Flower shots on 800 ASA film with a canon FD 85mm f/1.2 and a Petzval lens.
By Dirk Dom
I have somewhat mixed feelings sending this write up about shots, taken with 40 and 100-year-old gear, and which aren’t even remotely sharp. This is not at all for pixel peepers and gearheads. I hope you enjoy the shots as much as I do, and, who knows! Maybe you’ll get a roll of film out of the fridge and try it too!
About ten years ago, I tried to do macro shots of flowers with the 85mm f/1.2 and a 50mm extension tube, to see if ultra-shallow DOF shots of flowers looked like anything. I used 400 ASA Fuji Superia film which I overexposed some four stops. (Had no choice). I discovered that compositions had to be extremely simple which made for very intense searching and the least bit of wind made the flower wiggle and made focusing very difficult. Over the course of two weeks I managed three nice shots.
About a year and a half ago I looked at the scans of these shots and I discovered something I had ignored before: grain! While digital grain (“noise”) is random in color and ugly, film grain comes in the same color as the subject and is, to me at least, gorgeous. I bought a three stop grey filter and Easter of 2015 I made macro shots on Fuji Superia 800, with the 85mm wide open, overexposing 4 stops.
For some reason I had no more trouble finding compositions and the shots came out extremely nice. I’ve put them on this website, you can find them back.
This Easter I went to the Costa Blanca, Spain, where I did more of the same. I introduced a 100 or 150 year old Petzval lens.
Canon F1 new, FD New 85mm f/2 L, Speedfinder, 50mm and 25mm extension tube, 3 stop ND filter.
The Speedfinder allows shooting up to ground level because it revolves from horizontal to vertical. It allows to see your entire viewfinder image up to 2 ½ inch distant. I used manual metering all the time. The three stop ND filter allowed me to shoot, four stops overexposed, at 1/2000 to 1/250 second.
Canon F1 with Petzval.
I got this lens for free with a large format camera, it covers about four inches image circle. It’s focal length is about 150mm, f/4 to f/5.6, uncoated of course and it’s very soft focus. I made an bronze adapter for it which connects to Canon FD, with a further adapter I can use it on any mirrorless camera. I’ll tell you later about this unique and very difficult to master lens.
Pixel peepers should stop reading now.
Over the course of two weeks, during five walks, I shot eight films, 360 images. 59 of those were good. This is a selection, from sort of normal to sort of crazy. First the Canon lens, everything at f/1.2, the Petzval I keep for a bit later.
The images, scanned and post processed, were a complete surprise. In Spain I saw my images through the viewfinder, with shallow DOF etc etc, and I knew it was technically possible, but that was only ten percent of the bargain. Only now I see what the images really are. They have to be thoroughly post processed because they exit the scan with the colors out of whack and rather flat. Fuji Superia 800 clearly isn’t made to be overexposed four stops and still be perfectly balanced. It’s also possible the scanner software (Silverfast) plays tricks. Every shot I need to search how to make it work. But when it opens up, it’s a revelation. I have to be very subtle with color saturation and contrast and levels, because otherwise the delicate grain and image structure gets destroyed. The grain only can take so much tweaking. So, the results you see here aren’t far off from what got on film originally.
My Eizo screen is absolutely essential; it’s the best buy I ever made. The photo’s light up on it. If I had done the processing on my laptop, it wouldn’t have worked: Colors are flat compared to the Eizo and I’d either have given up or way oversaturated and the prints would have been money down the drain. Because, just as with black and white: The print is the only thing that counts. On a screen you can get anything. Everyone sees something different and most of the time, unless you have a really good one, it’s a serious disappointment. Imagine seeing this on a smartphone!
I don’t know if you can see the grain structure on your screen, but it’s I think the most beautiful thing in these shots. Not only are they to be appreciated from a distance, but you can also look at the structure from very close by. They are in fact identical to film black and white, with color as an extra dimension. This is a shot, totally underexposed for a change. Contrast is just about nil, I couldn’t up it more without destroying the grain structure.
Not knowing what will emerge feels very weird to me. Black and white, with its grain and color filters, is partially like that, but there I ‘m confident the outcome will be beautiful.
The Petzval: something different.
This lens is so difficult I almost sold it twice already. It’s a hate/love affair.
It’s a very soft focus lens which has a mind of its own. Sometimes it’s sharp and sometimes it isn’t, and I still don’t know why. A second thing is, that because it’s not sharp, I keep on hunting for focus and don’t know when to press the shutter. This is extremely tiring especially at close focus.
The images it gets are often wildly unlike what I remember was in the viewfinder.
Because of the difficulties, I got fed up with the lens, once again decided to sell it and only shot one film, which yielded these three images.
They exhibit sort of an impressionist look, I think. Will I sell it? Certainly not! I have to learn to control it.
A good ten years ago I went to the nature photo club with a disgustingly high self-esteem. I thought my flower shots were very, very good, while they were lousy, I can show them to prove it. God, I’m still embarrassed about that. The shots I make now make me feel very humble and grateful. I’ve hit photography which needs more searching and control than ever, and yet every shot here is a surprise. I only take images in nature, it’s amazing there is so much beauty there.
What am I going to do with these shots when I’ve reached 200 images or such? Evolve further? Stop it? I can’t just stop this. I have to find a positive way out. Making money on flower shots is almost impossible. Maybe I should offer prints to hospitals. It took me 40 years to get this far. I’m 58 and I got my first camera, a canon Ftb, from my parents when I was 18. I bought a few diopter lenses, two years later I had a macro lens and it started: Shooting flowers has always been my passion.