Buying old cameras, regardless of source, requires one to test them for functionality before any serious use. So, when I started buying vintage Minoltas in February 2019, I had to create a testing protocol. The first film I used was Fuji Superia Xtra 400 with 36 exposures (all I could get from the local CVS). Testing with 36 exposure film was a pain because it took too long to finish a roll. Also, I felt I was wasting money because the film was being used mostly for shots I did not care about. In the Summer of 2019, I took a B&W darkroom class and needed to shoot test rolls for the class. By this time, I really did not like the idea of having to shoot 36 exposures before seeing results, so I searched for rolls with fewer exposures. After checking all the local camera stores, I googled “12 exposure film” and was surprised to find Kodak Tri-X 400 available in 12 exposures from Photo Warehouse. I bought three rolls for the darkroom class. Since I had access to a darkroom with chemicals and paper included in the membership fee, 12 exposure rolls were perfect for experimenting. I could shoot a roll, pop into the darkroom, develop and print! This was the ideal setup for someone learning photography. Having discovered Photo Warehouse, searching their website a bit later, I found 12 exposure rolls of Ultrafine Xtreme 100 and 400! Even better, at the time, both Ultrafine films were about 2.79 per roll! Things were fine—then, the pandemic hit.
During the first lockdown, having lost access to the darkroom and my favorite local film lab, I decided to start developing at home. The CineStill monobath made B&W development a snap. After having done traditional darkroom development, I was more than pleased with the monobath results. In fact, my results with the monobath have been so good that it would take a very special reason to get me to go back to traditional B&W processing, even when I have access to a darkroom again. Even though I had solved the B&W development problem, color was still an issue.
I had switched to 24 exposure color rolls to save shooting time but could no longer run to the local lab, which usually gave me scans back within two hours. That’s when I took up color development at home. Not wanting to waste my Portra and Ektar because I had no experience with c41, again I went looking for 12 exposure rolls and got more great news—Fuji 100 (expired, cold-stored) was available in 12 exposures! The Fuji 100 came in packs of 10 and cost less than 3.00 per roll. I ordered one pack, and so began my c41 development. Since then, I have found TMax 100 and Kodak Gold 200, both in 12 exposure rolls.
I bought rolls with 12 exposures for testing cameras and learning color development, so I never considered other possible benefits. For example, I’m now using them to experiment with pushing and pulling, studio lighting, camera angles, bracketing. If I ruin a roll, I’ve wasted little time and money and learned a lesson or two in the process. This is the good part!
Both color films I have used, the Kodak 200 gold and Fuji 100, are expired. The Kodak Gold was useless. It showed all the problems common to expired film. The seller refunded my money for all the rolls I had purchased.
The Fuji 100 has been mostly a success story. The first batch expired in 2010, and the most recent in 2019. All seem to render color well. However, there is one quirk I have encountered that has me baffled. Images made of some plants in direct sunlight look soft throughout the frame. I have gotten this result with both AF and manual cameras, and it mostly seems to affect yellows and greens. Here are two examples (all other frames from these rolls were shot with cloud cover or in shade, and they look fine). This softness never happened with Fuji Superia 400.
Ultrafine Xtreme, especially the ISO 100, has become my favorite B&W film. It has excellent tones and dries flat, making scanning easier, and it is (or at least, was) inexpensive. I called Photo Warehouse two months ago to ask when more would be available, and unfortunately, they said maybe never. What is even more unfortunate is my decision to buy only ten rolls at a time. I should have bought tons of the stuff and put it in the fridge. Now I have to watch in despair as my little stash dwindles. Adding to Ultrafine Xtreme 100 and 400’s apparent demise is Fuji’s discontinuing so many films. At some point, my Fuji 100 will be gone, never to return. Tri-X 12 exposure rolls may be around somewhere, but after having moved to Ultrafine, I can’t go back. (Yes, I’m pouting.) Instead, I’ve bought TMax 100 but have yet to try it—maybe next week. At some point, I’ll likely try Ilford FP4+.
Searching the backwaters of eBay and Etsy was fruitful in the past, but now the 12 exposure rolls are even disappearing from their listings. Hopefully, by the time all the 12 exposure rolls disappear, I will have moved on to new emulsions. Of course, I could find something I like and start bulk loading my own 12 exposure rolls. But…as someone who two years ago bought a Maxxum 7000i just to take pictures of flowers and who now owns more camera gear than he thinks is healthy, loading my own 12 exposure rolls seems like a line I shouldn’t cross. If I take that step, I have a feeling this photography stuff would get completely out of hand.