Ever since getting back into analogue photography, the Cinestill range of films has intrigued me. Living in Las Vegas, the City of Lights, I’ve been wanting to try Cinestill 800T for a while, but working a late shift, and the main interest of my wife and I being getting away from Las Vegas on my breaks (neither of us are night life/gambling lovers!), opportunities to shoot the bright lights have actually been fairly limited.

Lockdown meant that our opportunities to get away from the city were limited, and with the casinos being shut, we thought it would be the perfect time to experience the lights on the Strip without the crowds, and without putting ourselves at any risk. So, one night when I wasn’t working, we drove down to the Strip, intending to park somewhere close-ish and walk the mile or so to the lights. Turns out that we weren’t the only people who’d had that idea…

This being the early days of COVID, we decided that discretion was the better part of valour, got back in the car and went home with no photos. I’d already loaded my one and only roll of Cinestill 800T into my Certo Six intending to shoot through the 12 frames that night – and this put me into something of a dilemma as I didn’t want to leave the film in the camera, and remove the option of shooting a different stock, more suited to the bright sunny Nevada days. So, I had the bright idea of running the film through the camera twice, leaving the white, unexposed leader back on the outside of the roll. At this point, I had no idea whether I had ruined the film or not…

Then in May, I had my opportunity to shoot this film! Graduations not happening this year for the obvious reasons, our local shopping centre decided to run the local school’s colours on its admin building over the course of the month, as well as the obligatory red, white and blue for Memorial Day. With lockdown still in place, the carparks were dark, and I could set up my camera to frame the building with a significantly lower chance of being run over…

The building is only a 15-20 min walk from my house, so it was perfect for a post-dinner wander. I metered the scene with my phone, then knocked three stops off to keep the sky dark – f/8 at about a third of a second. I’ve already written about my challenges of keeping my Certo Six steady, even on a tripod, over long-ish exposures, so I was very careful when tripping the shutter.

When the month was out, the film went back in the fridge waiting for the time when I had enough colour film shot to justify a C-41 kit. Imagine my surprise when, a month or so later when I was just back from road-trip we went on with a handful of films to process, and C-41 kits were nowhere to be seen…

Some digging and investigating later, I decided to order a DIY ECN-2 kit from Conspiracy of Cartographers on Esty. Never having developed anything other than Black and White before, and having serious doubts about not only that roll of 800T, but also the vast majority of my colour film, which was either expired, very expired, or extremely expired (2002 Velvia 50 anyone..?) I decided to give it a go.

After acquiring a sous-vide machine to ease the water-bath requirements, I gave it a go with the film I thought would come out worse – the Velvia. It came out great! A bit green and colour shifted, but there were sharp images which scanned just fine. So the next film I tried was the Cinestill, fully expecting a fogged and light streaked mess. And again, it came out just great! I digitised the photos with a light-box and a mirrorless camera, flipped the colours in Negative Lab Pro, tweaked the first one in Lightroom a little to darken and de-noise the blacks, and that was pretty much it.

This is a film I will be shooting again – I really like the colours and intensity you get from the haloing of the lights. I really like the colours you get from this film and the ECN-2 chemistry. I’ve now still got the mixed chemicals in my photo cupboard with enough life for a film or three, and 2 more sets of powder on their way – as well as some unmixed C-41 chemistry sitting waiting to be used.

So there you go – my first colour processing, my first cross-processing, and my first time shooting Cinestill 800T. All things I will be trying again.

~ Alex

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Alex Morrison

Film and digital photographer in my spare time. Traveler all the time!

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