There's a short but enjoyable time in Toronto that starts when the sun sets early enough to make night photography convenient, and ends when it gets too cold to be outside for long enough to use a tripod. This year that only lasted a week or two, but that was enough for me to get out with the rangefinder for another installment of my "Can I Do That With Film?" series.

The two photos of Toronto's signature legacy vehicles above are taken with the new Ortho Plus film. The streetcars were shot through an orange filter, which gives the film an effective iso of 12 – one-two, not a typo – while I think the island airport ferry was taken naked. Both were after sunset, but the sky still had enough light to help the scene.

It turns out that I like film. This photo, also on Ortho 80 with an orange filter, would be an irredeemable error on digital. It was taken with my little Gitzo pocket tripod balanced on a rock, using a cable release for an exposure that was long enough to blur the tree branches, with a modest aperture focused either at infinity or on the bus shelter. (I always think I'll remember these things.) I like the results, and it looks like it felt, so that's a solid win to me.

This was taken on lightly expired Fujifilm Acros, which was discontinued a couple of years ago but has since been reformulated and relaunched. The new formula should be available in Canada next February, so I'll pick up more then. The big deal about Acros I and II is that it's effectively immune to reciprocity failure, so the camera can be set directly from the metered light reading.

Aside from a crop this is exactly how the file came out of my scanner. There's enough range that I can lighten the sky enough to see clouds and trees, but it's so rare to see something dark in the city that I prefer it this way.

I've started watching Youtube videos about film and film cameras – they're slightly more tolerable than their digital counterparts. One video I sat through was someone going through the zone system and using a $900 spot meter to read the precise values of different parts of the scene. Another video was the same person doing exposure tests with the same film stock, demonstrating that it produced nice images anywhere from two stops underexposed to five stops over. $900 can buy an awful lot of film, or 15% of a unmetered Leica M-A, which frankly seems like a better value at the moment.

I own a basic light meter, but I'll probably just lock the shutter open and follow my breathing for a bit. Or I'll do what I did here, which was time the exposure for a clear message on the alternating pixelboard sign, regardless of what the measured exposure was.

It turns out that it's also easy enough to shoot hand-held in the city at night. This is Delta 3200, shot at 1000, and developed as if it was 1600. It's a nice film, even if that's somewhat confusing. But Delta 3200 is also almost twice as expensive as HP5+, which can be pushed to the same range. So next time I'm out at night I'll try the more utilitarian stock and let the price difference subsidize a burrito for dinner.

I'll still keep a small supply of Delta films in the freezer – 100, 400, 3200 – but these more technical films will be reserved for special occasions and portraiture. (And to impress the people in photo labs. Shooting Delta is the mark of a true badass. With an accurate light meter.) But when and why on earth would I be doing portraiture, you ask? Well, it's what got me using film again, after all.

Low light can happen at any time these days, and indoors my Delta 400 film wasn't cutting it. So this little girl is why I wanted the cleaner Delta 3200 over pushing a slower film. Her eyes are blue and her cup is orange, so both are being brought out by the yellow filter on the lens. She's way too fast to photograph when she's on the loose, though, so most of my film photos are of when she's sitting or being held. Digital AF cameras still rule for action. Over the weekend with the kid I shot one roll of film and 1310 digital files.

This is slightly off-topic, but we also went to the Santa Claus parade, which was held in full mid-day sun. Shooting film at iso1600 is a suboptimal choice for that, but that's what was in the camera. Finding out if it's adaptable enough is part of my "Can I Do That With Film?" challenge. Fortunately I knew we might be out in daylight, and had a red contrast filter that darkened the lens enough that I could use f/narrow quite comfortably. A mild ND filter might also have worked, and I probably own one of those, too.


My conclusion so far is that yes, I can use my film camera to produce results that I like when it's dark.

The rangefinder is small and light on a tripod, and while the viewfinder isn't precise, it's enough. The biggest thing I give up is the digital flip-up screen to let me compose at odd angles and positions, which is sorely missed even though it's a comparatively recent development. In exchange for that I don't have to worry about blowing highlights in scenes with mixed lighting – instead I get to embrace blowing those highlights. There's not much choice in a city at night.

Whether I like the results from long-exposure daylight, where the contrast range is far more mild, will be another challenge for another week. Hopefully a warmer one, although at the start of December that seems like an event that will never happen.