A lesson learned

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been testing different films in my Bronica ETRS and was especially interested as to how it would render colours.

I’ve read a lot about Kodak Portra films so purchased a couple different rolls and a roll of Kosmo Foto Mono 120 which I have been dying to try.

Now before I go any further I have to admit I had new camera enthusiasm when I was out with the Bronica and on some occasions shot whatever I thought would look great, knowing I was really taking the photo cause I wanted to use the camera and hear the thunderous shutter work!

This meant of the 45 images I have, not all of them are the best composition and some I could have easily have done without shooting. I do recognise them though and know I was driven by excitement rather than creativity.

I also realise I made a mistake with the films when shooting.

The films I purchased were:

  • Kosmo Foto Mono 120 B&W ISO 100
  • Kodak Portra 120 Colour ISO 400
  • Kodak Portra 120 Colour ISO 160

I loaded the Kosmo about a month ago and most of the photos have come out with uniform contrast and sharpness. I did switch the film backs during the shoots but am certain I reset the light meter to 100 for the Kosmo and it seems to have worked very well.

All of the Kosmo photos were great and the only shot I had with any greyness or possible overexposure was this one of the cricket and to be honest this is one of my favourites.

The Kosmo photos appear sharp with very small grain and look great for such a low priced film!

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Kosmo Foto Mono 120 B&W 100, 75mm

The colour photos are where it gets interesting!

First up the Kodak Portra Colour 160 which was shot in bright sunlight every day I used it. The light meter was set somewhere between 100 and 200 and this seems to have paid off.

The colours are vibrant and sharp and where the light is correct, the photos pop.

This sadly isn’t the case for all the images and where there is shade etc, the photos suffer. The greens are brown and muddy and the images are washed out.

These came out rather well though…

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St Mawgan Porth, Kodak Portra Colour ISO 160, 75mm
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William and I shot by Richard. St Mawgan Porth, Kodak Portra Colour ISO 160, 75mm

The Kodak Portra Colour 400 is where it all goes wrong, very wrong.

To start with I left my light meter in the car so ended up using the app on my phone. I don’t know if this was one of the deciding factors but most of the shots are really muddy.

This was a faster film so it should have woked better but somehow this wasn’t the case. I tried to handhold the Bronica and shoot as I had done before and it didn’t work. Some of the photos were clear and sharp but many of them were blurry.

This handheld shot below came out ok but I know I was particularly slow taking it as I wanted the horizon to be straight. The sky is blown out but all the shots Richard and I took with our digital cameras (and Richard was using his ND filter on his Canon) came out the same as it was a very bright afternoon (I know, I should know better).

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Stourhead, Kodak Portra 120 Colour 400, 75mm

In fact, the shot I knew would take 1 second wasn’t bad as I intentionally stayed still for longer. The blurry shots were simply because I was approaching the photos with the same speed as I would with the 100 or 160 ISO films and I’ve learnt that’s not a great idea. Not even in bright daylight!

These, however, failed, big time!

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Stourhead, Kodak Portra 120 Colour 400, 75mm

Trying to take the photo in amongst crowds, on a slope, handheld meant there was inevitable shake and the photo is blurred.

I also hate this composition. In-person it works. But with this lens (and my Olympus 17mm lens) it simply doesn’t work. Talk about having the right tools for the job!

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Stourhead, Kodak Portra 120 Colour 400, 75mm

Hmm, stealth street photography photos whilst balancing your heavy Bronica on your knee don’t work either! Lesson learnt!

You can also see in the two blurred images how washed out they are – I think this is due to the light meter readings and the brightness of the day. From now on I will rely on the vintage light meter as it appears to be more reliable than my phone app.

This has been a valuable lesson – especially as it cost £50 to develop the three rolls of film (with developing and the cost of the film that works out at £1.62 a photo!).

My takeways are as follows:

  • I am painfully aware that a higher ISO means I have to slow down or use a tripod (or both).
  • I should take my time and aim for the right photo rather than just taking the photo. (This is after all why I am shooting medium format to unlearn all the terrible habits you pick up with digital photography)
  • Colour is great and I love the Portra 160, you just have to ensure you have the right lighting for it to work.

There are some positives though…

  • Kosmo Mono is brilliant, no matter what I do or how I shoot with it, the results are sharp and clear. I will definitely be buying some more Kosmo film as I love the look of the photos.
  • I can achieve great photos handheld with the Bronica, I simply need to slow down!
  • The replacement lens (the housing on the one that came with the camera was chipped) and the new focusing plate I have acquired since getting the Bronica are working brilliantly.

I am really enjoying shooting medium format and will definitely get some more film from Analogue Wonderland to load into the Bronica. Whether it’s the sharp crisper images or those with the artefacts (such as the cricket photo), there’s nothing quite like seeing your images developed in an analogue manner.

I do have some Fomapan Action 120 B&W 400 ready to load into the Bronica and now have the insight to use the camera appropriately for the film speed!

Maybe the next step is to try developing 120 films at home…

6 thoughts on “A lesson learned

  1. Hi Keith, not sure if it’s just an error in your post, but the higher ISO film will be more sensitive to light and allow faster shutter speeds. The Portra 400 should capture the same image in less than half the time of the Portra 160, and four times less than the Kosmo Photo 100, so camera shake should be lessened, not increased and the higher ISO film should lessen the need for tripods or other supports. The 400 speed shots look a bit overexposed, especially in the skies, so I wonder if it was your lightmeter app at fault, giving you longer shutter speeds than needed?

    1. Hey you’re right. Doh! Must have been the light meter or my handling of the camera which caused the blurring. It’s odd cause the 160 had no problems.

      1. Without knowing the details, my guess would be that the app was set to the wrong ASA / ISO when you took readings for the Portra 400. If it was sett too low – say ISO 100 – then it would have given you slower shutter speeds, which could have caused the camera shake, plus meant the film would be overexposed too (although Portra 400 can still produce great images when overexposed by a few stops).

  2. Sorry to read that you’ve had some problems with the colour rolls of film. I completely understand why you would take lots of photos of what you now may feel wasn’t your best work when you get a new camera but I think that’s completely normal as you’re trying out and learning a great deal about it. I look forward to reading more blog posts about your adventures in medium format photography 🤗

    1. You make a good point. If the photos were good I might not have been so critical but at least I’ve learnt from this experience.

      Judging by the feedback I’ve had it would appear the app is the culprit for the 400 roll failure. It is the one thing different in all my Bronica sessions and that’s the one that failed so it makes sense.

      I’m enjoying medium format and have just got myself a shutter release cable for the ETRS. I am waiting for my favourite film to come back into stock before I get out with it again (and some decent weather!)

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