Low-light, no flash, no tripod -- what are the best film and developer options?

Discussion in 'Exposure Discussion' started by mooseontheloose, Aug 20, 2012.

  1. mooseontheloose

    mooseontheloose Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,520
    Joined:
    Sep 20, 2007
    Location:
    Currently in Stockholm
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Alright, so here we are in 2012 with only two options for low-light hand-held B&W film photography: Delta 3200, or pushing a 400 speed film like Tri-X. In the past I've used Neopan 1600, and I liked it a lot, although I tended to get some pretty blocked-up shadows. Unfortunately though, it's gone. I've only used Delta a couple of times, but I really don't like it. I don't have a problem with grain, but the grain with the Delta is too much for me. However, that could be due to my technique, either in camera or in processing. I've pushed Tri-X (and HP5+), but usually only by one stop -- I've never tried pushing it to 1600 or 3200. Usually when I shoot low-light or night exposures, I almost always use a tripod with Acros in the camera. However, there are often times when I need a lot more film speed because I don't have the option of using a tripod (and my flash just fried itself recently, so I'm out of luck there too). What I'd like to do now, is to start developing a technique to get the best out of one film (and one or two developers) to make the most out of shooting in low-light situations hand-held with no tripod or flash.

    As I live in Japan in a city where darkroom chemicals are next-to-impossible to buy, it means either expensive trips to big cities to stock up on limited chemicals, or having things shipped from overseas (I usually use Freestyle). Recently I've found that the range of available film-developing chemicals in Japan is decreasing, and making up my own developers is not an option. So before I do my big order to Freestyle, I'd be interested in hearing what people have been able to do successfully with what's available now. For me, it's not necessarily about getting the exposure right (I'm usually okay there), but about getting the exposure + development right. I'm thinking of an ISO of at least 1600, for both high contrast and low contrast scenes -- these might be outdoors at night, indoors with normal lighting, daytime in dark places (like temples, churches, etc) that may have bright areas (windows and such), etc. Most of my photography is travel related, so I'm often in situations where I can't use a tripod or control the lighting in any way, but I'd still like to get as good a shot as I can while I'm there. I usually shoot 120 film, although sometimes I use 35mm as well.

    Anyway, I'd appreciate any suggestions with details: type of lighting, film used, ISO used, developer/dilution/agitation/time used. Examples (if available) would be useful too.

    I've done some research, both online and in some of the photo books that I have, but most of what's out there is either for digital, for materials that are no longer available, or for using a tripod. That being said, if anyone is aware of a useful site, please let me know.

    I'm well aware that we all look for different things, and that this type of shooting will always have compromises, but with limited film options now (and for me, limited availability of chemicals to try) I'd really like to hear from others before wasting time and money. I generally use D-76, Xtol, and Rodinal, and I do have an old box of Microphen that I'm assuming is still good. I'm more than willing to order other types of chemicals (Diafine, for example) from the U.S. if they would be better for these types of situations.
     
  2. Brian C. Miller

    Brian C. Miller Member

    Messages:
    493
    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2010
    Location:
    Everett, WA
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    Ilford Delta 3200 is too grainy with MF for you? Ah, well, that's a favorite for me. I've posted some really good results with it, and I like it a lot. (APUG link) I've seen a nice photograph enlarged to something like 30x40 or thereabouts. Enormous scene of a cowboy roping a horse in the snow, by Charles Guildner.

    I have tried Tmax 400 at 1600 and 3200. I tried it with Xtol, but I'm going to do some testing with Diafine real soon. Tmax 400 is OK at 1600, but don't bother with 3200, as the shadows drop off from the midpoint.
     
  3. SkipA

    SkipA Member

    Messages:
    604
    Joined:
    Sep 18, 2002
    Location:
    127.0.0.1
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    You missed Kodak T-Max 3200.
     
  4. nicholai

    nicholai Member

    Messages:
    293
    Joined:
    Jul 12, 2012
    Location:
    Kolding, Den
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    People have succesfully pushed Tri-x way beyond box speed. EI 25600 is not uncommon. It will get the shadows a bit blocked, but it can happen. I would use it at EI6400 tops. That still produced really good results.
     
  5. j-dogg

    j-dogg Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,322
    Joined:
    Jun 26, 2010
    Location:
    Floor-it-duh
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    all of my low light stuff I have been using super-fast glass and 800 speed film. Canon f1.2L, etc.
     
  6. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

    Messages:
    7,600
    Joined:
    May 18, 2008
    Location:
    Beaverton, OR
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Most of the pushing I've done has been in 35mm. For my uses Delta 400 in either d-76 or XTol turned out nice really nice.

    TriX has been similarly to my liking.

    I must say though that more than film choice subject matter has been the biggest issue. If the scene has lots of dark area any of the 400 and faster films work fine for me. When the subject matter is lighter I like Delta 400 more.
     
  7. mooseontheloose

    mooseontheloose Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,520
    Joined:
    Sep 20, 2007
    Location:
    Currently in Stockholm
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Thanks everyone for the comments so far:

    Mark -- how much are you pushing, and what dilutions are you using?

    J-dogg -- a separate but related issue is gear use for me -- I'm currently researching options (faster lenses for Nikon 35mm, brighter screens (?) for my Bronica SQ and/or possibly another MF rig, "string" tripod, etc ...)

    Nicolai -- do you have some examples or specific details to share?

    Skip -- you're right, but it seems to be only available in 35mm. That being said, I'd be interested in your experiences with it.

