Changing DX codes

The DX code is a black and silver block-pattern code on 35mm film cassettes, introduced in 1983. It is used by some cameras to set the ISO and by film processing machines to tell them about the film. All well and good, but sometimes we want to push or pull the film and this means setting a different ISO in the camera. If the camera can’t be controlled or over-ridden, you can change the code on the film cassette itself.

This is a typical code:

DX codes on canister
Three silver, black, silver, black = 200 ISO

The code is read as shown – with the barcode and film at the top. The ISO coding is the top half of the code and forms six panels read left to right. The first panel is always silver/ metal.

And an aside – the lower half of the code panel shows the length of the film and its tolerance for over and under exposure. This one is 24 exposures and +3 to -1 stops.

You change the ISO by scraping the black paint off one or more squares or by covering them with tape. The camera uses electrical contacts to read whether a square is conductive (silver) or not (black).

There is a table below of the codes that correspond to each ISO.

DX codes

So one of the common hacks would be to rate a 400 ISO film as 800. To do this you need to scrape the black paint off panel 2. To push it to 1600, leave panel 2 and scrape off panel 3.

For more information, plus how to decode the lower section, see here.

It’s also possible to make a completely new code by scraping all of the panels and covering some of them with tape. There has been a revival in using some of the other films in Kodak’s former catalogue. Many of these are known by code number instead of a common name so it may not be obvious what ISO to use. There is a handy decoding list here for Kodak and here for Fuji. So should you find yourself trying to shoot Kodak 2430 in an automated camera or trying to reload old film cassettes with a different film, help is at hand.

… And another aside – follow that link for an appreciation of just how many types of film Kodak made.

Self critique through scanning

Like a lot of people, I’m at home rather than commuting to work at present. I’m lucky in that I can do a lot of my job from home, so I’ve been spending more time than I’m used to sat in my study. Yep, I call it that. We must maintain standards.

Just to the side of my desk is an old PC that runs my scanners. I didn’t take long for me to realise that I could poke a negative carrier along by one notch and hit scan, with no interruption to the day job.

I have rather a backlog of scanning. There were times past when I didn’t have the kit, the free time or the inclination to sit and feed a scanner. But now I have to sit next to one for eight hours a day.

It turns out there is some joy from discovering photos I knew I’d taken but lost track of. There is also some learning to be had in reviewing what I used to take pictures of. I have noticed that in the early days I used to take two shots of the same scene, from the same viewpoint, with the same exposure: basically two identical shots. I was so unsure of my technique that I was giving myself an extra frame in case of scratches, holes or other disasters. Totally unnecessary – I had quickly got past the stage of physically damaging the film by accident. I wish I had used the second frame to vary the exposure instead. How could I be so worried about damaging the film and yet so sure that I had nailed the exposure?

I can also see my photographic history through scanning. There is the black and white when I first started. It was cheaper to buy and I very quickly learned to develop it myself. Then I got a bit up myself and went all quality. There is a long period of slide film with just a few mono negs. I think these must have been the days when slide film was reasonably affordable. Of course, Real Photographers only shot colour slides, never colour negatives, and I so wanted to be good. It did leave me with an abiding love for Agfachrome 50s though. Then I probably realised just how far I had walked away from sociability and started shooting only colour print. I basically became a best friend of TruPrint. Does anyone remember them? You sent them a film in a plastic envelope, they developed and printed it and sent it back with a new film and envelope. It’s like the scene in Brazil with Sam Lowry and the message transport tubes.

Then we go through a digital period with hundreds, probably thousands, of pictures that only exist in my computer, with a few having made it onto the walls. Then the black and white reappears, but edgy and experimental. Or shite and forgotten how to work it. I never really left film photography, but it dropped back to a minor sideline for a while. One thing I do remember is asking for Agfachrome in a photo shop, to be told that it was no longer made (not since 1984 – eek!). I suppose I should be glad that they had even heard of it. A bit of a Fly Fishing moment. [And I have just realised that all the references here are to the 1980s. Not deliberate and certainly not nostalgic.]

