Category Archives: gear

Shot at 50, developed in Moersch Tanol (staining developer). Still contrasty, but getting there.

New Film: Adox CHS 100 ii

It isn’t every day that a new film comes along in this millennium. So when one does, those of us who shoot film get excited. I think we owe it the people at  Adox, who actually went through the trouble of developing a new black and white negative film, to give it a shot. I shoot a lot of film. I attempt art with it, and I teach people how to work with black and white film. And I do bring film cameras along to press shoots, which I often use for portraits if there is a quiet thirty seconds.

The neatest thing about the Adox CHS 100 ii film, other than being new, is the film’s spectral sensitization: it is close to flat, and goes up towards the blues. This could be great for photographing with an open blue sky on a sunny day. Here’s the tech sheet. If you are antsy to get to the punchline of the review, here’s the simple version: the film is promising, interesting, and will take some getting used to. Like any new film, really. If you are looking for a film for your first foray into into film photography then I wouldn’t suggest starting with this film – mostly because it will require experimenting, and the amount of information out there is relatively small by comparison to more established films like Tri-X or HP5.

I can give the film general high production marks It seems to be physically well made. I was working with 4×5 sheet film, so I can’t comment on the grain. My gut feeling is that it is fine but not extraordinary on the grain front, closer to an old-style grain than to new (which are both, incidentally, standards in my cameras).  

Just one comment on price, because this is most of what you get if you search for info on this film in English. The price at FotoImpex makes it the least expensive sheet film you can get your hands on on in Germany. I know this isn’t the story at Freestyle, but I think it is worth mentioning – a lot of people in the U.S. won’t have a reason to try the film at its price there. Understandable, but I still think it is worth it to investigate when a new film comes around – we have no idea what will be available in a few years.

Let the games begin.

Exposure, Development and Shadow Detail

The take-home point of my experience spending a few days with the Adox CHS 100 ii is that the 100 part of the name may be a bit exaggerated. I tend towards low contrast, high range negatives, and I found that the shadow detail was difficult to retain at 100. I am getting results that are better for me by rating it at 50.

This testing was done of Christmas and New Years, mostly in Berlin – not exactly a Sunny 16 situation. The light has been excellent these days though, with a low hanging northern european sun hitting the streets just right, and a deep blue sky. Closer to Sunny 11, though. Even still, rating the film at 100 gave me little shadow detail. I was happier around 50.

Adox CHS 100 ii with Rodinal

The film reeked of Rodinal/Adonal – By Adox, made in Germany, Fine Art in the name. Plus for sheet film, grain isn’t usually a consideration. No matter what I did with CHS 100 ii and Adonal, the shadows were pushed down. I didn’t get the results I was looking for but I suppose that someone who has been using Rodinal for longer than I’ve been alive could get this right pretty quickly.



Overcast day in Coburg, shot at ISO 100. Adonal 1+50 tray development for 10 minutes.

Overcast day in Coburg, shot at ISO 100. Adonal 1+50 tray development for 10 minutes. The shadows aren’t playing along.


The shot above was my first attempt, shot at ISO 100, souped in Adonal 1+50 at 20C for 10 minutes in trays, agitating once a minute. This shot was on a cloudy, indeed drizzly day. The negatives came back at the upper limit of contrasty for me – the sky, which was indeed white, has little texture and the lampposts get lost. This time is closer to a N+1 (increased contrast) development. 

Note that these are scans of fiber prints, not of negatives. I’ve done a rough brightness adjustment to get the scan to have similar tones to the print in my hands. This overdramatizes the issue of the shadows, but it is still quite present in the prints.

The upper scan was almost a straight print, I dodged the small lamppost at the end of the street by 1/3 stop to get some separation. The right hand side of the image, though, really suffered. I reprinted, dodging the shadowy right hand side of the image for a half stop. Here’s a detail scan.

Same negative as a above, 1/2 stop dodge on that shadowy right hand side.

Same negative as a above, 1/2 stop dodge on that shadowy right hand side.

The negative has some information there, but the tonal falloff is strong.

The Adox tech sheet claims 9 minutes for standard time, more like 8 minutes for sheet film due to being produced with one less layer. This is looking consistent so far: 8 minutes for N, 10 minutes for N+1. Great, except that the shadows were already disappearing, and that on a rainy day.

