In mid-December 2018, I released a call for questions for the latest EMULSIVE Community Interview, this time with the folks at CineStill in Los Angeles. You obliged and here are the results. I’d like to extend a massive thanks to everyone who got involved on both sides of the table.
From CineStill pretty much the entire team was involved with this interview in one way shape or form. They are: Brandon Wright, Brian Wright, Matthew Manus, Daniel McDonald, Andre Domingues. No group photo, folks, they’re far too busy 😉
The Q&A format
You’ll find each of the questions submitted to the CineStill team for review below. We’ll be starting with the panel questions and then moving on to those submitted by the community. I’ve done my best to provide credit for each question to the person/people who submitted them but if for some reason you’ve been missed out, please raise your hand so we can update accordingly.
Here we go.
EMULSIVE x CineStill community interview: results time
Panel question 1: David Allen
David: While it is always exciting to see new film stocks reach the market; the future of film photography seems inexorably hinged on the continued availability of chemicals, equipment, and cameras. In this regard, it was exciting to see you recently not only launch new developers, but your
sous vide machine temperature control system.
Do you have immediate plans on bringing any other non-film products to market and what would you bring to the market if money (R&D, etc.) wasn’t a concern? How do you see your focus split in the next 3 years regarding film stocks vs. other products? And, I suppose more philosophically, where do you see your role (roll?) in preserving film photography as a viable medium for years to come?
CineStill: We want to do everything we can to ensure the infrastructure for film photography is widely available. We just released powder packet versions of monobath and color chemistry.
The °CS has been well received, and this is still just the beginning for us. We want to release more tools that help the film photographer’s workflow to be more accessible.
Panel question 2: Jess Hobbs
Jess: I think it’s fair to say that, to the amateur or enthusiast photographer, motion picture and still photography used to exist in two parallel, yet distinctly independent-realms. When Cinestill 800T was first introduced to the world, a bridge between the two mediums was created.
For any photographers less familiar shooting motion picture film than more traditional emulsions, as well as those unfamiliar with movie cameras/lenses, which lenses have you found to be good companions to Cinestill films? Do various coatings yield different results? When it comes to gear in general, do you have any advice/experience that might be helpful in further bridging the gap between motion and still photography?
CineStill: To each their own. When it comes to gear we aren’t going to drag you down the rabbit hole. Lighting and composition are fundamental in cinematography and photography. Flawless lenses with the nuance of film will always be the best combination, but some films shine with certain lenses.
With highly dynamic films like Cinestil, we love high contrast, fast lenses. We have used cinema lenses, toy cameras, and have even modified many IMAX projection lenses to work on medium format cameras like the Pentax67 and Rollei SL66. In the end, it all comes down to the look you want.
Uncoated low contrast vintage lenses can compliment high contrast films like Ektar or Tri-X very well, just as much as a high contrast cinema prime will accentuate the subtleties of modern motion picture film. You must find the right combinations for your work. That’s why it’s so great to have more options open to us, whether it be optics, cameras, processes, film, or digital.
Anyone can capture an image, but only you can craft your own look. Cinematographers use every tool available to create their own unique voice.
Photography isn’t any different.
Panel question 3: Sam Cornwell
Sam: I came to realise just how many new film emulsions were reaching the photography market when I saw Analogue Wonderland’s recent story claiming they now have over 200 types in stock. It occurred to me that Cinestill, perhaps the most loved indie brand out there holds an unusual place in this buoyant and resurgent world of film.
Film stocks generally tend to fall into different categories of quality and style. Reanimated stocks like Dubble & Revolog have their place, as do community orientated B&W films like JCH Streetpan and Kosmo. There’s even a home for repurposed emulsion like Street Candy & Washi before we get to the big household names Kodak, Fujifilm and Ilford.
But where does Cinestill fit into all of this? During discussions with the panel, it was suggested it could be considered the creme de la creme of indie film stocks. However, taking into account its a re-engineering of an existing emulsion may put its ‘place’ into a different spectrum altogether.
Assuming this question hasn’t spilled out of me like an incoherent rambling, how does the Cinestill Film team see itself positioned in the market amongst all these other brands. Is it the Porsche, Tesla or Morgan of the analogue emulsive world?
CineStill: I’d say we are more like the cafe racer of film. We are standing on the shoulders of giants, but we contribute our own custom style and enhancements. Haha.
