5 Frames… Of Cinestill 800T at night (EI 1250 / 35mm format / Contax 159 MM) – by Dusty Traill-Forbyth

My father was a hobby photographer and had a beautiful collection of Contax equipment. As I progressed in my work, he started generously handing down his collection to me for my desired needs. The first item he passed down to me was this Contax 159 MM, a camera that has a reputation for failure some 20-odd years post-release. Of course, having sat in a closet since he’d purchased a Nikon F90X, this particular model was no exception.

Eager to use the fantastic lenses I had on hand, I spent days researching the potential problems my poor camera was suffering. Since Contax is no longer supported or serviced by any local shops, I was forced to scour online forums for a remedy. The majority of which, gave me the defeating advice that a mid-80s camera, with electronic internals, would be much more worthwhile to replace than to repair. However, there was a glimmer of hope. The shutter is magnetically controlled, and when the camera goes unused for extended periods of time, the magnets can corrode and fuse together. I’d never repaired a camera before and once I had the camera disassembled (far beyond necessary) the task immediately seemed impossible. Thankfully, a drop of isopropyl, a nail file, and some tenacity had the camera firing just as it did when it was purchased in 1985!


Where I’m from, fall nights are just over 6 hours long, so I began researching a film that I could really push to take natural light street portraits. Being a cinephile, and working in the video production industry, I promptly ordered as many rolls of Cinestill 800T as I could afford. Remarkably, this was the first I’d heard of the film, and since first shooting it, you will always find a roll in my bag.

For this shoot, my dad also “loaned” me his West German-made ZEISS Planar T 85mm f/1.4 lens for the job. The results were well beyond my expectations. The look and feel are, to me, reminiscent of ‘Taxi Driver’, with this roll metered for 1250, pushed 1 full stop in development.

~ Dusty

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This series is 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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Dusty Traill-Forbyth
Dusty Traill-Forbyth
TV Producer by day, film photographer by night from Edmonton, AB. Most of my work is taken at racetracks across the continent, or the streets of my freezing city.

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7 COMMENTS

  1. Agree with the6millionpman — also my favourite “special” film, and it consistently brings happy results. I’ve one shot left in a roll that I’ve been shooting over the past week…your images have me looking forward to seeing my own! Love that fourth image of the silhouetted women with bokeh’d background. Nice work, Dusty.

  2. You may want to check with Nippon Photo Clinic, in New York City, they work on my contax

  3. Hey Dusty, don’t you know that nobody uses the Contax 159MM? Well except me, I still have mine that I bought new in 1984, also the Carl Zeiss 85mm F 1.4 (MMG). I still shoot regularly with these. Also, I see you’re from Edmonton, I lived in Lake Louise and Banff for many years so we are ex-neighbours. BTW, Portra 800 pushed works really well at night with that combo. Cheers!

    • Haha, that 159MM has been the cause of a costly foray into Contax Titanium bodies for me. It’s a wonderful and under-appreciated camera, and despite now having some more desirable Contax cameras In my bag, the 159MM is still my go to. It’s always great to hear from a fellow ex-Albertan shooter! While shooting this set, I actually did shoot Portra 800 at the same EI, and the results were certainly pleasing! I just felt the Cinestill captured more of the emotion I was chasing! Cheers, and happy shooting John!

  4. These are lovely images, thanks for sharing. Cinestill is probably my favourite “special” film to shoot, always make sure I have a roll of 800T for special projects, I’d shoot it everyday if it wasn’t so pricey.

    • I certainly agree! Now that we’re into the summer months here, I’ve started shooting a lot of 50D. I like to shoot with films that are impossible to replicate with basic digital editing, so Cinestill has become a staple of my camera bag.


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