My first year of shooting film Part 5
In my last post I shared the results of the first roll shot with my Leica M2. I had mixed feelings, mostly missing colour, and was not sure if exposure was right. I got some useful feedback, but as you all know, the turnaround time of film is quite long. So my second and third roll were already sent to a lab when I read your suggestions. However, I was able to put some advise into practise: reading the negatives. A couple of people recommended studying the negatives to learn about exposure.
For example the photo on top of this post: I think this is my favourite of the roll, but I have the same reservation with it as I had with my last roll. I remember that there were a lot of pretty colours in the sky (pink/purple and blue), which I don’t see in the photo. I don’t know if it’s overexposed (making the sky too white), underexposed (washing out colours), or a film type that has little saturation. So let’s check the negative of this photo.
Small intermezzo: I did not know what to look for, so I started with a google search and found this website with a short explanation in how to read your negatives: http://www.theonlinedarkroom.com/p/how-to-read-negative.html. Most of you will probably know all of this, but for a newbie like me it was pretty useful. Very short summary: to evaluate exposure check the shadows:
- Overexposed photo’s lead to very dense/dark negatives with hardly any clear parts.
- Underexposed photo’s lead to very thin/light/transparent negatives, with no detail in the shadows.
Furthermore I downloaded the free app ‘Negative Viewer’ to my iPad to help watching the negatives. The app basically turns your iPad into a light box.
So, here are a few of my negatives from roll #2, which was Fuji Pro 400H (as was roll #1), the top photo is nr 30, bottom right:
The top row of the negatives, being very light, are clearly underexposed. I expected that since they were shot in a restaurant with dim light (I used my maximum handheld exposure: f/1.4, 1/30 s). Photo nr 30, the photo on top of this post, seems pretty ok to me though, not too dark and clearly not underexposed.
Some suggested to evaluate the density of the negatives by checking if you can read a newspaper through it. As I didn’t have a newspaper at hand, but already had the negatives on my iPad, I switched to iBook to get some text underneath the negatives.
Again, photo 30 seems dense enough, but not too dark to be over-exposed. I tried some different setting in post-processing, but that didn’t improve it all that much. This would lead me to the cautious conclusion that the film type (Pro 400H) is the main contributor to the lack of colour. Here are some more photos from that roll:
I also shot a roll of Fuji Superia 200, the negatives are shown below on the iPad. More colourful images here as I visited an amusement park with my niece. You are bound to find colour there, and on top of that it was the most sunny day of the entire winter so far.
Btw, I also found a nice trick that some might like (and for sure some will absolutely hate 🙂 ): if you want to view your negatives in positive color, you can view them through your iPhone camera by using the ‘Invert Colour’ option. You can assign this function to the triple-home-button in Settings/General/Accessibility/Accessibility Shortcut. This enables easy switching between normal and inverted colours. My negatives would then look like:
Definitely more colour here! My favourite of this roll is the roller coaster. In this image I absolutely adore the colours. I must say that this photo was made almost mid-day, and like I said on a very sunny day with clear sky. So the light was completely different then with the photos above, which were made in the early morning.
I made another photo of this roller coaster, and here the colours are much different, and I don’t like them at all. I metered with an iPhone app before I made the first one. This second one was made shortly after, and probably with a different angle towards the sun. This lead to over-exposed image. Again I learned this from the negatives, this one is photo 3A, and the negative is clearly darker. Without looking at the negatives I might have thought they were underexposed because of the greyish colours and some grain. But the negatives clearly show that it was not under-exposed. I guess Superia is not that flexible when it comes to over-exposure. Or the development was wrong, but for now I am going to assume that a professional lab will do a good job here.
Some more photos from this roll:
The two photos below show that is difficult to catch colour in the sky in the early morning (it’s photo 15A and 18A, the negatives seem dense enough to me so exposure must have been about right):
Two photos made in the evening, which I am fairly happy with. The top one is clearly underexposed, it also shows in the negatives, but I like it anyway. It was dark, and the image captures what I wanted to show. In the bottom photo the colours are not as full as I remember them, but I like how they turned out on film.
