Las Vegas on CineStill

Ever since I have started to take photographs I was always chasing a cinematic look. In fact, this is one of the reasons I shoot film. While it is undoubtedly possible to achieve film look with digital cameras I find it easier by using film. Also, it is a lot of fun to experiment with different film stocks. Discover the characteristics of each individual film types. Under which circumstances to use one over another and what artistic effects can be achieved by abusing a particular type of film.

One of my holy grail films I desperately wanted to put my hands on is CineStill. It is a tungsten-balanced motion picture film converted to be developed in a regular C41 process and thus more accessible for still photographers. In theory, this film can provide that cinematic look in terms of color, tonality, grain as it is, in fact, an emulsion used by Hollywood. Of course, the cinematic look is a product of many other factors than the film stock such as lens, subject, lighting, but it is one of the main contributors.

For their color negative films, Cinestill Film modifies Kodak motion picture cinema film, allowing it to be developed with the C-41 process rather than the Eastman Color Negative process. Cinestill Film converts the Kodak motion picture cinema film by removing the Remjet backing, a separate Anti-halation backing used to protect the film in motion picture cameras. Due to the removal of this anti-halation backing, Cinestill Film exhibits a glowing effect on the image in areas with strong highlights.

Wikipedia

It was clear that sooner or later I was going to try CineStill, but I needed an occasion or project to justify it. Thankfully at the end of 2019, I have got the chance to visit a conference in Las Vegas (AWS re:Invent 2019). I thought it was a brilliant opportunity to try this film so I bought 2 roles from eBay. It was a week-long conference so I hoped that I was going to have some possibility to explore the city and shoot film.

My camera of choice was the Leica M2 paired with a Voigtlander color skopar 35mm f/2.5 pancake lens. I also brought with me an 50mm f/1.5 Sonnar for the extra speed. But I ended up using the 35mm lens a lot more as it was easier to carry around and the wider field of view made a lot more sense too. The f/2.5 maximum aperture was bright enough because of the high speed of the film and because the city was brightly lit by the different advertisements at all times. My biggest problem during the night was not the amount of light but the ever-changing nature of it. Images on the screens were flashing, trucks were driving around with wall-sized LED light sources mounted on them. It was such chaos that I gave up on using a light-meter. Instead, I started to rely on gut feeling and intuition. I had to gamble on my exposure.

Use CineStill 800Tungsten when photographing:

  •  tungsten/incandescent light
  • candle light
  • fluorescent light
  • mixed tungsten and fluorescent
  • mixed tungsten and limited daylight

https://cinestillfilm.com/ QA

Night shift: He was trying to diagnose/fix the broken green section on the screen on the building’s facade. It was around 4 am.

As expected halation is very evident when bright light sources are in focus. This is due to the removal of the anti-halation remjet layer. I personally find this effect very interesting and unique. For the most part, this glow gives an extra punch to the atmosphere.

strong halation around the stop hand light.

Avoid using CineStill 800Tungsten (or expect a unique look) when photographing:

  • open shade
  • cool light
  • daylight overpowering tungsten
  • heavily backlit images
  • strong window light
  • ontent including intense points of light (christmas lights, chandeliers, neon signs, bright windows)

https://cinestillfilm.com/ QA

My impressions

I have to say that this film did not disappoint me. I shot it under numerous recommended and not recommended situations and as the expected unique look was delivered in a big way. I had been caught off guard regarding the amount of halation, but I must admit I like this effect very much. It helps to smooth out the otherwise not so great bokeh of the little pancake lens. I expected more noise given the 800 ISO rating, but I was pleasantly surprised about how well the noise is controlled. The colors are fantastic and it was very easy to set the white balance on the files in Lightroom. Not sure if it has anything to do with the film though. The only situation which produced results that I did not like and/or was very hard to color correct was in open shade. Especially if people were in the frame. Skin tone reproduction in shade is not the best application for this film based on my limited experience with it. It is also #1 on the not recommended situation on the CineStill website.

All in all, it is a great film with absolutely unique characteristics. I think it is worth to try.

