I couldn’t resist trying this film. The truth is I am eager to experiment with any emulsion I encounter. But I sought out this esoteric option because of its cinematic heritage. You start on analog (or come back to it with joy), you become committed as a hobbyist, and you learn about a handful of unusual alternatives such as EASTMAN Double-X. If it’s good enough to depict Ian Fleming’s James Bond, its good enough for my street photography. The internet informs us that the Casino Royale movie relies on EASTMAN Double-X (official designation 5222) to establish its bona fides*.
You can order Eastman XX freshly hand-rolled from multiple vendors. It’s encouraging that the demand is sufficient for the market to supply the stuff. I obtained a sampler pack of funky film from Labeauratoire. This item actually was the least daunting to try (I’m not sure I’m ready for ISO 6).
I loaded the cartridge of twenty exposures — which turned out to be only eighteen — into my Contax G2, which, as usual, was fitted with the Zeiss Planar 45mm f/2 lens. I went out for a photo stroll through San Francisco, in the mid-afternoon sun. I probably should have planned more. But I’m making images of daily life for my own satisfaction.
Here are five frames of what I saw. I took the pictures at the suggested box speed of 250, mostly wide open. I had studied my medium beforehand. I understood there wouldn’t be the latitude I’d become accustomed to, on ILFORD HP5 PLUS, which I push to 1600, and, even then, use indoors in low light, confident I can tweak digitally.
The development was done by SF Photoworks, a shop I recommend. I scanned personally on a Canoscan 9000 Mk II set at 4800dpi. I have cropped a tiny bit. I also have made modest (but not zero) adjustments in post consistent with the aesthetic.
My conclusion is that I would be thrilled to be given another roll of EASTMAN Double-X. I’ll likely also purchase some more for another exercise. At its price point, however, I cannot afford to make it a regular addition to my personal repertoire. It’s worth sharing these samples, for others to decide whether it might be worth trying.
We should save this film for the special occasion. Perhaps it is best reserved for when you are sent to see the crooked station chief of your intelligence agency, to dispatch the news of his demise.
~ Frank H. Wu
* The 2006 reboot – that long ago? – of the 007 franchise starring Daniel Craig, taking up the mantle of “shaken not stirred,” had among the best pre-credit sequences of any entry in the series that has been running since long before the latest incarnation of the blunt instrument was born. That is satisfying a high standard since the openings are among the finest scenes within the universe of the British secret agent.
The black and white segment was shot on EASTMAN Double-X. It cuts between a cricket match in which the not yet fully credentialed spy notches his first kill and the emotionally clinical dialogue preceding his second kill. The figurative tone is set through literal tone. Feelings range from cool to cold.
This film is old school in the lack of subtlety, perhaps also appropriate for the ethos represented by Bond, in attitudes toward empire, women, and the utility of violence — the term “retro” does not do justice to the style. The fall off of white into black is sharp. The edges are hard. But that is the point. There is no ambiguity. Grain is not prominent. But mood is abundant.
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This series is being produced in conjunction with Hamish Gill's excellent 35mmc.com. Head on over to read the other half of these stories there.
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