Vancouver

I always love going to Vancouver.  There's a certain vitality to the city that's hard to describe.  Everything seems dewy and fresh and alive; the people are beautiful and active and fit.  The landscape - it goes without saying - is breathtaking.

What generally sucks is the weather.

A little side note: I was once playing golf in Vancouver.  We teed off in bright sunshine.  At the 9th hole, we had to run for cover from a driving rain storm.  On the 15th hole, we could barely see for the fog.  By the time we stopped for beers after the round, it was bright and sunny again.  Now, I'm not a Vancouver native, but I'm told that this type of 'all-four-seasons-in-one-afternoon' kind of weather is commonplace.  Certainly, the reputation of Vancouver (and the US Pacific northwest) is of colder, damp weather.  You generally put up with this because everything else is so damn gorgeous.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you: I have never experienced such beautiful weather as I did during the four days I spent in Vancouver at the end of July.  I don't think I saw a cloud the entire time I was there.  I brought a jacket and an umbrella, both of which I never needed.  Simply stunning.  There is nowhere more beautiful than Vancouver when it's sunny.

The trip didn't start out quite so auspiciously.

I had booked an early evening flight from Toronto, which, after the 5 hour flight, would normally get me in to Vancouver around 10PM.  Figure a 15 minute taxi to the hotel, 10 minutes to shower, and I'm in bed by 10:30, 11PM tops.

First problem: we sat on the plane - at the gate - for 3 hours.  Yes, 3 hours!  What had been a lovely late-July day in Toronto turned into a monsoon.  Lightning was spotted in the area, and the airport was forced to issue a ground stop (I suppose fuelling aircraft in the presence of lightning is bad or something...I dunno.  What do I look like, a scientist?).

So we sat.  And sat.  And sat.  The pilot assured us it would be 5 or 10 minutes.  Well, it wasn't.

Fortunately, the in-flight entertainment system offered 'National Lampoon's European Vacation', so I was set.  In the end, I watched 2 movies before we even began to taxi out.

Once we finally got airborne, I scarfed down my meal, downed a couple of glasses of Air Canada's finest red, and promptly fell asleep.

By the time I landed, de-planed, and got a cab, it was pushing 2AM, and I was absolutely exhausted.  Fortunately, I had scheduled my trip such that I had most of the next day to myself, and I knew that the beautiful weather was going to afford some excellent photographic opportunities.

On this trip, I took the Leica MP, my newly-acquired circa-1962 Leica M2, and the Mamiya 7.  Lenses were the Voigtlander 35/2.5 and 40/1.4 and 1946 Leitz Summitar 50/2 for the Leicas and the 43/4.5, 80/4, and 150/4.5 for the Mamiya 7.  For film, I brought Fuji Provia 100F (120 and 35mm), Agfa Precisa CT 100 (35mm; NOTE: this is rebranded Provia), Fuji Reala (a now-discontinued 100 ISO film; I shot my last 120 roll in Vancouver), Kodak Ektachrome 160T (120; a wonderful tungsten balanced film), Kodak Portra 400 (120), Fuji 400H (120 and 35mm), Kodak Tri-X (35mm), and Kodak TMax 100.  In the end, I shot about 25 rolls of film in 4 days; 10 rolls of slide, 10 rolls of colour negative, and 5 rolls of B&W negative.

While I generally see myself as a street photographer, I've been moving more and more towards a more comprehensive style of travel photography that encompasses street, landscape, and urban lifestyle.  I've recently been heavily influenced by work from people like Johnny Patience and Rebecca Lily (who together are a formidable husband-and-wife photography team), Joel Meyerowitz' large format work in 'Cape Light', and a few other photographers.  While I still love getting out onto the streets (and my upcoming New York City set will, I think, be a bit more street-heavy), that type of style just didn't seem appropriate here.

What follows are just a few of my favourites from the over 300 frames I shot over those four days.

I hope you like them.

In Defense of Slide Film

You know what is harder than being a film photographer in 2014?

Being a slide film photographer in 2014.  Slide film is expensive to buy, finicky and unforgiving to shoot, and expensive to process.  It offers none of the exposure latitude of negative film, and can only be processed by specialized labs (or at home, as I've discussed).

A roll of 36-exposure Fuji Provia 100F is about $10, which is about a 35% premium over a 36-exposure roll of Kodak Portra 400.  And unless you live in a major city with a pro lab, you'll need to send the film out for processing, which can get very expensive, very quickly.  At Richard Photo Lab, for example, developing a 36-exposure roll of slide film is a nearly-50% premium over 36-exposure colour negative ($12.00 vs. $8.50, at current rates)

And yet, there's this:

'Coal Harbour Morning' - Mamiya 7 on Fujichrome Provia 100F

And this...

