#filmphotography

Review of the Bellini Foto 1 Litre C41 development kit

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I realised recently that for someone who says that they don’t shoot much colour film, I shoot a LOT of colour film! In fact over the last 12 months I’ve been shooting colour film stocks more and more regularly - so much so that i finally decided that developing colour at home was a viable option. This was something that I’d done once before a couple a few years ago but I found the results less than impressive and the chemicals difficult to handle, short lived and therefore expensive.

So having cast about for a suitable kit to get back in the colour film developing game I landed upon the Bellini Foto C41 kit purchased from Nik & Trick Photo - you can find the kit HERE - I must stress at this point that I am not being paid (or to cut out the middle man, sent free film) to say nice things about the Bellini Foto kit, this is my genuine honest feedback on the kit (spoiler alert: I think it’s ace) these are just my thoughts and experiences using it. Likewise I’m not being paid to promote Nik & Trick Photo either (spolier alert: I think they’re ace too) they’re a great independent film retailer and champion of all things film, so I am a champion of all things them! ok now all that is out of the way - on with the blog!

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There’s quite a bit involved in todays blog in which I’ll focus on five things:

1: An overview of the Bellini Foto kit

2: The additional bits of equipment I used

3: My approach to developing

4: Scanning the negatives and the results

5: Conclusion

I think that people (myself included) can be a bit put off colour developing because it’s a bit more of an involved process which is true to a point, but really if you can develop black and white (HERE is a blog i prepared earlier on that subject) then really you can do colour - the key aspect which always gave me pause for thought with colour developing was the short shelf life of the chemicals themselves, with the previous kit I’d used lasting about a month which for my purposes is not long enough - happily there is a solution to this problem which I’ll explain later on, first let me show you what’s included in the kit.

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1: An overview of the Bellini Foto kit

The kit i used is the 1 Litre version and comes supplied with Concentrated Developer, Fixer and Stabiliser plus a ready to use bottle of Bleach, mixing the concetrates is very simple as you can see from the instructions pictured above that are included in the kit.

You get enough developer and fixer to make 1 litre working solutions and loads of stabiliser - enough to make 10 litres! more than enough - which is good because I promptly spilled half of my bottle of stabiliser on the kitchen floor! :(

The key thing with developing Colour even more so than Black and White is to ensure you keep water temperature at a constant 38 degrees, it’s critical in fact!

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It’s worth stating at this point that whilst none of these chemicals are any more dangerous than stuff you have under the kitchen sink, since you are working directly with the chemicals then gloves are essential, as is working in a well ventilated room - this goes for black & white and colour developing - safety first folks!

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2: The additional bits of equipment I used

Getting the Bellini kit is one thing but getting set up to develop colour film you’ll need a few extra items (I’m assuming here that you already have all the kit and caboodle required for black and white such as a developing tank,reels, changing bag, measuring jugs, thermometers etc ) I’ll list the colour developing specific items and provide some explanation of their use along the way:

Sousvide - yes I had no idea what this was until i started looking into colour film developing either!! its a tool used for heating up water for cookery (madness i know) i bought mine for £25 off amazon (other megaretailcorps are available) you can see it pictured on the left below, it’s the U-bend shaped thing which clips to the side of the container and heats the water up. I guess it’s not absolutley essential to have and you could control water temp with a kettle of boiling water I suppose but for me the sous vide just takes all the hassle out of this aspect of the process, you set the control to 38 and wait for the it to do it’s thing - it will then keep the water at that temperature as long as you require.

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Water Bath - Heating the water up in a water bath so that you can then heat your chemicals up to the required temp, as you can see from the pictures I used an old plastic box that we had knocking about in the shed, works perfectly!

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Wide neck bottles - you can see them pictured above, chemical storage bottles with nice wide tops for quick pouring, and plastic for ease of use, you could use empty pop bottles if you like but these were cheap enough and cost me £10 for a set of five.

