191119 Ortho 80 135 - matthew piers robertson • photography writing creative toronto

My first two rolls of Ilford Ortho Plus 80 film are back from the lab.

I shot these simultaneously in two different cameras: the Zeiss Ikon with either the 35/2 Biogon or 50/1.5 C-Sonnar, both wearing a #8 medium yellow filter, and the Canon A-1 with an unfiltered 50/1.8 lens. All of these photos have been tweaked a bit, but none were tweaked very hard, so they give a reasonable approximation of what the film can do.

Orthographic film is special because it can't see red light; this type of film has been completely superseded by panchromatic film for general photography. Ilford's Ortho 80 in particular is a fairly high-contrast copy film meant for large-format work, but has only just been released in 135 (miniature) and 120 (medium) format to appeal to the new generation of film enthusiasts. So this is both a very old and a very new film stock.

Ilford thinks it might be nice for landscapes; naturally I loaded it and stepped out into the middle of the city to photograph every red thing that I could find. Click on the photos to see them at a larger size if you're so inclined.

4040-4432.

Canon A1.

For your protection.

Canon A1.

Remember the Wars.

Canon A1.

Air Canada A320 CGJVT, Los Angeles to Montreal.

Zeiss Ikon, 35/2.

Fire Red.

Canon A1.

Yellow Flower. Zeiss Ikon, 50/1.5.

Safety Orange.

Canon A1.

Garden Path.

Zeiss Ikon, 50/1.5.

Leaf Garden.

Zeiss Ikon, 50/1.5.

Mack Truck.

Zeiss Ikon, 50/1.5.


Three things I've learned from these two rolls that will make my third one better:

1: The yellow filter matters. The #nofilter Canon A-1 lost the sky in every photo, which is typical for a film that adores blue light as much as Ortho film does. Yellow is mandatory; I use medium-yellow filters on both of my Zeiss lenses, and am getting an exotic dark yellow filter for extra oomph. A red filter, which is normally used to knock down blue for dramatic skies, is somewhat problematic with this film.

2: Don't try to photograph with iso80 film hand-held on a drizzly November day. Worse, adding a yellow filter takes away another stop or two of light. Many of these photos are 1/20s or slower; I was relieved when I could shoot at a luxurious 1/60s and could stop down to f/2. I do own tripods – now I just need to use them. I've taken my light meter out of storage, soon I'll even have a cable release, and I've already learned the math for calculating reciprocity failure for 1s+ exposures. Night comes very early, so I'll be trying that out next.

3: The Zeiss Ikon and its lenses, which cost more than the contemporaneous Canon 5D II and a couple of zooms back when I bought them new in 2007,  is vastly better (especially at slow shutter speeds) than my 40-year-old Canon A1 with 50/1.8 lens that I bought for $125 a few years ago. Quelle suprise, n'est pas? But my approximated rangefinder compositions were often weaker and less ambitious than what I could pull off with the wysiwyg SLR. Space is seen differently, and it's a matter of an active frame versus a passive one. I've been shifting more to passive framing over the years, so that's not A Problem, but it's still something to keep in mind. (And my Zeiss Ikon is now worth way more than a Canon 5Dii, so well done me.)

I do plan on getting back to HP5 for regular iso400/800 use, and will also be trying out the new Fuji Neopan film at iso100 and for long exposures when it comes out. Ortho 80 will probably just be a special occasion film, reserved for days when I can make good use of it and want its particular look. But my first impression is that it will be tremendously versatile and a lot of fun in the city, and I plan on always having some on hand.