5 frames with...

5 Frames with a Rolleiflex 3.5F and Ilford XP2 film in a Quarantined San Francisco – By Dan Shapiro

April 8, 2020

I live in San Francisco, California and like many cities around the world at this point in time, we’re in the midst of a shelter in place order meant to combat the Coronavirus pandemic. Like many city dwellers here, I live in a tiny studio apartment that can truly test the boundaries of one’s sanity when one is forced to shelter in place for weeks at a time. To combat the ever-present cabin fever symptoms, I’ve made it a point to go on solo photo walks and document the empty scenes of a city on hold.

For this “5 frames with” article I want to focus on a particular camera and film combination: my Rolleiflex 3.5F medium format TLR camera and Ilford XP2 film.

If you ask anyone who knows me you’ll know that the average time for a camera to remain in my collection is somewhere between 4-6 months. Call it Gear Aquisition Syndrome, a fear of commitment, or a short attention span, but I just love trying the myriad film cameras available and I only have the money to keep so many cameras at a given time. That said, the Rolleiflex is a truly special camera and one I hope to keep (for at least 8 months). Known for its incredibly sharp lens (my particular model is equipped with a 75mm f/3.5 Zeiss Planar), minimal weight, and insanely quiet shutter this is one of the few medium format cameras that work in both the studio and on the street (See Richard Avedon and Vivian Maier, respectively). Seriously, the noiseless leaf shutter puts any Leica to shame and allows for shutter speeds as slow as 1/15th of a second while handheld!

When it comes to my subjects I generally focus on architecture, urban landscapes, and abstract patterns. For me, photography is a way to stay connected with San Francisco and show others the beauty of both the well-known parts of the city as well as the lesser-known nooks and crannies. Given the subjects that I photograph, I also prefer the resolution and dynamic range of medium format and the abstract and austere nature of black and white film.

The shots you’re seeing below were taken on the first roll of Ilford XP2 I’ve ever shot. Ilford XP2 is a chromogenic black and white film and, for those of you unfamiliar with what that entails, it just means that XP2 is meant to be developed in C41 chemistry normally used for color film. Besides the obvious benefits of being able to drop off this film at any lab (which isn’t always possible with proper black and white film) as well as the ability to develop side-by-side with color negative film, one of the real joys of Ilford XP2 is the lack of variables that come into play in development. Admittedly, while I love the range of experimentation that you can do with true B&W film with different developers and alternative processes like stand development – which is my go-to method for developing low-speed B&W film – I also like that when it comes to XP2, I can set the ISO anywhere from 200-800 and simply develop normally in C41 chemistry without needing to worry about extending developing times or using different agitation schemes. This consistency leaves less room for error and produces, well, consistent results.

Overall, I really enjoy this film, especially for daytime photography, when I need to get as much highlight detail as possible. Whereas I’d usually use an orange filter with Kodak TMax 100 or Fuji Acros to resolve detail in the sky, with XP2 it comes naturally without needing to worry about things like filter factor. Also, I love how clinically sharp this film is without being too grainy. Would I use it instead of a traditional B&W film? Probably not, as I get a lot of enjoyment out of the variables involved in B&W processing. But as a general-purpose, convenient film, XP2 does it all.

And as for the Rolleiflex? While I can’t predict how long this camera will stay in my collection I can certainly say that it is the best medium format camera I’ve ever owned (and I’ve owned a Yashica MAT-124G, a Fuji GW690, and a Hasselblad 500c/m). It’s light enough for street photography and travel and has one of the sharpest lenses I’ve ever used. While these cameras are far from cheap, you can still get a fully serviced model for under $800, and considering that that price includes the attached lens, it’s still a better deal than a Leica. Anyway, enough talk, enjoy the photos!

