5 frames with...

5 Frames with Expired Fujicolor Press 800 in a Nikon F4 – By David Hume

February 12, 2022

Over the past couple of years I’ve been working through a shoebox of expired film given to me by a friend. I started with some exotics – some 120 Agfachrome 100, some Ektachrome 100 and160T, some Portra 160 NC and the like before I moved down to the regular stocks. Most of the stuff was, as far as I could tell, about 20 years old and had never been near a fridge. The E6 stock was really useful; I’d shot a couple of successful projects with it, made work for exhibition, all that stuff, but it was gone. Then, rummaging through the 135 that was left, I noticed five rolls of Fujicolor Press 800.

Bless you, 800 Press… What project will I think up for you?

I’m generally not a fan of expired colour neg and back in the day I never used anything faster than 400. I must explain; generally when people say. “I like the colours that expired negative film gives me.” I just don’t buy it. So much comes from the scanning and post, and there’s not much I can get from expired film that I can’t get from fresh film, while there’s a whole lot I can’t get. Sure – I always like exploring the limits of what’s on the neg, but mostly I’d rather decide myself where to put the highlights and shadows and how the curves look. You can always take out what’s on the neg but you can’t add what’s not there. Also, because I work in series, having one outlier roll is of little point. I’ll want to have a consistent look over a whole project. But here the Fuji 800 was interesting because there were five rolls from the same source, so I figured I could shoot one roll as a test and then I’d have four rolls to think of a use for later. And anyway – this film was given to me. I feel a responsibility to either use it myself or pass it on to someone who will.

But what subject? Why – Christmas of course! I always take family photos at Christmas and it had been at least 15 years since I shot film. Digital had replaced film for me with a Nikon D70 in 2004 then in 2008 came the D700 which is still my favourite camera for people photos.

Next –  what camera to use? What better than the F4 I bought for cheap on a whim a couple of years ago. It is such a beautifully designed and engineered lump of goodness. I love the ergonomics (except the AF lock) and every control is accessible through dials.

Q: How much do we love the controls on an F4? A: A lot.

Because the F4 is so big and heavy it rarely leaves the house, but that weight coupled with dampening in the mirror is great for holding the body steady for slow speeds. And the F4 is auto-focus; perfect for fast moving children. Well, in theory it’s auto-focus. I mounted the 35-70 f2.8 AFD that is my go-to in the D700 and the focus was too slow to be useful. The F4 has one single AF point, and it is possible to focus and recompose using a button on the front of the body next to the lens, but this needs a bit of familiarity that I don’t have. I tried the 50mm f1.8 AFD but same story – too slow – so ditched AF in favour of a manual focus 50mm f2.0 – which happens to be one of my favourite rendering lenses of all time anyway. One of the great things about the F4 is how it matrix meters with a huge range of old Nikkor glass. An unexpected bonus with my F4 was that it came with a split-image screen instead of the original, which for me is a manual focussing must-have.

The standard screen of an F4 was not a split-image but I got lucky with this one. The screen is actually a fair bit smaller than an FM etc. Or even the cheapo F301.

Anyway, thus armed I was ready for action. I guessed that ISO 160 would be about right for film in this condition so I selected that for the metering, switched to aperture priority and away I went. 160 is my go-to speed for 135 anyway, as my preferred stock is Portra 160. I find Portra 400 just a bit too grainy in 135, but I really like the rendering and range of Portra, so I’ve been using 160 exclusively for the last year or so. But this is partly a style decision; I like a bit of blur and I’m not trying to sell these to a lifestyle magazine; they are just for my own amusement. As it turns out, I think I guessed about right. The base of the developed film was very dark and murky and it was hard to make out the frame numbers. The shop scans were pretty flat, but I liked what I got once I put a bit of punch into them.  The observant reader might also notice that I had a bit of fun with this piece and and tweaked my digital shots here to mimic the film.

OK – to the shots.

Indoors playing with a slinky.

Unicorn necklace and Mr Potato Head.

As I said, the scans came back a bit flat, but that is just how I like them. I want my scans to have as much of the info the neg recorded as possible, and then I can make my own decisions of where I want the blacks and the whites to lie, and what sort of curves I want.

Kookaburra earrings means it’s Christmas in Australia.

Thoughts? This was fun. The shots are a bit better than my usual Christmas snaps and I think that’s because I was having fun and paying attention. Despite my curmudgeonly attitude to expired film, the fact that this was expired had a fair bit to do with the success of the images I think.There was something nice about playing with the uncertainty of what might come back from the films that made me think and concentrate more. I was also interested in how the sharpness of the lens and depth of field would play with what the film grain and contrast (or lack thereof) might give me. Another nice thing about the F4 was that the high top shutter speed meant I could leave the lens wide open indoors and outdoors for a consistent look.

Daughters – open shade under the tree.

Despite my affirmations against expired film, if I’d been shooting fresh Portra there would not have been that frisson of uncertainty that made me shoot a bit more carefully. Well, to be blunt I would not have bothered shooting film at all. This was Christmas at my house remember, and so taking photos was a long way down the list of things to do that day.

When adults try to write like kids it never works. Only kids can write like kids.

Results? Well, I have four rolls left, and that’s enough for a project. I like the slight brown/yellow cast that came off the shop scans and which was hard to correct in post. If I get serious I’ll digitise these myself, but one thing I can’t change is the grain. There is more grain here than I usually want, but I’ve taken note; if I want grain I have four rolls left that are damn full of it.

