Part of my journey back into B&W film photography has been experimenting with different film types for different situations. I have developed a love of using Ilford Delta 100 for street walks and PAN F-50 for landscapes in bright situations. A portion of my digital work includes casual portraits with friends, so it’s been an interest of mine to find a good film for this situation as well. My first audition for this niche was a 5 pack of Lomography Kino Babylon 13. This emulsion has its uses, but I plan to keep looking and experimenting.
Part of the challenge of doing portrait photography with film is my camera. I shoot with a 60 year old Petri 2.8 rangefinder, an heirloom from my passed uncle. It’s completely manual, widest aperture of 2.8 and quickest shutter speed of 1/500. I like short depth of field with natural daylight portraits. So even in the shade, opening the lens up completely usually means bumping up against the shortest shutter speed quickly. One solution is using ND filters, the other, slower speed films.
Last year Lomography launched two new Black and White films into their Kino line: Fantome 8 and Babylon 13. Babylon 13 is described as a “Mooney-eyed Monochrome” which sounded compatible with the B&W work I do, both on film and digitally. I experimented with a five pack of rolls over an extended time frame. The first, shot with the stone ladies at Crown Hill cemetery, the second and third during a model audition and a fourth while out with a friend. The fifth roll was a casualty of stale developer.
As I processed these rolls, the first thing that struck me was how areas that should have been completely blown out, including the lead stub, were ~70% opaque. Other films I use achieve near total light blockage. I wasn’t seeing that here.
Examining negatives in detail, even if part of the film was blown out, other areas got thin in a hurry. Pessimism setting in as I scanned the images to JPGs. In shaded areas there was very little detail to work with. Perhaps this was an exposure issue from an intuitive read of available light, but it does seem like the film is doing a better job capturing detail at the bright end of the exposure spectrum than at the low. After reading files into Lightroom, I still couldn’t make many of these come alive.
There is another factor coming into play here – the developer. As I experiment with films, I am settled on using Ilfosol 3 developer. It’s a single shot developer available in single use packages. I don’t like buying a bottle, using some, and then discovering a few months later it has oxidized, turned brown, and needs discarding. The development instructions from Lomography list directions for Ilfosol 3 but the comments don’t lead one into believing it is their favorite for this film. I think I agree on this.
With initial apprehensions noted, some images I created worked – Frames with the subject facing into the light. In bright sun, tonal graduations are soft, depth of field falls off nicely at F2.8. With a dark background, the aesthetic of the subject emerging from gloomy darkness has a classic noir appeal, which is accentuated by the corner fall off and vignetting of the camera. I probably have not given up on Babylon 13, but will choose its moments carefully.
Thanks for the read.