An article about learning to love photographic mistakes may not be completely interesting to all of you reading this. Stay with me for a minute. My promise to you is that at the very least, I will end with my feelings on Catlabs X-film 80 as they specifically relate to my experience with the ONDU pinhole. In between here and there, I’ll take you on a little trip, just like any (hopefully) good storyteller…
When I first reached out to EM about writing this up, I had thought it would be a 5 Frames… recap of my outing with my new ONDU 612 MULTIFORMAT. I was going to set the scene a bit, describe the experience of the captures and then describe my feelings towards the film. I had also prefaced my chat with him saying, this wasn’t going to be a “perfect results” article. More like an “if you squint we can say its good enough for the most part” article. Upon starting it became clearer I had more to say about the whole experience than I had originally thought, and the results weren’t as horrible as I had originally resigned myself to.
Let’s begin at the beginning…ish.
Pinhole photography has been of interest to me for a while now, probably starting around 2008 when I was lucky to stumble across the work of Wayne Martin Belger and his intricate pinhole cameras. The soft eerie-looking images he created with the handbuilt cameras and the stories behind the projects were captivating. But that style of images never seemed to fit into my “vision” of my photography.
I was at a stage where I was still learning how to see scenes, construct meaningful and thought out images and in all honesty, learn how to use the cameras I had effectively. In 2019 I took the plunge and joined the ONDU Kickstarter for a chance to get my very own pinhole camera. I hoped it might open new doors to my photography that had been lying dormant since that first spark of interest so many years ago.
As with all of the images in this article, you can click/tap to view them in fullscreen.
Since receiving my ONDU 612 MF late in 2019, it has become one of my most used cameras (when I get the chance to actually use my cameras). The freedom and unexpected behaviour of the pinhole experience has been utterly, well, freeing and thoroughly enjoyable. The look and feel of a recent experience with a roll of Catlabs X-Film 80 in my Pentax 67 impressed me and I thought it would be great to pair the film and my new Ondu on a trip exploring a local provincial park. And that’s where things went a little weird.
After running a roll of Kodak Tri-X 400 through the ONDU I was feeling good, basically unstoppable and convinced that even though those images would be stellar*, the images that I would end up making with the Catlabs film would be even more interesting.
* Keep in mind I had barely run a single roll through the ONDU by this point so I really had no idea what truly to expect.
Anyways, upon loading the roll of CatLABS X-Film 80 into the ONDU odd behaviours started happening. Attempting to advance the film to its start point was met with much more resistance than I had anticipated (based on my previous rolls) – what I can only describe as “sticky rolling”. I confirmed that both the uptake and the source rollers were moving while advancing and didn’t think much of it, so and began to frame and shoot the roll of film.
In hindsight, I suspect the CatLABS backing paper is thicker than a normal roll and probably “influenced” how the roll was picked up as it advanced.
Getting to the images I will share them in the order that they came off of the camera with all their “unique characteristics”. I should note at this point that I actually do really like how some of this roll has ended up, to the point that it has given me an idea for a project and the look that I want to get out of the project, though probably not with this film directly.
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I am also still getting used to just how one frames with the ONDU, though I am quite happy how accurate the FOV lines are to use, the concept of how close to the subjects you need to get is still foreign to me.
The roll shows some telltale signs that it has been affected by folding/crinkling along the edges (shockingly only the edges and the leader) and was not flat at all in the camera during shooting, the images do still offer something of a distinct mood.
I used the Reciprocity Timer iOS app as I have done many times before with my other cameras to calculate final exposure times, and used the Shanghai GP3 100 options. From my results, I do think they are quite underexposed in some cases and I have done my best through scanning to get them to what I want them to look like for the final images. I can’t be 100% sure if it’s miss-metering or a symptom of the film not being flat in camera etc.
A good friend of mine described some of these images as “what I would expect walking through the forest while taking magic mushrooms to look like”, and I can only begin to assume that’s accurate enough of a description. I cleaned up the dust and hair (damned cat) from the scans but left folds, pinches and any other imparted defects to the actual negative.
The film still renders in the way that I first enjoyed with the Pentax with clean contrasty edges, nice sharpness for in-focus elements and a distinctive grain for a slower than normal film. All of that really adds to the mood.
The fall-off from highlights through to mids is nice and gentle. The images show a more “softer” representation of the scene than the Tri-X 400 captured in the same conditions and general area. There is still a pleasant amount of detail left in the shadows and darker mids throughout the images, which I was able to bring back during scanning. I remember from my interview with EM, the description he used for my work, and one that I had never heard used prior to that case, was “haunting”. To my eye, this combination really smacked that button hard, albeit unintentional.
The biggest question that plagues me to this point: is this a unique case, or could this be repeatable? With the odd issues on advancing and the crumpling of the negative in-camera, I can’t really trust that I could get a similar output again and again but I do wish I could.
I am obviously quite torn.
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