5 frames with...

5 frames with Santa Rae 1000 and a Nikon EM – by Charles Higham

January 26, 2020

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.

Plenty to choose from. Pre-exposed Kono film with random aliens in every shot, anyone?

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.

Changing the DX code. Easier and quicker than you might think.

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.

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  • Reply
    January 26, 2020 at 7:01 pm

    I rather like the outdoor evening shots with minimal detail. I think this film could be cool with the right application. But then, I am a fan of high contrast. Thanks for the post.

    • Reply
      Charles Higham
      January 27, 2020 at 8:39 am

      I think you’re right Rock. Very high contrast means it’s interesting with the right application. I don’t plan to use it again as there are other films I haven’t tried yet.

  • Reply
    dezutter tjen
    January 27, 2020 at 8:30 am

    have tried out 5 rolls of Santa .None of them give me satisfaction .Very difficult to get good results in developing … Very thin underlayer so it’s not easy to wind on spool …. Kameratori Finland is head distributor … If you want try a real good film ( in color) then give it a chance with Silbersalz 35 from Germany .That’s really good stuff!!!

    • Reply
      Charles Higham
      January 27, 2020 at 8:41 am

      Thanks and I did read that the base layer was incredibly thin, although I sent this one to the lab so I didn’t have to struggle with it myself.

  • Reply
    Bryan Costin
    May 29, 2020 at 12:05 am

    I really like the interior shots.

    • Reply
      Charles Higham
      June 2, 2020 at 2:59 pm

      Thanks Bryan. The film’s fast speed does lend itself to interiors.

  • Reply
    Shubroto Bhattacharjee
    February 13, 2021 at 12:05 pm

    Very attractive pics, Charles, thanks to the high contrast.
    Did you try pushing in the silver button on the front for a 2-stop increase in exposure, which would lift the shadows?

    • Reply
      Charles Higham
      February 13, 2021 at 8:02 pm

      Thanks, actually no I didn’t use the button and completely forgot it’s there.

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