A little while back I wrote about experimenting with AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 at different exposures.
Since then, I’ve been trying Vista Plus as a black and white film.
First, some background as to why –
- Cheap film. AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 is the cheapest film available – £1 a roll at Poundland. I have plenty stocked in my freezer. When film is this affordable, it encourages me to experiment with it more. As stocks of other film I have dwindle, it’s likely I’ll be shooting Vista Plus more and more.
- Cheap processing. Colour Negative (C41) processing is also currently affordable and readily available. My nearest Asda – around 9 miles away – has a Fuji minilab and they process my film and scan to CD. I’m more than happy with the standard for my uses.
I have four films processed at once, and scanned to the same CD. This works out at £3 per film.
- Expense of pure black and white. Conversely, black and white (b/w) film is far more expensive to buy and process.The cheapest black and white film is probably something like Fomapan, which is about £3 a roll if you buy in bulk.
To have it developed I either have to drive much further to a lab, or send via mail order. Either way, it’s about £10 per film, plus postage/fuel/parking costs.
So if I shot and processed four rolls at a time, it would cost a minimum of £12 for the film plus around £45 for processing, a total of £57. Gulp. Which is £14+ per film. Being a cheapskate, currently, I can’t justify this cost per roll of film.
- CN b/w isn’t working. I have in the past shot a fair few rolls of the CN b/w film that can be processed as Colour Negative (C41) – Kodak BW400CN, Fuji Neopan 400CN and Ilford XP2 Super. There are three reasons I’ve stopped doing this.
First, the film itself costs more than “pure” b/w film, at around £5+ a roll.
Second, although the processing is cheap, you end up with images with a colour cast – either green, purple, brown or somewhere in between. I then end up desaturating these to get just b/w images. I realised if I was going through this step anyway, why not use a cheaper colour film?
Third, the results, whilst good enough, are not sufficiently impressive to use this film over colour negative film desaturated to b/w.
We’ve talked about the whys then – largely the affordability of this method compared with using pure b/w film.
Let’s move on to how I shoot colour negative film as b/w, and the associated mindset.
It’s easier here to explain what I don’t do. I don’t load a roll of Vista Plus colour film, then walking around shooting it as colour film, then once it’s processed, converting the images to b/w, just to see if any of them might just look better in b/w than colour.
For me, shooting colour and shooting black and white have different mindsets. If you’re shooting black and white, you need to commit to that mindset the moment you load the film.
Whilst there are aspects common to both – composition, subject matter, textures and so on – with colour film I’m looking for interesting, vibrant colour. I’m curious about how this colour will be rendered in the final image with this particular camera, lens and film combination.
This is why I photograph a lot of red post boxes and telephone boxes – they’re often a very vibrant pleasing red!
With a b/w mindset, I’m looking for for shapes, contrasts, shadows and more.
With a film camera of course it doesn’t matter what film is in the camera, you can choose a colour or b/w mindset when you’re shooting it, unlike a digital camera where you might switch the camera itself to a b/w mode to aid shooting.
I much prefer trying to translate the colour world around me into b/w in my head – the reward when it works is much greater than having let the camera visualise for you.
(I confess that back in 2011 before I’d shot my first roll of film, I used a fantastic little Nikon Coolpix for all of my photography. It has a high contrast monochrome mode, which I used extensively.
Whilst I don’t do this with digital cameras now, with hindsight I’m sure the thousands of photographs I shot with Coolpix on its b/w mode helped me see the different kind of qualities of a composition that work better in b/w.)
So, when I load a roll of Vista Plus intending to shoot b/w, I just try to have that outlook and mindset as I find and capture photographs.
Finally, how I turn images shot with colour film into black and white.
Obviously the CD I get from the lab has all the images in colour, it’s a colour film. I simple open the whole batch, and in Preview on my MacBook choose Tools > Adjust Colour and slide the saturation right down to the b/w end, then save. I then browse through the images in my usual way and decide which I might want to share.
I have no idea whether there’s a better way of doing this with Photoshop, Lightroom, or anything else, and at this point don’t much care.
I just want a simple process to extract the colour from the images, and this works.
My workflow for processing film photographs is – insert CD, copy and paste all the images to an “unposted” folder on my desktop, then using the original negatives and my notes on which film I shot with which camera and where, put the images into subfolders, eg “2016_10_01 OlympusMju1 AgfaPhotoVistaPlus200 as b/w”.
Again, I’m sure there are ways to use Lightroom for example to have a highly polished workflow, but I just like to keep it simple, and this works. Plus the less time I can spend post processing, the better!
So how do I feel about the AgfaPhoto Vista Plus I’ve shot as b/w so far?
In short, I’m very happy.
I’m sure some will be horrified at the the thought of shooting b/w images without using b/w film. A while ago I was!
But for my level of photography (enthusiastic amateur), and my limited budget, Vista Plus is looking a very workable option for shooting b/w.
I’m not going to pore over my older images shot with Kodak TMax or TX and compare contrast, grain or anything else, because I’m happy with how the Vista Plus images are.
Plus again, TMax or TX now would cost me £15 a roll to buy and process compared with £4 for VistaPlus. And for someone who loves using film cameras as much as I do, I’m not about to cut my shooting rate in quarter.
Have you tried anything similar, shooting colour film as b/w and converting?
Let us know your experiences in the comments below.
