35mm · Film photography · Photography

Barcelona market stalls

I’ve been re-scanning some older negatives over the past couple of days – some Portra 400 shots made during a trip to Barcelona with my wife back in 2019. The main reason for the re-scanning (actually not re-scans really, as the originals were lab scans) is to see what they look like when converted with Negative Lab Pro. The answer is… much better than any previous attempts I’ve made.

The original lab scans were fine but I know I can get much more resolution and detail out of my Plustek than the scan sizes the lab provides can offer – even their large scans – with the bonus of it not costing me anything to do so. And I’m finding that Negative Lab Pro is giving me colours that I’m actually happy with!

So today, here are several photos I took inside one of the markets in Barcelona – the Mercat de Sant Antoni, I believe. I guess that British market stalls are just as interesting to look at really, but there’s a definite draw in seeing the different wares on offer in other countries. Some markets in the UK might provide delicatessens akin to the ones here, but they are not commonplace, so it’s always interesting to see the mundane through the eyes of a visitor.

Canon Sure Shot Z135 & Kodak Portra 400.

Taken on 17 June 2019

35mm · Film photography · Medium Format · Photography

Colour blindness – struggles with converting colour negatives in a way I’m happy with

One of my biggest issues with colour film is, well… the colour. Getting the darned stuff to look “right” is a test for my patience and also my sanity it can seem. Even when I get it looking right, a later glance reveals that I was completely incorrect and it looks terrible. How much of this is down to the actual results of my efforts (or the lab’s) and how much is down to the obsessive perfectionism that my brain likes to lay on me from time to time is up for debate.

I’ve gone through a number of iterations when it comes to scanning colour film negatives over the past five or six years. When I first began scanning my own film, my only option was my Epson V550 and the Espsonscan software that came with it. This gave passable results but not ones I was ever truly happy with. Colours would look “off” sometimes, with odd colour casts which would differ from film to film. I tried using ColorPerfect as a Photoshop plugin, which addmitedly helped (a bit) but also seemed to render shadow areas full of horrible looking noise.

Later, when I got my Plustek 35mm scanner, it came with a copy of Silverfast, so I tried that with it’s built-in film profiles. While I was able to get better results – and in some cases ones I was quite happy with – they still didn’t look right, no matter how I played with the settings.

So then I tried Vuescan. Again, never quite right (although it does a great job on 35mm slides).

I then decided to start getting my colour film developed by a lab that provided scans at a reasonable price. There was an additional cost for posting my film off, and a delay while I waited for the results, but on the whole the scans were nice, if perhaps a little warm looking (the lab would have changed that had I asked though). For a while I was happy, but the thing that put me off in the end was the resolution of the scans. While 35mm was acceptable, they used the same “x pixels on the short side” ratio whether it was a 35mm or medium format negative, leading to the frustrating situation where a 6×6 120 film negative would come back with a smaller scan than a 35mm image. So I went back to using my local lab and scanning them myself again. This decision was made mostly when I discovered Grain2Pixel.

Grain2Pixel – a free Photoshop Plugin – converts linear scans to positives. Here, at last, I thought I had found THE solution. It gave me the best results I’d seen so far… most of the time anyway. Some films, unfortunately, it struggled with (for me at least), particularly Kodak Portra, always giving the images a blue cast that was difficult for me to remove satisfactorily. With a lot of faffing about in Lightroom I could get them close to where I wanted, but I was still unsatisfied, and there would always be a few problem negatives that seemed to actively reject giving anything close to accurate colours.

Negative Lab Pro (NLP) has probably been the go-to solution for scanning colour film negatives for a few years now. I’d played with the trial vesion before but not been any more satisfied with the results than from Grain2Pixel, so never paid for the license. Last week though, I decided to have another go. This time I spent much more time understanding how it worked and, lo-and-behold, after RTFM’ing I got much better results. After playing with the 12 free conversions that you get with the trial version, I decided to bite the bullet and put my hand in my pocket for the full version.