    Brian -- Have you posted any images on APUG? Or do you have a website? Nothing seems to come up, either with the link or when I look at your profile. As I mentioned earlier, my dislike of Delta 3200 may be due to my own inexperience with it, but I am interested in others' examples of it, with details.
     
  8. Mustafa Umut Sarac

    Mustafa Umut Sarac Member

    Messages:
    4,575
    Joined:
    Oct 29, 2006
    Location:
    İstanbul
    Shooter:
    35mm RF
    I would prefer an old Leitz screwmount glass. In 25 years of research , I could not find a answer about how they engineer these lenses but they are best at low light. You dont even need more than 400 ASA Film and no special chemistry but photographs would turn to you with enormous detail , when you go to skin details , oh my god amazing , what a horrible lots of skin details , vains , lots of tonal dancing on the surface , lots of shadow play , skin draperies , micro detailed surfaces and an amazing tone , bones , bones would turn to visible and amazing life likeness.
    Zeiss is more red colored , harsh details and raw details , turns ugly.

    For 2012 , there is 1950s technology never made better than it.
     
  9. Brian C. Miller

    Brian C. Miller Member

    Messages:
    493
    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2010
    Location:
    Everett, WA
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    Try this link: Shooting dark weddings

    I thought that attached images would have shown up with the post link. There are three there that I made while photographing a protest meeting. I used Pentax 645, 75mm f/2.8, at 1/2 second.

    The thing with fast films is that they will always be grainy, and it's just a matter of what type of grain. I noticed that you prefer 120. What type of MF camera are you using?
     
  10. mooseontheloose

    mooseontheloose Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,520
    Joined:
    Sep 20, 2007
    Location:
    Currently in Stockholm
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Thanks for the updated link Brian. Actually the 3200 is not that bad considering -- my first attempts were probably poor due to my lack of experience with the film itself.

    At the moment I'm shooting MF with a Bronica SQAi. I used to shoot with various TLRs (mostly Autocords and Yashicas), but the limitations of the fixed lens and non-interchangeable backs is what made me decide to switch systems. That being said, I feel like I can shoot handheld at lower speeds better with a TLR, but unfortunately it's not what I travel with anymore.
     
  11. nicholai

    nicholai Member

    Messages:
    293
    Joined:
    Jul 12, 2012
    Location:
    Kolding, Den
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Flickr will show you this. I have found some on filmdev.org as well.
     
  12. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

    Messages:
    7,600
    Joined:
    May 18, 2008
    Location:
    Beaverton, OR
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Hey Rachelle,

    I pushed from 800 to 3200 with Delta 400 and used various mixes.

    Simply put I just follow the instructions published by Ilford or Kodak and it works. Truly, every combination I've tried works fine.

    I'm not saying there weren't failures, just that they all trace back to me not the published data. :wink:
     
  13. Laurent

    Laurent Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,269
    Joined:
    Oct 15, 2004
    Location:
    France
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Hi Rachelle,

    I've been happy with HP5+ at 1600 and Kodak's TMax Developer (liquid form) at 1+4. I was shooting indoors (see my gallery for the "Merry Go Round" project, not sure there are actual samples of images from this combo, but the conditions were similar) in available light.
     
  14. ColdEye

    ColdEye Member

    Messages:
    879
    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2011
    Location:
    San Diego, C
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
  15. Jim Jones

    Jim Jones Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,428
    Joined:
    Jan 16, 2006
    Location:
    Rural NW MO
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Years ago I shot Kodak T-Max 3200 at an exposure index of 1600 and developed in T-Max developer as recommended for EI 3200. This gave good shadow detail. Perhaps many photographers would be satisfied at a higher EI and less shadow detail. Grain was noticable, but unlike really old high speed films, pleasantly sharp-edged. Sad to say, today's new inexpensive DSLRs do as well.
     
  16. polyglot

    polyglot Member

    Messages:
    3,472
    Joined:
    Jun 12, 2009
    Location:
    South Austra
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    TMY2 in Xtol will do 1600 easily and show almost no grain for it - I made a 16x20" print two days ago from 6x7 TMY2@800 and you need to really concentrate on it to pick out the grain, evident only as a tiny bit of roughness in some eyelashes and otherwise invisible. In fact, I reckon the sharpness loss from TMY2 grain at that speed is less than that caused by shooting my 110/2.8 wide open. If you want really fast, I would suggest that the D3200 with some pushing in Xtol is where it's at; and give it development for one stop more than you exposed it. Pushing will only give the grain more magnitude, it shouldn't make it physically larger.

    If you're feeling spendy, you could use one of the 645 systems with an 80/2 lens. I'm not sure that the extra stop in the glass would make up for the extra stop of enlargement required from the grain though.

    Or a DSLR; while it's not APUG-compatible, low-light is the area where they're miles ahead of film, especially once you get into stabilisation. While I do 95% of my stuff on film, I keep one around for night-candids of people.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 21, 2012
  17. mooseontheloose

    mooseontheloose Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,520
    Joined:
    Sep 20, 2007
    Location:
    Currently in Stockholm
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    That's a beautiful shot polyglot! And thanks to everyone for the suggestions so far. Although I'll definitely experiment with what I have right now, I'll hopefully be able to pick up some Tmax developer the next time I'm in Fukuoka (the only city close to me that even remotely has anything darkroom related).

    I know that digital is really the best way to go for low-light handheld photography, but that's not really a place I want to go to (yet). Besides, when I travel I already carry three cameras (and at least 4 lenses), bringing another one just wouldn't be feasible!

    Anyway, I guess the best thing for me to do now is to go and experiment.