Taking a Ride with Ilford XP2 Super

It was a pleasant afternoon this past Labor Day and since I didn't have to go to work it was a perfect opportunity to take a ride down the Texas backroads through some of the nearby small towns. Riding my Harley-Davidson Sportster and snapping photos are two of my favorite things so of course I had a camera along. While I love photography, when I'm out for a ride I don't want to be encumbered by a bunch of gear. Part of why I ride is get away from the distractions and baggage of life. I want to keep things minimalist and a bulky bag of camera gear slung over my shoulder goes against that experience. On this little trip my recently acquired Olympus XA 2 came along in my jacket pocket, loaded with Ilford XP2 Super black and white C-41 film.

Ilford XP2 Super is a new film to me. This black and white film is developed in the C-41 process just like regular color negative film. I'd never tried it because we are lucky enough in the Austin area to have labs that still process traditional black and white film. I figured why shoot "fake" black and white film when the real stuff is easily handled by my lab. Then one day I was talking with Matt at Austin Camera about the scans I get from them. Black and white film scans can be a challenge to work with for me. I always have to do a good bit of adjustment with tone curves and spot out the inevitable dust specs. Matt suggested I give XP2 a try because it tends to scan better for them. 

After seeing the resulting scans of my negatives I can see why he said that. The histograms for the images looked a lot better than the compressed tonal range that I usually have to extensively tweak in my usual black and white film scans. I mostly just had to deepen the shadow range a bit for my liking and lightly burn here and there. The images were virtually free of dust specs. The dust removal software in scanners doesn't work on silver halide black and white film but it will on XP2 since it is C-41. Nice! That's a huge time saver for me. 

The images looked very different from the traditional black and white scans. They are super clean with no visible grain. If I was shooting TRI-X (also ISO 400 like the XP2) I'd see a good deal of grain, especially in highlights. The highlights are crystal clear with XP2. The look is so different that I was initially tempted to add some grain in post. I decided against it because I'd rather present the media as it is. Adding grain to make XP2 look like traditional black and white film would be like putting molded parts on a motorcycle to make it look like a classic (I'm looking at you and your faux carburetors Triumph.)

I did one other thing differently in this film experiment. C-41 is a little less expensive to process than black and white film and Austin Camera has a sweet deal where develop, scan, and print 4x6s for a roll of C-41 film for about $16. That's a a really good deal. The only problem is that the scans are small at that price - just enough for a quality 4x6 print and plenty for web site use. I usually have high resolution scans done but that gets costly. I've got another reason for wanting to try those smaller scans out and I'll talk about that some other time. 

Here are a few favorites from that first roll of XP2. I should mention that I rated the film at ISO 200 after reading a lot of posts on the Internet. There is a lot of latitude in this film for over exposure so opening it up that extra stop helps to pull in more shadow detail. It seemed to work. Enjoy a few sights along some Texas back roads.

Exploring Granger and Bartlett

I went on a motorcycle ride with my good friend Mark recently.  There are a number of interesting small towns along the backroads near Austin and we took advantage of the relatively mild summer weather we've been having to make a few stops and explore a little. I led us on a path that took us through Granger and Bartlett. These tiny towns could use some renovation but I don't mind the rustic look. It's a pleasant break from the Austin cityscape - land of never ending condo construction. While it's a bit sad to see some wonderful old buildings in states of decay, there is something about walking the streets of towns like these that I find reassuring. It's a bit of the past that hasn't been leveled in the name of urban expansion.

Urban landscapes are a favorite photographic pursuit of mine. I've been challenging myself to look for interesting details instead of going after the big picture so to speak. I tend to shoot with a 50mm focal length lately, 35mm maybe here and there. That keeps me from running around snapping shots of whole buildings with a wide angle and calling it a day.  The tighter focal lengths make for a greater challenge in composition and force me to dig a little deeper in my explorations. In these 2 towns I looked for some of the little things - parts over the whole. Of course, it is always hard to resist interesting doors or windows. Some habits I won't shake.

Granger

Bartlett

Photos taken with a Fujifilm XF1, B&W red filter simulation.