Ilford HP5 Plus 400 | Pentax Spotmatic SPII | SMC Takumar 55mm F:2

This roll of film is the second roll of Ilford HP5 Plus 400 that I developed with The Darkroom. This roll was shot on my Asahi Optical Co. Pentax Spotmatic II and Asahi Optical Co. SMC Takumar 55mm f/2 lens.

NOTE: I'll begin this experience report with a brief disclaimer. It's been less than two years since I returned to shooting 35mm film after switching to digital photography over 20 years ago. I've inundated myself with as much film education as possible between web articles and advice from experienced film shooters. But, with my former experience way in past and limited recent experience, this review is coming from a relatively novice point of view.

UPDATE 13 April 2020: Hamish Gill of 35mmc suggested I may have a faulty shutter. In March, I had the camera CLA'd (Clean, Lube and Adjust) by Eric Hendrickson. Soon, I'll shoot another roll of film to see the difference.

This film is the second roll of Ilford HP5 Plus 400 that I developed and scanned at The Darkroom Lab. This Ilford HP5 Plus 400 roll was shot on my Asahi Optical Co. Pentax Spotmatic II and Asahi Optical Co. SMC Takumar 55mm f/2 lens.

Using the Asahi Optical Co. Pentax Spotmatic II camera was more challenging than using the Pentax P3. The Pentax P3 has a shutter priority mode, and my unit has a working light meter. When I shot using the Pentax P3 camera, I set the shutter speed to 1/250s, and the camera adjusted the aperture as needed. However, while the Asahi Optical Co. Pentax Spotmatic II has a working light meter, the plastic to move the lever broke, and the rest of the camera settings must be set manually. I used the Sunny 16 technique to estimate the shutter speed on the Spotmatic II to expose each Ilford HP5 Plus 400 frame properly. The Sunny 16 technique is something I only learned about relatively recently. I practised a little at home, but this was my first time using it in the field.

I took the Spotmatic II and a cartridge of Ilford HP5 Plus 400 to the client’s office building at Old Slip, about a block from Wall Street in Manhattan, and exposed some frames during my lunch hour. I walked around Front Street, Gouverneur Lane, and South Street. The rain was light which made for a challenging walk. I was concerned about the camera getting wet, so I walked across South Street and under FDR Drive along the East River Esplanade. It's an area I explored with my Fujifilm X-T2 last year using an Ilford HP5 Plus 400 film recipe.

Photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organisation of forms which give that event its proper expression.Henri Cartier-Bresson

I expected all my frames to be severely under or overexposed. The shutter speed of the Asahi Optical Co. Pentax Spotmatic II is limited to 1/1000s, but fortunately, it was a rainy, overcast (and cold) day in Manhattan. The images are slightly over or underexposed, but I'm pleased with the results. I feel proud I had the skills to use this old camera, but I want a small, handheld light meter to make metering easier. Given the shutter speed limitation, I have purchased a roll of ADOX Scala 100 for use in brighter conditions.

The images were developed and scanned by The Darkroom.

South Street, Manhattan, New York City
11 February, 2020 · Gouverneur Lane, Manhattan, New York City · Asahi Optical Co. Pentax Spotmatic II · Asahi Optical Co. SMC Takumar 55mm f/2
South Street, Manhattan, New York City
11 February, 2020 · South Street, Manhattan, New York City · Asahi Optical Co. Pentax Spotmatic II · Asahi Optical Co. SMC Takumar 55mm f/2
 South Street, Manhattan, New York City
11 February 2020 · East River Esplanade, South Street, Manhattan, New York City · Asahi Optical Co. Pentax Spotmatic II · Asahi Optical Co. SMC Takumar 55mm f/2
 South Street, Manhattan, New York City
11 February 2020 · East River Esplanade, South Street, Manhattan, New York City · Asahi Optical Co. Pentax Spotmatic II · Asahi Optical Co. SMC Takumar 55mm f/2
 South Street, Manhattan, New York City
11 February 2020 · East River Esplanade, South Street, Manhattan, New York City · Asahi Optical Co. Pentax Spotmatic II · Asahi Optical Co. SMC Takumar 55mm f/2
South Street, Manhattan, New York City
11 February, 2020 · Wall Street Ferry and Pier 11. South Street, Manhattan, New York City · Asahi Optical Co. Pentax Spotmatic II · Asahi Optical Co. SMC Takumar 55mm f/2
 South Street, Manhattan, New York City
11 February 2020 · CitiBike and Slip B at Pier 11, South Street, Manhattan, New York City · Asahi Optical Co. Pentax Spotmatic II · Asahi Optical Co. SMC Takumar 55mm f/2
 South Street, Manhattan, New York City
11 February 2020 · Bumper, East River Esplanade, South Street, Manhattan, New York City · Asahi Optical Co. Pentax Spotmatic II · Asahi Optical Co. SMC Takumar 55mm f/2
South Street, Manhattan, New York City
11 February, 2020 · NY Waterway Ferry, East River, New York City · Asahi Optical Co. Pentax Spotmatic II · Asahi Optical Co. SMC Takumar 55mm f/2
 South Street, Manhattan, New York City
11 February 2020 · East River Esplanade, South Street, Manhattan, New York City · Asahi Optical Co. Pentax Spotmatic II · Asahi Optical Co. SMC Takumar 55mm f/2
South Street, Manhattan, New York City
11 February, 2020 · Looking up at FDR Drive. East River Esplanade, South Street, Manhattan, New York City · Asahi Optical Co. Pentax Spotmatic II · Asahi Optical Co. SMC Takumar 55mm f/2
South Street, Manhattan, New York City
11 February, 2020 · Have a wet seat. East River Esplanade, South Street, Manhattan, New York City · Asahi Optical Co. Pentax Spotmatic II · Asahi Optical Co. SMC Takumar 55mm f/2
South Street, Manhattan, New York City
11 February, 2020 · Strutting pigeon. East River Esplanade, South Street, Manhattan, New York City · Asahi Optical Co. Pentax Spotmatic II · Asahi Optical Co. SMC Takumar 55mm f/2
South Street, Manhattan, New York City
11 February, 2020 · Pigeon in flight. East River Esplanade, South Street, Manhattan, New York City · Asahi Optical Co. Pentax Spotmatic II · Asahi Optical Co. SMC Takumar 55mm f/2
 South Street, Manhattan, New York City
11 February 2020 · East River Esplanade, South Street, Manhattan, New York City · Asahi Optical Co. Pentax Spotmatic II · Asahi Optical Co. SMC Takumar 55mm f/2
South Street, Manhattan, New York City
11 February, 2020 · Seagulls but not the seashore. East River Esplanade, South Street, Manhattan, New York City · Asahi Optical Co. Pentax Spotmatic II · Asahi Optical Co. SMC Takumar 55mm f/2