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Glass storage jars - ok so these I bought to store the chemicals in when not being used, you can see them pictured above at the back of the photo. I got them from Nik & Trick along with a little vaccum pump and rubber stopper thingys (I think they’re supposed to be used for keeping wine fresh but clearly they serve a much better purpose here) fill the bottles with your working solutions of developer, fixer and Bleach - then using the vaccum pump and rubber stopper you pump all the remaining aire out the stopper seals the bottle et voila, your chemicals should now be good for approx 6 months or possibly even longer! definitely worth getting unless you shoot loads of film and can develop regularly so you won’t need to store stuff for long

Funnels - you’ll be pouring chemicals from bottle to bottle and then into developing tank and back into bottle - get yourself some funnels, label them so you keep things seperate

Theremometer - i have a glass photographers thermometer which is nice and accurate I used this to check on the temperature inside my developer bottle during heating

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3: My approach to developing
Step by step instructions are included in the kit and there are a number of different steps required in this process and the timings are quite short so you need to be on your toes and paying attention to whats going on, especially when trying out a new process - for me having something like the Massive Development App to guide me along my way during development is usually my preferred app but unfortunatley whilst in all other aspects the the Massive Development App is amazing, it is actually completely RUBBISH at creating custom development procedures, I mean it’s possible to do but it’s very clunky and not as good as it could be….fortunately for us there is another cheeky little phone app out there which can help, it’s called Develop! and it’s great!

It allows you to easily custom build a film developing process with timings and agitation cycles - you can then press ‘play’ and the app will give you a visual guide to keeping on track through the development procedure, lovely! I find this super helpful and takes some of the pressure off and not having to refer back to the print out instructions that come with the kit when you’re trying to keep an eye on everything else that is going on - highly recommend this app, oh and the best part? it’s free! (i think? I can’t remember now - if it did cost something then it wasn’t very much)

Following the instructions (via the help of the Develop! app) made this a very enjoyable process - setting everything up and getting your chemicals up to working temperature is the long part of the process, once everything is set then the whole process is over in less than 15 mins - you can see from the developing timings on the left above how long each stage takes and the agitation process required.

I messed up the stabiliser stage though - i poured the stabiliser away after use when it turns out it is re-useable for a few films before needing to be changing, this coupled with me spilling half of the concentrate as I was getting set up wasn;t brilliant either, fortunately Bellini supply LOADS of concentrate enought to make 10 litres worth so I think I’ve still got enough left for some more developing sessions with this kit

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4: Scanning the negatives and the results

The moment of truth! I was blown away by the results! clear and spotless negatives which allowed for lovely colours and tones when scanned - of course scanning colour film at home is an art form in and of itself sometimes, but after a little bit of jiggery pokery i was able to get the colour balance i was looking for (I won’t make an already long blog post even longer by discussing the vagaries of scanning - maybe in a later blog) suffice it to say that the negatives I had developed looked great and with minimal processing work i was able to achieve some really lovely finished photos which you can see below.

For more photos from this shoot take a look HERE I developed 3 rolls of 35mm in one go - two portra 400 and one portra 160, the beauty of the C41 process is you can develop different ISO films at the same time with the same process, really pleased with how they came out, of course scanning wise I would still use a professional development service for critical or professional images as the scans are just so much better but I think for personal projects these are just great.

5: Conclusion

Ok so well done for making it this far! my conclusion? I think that the Bellini Foto kit is amazing! i was very impressed with the quality of the negatives and final images, the process was relatively straight forward and I would feel much more confident in using this next time around. I like that given the right storage that the chemicals will last a while and that they are good for approx 12 rolls of film which makes this a great money saving on having films developed professionally - that being said I do need to spend some more time creating a consistent workflow for my scanning and colour balancing to get accurate colour rendition. On some of the photos they came out perfect straight away but others did require a bit of fettling in Lightroom - which is fine - scanning colour film will defintely be a topic for another day though and I am very pleased with the results I was able to achieve on my first run out with the Bellini Kit, I would definitely recommend it.

