in used chemicals.

The Back Yard. As above, taken by Nita. Expired disposable camera cross processed in B/W Ilford chemistry.

By the way, the top photo made it into the Flickr Explore gallery – a place that not every Canikon DSLR has ventured.  Cheap as chips.

Film Dark Room, Monochrome, Zenza Bronica SQ-A

Off Colour

Anita and the Post Box. Bronica SQ-A camera. Zenzanon PS/B 80 mm f/2.8 lens. Ilford HP5 Plus 120 film. Developed in ID11

I know I keep putting off the C-41 thing.  I’ve got the chemistry, but right now, I can’t be bothered with colour.  I guess that my excuse is that I’m still scavenging five litre drums, so that I can properly mix all of my processing solutions, and store them properly.  So for now, I keep on loading those Ilfords into cameras.  Not all Ilfords though – I loaded a Firstcall 400S in my Olympus XA2 35mm compact today.  A very cheap, budget true black and white 135 film from Firstcall Photography.  I’ll see how it performs.  It’s the cheapest such film that I’ve seen on the markets, and 36 exposure.  Prices like that could almost lure me away from using the C-41 Poundland film.  Thing is you see, I’m really enjoying B/W film photography.  I’m not sure now if I want to dirty the bleach waters of C-41 yet.

For anyone interested.  For B/W processing, I use Ilford process chemicals, including Ilford ID-11, which I last bought in powder form, to make up five litres of developer solution.  Far cheaper than buying smaller packs, and it packs nicely into a recycled five litre drum (that contained car windscreen wash previously – well washed out), that you can squeeze quite a lot of air out, as you use it up.  The developer was muck cheap from an online dealer – but to make it even cheaper, I dilute my ID-11 down to 1:3 with tap water just prior to processing a film, at 20C.  This of course greatly extends process time.  For Ilford HP5 Plus film (my favourite) with no push, at ISO 400, it’s twenty minutes, with 10 seconds of gentle inversions in every minute.  Prior to developing, I’ve also started to pre-soak with tap water at 20C for three minutes.  Stop and fix solutions are re-used several times.  I use an extended Ilford rinsing technique – progressive inversions, and four rinses – with a fifth rinse at the end, containing a wetting agent.  I’ve stopped using a squeegee again (tram lines!).  It’s a long process, but it’s very cheap, and it’s starting to give me the developed B/W film negatives that I want.

Reading the above, I realise that yet again, I’m posting on techie issues, rather more than creative issues.  I recently read an opinion by someone, that photographers tend to divide into two different types – those that are very knowledgeable about photographic technologies, and those that are more artistic and creative.  I’m afraid that I’m more of the former.  I mean, why would anyone give a toss about how I process my films?

Cheapskate News

On a recent visit to the local refuse / recycling centre (what use to be tips), I spotted a load of old leather camera cases in the “Small Electrical” skip.  Please forgive my tight-fistedness.  I rummaged in the skip and found an old Kodak Box Brownie 620.  Whenever I spot an old box camera, I quickly open it up, check for used film and for 620 spindles.  This one had an empty 620 spindle.  I’ve posted on this subject before, but briefly, you cannot buy 620 film anymore, except for grossly priced, grossly expired rolls.  However, 120 roll film is widely available, and in a darkroom or film changing bag, can be rolled off it’s new 120 spindle, and with care, onto an old 620 spindle (lifting the taped end to release the slack), bringing any 620 camera back to Life.

I asked the refuse workers if they can sell cameras.  The reply was no, as they are classed as “electrical” and could cause an issue with health & safety.   I don’t know where that 620 spindle in my pocket came from.

620 spindle next to a 120 spindle, and one of my Box Brownie cameras.

Film Dark Room, Film, 35mm, and scans, Zenza Bronica SQ-A

Cheap C-41 colour negative film developing

My cute little Rollei Digibase C-41 kit. Taken with Sony A200 DSLR

What a plonker!  In my last post my maths went to hell.  It works out much cheaper than I initially calculated, to develop C41 film using the Rollei Digibase kits.  The larger the chemistry kit, the cheaper that it is.  However, I’ve just ordered a small kit for now, to test the water with.  With this 500 ml kit, if I successfully develop 10 films using it, it works our to £2.70 per film (including the cost of delivery).  If proven successful, then I’ll order the 5 litre kit next.  I’ve calculated, that for  the 100 films that it is supposed to develop (100-110), and including delivery of the kit, the cost per film would be 49p per film.  Yes, that’s GBP £0.49 for a 36 exposure 35 mm film.  If true, that is outstanding value!  On a 36 exposure AgfaPhoto Vista Plus film from Poundland, that adds up to a film price + developing cost of 4p per exposure on colour film.  Wow.

Ok, you are perfectly justified to argue that digital costs nothing per exposure, except for a few milliamps of power.  That’s perfectly true.  However, it misses the point that shooting with film is challenging and fun (as can be digital).  In addition, there are the negatives.  Stored in binders, they are future proof hardware copies of your photography.  Digital doesn’t offer that.  I’ve recently been reading that for this reason, negative film images are being sort for time capsules.  No issues with binary code or digital compression formats in the future, if you archive in film.

