191123 Film Stock - matthew piers robertson • photography writing creative toronto

My project for next year will be to shoot at least 36 rolls of film. That's a mere three a month, which should be manageable, but I'm not actually putting that precise a schedule together. My photography always follows peaks and troughs, and my film photography is even more variable. So if I don't use much in February, no big deal – I'll make it up when the weather improves again. My goal is simply to see if I can sustain productivity over a longer time frame, not to do a photo-a-day project.

There are currently 32 rolls of film in my chest freezer, which runs at -25 and doesn't auto-defrost, so hopefully the ones that have been in there for four or five years are still happy. I'll find that out soon, since the lonely and lost roll of Fujifilm Acros that expired eighteen months ago will be put to use tonight. If the new formulation of Acros II keeps the superb reciprocity performance as it's supposed to – no adjustments to long exposures under two minutes – I'll buy a brick of it as soon as it comes out. Film typically needs to increase the exposure time by 50-125% after one second, and while I like long exposures, even I have my limits.

Most of the film will go through the rangefinder; I typically load the SLR with colour film, which I don't use very often. That's the five rolls on the far right: two Ektar, two 400H, and one Portra 400. Accordingly I've been collecting contrast filters in rangefinder sizes. They're across the bottom of the photo above: from left to right there's 25 Red, 22 Orange, 15 Deep Yellow, and 8 Yellow. (There's also an 8-stop ND filter, because I'm still me.) The standard yellow filter is the only duplicate between my two sizes, since they're the best all-around choice. The ND, red, and orange are in the ø43 that my 35/2 and 85/4 use, while the dark yellow in ø46 gives a bit of extra oomph to the 50/1.5.

I don't have enough experience to "typically" do anything yet, but here's how it stands so far:

HP5 Plus is my general-purpose film; I like it with any filter colour at 400 and 800, but so far when I've wanted faster than that I switch to Delta 3200. I've also used a bit of Delta 400, and while I like Delta through a yellow filter better for portraits, it's not what I'd throw in the bag as a spare just-in-case roll. I hate the idea of a film camera without film, so I always have at least one extra roll with me, just like I always have one more battery and memory card than I expect to need with a digital camera.

Delta 100 is nice, but I actually preferred the grain from the single roll of FP4 that I've used. Given that FP4 is both cheaper and more versatile, I'll experiment a bit more and then probably stock up on it once the sun comes back. The upcoming Acros II will probably be more expensive (old Acros was $12/roll in 2017, FP4 is $9 right now) so it would have to really impress me to become a daylight standard instead of being reserved for longer exposures. Which, admittedly, I do a lot of. So I can easily see adding plenty of each fairly soon.

Ortho Plus 80 is something that I'm using now because it's exciting and new, but with a dark yellow or orange filter to control the sky it's effectively iso12. That's like shooting SFX200 with an R72 IR filter on it. So both no-red Ortho and extended-red SFX are going to be tripod-based films for bright sunny days. And while the looks are both specialized, O+ is about $10/roll compared to SFX at $20. It's easy to see which one will get more use.

XP2 Super deserves better than it gets form me. It's unique in that it can be processed in any minilab, which is why it was the only black and white film I had used before this summer. But it also has a very different look from silver films, so it wasn't what I wanted when I picked the film camera back up again for photos of my youngest niece. So you can say that I'm eliding XP2 as I learn the different world of silver films; an alternative explanation is that I'm just being a snob.

At $12/roll XP2 is more than HP5 or FP4, so it's helped somewhat by being cheaper and more reliable to process. There's something to be said for a film that can be exposed anywhere between iso50 to iso800 as needed – though as with everything, it's always best to avoid extremes. That it can be shot that widely on the same roll is a miracle that digital didn't prepare me for: I'm already getting tired of the "I want to do X but I have Y film loaded" experience. Perhaps this is what I'll be using my SLR for during the winter.

But the colour film – all of it already expired – will definitely have to wait until spring, if not longer, to see the light of day.