Think what you will about the whole Lomography movement, but you have to give them credit for doing their part to keep film photography alive. While Kodak struggles for survival, Lomography has managed to take an outdated technology and get people enthusiastic about it again, and do so with a successful business model. You may not like the photos, you may not like the hipster vibe, you may not like the overpriced plastic cameras, but if it helps film photography to stay viable and even vibrant, you can’t say it’s all bad.
The Lomography folks have put out a bunch of different films under their own label. Some of these are simply standard print or slide films, while others have unique characteristics that produce unusual and unpredictable visual effects. One of these is their Redscale film, an ISO 100, C-41 color negative film that (as the name suggests) produces photos with intense red tones. This is achieved, simply but cleverly, by winding the film backwards in the canister, so that when exposed the light travels through the red layer of the film first rather than last.
The effect is – as I suppose is intended, given Lomography’s stated love of unpredictable outcomes – rather hit-or-miss. When it works, the images can be quite effective; this seems to most often manifest itself in a very vintage look, and seems to be best achieved by very slight overexposure. When it doesn’t, the pictures seem overly dark and lose all shadow detail, or washed out and very grainy. It’s apparently quite sensitive to exposure, particularly underexposure, so you really want to make sure you’ve got your settings correct in a manual camera. It may be best suited for a camera with a metered auto-exposure (which is rather anti-Lomography, I suppose – try not to think about it) if you want to maximize your chances of usable images; based on my experience, I’d say overexposing by a half to a full stop is probably a good place to start. Even when you get the exposure right, there is not a lot of range; expect blown highlights and/or blacked out shadows in high contrast scenes. Ironically, to get good pictures with this film, you really need to pay quite a lot of attention to both the camera and the scene. Hipsters may not like the idea of putting that much work into their photography – it smacks of effort – but they can certainly appreciate irony.
It is a novelty film, to be sure. No one should expect the normal rules of color photography to apply here. It actually behaves more like a black and white film, except that you’re dealing with shades of red instead of gray. Depending on the colors in the scene, you may end up with very vibrant photos or rather muted ones, but they will always be at least predominantly reddish. Stick to outdoor photography with the Redscale; given the film’s intolerance of underexposure, at ISO 100 you’ll need either a flash or a fast lens to get much out of it indoors.
It’s fun to play with on occasion, maybe for fun holiday pictures or at a summer backyard barbecue, if you’re not too concerned with making sure you get everything out of every frame, and you don’t mind some unusual and unpredictable images. It certainly does give you new perspective on things, and you might just end up with one of those “happy accidents” the Lomography people are so fond of. It’s oddly freeing in a way; you know the results are at least in part out of your hands, so you just shoot and hope for the best. It’s also mildly irritating when you get your film back only to find that half the roll is useless.
I should note that the 35mm Redscale seems to be unavailable at the moment (late Jan 2013), but the 120 and 110 (yep, Lomography has revived 110 – more on that here in a future post) sizes are listed. There’s also a ISO 50-200 Redscale XR that behaves differently depending on exposure; this may be an effort to give the film a wider exposure latitude than the original. Apparently the idea of film emulsions that produce deliberately imperfect color rendering has spread: AGFA/Rollei are now marketing ISO 400 “Redbird” and ISO 800 “Nightbird” versions under their “Creative Edition” label, and Adox is selling their new “Color Implosion” ISO 100-400 film. None of these are going to achieve widespread popularity, but if you’re part of the fringe group (as if film users weren’t a fringe group already) that wants to experiment with new and different types of images, and you aren’t put off by the Lomography association, give one of these films a go. What’s the worst that could happen?
Have you tried Redscale or other novelty films? Tell Filmosaur about it!