My lack of interest in cars makes me poorly equipped to complete your analogy, but I think I understand what you are getting at. It excites us tremendously to see all of the new indie film stocks out on the market. And it is truly flattering that people would even suggest that we are among their favorites! From our perspective, we have never really been worried about doing anything other than trying to give photographers more options. More access. That’s it really. But that being said, I think CineStill would probably distinguish itself from the other indie/”craft film” companies helping to keep the analogue wheels turning, by our fundamental approach to all our products, and I think that approach is summed up in the question, “Does it fill a void?”
Our flagship products, 800T and 50D, occupy unique positions in the still photography market. High-speed tungsten balanced and ultra fine grain cinematic color film. You can’t really point at another film stock that fills those gaps quite like Cinestill does. This not only makes them attractive, but it also enables people to shoot film in specific scenarios without cannibalizing other accessible film stocks. They fill a unique need. But we can also say this about our other products. Our Df96 Monobath and Color Simplified Cs41 kit swing the door wide open for people looking to make that transition into at-home developing. From what we could see, chemical manufacturers were just keeping the traditional chemicals available rather than trying to make home developing more accessible for people. People are really interested in developing film themselves, but they are often intimidated by the process and we wanted to demystify it, I guess.
We still laugh when we talk about one of our first videos where we developed color film in a little foot spa! We just wanted to show people that it can be simple and fun. Get creative!!! That eventually led us to the TCS-1000. Like many others, we had used sous vide cookers for controlling a water bath and we just kept waiting for someone to release something designed for heating chemistry instead of cooking. The market was primed for it – an entry level, low-investment, temperature control device that doesn’t require high volume processing. No one was doing it!!! So we said, screw this, let’s do it. We honed the design for over a year, keeping the awesomely compact body style of a sous vide, inserting the best heating elements for heating photo chemicals, and coupled them with firmware that was tailored for color film developing. People wanted to start home developing but they needed it to feel accessible. They just needed to process a few rolls. They needed a lower price point. The TCS filled all those needs.
So that really is where we feel that we differ. We look at the market, and if we feel like there is a need/void, we try our damnedest to fill it with something we’d use. We are not just about “fun and cool” films, we want to influence the entire industry and make shooting film as fun, easy and accessible as possible. Because, at the end of the day, more people shooting film is good for all of us.
Sorry for the long answer!
Community question 1: Russ McCabe
Russ: Can you tell us an easy way to remove the remjet layer as some films like Kodachrome can be used for B&W but are a pain to develop because of this layer.
CineStill: The short answer… It is “easy” for long lengths of film to be processed by a motion picture lab as intended in the design of remjet. But, the downside is that there is up to 5 feet of damage near any splice during the process (basically the length of a 36 exposure roll), which is acceptable when you are shooting a 1000 foot roll for motion. You are correct that it is a pain to develop film with remjet on it. We really explored it all before the conception of CineStill.
Motion picture labs splice film end to end, then run the film through an alkaline solution and use a mechanical step to remove the remjet, prior to entering the developer bath. If you want to try doing it yourself, you should soak the film in the ECN2 prebath and remove the remjet completely prior to the developer bath.
That means doing what a machine does in the dark by hand. If you leave the remjet layer on the film during development, it quickly exhausts and contaminates the developer so the film is underdeveloped and remjet can float off and stick to the emulsion. So the long answer is, it’s not really that “easy”.
Community question 2: Gary Paudler
Gary: Do you intend to introduce an archival print washer? I have a design that doesn’t require electricity and minimizes water use. It would be easy and inexpensive to manufacture, requiring no injection molds and very little assembly labor. I love your DF96 and the idea of making developing and printing more accessible to everybody.
CineStill: We haven’t entered the world of darkroom printing products yet, but we have printed CineStill C-41 in the darkroom and it prints just as well as any professional C-41 film.
Community question 3: Mike Kukavica
Mike: Have you considered (please) supporting native Vision 3 still photography, in other words, unmodified film and ECN2 chemicals? Availability of 120 without sprocket s would be excellent!
CineStill: Motion picture ECN2 processing isn’t just different chemicals, it’s a different process. The ECN2 process requires a prebath and remjet removal prior to developing. Without the prebath, the CD3 developer (used in ECN2) won’t be as active in the emulsion and will develop the color layers at different rates, because the alkaline prebath soaks into the emulsion and primes it for development. And if the remjet is not removed beforehand, the adhesive will have a reaction with the developer, quickly exhausting its activity and underprocessing your film.
Either way, the result is thinner negatives with color shifts. Even if you did just process CineStill film with a CD3 developer (instead of CD4 used in C-41) the film would be underprocessed and lower contrast and not compatible with traditional photographic printing. The C-41 process produces negatives with the correct contrast and color curves for still imaging. CineStill is made for C-41 and still imaging. Motion picture film is made for the ECN2 process and printing to motion picture print film.
