I recently visited The Photographers’ Gallery in London which has changing and varied exhibitions. It’s just off busy Oxford Street, and if you are going to be in the area then check out the website to see what’s on.
Along with a cafe on the ground floor, there’s a shop in the basement which stocks an impressive range of specialist books, magazines and journals. They also sell 35mm and other format films including products by Bergger, Washi, Kosmo and Silberra. I couldn’t leave without buying at least one roll I hadn’t tried before and there’s a big selection.
I picked out a 24 exposure black and white film. Santa Rae 1000 is promoted as a new, fast, high contrast emulsion and the roll I bought is a sample from a testing batch of 1500. It’s a bit of a mystery where this film is actually made, but apparently it’s hand-spooled into used canisters in France.
The label has no DX coding, and most compact cameras with automatic DX reading, when loaded with a roll with no code, will default to something like 100 ISO which for this film would result in serious overexposure. Referring to Hamish’s instructions on DX recoding, and with a view to maybe using a compact camera with no manual ISO control, I peeled back the label to reveal the canister was recycled Ilford FP4. I scratched off the ISO 125 code and using black electrical tape recoded to ISO 1000.
It was a useful exercise, but I then dropped the compact idea and decided to use a Nikon EM SLR with Nikkor 28mm f/3.5 AI lens. This gave me direct control over ISO settings, aperture if not shutter speeds, and a wide angle to play with. It’s also quite small and light so not too much of a burden – Mike Caputo wrote a great post about this camera.
Some of the 24 photos I took were a disappointment, although maybe I was expecting too much from it in demanding situations and screwed up the exposure anyway. It’s very contrasty so there’s often zero detail in the darker shadows, but I suppose that’s high contrast film for you. Mid-tones and highlights were retained ok in a few shots but not so much in others. In theory ISO 1000 does give you useful headroom to allow faster shutter speeds but it wasn’t always working for me. I’m wondering if it’s closer to 800.
I don’t think it’s an easy film to get the best out of, and I would have got more balance and more recoverable detail with something straightforward like Ilford HP5 Plus. I had no experience of this film and perhaps I wasn’t playing to its strengths, so I think I would need to shoot a few rolls to get the hang of it. It does have character and if conditions are right, and if you’re after a very specific contrasty look, you could give Santa Rae 1000 a go, assuming they continue making it.
FInd more posts I’ve written for 35mmc here