But, unlike some, I don’t think I have ever thrown a set of negatives away. Well, not that had any sort of visible image on them. So I am working my way through boxes of badly-labelled slides and negatives. I can only think that, at the time, it was so obvious to me where and when the pictures were taken that I thought labels were superfluous. I admit to having completely forgotten some of the places I have been. Tunisia was one. I recognised the pictures, but the label on the slide box was a puzzle until it came drifting back. Yugoslavia? I definitely remember going, but I had no idea what it looked like or where I had been. And things keep turning up in the pictures that I thought were in completely different countries. A large stately home turns out to be in Ireland and not Northumbria. A decorated column is in Leningrad, not Rome. The camel was not in a zoo.

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But this is not about my focus being much more on the present than the past (a polite phrase for dodgy old memory), or on my former globetrotting (well, stumbling). The pleasure here is looking at the old photos and being mostly very glad I took them. The interesting thing though is how the importance of pictures changes with time. Scenery that was spectacular to be in results in (usually) meaningless pictures with nothing in them. Snapshots of people and places become fascinating. Friends grow old, children grow up, cars become classic. If only hair grew longer and waistlines slimmer.

Fun though. Plus I have discovered some excellent pictures of people that I will use again, especially one of my sister which awaits her next major birthday. The things I shoot have altered a little, probably for the better. There is less of the dull landscape in recent times and more interesting stuff. In the early years I seemed to hose the world with my camera. Since then I have learned (and occasionally practice) that a picture of everything contains nothing, so there is more of the detail or single item that stands for the whole.

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The other thing I noticed is that, despite what people say about the archival permanence of film, some of my old colour stuff is not holding up very well. It’s probably a good idea to get some of these old negatives and slides scanned as they are showing some odd colour shifts. The slides seem to be in better shape than some of the old colour negatives, although even some recent (2005) colour negative is showing some strong colour casts. All the better to get them scanned then. And what a good time to be doing it, when I’m locked in and getting distinctly Oscar with the wallpaper.

So here I am, like all of us, making a benefit out of a necessity.

Stay safe.

Big grain

Just as Edison was reported to have discovered hundreds of ways to not make a light bulb, I have found many ways to make a photograph worse. How about huge, intrusive and detail-wrecking grain? Yep, got that one down real good.

In previous years I have push-processed some expired cine film, not for any other reason than the film was cheap and I wanted to take pictures in the dark. I have also enlarged a small section of a negative because I liked the effect.

30

This time was a bit different. I was using a film that was meant to be push-processed but I used the ‘wrong’ developer. To explain: I bought a roll of Kodak P3200. This has reportedly got a true ISO of around 1000 but can be push-processed in the recommended TMax developer to 1600, 3200 or beyond (but not beyond infinity, Buzz). What is positively not recommended is to use stand development in Rodinal. So that’s obviously what I did.

Why am I this contrary? Because I had one roll of this film and I didn’t want to buy a bottle of special developer – this stuff is already expensive; why add the cost of a bottle of developer that I couldn’t use for anything else? Besides, if we stuck to what other people say is safe, how would we learn anything?

P3200 is a low contrast film. This helps compensate for the gain in contrast you normally get when push-processing it. I was planning to use semi-stand development, which lowers contrast. There was a likelihood I would end up with golfball grain and two shades of mid grey. But I was also planning to shoot the film in conditions of extreme contrast: under street lamps, at night. What could possibly go wrong?

Metering, for one. How do you expose for a scene that contains its light source and ranges from light enough to read by down to dark enough for murder? My little book of notes says that ‘subject under bright street lamp’ is EV 4. If we say the film is going to be exposed at 1600, that converts to 1/60 at F2. There was going to be a full moon at the time I was playing, and the magic guide says this is around EV -3, or 2 seconds at F2. So I could be looking at a seven-stop range. This is well within the capabilities of a negative film.

