It has always been hit or miss for me when I shot with slow speed films. Images were tragically soft or out of focus. I would either overexpose or underexpose each frame. Maybe I didn’t have the patience to just slow down and focus on the moment (no pun intended). Maybe my technique of holding the camera was pure rubbish. I don’t know but I was never satisfied. So, I stayed away from any film slower than 100 ISO. However, when Lomography introduced Babylon 13 and Fantôme 8 last year. It was an opportunity to try to redeem myself.
I have always loved the images produced from black and white slow speed films. The moodiness, the contrast, the fine gran and the timeless nature of these images if done well can be mesmerizing. Unfortunately, when I shot these films, what was produced was a muddy mess.
I ordered 5 rolls of Babylon 13. After the film arrived, it then sat in my freezer for close to a year. I was looking for the right opportunity to shoot with them but it really never materialized. However, a few weeks ago, I was doing a test shoot with my digital camera and with a model named Miran. Then on a whim, I decided to bring along a roll of Babylon 13 and a film camera.
Miran and I met in Chinatown in Yokohama at noon. There was not a cloud in the sky. I was worried that the harsh light of the mid-day sun was not going to be the most flattering light for portraits.
The camera that I took was the CONTAX N1. Lomography recommended using a fast lens with at least a minimum of a f1.4 to 2.8 aperture opening. So, I paired my CONTAX with the Carl Zeiss Planar 85mm 1.4f. I have always been a bit of a Zeiss lens fan boy. I know it’s all subjective but I really like how Zeiss lenses render images with their micro-contrast especially in black and white.
Fortunately, I was able to find a narrow alleyway which produced enough shade to soften the bleaching sun and I decided to empty the roll there. Soon, I began cursing myself because I did not put much thought and planning in before I grabbed this film and headed out the door. A tripod would have been helpful. I shot at a slow shutter speed and at open apertures because of the subdued light. I just used the in-camera spot meter, and metered for Miran’s face.
The film was taken to the local mom and pop lab in my neighborhood to be developed. In my butchered Japanese, I asked if they could use Kodak HC-110 developer because it produces more contrast. My request was greeted with a blank stare of bewilderment, who knows what I really said. My Japanese is still in serious need of help.
Receiving the negatives, the first thing that struck me was how thin they were and the difficulty keeping them flat to scan.
The images to be expected, produced very little grain. They were clean and clinical; they almost looked like digital captures. They were a bit flat. This is not a bad characteristic, but I was expecting a bit more tonality. I generally like more contrast in an image but that’s my personal taste.
I really can’t complain about the film. But there was nothing really distinctive about it except for its slow film speed. I will shoot with it again. Definitely next time I will be more deliberate and have a true plan to test its strengths and limitations. I’d like to see how it reacts in different lighting conditions and possibly use it with some color filters.
Is it a film that I will be reaching for soon? Not sure but I will try not to let another year go by before I shoot with another roll.