One thing that happened to both rolls this time is that the first two photos had clear light stripes in them. I guess I need to advance some more film before I start shooting? However with this next photo where the light goes straight through the middle of my nieces face, I still like the result. I think it adds some cool colours 🙂
Both rolls were developed by MeinFilmLab.de. I tried this lab instead of AG photo lab because the mail between Germany and The Netherlands is slightly faster than between the UK and The Netherlands. They use a Frontier scanner instead of a Noritsu, which might lead to cooler colours. I have one more roll of Fuji Pro 400H at the lab, but my M2 is now loaded with Kodak Portra 400 like some of you suggested. Can’t wait to see the differences!
Thanks for reading, and Hamish thanks for having me!
If you’re interested, you can find my digital photos on www.whataukjesees.com
Read Part 6 of my journey into film here.
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36 thoughts on “My First Roll(s) With A Leica Film Camera Continued – Guest Post by Aukje”
I must say Aukje, I am genuinely proud to host these posts – proud to host such a wonderfully candid and humble show of you path to familiarity with film. But also proud to be a part of your learning and proud of how much you have learned from other readers of 35mmc! It’s brilliant! Your posts really make my day every time you post one!
Thanks very much Hamish. I have said it before, I think you really built a nice community, and I feel lucky to be part of that, so thanks for letting me!
Just a tip on the lightleaks (that is what those stripes are on the last pictures). These lightleaks occur when you leave your used filmcanister in the light to long. The stripes you see is light that leaks through the slit where the film comes out. It can also occur if you use those milkwhite containers foto your film. These don’t block the light enough.
So the best thing to do, is as soon as you rewound the film, is pop it in a black container or put gaffertape over the slit.
Thanks Pieter. I recently bought a black film case that can hold 10 rolls, so I think that will help.
I’m really enjoying reading these posts and seeing your photos Aukje. There are lots I like but especially the one of the bike rider by the river. I hope you keep letting us know how you’re getting on and showing more pictures.
Thanks Eddy, I really appreciate your encouragement.
Really nothing wrong with those colors. Perhaps the lab sends them out a bit flatter which is the general starting point for starting any color correction. You may easily enforce them a bit. It’s always easier to take saturation up then down.
Nice photos and nice iPhone trick.
Thanks for your comment Rene. I have tried adding saturation and vibrance. But the difference with my digital files from the same day is huge, I cannot recreate the same colours with the film scans. So it is also about appreciating the difference between the media, and I thing I am slowly getting there.
Hi Aukje and hats off for your photos, really not bad at all!
Do you see any big difference between the AG and MeinFilm scans? I ask this as I currently use the german lab and I am quite happy with the results.
Hi Frank, thanks for you compliment. At the moment I don’t see a difference between AG Photolab an MeinFilm, but frankly I think my photos are not consistent enough (yet?) to make a fair comparison. Difference in film and light conditions are more dominant than scanning, I think.
Excellent stuff!!! Keep posting!!!! 😉
Hi Niko, thanks for your compliment and encouragement!
Aukje, this is another quality posting. I’m really pleased that you shot the red crane in portrait format, I love the reflection on the wet sand. I like also the cyclist by the river, very atmospheric. A pity about the light leak in the wine glasses picture, I like that one too.
I look forward to seeing your next set.
Thanks for your comments, Jeremy. I like the wineglasses too, but it’s part of the learning process. I will treat my film more carefully from now on…
I like your evening shots, the top one which you say is under exposed looks perfect to me. With a digital camera I bet you would turn down the highlights and bring out the shadows and see detail in the trees but with film you have to pick what you want to expose. Your superia shots look better exposed, I’ve never been a fan of fuji pro because I had the same results as you have got and it frustrated me seeing other people getting amazing colours. It’s great to see that you are having the same trouble as me, looking forward to seeing where your journey goes next.
I shoot a lot of ektar now. I always under expose it a little bit and get the results I like. Could be an option for you in the future.