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Community question 4: Chris Storey
Chris: As a newcomer to this film (but not to shooting film) who is interested mainly in street and landscape photography, what advice can you offer for how to best push your films to their unique limits to show what makes your films stand out compared with shooting normal C41 color or E6 transparencies?
Do your films like extra light, or subdued light? Bold and bright colors in the scenes? High contrast? I have an assortment of your films waiting to shoot and was drawn to their uniqueness. How can I exploit that uniqueness not available in other films to wow those who view my photographs?
CineStill: Firstly, it is best shot fresh and processed promptly. We are always making more film. Don’t wait to experience its uniqueness. CineStill films have amazing dynamic range. I’ve personally processed a photographer’s 50D that she thought was 800T and shot it at 1600. When the images were scanned there was still accurate color and virtually no grain! This is also why it is easily fogged by age and light.
All of our films can be easily pushed up to 3 stops. The specific unique look you are going for is up to you. 800T overexposed in daylight has vivid cool tones. 50D pushed 2 stops has nice contrast and what can only be described as bronze skin tones. Peruse our Instagram feed. The sky is the limit!
Community question 5: Dave Barnard
Dave: I too would like to see 250D. Although I can just as easily shoot Portra 160 I would like to benefit from the benefits of the 250D emulsion unless there is very little difference. Also, 120 as the other choice would be wonderful also.
CineStill: Portra is very similar to our testing of 250D processed as C-41. Almost identical really. It’s amazing, but why not support such great films that already exist? Our goal is not to compete with existing film stocks, but offer something that’s unique to get people to shoot more film in more situations.
Community question 6: James J Harris
James: What developer would you recommend using for the BWXX? I have tried Ilfosol 3 but feel the results are a little similar to Ilford’s FP4+. Admittedly FP4+ is my favourite monochrome film right now.
CineStill: The Df96 monobath was made for, and tested to make BwXX shine. I can’t really say any other developer on the market handles it quite as well. With Df96 you can get anything from ISO 200-1600 with very little increase in contrast or grain. But if you prefer the look of any traditional black and white developer with other films, chances are that will translate over to BwXX as well.
Community question 7: James J Harris
James: I have used the 50D film twice now and I am very impressed with the results. Plus I have two more rolls in the fridge to shoot some portraits with. My question is this, what drew you to use the Kodak Vision 3 50D film in the first place?
CineStill: 50Daylight is the finest grain color negative emulsion in the world, but it also has a unique look. We were drawn to 50D from shooting motion picture film. It has very neutral colors and cinematic tones. It offered something we couldn’t find with any other film on the market.
Community question 8: Andrew Townsend
Andrew: First the rave review: I love C41 CineStill! Beyond the two film stocks being stunningly beautiful, they are unique to still film being the ONLY color negative film slower than 100 ASA (50D) and the ONLY still film (+ or -) that is tungsten balanced (800T). THANK YOU FOR FILLING THESE VOIDS after the death of so many film stocks in the past two decades!
My question: Having dipped my toe into repurposed motion picture film, I have found that the only labs that process ECN-2 for still (I have only found five in the US) are simply removing the remjet and cross processing as C41. What is the difference technically and how do the results differ, disregarding halation. Can CineStill’s temperature control system process true ECN-2?
CineStill: The only reason you need to process film as ECN-2 motion picture film is if you are planning on printing to ECP film for projection in a theater. The ECN2 process is designed to create color curves that compliment Eastman Color Print film. The C-41 process is designed to produce negatives that compliment the contrast and color of RA-4 color paper.
There are huge differences between the ECN2 process and processing film with remjet on it in C-41 then removing it afterwards. The ECN2 process soaks the film with an alkaline prebath, softening the remjet and beginning chemical processing, then mechanically removes the remjet prior to going into the developer. The prebath prepares the emulsion to be at the right Ph for development, and the remjet layer also reacts with the developer, causing it to exhaust during development.
So either way, they will produce different results. Motion picture film is made for motion picture process, for motion pictures. CineStill film is for still photography.
Community question 9: D.W.
DW: It’s pretty amazing that two/three people in the world had the same dream and then go on to build a machine to help accomplish it. Were the Brothers Wright and Uwe Mimoun aware of each other efforts and machines?
