Category Archives: Film is Still Alive

Repost – Kodak UltraMax Test

This is a re-post of an article I had on my old blog site. It was a popular one even though it wasn’t about black and white film photography. Whenever I can I like to encourage new photographers to try film and this article is a good example of how to get really good images from some really cheap film. Because this was an older post some of the links to external sites may not work.

I have a few more posts planed around how to shoot, process, print, scan and the whole film workflow in coming posts, so check back soon. Enjoy the re-post.


Disclaimer: This is not a scientific test, my results may be different than yours and results may vary. 

I have ordered some of the new Kodak Portra 400 film and can’t wait to give it a spin. I have seen some posts on a few other blogs that have shown how wide the exposure latitude of the new film is. You can see some good examples over at Twin Lens Life. They are some great film shooters in the Riverside area. I have also seen a test of Fuji X-tra 400 consumer film that showed how much exposure latitude it has over at Figital Revolution. All films are different and behave differently, that’s the beauty of film. Knowing what you want to get right out of the camera and knowing what film will get you there instead of working for hours in photoshop to get there is a great way to work.

For my example I chose to shoot with some Kodak Ultramax 400. It’s easy to get your hands on and I figure that if someone wanted to start shooting film for the first time, or go back to it for kicks, they would be likely to pick some of this up and start shooting. It breaks down to about $2.50 a roll, not expensive and easy on the wallet.


Inexpensive color negative film
Kodak UltraMax 400 4 pack @ 24 Exposures for each roll. Single rolls retail for $2.99 each online today.

What I did on my first roll is to expose the first frame at 50 iso and then move each frame after that up one stop, all the way to 6400 iso. I did this so I could find the “sweet spot” to set my iso on my camera. You might be saying “But the box says 400 iso, don’t you set it at 400?”. The short answer is maybe. Just because the box speed says 400 doesn’t mean that you get the best results at 400. In the other examples from Twin Lens Life and Figital Revolution you can see that the films performed really well at just about all speeds. That’s right, you can shoot those films like you can with digital and move the iso around! The Kodak Ultramax however, doesn’t perform so great at 400 or higher (again these are my results, yours may be different). You can see my examples below.

Test exposers of Kodak UltraMax 400 35mm film
Examples of Kodak UltraMax shot at different exposures to determine the best ISO and settings to use with the film.

As you might be able to see, 400 iso is about the max this film can shoot at. It seems that the film starts to flatten out in contrast and the grain starts to get bigger at 400 iso. If a person didn’t know this and was excited to “try film” and shot this at box speed they might be a bit disappointed and think that all film looks like this. Now that I know how this film behaves with my shooting style and camera system I will be shooting this film at 100 iso not 400. The grain structure, color saturation and the blacks seem to be real nice at 100 iso and it still gives me about 2 stops + or – for error and I will still get a nice exposure. If you want to get into shooting film and you chose this film just for “testing it out” you would probably be better off setting your iso at 100 or 200 to start out. I think you will like your photographs more and it wouldn’t discourage you from shooting some more.

Some Images from Buenos Aires

In my last post, about being prepared when doing some travel photography, I talked a little bit about my short time in Sydney, Australia. I will have more to say about Sydney in following posts. In this post I wanted to talk a little bit about the first stop on my trip, Buenos Aires. To be honest, this was the first time I was able to travel out of the country. Unless going to Tijuana for the day counts. I had no idea what to expect.

The Puerto Madero commercial district of Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The Puerto Madero commercial district of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Pentax ME Super, 24mm F2.8, Arista.Edu 400


Buenos Aires is a visually inspiring city. Once I made it through the stern faced man in customs I made my to the taxis to get a lift into the city center. With all the windows down the summer heat blowing in all the windows, we made our way down the freeway with the shiny steal and glass buildings of downtown Buenos Aires in the distance. Concrete buildings stacked with balconies covered in drying cloths and satellite dishes whizzed by the window. My photo mind was really stimulated.

