5 frames with...

5 Frames from a Night Shift Medic on Tri-X at 1600 in a Canon New F1 – By Cody Thompson

July 30, 2020

Any regular reader of this blog knows how far and well Tri-X can be pushed, so I’ll skip the details on the how and focus on the why.

I’m an emergency paramedic on the night shift in a very busy system. For a while, the inherent darkness of my shift kept me from bringing a camera to work at all. Then I toyed around with a point and shoot with a built in flash but was never quite happy with the results. The lens, at f/2.8, was too slow and I found myself resorting to using the flash too often. Most of my photos were either blurry or had that direct flash look, so after one roll it was removed from night duty. Next, I tried Cinestill 800t in a Canon New F1 with a 50mm f1.4 and got far more favorable results. I love the colors of 800t, but don’t love the red halation, the price, and the scarcity, so that idea was also a one and done.

For a while, I just gave up. There’s not much to photograph at 3am, anyway. Not that I would try, but I’d be fired immediately if I had the notion to emulate Weegee. So the cameras stayed at home. I even thought about selling the New F1 since I had primarily moved to a “modern” Canon EOS 3. But a few weeks ago when the country erupted in protest, I was getting ready for work and thought that if I got put in the middle of it, I’d be upset with myself for not having a way to document it. Suddenly, things that should have been obvious all along came together.

I never shot much black and white, but I had a lone roll of Tri-X 400 sitting around that I knew I could push to 1600 with little loss in quality and even thought the extra grain and contrast would add a favorable grit to nighttime protest photos. With film in hand, it was time to decide on a camera. The New F1 that was collecting enough dust to justify being moved to my eBay pile was suddenly back in service. It offers Av and full manual, has a light in the viewfinder to see what I am doing, has the best low light focusing screen of any manual focus camera I own, and I know the controls intimately. I threw on a 50mm f1.4 and was ready for the darkness.

I never got dispatched to the protests and luckily, with the exception of one recent incident, they never got terribly violent here, but over the next few weeks I managed to work through the roll. With this set up, I was rarely if ever limited to the point of not being able to take a shot I wanted to take. The only issue I ran into was scenes lit by dozens of flashing emergency lights where the level of light is constantly changing. In these scenes in Av mode, the shutter speed needle swung wildly from 1/30th to 1/1000th. I tried to time it somewhere in the middle and released the shutter, hoping for the best, and it usually worked well enough. Going forward, this will be my standard set up for work, I just wish I would have thought of it sooner.

The voice of god comes through this speaker.

My partner, watching it burn. Standing by for possible patients at a structure fire. Luckily we weren’t needed.

Precious cargo. Caffeine is a necessary evil on the night shift and can’t be let go to waste.

Dozens of flashing lights made this one difficult to meter.

At the end of a long night, there is still paperwork to be done.

Thanks for reading.

You can find my instagram account here.

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  • Reply
    July 30, 2020 at 10:05 am

    Great set of photos. How do you scan? The quality is very good.

    • Reply
      Cody Thompson
      July 31, 2020 at 1:45 am

      I let my local lab do all the work.

  • Reply
    July 30, 2020 at 1:18 pm

    Now this is documentary work. Emt documenting his work life during protest. Not some random schmuck with press pass going out for 20 days during lock down while everyone else had to stay inside.

  • Reply
    July 30, 2020 at 2:17 pm

    These are really great photos!!! Have you tried Delta 3200? I usually rate it at 1600 .

    • Reply
      Cody Thompson
      July 31, 2020 at 1:45 am

      I have not. Tri-X 400 is the only black and white film I’ve ever shot, actually.

  • Reply
    Omer Claiborne
    July 30, 2020 at 3:25 pm

    Well done. Stay safe and may luck be with you.

    The NEW Canon F-1, one of the ‘hockey pucks’ of its day.

  • Reply
    Peter Kornaukhov
    July 30, 2020 at 4:55 pm

    Pretty good. The angel savior with a Canon camera. Me noticed as well that Tri-X lets push processing to 1600 not higher. 3200 is poor. Used Mju:-II and needed to scratch one of the DX code checks then it will work quite good. The best developer here’s a Microphen certainly. Well done shots good luck!