Ilford HP5 Plus 400

NOTE: I'll begin this experience report with a brief disclaimer. It's been less than two years since I returned to shooting 35mm film after switching to digital photography over 20 years ago. Between web articles and advice from experienced 35mm film photographers, I've inundated myself with as much 35mm film education as possible for now. But, with my former experience long behind me and limited recent experience, this "review" comes from a novice film photographer's point of view.

My Gen-Z kids think shooting 35mm photographic film is stupid.

When my daughter was about eight years old, my mom came to visit and brought a disposable film camera, which she quickly filled with images of her grandkids. When my daughter asked to see the photos, my mom explained that she had to develop the roll and order prints. My daughter looked confused, so I explained that we couldn't see the photos immediately. We have to wait until the camera can't take any more pictures, then take it to the photo lab, where they will "develop" the film with chemicals and create prints. Sometimes, we can get the printed photos in a few hours, and sometimes we must wait a few days. She asked, "Do we still have to pay even if the pictures are bad?". Yes, I said. Her retort, "That's stupid!".

I'll admit this right now. I was wrong. Shooting 35mm film can be fun. Let's be clear: I think digital photography is superior to 35mm film photography—autofocus, higher resolution, better quality lenses, size, etc. Digital is unbeatable. However, like with cars, sometimes using older technology can be fun, connecting to the past and sharing cultural experiences.

Asahi Pentax SP II
Asahi Pentax SP II · Sunday 9 February 2020 · Pentax P3 · SMC Pentax-A 50mm f/2

Because all the cool kids are doing it, which I know is a silly reason to do anything, I have been rediscovering film photography. Maybe my desire to shoot film stems from my father's passing last year and working through my emotions and memories of his photography; perhaps some is the challenge of relearning an old skill. Also, I thought it could be fun. Shooting film with old 1970s and 1980s era film SLRs, an Asahi Optical Co. Spotmatic II, and a Pentax P3 means shooting with no light meter and manual focusing without any visual aids and being limited by the speed of the film, which further limits the range of shutter speeds and aperture combinations.

Thankful · Sunday 9 February 2020 · Pentax P3 · SMC Pentax-A 50mm f/2

The last time I shot a roll of film was in 1999, shortly after my first child was born. My first attempt at shooting film after all these years was mostly a failure. But I persisted and recently completed shooting a 35mm roll of Ilford HP5 Plus 400 in my Pentax P3 using a rubber band to hold the film door shut. The images below are from that roll.

I mailed two rolls of film to be processed at The Darkroom in San Clemente, California. The Darkroom develops colour print (C-41), slide (E-6) and Black & White in 35mm and other formats and provides prints and/or negative scans.

Matt and Joe · Sunday 9 February 2020 · Pentax P3 · SMC Pentax-A 50mm f/2

With every roll of film developed, The Darkroom scans the film and negatives in one of three scan sizes. The Darkroom states that Standard Scans are recommended for print sizes up to 5x7 inches, and Enhanced scans are recommended for print sizes up to 12x18 inches. Super Scans are 4492×6774 pixel JPEGs scanned from 35 mm film and are downloaded only. The Darkroom claims these are perfect for giant prints. I ordered no prints but opted for the Super Scans and access to the online gallery to download the scanned images. Developing and scanning my roll of Ilford HP5 Plus 400 costs me $20 before shipping and handling.

