An X-Pro Project - Four Experiments in One

"So, um, how do you like that restaurant down the street?"

"I don't care for it?"

"Really?!? How many times have you been there?"

"I never have."

"Um.... Alrighty then!"

Such could very well be akin to the narrative defining my feelings on cross processing of slide film using C-41 chemistry.  I'd never tried it, and never really intended to do so either, as the idea seemed little "hipster gimmicky" to me, and I'd considered myself a photographic purist. In an almost defiant move to the notion of the idea, I'd even happily developed two rolls of Agfa Crossbird, a film that readily promotes use as a cross processing medium, in conventional E-6 chemistry.

In early April, while reading one of my favorite photo blogs, the Casual Photophile, I happened upon a post detailing the basics of X-Pro. In short, by the time I finished reading the article, the engaging Photophile managed to break it all down to the point where the idea of shooting a roll of film and then cross processing it actually sounded like FUN.  That is, after all, a big part of why I like to shoot film.  After posting my comments on the excellent article, he encouraged me to give it a try, hence the post that you are reading now.  

I had a few rolls of recently expired Velvia 100F 120 slide film lying about whose color rendition (when processed in E6) about which I wasn't exactly over the moon, so this seemed the obvious choice for a film medium.  I also certainly had a few dormant medium format cameras sitting about waiting for their next assignment.  I elected to choose the most "Lo-Fi" of them all, the humble Agfa Billy Record I, one of the very first folding cameras that I ever picked up.  With a slow and modest f/6.3 lens and only 3 shutter speeds, it seemed to be the ideal conduit for this part of the experiment.

Since this was a project centered on experimentation, it seemed like this would be a nice opportunity to broaden my experimental horizons in the process.  Since my Olympus PEN E-PM2 offered a "Cross Process" creative filter, I figured I would shoot comparable images on it using this mode to compare to the film results.  Finally, since I was going "Lo-Fi" with my look on the analog side, it seemed only natural to use an adapted manual focus lens on the digital body instead of an AF lens.  To closely match the composition of the focal length of the film shots, my most suitable choice was the widest of these in my possession, a 24mm f/2.8 Promaster lens that I've rarely used.  

Therefore, this one experiment actually wound up consisting of four experiments rolled into one! 
  1. Cross Processing Slide film, which I've never done before.
  2. Using the previously unused Cross Processing filter on my Olympus Pen.
  3. Shooting with the under-utilized Agfa Billy 
  4. Shooting with the under-utilized Pro Master 24mm lens.  


To minimize my risk, I elected to stick mostly to subjects geographically close to me, and ensured I had another film camera shooting in a more traditional process, so that I wouldn't be unprepared with a scene I wanted to capture as it appeared, while holding a camera whose film was dedicated to this alternative process.  This worked quite well, and I was readily able to carefully compose each image to largely align, and to properly record exposure notes.  

"Creating" the digital X-pro image was a pretty simple affair, mostly requiring me to push a few buttons on the camera interface to convert the raw camera image to a newly created JPG file using the cross-process filter.  I tried to shoot in varying lighting conditions, from full-on sun to rain soaked scenes.  Though the scenes mostly tend towards landscapes, I did manage at least one shot taken focused on a much nearer object.

In the end, the digital conversions in the camera are "neat" but tend to carry a uniform look to them.  At the same time, the images using the in-camera filter, which is meant to evoke the look of a film process, just don't seem to look as if they came from a film camera, even when using a less than crystal sharp manual focus lens.  The depth-of-field is too deep in the original images, and nothing the filter can do manages to offset this aspect.  It's novel enough, and as well to be able to take a "normal" shot and make a somewhat "distressed" version, but I can't see where I'd really want to do this.

The film versions, however, give off an entirely different feel to them.  Unlike the digital versions, which all carry a similar hike in contrast and a bias towards the yellow to blue end of the spectrum, the scans from the analog frames run a wider gamut that includes magenta and purple tones on some frames.  At the same time, the basic Billy camera, whose ordinary "guess-focus" Agnar lens managed to capture every scene with some exceptional sharpness right where I'd hoped it would, added in its own measure of unpredictable "lo-fi" attributes in a number of the images, from bits of light leakage from its waxy bellows to lens flare. It all added up to the perfect choice for this project.  