  • Reply
    Justin K
    July 30, 2020 at 5:44 pm

    I’m experimenting with pushing Ilford HP5 to 1600 with my old Canon F-1 at the moment (should be developing at home this weekend; I’m fairly new to film photography), but I’ll be trying Tri-X next, especially after seeing your fantastic results here. I work in tech, almost always at a desk and screen, but I’ve always kept in the back of my mind that working in an ambulance could be where I truly belong. The old F-1 is my favorite SLR among the dozen or so that I’ve tried, for sure, though I’ve never used the New F-1. I absolutely adore the build and heft of the body as well as the old—and affordable!—FD SC and SSC lenses. The 50mm f/1.4 SSC is a steal at approx. $100 USD. Maybe it’s the weight of the kit that eliminates the shake from mirror-slap, but I’m consistently getting sharp images at 1/30th. Thanks for the post. Stay safe out there!

    • Reply
      Cody Thompson
      July 31, 2020 at 9:11 pm

      I was in university studying biology, working in a lab on campus and I about lost my mind. Desk jobs are not for me. I dropped out, spent 8 years doing various kinds of manual labor, from dock worker to ranch hand, then finally went back to school for EMS. It requires critical thinking, grace under pressure and is hands on. Your local department may let you do a ride along so you can see what it’s like in real life, which is mostly unruly drunks and people with the sniffles who think taking an ambulance will let them see the doctor sooner, but if you get a critical call or two you’ll see why we all stay in it.

  • Reply
    July 30, 2020 at 8:02 pm

    Good shots! Darn nice for being ISO1600.

    I’ve been testing TriX @ 800, but now I’ll have to try it at 1600.

    • Reply
      Joe Brough
      July 31, 2020 at 8:56 am

      I think HP5 is more forgiving than Tri-X. Even shot at 3200 you get workable images, and retain those midtones, unlike Tri-X, which gets that horrible muddy look. Delta 3200 may be one to try also, I like it much better than Kodak P3200. Ilford films just seem to do it for me in b&w against almost any other stock, with exceptions of course. Check out some comparison articles to see what suits your style more. 👍🏻

  • Reply
    July 30, 2020 at 8:08 pm

    Hey, Cody! Thanks for your pics! Pretty impressive for a pushed ISO400 film. And yes, thanks for being there!!!

  • Reply
    July 31, 2020 at 1:03 am

    Cheers for the interesting read. As an essential healthcare worker supporting the frontlines and a very enthusiastic photographer, it does sting a little knowing I could not document a frontline health worker’s perspective – especially in this climate of viruses and protests.

    • Reply
      Cody Thompson
      July 31, 2020 at 9:13 pm

      I really wish I could come in on a night off and be a fly on the wall with no restrictions, but alas, privacy laws, etc…

  • Reply
    Michael J
    July 31, 2020 at 7:23 am

    These are brilliant. That’s the very best time to figure out the exposure characteristics of any given kit, and it’s great to see photography as an adjunct to Deadly Serious Real Life.

  • Reply
    July 31, 2020 at 5:04 pm

    Nice work! It’s rewarding to see the critical work of medical and emergency response people, especially when we see so many political hacks discounting the severity or even existence of the virus (here in USA).

    As for your New F1, if yours is in good condition and the meter is working, I suggest you keep it. Slowly but surely, the inventory is reducing from age and/or poor storage, and you may never be able to find a nice one again. Try to find finder screens and other accessories, which are also disappearing.

  • Reply
    Castelli Daniel
    August 1, 2020 at 10:44 pm

    Great work. I know it’s damn near impossible to bring your camera to work and shoot with privacy issues and liability concerns. But, you wield the Canon like a writer uses a notebook or an artist uses a sketchbook. Look up the work of W. Eugene Smith and his photo essay “Country Doctor.” You’ll see you’re kindred spirits.
    Keep adding to your body of work.

  • Reply
    August 3, 2020 at 10:07 pm

    Great read, and very nice images. Thanks Cody!

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