Standard Contrast Development with Rodinal

Looking better:  Similar weather, same rating of ISO 100. Increased time and less agitation giving better shadow development.

Looking better: Similar weather, same rating of ISO 100. Increased time and less agitation giving better shadow development.

The next round was on a similarly overcast, rainy day. I shot again as metered (ISO 100), but this time I developed in Adonal 1+50 for 12 minutes in a tank with less agitation, more like every 2 minutes. The result is much, much better. It helps that those stairs are almost exactly that shade in real life, a tinge brighter than middle gray. But I still have the feeling that the shadows run away.

Shooting a Sunny Day

After that, the sun came out, so I would need to move towards N-1, maybe N-2. The standard zone method would be to shave off time, but truth be told, I do not want to be doing sheet development in trays in the range of 5-6 minutes. I am just not that accurate. Instead I decide to reduce agitation and increase the time again, a combination that leans towards stand development with Rodinal. So I shot at ISO 50 and souped 1+50, 20C, 14 minutes, with only a gentle sway of the tray, closer to every two minutes. 

The results were useable but imperfect. For the sake of comparisons, I took the identical shot on HP5 and I gave it my standard N development (ISO 400, ID-11 1+1 11 minutes with constant inversions).  The negatives are both dense and the contrast is a bit high for my taste, but the information is there on the negative. Not the easiest thing in the world to work with, but the information is recorded. The shadows, though, still run away. They were about a stop darker than the HP5.

Staining Adox CHS 100 ii with Tanol

I wanted to try one more thing: a staining developer like Tanol. Pyro is nearly impossible to come by on this continent, but Moersch does a great job locally on all kinds of funny chemistry. I used to shoot Agfa APX with PMK Pyro from the Formulary. I find the results of Tanol to be qualitatively similar to Pyro, with high accutance, large tonal range and little grain – and what is there, I find rather elegant. 

Lacking much information, I jumped in, mixing Tanol at 1+1+100, souping for 14 minutes at 20C in trays. Truth be told, I took this as a total shot in the dark – it is a rough average of all the times Moersch lists for Tanol. Seemed like a good place to start, and indeed, it think it was.

Shot at 50, developed in Moersch Tanol (staining developer). Still contrasty, but getting there.

Shot at 100, developed in Moersch Tanol (staining developer) 1+1+100 for 14 minutes at 20C. Still contrasty, but getting there.

The setting is a half-abandoned sports center on the corner by my lab in Berlin-Friedrichshain. Not every building has graffiti on the windows and not just the walls. I rated it to ISO 100 again, expecting trouble in the shadows. It was bright and sunny that morning. What I got was subtle, high accutance and a large range. The contrast is still too high though: this was printed with a filter 1, and some shadow detail is still missing here. Presumably shooting at ISO 50 and developing with a staining developer would get the job done if the sun is shining.

Thoughts on Adox CHS 100 ii

After a few days of testing, my conclusion is that the Adox CHS 100 ii film is highly capable, especially in the hands of someone who knows what they are doing. I imagine that my best use for the film would be in a studio, but everyone has different tastes. Using the sheet film, I’ll be rating it at ISO 50. The best results I got were Rodinal 1+50 12 min at 20C agitating every two minutes and Moersch Tanol 1+1+100 14 min at 20C agitating every minute.

Note again that Adox says times for the sheet film are 10% reduced with respect to roll – especially important if you are going to use my  Adonal times with agitation every minute as a guideline.

I’ll publish an update when I’ve gotten results that I’m a bit more satisfied with – it is likely to be some time, but I wanted to get this out there right away.



Martin Freeman (Bilbo Beutlin). Note the dragon's eye staring down at him.

European Premiere of The Hobbit and the Nikon 300mm f/4 Lens

Berlin gets really excited when Hollywood comes to town. Almost as if someone forgot to tell Berliners that their city is back on the A-list for, well, just about everything ranging from startups to tourism to art, miniscule galleries and world-class film premieres included. Pardon my cynicism at this degree of fandom, but I suppose I am revealing myself as a native New Yorker. So Potsdamer Platz was stuffed to the brim on Monday with fans of Lord of the Rings for the European Premiere of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, now the fifth movie in the trilogy.

Fans dressed as Orcs, clearly happy to be strolling down the red carpet.

Fans dressed as Orcs, clearly happy to be strolling down the red carpet.

