Bring Back, Oh! Bring Back That Ektachrome To Me!Thursday, January 05, 2017
|Sandrine Cassini - Ektachrome EPN|
It has been announced that the moribund or perhaps dead Great Yellow Father from Rochester is bringing back Ektachrome this year.
At age 74 I am old enough to remember that in National Geographics of yore the photographs contained information that included that they were taken with Ektachrome (or Kodachrome).
In the heyday of magazines when the tons of money they had were splurged on good photography, unique photography, photography with style, there were no scanners or digital reproduction. The only way magazine or advertising art directors could respect the vision of the individual photographer was to inspect the original. More often than not that had to be a slide or a transparency (a term sometimes uses to describe slides larger than 35mm).
Underexposed or overexposed slides were anathema to these art directors. There was nothing that could really be done to correct exposure errors as this was before Photoshop. My 13 year-old Photoshop’s most useful tool is the one that I use when I scan those Ektachromes (and b+w and colour negatives). The tool is called Shadow/Highlight. This tool can draw out all that detail that was always in the shadows of properly exposed Ektachrome. In that past the internegatives that were used to print slides or Cibachrome (it had much too much contrast and shadow detail tended to disappear) could not properly bring out all the rich detail of those Ektachromes and Kodachromes.
This photographer had a fear of overexposure that was so profound that my slides tended to be a bit on the dark side. My then friend and Vancouver Magazine Editor Malcolm Parry gave me the nickname of Halfstop because when he noted my dark slides I always explained that I had taken one shot per my exposure meter and one more half a stop under.
The only photographer that I knew that specialized in underexposure was a well-known American called Pete Turner whose trick for getting “electrically saturated” slides was to consciously underexpose Kodachrome. But then he worked for the best magazines around and they must have had tricks up their sleeves to cope with Turner’s super-saturated output.
For all the years that I shot for magazines I only used slide or transparency film. I looked down upon anybody who used colour negative. It was my feeling (not completely off the mark) that these photographers had shoddy exposure methods and used colour negative’s ability to compensate for exposure error (called film latitude and colour negative has always had high film latitude). But sometime in the 90s I read a National Geographic article about shooting in the Antarctic that mentioned that the photographer took an extra camera (a Nikon FM-2) loaded with colour negative film. The shoots were so important that no chances could be taken. It was then that I began to not look down on photographers who did not shoot slide film.
The reason for that is that slide film in comparison has less latitude for exposure error that negative film). It means you have to be bang on with your exposures and in my time I had to have a very good exposure/flash meter. In fact I had two of them just in case.
Now with digital cameras there is no need for Ektachrome or slide film if you are shooting for magazines. My film scanner can deal excellently with the very good Kodak (and Fuji) colour negative film that is even made in the 120 format for my Mamiya RB-67.
I have blown away many an audience at a photo or garden lecture projecting my 6x7 cm slides (in lovely Gepe glass slide mounts) with my Linhof slide projector (very quiet) with Leitz lenses.
What I don’t understand is why Kodak is coming back with Ektachrome. Will our Vancouver The Lab (an excellent one) suddenly be pushed to process what used to be called E-6 film? What do people who will shoot this Ektachrome use it for? Will they project it? Will they print it?
Ektachrome slides came in various types. The picture you see here of Sandrine Cassini with a red rose was taken using Ektachrome EPN. It was rated at 100ISO and the N stood for neutral colour. And yet it was not in the least neutral. I was just less saturated than for example EPP Ektachrome.
Good (and wealthy photographers) would by large batches of Ektachrome manufactured on the same day in what was called the same batch. They would then shoot one roll to determine if the film had any colour shifts. Most did so these precise photographers would then use correction filters to make the colours as accurate as possible.
In all the years that I shot Ektachrome the gray wall in my studio never photographed as gray. It always had a coolish cast to it, a mix of green, blue and cyan.
I believe that good digital cameras can now make gray walls (and gray seamless) gray while making skin tone accurate as possible.
But then there have always been exterior factors that many photographers do not understand. Light becomes warmer (in the direction of yellow and red) as you get closer to the Equator. And this light becomes bluer as you move towards the opposite directions. Snow in Whistler will be seen by film, videotape and by digital cameras as blue and even bluer at higher altitudes.
If this Ektachrome will be brought back in the professional form then photo shops will have to bring film fridges back. The purpose of the fridges was to keep the film at the optimum factory specifications. Amateur Ektachrome had a built-in shelf life. But I would have never bought amateur Ektachrome in any tropical country! Heat affects colour film and especially slide film.
For shoots doing annual reports in the US I always traveled with plastic containers and ice designed for food. Exposed Ektachrome was especially subject to colour shifts (on the warm side) in heat.
Perhaps bringing back Ektachrome is like bringing back LPs. Few who might want to now buy an expensive turntable and cartridge would have ever bought records when they were massed-produced. I had records that had built-in scratches and noises. Ektachrome will simply be another way of looking back at was considered a simpler, safer and less complicated life.
But users of Ektachrome beware. Most of those original automatic film cameras usually gave their owners good results not because the cameras were very good but because the colour negative film (and b+w, too) these cameras were loaded with had very wide latitude (forgiveness for exposure error). So these new photographers will have to shoot with very good hand-held exposure meters. If they don’t they might find that out of a 36 exposure roll 8 pictures or a bit more may be useable.
While I will keep using b&w film and home process it, Ektachrome will be for me a nostalgia that I will not adopt.
Looking at these two snaps that I took of cellist Rebecca Wenham last night with my Fuji XE-1 I have to stress that I do not miss Ektachrome at all.