Looking at the Downtown San Francisco skyline from an empty Pier 3

“Stay Strong, Safe, and Well” – Bimbo’s 365 Club in the North Beach Neighborhood

Looking up at the Westin Saint Francis in Union Square

On most mornings you’ll find dozens of swimmers by SF’s Hyde St Pier, now it’s mostly empty

An art exhibit down by San Francisco’s Ferry Building

If you’d like to see more of my photos check out my Instagram page!

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  • Reply
    Terry B
    April 8, 2020 at 11:15 am

    Nice images, Dan, once again showing the imaging superiority of a good MF camera over 35mm.
    You are very lucky to be allowed to walk around your city taking photographs; such activity in the UK and in most EU countries is prohibited during the current coronavirus outbreak as being non-essential and you could face an on-the-spot fine by the police.

    • Reply
      Dan Shapiro
      April 8, 2020 at 3:27 pm

      Thank you so much Terry! These shots were taken a few weeks ago when the lockdown just began and you were allowed to walk around (albeit by yourself or 6 feet apart from other people). These days the police department will break up any groups larger than 2. I’ve been staying at home since but can’t wait to get back out and shoot again. Hope you and your loved ones are safe!

    • Reply
      Terry B
      April 8, 2020 at 8:58 pm

      Thanks for your best wishes, Dan. May I reciprocate.

  • Reply
    ian simpson
    April 8, 2020 at 11:39 am

    Great shots Dan. Havent been to SF since 1993. One of my favourite cities. Stay safe.

    • Reply
      Dan Shapiro
      April 8, 2020 at 3:28 pm

      Thank you Ian. You probably wouldn’t recognized the San Francisco of 2020 vs the San Francisco of 1993, but for all its changes it’s a wonderful vibrant city (although less so in the past few weeks). Hope you and your family are safe during this trying time.

  • Reply
    Louis Sousa
    April 8, 2020 at 1:37 pm

    Very nice shots Dan. I have shot only one roll of XP2. I developed it in black and white chemicals (without reading the directions as usual) and got some funky shots with red to magenta cast. For travel I bring the Rollie. It is small and light and unobtrusive for street photography, and the focal length is to my liking. The shutter speeds on my 2.8F were off. I took it into my great repair shop in Rhode Island, and aided by Rollie experts in their sphere around the US, they tuned and cleaned it….It is working perfectly 2 years later. Mine came installed with a Beattie screen. It is worlds better than the stock Rollei screens. On some models I owned, the Rollei stock screens, some of which I think were plastic (I stand to be corrected) focus ranged from difficult to impossible depending on the light. These cameras are outstanding, but they suffer especially from the lack of qualified people around who can repair them. Those who can make the repairs charge quite a premium. Louis.

    • Reply
      George Appletree Photography
      April 8, 2020 at 6:03 pm

      The screen is glass. I’ve owned two and both were. Some better screen and viewing mirror can replace originals though. Actually subjects in shadow are seen really dark there. But also that’s one of the beauties of the camera. I forgot about perfection a CLA might offer. No other camera today would bring out photographs like the ones I get.

  • Reply
    wendy chapman
    April 8, 2020 at 6:36 pm

    Lovely images with a film I also like and a camera I hope to acquire in the future. Nice review and keep me in mind when you decide to sell it! 😉

    • Reply
      Dan Shapiro
      April 8, 2020 at 6:46 pm

      Trying to surprise my “ooh shiny new thing” instincts as much as possible and hold onto this old boy but I’ll give you a shout if my GAS gets the better of me

      • Reply
        wendy chapman
        April 8, 2020 at 8:01 pm

        Thank you and enjoy.

  • Reply
    April 9, 2020 at 1:41 am

    Fantastic !
    Great BK, it changes of these very very dark BW Fuji 100 style in some metropoles.

  • Reply
    Bob Janes
    May 3, 2020 at 1:24 pm

    One of the things I particularly like about the Rolleiflex is the sports finder – that it allows you to check the focus in one window and then re-adjust to the open viewfinder to take the shot…

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