Nikon FE Review

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I have been on the look out to join the Nikon film camera gang for ages - it's a proper gang with hats and handshakes and everything - and now I have! Welcome the Nikon FE!! Is this another case of Gear Acquistion Syndrome you ask? yes, probably! Does this camera do anything special that my other 35mm SLR's don't? no. not really? do I love it anyway? Damn straight I do!! here's why!

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So upon handling the camera the first thing you notice is the build quality it's really well put together, feels solid and the mechanical components feel smooth and sounds great (the all important shutter 'schtick' noise is present and correct) but obviously you'd expect that since back in the day Nikon were undisputed purveyors of quality cameras.

In fact (at least initially anyway) the only fly in the ointment is the lens - or should i say the action of the lens, coming from a line up of OM and Pentax cameras I have to say that at first glance the basic Nikkor 50mm 1.8 lens didn't pass muster with me in terms of the focus ring which manages to feel loose and notchy all at the same time and makes fine focussing a bit of a faff to be honest.... I've gotten more used to it having shot a few rolls of film with it now so perhaps it just takes a bit of getting used to, the flip side of this is that now all my OM and Pentax lenses feel a bit stiff! (will the madness never end)?!!! :P

I'll have to see how I go with this lens though it is more likley is that my copy has seen one too many turns and is literally a bit worse for wear - it's ok to use but it doesn't exactly scream 'quality' when you're using it, and achieving fine focus is a bit of a chore twisting the focus ring back and forth so I'm now actively on the look out for it's posher older brother the 50mm 1.4

A juicy red apple is nice, but not every apple is red..... super sharp shooter Nikkor 50mm 1.8

A juicy red apple is nice, but not every apple is red..... super sharp shooter Nikkor 50mm 1.8

You cannot argue with the quality of the optics on the 50mm 1.8 thought - seriously very good! The next couple of images were taken on a short walk around my village - the people's republic of Slawit, shot on Lomography 400 Colour film, unfortunately some of the frames have what appears to be a light leak across one side with a band of blue ish light affecting the image, bit of a pain really, or maybe that'sa special 'Lomo' feature for the film!! I'll change the light seals and see if there's an improvement - otherwise I like the Lomo 400 film it's a cheap alternative colour film, in fact I'm going to be shooting a LOT more colour film as I've been totally focussing on Black and White for ages and feel like a change. The weird thing is that I don't think it's the camera as the roll of HP5 i shot doesn't have any of these issues - ah the joys of shooting 40 year old cameras I guess, comes with the territory!

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Focus ring faffing aside shooting with the FE is otherwise great, the controls are well placed (although at the risk of offending my new Nikon gang mates) I still prefer the OM2n layout - being able to control aperture and shutter with one hand whilst not taking your eye away from the viewfinder is a dream! again - it's probably just my technique having grown accustomed to the Olympus 'way'

These next three images were shot on Kodak Portra 400 with my recently added Series E 100mm 2,8 lens and I have to say that I love this combination! the lens was very cheap for how well it performs and of course Portra 400 is a fantastic film to play with, I took it for a spin around Huddersfield town centre and also grabbed a portrait of my friend Marco too.

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My Nikon FE is in great condition - it's clearly been used over the years with a bit of brassing and the odd dent/scrape here and there but in my experience that's a good sign! Mechanically the FE is smooth as silk and runs really well, whenever I've bought cosmetically 'mint' cameras they can often have internal issues as the reason they are 'mint' is they've sat in uncle nobheads cupboard since 1972 and never had a roll of film put through them, it's usually much better to have a camera that has been used as intended although it may have picked up a bit of battle damage along the way.

I bought mine from West Yorkshire Cameras - a big thank you to Howard and Hattie for being super helpful and for running such an awesome shop, if you're ever in Leeds I highly recommend a visit!

The following black and white images were a good test of the Nikkor 50mm 1.8 focussing whilst trying to get my little boy to sit still for half a second (an impossible task)! I shot HP5 rated at 800 and developed semi stand in Rodinal and I'm really happy with how they came out, the 50mm 1.8 lens really is very sharp and contrasty so I can forgive it's wobbly focussing!