This week I’ve been scanning a variety of negatives, using Vuescan to create a RAW DNG file of the images, and then converting them in Negative Lab Pro. I’ve mostly been happy with the results – particularly some Portra 400 negatives that I’m very pleased with (see examples below).

This is a Noritsu lab scan of a 35mm Portra 400 negative.
And this is my Plustek 8100 scan, converted in Negative Lab Pro (with a few minor lightroom tweaks to add a touch more contrast). It has considerably higher resolution than the lab scan.
And, for the sake of completeness, this is the unedited scan straight from Negative Lab Pro (althougth I obviously made tweaks during the actual conversion process).

However, I’ve spent most of my time playing with a set of Portra 160 negatives that were exposed about a year ago and which I had been unable to get results that I was truly convinced by. Grain2Pixel didn’t give me the results I wanted, nor did Vuescan, and it was my old friend EpsonScan that had given me the best result (although still not good results). So. I’ve re-scanned the negs, got the RAW DNGs, and been messing with them in NLP. The good thing about NLP is that it’s non-destructive. I can un-convert the original file back to a negative and re-convert it using different settings. This gives a lot of scope for experimentation to get a look I’m happy with. I’m still not sure I’m there with this roll of film yet, but I’m happier than I was before.

The first shot on the roll was the one that gave me the most headaches – a photograph of a large gritstone boulder in front of some silver birch trees, lit my bright early morning light. The Epsonscan result looked wrong – all cyan and brown, but not in a subtle way. The first NLP version looked better intitially, although maybe still not right. My second attempt with NLP using a different scanner profile and different tweaks was much better though. Here are the three versions (so far!):

My initial Epsonscan attempt. It looks off. Admitedly, more tweaking in Epsonscan might fix this, but it was beyond my talents and patience.
The first Negative Lab Pro attempt. Better, but still not right.
My latest Negative Lab Pro attempt. I’m not saying it’s perfect, but this one feels much more natural to me.

I think, at the end of the day, I’m never going to get a “perfect” set of colours. There are too many variables at stake. What I need to do is nail a workflow that allows me to get colours that I like on a consistent basis. I think that this is the most difficult part of all, but the journey continues. Now I plan on re-scanning a bunch of different film stocks to see how NLP compares with my earlier scans. Maybe another post at some point…

Bronica ETRSi, Zenzanon 75mm f/2.8 & Kodak Portra 160.

Taken on 6 April 2021

(Coke truck shot with a Canon Sureshot Z135 on Portra 400 in 2019)

35mm · Film photography · Photography

Seaside fire station

Living in a large city I’m used to large fire stations. All the ones that I’m aware of have facilities to support a number of appliances, as well as the usual accomodation and training areas. As a result, the fire station at Mablethorpe always seems small by comparison. There’s a full size fire engine parked in there – you can just see it peeping out of the doors, and there are certainly enough fire officers around as I saw a video recently where they were dealing with a collapsed wall on top of one of the local stores, and there were several people in attendance.

I bet it dosen’t have a pole to slide down though.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this to be honest, other than to pointlessly note that a small town has a smaller fire station than a large city. Look out for more exciting blog posts to come… 😀

Making pointless posts
On the size of fire stations
In small seaside towns

Fire station

Canon Sure Shot Z135 & Lomography Xpro Chrome 100 (expired 2012)

Taken on 16 September 2021

35mm · Film photography · Photography

A house behind a hedge

And so the “photos of houses” (or a “guest” house in theis case) continues. I expect thwo or three more days of these to go – although a couple of them are not houses, so there’s that…

I did manage to finish and develop a roll of HP5+ yesterday though, so the future of the blog, insofar as having some fresh photos, is assured for another week or so if I can get my finger out and start scanning them. 🙂

White against blue sky
A guesthouse gable-end shines
In September sun

White Heather gable

Canon Sure Shot Z135 & Lomography Xpro Chrome 100 (expired 2012)

Taken on 16 September 2021

35mm · Film photography · Photography

Eagle Hotel

The Eagle Hotel, with it’s eagle stood on a ledge on the side of the building, is a familiar landmark when I visit Mablethorpe, standing perhaps a quarter mile from the town’s main street. The hotel is currently up for sale – the pandemic not having been beneficial to such establisments no doubt a factor.