A roll of Velvia

I have and always had a love-hate relationship with Velvia. It is a fantastic film stock for sure. When used for fitting subjects, it delivers results like no other film. It packs an extra punch in terms of color saturation, contrast, and resolution. My only problem is that I mostly shoot portraits and if anything this is not the best use for this film. Also, I am more careful with positive films as they need to be exposed very precisely, they cost more to buy and to get developed. That is why I kept a roll of Velvia 50 in my fridge for more than 10 years. I was waiting for the right moment to load it into a camera that moment has failed to come.
I think I became overly circumstantial with my precious film stash. So I decided to use up this roll of Velvia this summer. We have planned a holiday to visit friends next to Hamburg with plenty of opportunities to take pictures. I was especially excited about the seashore. In the end, we brought home many photos most of which were digital. Around the same time, we have got a nice telephoto zoom lens for our digital camera. We were eager to test the new lens and the little roll of Velvia got pushed back on the priority list once more.
Eventually, I have finished shooting this roll even though it has taken me months biting into the autumn. Despite the traditional wisdom, I have shot a lot of portraits on it besides the well-expected landscapes. I have used it for everything and I am glad I did. Most of the photos turned out just right. To be said, I had to dial back the reds in post-processing on all portraits. In this post, I would like to share some of these randomly captured moments. If you have any thoughts about them or about using Velvia, please leave me a comment.

Zsuki

During the Christmas holiday, I have managed to find the time to develop a few rolls of film. I am very happy about it because lately, I have struggled with my developing process. I have encountered many trivial issues including the use of an exhausted developer, air bubbles and the list goes on. This time I have tried everything to get better results. I have purchased a new developer tank so I could turn it over without pouring liquids out. I have also reverted to my trusted ID-11 developer which meant that I had to wait until enough rolls had been finished to make it worth to mix the chemicals.
All in all, I am pleased with the results even though there is plenty of room for improvement. My plan is to share some of the shots during the course of 2-3 posts depending on the themes I can find. Hopefully, I can get some feedback on from you.

This first set is from a family visit where I could take some portraits of my sister Zsuki. The color pictures are depicting me on the same occasion. I was having fun taking pictures of branches and other random objects at first. These digital shoots were taken by my lovely wife. I think they complement the analog pictures nicely as they show the camera and lens I used.

I am not sure why I am drawn to photograph branches like these. They are very rarely keepers. Still, it seems to be a good idea from time to time.

Finally, here are the portraits of Zsuki. Thankfully she is very relaxed at the front of the camera which made it very easy to photograph her.

I have used my C Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 lens on my favorite f/2 setting which results in a fantastic creamy bokeh. I find it challenging to focus with this lens wide open and the bokeh starts to fall into crazy territory at f/1.5. So f/2 is my sweet spot.

As for the development, I have used 1+1 dilution for the ID-11. Developed for 10,5 minutes on 20° Celsius with agitation in every 30 seconds. The film was Ilford FP-4 Plus and I shot it at stock speed. I have expected a bit less grain from the film, but I am almost certain that this is because I have slightly underexposed and pushed too hard during post-processing.

If you see anything obviously faulty in the description of my development method please let me know in the comments.

Irish Streets

I have been planning to write about my adventures in Dublin and Galway a long time ago. It was a short business trip in 2015 for only 2 weeks but I could fit in some time to explore and of course to take photographs. I wanted to write a bigger post initially because of the great experiences I had in Ireland.  Since I have not managed to put my thoughts together in the last two years, I have decided to take a more simplistic approach and let the photos talk instead of me.

I have used my beloved Leica M2 with my Sonnar 50mm ZM lens loaded with Fuji Superia Xtra 400. All the film was developed and scanned by the excellent John Gunn Camera Shop.

Music on the streets of Dublin was everywhere. I was quite impressed by the diversity and the quality of the music I heard there. It is a vivid city with many faces and to me, street musicians are definitely contributing to the charm and charter of the place.


But things were about to change in regards to the regulation of street music. Don’t know what was exactly on a stake or what the result turned to be. But at the time I was visiting Dublin, large groups were coming together, playing music and peacefully protesting against the planned changes.

