Nowadays, I use analogue photography for 90% of my Street Photography, with the only exception being when it’s raining outside and I don’t want to get my analogue camera wet, so I use my digital one. Usually, I use black and white film stock, but this summer I really felt the urge to shoot some colour film. I checked the usual online shops and noticed how much more expensive colour film had become compared to when I started shooting film around 4 years ago. I was very sad about these prices and wasn’t sure if I wanted to spend at least £12 for a single roll of 35mm colour film stock.
The discovery of something new and wonderful to me
Then, one day, while reading a book called ‘Old School Photography’ by Kai Wong, I learned something really cool. I don’t think the book is particularly good, but he mentioned over there that Cinestill 800T is simply Kodak Vision3 500T, which is a motion picture film, with the ramjet layer removed. Naturally, I immediately headed to Google to see if this film was available for purchase, and to my surprise, it was. In fact, there are a handful of people here in the UK who respool this film from bulk rolls and sell 36-exposure 35mm cassettes for around £7. This was an amazing discovery as it offered the possibility of shooting colour film for the same price as black and white.
However, there is a tiny little “catch”. Kodak Vision3 film stock is supposed to be developed using the ECN-2 process instead of the standard C41. Because the ECN-2 process is not commonly used, the cost of getting a film developed using this chemistry is much higher than C41, and the turnaround times tend to be at least two weeks for most labs. Additionally, this film comes coated with a so-called “ramjet” layer on the side opposite the emulsion, which basically means that it cannot be developed in standard minilab machines, at least not without removing the ramjet layer first. Since Kodak Vision3 is designed for motion pictures and not stills, this ramjet is put there to protect from light piping, base scratches, static, and halation of highlights during exposure recording. The good news is that this ramjet layer is removable, and Kodak Vision3 can be developed using C41 at the expense of colour shifts and increased contrast (this is called cross-processing).
My first thought after learning all of this information was that if we are limited to a more expensive and slow process like ECN-2, then the advantage of paying less for the roll is defeated when it comes to development, as we would be spending the money we saved on the film in the developing process anyway. Hence, I started a quest. I wanted to find out how different the results really are between developing Kodak Vision3 film using C41 instead of ECN-2.
I geared up for the experiment. I purchased two rolls of Kodak Vision3 250D and put one in each of the Pentax MX cameras that I own, both with the same 50mm prime lens. I then headed to London and took the same scene using the same exposure settings. So, same film, same cameras, same lens, same scene, and same exposure. I took around 10 photos like this and then finished the rest of the rolls with other photos. Finally, I sent one of the rolls to a lab to be developed using ECN-2, and I developed the other one myself at home using the C41 process, of course, after learning how to remove the ramjet layer myself. But that is a story for another day. If you would like me to write about the procedure I used and what I have learned in the process so far, let me know in the comments section, and I will write an article about it.
I was very excited and had great expectations when the ECN-2 negatives came back to me to see how different (or similar) the photos were. I scanned the negatives at home using my Epson V500 flatbed scanner. In the photos below, you can see some of the initial results. Initially, I did not change any settings for the scanning, so these examples are exactly how the photos came straight from the scanner.
The first thing you might have noticed is that the photos developed using C41 have a yellowish hue compared to the ones developed using ECN-2. They also seem to be a bit more contrasty, and some of the details seem to have been lost in the highlights. I then scanned the negatives developed using C41 again, but this time I did a bit of minor colour correction. The results will surprise you.
The results with a bit of colour correction
As you can see in the comparison below, the results are extremely similar after adjusting the colours a bit during scanning. I didn’t do much tweaking at all; I just modified the yellow hue towards the magenta to make the photo less warm. This adjustment made the results extremely similar to me. So similar that after getting such results, I find it very difficult to justify using the more expensive and cumbersome ECN-2 process instead of the common C41.
In my opinion, Kodak Vision3 250D can be perfectly developed using the C41 process after removing the ramjet layer. After some minor colour adjustment (which is normally done while scanning and digitising negatives anyways), the results become almost indistinguishable from one another. It is true that using C41 generates a more contrasty image and some of the details are lost in the highlights, and this makes sense as the film is designed to be processed using ECN-2 to get the optimal results. However, for hobbyist and amateur photographers like most of us, I find it difficult to justify using a more expensive process. If you are doing a movie production with Kodak Vision3 and you are spending thousands of pounds on the movie, like in Hollywood, then of course, it makes sense to use ECN-2. But for most of us, the C41 process seems to be more than perfectly fine. And this is great because it makes this film stock feasible and accessible for all of us to use.
If you would like to know more details about my experiment comparing Kodak Vision3 250D developed using ECN-2 vs. C41, I made a YouTube video about it that you can watch on my channel by clicking here.
You can learn more about my work in my Website.
Armando Caballero – Street Photographer.
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