The Last Rolls of Chrome

I am not one who usually makes “New Years Resolutions”, but indeed on this first day of 2017, I do have a resolution to make…

I will not shoot anymore E-6 Color Reversal Film!

Just a few months ago I had over 80 rolls of film in my  freezer to have on hand for time when film was simply just not readily available. With about 50 rolls of Black & White and the rest in color slide film, I was prepared for the end of film to happen. During the time of my film build up i also acquired a Leica R4 SLR and Leica Glass, a Nikon F100, Nikkormat FTn, Nikon FE and even a Nikon N65.

After shooting about a half dozen or so rolls of C-41 color print film I also had stashed away, I realized that the degree of quality processing just didn’t exist anymore. Or at least if there was fresh chemistry C-41 processing going on, it was very rare and in fact prompted one of my previous post about C-41 processing.

During the time of my film stash build up, I was shooting some Tri-X Black & White film and processing in D-76 with quite satisfactory results. I began to expand my film buying to include E-6 color reversal films such as Ektachrome and Fujichrome. It had been about 12 years since I developed any E-6 films and was eager to experience it once again. After firing off a couple rolls of Ektachrome, I was all set for a night of processing fun with some E-6 Chemistry I had purchased from an online retailer. But oh my… things went way south after I opened the tank and saw virtually no image at all. I blamed a mix up in steps or chemistry (something that had never once happened in previous processing of E-6) and proceeded to go out and shoot two more rolls of Elite Chrome 200.

But the film sat in the camera a while as I shot mostly with the digital camera due to the instant gratification that came form the whole digital process. Eventually I did finish a roll in the Leica and a roll in the FE and sent them to a pro lab to process since I didn’t have any fresh chemistry on hand and it would cost more than it would to have the two rolls processed by a lab.

Just like the old days, I eagerly waited about a week till the mailman delivered my boxes of chromes. As I looked through the 72 slides in total, I was quite displeased with the results. Yes, I did have some good exposures, most of the requirements I have for gallery prints were not met. While the film did retain some fairly good highlight details, my disappointment was in the shadow details.

Although when viewed on the computer at 800 pixels or so wide, things looked quite nice, but when I really dug deep and zoomed in to see how it would print at 12×18 or larger… it was a big fat NO WAY.

Aside from the fact there was more dust spots, lint and other artifacts to clean up than my worst day with a spotty digital sensor, I could deal with the clean up. But in the deepest blacks and shadow areas (especially in Zones 1-3) there was a lot of reddish colored noise and total loss of edge definition to suit my preferences. Even after applying some noise removal filtering from Noiseless CK, it did help out with removing the reddish noise, but the softening effect as a result didn’t quite suit me very well.

While I could have punched the color back up and cleaned all the trash from the image, there was no way to really recover shadows like is possible with the digital camera RAW file. And I could have been ok with that if the shadows had not been so noisy with red or other colored artifacts.

Having shot and processed many rolls of E-6 back in the day, I knew that the results I am getting now were not from limitations of film, but from the age of the film. Who knows how many times it has been frozen and thawed, much less being anywhere from 5-20 years old.

I dug into my archives of slides and pulled up one from the mid 80’s that had not seemed to have faded very much at all. After scanning it with the same criteria as I did the one from the merry-go-round, I realized my suspicions were correct.

Although I still couldn’t bring out shadow details as I can with a RAW file, I still saw that the shadows were nice and black and the zones in between were clean colors and not  scattered with noisy artifacts. Even though there are no details to pull out of the dark shadow areas as with a RAW file, the blacks had a dark richness to them. Whereas the blacks in both the Color Negative and Color Slide film I have shot in the last few years were not so pleasant.

In a side by side comparison, I could easily see the degradation of the old film that was happening as time went by. Even freezing film, doesn’t preserve its image quality attributes forever.

While I have proclaimed this New Years Resolution of not shooting any Color Reversal film again, I in fact had figured this out weeks ago when the boxes of slides arrived from the lab and I scanned some images to see how they looked.

Since that time I have given away the N65, sold the Leica and the F100 and currently selling off the remaining rolls of E-6 film I have in the freezer. Although for someone who never really shot film back when it was the way… the experience is quite rewarding for photographers and artisans who are just now discovering it. For them, the effects of time are not an issue to them.

The joy of shooting is still just as great, but for me the images don’t meet my requirements for gallery printing or the image manipulations I make in many of my works. I did keep the Nikkormat for nostalgic reasons and the FE to shoot the Black & White film that I will keep. I have a decent supply of B&W chemicals and some really cool vintage darkroom gear that I use when processing.

Not to be misunderstood about shooting film… I have in fact produced several pieces that I over in galleries and have printed at 12×18 or larger. With a good stash of Tri-X on hand in the freezer, I can say that there will be some nostalgic moments happen again where I hear the sound of the motor drive on my Nikon FE blasting through a roll.

Look for those images with the “Film Works” logo underneath them in the web shoppe in the Monochrome section.