So, next adventure – developing colour negative film!

Film, 35mm, and scans, Landscape and buildings, Olympus XA-2 - 50p camera project II

Sunset using a 50p camera and Poundland film

Fenland Sunset with Poundland Film. Olympus XA2 compact 35mm film camera. AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film from Poundland

Another success with the little compact Olympus XA2 loaded with AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 35mm film from Poundland.  Caught this one on the way home last week, as I drove out of Downham Market towards Wisbech.  Sunset over the Fens.  Film, including this Poundland film, really does seem to render skies better than do digital sensors, at least in my eyes it does, but I’m just a cheapskate amateur.  Landscapes are not really my forte, but living in the Fens, I cannot help sometimes capturing a big Fenland sky.  An 8p exposure on a 50p camera.  That’s low budget photography.  How low can I go?

Cameras and equipment, Olympus Trip 35, Olympus XA-2 - 50p camera project II, Portrait, Rants and discussions, Street and Protest

Why a Zone Focus Camera?

His and hers. Our two Olympus Trip 35 cameras. Taken with Sony A200 DSLR camera and Sony DT 50mm f/1.8 SAM lens. UFRaw b&w conversion.

Our two Olympus Trip 35 cameras side by side – both manufactured in 1981.  Anita’s (on the left), we bought at a car boot sale, with a flash gun and original lens cover for a fiver (GBP £5.00).  I’m still waiting for a light seal kit before we run it, but all looks ok.  Mine (on the right) cost a staggering £17 from Ebay (I know, I know, it’s not the cheapest marketplace for buyers, but still well below the ‘book’ price).  In addition, I bought a cute little Olympus XA2 camera a few days ago for 50p from a car boot sale!  We are becoming overwhelmed by Olympus zone focus 35mm compacts.

But what’s the attraction of these thirty year old compact zone focus cameras?

  1. 35mm film is still easily available, and cheap.  I primarily use film from Pound Stores – £1 for a roll of 35mm negative film.  I can still get it developed locally as well.  A local independent pro-lab charges me £2 a roll for developing only – no prints.  I then digitally scan the exposures.  I plan to move to Ilford film later, and to develop my own.  It does not look that difficult or expensive.  Film (at least 35mm format), is far from dead, despite rumours to the contrary.  Look on Flickr, and you’ll find plenty of bustling, booming film camera groups.
  2. 35mm film on these cameras gives the same crop factor as a Full Frame sensor D-SLR or digital compact.  But such a camera costs in excess of a thousand, or even two thousand quid (GBP £1000 – £2800).  My Olympus XA2 just cost me less than one quid (£0.5).  I can digitally scan the developed negatives up to a resolution of 9,600 dpi (I usually scan to 2,400 dpi which gives me a digital image of 3400 x 2252 pixels).  Sure there is far more to it than resolution – but I hope that I make my point.  A 50p camera can do some pretty awesome things.
  3. Zone focus compacts are l33t.  They have a cool factor.
  4. Compact zone focus film cameras are still regarded as the best choice for street photography and candid portraits.  D-SLRs or even many SLRs are just rude.  The public does not want a big chunk of Canikon glass and a clunky SLR mirror pointed in their direction.  It’s just not discreet   D-SLR street togs are frequently stopped or blocked by Police and security firms.  It’s bizarre (after all, surely a real terrorist would use a spy cam?), but in this post-9/11 World, DSLR users are often seen as nuisances at the least, or at worst, possible pedophiles or even terrorists!  A 35mm zone focus IS so discreet.  It doesn’t even need focusing.  You can shoot from the hip and hope for the best.  It’s fast, discreet, and quiet.  Just set it mid-range, and shoot.  No time lost auto-focusing the lens – it just opens the shutter instantly.  Hide it back in a pocket.  Job done.
  5. Lens quality.  Ok, most of the cheap film compact cameras of the 1960s – 1990s had some pretty shitty lenses.  But not all.  Just as today, there were some pretty expensive and high quality compact cameras – especially during the competitive 80s and 90s.  Our Olympus 35mm cameras all sport D.Zuiko lens.  Some Yashica and Contax compacts sported the elite Carl Zeiss lens.  You just need to learn to tell the gold from the coal, when filtering through all of those compact camera cases at the car boot sale.
  6. Vintage (1980s/90s) zone focus and compact cameras V new Chinese toy film cameras (e.g. Diana and Holga).  No offence to the Lomography camp.  But I bought Nita a Diana F+ Mini.  The quality was rubbish – but that is to be expected.  The wind on mechanism kept jamming and double exposing.  It has a plastic lens!  I know that part of the charm of the Lomo craze is for images to look crap, but come on, it’s cheaper to buy a car boot classic than a new toy camera.  Get real.

Sorry for any offence – none intended.