Sunday 9 February 2020 · Pentax P3 · SMC Pentax-A 50mm f/2

One of the downsides of shooting film is that unless one has the patience to record the settings for every shot in a notebook, the metadata about the photograph is not captured. It took me some time to recall when some of these were captured, but I am unsure about the time of day, shutter speed, aperture, etc. I used Exif Editor to add the camera and lens information.

My wife, the woman in the featured image, has this expression every time I point a camera in her direction, but she had a bemused expression when I mentioned I was shooting and developing film. She saw the invoice for the film, watched me delete the 14 horrible images, and walked away, shaking her head.

Sunday 9 February 2020 · Pentax P3 · SMC Pentax-A 50mm f/2

I am not convinced this was worth the effort and cost, but I had already purchased rolls of Velvia, Ektachrome 100 and ADOX Scala 160.

Bhavna is the office manager for a local mental health and counselling practice. We attended an office dinner party hosted at Bhavna's employer's home. The guests were gracious in allowing me to practice my photography on them. After the dinner party, Bhavna and I walked around downtown Lambertville, allowing me another opportunity to finish the roll. Some of the images were shot indoors, and some outdoors in the late afternoon and early evening. It could be a more cohesive set of images. The subject matter varied from portraiture to street to "je ne sais quoi".

If you want to see how to shoot Ilford HP5 Plus 400 properly, see Jim Grey's post on Shooting Ilford HP5 Plus.

Katie · Sunday 9 February 2020 · Pentax P3 · SMC Pentax-A 50mm f/2
Bridge Street, Lamberville, New Jersey · Sunday 9 February 2020 · Pentax P3 · SMC Pentax-A 50mm f/2
J B Kline New & Vintage, Bridge St, Lambertville, New Jersey · Sunday 9 February 2020 · Pentax P3 · SMC Pentax-A 50mm f/2
Kline's Court, Lamberville, New Jersey · Sunday 9 February 2020 · Pentax P3 · SMC Pentax-A 50mm f/2
ACME Screening Room. South Union St, Lamberville's Art House Cinema! · Sunday 9 February 2020 · Pentax P3 · SMC Pentax-A 50mm f/2
Del-Vue Cleaners, South Union St, Lambertville, New Jersey · Sunday 9 February 2020 · Pentax P3 · SMC Pentax-A 50mm f/2

Straight Out of Camera (SOOC)

Patrick's post got me thinking that the Straight Out of Camera (SOOC) philosophy is a modern phenomenon that seems to track closely with the growth in the number of people owning digital cameras. It's most active adherents are people for whom any work in the "digital darkroom" is anathema. I think some of these SOOC adherents are amateur photographers who admire the photographic work of well-known photographers like Ansel Adams, Annie Leibovitz, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Dorothy Lange, etc. but may not know enough about these photographers to realise that they often spent just as much time in the darkroom using dodging and burning and other techniques to create their images. It seems to me many of these amateurs want the look of these famous photographers without any of work. I like Partick's sarcastic phrase:

Ahh...the good old days of film photography, when all you had to do was click the shutter.

I sometimes like the JPEG images that are produced in-camera when using certain Fujifilm Simulations and recipes on my Fujifilm X-T2. However, I also know what emotion and story I want to tell with my images and sometimes the images the camera produces does not capture what my mind sees.

15 August, 2012 | Statue of Liberty | Nikon D40 | AF-S Nikkor 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6 at f/11 | ISO 200

The image above of the Statue of Liberty is from a rainy weekday on a trip back from Ellis Island with my family. I wanted to capture the drama in the sky, and I felt that I could capture an image that matched how I was feeling about how the US treated early immigrants to the USA.

Quite often, these immigrants had abandoned their home and villages in Europe and under challenging circumstances arrived via crowded ships with just a few clothes and precious possessions. They had to answer a barrage of questions about their nationality, religion, finances, and endure humiliating mental and physical health exams. The sick were quarantined and many were refused entry. Some returned to their homeland. Some were so desperate for a chance at a better life that they attempted to swim against the currents of the Hudson River toward the New Jersey shore. Many drowned.

Between the play of the sun trying to force the dark clouds pouring rain on choppy waters of the Hudson and the people below, I imagined the anxiousness and despair of those early immigrants.

The original photograph, captured on my entry-level Nikon D40, was bland and had dust spots. I had to push and pull at it for a few hours in my digital darkroom to get what I wanted.

15 August 2012 | The Statue of Liberty, Liberty Island, New Jersey | Nikon D40 | AF-S Nikkor 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ f/11 | ISO 200

I think the post-processed image captures what I was feeling.

I'm in the process of getting back into film photography after a nearly 21-year hiatus after switching to digital. I've got rolls of Ektachrome, Ektar, Velvia and Scala to shoot with my Spotmatic II. I don't have a dark room, nor do I want to use one at this time, so I'll have very little control over my images after I push the shutter. My images will be scanned to digital so won't be SOOC.

If you like the images your camera produces as-is, by all mean, I think you should continue doing so. But please, please, don't assume that people that shoot and post-processing RAW images are wasting their time or wasting disk space or can't get it right in camera1.


  1. I hate that one the most.