Below is each image set from the group, with a shot of the scene as it appeared in real life, as well as both digital and analog versions of the images following.  I hope you like what you see!  

Image 1:

How the scene appeared:

The digital "X-Pro" rendition: (f/8 at 1/400, ISO 200) 

The analog "X-Pro" rendition: (f/8 at 1/200)

My thoughts: I definitely like the tonal range of the film version better, as the digital version loses detail.  Interestingly, the color rendition of the film version of this shot seems to sit somewhere between the actual appearance and the digital manipulation.

Image 2:

How the scene appeared:

The digital "X-Pro" rendition: (f/8 at 1/400, ISO 200) 

The analog "X-Pro" rendition: (f/8 at 1/200)

My thoughts: The light leaks add a nice touch to the film version, though the overall scene is very heavily biased towards carmine red, with not only a purplish hue in the sky to offset. Tough to say which I prefer. 

Image 3:

How the scene appeared:

The digital "X-Pro" rendition: (f/11 at 1/125, ISO 200) 

The analog "X-Pro" rendition: (f/11 at 1/50)

My thoughts: One of the few in which I tend to like the digital rendering slightly better. Both do a neat job of involving various hues within their palette, with the film version almost looking like a faded 1970's slide, while the digital version just having some intensity within its green toning.  

Image 4:

How the scene appeared:

The digital "X-Pro" rendition: (f/6.3 at 1/400, ISO 200) 

The analog "X-Pro" rendition: (f/6.3 at 1/200)

My thoughts: Definitely more fond of the film version.  The warm tone works well with the shadows, unlike the sickly green of the digital version.  As well, the little analog glare remnant at lower left is something I kind of like.  I even prefer how I composed this shot a little better, with the trees in the right third of the frame. 

Image 5:

How the scene appeared:

The digital "X-Pro" rendition: (f/6.3 at 1/100, ISO 200) 

The analog "X-Pro" rendition: (f/6.3 at 1/50)

My thoughts: For some non-discernible reason, I'm a little partial to the film version, even if it looks more like a Redscale image.  What I'm pretty surprised about is just how sharp this lowly Agfa Agnar lens can render when shot wide open.  

Image 6:

How the scene appeared:

The digital "X-Pro" rendition: (f/8 at 1/100, ISO 200) 

The analog "X-Pro" rendition: (f/8 at 1/50)

My thoughts: A bit of a toss up to me, though I like the tonal range of the film version a bit better.  Both do a nice version of rendering a scene under some very drab lighting. 

Image 7:

How the scene appeared:

The digital "X-Pro" rendition: (f/11 at 1/400, ISO 200) 

The analog "X-Pro" rendition: (f/11 at 1/200)

My thoughts: No contest. There is something bizarrely surreal about the film version that I adore, despite it having a hue similar to Image 2.  This landscape appears almost other-worldly, with an infrared appearance to it.  Add in a rather jarring bit of lens flare and the result is something that, somehow, works for me. 

Image 8:

How the scene appeared:

The digital "X-Pro" rendition: (f/11 at 1/400, ISO 200) 

The analog "X-Pro" rendition: (f/11 at 1/200)

My thoughts: I wish I had gotten just a bit more of the foreground in the film image by composing slightly lower, as the tulips in the foreground were my focal point.  This intention gets a bit lost in the composition, so the intentionally blurred backdrop is overly dominant. The depth of field of the digital version is much greater, resulting in a much different look to both shots.  However, I still like the film version a bit better, helped in no small part to the happy accident of a light leak that makes the white tulips in the foreground appear to glow! 

So will I do this again?  I never expected I would even as I sent the roll off, but on seeing the results, I think that I totally would at some point! Since I don't always get to explore new territory with my camera to get new vantage points, this novel variance injects a fun way to capture familiar scenes in an interesting new light.  And it also provides the perfect conduit for a camera like the Billy Record, which is typically outmatched technically by its Zeiss and Balda brethren in most general situations, but has an ideally complementary profile to this medium!

Long Live X-Pro!