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  1. #1
    mooseontheloose's Avatar
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    Low-light, no flash, no tripod -- what are the best film and developer options?

    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.
    Rachelle

    My favorite thing is to go where I've never been. D. Arbus

  2. #2
    Brian C. Miller's Avatar
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    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. #3

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    Quote Originally Posted by mooseontheloose View Post
    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.
    You missed Kodak T-Max 3200.

  4. #4
    nicholai's Avatar
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    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.
    Nicholai Nissen
    Kolding, Denmark
    nicholainissen@gmail.com

  5. #5

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    all of my low light stuff I have been using super-fast glass and 800 speed film. Canon f1.2L, etc.
    5x7 Eastman-Kodak kit / B+M 135mm Zeiss Tessar + Compur Deckel
    RB67 Pro S /50 4.5 / 90 3.8 / 180 4.5 / WLF / prism finder / polaback
    FED-2 / 50 2.8 Industar 26m / 85 f2 Jupiter-9
    Canon 300v / A2

  6. #6
    markbarendt's Avatar
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    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.
    Mark Barendt, Ignacio, CO

    "We do not see things the way they are. We see things the way we are." Anaïs Nin

  7. #7
    mooseontheloose's Avatar
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    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.
    Rachelle

    My favorite thing is to go where I've never been. D. Arbus

  8. #8
    Mustafa Umut Sarac's Avatar
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    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. #9
    Brian C. Miller's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mooseontheloose View Post
    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.
    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. #10
    mooseontheloose's Avatar
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    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.
    Rachelle

    My favorite thing is to go where I've never been. D. Arbus

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