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.
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