But…. what I actually did was meter off a whitewashed wall behind a streetlamp and give it a couple more stops of exposure. And then give it a few more stops for scenes that contained street lights but were not directly lit by them. And after a few more beers, I basically waved the camera about and hoped.

The film got what is now my standard semi-stand development: Rodinal at 1+100, 30 seconds agitation at start then two gentle inversions every 30 minutes for a total of two hours. I was relieved to see exposed frames when I took it out of the tank and even more relieved to see some interesting images when I hung it to dry.

Then I scanned it. Oh boy, but that’s grainy! Metering off the wall behind the streetlight worked quite well. Guessing the exposure wasn’t too bad. Putting the camera on a wall and hoping gave me some ‘variable’ success with framing. But the grain!

04

So is this a waste of an expensive film or a method I would recommend? Both. If you want to emphasise the grain, try this. If you want to shoot fine detail in the dark, use a different method or a different film. There will be another post along soon that shows what a 100 ISO film can do under the same conditions and with the same development.

Night in Staithes
No idea

Stand and deliver

A few years back I had the job of arranging the speakers for a photography club. There was a regular repeating group of local pundits, so of course I went totally off piste and got people in who did more than the usual landscape and a bit of wildlife. One of these was the (sadly missed) Terry Cryer. Apart from being a wonderful raconteur and a brilliant printer, he was also a great photographer. One of his pictures was a little girl stood in a doorway. He said it was almost too dark to focus, so he threw the film in some D76 diluted 1:100 and left it for a couple of hours. My spider senses were aroused – what was this thing he did? It was stand development, and I was at least a hundred years late to the party. So I parked the idea in memory as something that might come in useful one day.

Day – and I had a roll of film shot under difficult lighting. Very contrasty, with intense highlights and deep shadows. What I needed was a method of holding back the development of the highlights while bringing-up the shadows. There was something rattling in the back of my head about standing around. To t’interweb!

It seemed the answer was semi-stand development in dilute Rodinal. Even more joyous was the message that the same development method and time worked for most films, so I could fill the tank with different types or speeds and get loads of stuff done in one go. So, here we go – Rodinal diluted 1+100; normal agitation for the first minute then leave the tank to stand; one careful inversion every 30 mins; tip it out, wash and fix after two hours. And it worked!

Even better was the news that it could be used on old film or film with unknown sensitivity or exposure. I got a very expired roll of Tri-X as part of the Emulsive Secret Santa with the first couple of frames shot by the donor and me to finish. It worked better than I hoped, even though the film itself was fogged and spotty ( which reminds me of my teenage self).

I had previously tried two-part developer as the magic combination. This too is supposed to preserve the highlights while developing the shadows. The problem is that I seldom got it to work. Unless I made it fresh, my film was grossly under-developed. But the joy of stand development is that the developer is freshly made, just that there is not much of it in the water.

It seems to work though, and it works with pushed film. There are some films that are recommended to not develop with this method, such as Fomapan 320 soft, but my regular diet of HP5 works well. Do I use it all the time? No, I don’t want to take more than two hours to develop a film. I am also worried that I could end up with streaks, so normal film gets normal methods. It’s a useful tool in the box though for when you could have underexposure or a wide exposure range on the film. And isn’t that how you used to tell a Real Engineer – that they had a graded set of hammers?

What about two-part development though? Doesn’t that do the same thing, with less risk of streaking? I would use them to do different jobs. Two-part development works by soaking the film in developer, and then activating just the developer that was absorbed in the film. I would use two-part development when I had greatly overexposed the film. It holds back the highlights because they only have as much developer as they absorbed. So this should be great for pulling film: giving it two or three stops of overexposure so that you get loads of shadow detail. I actually did this as an experiment, photographing a willow tree in full leaf in direct sunlight. Each frame in the sequence was overexposed by an additional stop, but all that happened is the shadow detail increased: the highlights stayed the same. So this is great for when you have to deal with high contrast and want to render it ‘normal’.

People of York
Shot on a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye on ISO 400 film in bright sunshine. Coped nicely with overexposure.