A grand bird of prey
Perched upon a hotel side
Looking for owners

Eagle Hotel

Canon Sure Shot Z135 & Lomography Xpro Chrome 100 (expired 2012)

Taken on 16 September 2021

35mm · Film photography · Photography

Another well lit house (and the increasing cost of film)

This might be a bit of a theme over the next few days – photos of houses that is. I’m down to my last few frames of scanned, un-posted photos, and all of them are of houses (except for one of a fire station). I have finished a roll of HP5+ today that’s been in my XA3 for a while, so if I can get that developed tomorrow, then that should give me a bit more fuel in the tank before resorting to the archive.

It doesn’t seem that long that I was four or five rolls of un-scanned photos in front!

I was disappointed to see that Kodak have announced further price increases. Kodak’s films are already expensive, with things like Portra and Ektachrome pretty much off my shopping list already, but the proposed rise of “at least” 20% will blow my desire to buy them completely out of the water. This will put a 5-pack of something like Portra 400 at somewhere in the region of £60-80, and I expect that even stuff like Colorplus and Gold will be prohibitive – settling into the price ranges that the professional films were at a few years ago.

I’ve still got a decent stock of color film in the freezer, at least enough to keep me going for the next year or so based on the rate I shoot it at, and I tend to favour B&W photography anyway, and there are still a good number of reasonably priced black-and-white films available at present (here in the UK at least), and my preference is for Ilford’s films for B&W anyway. It’s a shame about these increases though – I want to support Kodak, but I’m not sure my wallet will allow it.

Running out of shots
I need some fuel for the blog
Best get to shooting!

Pass by in blue

Canon Sure Shot Z135 & Lomography Xpro Chrome 100 (expired 2012)

Taken on 16 September 2021

35mm · Film photography · Photography

Corner house

The light on this house was gorgeous as I passed by so I made a photograph (and similar pictures of a number of other buildings on the same street). Sometimes nice light is all you need and the photos just present themselves.

It’s a handsome looking house, although I’m unsure as to it’s age – I expect at least a hundred years have passed since it’s construction though. It’s a shame about it’s twin next door which is boarded up and an ashen grey colour. It’s been boarded up for several years as far as I can recall.

Old house in nice light
Better kept than it’s neigbour
Which needs TLC

Corner house

Canon Sure Shot Z135 & Lomography Xpro Chrome 100 (expired 2012)

Taken on 16 September 2021

35mm · Film photography · Photography

A church in a coastal town

This pitures today show St. Joseph’s, a catholic church in the seaside resort of Mablethorpe. It’s a building I’ve photographed before (although, without looking, I can’t remember if I’ve posted photos of it on the blog previously).

Although I’m not a religious man, I like photographing (and looking at, and inside) churches. They are fascinating and impressive buildings regardless of faith and often make for interesting photographs.

The sunlight made for another nice picture on this occasion, I think, illuminating the warm browns of the brickwork against the blue of the sky. Similarly, the light on the statuette of Mary in one of the windows also made for a good picture, and I like the way the clouds are reflected in the glass.

I’ve passed by this way
On numerous occasions
Never been inside

St. Joseph's
Mary behind glass

Canon Sure Shot Z135 & Lomography Xpro Chrome 100 (expired 2012)

Taken on 16 September 2021

35mm · Film photography · Photography

Chinese takeaway

This boarded-up takeaway caught my attention the last time I was in Mablethorpe in 2020 and I made a picture of it then. It wasn’t a very good photograph though – the weather was dull and I think it needed some sunshine to get anything from the subject matter.

On my trip this year, the sun was out and I made the photo you see today. It’s most likely no award winner, but the jumble of tilted and broken letters, and the vibrant red, white, and blue colours attracted me and I like the slightly abstract feel.

Chinese takeaway
Closed for business now these days
No more egg fried rice

Not the best red letter day

Canon Sure Shot Z135 & Lomography Xpro Chrome 100 (expired 2012)

Taken on 16 September 2021