It was my first red carpet since getting back from Thanksgiving in New York last week. Which meant I finally got to test my new gear. I’ve been hunting around for some of the long Nikon lenses, for those moments where, well, I am crushed in behind two photographers taller than me, getting shots of people fifty feet away. Like Monday. The lenses have been damn tough to find in Berlin. I know, I know, Poor But Sexy. But still, the only 300mm lens I’ve found in the whole city was for rent. I even went to visit the Nikon reps at Calumet during a show, but they just had one of those odd 80-400 superzooms for tons of money and a questionable quality, but none of the fixies. So I swung through Adorama in New York, as I always do, and managed to score a wild deal on a 300mm f/4 AF-S lens for a meagre sum, as I am want to do.

Good on me, too. The red carpet was ginormous. I mean, huge. How big? Here’s the surprise guest of the night, beauty Orlando Bloom, waving to the press. This apparently wide angle shot is on a standard portrait lens – a 50mm shot Dx, so about 85mm.

Guest star of the night Orlando Bloom (Legolas), waving to the press.

Guest star of the night Orlando Bloom (Legolas), waving to the press.

So I shot with an effective 85ish mm lens, and a 300mm lens on my other body. I had my effective 35mm Fuji X100 in my pocket, in case I wanted a shot with other photographers’ gear in the way. I didn’t.

To further set the scale, they built a dragon. Smaug, to precise. Here we have Benedict Cumberbatch, who played the dragon, in front of the dragon. I’d guess the model (the dragon, not the guy) was about 4m tall and 15m long. For those of you who aren’t comfortable thinking in metric, that converts to really big.

For Scale: Benedict Cumberbatch standing in front of the Smaug model. It's really, really big.

For Scale: Benedict Cumberbatch standing in front of the Smaug model. It’s really, really big.

To catch the difference between the lenses, well, that shot was at 85mmish. This one is at 300mm – neither he nor I had moved. He’s just pointing to his dragon, now.

Benedict Cumberbatch who plays Smaug the Dragon, thumbing towards him

Benedict Cumberbatch who plays Smaug the Dragon, thumbing towards him

This lens is gorgeous. It does everything a lens should and nothing it shouldn’t. Skip this paragraph and the next if you don’t care about the lens. It eschews VR – useless for moving subjects – which makes it light, cheaper, and probably last longer since there are less moving parts. It takes a 77mm filter thread – big standard for Nikon. It is AF-S (quick) SWM (quiet), IF (no external moving parts) and D (backwards compatible to pre-automatic cameras) and ED (fancy glass). What it “lacks” is G – which would kill the aperture ring on-lens and compatibility along with it and the nano crystal coating, which I would would have liked. Because it is not a zoom lens, it is way lighter than other similar looking lenses, and it has a minimum focusing distance of 1.45 meter – the same as the 70-200 f/2.8 VRII. But this is a 300mm lens, making it effectively much closer. Yay! It also means there is almost no distortion. I hardly see a difference in straight lines using Adobe’s default correction. Big score, especially for using it with film. The f/4 makes it one stop less sensitive, and slightly worse at subject separation in some situations. Looking at these photos, no complaints there. It would be great to have an extra stop, but not for 6 times the price and weight. For the extra 5 grand I could have bough a D4 instead, which gets plenty of extra stops over most cameras.

For the record, the main reason I didn’t go for the 70-200 VR II. (other than price and a variety of other gripes) is that at 70mm, you can’t focus close enough for a crop shot of a person’s face. I lost a couple of shots due to that. Red Flag.

Back to the Hobbit. Some people are tough to recognize in real life. While that is probably great for the privacy of actors and actresses, it makes it tough to properly caption your pictures, or to try to get someone’s attention. Martin Freeman, who plays Bilbo, was easily recongizable. One point for the press.

Martin Freeman (Bilbo Beutlin). Note the dragon's eye staring down at him.

Martin Freeman (Bilbo Beutlin). Note the dragon’s eye staring down at him.

There were some blunders of the night. Early on, this couple came by, and were, well, mistaken by a number of the photographers as being Peter Jackson and his wife. Evidently he was part of the production team. Whether or not he heard the photographers calling out to him as Peter, well, he and his wife played along. That happens.

The Not Real Peter Jackson with his wife.

The Not Real Peter Jackson with his wife.

Gusts of wind happen, too. Which is how I caught this hair moment of the Real Peter Jackson, left, with his daughter, Katie. Note that the dragon is the background on most of these shots.