'Canada Place' - Mamiya 7 on Kodak Ektachrome 160T

And this...

'Sunset over English Bay' - Mamiya 7 on Fujichrome Provia 100F

Yes, it's hard to be a slide film photographer in 2014, but the rewards of the medium are, in my opinion, well worth the extra effort.  Slide film produces such incredible colours and contrast, which I have never been able to equal with any negative film - even Kodak Ektar, which is the most 'slide-like' negative film I've ever encountered.

What follows is a short defense of slide film.  Perhaps one (or more) of these reasons will convince you to go out and try some slide film for yourself.

1. If you scan film at home, slide film greatly reduces your workload.

When you scan negative film at home (whether you home develop or not), you're often required to scan the entire roll to determine which shots are keepers and which should be binned.

On the other hand, slides can easily be previewed on a light table or, barring that, even just by holding them up to a light source.  Then, you simply pick the shots you like and scan just those.  Moreover, once you've scanned the slide, you're more or less done - especially if you've got an IT8 calibration profile target for your film of interest (Ed. - I'm currently working on a detailed video tutorial for this process.  Stay tuned!).  Simply apply the target in Photoshop (or similar), and you're done.  No inverting or correcting for orange masks required.

The only real downside to scanning slides is shadow detail; on some scanners (particularly flatbeds), DMax can be quite low, meaning the scanner doesn't "see" into the shadows very well.  Multi-exposure (available in most scanning packages) aids greatly in this regard.

2. Slide film gives you a 2-3 stop shutter speed boost at any given ISO vs. negative film

It's true, and it has to do with the way in which slide film is metered.

With negative film, the mantra is "expose for the shadows, develop/scan/print for the highlights".  That is, you simply key your exposure to the emerging shadows, and let the highlights fall where they will, safe in the knowledge that the film can hold the highlight detail.

With slide film, the opposite is true; the exposure must be keyed off of the brightest highlight in which you want to retain detail, and the shadows then fall where they will.

Let's look at a real-world example:

Let's say you're out shooting some street photography.  On a typical sunny summer day, an incident metering of the emerging shadows might give 1/250 at f/8 and ISO 400, while the highlight areas will be 2-3 stops brighter (on the order of 1/1000 at f/8 and ISO 400).  If you're shoot ISO 400 negative film, you'll set your camera to 1/250, f/8.  If you're shooting ISO 400 slide film, you'll set your camera to 1/1000, f/8, and have better ability to freeze motion,  Or you could instead use ISO 100 slide film and set your camera to 1/250, f/8, and gain the benefits of using slower film.

You get the point.

Yes, the slide film will produce more contrast, because the shadows will be 2-3 stops underexposed, relative to the negative film.  But if the important details of your image are in the highlights, then you may not care about those shadow details.  Moreover, you'll likely be adding contrast to the scan/print of the negative anyway.

'Shielded' - Leica MP on Fujichrome Provia 100F


3. Slide film is MUCH sharper and has less grain than negative film at equivalent ISO

It's true, and it's immediately apparent as soon as you see your first slide film scans.  That's not to say that modern negative films like Portra 160 or 400, Ektar, or 400H don't produce excellent, low-grain results (they do).  It's just that slides are that much better.  I haven't tested it directly, but I would guess than the grain difference is 1-2 stops; this is based on my experience with the late, great Provia 400X, as compared to Portra 400 and 160, which are amongst the lowest grain colour negative films available.

4. Slides can be projected.

This alone is a terrific reason to shoot slide film.  A well-exposed slide projected on a good quality projector is a thing of beauty; it's hard to describe how vivid the image is.  Even a good cibachrome (Ilfochrome) print doesn't compare.

Furthermore, because the slide can be directly projected, in theory you don't even need a scanner (thus reducing the overall costs of the medium).  In practice, you'll likely want to share your lovely slide images with the world, and thus you'll want a scanner.  But you don't need one.

5. The colours.

At the end of the day, it comes down to the final image.  Slide film produces images that are simply astounding in tone, texture, and richness of colour, while maintaining the 'film-like' qualities that we all treasure.  Slide film is unsurpassed in this regard.

'Untitled' - Leica MP on Fujichrome Provia 100F


I don't expect this short defense of slide film will convince you to switch over to it for all of your film photography needs; I recognize that the cost of the film and processing (as well as the inconvenience of having to send out the film if you're not doing it yourself) is off-putting.

But maybe - just maybe - you'll decide to take a roll of Provia 100F or Velvia 50 with you on your next trip, and see what all the fuss is about.  I guarantee you will not be disappointed.