I have also taken a couple of candid shots. Partly because I am really bad at this type of photography yet I needed to experiment with it. After all, I was caring a camera which was built for the task.

At the end of the day, I have returned my method of asking people if I could photograph them. I am much more comfortable with this approach. At least I have fewer issues with framing and composition when I can use the viewfinder.

People were generally very friendly and talkative with me. I was very much surprised about the number of positive reactions of people I asked to take a portrait of them. In addition to that, I myself received a lot of attention. Random people started to talk to me about equally random things ranging from the weather to the funny aerobic class across the street while we were waiting for the green light at a zebra.

I was also trying to capture little details of everyday life like this little dog who might be waiting for his owner at the entrance of a pub in Galway. All in all, I really had a great time even if it was very limited. I had a lot of good experiences, met many lovely people and I have taken an unusually high amount of photos on this trip which is a statement of itself. Someday I will go back with my family for some more exploration with properly dedicated time.

M9 + Sonnar vs M2 + Planar

Two friends with the same passion for photography, both using rangefinder cameras almost indistinguishable from the distance. The cameras are matched with fast 50mm lenses from the same brand and color.

Sounds like these photographers or at least their choice of gear is quite the same. While this statement is true to some degree, there are significant differences. In fact, there are more differences than the obvious technological dissimilarity between the capturing media used by the cameras (Ilford Delta 100 film in the Leica M2, Kodak CCD sensor in the M9).

Gábor, Leica M9 P, Carl Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 ZM
Gábor, Leica M9 P, Carl Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 ZM

Ramón uses a digital Leica M9 P which of course captures color information and renders in a very unique way. Many including himself claim that under ideal circumstances the CCD sensor in this camera creates much more pleasing results than other sensors used in other digital cameras with the same sensor size. This is a topic can be argued for a long time, but at the end of the day, it is his subjective view and his decision to use a rangefinder with this sensor.

Ramón, Leica M2 , Carl Zeiss Planar 50mm f/2 ZM, Ilford Delta 100, Rodinal 1+50, 20°C, 8 min
Ramón, Leica M2, Carl Zeiss Planar 50mm f/2 ZM, Ilford Delta 100, Rodinal 1+50, 20°C, 8 min

At the same time, I was using a classic Leica M2 with a black and white film. Even though the output of the digital camera is also appealing, the analog workflow is still favorable to me. It is partly because I enjoy the process of creating the image in this old-fashioned way, but also I can achieve the film look what I am looking for much more naturally.

My primary lens is a Zeiss Sonnar f/1.5 which I love for many reasons but mainly because of its bokeh. Ramón has a Planar f/2 from the same ZM series, although I believe this is not his standard lens. Both lenses are fast 50mm primes, yet they are quite different. The Planar is reliably excellent lens, which can be praised for its great sharpness and generally beautiful bokeh.

The Sonnar is a bit more hectic with the potential of surprises both in positive and negative ways. This lens can be bit soft wide open, but the bokeh is just phenomenal most of the time and from f/2 sharpness is already more than enough to me. The Sonnar has a bad reputation of focus shifting which is change of the focus plane when adjusting aperture. I personally don’t have any issues focusing with this lens. We switched lenses for the day, so we could experiment and see the differences. At the end of the day we enjoyed using these lenses, they both performed well on digital sensor and on film.

Also note that we use the cameras with different style. One of us covers only 1 eye with the viewfinder and keeps the other eye free open while the other covers his entire face with the camera and thus limited with single eye framing. Naturally this difference can be explained by the magnification used on the viewfinders, but it is also hugely a personal preference.

The great similarities and the differences between the cameras and lenses made me wonder can be photographers categorized at all by the type of gear they use? I guess the answer is controversially yes and no. Surely we use the same style of camera with the same focal length. This would put us into a technical category of normal lens rangefinder shooters. But even if we would use the exact same gear we would end up different results which we would have achieved in different ways. I think the most distinguishing feature in the photography of 2 individuals is not within their camera, but behind of it.