The Real Peter Jackson and his Real Daughter, Katie Jackson, and a gust of wind.

The Real Peter Jackson and his Real Daughter, Katie Jackson, and a gust of wind.

Looking at those shots, this lens is doing its job. Contrasty, sweet subjects with a perfect separation to the dragon. These tele shots run around f/8 to f/11 – so the subjects are perfectly sharp, front to back, while the background has become abstract. If you check out the Orcs, you can count the blades on the aperture ring. If only I shot Canon, I could attach my beloved Dresden-built lenses with more aperture blades than you can count. Literally. But I don’t, and it doesn’t seem like we can expect production lines to return to that kind of extraordinary quality openings anytime soon, where we could count off the abbreviations of modern lenses and get 22 blades. 

Here’s a picture of some pretty people to finish this off, since you have made it to the end.

Just look at all those cheekbones. Evangeline Lilly (Tauriel, Elf) and Orlando Bloom (Legolas), posing for our lenses

Just look at all those cheekbones. Evangeline Lilly (Tauriel, Elf) and Orlando Bloom (Legolas), posing for our lenses 



Autumn in Berlin, Fuji X100

Fuji X100 Firmware Update: Quicker Focusing, Less Quirks.

I love my Fuji X100 for the same reasons that everyone else who loves theirs does. Leica-like, film-lookalike, and Strobist-friendly. I mean, I live in Berlin, where sexiness trumps all, and the camera fits right in. And like everyone, I also have done my fare share of complaining. This camera has change the photography market. Less than three years after it hit the markets, every other manufacturer is running to do something similar, and Fuji has built on its success with the X100s. Most importantly for me, though, is that Fuji is still supporting this camera, quietly releasing a firmware update last week.

Bourbon Barrels aging upstairs at the  Kings County Distillery

Bourbon Barrels aging upstairs at the Kings County Distillery

Since I’ve had the camera for a while now I thought it was time for a brief retrospective. The camera is always in my bag, be it for a shoots or stroll to the supermarket, and it is the one I travel with.

Overgrown windows in Beelitz

Trees coing through the broken windows in Beelitz, Brandenburg

X100 Firmware Update v2.0
The firmware update to version 2.0 does the things we wanted it to, addressing some quirks. The focus is quicker. Way quicker. That was the biggest issue for those of use who bought the camera. We all knew we were getting an excellent built-in prime instead of the ability to interchange lenses which each cost more than this camera. But the focus, frankly, blew. It is way quicker now. I mean, way.

Whole Health Source blogger Stephan Guyenet

Headshots of Whole Health Source blogger Stephan Guyenet on my x100

Common Issues With the Fuji X100
In light of the new firmware, it’s time to review the settings on the camera again. the main issues were always focus, speed, and focusing speed. It holds its own now. Finally.

The way most people have set up the focus on their X100 is to set the AFL/AEL button – where my thumb always lands – to focus. Then you can leave your camera in MF mode and autofocus with the button. Easy peasy.

This workaround gets you everything you need. The focus is the same speed – or quicker in some situations as compared to the straight up AF. And you get MF override. It also allows you to keep shooting in macro mode using the optical view finder (OVF). This is dangerous because the parallax correction is just enormous. But it works.

The Stata Center on MIT's Campus

The (infamous) Gehry designed Stata Center on MIT’s Campus

Startup time on the X100
The new firmware also makes the camera’s startup speed faster. This has been a weirdball from Fuji. The SD card you use – and how it is formatted – have huge effects on the camera. If you let an Apple device write to it, sometimes a hidden file will show up on the card which slows everything down. Somewhat of a fail. The issue has been getting better and better, and with a Lexar 400x card I’m not having troubles. The startup speed is now quicker, 0.2s according to Fuji. Whoopie. 

I use the camera in quick start mode most of the time. It drains juice but gets your shots quicker. If I’m traveling and may not get to recharge so often I won’t do this, but for daily shooting – and press work – I’m way happier with this. Turn off any auto review, and you can shoot at a blazing 1.5ish fps.

The firmware update is absolutely worth the half hour it will take you to fiddle with the settings. Do it, especially if you rely on your X100 for as much as I do – street photography, strobist-style portraits in the sun, press work, even in the studio. Well done, Fuji.

A museum cafe in Vienna

A museum cafe in Vienna, from above