Puente de la Mujer, Buenos Aires
Puente de la Mujer, Buenos Aires. iPhone

The architecture in the city center is wonderful. From old european looking buildings with narrow stone paved streets to new sparkeling sky scrappers.  I was excited to get some nice black and white photos of the area. I only had a few days to spend in Buenos Aires and I was limited to the area I could get too on foot. Luckily for me I was in a really cool area for photographing. I was staying in the Puerto Madero commercial district, where the famous Puente de la Mujer bridge is.

Puente de la Mujer, Buenos Aires
Puente de la Mujer, Buenos Aires. Pentax ME Super, 24mm F2.8, Arista.EDU 400

I was able to get out a few evenings and get some long exposures of the bridge. The weather was great and the area was full of activity with great dining and things to do. Above is one of the final images I made before I left for Sydney.

Impacting Images from A Small Format

I was lucky enough to be able to take a trip to Buenos Aires and Sydney Australia last January. I was traveling for business and had to pack light. If I had my choice I would have left the suit coat and business attire at home and brought my Mamiya 645 gear with me. Considering the level of meetings I was to attend, that was not an option.

Being selective with what gear I was going to take with me was going to be tough. Considering I had never been to either Buenos Aries or Sydney before I didn’t really know what to expect or what to plan for. Because I was going to have to keep my gear to a limit, I would be packing a 35mm kit to save on size and weight.

SyndeyHarbor2016_605_SMALLDowntown Sydney Australia, Pentax ME Super, 24mm Lens, Arista.EDU 400 ISO film

The smallest 35mm body I have is a Pentax ME super. It is a really compact camera with a great automatic exposure system as well as full manual control. All in a package as small as a Leica. I love to use this camera for street shooting too. Not to mention I just love the sound of the shutter on this little gem. With the decision made of what camera to take I had to whittle down what my lens choices were going to be.

I knew that my opportunities for photography on this trip were going to be limited to late evening or well after dark. I was hoping to be able to shoot some wide cityscapes but I wasn’t sure how close I could get to the subjects that I wanted to photograph. Also, to make sure I was going to get the most out of a small 35mm negative, I knew I had to stick with prime lenses. I couldn’t afford the distortion of a zoom. With all of that in mind I chose to take my 24mm f2.8 wide angle and my 50mm f1.7 prime lenses. Both small and light.

BuenosAries2016_626_ShareDowntown Buenos Aires Argentina, Pentax ME Super, 24mm Lens, Arista.EDU 100 ISO film

For film I wanted to use something that could handle the contrast of night photography and show some texture but not too much grain so I would have enough to work with when enlarging to a big size print. I decided to go with Arista.EDU films, both 100 iso and 400 iso. I really like the classic structure of the image that this film produces. I could have chosen one of the T grain films but thats for another post.

Finally, I had to pick a convenient tripod that would fit in carry on luggage and make sure I had enough batteries, shutter release and any filters I might need.

Between the two cities I was able to expose 6 roles of film. I just happen to be in Sydney for Australia Day (like 4th of July in the U.S.) and got to celebrate with millions of people in downtown Sydney. It was a blast, I just loved the Australian hospitality. Overall I am very pleased with the images I have from the trip. You can see a couple here in this post. It was a great trip and I have several more posts to come with some other images from this trip.

Film is Still Alive: Montana State University Bookstore

A couple of weeks ago I was able to take some time off and take my youngest son to college to start his freshman year at Montana State University in Bozeman. He is going to study film and photography (apple doesn’t fall far from the tree). As we were getting all of his books for his classes at the MSU bookstore we came across the art supply section. Low and behold… the film photography supply shelves! It was so refreshing to see several flavors of black and white film,  in everything from 35mm to 4×5.

Montana State University BW film supplies
The Montana State University bookstore stocks some pretty great BW photography materials for the students. From 35mm, 120 and large format film to a variety of papers and supplies.

There was more than film on those shelves too. Grey cards, film sleeves, and paper. Lots and lots of darkroom paper. MSU has such a nice darkroom facility I just about fell over when I toured it. So all this nice paper will go to use for sure.

With so many high school photography departments abandoning traditional film photography it is so important for the higher educational institutions to carry on with all of the different photographic processes, including digital.

I was just drooling when I got to see the facility and equipment my son will be able to use. If you want to shoot 8×10, super 16mm, Red, or wet plate, no problem. They have it all.