I would use semi-stand development for when I had pushed the film. The highlights are held back because they exhaust the developer locally, while the shadows continue to develop. What Terry Cryer did was to push his film with the picture of the little girl: underexpose and then bring it up in development without increasing the contrast too far to be printable. I would also use semi-stand for when I had very mixed scenes on the same film. An example was recently, where I was using an unsophisticated camera to take both night shots and daytime landscapes. Bung the film in the tank and semi-stand it and all the frames turn out OK.

No doubt people use either method to do either job, and I think even my description of them ends up saying that they are the same. For me it’s all just theory anyway: I’ve found two-part developers to be unreliable, while semi-stand uses known good chemicals. So while I might theorise about using different methods, I would use semi-stand for both situations.

And an aside – why semi-stand and not stand? Stand means no agitation at all, and really does risk getting streaky negatives. Semi-stand means agitating a tiny amount; just enough to stop the streaks. And not a double-entendre in sight.

Is it worth trying? For sure, so that you have it there if you ever need it. Give it a go. I’m adamant. (Sorry!)

A thing of beauty is a joy for a fortnight

My mum gave me a carrier bag full of old negatives. These were an unknown collection of formats ranging from neat sets still in their Boot’s envelopes to individual bits of film. And the great thing is that they are all still usable. Scratches aside, I can get an image off all of them.

Imagine if my mum had given me the family collection of floppy disks, or Zip drives, or even VHS tapes. The quality would be undimmed (mostly) but could be beyond retrieval. Give it a few more years and both CDs and DVDs will have lost the means to read them. I work in IT and I’m old enough to remember people using 8″ floppy disks. That’s within my working lifetime. Some of the negatives my mum gave me predate me as a person. If you want another example, look at the BBC Domesday project from 1986. Perfectly preserved and, for most people, irretrievable.

As a result, the best long-term storage for text is still paper or film. Good paper can last a century and microfiche is good for around three. If you want to preserve pictures, then the best methods would be to store negatives or prints. How ironic. Amongst the family pictures were some prints. One was of my great-grandfather, in uniform and posing with great granny. A quick zap on a scanner and we found his regiment using the shape of his badge. We didn’t need the scanner, it was just more convenient to put the image up on the screen to do side-by-side comparisons.

So what’s the outcome? Print your pictures. Give copies away so there is more than one. File your negatives (rather than sandpaper them, as some of mine appear to be). Then your pictures stand a chance of being a source of joy and wonder to your descendants rather than marketing opportunities for TwitFace.

Unius fit multis*

* The opposite of e pluribus unum, as any fule kno.

Recently I have become a film tart. Not that I was ever truly monogamous, but I have had – still have- some serious long-term relationships. HP5 and me go way back. It’s never let me down. I have let it down many times, but I am a bad person.

With the rise of mistakenly-moribund film from its beckoning grave, there are suddenly a range of head-turning and slinky alternatives on parade. I have been tempted by the fruit of another. My previous taste for only one has become a curiosity for many. (Yes, still talking about film)

So why the new squeeze? Curiosity. That and the fact that changing just the film can change everything. Why faff about trying to get the Tri-X look or the Ektachrome look in digital, when you can just load a roll and get the real thing? So what types of film am I dallying with?

Filllum

  • Ilford Pan F. A prize from the Sunny 16 cheap shots challenge. Not sure what to do with this yet.
  • Adox HR-50. Fancied the idea of a very contrasty film that has been pre-flashed to tame it. I might do something with this and the Pan F together.
  • Rollei Retro 80s. I’m going to run this through my IR-converted Agfa camera.
  • Silberra Ultima 160. Just fancied seeing what it was like.
  • Rollei Ortho 25. To try some rugged-effect male portraits.
  • Kodak Colorplus 200. 7 Day Shop had a deal on a pack of 10. This is destined for the underwater cameras.
  • Kosmo Foto 100 in 120 and 35mm. A staple favourite.
  • Fomapan 400 and 100. More of the above.
  • 5302 Release film from the FPP. A blue-sensitive copying film that rates around 1 ISO. May need a tripod.
  • Expired Fujicolour 200.
  • Foma Retropan 320 Soft. Female portraits and maybe a bit of old-looking buildings.
  • Kodak High Definition colour print. Expired.
  • Kodak Proimage 100. As above – to play with.
  • One roll of redscale hand-rolled. To play with.
  • Fay’s quality color print 100. Expired 1999. Actually made by 3M. To be used for something daft.
  • A small reel of lith film, around 8 ISO. Meant to be used for copying negatives to make slides. Worth a play. I might run this against the 5302.
  • Kentmere 400. Because I cannot be untrue.

