Going Against the Grain
Published 28 March 2019
If you want low grain then just use a digital camera, I know. But that’s too easy. And I normally like grain. Anyway, for the sake of argument you want to shoot using a film with low grain. Step up Cinestill 50D, this is your time to shine. This is a daylight balanced (the ‘d’ bit) rated at ISO 50 (yep, the 50 bit).
Identical twins Brian and Brandon Wright, better known as The Brothers Wright (not the ones with the plane - that was the Wright Brothers), took the motion picture film Kodak Vision3 and started shooting stills with it. Little did they know that this was the start of a journey that would lead to something special. They developed (ha) a method to enable this film to be processed in standard C-41 machines by ‘premoval’ of the rem-jet layer. Yeah, I had no idea what this meant either so I looked in to it. The rem-jet layer is included in motion picture film to help reduce static, which can build up as film hurtles through the camera at 24 frames per second. I’m really slow with manual focussing, so I can’t get anywhere near that with my trusty Pentax k1000. The rem-jet layer also stops reflections from the other side of the film, which again isn’t an issue with stills as the rear plate is usually black.
Fast forward to 2019 (or 2018 when I should have written this post) and Cinestill offer their 50D films in 35mm and 120 formats. I took a roll of 35mm with me for a weekend away in South Australia and crossed my fingers for some bright sunshine and clear blue skies. Hang on, that will get me in trouble - I took Dia away on a surprise trip for her birthday and I also took my camera.
Dia and I stayed on a farm surrounded by rolling hills, vineyards and a few scattered trees. I noticed pretty quickly after going from a roll of Ilford HP5+ at ISO 400 to a roll at ISO 50 that you need a steady hand with the sunny 16 rule, so I ended up a bit wider with a shutter speed of 1/125. The colours that this film produces are just lovely, with fantastic sharpness and that very fine grain I was hoping for. Looking back, the daylight balancing of the film was evident as the day stretched on, not necessarily a bad thing but worth noting. Then again, you’re pretty safe - good luck shooting handheld in low light with this stuff.
Beautiful colours, fine grain, sharpness … so why isn’t this my go to 35mm colour film? A couple of things do it for me. The first is that the film speed can make it challenging for certain situations. I have come to appreciate having versatile films loaded for 36 exposures, knowing that it’s very unlikely I will shoot a whole roll under consistent conditions. The second stumbling block is the price, not a show stopper but something to consider (#stabrokeshootfilm). A quick search on Walkens shows Cinestill 50D at around three times the price of Fujicolour C200, which I would happily use as a reliable everyday film.
After a few months under my belt with the 35mm Pentax, it’s time to try out some new cameras and venture in to shooting with other formats. Look out for my next post on an absolute classic and an adventure into the world of 6x6.
Sample Photos: Asahi Pentax K1000 with 50mm f/1.4 lens and Cinestill 50D Film. Developed /scanned at Halide Supply, Collingwood.