Thanks Alex, good to hear that you have similar results, even if we are looking for something else. It can be difficult to figure out what causes what, was it exposure, development film etc? I might try ektar at some point. First I want to see what portra 400 will look like.
I went to porta after Fuji! Still use it sometimes. Can’t go wrong with portra, looking forward to seeing what you get, I think you will be happier with the results.
This really is a great read! Thank you Aukje ,-)
I absolutely love the combination of vintage Leica M2, analogue film and the shiny iPad, used as lightdesk and particularily, the tip with inverting colours!
Thanks Dagmar, and you’re welcome 🙂 . Yes it is a bit funny isn’t it, combing technology from the 70’s with modern stuff. So I am not a purist, I don’t think everything from the old age is better, I just use whatever suits me….
I really enjoy your posts! Fuji Superia seems to give rather saturated greens. I prefer Portra and Ektar, but it depends on the scene and on how I’m feeling! Portra is less saturated, but I sometimes like that look because it makes the scene look quiet and peaceful whereas Ektar is more vibrant/saturated. Great tip about the iPad as a light box…thanks!
Hi Tony, thanks! Right now I have Portra loaded in my camera, but Ektar seems worth the try. On your Maui post both ektar and portra look nice.
Everything looks nice in Maui!!
Happy to see another one of your posts, Aukje. Great pictures and a lovely read!
Ik ben een fan 😉
Dank je J-BO!
Aukje, these posts are really interesting, and helpful to remind us of the variables when shooting film.
I don’t have a Leica or the lens you use, but I wonder if it is known for producing (or not producing) vibrant colours?
A couple of years ago I bought a Sony NEX camera with the sole intention of using my vintage lenses on it (M42, Pentax K mount and Minolta SR mount), with adapters. I have done mini tests of the same scene with say four or five comparable lenses in the same mount by using the NEX.
With all other variables constant – the scene, the ISO, the aperture, the shutter speed etc – I knew that any difference in the images (especially in their colours) would be purely down to the character of the lens used.
I thought that most lenses would give near identical results, but was amazed at the variation in colour and tones. It taught me that different lenses render colour quite differently, and then of course with film we have the emulsion as another variable. It also helped me choose my favourite lenses with that direct feedback from a digital camera, that would have taken weeks or months shooting film, though I can and do now take that knowledge of the len(es) into my film shooting.
So I wonder if the lens you’re using is not known for vibrant colours and you might be better with a different one that is? (I have no experiences of Leicas as I say, so others I’m sure will be able to comment on your specific lens!) So you’re not doing anything “wrong” with your exposing, that’s simply what the lens is able to create?
Hi Dan, Thanks for your comment. I also have a digital leica, so I have some comparison with the Summilux with respect to colour. It does render different than for example my modern Summicron, where the Summilux gives more turquoise blue (more yellow) and the Summicron more purple blue (more red) in the skies. But I have never experienced a lack of saturation in the colours with the Summilux. But a good reminder! You are right to mention this, it is something to take into account. That’s what makes it so interesting to me, it’s a puzzle where I first have to find all the pieces and than make them work together.
Hi Aukje, if you’re really chasing saturated colour I wouldn’t be shooting with Pro400H or Portra. Both are more targeted at wedding/portraiture, and while they can do absolutely lovely subtle, pastel colours, they’re not known for big impact colour. Your results are pretty much what I would expect. Since I’ve got into film photography I’ve noticed that Portra 400 seems to have almost mythical status, and while it’s a great film, a lot of people recommend it for applications it isn’t meant for…
If that’s your focus and you want to shoot colour negs, I’d suggest Ektar 100, which almost looks like transparencies if you shoot it well. Or you could just go all in and have a crack with Velvia 50 – you definitely won’t lack for saturation!
Hi Nick, thanks for your feedback. I will give that a try.
Whilst this might be true in theory, the scanning process has so much impact…
And portra does have mythical properties 😉 – have a read of this
Good on you for shooting film! And colour neg film at that! Colour negative is probably the toughest to learn photography from. It takes a bit of skill to read and understand what you are looking at for exposure, contrast and saturation. Even sharpness can be a bit challenging to judge, especially on 35mm film. These days you need a good lab that runs a lot of C-41 so your film is processed properly. In a lower volume lab, chemistry oxidizes and results in poor colour balance resulting in colour cross over. You will be chasing your tail trying to figure out what is going on.