Eszter & Gábor, Leica M9 P, Carl Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 ZM
Eszter & Gábor, Leica M9 P, Carl Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 ZM

Eszter, Leica M2 , Carl Zeiss Plannar 50mm f/2 ZM, Ilford Delta 100, Rodinal 1+50, 20°C, 8 min

Eszter, Leica M2 , Carl Zeiss Plannar 50mm f/2 ZM, Ilford Delta 100, Rodinal 1+50, 20°C, 8 min

Being a tourist

It is not easy to be a tourist. Visiting popular places has the obvious disadvantage that they are already photographed from every possible angle at every possible time of the year.

So what can a photographer do who is short on time and cannot afford the luxury of deeply explore his travel location?
In other words should one leave the camera at home when going to a family afternoon visiting a hipped touristic site? Some would say yes. Just enjoy the time with the family and do not break the flow with those annoying stops to stare through the viewfinder. There is no way to take new, refreshing original photos anymore. There is even a camera called Camera Restricta which checks online how many publicly available photographs have been made on a certain GPS location.

Viewfinder Camera Restricta

If the count exceeds a limit, the camera denies taking any more pictures. While this camera offers a really extreme solution to the issue, it certainly raises the awareness that we should approach spectacles with care. After all, no one wants to create the 10 000th identical photos about that waterfall.

In my opinion, it is absolutely possible to take outstanding photos at locations which are considered completely exhausted as photographic resources. It is challenging indeed, but challenges are there to accept and conquer them.

My challenge

This is what I have tried to do lately. I was sent on a business trip to Dublin and of course, I tried to get the most out of it. Due to the packed by work nature of my travel, I had not much time for exploring, but I had a weekend and a few afternoons to work with. So I teamed up with my college and friend and picked some quite touristic places to visit. So we went to Glendalough, an extraordinary place with a beautiful mixture of nature and early medieval architecture. We had a great time and we were truly amazed by the wonders of this place, but as expected there is quite highly developed tourism involved here.

I was terrified when I realized that people were taking literally thousands of pictures just under that few hours we spent there.

But after the initial hesitation, I have started to shoot and tried to make up a set of rules I applied to make a difference.

Glendalough, Leica M2, Sonnar

Think with a head of a tourist

I tried to picture what is the easiest shoot one could get. This is what most people are up to. It is also a good idea to step back a little and watch what locations others choose. After I have mapped the patterns, I have picked a little bit different, harder to reach so to speak less trivial spot and angle. Many times just a few meters what you need for a significantly better shoot.

Use something special

According to a popular saying, your camera does not really matter. I agree on that a talented photographer can take stunning images with just about anything. On the other hand, a bad photograph is not any better just because it was taken with some exotic gear.

But the reality is not that all black and white. In the age of mass-produced digital cameras, smartphones and even smartphone cameras, a good old film camera can really shine out.

Glendalough, Leica M2, Sonnar

This is not the primary reason, why I shoot film, but it is great fun to see how much people are surprised because of the image quality and (I hope) cinematic look of my pictures.

Focus on the details

The world is full of neat little details. Many see only the big picture. Want to squeeze somehow the Eiffel Tower into the frame. But sometimes details are just more interesting. Better still often there is no indication whatsoever about their origin. Therefore it is always a good idea to have a camera in the bag no matter how touristy is the place to be visited. There is always the chance for a nice rusty road sign lurking at the next corner.

Galway

I have to admit that this photo with the fern was not taken at Glendalough but in Galway. However, this is my favorite detail photo from this roll.

People make things interesting

All humans are addicted to the look of other humans. Why not exploit this property of the mind and compose someone into the frame. It does not work at all times, but chances are that a handful of these photos will be the best ones. At least this is the case many times with me.

Glendalough, Leica M2, Sonnar

I am really bad at photographing people without their acknowledgment. I am not just bad at it, but also I prefer not to do it. That is why I asked these girls for this picture.

This is my quick guide for myself. I hope some of you will find it interesting. If you have something to add, or just like to comment, I would be happy to read your opinion.