When you're losing your light, but you still want to keep shooting without a flash or a tripod, you have to use fast film. Fuji Neopan 1600 is relatively easy to find and relatively cheap, but it still has the latitude to handle being pushed into "superfast" territory with pleasant results.
LSI wanted a review of fast film (higher than 800ASA), so I decided to get the fastest 35mm film I could find locally and do some shots that would be difficult or impossible to do with slower film. I popped into my local pro shop and asked the clerk at the film counter for the fastest 35mm film they had. She said, “Color or black and white?” I said, “Whatever the fastest you have is.” She said, “We have some Fuji Neopan 1600.” I said, “That’ll do.”
Fuji still makes 1600 color negative film, but it’s very hard to find. If you’re going to be shooting faster than 800 ASA, you’ll probably be using black and white. All the major film companies still make 1600 film and some even 3200, but these “superfast” 3200 ASA films are usually actually rated at 1600 or even a bit slower, but designed to be pushed to 3200. Pushing is a technique that lets you pretend that a film is faster than it really is. It comes at a cost, though. When you push black and white film, it makes it more grainy and contrasty. But, we’re lomographers, so that’s a good thing. Right? So, I decided to set my camera to 3200 ASA and tell the lab to push it by one full stop. I used a Canon EOS film camera with a 50mm f/1.8 lens. Most of the shots are handheld with no flash. I used the flash a couple of times to see how the speed of the film affected the reach of the flash.
This was the first shot I took. I waited till the sun was completely below the horizon, but the sky was still light. I tweaked this picture a bit in post processing to increase the brightness in the shadows. There’s some definite graininess, but there’s still a lot of usable detail in the shadows. Notice the writing on the beam on the left.
In this next shot you you can see a nice full range of tones all the way from the blackest black to the whitest white. You can see that the scene was already relatively dark because of the brightness of the “walking man” on the traffic light and the lights in the store windows and the neons on the storefront already turned on. You can still see details in the bricks and in the shadows underneath the overhang. There’s still a pretty good depth of field, so the lens probably wasn’t at f/1.8. This would have been a difficult shot to get without a high speed film.
I took this next shot from across the street. The sun was sinking lower, but this was still a back-lit situation. There’s no way the flash I had would have reached across the street. I had to tweak this a bit in digital post-processing to get some of the shadow detail, but that means that it was captured in the film. You can see lots of graininess, but at least I got the shot, and this was handheld and with no tripod.
In this next shot you can see that the street lights are on and cars have their headlights on. The downtown skyline is too far away to hope for a flash photo. I was crossing the street when I took this picture. I stopped, took the shot, then kept on crossing. I couldn’t set up a tripod if I wanted to. It’s a notoriously short light. I still got plenty of detail in the buildings. You can even see the scaffolding around the capital building which is being worked on.
Here’s an artsy fartsy shot of a pedestrian signal. The sun was by now well below the horizon, but I still managed to get a good range of tones without excessive grain.
These “Dia de los Muertos” skeletons were behind a window inside a store that was closed, No way I could use a flash through the glass. I was looking for a good black and white subject and the low light outdoors was working in my favor because it minimized the reflections in the glass. I could have gotten this shot with slower film if I had used a tripod to steady the camera, but it would have been hard to get the same texture that I got with the pushed Neopan. I think this was a very good subject for showing off the capabilities of a “superfast” film.
Two more street shots as the sun sets completely and the sky goes dark.
I took this picture of my favorite wife lit only by a street lamp.
These two pictures were lit by a parking lot security light.
Here’s another picture of my favorite wife lit by a street lamp.
This particular part of Austin, TX is a popular hangout for students. Some of them come here to have a coffee and work on their ‘puters. I managed to snag this shot without disturbing anyone. I’m sure they all would have noticed a flash going off.
Here’s another picture I took through a store window. This is a handheld shot. She was lit only by the display lights. Again, there are no reflections because it’s completely dark outside. This would have been tough without fast film.
Here’s my favorite daughter as a harajuku girl for Halloween. I decided to use a flash because she was a bit far away. It had no problem reaching her and lighting her evenly because of fast speed of the film.
This band was playing inside one of the clubs near “The Strip” which is near the University of Texas. I took this shot just using the stage lighting which wasn’t too good. Notice how bright the advertising neons are behind them. The guitar player was moving around quite energetically, but there is no blur.
I shot this tree from about five meters away in complete darkness using my Canon 220EX flash which is not particularly powerful.
I took the following two shots the next day at about “high noon” to use up the film. It was extremely overcast.
In summary: What can I say. I love fast films. They give you so many more options. This film was rated at 1600, but it yielded very satisfactory results when I shot it at 3200 with a one stop push. At 1600, the grain would have been finer, but I don’t mind the grain and contrastiness, in fact I like it. Neopan 1600 is a relatively cheap fast film and can easily be coaxed into being superfast. You probably have to switch gears and remember you’re shooting black and white, but that’s probably a good exercise for all of us every once in a while anyway, and for many of us that’s not a problem at all. That’s a feature.
Lomo on boys and girls.