Monday, 17 March 2014

Cameras - Mamiya C330f & EFKE IR820 Aura Infra-red Film

St. Pauls, London

After a few years of playing with digital infra-red cameras I decided to try out some IR film. I was curious if there were any fundamental differences in the photographs compared to the newer digital equipment. Since I had a medium format film camera it seemed to make sense to use this over a 35mm SLR. These were my thoughts on why it would be better:

  • Larger film size resulted in more detail & less grain
  • Less images per roll meant that I got results back sooner
  • Big mistakes meant losing less images
  • Experience learned from previous film rolls could be implemented faster
  • Twin-lens system meant I could see through the lens while shooting
  • Because of the above point I no longer needed to remove the filter between shots

There were some down sides to using this camera (instead of say the Nikon F100) however:

  • Camera was heavier
  • The offset of the two lenses meant close shooting was awkward (not specific to IR)
  • No infra-red focus offset markers on the lens
  • Low number of shots per film meant the cost per shot was higher

The pros outweighing the cons pretty much summed up my experiences with this camera and film. Shooting with the C330f can be a lot of fun, if you enjoy a slower pace to your photography and I sometimes do. It's also worth noting that the C330f, like many other medium format cameras, has no metering. I used to carry around a little compact camera and take a shot at the same iso as the film for each shot I took. This gave me the details I needed for the metering, but also gave me exif data for referring back to later. More recently it's also very easy to download a 'light meter' app for your smart phone, which also seems to work well enough.

Nikon D3, 85mm - 1/250th, f/1.4, iso200

My journey into infra-red film started out rather badly. I took my first roll of EFKE IR film using a 950nm IR filter, which is too strong for this kind of film. When I got twelve black images back from the developer I realized what I'd done. After this rather soul crushing loss I did some more research and bought the Hoya R72 filter. From that point on things were much better. In fact my next film came out pretty well exposed considering.

Hampstead Heath, London

Exposure settings were a little tricky. I knew that I had to take of about 6 stops from a normal exposure. I knew that a 'safe' exposure for shooting in bright sunlight was 1/250h at f/8, so I went from there.

The benefits of being able to see through the lens while shooting were probably the biggest plus point of using the C330. Even if I had to suffer the usual image offset issues inherent with twin-lens cameras, but this really only comes into play with close subjects and I didn't feel the need to do this much with infra-red.

Infra-red light focuses at a slightly different point than with colour shots. This focus offset is often marked on 35mm lenses, especially older ones. I think all of my 'D' series Nikon prime lenses have these offsets marked on their focus markings. There is no such indication on the focus system for the Mamiya. This is a fundamental issue with the camera's focusing system (bellows) being independent from the lenses. This meant that a bit of guess work and smaller apertures were required.

+ Glowing highlights
- Losing a film to light leaking...

St. Pauls, London

Here is an example from the roll of film that got fogged. The pattern and numbers that you see overlayed here are from the back of the film. This suggests that the issue was from light leaking into the camera, rather than from when the film was taken out.

Although this issue is not specific to 120 film rolls, IR film is more sensitive to light than colour so this could have made the issue worse. I would still advise changing the film rolls over in a darkened room if you can, although I didn't and have wondered if that caused me problems (didn't seem to, but I'm not sure). I haven't got much advise to give anyone concerning light leaking. As with most things film you only find out the worst days after an entire roll has been taken, so there's little you can do about it. Generally a camera that lets light in is bad for any film (or digital too), but in my case I'm not entirely sure what happened because it only happened once.

Right, enough dwelling on the negative stuff (no pun intended). Here are some photos that came out OK...

London, Hampstead Heath
Kenwood House, London
Hampstead Heath, London
Kenwood House, London

I used an Epsom V700 scanner to get these digital files. This was moderately expensive, but a relatively simple process. There were film holders for strips of 120 film (and 35mm slides and negs) to go into the scanner, but I didn't like using them because they cut off the edges of the film. I really liked seeing the whole negative, including the film gate and the text on the film roll so I just placed them directly on the glass. There are special glass plates you can use that stop you getting newton rings (when the film touches the glass of the scanner). I always wanted to get these, but just never got around to it. I also would have loved to use a dedicated film scanner like the Nikon 9000 ED, but that was rather over my budget. To be fair the Epsom did a very good job with these images.

Processing the images never really required a lot of work. I could have removed the dust and scratches in Photoshop, but I rather like the feel they give the images anyway (unless it's really bad, like on a really old and badly kept negative). My general workflow here was to add a slight curves adjustment before cropping the image a bit and adding a border to them.

As much as I love taking photos with the medium format camera it's an even bigger pain in to use it for IR. I don't dislike paying for film or developing, or guessing exposures, or manual focusing. Guessing how to offset the focusing is a little random and scary, as is changing the films and light leaking, but what really kills it for me is the time it takes to get the images back and having to use a whole roll in one go. I know this isn't specific to infra-red film, but it's just enough on top of everything else to put me off using it very often. 

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