There’s lots of advice given on this blog and I am not wanting to step on any toes, but there are a few misconceptions. Colour negative film, like all films, there is only one exposure(density). The correct one. The idea of film having a lot of “latitude” is a bit of a myth coming from not understanding how film works. You can sometimes get away with an under or over exposed negative, but it is far from ideal. Film has a set contrast curve. In over exposing, one pushes the lighter(whites) tones higher into the shoulder of the curve. This compresses the tones resulting in less tonal separation(blocked highlights). Kodak Tri-X is wonderful because of it’s shoulder and toe sections of the curve are gentle resulting in more tonal separation. This also is why people say it has a lot of “latitude”. But even Tri-X will easily ‘block’ if exposure is not controlled, resulting in less tonal separation. I’m trying not to get too technical, but correct exposure is important. Placing the exposure on the “best” part of the the curve is paramount to yield a high quality print or scan.
The colour negative films, Portra 160 and 400 has a similar curve to Tri-X. A gentler curve gathering move usable information, especially in the whites(eg. wedding dresses). All colour neg film was designed to be printed on RA-4 paper(fixed constrast). Taking this in mind, if the photographer wants more saturated colour, they would choose a film that would provide this. If you are scanning the film, this is not important. Keep in mind, saturation is product of contrast. I personally shoot Portra 160 for my colour work. It is perfect for gathering as much information when shooting as possible. After scanning, you can easily adjust the curve in Photoshop to make it look like any film made. Shooting a more contrast/saturated film to scan only will limit you from the beginning.
Have you shot E-6 film before? If you or anyone wants to learn about correct exposure, this is the only way to do it. In the beginning, you will be all over the map. This is a good thing because you can now start to learn. In time, you will start to understand how to expose. I think a lot your frustration with your film shooting is because there are too many variables in colour negative film that are not controlled. They are hard to control, especially for a beginner. Scanning colour negative film adds even more variables.
Aukje, hope this helps a little bit. Just to let you know, It’s not your camera! I also don’t believe in “Bad Light”. It’s about matching your subject to light quality to create your desired photograph. Keep shooting and feel free to ask any question.
Hi Patrick, thanks for your comment and elaborate explanation. I haven’t used E-6 film, I will have to google that to see what it is. But I have had better results with colour since this post, mainly by increasing exposure. I do understand that there is a limit to overexposure, and specifically when I want details in the sky I have to take care. But the most important thing is that I am making progress, which is partly just doing, and partly comments like yours to help me moving in the right direction! So I really appreciate your input.
The remark with respect to contrast and scanning is an interesting one. I guess I have been focusing on getting good negatives, but you make a valid point with taking scanning into consideration as being a step towards the final image. I will keep that in mind.
Aukje, Glad you have made some progress! Maybe you have googled E-6 by now, but it is also called transparency, slide, chromes or sometimes positives. It’s worth try a few rolls.
Getting a well exposed negative is the first key to getting a good scan. Skies are always tough to get a good exposure on with film. They are usually much brighter than the film can capture. This is one of the benefits to shooting digital, it’s easy to pull a sky in line. With your negative, you can always do a darker scan to get detail and strip it in with Photoshop. Keep shooting! I like your blog!
Do people use graduated ND filter with ranger finder cameras? By guessing where to place the filter against the horizon perhaps? Judicious use of graduated or split ND filter could save highlights in the sky.
I like Patrick’s suggestion of using slide film if you really want colors you captured. I experimented with slide film for a while back when I got fed up by inconsistencies from drug store developments and print cropping onto those 4X6 or 3X5 prints we used to order…
Thanks for your comment, Garlo. By now I have been able to get better results by exposing more. I still need to try slide film, it is on my ‘must-try’ list.
I am not sure about the the graduated ND-filter, I haven’t tried it myself.
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