I’ve had a Nikon FM for forty years, as long as I’ve been shooting. The first was my dad’s; after it was stolen, I bought one from eBay. These days the default lens on it is a Nikkor 35mm F2 AF-D; the “D” series work with Nikon’s digital and film bodies. The combo is almost too competent: while BW photography introduces a layer of abstraction, color photos are dead literal. There’s a fine line between “compelling” and “postcard”.
That’s where Film Washi’s “X” comes in. They claim to be the smallest film company in the world, a one-man operation working out of three shipping containers in Brittany. They make various “interesting” films, including some BW emulsions hand coated on Japanese papers, hence their name. “X” is their only color offering. Unlike other color print films, it lacks the orange masking layer (although the film base is not transparent). The results are exceptional sharpness, soft, creamy highlights that go on forever, and a “retro” color palate.
Film Washi usually tells us where they get the unusual film stocks they repackage, but they’re closed-mouthed about the source of X. Googling suggests it’s an aerial mapping film such as Kodak Aerocolor. Kodak’s data sheet says Aerocolor comes in two hundred fifty foot rolls nine inches wide, so it’s worth paying someone to cut and package it; It’s priced competitively with Kodak Ektar or Portra 160.
I live in Manhattan’s Washington Heights and spent a week shooting this roll, which included a ride downtown on the Hudson River bike path and a Thanksgiving trip to the suburbs of DC.
This shot of a long-abandoned ferry terminal shows how wonderfully the film captured details in the hazy, late morning sun as the fog lifted; the background has a “painterly” feeling, probably due to the film’s extended red sensitivity.
This one, taken at the South Street Seaport Museum, shows X’s ability to render “retro” colors:
Speaking of retro, one of my friends bought a house from an elderly man’s estate. He moved in and left everything as it was, a time capsule of suburban life circa 1960:
The colors stay neutral even under overcast skies:
Another great thing about “X” is its long, long tonal range. This shot of Secaucus Junction renders the shadowy underground part of the platform as well as in direct sunlight:
I really like this product. It’s got a distinctive look that isn’t gimmicky. The only films that (sort of) compete in this space are Kodak’s Vision 3 cinema films, which are also fine-grained and have long tonal scales. But they require ECN2 processing, which means either mailing them somewhere or a long subway ride to Brooklyn.
Ideally, I’d like to shoot X with my Exakta VX and its stable of single-coated lenses (which already have a “retro” look), but that will have to wait until the VX gets back from the repair shop.
My other request? This stuff in medium format would be awesome. Could we have that, pretty please?
Steve Fretz has been photographing for forty years. See more of his work at https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevefretz/
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