“The House of Imagination,” a sculpture/installation outside University of Illinois’ Siebel Center, under a September sky. Ektar 100.
While I was still shooting my way through a roll of Ektar 100, I decided it had been too long since I had strolled around the northernmost part of campus, unofficially called the “Beckman Quad” because of the Beckman Institute on its northern edge. The walk gave me a chance to see how Ektar handled contrasty midday light.
Here is the upper façade of the new Electrical Engineering building, which I think looks much better from the inner (quad) side than from the street. The architect evidently wanted commonality in difference by cladding the building in red-orange metal or plastic, instead of the customary red or orange brick.
The colors are punchy and dramatic but not inaccurate, and the shadows are pleasantly neutral.
I first experienced the University of Illinois through a tour of the Beckman Institute when I was a sophomore in high school. Because of that tour, the use of advanced technology to investigate complex problems on the frontiers of knowledge dominates all my other perceptions of the University, and I have a particular affection for the Beckman building.
Shortly after the Siebel Center was dedicated, a pair of large sculptures were set up on either side of the walkway to its north. This one, called the “House of Imagination,” makes me think of a computer-age Stonehenge.
The one quibble that can be made against this image is a heavy blue cast in the shadows. Now, most shadows under clear skies are blue; after all, they’re being lit by diffuse blue light from the sky. Still, the blue shift here is a bit excessive, and I probably should have added a little extra exposure.
Here’s a pure reaction shot. I lay down on the ground inside the ring of three pillars, and as I brought my camera to my eye I saw the cloud tuck itself neatly in position. I made about five other frames, attempting to grab different configurations of cloud and sculpture, but none of them were as good.
Just as I was with Portra 400, I’m hooked after one roll of Ektar 100. The colors are beautiful, the grain is ridiculously fine, and it’s a lot of fun to shoot. I’ll probably stick with Portra as my all-purpose film, but the next time I want to shoot some landscapes or sunsets on film, I think I’ll reach for the Ektar.
With my Portra finished, it was time to try Ektar 100. Google and the Flickr groups for its users suggested that Ektar is much more finicky and should be metered like slide film, that it has love-it-or-hate-it-color, and that its strong reds make it less desirable for people, particularly Zone VI people.
Well, I like saturated color sometimes, my F100’s meter appears to be working just fine, and I don’t mind using my lens on inanimate subjects. Let’s go.
First up was my neighbor’s front yard. One might get the impression that he doesn’t like Illinois winters, and one would be right: he’s originally from New Mexico.
Good color, punchy but not cartoonish, and lovely tones on an overcast day.
Yellow/blue is one of my favorite color combinations, and I couldn’t resist this leaf on the hood of my car. Maybe I could have placed focus better, but again I have no complaints about the film: colors are great, grain is great, tones are great.
I was down to my last couple of frames when I went to get some coffee at the little café in the CS building. I took this one none too soon; about 5 seconds later, a barista had to grab one of the cups on the left and so destroyed this little bit of whimsical skewness.
The light here is a bizarre mix of incandescent and LEDs that tend towards daylight, with some daylight fill from a curtain window behind and left. Ektar appears to have taken the mix of color temperatures in stride, and certainly the lab that scanned my film did a good job correcting color.
So far so good. What else can Ektar do? Stay tuned.
I have long wanted to own a Nikon film body that would let me control my G (no aperture ring) lenses. The F6, lovely though it would be, is far too expensive for my budget, so I settled on a used F100. A example in good condition at the right price came along in time for my birthday.
Shooting 35mm film is quite refreshing: no fancy software, no image preview, 36 exposures (at most) until you have to reload. Digital gives great control, but it can seduce the photographer into wasting time with irrelevant fiddling. Even in a digital workflow, film (especially color film) is almost fire-and-forget: you concentrate in the moment and the chemistry does the rest. Although some photographers object, I don’t have a problem with doing digital B&W conversions from color scans, especially because I don’t own the color filters I’d want for B&W film.
I’ve put five rolls through my F100 so far:
- 1 Kodak Portra 400
- 1 Kodak Ektar 100
- 3 Fuji Superia X-tra 400
I bought the Portra and Ektar with my new camera, and processed them through North Coast in California. The Superia was an impulse buy for casual situations, and I’ve been processing it through the local Walgreens, just to see what kind of a job they do. There is great variability between individual locations. One local store has a Fuji Frontier minilab, and gave me low-res scans that cropped away about 10% of the frame:
Another has a Noritsu and gave me 6 MP scans of the whole frame:
Both of these images were rated at 200 and developed normally. The second also used my 35mm f/1.8 DX lens, which covers the 35mm frame with a pleasant little vignette in the corners. Superia has tons of latitude and looks better to my eye with overexposure, but I wouldn’t use it for work I care about.
The two Kodak films, on the other hand, are spectacular, and I’ll be devoting a separate post to each one.