Getting it Wrong and Portra 160 in the Autumn

By Timothy Hancock

This morning there is a global artificial intelligence meeting at Bletchley Park to discuss how to stop technology eradicating mankind! Elon Musk has waded in in his own style but I guess he knows something about it. Having been out with my Mamiya 645 1000s carefully loaded with Portra 160 to try and capture the autumn colours last week, I demonstrated once again how to make a bit of a mess of using analogue technology. If only I had taken the digital camera none of this would have happened – or at least if I had bought the Q2 with me as well I could have rescued the situation. Or would it?

Let me back up (the errors, not the files you understand). Find a composition, mount the camera on a tripod, focus, and take the exposure several times, and come up with an optimum. Set the aperture to suit and a speed of four seconds. Fit the cable release, lock the mirror up and take the first exposure of the roll. Crank the handle to move the film on and cock the shutter once more – what’s going on? – the crank just goes round and round without stopping! I forgot to put the mirror back down – try that – same thing. With mild panic setting in, crank the handle round again (more unexposed film moved to the take up spool). Something in my mind told me that something like this could happen and could be solved with the Multi-Exp button somehow (or was that the Bronica?). Try it anyway with the button pressed and crank again – still nothing. I should point out at this juncture, that I am not a film or even Mamiya 645 newbie, having used 120 film and a 645 before the age of digital, when it was unfortunately sold, and then re-bought during a covid lockdown. My attention then went to the cable release, still attached to the shutter button. I undid it, and saw that the plunger was still sticking out slightly from its housing. It was obvious now what happened. I set off relieved that I could salvage something and then promptly took another composition forgetting that I had not moved the multi exposure button back down – another exposure wasted. By now the film counter read 13 (so only three left). These I then took in partial trepidation that something else was going to go wrong. The poor camera was having severe problems with its operator.

Back home I reflected on this missed opportunity of a morning out in ideal conditions – autumnal woodland showing masses of colour, just after rain, and with overcast, but quite bright light. Despite wasting most of a roll of 120 Portra I had enjoyed the whole exercise – I had learnt something yes about checking the cable release, but also there was an unexpected satisfaction that I had felt before with film photography. Everything was not perfect, far from it. When I used to go out with digital gear in a backpack I had everything at my disposal to capture whatever came along – and then fine tune it in post processing. It was too “easy” and so the bar went higher and higher in terms of what the digital community considered a good image. In the end not only does Gear Acquisition Syndrome set in in the pursuit of more megabytes and gimmicks, but frustration builds that a “hero” shot does not come along as often as you hope.

Analogue photography puts a welcome brake on this financial and emotional rat race, not only slowing everything down, but also allowing the photographers eyes, mind and interests to reclaim their rightful position at the top of the tree of what is important in taking photographs. If Elon Musk and world leaders are concerned about artificial intelligence in critical systems maybe they can learn from picking up an analogue camera! Cut off the digital cascade and allow humans to take back control of what needs to be controlled – pressing buttons, flipping manual switches, turning dials, with no digital connections or mechanical brains getting involved. Maybe also this caution about ever more powerful technology was also in my mind as I wasted more and more of the roll of Portra. It was all down to me and the Mamiya and I enjoyed the freedom that we had! The mistakes were mine – long live the mistakes!

Getting back to photography itself, the idea was to see how the subdued colour palette of Portra suited the autumnal colours of Northumberland. Two photos I did manage to take are shown – scanned by an Epson scanner, and converted without any colour changes by Negative Lab Pro.

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About The Author

By Timothy Hancock
Associate of Royal Photo Soc. Secretary of Contemporary Group. Ex chairman of camera club. Started with photography with a box brownie like so many others of my generation. Now film (still using my Dads Edixamat from the 1950’s) and Leica /Fuji both film and digital cameras. Particulary keen on medium format film with Bronica and Mamiya (645 and 6x6)
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Comments

Geoff Chaplin on Getting it Wrong and Portra 160 in the Autumn

Comment posted: 04/01/2024

Ah, yes! Having just been out with my tlr and having a somewhat similar problem with the cable release, then tripod related problems, I fully sympathise and understand. Getting home it was fun and satisfying to have solved the problems, whereas digital problems are merely annoying. The two images are great, very natural colours more than any other film I think. I mostly use 400 on the rare occasion I shoot colour, and find it very forgiving.
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Wes Hall on Getting it Wrong and Portra 160 in the Autumn

