Film recipes and why I don’t use them

Warning: boring shed pictures again.

There are a number of people creating film-simulation ‘recipes’ for digital cameras, with good reasons and results. Especially note the fine efforts of Ritchie Roesch of Fuji X Weekly. Fujifilm cameras are particularly set-up for this sort of thing, but other ‘better’ cameras have similar settings adjustments in them. My Lumix ZS60 in fact has some specific film simulation settings, albeit buried deep in the touch-screen menu system. I’ve done some such setting changes with my Canon as well; it is in fact defaulted to a Kodacolor simulation with rich, warm tones and slightly elevated contrast – because that’s how I like to shoot.

Film has four basic characteristics: speed (ISO 100-800 as not many cameras can truly go above that level), colour type (including white balance [temperature] and saturation), contrast (one of the simplest variables), and grain. Only grain presents difficulty for digital simulations unless you have a camera (like certain Fujifilm models) that has a specific setting for that. Otherwise you’ll just be varying the resolution, which is the “digital equivalent” (“grain” introduces a fine noise effect).

Now here’s the thing. One of the advantages of digital over film is that you’re not stuck shooting 12/24/36 exposure on all the same ‘film’ type. You can easily change from shot to shot, as you see fit. The film recipes can allow you some preset choices to go with, providing your particular camera makes is easy to keep the simulations easily to hand. My old Kodak P850 has three “user defined” selections right on the main function dial, and all I had to do was remember what I had them set for. It’s somewhat more difficult with the other cameras, as the custom settings are notoriously menu-accessed and therefor not the easiest to get at – or remember.

So failing memory and increasing laziness affects my own choices, and I resort to some pretty simple solutions. Namely not making the changes in the camera. I’m notorious for warning against shooting in B&W, and that’s not just because the shot might look better in colour. My experience with digital B&W is the out-of-camera results tend to be rubbish. Perhaps something like the Leica Monochrom can produce fantastic results (it had better for the price), but the average camera trying to assemble a black-and-white image from the RGB detection under a Bayer filter tends to come up short. More often than not I find the contrast lacking, and if I crank that up the dynamic range goes ‘poof!’ (or other humorous sound effect of your choice). Thus I shoot colour and desaturate if I think it will look better in B&W.

I have adopted a similar stance for other versions of film recipes. Basically, shoot what looks best to you as full colour coming out of the camera, and then adjust the individual picture on the computer if you think it will look better rendered a different way. Sounds weird coming from someone who also boasts about not doing a lot of post-processing, but for end results – which are all that matter – it’s a good way to avoid missing a shot that would look better under different settings. The other option is to shoot it over and over in all kinds of ways and then pick the best from a dozen images. Ergh. Who wants to do that? If you post-process you can also have pre-set film recipes and not fiddle around endlessly adjusting settings by tiny amounts and wondering if that’s ‘perfect’ or not. Film has latitude; let your digital images have it as well. Perfection is not required for art.

Examples time. Here is the infamous red shed shot with the Canon T100 set with my Kodacolor recipe:


One picture, incorrectly exposed I admit, and now we will process it to look like different film types. First, how it would look with the settings “normal” for the camera. This is not a different picture, just different processing to look like the standard output from the camera.


This one is simply desaturated to black-and-white:


Now let’s look at some colour variations. Starting with the silvery-blue, low saturation appearance that some people like.

“Bleach bypass”

Or you can crank up the warm tones (red, yellow, and magenta):


Or crank up the cool tones (blue, cyan, and green):


Which changes you make and how extreme you make them is up to you. What the subject is will also determine what effect you use, of course.

I’m not saying this is the way everyone should do it or even the way you should do it all the time; it’s just presenting an option to trying to get the film simulation right in the camera. You may find it easier to do this way than to adjust camera settings, or you may not have the camera settings to adjust. Likewise what software you have can limit your post-shoot processing. I just use the very simple GIMP program, and my files are JPEGs not RAW. As such there are certain effects not available to me on the computer which are available in the camera (or with the camera in the case of using colour filters). But it works for my “professional snapshot” style of photographic art.

By the way, one of the most fun things I’ve done with my Canon T100 was simulate a Kodak Brownie 127 camera from the 1960s: Shooting with the Canon Brownie. That’s not just film simulation, but camera simulation and even photographer simulation!

The Trestle Series

Jim Grey likes to take pictures of bridges. Who can blame him? They’re interesting from both an aesthetic and a historic point of view. He keeps making me think of all the bridges I’ve come across, or gone across, over many years and roads. One time when I’d looked at a train trestle he posted I got to thinking about the forgotten one in my hometown; a structure abandoned in a field from a long-removed train track. Remnants of that line were in evidence all over during the time of my childhood, mostly in the form of rails still embedded in the road whereas the rest of the tracks had long been taken up.

Anyway, I forgot about it shortly after seeing his pictures. If there’s one thing old age does it’s make it easy to forget. Besides, I would never be going back there again so I wouldn’t be getting any pictures of that trestle – even if I could hike to it. A small part of my mind (about all that’s left of it) wondered if I ever had? But no, even if so those images would be lost along with the thousands of others that disappeared.