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22 thoughts on “New Experimental Vistas – Black & White”
Hello, some great images there. I’ve used Agfa Vista for B&W, have set up a preset in Silver Efx. :>)
That’s good to hear! Have you tried any other films in a similar way?
Hello, yes Fuji Superia 200 asa and Fuji Reala 100 asa which I have a box full in the fridge, they both seem to convert well to B&W. :>)
I just bought a small batch of Reala actually so I’ll give that a try too.
I’m enormously inspired to try this. I shoot miles of Fujicolor 200 (the same film as Agfa Vista Plus 200). It’s usually the least expensive film available to me; I can get it for about $2.50 a roll. The local grocery and drug stores no longer offer cheap processing here, though, which is a bummer. But I’m still inspired to shoot Fuji 200 with a b/w mindset, desaturate the scans, and see what happens.
Jim, that’s really exciting to hear! C200/ Vista Plus 200 really is very versatile, and I’m keen to explore its range of uses.
I think the b/w mindset is key, and shooting as if you have b/w film in the camera. For me it really changes what I look for.
I haven’t shot much b/w for the last couple of years really because of the expense, but now I’ve got pleasing results with Vista Plus 200 I expect to shoot a lot more, probably more than colour. I think compact cameras especially seem to excel when shooting b/w and seem sharper than when shooting colour somehow. Maybe it’s a trick of the eye!
Following conspicari’s comments above, I’m going to try some Fuji Reala too.
I plan to do another post in this series, using Vista Plus as redscale. I’ve used it for this before, now I want to do a more measured experiment, and try at different exposures like I did in the previous “New Experimental Vistas” post shooting it straight. So watch out for that one.
Nice article Dan. Your external processing cost are higher than mines. I looked at this with APX100 http://austerityphoto.co.uk/agfaphoto-apx100-canny-bw-or-not/ and the one thing you haven’t factored is that your paying to process 24 exp compared to 36exp with B&W film so you need to factor the costs of 3 £1 rolls of AVP200 to 2 rolls of B&W or C-41 B&W (unless your importing cheap expired BW400CN 24 exp rolls)
Thanks Alan. Re the no of exposures, actually the Vista Plus 200 I’ve been shooting is a batch I must have bought a year or two back and frozen, as they’re all 36exp rolls. But yes you can only get 24exp rolls now in Poundlands near here.
The CN b/w film I’ve shot with most in recent times is Ilford XP2 Super, which is more often in 24exp rolls. Again I think I bought a batch of this a while back and it’s all 24exp rolls.
So I didn’t take the no of exposures into account with calculating future costs of this method, but actually comparing the CN b/w 24exp rolls to Vista Plus 36exp, it’s even more cost effective than comparing rolls of the same no of exposures!
Still, with 24exp Vista Plus compared with 36exp pure b/w, both the purchase and processing costs still make it far cheaper, for me.
Dan, your posts always make me more thoughtful about what I’m trying to achieve, both in terms of cameras and photos. Thanks so much
Thanks for letting me know Stu, that’s great to hear.
[…] Film photographer Dan James has been experimenting with a new black-and-white film: Fujicolor 200. That’s right. He shoots with a black-and-white mindset and then desaturates the scans on his computer. The results are entirely credible. Read New Experimental Vistas: Black & White […]
Great idea. I went a different route and bought the equipment to process and scan black and white film. It didn’t take longreat to pay you for the equipment. I now have a full fledged darkroom and print my own black and white photos. Very satisfying to control the whole process.
Bob, thanks for commenting. I certainly wouldn’t rule that route out in the future for me, but currently I don’t have the time/space/inclination to do so.
If you want to shoot a lot of b/w though it makes sense completely, economically and for the control and reward you talk about.
Do you use bulk film, I believe this is a way to further reduce the cost?
Bulk loading is cheaper depending on film. It also gives you ability to roll short rolls if you want.
[…] Despite all the great color I found in these buildings, I shot them with black and white in mind. Perhaps I’m inspired by the recent work of photo blogger Dan James, who’s been desaturating Fujicolor 200 as an inexpensive way to get black and white photos. […]
[…] New Experimental Vistas – Black & White […]
A clever approach to B&W photography for sure.
Back home in Norway this would not work, though. No labs left to process C-41 unless you spend a fortune and ship your films away, so that option is totally out of the question for me. Cheapest way to work with film for me is to get film as cheap as possible and do all the developing in my own kitchen. The developing cost me next to nothing, but is a bit time consuming of course. I also do C-41 but not too often. I should get some new chemicals actually, because I got quite a number of C-41 rolls towering up at the moment.
Still, for you I understand this is a cheap and great way to get your B&W shots on film, which is great I think.
Maybe one day I’ll have my own little darkroom, but it’s not very feasible currently with the kids and space we have. While I can, I’ll continue to use local labs.
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[…] Same ability to astonish when you get your scans back and wonder if you mixed them up with photographs shot with an SLR (especially when shooting colour film as black and white). […]
[…] In fact, though this two part post is about my digital set up, the Ricoh has impressed me so much it’s got me think about my film cameras. The last time I shot “proper” black and white film was maybe two years ago. Since then, all the rolls I’ve shot have been AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 – a colour negative film – then desaturated to b/w. […]
[…] decided to try shooting colour negative film and having it processed as usual, then making a simple conversion to b/w afterwards with the scanned […]