CineStill: We were made aware of a few people trying to replicate what we had accomplished shortly after CineStill started gaining popularity. All of them utilized the easiest approach of simply removing remjet from motion picture film by running unexposed film through motion picture processors but omitting the developing chemicals except for the prebath chemical. Prior to releasing CineStill film we explored this concept and trashed thousands of feet of film this same way. Million dollar ideas come easier than successful stories.
These costly experiments were effective initially, but after just a couple of days the film began to fog. The prebath chemicals for removing remjet had contaminated the emulsion and were quickly fogging and desensitizing it. It made fresh film look like it was 30 years old. This was not what we were going for. We wanted a high-quality film that you didn’t have to overexpose a few stops. It took us almost 2 more years of R&D to design our own machines that would make uncompromised 800T.
We were not aware of Uwe until just before he released his reanimated films. He never reached out to us, but some of our partners were approached and we became curious. I’ve seen some cool sample images, but just like the cine films Lomography did a limited run of, our tests showed considerable base fog and reduced sensitivity. Unique results for sure, but definitely different than what CineStill was/is trying to accomplish.
Community question 10: Brent
Brent: One of the effects of removing the remjet layer is your signature red haloes on in-focus lights and highlights. Which can be kinda cool at times, but kind of a pain at other times. Is there any way around this, from a production or user POV?
CineStill: There is no way around this on the production end at the moment. Many people love the effect, and others avoid it by not having blown out highlights in their photos. The red glow is caused by highlight points, exposed beyond white and surrounded by darker tones (like streetlights or neon signs), refracting off of the back of the film base and exposing the bottom red sensitive layer. This can also be avoided by diffusing these excessive highlights, making them out of focus with shallow depth of field or keeping them out of frame.
Community question 11: Zach Morris
Zach: Do you feel that there is enough of a market for large format film for yourself and other companies to introduce new 4×5 products? Do you see that market growing?
CineStill: Absolutely! More film in more formats are on their way!
Community question 12: m00dawg
m00dawg: To add to this, if you do 4×5 C-41, might you also do a run of stock Vision3 (Remjet intact) for ECN2 development? Similarly, have you considered offering ECN2 home kits like some other labs (QWD Lab in particular) are doing?
CineStill: I believe we touched on this in the other questions. Long before CineStill, we did a lot of R&D regarding ECN2 processing. It’s not just the chemicals. The process steps are important. Even a motion picture lab service was a consideration at a point, but the ECN2 processing equipment isn’t compatible with short rolls, medium format or sheet film. We consulted one lab on the process but the results were not ideal. ECN2 processed film is for motion picture imaging.
We also tested half a million dollar motion picture scanners used to digitize films in Hollywood, but the images have to be stitched together since motion picture format is essentially half frame. It did not improve in quality compared to C-41 labs. We chose to pursue the best option that made the most sense for photographers.
Community question 13: Todd Reed
Todd: I prefer landscape, both color and black and white, and have used 35mm, 120, and 4×5 formats. I am currently focused on learning how to use the Mamiya RB67. I would love to try 50D for landscape, but I am struggling with the cost factor and what often is an availability issue. Our yellow box friends are half the price and readily available. Is there a future for 50D that is plentiful and lower cost? (i.e.– I’d hate to fall in love with 50D if it is limited and high cost!) Also, any chance of Cinestill producing a color IR?
CineStill: We try to keep the cost competitive, and volume helps with that. So we have been addressing the volume issue. We should be able to keep up with the growing demand this year. Our new facility in Rochester is capable of so much more. Quality is important too, and expensive. So we are doing our best to find cost savings and efficiencies wherever we can. The good news is that when you support CineStill Film you support the other quality film manufacturing companies as well.
Community question 14: Ben
Ben: Are there any plans to expand the range? It would be good to see 200T & 250D available, maybe Double-X 120 format. Selfishly, because I am about to get my Intrepid, is there any likelihood of seeing 4×5 again? (Please please please!)
CineStill: Yes, and no. But yes… Since you asked so nicely. 😉
And that’s a wrap, thanks very much for reading and if you took the time out to submit a question for CineStill, an extra special thanks to you.
I’m still working with Billingham and Intrepid to complete their interviews and with things having changed so much since the initial call for questions, I’m considering restarting the process – one of the challenges with dealing with small, very busy businesses, I’m afraid! Still, I take it as no bad thing.
I have a couple more Community up my sleeve and will hopefully be able to squeeze them in later this year but in the meantime, if there’s a photography business or organisation you’d like to see interviewed in this format, please leave me a comment at the foot of the page. By the same measure, if you have any follow up questions to the interview, please also post them below and I’ll do my best to get them answered.
Keep shooting, folks!