Colour Photography and me, sometimes I just don't know. It isn't that I have issues with it as a creative medium. Sure, black and white is it for me 90% of the time but there are times when colour is an important element. The trouble is more of a practical thing. It's easy enough to carry and extra back loaded with colour film for just those occasions. The problem is what to do with the stuff once it's been shot. Gone are the days when it was a simple matter to find a local business that could handle the processing for you. The answer should be simple enough - I know my way around the darkroom (I can do it with my eyes closed!) and colour chemistry isn't that hard to get my hands on. The trouble is a batch of C-41 chemistry only lasts for a couple of months once mixed. On average over that time span I'll probably not even shoot a single roll of colour. If I were to shoot E-6, which I'd love to, that's even worse.
A popular option these days is to ship film away to a lab but shipping one roll at a time adds a lot of expense and if I'm going to wait until I have several rolls I might as well just do it at home. I have all the stuff after all. And so it is this is the option that I have gone with. Sounds like a near perfect plan given the circumstances, right?
Well... maybe. I'm no stranger to the C-41 process. It's fixed, predictable if you stick to a few simple guidelines with no adjustments required in time or temperatures to match a particular film, they all get processed the same way. In many ways it's easier and faster than processing a typical black and white film. Still, for reasons I'm sure had little to do with problems or inconsistencies at the development stage, recent results have fallen a little outside what I was expecting.
To begin with I had 6 rolls of film to develop: One roll each of Kodak Portra 400 and Ektar in 120, two rolls of Agfa Optima 400 in 220 that expired some time in the late 90's, a 120 roll of Lomo 100 and a roll of Fuji Superia 800 that went though one of my Nikons though I can't remember which. Together these represented all the colour film that that completed it's journey through my various cameras roughly over the past year, though in many cases they seem to have been sitting in camera for a much longer time than that. All were developed in the same batch of a 1L Unicolor C41 kit that I ordered from the Film Photography Project. It was recently mixed though I had the kit sitting around as dry chemicals for about a year and a half which should be well within expected shelf life for the unmixed chemicals. This is a two part series and here I'll be discussing the results from the Kodak emulsions and I'll follow up next time with some thoughts on all the rest.
Given that these were the most mainstream of the emulsions and, except for the Lomo, the freshest, these films gave me the most surprising results. Both of these went through my RB67. Like the other two medium format SLR systems I own it has interchangeable film magazines allowing me to switch mid-roll from one film to another and I've used this capability in the usual way to switch from the usual black and white to colour film when it seems appropriate. For the record it has always been a consistent performer the black and white images I have made with it come out just fine.
Portra 400The Portra 400 had been loaded into the camera no more recently than 2015. I know this only because it contains a particular image, the black and white version of which first appeared in my portfolio in that year. There were only 4 (out of a possible 10) shots on the roll but it's been so long since I shot it I can't remember what might have happened that it was never completely shot. That's just how seldom I use that camera to shoot colour. For all the time it's been sitting there it's still surprising that there were such obvious issues with it. All of the images showed some degree of odd mottling. The first image was by far the strangest with a series of discoloured lines running the width of the film. Here's the straight scan:
The remaining exposures weren't nearly so affected but this odd mottling was evident in all of the exposures. Yes it's been sitting around for a while but I've developed film much older than this, including some that I'll discuss in the next instalment that was developed at the same time in the same batch of chemistry without any such issues. It's hard to say what's causing this. It's clearly not any sort of light leak as it seems to be just a variation in colouration and is worse on the first frame that would have been sitting closest to the centre of the exposed roll. One clue might come from the last of the 4 frames in which the otherwise random mottling shows one clear pattern. A cropped in image of this should make it plain enough...
And in case it's not clear where this might have come from here's a portion of the backing paper from that same roll:
I can only guess that this is the result of some sort of chemical reaction with the ink used to print the frame markings on the backing paper though curiously, to me anyway, there are no markings on the backing paper to match the lines seen in the first frame. Maybe the readership has some better suggestion?
I liked this final frame though, so just I decided to take the scan and clean things up as best I could digitally. The "Kodak 5" was gotten rid of easily enough but you don't have to look too closely to see the mottling. If you can ignore this though I'd say I like the shot
The second film that had gone through the RB67 was a roll of Ektar 100. It came out of the camera several months ago. If there were thoughts that the issues with the roll of Portra might have had something to do with whatever the problem must have been that caused me to shoot less than half of it most were dispelled by comparing it with this roll. Though it hadn't been sitting on the shelf nearly as long as the Portra, it also had a random mottling pattern throughout the roll and here the first three frames were plagued with particularly prominent lines that again spanned the width of the film, and again it was the same sort of greenish discolouration. Here is the third frame from that roll.
Image anomalies aside though it seems to me this roll came out much differently than any of the others. Ektar is known for it's reasonably bold colours but these seem punchy beyond reason to me. I mean it's still a fairly standard film not unsuited for standard portraiture. For example, while I'm no geologist I'm sure the rocks in this images are practically identical to the ones in the example Portra image above it that was taken about 30km away along the Lake Erie shore. They certainly don't strike me as being this sort of Mars red when I look at them. Curious indeed.
If Kodak C-41 films were generally problematic like this then I'm sure my experiences here would be old news. On the other hand if something is wrong on my end like I got a bad batch of chemistry or maybe I've just really gotten out of touch with good colour processing practice then you'd expect these problems to carry over to the other rolls I developed in this batch as well. In my best go at creating a cliff hanger then, that's what I'll look at in the next instalment so please stay tuned.