5.02.2016

Fun with Film: Vari Interesting, Varicath Vari•X from Labeauratoire

Experimentation can be a wonderful thing in the world of film photography.  Were it not for such experimentation of decades and centuries ago, the hobby itself would not even exist.  

I've been in something of an experimental phase as of late, and while I'm not quite to the point of making my own film yet (though I've admittedly considered it) or doing wet plate prints or the like, I have been finding more interest in black and white photography using "unconventional" films that may render a slightly more vintage or distressed look.

I did some browsing at Lance Rothstein's Labeauratoire, and discovered a number of such films that could facilitate this hunger, and tried out a few.  One of these, which I was admittedly on the fence about getting until moments before check out was a film called Vari•X, a low speed film that was originally intended for cineradiography use, but which was purported to give a particularly great look for photographic applications.  I inevitably took the plunge, and loaded the film into a late 1950's Kodak Retinette to see just what it could accomplish.


The results that came back after processing were decidedly delightful.  A bit of staining marked the images at random points, while the top and bottom borders had a pleasing vintage vignetting to them. The rendition and contrast were particularly snappy and grain was quite fine yet struck a great balance of tonality.  The low speed allowing for limited depth of field helped round out the look of the images.

Below are a number of my results from this fun film.  It should go without saying that I am picking up some more of this fun film!
 I started out my photographic journey with this film on the Battlefields of Antietam near Sharpsburg, MD.  The film immediately impressed me on its return with its rich and striking tonality.




Not sure if the light leak here is the result of the camera or film, but in this case, I actually kind of like it.  

A pair of shots of the same scene but with different focusing points shows the versatility of such a slow speed film, even under full sunlight. 

Half hidden in a clearing was this old sign east of Antietam, which makes a very fitting vintage subject for the rendering of this film.
  
 I later took the time to photograph one of my favorite "Lunch time" buildings, the Carnegie Library in Washington DC.  The film struck a look that was quite contrasty without the blowing out of highlights of the image.  

A few more images of the library building and some of its architectural details.  The zone focused Retinette and its Reomar lens did a great job of working with this film to create some very pleasing images.  

The staining is most evident in this image of a church in Washington, DC.

An indoor shot renders dark but barely usable, and certainly with that same retro look. 


I pass these old farm buildings in Damascus, MD regularly on my Varied Commute, but finally took the time to stop and get a few photos of these old structures on an overcast day.  The film did a great job of not drowning shadowed elements of the photos in darkness, and kept up a deliciously gloomy look. 

Classical statuary in our nation's capitol always provides a suitable subject for some vintage styled black and white film.  The statue of Nathanael Greene in Stanton Park gives me a striking subject on which to try the film with great success.

A neighborhood shot in Washington exhibits a snappy contrast as well as some odd sky artifacts.

A farm in Bartonsville, MD provides a vantage point for this striking image shot in late afternoon light.

Some wandering around off the beaten path near Creagerstown, MD reveals this forlorn farm scene which the Vari•X renders with a particularly nice vintage vibe.

As the film is slow, it is best not to rush with it.  I spotted these old abutments from the Hagerstown and Frederick Railway's line to Thurmont and tried to get a quick snap between traffic, only to get a marginal shot thanks to motion blur from my haste.

Will Vari•X replace your favorite film? Probably not.  Will you want to use it for photos of your child's birthday party?  Absolutely not.  Will it give you a fun experience to combine it with a classic camera and shoot scenes of old on this unique film?  Absolutely.  As long as you are ready and willing to deal with a little of the unexpected such as vignettes and splotchy artifacts, this film will reward you with some very compelling images.  I would highly recommend picking up a few rolls to enjoy!