I’ve had an old Pentax P30n hanging around for about 10 years that hasn’t seen any real use. Despite the camera being dead cheap, the cost of processing and scanning film was a bit scary and after running one or two rolls of colour film through it, the P30n was set aside.
As coronavirus descended upon us, I found myself out of work. Stressful as this was, it was the catalyst to get me into film photography proper. The same barriers remained, however. Processing and scanning was just too expensive. Home developing seemed attractive but after some research, it seemed a little complex. Not to mention a starter kit and chemicals would run to over £100 with no guarantee of success. Online forums appeared to be a roster of beardy white men explaining how simple it all was before going on to list umpteen bits of kit, chemicals and processes that were essential to the process.
I stalled for a few weeks until I came across CineStill’s DF96 monobath through Stephen Shaub’s articles on Emulsive. Here was a product that promised easy results. Pour the stuff into the light-proof pot, stir for three minutes, done. It was as easy as making a pot noodle (and at this point, I was eating them for breakfast, lunch and dinner so I was pretty confident I could master the monobath). I ordered the DF96, a developing tank and a changing bag. That’s it. That’s literally all you need with this stuff.
Kentmere film is pretty much the cheapest stock available in the UK and, frankly, my decision to use it started and ended there. I bought 10 rolls for under £30 not expecting too much from it. An opinion widely held on internet forums is that you need a “professional” film stock for decent pictures. T-Max, Tri-X or Delta was the right choice, according to the forum dwellers. Perhaps they’re right and my photos would be better if I’d spent twice as much on film but looking at the results, I don’t regret my choice at all. The film has a dreamy look to it. Medium contrast, a little halation, grain and softness that all work together beautifully.
Having collected the bare essentials for my first film foray, I headed out with my girlfriend for our daily walk with the P30n. This camera is a joy to use. It has a big, clear viewfinder with a simple meter. There’s one dial to adjust the shutter speed and the aperture is on the barrel of the 50mm standard kit lens. Both shutter speed and aperture can be set to auto – great for either care-free snapping or handing the camera to a friend (both of which I’ve tried and the Pentax has delivered great results in each case). ISO is set by DX code with no option to override. This is a shame but I’m not going to run before I can walk, so box speed works just fine for now.
The DF96 delivered on its promise of quick, easy development. On my first attempt, I pulled out 24 beautifully developed frames. The images you can create with Kentmere 100 and DF96 are more than acceptable. I wouldn’t describe the look of this combination as “retro” but these images are certainly distinctive and very different to what my DSLR spits out thanks to the softness and gentle contrast. The film bug has bitten me hard and it’s thanks to the easy entry point that budget film and easy monobath developer offers.
More Kentmere film experiments on my Instagram. Get in touch to say hi, leave me some advice or inspiration.