Sunday, 2 February 2014

Rollei ATO 2.1: A Deepness in the Sky

Rollei ATO 2.1 / Olympus Pen

There's a shadowy subculture of unusual, culty black and white films, and today we're going to look at one of the most shadowy - one of the shadowiest, shadowest - because it has a very steep tone curve that has lots of shadows hence the reference to shadows. Got that? It's called Rollei ATO 2.1 and it's like using a big pair of scissors to cut out vast swaths of blackness from the fabric of space. It is a film defined by absence.

Although it looks as if I've dodged the number, the original scan was already like that:

It was originally devised as a lith film, suitable for reproducing graphics and for special effects; lith film was used to film the mock-CGI live action sequences in the first Tron film, and it was popular with graphic designers and photographers as a means of creating an airbrushed, CGI-esque look before actual CGI was cost-effective. ATO 2.1 is apparently rated at ISO 25 - the packaging is vague on this - at which speed it records highlights and blacks with almost no mid-tones.

If we've being honest, outside the context of lithography you could easily achieve the same result by shooting with conventional black and white film and then running it through Photoshop, and you'd have far more control over the end result. There's no point to lith film in 2014. But (long pause) no. I bought a few rolls because they were cheap, I will probably never use it again.

For the shots in this article I exposed at ISO 12, using my trusty OM2, fitted with a 24mm f/2, because I needed all the light I could get. EDIT: And several months later I took some rolls I had lying around to Lake Como, with an Olympus Pen; I exposed them at ISO 25, but there was more light. Most of the images have a scratch near the bottom edge, which I initially assumed was from the film rubbing against something inside the OM2. But the same scratch appears in lots of images shot by other people on the internet, so perhaps there was a bad batch of film. Perhaps this bad batch was supposed to be destroyed, but they were instead sold off cheaply on eBay. I dunno.

On a physical level Rollei ATO has a clear base, and once developed it looks like a strip of transparent plastic with shadows on it. Being a negative film, the black areas in the photo below are actually see-through on the film, and so you have to make sure that your scanner bed is very clean, because otherwise you'll have to spend ages cloning out the little tiny specks of dust that settle on the scanner bed. Dust, hairs, dead insects, cigarette ash, used tissues, mummified rats, drinks bottles etc. I even found a backup of NASA's 1970s Skylab space station, which appeared to be in working order, although in the end I contacted NASA and they agreed to take it away. The problem is that I have no way to put it into Earth orbit, and even if I could, what then? Perhaps I could have towed it somewhere and used it as a beach house. Would it float?

Too late now. That's Rollei ATO 2.0, anyway. You know, back in 2007 Sony launched a little gadget called the Sony Rolly, which was an MP3 player that looked like an egg, and it could fold out and do dancing moves. It looked like something from Portal, the videogame. Roul-ee or rol E? I don't know. It cost $400 and in twenty years it will appear as a footnote in popular history books about the 2000s, in order to illustrate the folly of the pre-crash years. Except that even in 2007 it seems to have flopped, so perhaps people back then weren't as stupid as they were.