Friday, 15 August 2014

Olympus Pen: Ektachrome 160T

Way back a year ago - almost to the day - I had a look at the original Olympus Pen, a half-frame camera from 1959 that takes movie-still-sized shots on 35mm film. Have a read, go on. Half-way through using it I noticed that the light seals were going all squiffy, but luckily there's a chap in Japan who makes light seal kits for old cameras. He sells one for the Pen S, which was the original Pen's follow-up. The two cameras used the same body, so $8 and a few weeks later a package from Japan arrived through the postbox.

With a light seal kit inside it. Not e.g. used panties, although used panties might have helped plug up the gaps in the Pen's back. But I'd feel guilty about cutting them up, though. Guilty and a bit... well, what kind of man takes a pair of scissors to a pair of used panties? What kind of monster? Oh for heaven's sake yet again the blog degenerates into a discussion of Japanese fetish porn. Why can't I just stick to the topic?

Ektachrome. So to test out the Pen I grabbed some of the Ektachrome 160T I have lying about. I've used it before. It's a slide film with a blue colour balance, designed so that you can shoot slide film under orangey studio lights. It was popular with Hollywood but mostly fell into disuse once digital colour correction came along although Kodak still makes tungsten cine film. Inception, Mad Men, The Wolf of Wall Street, Avengers Assemble all used it to some extent. Does that mean that if you use tungsten film, the magic of those films will rub off on you? No, it does not. It means that you are imitating the surface of something that happened a year or more ago.

If you shoot tungsten film in normal daylight, everything looks blue. In the olden days you were supposed to stick a yellow filter on the lens to correct the blue, but I decided to shoot naked and use Photoshop.

Even with a lot of work the results aren't quite natural-looking. Red objects become very red, which I think is a general Ektachrome thing, the sky turns yellowy, the shadows are still blue depending on how much you correct the colour balance. The film expired several years ago, so I overexposed by a stop in case it had faded; unfortunately this was a mistake, and so everything was overexposed.

By a fluke this illustrates one of the classic tungsten film effects, as seen here. If you light the subject with yellowy light, tungsten film reproduces the subject with natural-looking colour but the background with a blue cast, as if the subject was a hot body in a freezing landscape. By coincidence also this reproduces the popular "teal and orange" look of modern Hollywood.
Why did I shoot Ms Peroni so much? I think it's because she has a 1970s look. Standards of beauty have changed since then and this kind of face is no longer considered attractive.
Also, it's disconcerting to turn a corner and find a giant face glowing at you when you are no longer taking medication.

But, again, Photoshop. Except that it has trouble with overexposed slide film, because slide film blows out destructively - the negatives look very faint, with transparent patches. Ektachrome 160T and indeed normal daylight Ektachrome are no longer made, so the only stocks are available used. If you find any tungsten film, have no fear of using it.

The Pen itself is great fun, not least because the vertical format is novel. And you get 72 shots per roll, which is just as frugal as it was in the 1960s. Back then people didn't have any money. Of course nowadays we all have money literally coming out of our ears, but Ektachrome will not last forever and I would like to make it stretch.

A novel solution to the Ukraine crisis - will it work?