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11 Comments

  • Reply
    Bill Brown
    February 12, 2022 at 2:50 pm

    David, You have a shoebox and mine is a small bag and bin in the fridge. I inherited most of this stock back in about 2008 when a close friend cleaned out his fridge, after going digital in 2006. I shot up my favorites, E100, Velvia 50, Potra 160NC rather quickly but now I still have a sizable collection. The Tri-X, best if used before 2002, looks acceptable after post but I’m a total chicken when it comes to trying my remaining stock on shots I care about. I have gifted numerous rolls on a few photowalks but that barely phased my fridge. How do you convince yourself it will be okay if your shots don’t come out? Unlike you I don’t own a digital camera as back-up, still enjoying my dumb flip phone also. I think you are quite brave to risk your time, energy and money on an unknown outcome.

    I have been shooting Portra 160NC and Portra 160 as my go to stock since the mid 2000’s. Generally I don’t like higher grain negs but that varies by subject matter. As far as dealing with the colorcast in your files I would probably recommend either selective color adjustment or/and curves to set your white point_black point with chosen colors. I might also try a luminosity mask if you want to isolate the adjustment to a specific density region. Have you ever tried just adjusting the master Hue slider? The results can be interesting if not helpful. Finally, sometimes just a white balance adjustment in ACR will do the trick. I deal with color correction on a daily basis in my work and there is virtually no cast that can’t be overcome if desired and not with hours of fiddling. Oh, I totally agree about the flatter scans methodology.

    Continue writing about your expired film adventures. Maybe it will inspire me to step out of my safe zone every now and then.

    • Reply
      David Hume
      February 12, 2022 at 8:49 pm

      Cheers Bill

      I think I’m learning through experience with these films that while things might well stuff up, generally they don’t, and when they do nobody dies. In fact an error of mine recently cost me a few shots on a roll that I thought were going to be great, but that resulted in me developing a whole new technique for some other work that might be a real lead.

      I think that with anything I shoot I’m trying to develop an empathy with the medium – be it expired film or an iPhone, and it’s great fun to be informed by this – shaken up a bit – and to find new directions.

      With the colours in these I did not really mind the cast; I just thought “Oh, that’s interesting – let’s work with that and see where it goes.” I tend to have set notions of how a stock should look and I like being taken away from that and seeing something new.

      Thanks for your suggestions – a couple I’ve tried, and I’ll revisit and have a look at those I’ve not! All the best and thanks for adding too the conversation.

  • Reply
    Nik Stanbridge
    February 12, 2022 at 3:09 pm

    These lovely images might just persuade me to shoot colour film once in a while. For some reason I’m just too ‘scared’ to leave the utter comfort zone of b/w. Like you suggest, I need to find/make a project for the rolls of Ektar 100 I have lurking in the fridge.

    • Reply
      David Hume
      February 12, 2022 at 8:52 pm

      Cheers Nik, Do It! I was just thinking yesterday about what I learned recently by breaking out of a sort of pattern I seemed to have settled into and trying something new. It was great fun and also gave me some nice shots; I think I’ll do a piece on the experience.

  • Reply
    Kodachromeguy
    February 12, 2022 at 3:31 pm

    Well done, David. I am amazed you got such good results from a twenty-year-old non-refrigerated 800 speed film. It’s amazing. And what a nice way to record such a nice family at Christmas.

    • Reply
      David Hume
      February 12, 2022 at 8:54 pm

      Thanks – Yes, I was pleasantly surprised I must say! It was good fun too; I nice lesson in there about giving things a go and being up for the unexpected.
      Cheers.

  • Reply
    Steve
    February 12, 2022 at 10:42 pm

    I like your adventurous spirit, David, especially regarding the uncertainties inherent to non-refrigerated expired film. Add to that the already prominent grain in high-speed color neg films when in-date, and it can really turn into an adventure. Your decision to use an ISO of 160 and get flat scans so that you have more control over ultimate colors seems to have yielded some pleasant results – I particularly like the Unicorn Necklace and Mr. Potato Head image – lots of very filmic character.
    I share your view that any film, no matter its age or storage conditions deserves to be shot – if only to satisfy one’s curiosity and challenge one’s ability to draw out some pleasant or even uniquely attractive results. Besides, there’s always the fall-back to black and white and the vintage look by which such editing might “save” a really flawed color neg
    Thanks for sharing the adventure here.

  • Reply
    David Hume
    February 13, 2022 at 12:22 am

    Cheers Steve, Yes I think this film performed nicely, especially considering its age and ISO. I’m not sure what I’ll use the rest of it for, but oddly I’ve just had the idea of shooting some floral pieces with it – a kind of nature mort with dutch flag irises perhaps. We’ll see if that idea goes anywhere.

  • Reply
    Huss
    February 14, 2022 at 4:35 am

    Hmm, I wonder if there is something amiss with your F4’s AF. Both mine focus as quickly as my F6 on static subjects. And waaaay quicker than anyone trying to manual focus. Using 50 1.4D, 50 1.8G, 24 2.8D, 35 f2D, 28-105D..
    Nice pics.

    • Reply
      David Hume
      February 14, 2022 at 5:23 am

      Cheers Huss – the F4 feels super-snappy on AF when I’m playing with it, and yes, way (way) quicker than MF, but in the real-life situation with the moving kids where I was trying to grab focus on an eye with a moving subject then recompose I couldn’t do it and I found MF better. But also this is in a new situation for me with the F4 where on the day I’d tried maybe two or three times to use the AF, found it frustrating, didn’t want to risk it and so moved back to MF with which I’m way more familiar in this scenario. No disrespect to the F4 intended, I just fell back to using it how I’d use a MF slr with a motor drive really.

      • Reply
        Huss
        February 16, 2022 at 8:16 pm

        Ahh gotcha! Yeah with just a single center focus patch focusing on a moving subject is not great! The F6 (and I think F5) have multiple patches, but they still tend to be in the center third of the screen.

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