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So in short I flippin love this camera, it's very well put together, the lenses are sharp and contrasty just the way I like! I'm now on the look out for some more of the legendary Nikon glass to put in front of the FE so watch this space as the next few blogs are likley to be all about those!

In the meantime if you've enjoyed today's blog post why not subscribe to the blog and get updates on new posts - see you next time! :)

Fomapan 200 35mm film review

Film photography is a dear doo, don't let anyone tell you otherwise - if it's not cameras, lenses or film then it's developing kit or just random bits of film related paraphenalia all of which takes it's toll on the old bank account! So it can be very welcome to discover some relatively cheap film - enter Fomapan 200...but is it any good? well if you can't be bothered to read the rest of this review then the short answer is YES! Hopefully you'd like a little more insight than that, and hopefully I can oblige!

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The first group of images were taken on a photo walk around the fair city of Bradford in West Yorkshire on my Olympus OM2n and trusty Zuiko 28mm 2.8 lens - I wax lyrical about this combo HERE,and the second group of photos were shot with the same camera and lens many months later in the fair town of Dewsbury West Yorkshire with a couple of shots in Hull and Huddersfield for good measure - it's like a tour of all the most glamorous towns in the world!!

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I started my Bradford photo walk in the National Media museum - hoping to catch the National Photography collection before it was pilfered (sorry I mean transfered) to London... as sods law would have it I missed out by two days and was presented with nothing but this snazzily decorated staircase leading to a locked door :( whilst i was gutted to have missed the exhibition I was quite impressed how Fomapan 200 handled the dimly lit scene, helped along no doubt by my chosen development process of Semi Stand developing in Adox Adonal (Rodinal) for 1 hour (with 3 inversions at 30 mintues) at a dilution of 1:100 - this is my go to sem stand process and as you can see from the results here the Fomapan 200 responded very well to it, I was slightly nervious first time round for two reasons 1: at that point 200 speed film was the fastest film I'd semi stand developed and 2: Fomapann 200 is a 'Tabular' grain film (in the same vein as Kodak Tmax and Ilford Delta) formulations which traditionally do not respond well to stand development. Your mileage may vary but I think it works great in this developer - there is a grain texture which looks more like a classic old school film grain rather than 'Tabular' grain which is inherenlty smoother but for me grain is a good thing, when I shoot film I want it to look like, well - film! I've recenlty bought some developer specifically for Tabular grain films so I'll be interested to compare the results some day.

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Fomapan Creative 200 (to give it's full name) is manufactured in the Czech Republic by long standing film producers Foma, there aren't really that many 200 speed films around most manufacturers offfer a choice of 100 or 400 films but Foma in their infinite wisdom have provided for those who would like a little more flexibility - in fact they claim that the film can be rated anywhere between 100 and 800 ISO but I've only ever shot it at box speed so I can't comment on how it performs when pushed/pulled in that way, what I can say is that on photowalks in varied lighting in and around busy city centres, inside buildings and the like it performs wonderfully!

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They do a good line in 60's architecture in Bradford - here I've used the perspective to enhance the brutalist vibe of this civic building, the home of some truly brutal bureaucracy no doubts!

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I find that the tonal range is very pleasing with rich blacks, smooth greys and clean white areas, look at he mod scooter above! very smooth image with a nice texture and finish - proper two tone! BELL BOOOOY!!!!!

The following two images are from Bank Bottom Mill - a semi abandoned building near where I live, I was just using up the last couple of frames on my roll after my visit to Bradford - again a great balance of tones, quite high contrast and nice detail and grain throughout.

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We leave Bradford behind us and our travels now take us to Dewsbury - same camera, same lens, same make of film, same bottle of developer and guess what..... same outcome! Very balanced images with perhaps a touch more grain in than the roll I shot in Bradford - this could be from the development process maybe I introduced some extra inversions (which encourages grain) and of course the two rolls were shot months a part from each other so lighting was totally different, either way once again I am very pleased with the results so the first roll wasn't a fluke!