Lately I’ve been going through the few old pictures I have found, and in a pure case of serendipitous Zen (or something) … well it’s unbelievable but there were some pictures of that old railroad trestle! These were on some Kodachrome slides, and they didn’t fare well. They are in B&W now because the colour was horrific and two of the images had severe light streak damage, which makes me think it’s another test roll from one of the 60+ 35mm cameras I’ve owned. They weren’t all winners.

The trestle itself was a stone structure built to carry the tracks over a small, permanent stream. It is way off the main highway – and was even further off before they put Rte. 63 through there. I doubt anyone else knows it’s there, not even whoever owns the land now.





(I don’t really know what that last bit is, but it was near the trestle.)

As you can see, it was a bit the worse for age and lack of maintenance even back then.

There are other stories connected with this trestle, the old rail line, and the days of my youth, but the amazing thing here is that I came across these few photos of it. There were a lot of relics of the past hanging around the area when I was young, and I didn’t think to photograph them then. Too late now. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, except for the sensation of angst that comes with it.


After the nice results with taking a picture of the wild rose thorn using the $6 Canon, I decided to try other cameras on the same subject to see how sharp they are. So here are the results in ‘alphabetical’ order.

Canon T100 – remarkably sharp
Canon PS A70 – nicely sharp for a cheap old camera
Fujifilm F80 EXR – no good at close-ups
Kodak P850 – pretty good for an old 5MP ‘bridge’ camera
Kodak V1003 – cheap point-n-shoot does better than some
Panasonic Lumix ZS60 – epic failure; the worst of the lot
Nikon P610 – knocks it out of the ballpark

The shooting method was consistent but not perfect: I set the ISO at 100 and let the camera pick settings (noticeable in variations of exposure). Focus was in automatic close-up mode, again trusting to the equipment. Not zoomed, but due to differences in wide-angle focal lengths and inconsistencies with framing from one camera to another (it would be nice to set a piece of this up on a stand so the distances would be the same for all) the composition varies quite a bit as does the size of the stalk represented. Some of the cameras could go much closer than others, for example. All pictures are 640×480 segments of 100% sized images, regardless of the total pixels. I tried multiple shots when needed and picked the best from the bunch. In the case of the Lumix, that’s pretty sad to report; it really doesn’t do good at this despite my having got the occasional decent close-up from it.

An old test of an old camera

One of the batches of slides I came across is labeled “Exa I test”. The Exa I was an Exacta ‘cousin’; a much simpler SLR that used the same lens mount and finders but had only a four speed ‘guillotine’ shutter. It was quiet as a mouse, and thus that was the nickname it earned. The one I had came with a Meyer-Gorlitz Primotar 50mm f3.5 lens, which is most likely what the test roll was shot with. Primotar was Meyer’s version of the Zeiss Biotar lens, the name being a portmanteau of “Primoplan” (their best lens) and “Biotar”.

The film itself is Kodachrome 64, and it hasn’t held up well over the years. It’s gone dark and contrast-y with a decided colour shift towards blue (a trait usually seen in Ektachrome) and some significant ‘blowout’ in the highlights – despite genuine Kodak processing. With some careful post-scan reworking I managed to get some images, but they don’t really do the camera justice. No doubt I used a light meter for these, but I had so many of them there’s no way to tell which one.

How now brown cow?
Small fry
Speckled cow
Downed tree
Primitive milk cooler
Lichen to a rock
Unprocessed: I like this one the way it is
Desolate landscape
Alternative power

I probably should have kept that camera just to have it, but as with so many others …

C’est la vie.


Some shots from the Panasonic Lumix ZS60.

Dime Moon
From Under Snow
Snow’s off the high ground
Random Patterns

That last one is, I think, one of the best photos I’ve taken in a long time. It may be hard for some people to make out, as it is quite complex, but that’s actually light coming through a cylinder of ice (icicle segment). This despite the fact the Lumix has the worst lens of any of my cameras. This is the best image I’ve ever taken with it.


Car spotting

I’m going through a few old slides, looking for anything worth saving. It seems slide film doesn’t keep even as well as prints as most of them are faded and contrast-y. Not to mention a tad dirty as well. Part of the charm I suppose.

Anyway I came across a half dozen old shot of cars taken back in the 1970s most likely. In some of them the backgrounds are pretty interesting too, showing then-new vehicles which now qualify for collector plates. Also you’ll see an old photo processing kiosk behind the Corvair. The picture of the Barracuda has someone delivering newspapers in it!


1974 Porsche 914 that belonged to my brother’s then girlfriend. I spent a lot of time driving that car – and fixing it. Notice how one image has stood up better than the other, despite being shot in sequence on the same roll of film.

196? Chevrolet Corvair

With a Foto Express, Happy Motoring Exxon station, and a ‘recent’ Japanese import.

1956 GMC

This old truck sat abandoned in town for a very long time before disappearing one day. I suspect it was one of those cases where the owner kept it ’til he died even though he couldn’t use it anymore.

1972 Plymouth Barracuda

Not a hemi! As I recall it had a 440 & six-pack. Used to visit a neighbour on our street from time to time.

1968/9 Rambler American

These were very nice cars. My brother had one. He hated it because he had to buy it for transportation and it was very dull – and it refused to give up functioning.

Porsche 356

Not sure of the year on this as they didn’t change much or often. Around 1960. It belonged to friends of our across-the-street neighbours and used to park in front of our house often. We certainly didn’t mind.

I have more slides to go through, but not more of cars.