It might be worth me getting a C41 developing kit. I’ve never done colour before, but I have the expired films to learn on.

Looking at the list though, I realise that once one falls off the straight and narrow, things get rapidly quite curly. To stick with the theme, these films were whispering ‘take me I’m yours’ when perhaps I should have stayed with black coffee in bed.

The colour print film is easy to explain: if I’m taking a film camera underwater then I might as well capture colour. Even though most British water is like swimming in gazpacho and I will be capturing shades of green.

Who knew it could snow underwater?

Now there’s an idea – different colours of the spectrum get absorbed at different rates by water. Red drops off rapidly, but blue penetrates furthest. I wonder what would happen if I shot an orthochromatic black and white film underwater? The low ISO would be a pain, but if I use flash I will be putting back the missing red light. So I could put a blue filter on the flash. This is all getting silly. The whole point of using flash underwater is to reveal the colours – grey things in a grey-green world go street carnival with a lick of strobe. So why try to make the colour separation even worse? Maybe because I’m curious – shooting flowers in UV light reveals how insects see them. I wonder if fish see things through an ortho filter* and what their world looks like? And then I realise that ortho film would ignore the red component of the flash anyway, so it could work… (And this is how daft adventures begin)

Back to Plan A – the colour print is for the fishes, the mono is for land. I can see that I have some fun and games ahead. Come on then film; some fantastic place awaits.

* Yes, they do. That’s why red is a good camouflage colour underwater, as the predatory fish can’t see it.

What’s my name?

If you haven’t done it yet, you will. Your camera, lovingly loaded with 100ISO colour print film, turns out to be 400ISO black and white when you finish the roll and open it. Or not loaded at all. Or you load and shoot the same roll of film twice.

Back before the last ice age, I worked as a chemist. Not the dispensing kind – I was the model for Beaker. I worked in a quality control lab within a manufacturing business, so we were processing multiple large batches of samples every day. One soon learned to label everything. My favourite tool was an ancient fat propelling pencil that took a wax insert that would write on glassware but was water soluble so it was easy to clean off.

The habit carried-over when I switched to working in IT. I did some big office moves and became a label fundamentalist.

Speaking of habits, my grandad used to say that a habit was a good servant but a bad master. He also used to iron his socks, so make of that what you will.

Labelling is a good habit though. But I can’t really write on my cameras and hope to wash it off afterwards. So I use tape.

Taped
Yes, my grandad used to buy socks in boxes…

I tried using the paper-based masking tape, but this stuff resists being written on and falls off when you are not looking. So I use electrical tape. My dad was an electrician, so I was brought up on fluff-covered rolls of gooey black PVC tape. That stuff is the opposite of useful for labelling. What I found in my local hardware shop is white electrical tape, which is perfect. The glue doesn’t smear and the tape releases cleanly without leaving a sticky patch. I can write on it with a marker or ballpoint.

So what I do is label every camera that is loaded with the film it contains. When a film is taken out of a camera, the label moves to the film container. If I’m developing it myself, the label then moves to the lid of the tank. If I remove a film part-shot, the label will show how many frames I’ve used.

I am delighted to say that I have not fupped a single duck since I started doing this. But, as I learned in IT, make something idiot-proof and the idiot gets upgraded. I may not mistake my films any more, but I have moved on to greater things and discovered many new and interesting ways to fail.

Go me!