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I've walked past this doorway so many times I can't remember, it's amazing how having a camera in hand encourages the eyes to pick out previously unseen details and generally be more open to your surroundings....in this case my eye was drawn to the faded paintwork where a Christian Cross was once fixed...suddenly this dilapidated old doorway was transformed, it had a story to tell - one that spoke of a once proud heritage but no current sense of purpose, a forgotten place echoing with the ghosts of finery long since faded... or something like that, whatever... either way cool doorway eh?!

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Change your perspective and see the world afresh! For me this is part of the enjoyment of  photography, how do you show a subject (in the case above a building) in a new light, how do you generate interest through form and structure - it's a constant challenging to your composition to make the most of your surroundings within the confines of a 35mm frame, and of course you dont get to look at the results until you've developed the film! It's also one of the many valid reasons for shooting with a fixed focal length/prime lens - if you want to change your perspective then you need to move your body! it's a more physical and therefore meaningful experience - this is a lesson I need to translate into my digital work more and stop relying on telephoto zooms to do the work for me!

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I suspect that films are NOT developed there anymore, in fact last time I cheked this building was covered in even more scaffolding so perhaps (unusually for Dewsbury Town Centre) it's about to be redeveloped - I'm not bashing Dewsbury although I think anyone would agree that it's a bit rundown - this makes it a great subject for street photography as many of the buildings have an evocative (if somewhat forlorn) sense of what used to be which I find quite visually appealing "the ineffable pathos of ruin" indeed! Having said that I do hope things start to change for the better for the town!

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We leave Bradford and Dewsbury behind and head East for the next image which was snapped whilst on the train to another fair City - Hull, capital of culture no less - and what better subject than the Humber bridge, I really must go back and shoot this properly (i.e. whilst not on a train) it's an amazing structure - looks so graceful in the distance spanning the Humber estuary, for those who are interested in it's history have a look HERE

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Photographically speaking (this is a photo blog after all) I quite like the reflection of the train lighting in the image and the blurred foreground which gives a sense of motion and direction to an otherwise static image, the shot was literally from the hip before the view was obscurred by trees and stuff so I was pleased it came out as well as it did.

A big yorkshire sky filled with cloud (it's default setting) underpinned by the Emley Moor Mast which is the seventh-tallest freestanding structure in the UK, fourth-tallest tower in the EU (sorry brexiteers) and 24th tallest in the world! At the risk of this turning into some sort of public information service about the buildings, bridges and towers of Yorkshire (that would be a niche website) there's a link for more info about Emley Moor Mast HERE

I like the simple composition a thin band of landscape and the tower piercing the huge blanket of sky - this image just presented itself to me as I was driving along one day, my view of the foreground obscurred by a wall and I literally abandoned the car in a grass verge and jumped out to see if I could match the image that originally caught my eye - and I did! The number of times I've been out and about without a camera and seen sweeping vistas, tiny details and all manner of scenes that I would have wished to capture are imeasureable.. all these moments are now lost, like tears in the (yorkshire) rain...

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We've seen lots of buildings on our tour of Yorkshire with Fomapan 200 but what's it like on other subjects - portraits and the like? well the above photo taken in the fields behind my house attests to the loveliness of the film (and the horse)!  great contrast and level of detail and that grain structure that by now we've come to know and love too. it also works on people - here's a shot of my son when he was about 6 months old :) in it he's doing a great impresssion of one of those old Soviet propognda photos like he's a baby Kosmonaut or something!

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So in summary then I am a huge fan of Fomapan 200, it's versatile, works well in mixed lighting, gives great contrast and high levels of detail, works well in a semi stand development process and ultimately it's very reasonably priced - you can buy 3 rolls of it for £14.99, which these days is pretty bloomin good! I heartily recommend this film, it's lovely, there is no compromise in quality in my experience and it creates a really useable alternative to all those 100 and 400 speed films out there, give it a whirl!