Comment posted: 04/01/2024

Ahhh I can relate to that maddening Mamiya moment...had a similar experience with two rolls of Portrait 400 in my C3 for a different reason, but lost and double exposed multiple shots as I tried to compensate for a faulty shutter level on the body (knowing bloody well I could trip the shutter directly on the lens...) Relating to your musings Timothy in another way, that's the truth I experienced with coming to film again; the feeling of slowing down, enjoying all the experience and not chasing the performance- I've managed to find ways with digital to bring that across by using 'challenging' camera sensors and manual lenses, but it's still only an analogue of the experience with the Mamiya. I hope to read more of your thoughts and stories, this was an excellent morning read and spurred me to think on a new article myself. Thanks.
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Timothy Hancock replied:

Comment posted: 04/01/2024

Thanks Wes - I look forward to hearing your own experiences in this fascinating and occasionally maddening analogue world !

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Paul Quellin on Getting it Wrong and Portra 160 in the Autumn

Comment posted: 03/01/2024

Hi Timothy. I was left wanting to read more of your account. I kept seeing myself doing the same sorts of things and somehow still enjoying the experience with a similar return to analogue. I took a decision to stop at the generation of digitals I have and not make that transition to mirrorless that inevitably involves more AI. I still use digital a lot but analogue goes everywhere too. A lesson in there for me about old cable releases which I had long forgotten about. I'll be more mindful of that now. Your comments on the mechanical aspects really chimed with me. Digital can't match the satisfaction that comes from things like slick advance levers. I now have all sorts of analogue kit but I still miss the Bronica SQA I had decades ago... I would love to find another. I have some Porta 160 5x4 and I have only shot one sheet so far... of an autumn woodland scene and not had anything processed yet. Looking forward to that more now having read you article. Thank you for a great read that struck a chord.
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Timothy Hancock replied:

Comment posted: 03/01/2024

Hi Paul - Thanks for the comments. Since writing the article I have bought a Bronica SqA - the square format is great and its a lovely piece of kit. I got the camera and wlf from ebay Uk - some good stuff on there if you are careful. I have the 50,80 and 150 lenses ( not PS but they seem fine ) - they are all 67mm filter threads which is great too. Even my GAS has gone analogue and I only plan to but any digital again if I have technical problems - I wont give in to the latest gimmickry ! I recently bought a 12 year old small fuji for street photography - I get a bit of the analogue buzz from that because it is old ( manual lens of course !! )

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David Hume on Getting it Wrong and Portra 160 in the Autumn

Comment posted: 03/01/2024

Hi Timothy - I liked your story, and it highlights to me how we can bond with our various bits of kit - getting used to their various quirks, and the strategies we can employ so as not to muck things up, which we don't need to do if it's all automated for us and we can check results immediately with dig. I shoot Portra 160 in 135 and Portra 400 in 120, mostly because I like the relationship of grain to frame size at those speeds and I like the extra speed of the 400 with generally slower mf lenses. Anyway - an alternative opinion to Dmitri; I find both Portras (I've never shot the 800) particularly forgiving. I never bracket and always err on the side of overexposure. I find the latitude and DR unsurpassed. As for colour temp, one of the reasons to shoot colour neg is to change white balance in the scanning (Neg Lab Pro will be making its own assessment on that - I'd say you're free to disagree with that algorithm if you like!) I just returned from a trip to the coast shooting P160 in my Nikon F2. I like to shoot hand-held in the dark with exposures of several seconds so it's a very different result I'm going for, but the pleasure of pre-checking the gear and setting things up before I go out so that I can use the camera in the dark are akin to the pleasures you describe here I think. (you an see the results on Insta @davidhumeart if you're interested) All the best!
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Timothy Hancock replied:

Comment posted: 03/01/2024

Hi David. Many thanks - I will take a look. Shooting Portra at night and dealing with reciprocity failure as well sounds like fun !

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Dmitri on Getting it Wrong and Portra 160 in the Autumn

Comment posted: 03/01/2024

Portra 160 is one of the most challenging colour films to shoot, IMO. In my experience, it’s very finicky with light temperature (it needs to be warm to look good, again IMO), and it has a narrower dynamic range than the rest of the Porta range. I also burn lots of frames. And with that, I’d say you did a fantastic job here, congrats!
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Timothy Hancock replied:

Comment posted: 03/01/2024

Many thanks - I was pleased with the colour rendition I got with the few shots I managed. Do you find much difference apart from obvious speed between 160 and 400 - I am thinking general photography / landscape not studio ?

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