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|| News Item: Posted 2013-07-06

Film: What I miss … and don’t miss

By Robert Hanashiro, Sports Shooter Newsletter

Photo by
A recent brief in the newspaper’s business page caught my eye: “Kodak Takes Another Slow, Sad Step Toward The Death Of Film”.

Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s and photography consuming more of my life, I fell in love with film. I couldn’t read enough about it, especially when it came to the photographer I admired most, W. Eugene Smith. His single-mindedness when it came to how the image in his mind was translated to the surface of photo paper bordered on obsessive. Adding Borax to his film developer, using Potassium Ferricyanide to bring back tone in the shadows, Selenium Toner for a “colder” look, hours spent in the darkroom on a single print … it was legendary.

Like most photographers, I am a geek and as time went on, I jumped into the “digital age” feet-first with the same zeal I had for W. Eugene Smith.


Shortly after joining the staff of USA TODAY in 1989, Frank Folwell, deputy DOP at the time, told me it wouldn’t be long before photographers would be shooting with digital cameras --- capturing images on tiny memory cards, “processing” them on a small computer and sending them to the office over telephone lines. USA TODAY had been using a digital-like system by Sony (the Mavica “still video”) so they were way ahead of the technology curve at the time and it was one of the reasons I jumped at the chance to work for them.

We have progressed from the 1.5 megapixel Kodak DSC3 to the Nikon 16.4 megapixel D4 in just a few short years. But I still miss film.

As film “slowly dies” (as newspaper and website headline writers put it) I’ve been thinking about film a lot the past couple of weeks. And recently I’ve been trying to figure out a way to reincorporate film into my portrait work, but that’s a story for another day…

As with everything, there are good and bad things when it comes to film. So here is a list of what I miss … and don’t miss… about shooting film:


Those 35mm metal film canisters
-Come on admit it: If you’re from my generation (or earlier) you taped a few of these cans on your wide, (usually paisley) camera strap to hold film back in ’72 like I did.

Leitz Focomat enlarger with the cool 35mm film holder
-You could always tell a print made on one of these enlargers because the film holder was slightly wider than a 35mm frame so you got a cool, black outline around your uncropped photographs. That was being a photo hipster back then.

The tone in Ilfobrom fiber paper (grade 4)
-The presses were so bad at the Visalia Times-Delta in the late 70’s that you had to use a “hard” paper to get any contrast in a photo in print. I liked that contrasty look so much, that I used it for just about everything and the Ilfobrom paper became my “portfolio stock”.

Tri-x developed in D-76 1:1
-If it was good enough for Life Magazine and W. Eugene Smith, it was sure as hell good enough for me. Always loved the tone and grain and I laugh when I see digital filters advertised they emulate that look … oh wait I just spent 99 bucks for that…

Concocting formulas for push-processing film
-How about HC-110 Replenisher 1:10, 12 minutes with agitation every 90 seconds @ 78-degrees? My friends and I would spend hours talking about and experimenting with ways to get every last bit of speed out of a roll of Tri-X for shooting available light prep sports. It even became a sort of competition to see who could come up with the wildest formula --- which I think was aerating the film in fumes of Hydrogen Peroxide for 10 minutes between the developer and stop bath.

The color of Fujichrome 100
-When the paper in Visalia made that big switch to color on the section fronts in the mid-80s the edict from corporate was to shoot transparency film (maybe the then-new USA TODAY had something to do with that?) so we tested Fujichrome and Ektachrome and the Fuji kicked ass. Still does…

-Now that I have 11 fps digital cameras with seemingly endless buffers, I sometimes over-shoot. (Though not as badly as a photographer I was next to at an NBA game. He routinely fired off 30-35 frame bursts, one right after another. It was about as annoying as it can get on the baseline. At one point I asked him “Hey man, are you shooting a movie or something?” He didn’t reply…) When you’re at a ballgame and you know you only have room for 3 or 4 rolls of film in that Wing-Lynch processor, you learn not to over-shoot.

Revolving darkroom door
-This is more symbolic than anything else on this list. Going through that revolving darkroom door was like passing into an exclusive club. Photo staffs commiserated, congratulated, critiqued and came closer together through that door. You spent a lot of time in the darkroom back in the day and the time wasn’t spent just dodging and burning.

Nikon F3T HP (w/the MD-4 motor drive)
-The best sports camera ever!

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Film leader retriever
-It was an art to quickly pull the leader out of the 35mm film cassette that had been wound all the way in. It is a skill that any old-time wire service photog had but one I never accomplished.

Bulk loaders/reloadable 35mm cassettes
-Spiratone and Freestyle Photo were the small newspaper/bulk-loader’s best friends. But the caps always popped off and scratches were a major problem. Bulk loading film really wasn’t worth the hassles … but explain that to a newspaper’s bean counter.

The noisy motorized rewind
-The auto-rewind function of a motorized Nikon F2 got me tossed out of a city council meeting once.

Stained shirts
-My mom (and later my wife Deanna) hated darkrooms or more accurately the fixer stains that inevitably got on my shirts from working in darkrooms. They learned quickly to just make them into rags to wash our cars rather than try to get out the stains. (And don’t get me started on what Blix did to clothing!)

Ektamatic paper processor
-This P.O.S. was a staple of most newspaper darkrooms when it came to making prints on deadline. There was no wash so no having to dry prints but they were smelly, always felt damp, stained your clothing like nothing else could and had almost no contrast. And the worst thing? Cleaning it.

Clogged drains in the darkroom
-This almost got one of our staffers fired when I was the chief photographer in Visalia. Flooding the darkroom with a concrete floor was one thing, but the carpeted studio and part of the newsroom was another.

Spot tone
-Nothing like doing the W. Eugene Smith-thing and spend a couple of hours on a print … only to screw it up with a really bad spotting job. Yep, Photoshop wins this one…

The road kit
-I polluted many a hotel room, stadium and office bathroom with what you used to have to take on the road to file photos on deadline. Imagine taking 3 8-reel stainless steel developing tanks, a DevTek tank heater, 5 or 6 packets of powered C-41 chemistry, 2-32 oz. graduates, 2-dial thermometers, a hair dryer (or GOD-FORBID a Senrac film dryer) in an Igloo cooler?

* * *

This issue of the Sports Shooter Newsletter features Joey Terrill giving us his insights into photography and the importance of maintaining solid professional business practices. Jack Kurtz writes about his experiences working and living in Thailand. Rhona Wise covered the recent NBA Finals; Brian Blanco gives us a look at the seldom seen world of survivalists; Brad Shirakawa completes his take on ScanCafe and Matt Brown tells us about landing the job as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s new director of photography.

* * *

Photo by
Photo by
My recommended reading this issue are the new books from my good friend Brad Mangin: “Instant Baseball: The Baseball Instagrams of Brad Mangin” and “Never. Say. Die.: The San Francisco Giants - 2012 World Series Champions”. There isn’t a better baseball photographer working today than Brad and his knowledge of the game and his relationship with the players make these books very special.

And recommended listening are a few blues albums I’ve been listening to a lot the past couple of weeks:

-“Muddy Waters Blues - A Tribute to Muddy Waters” is a 1993 release from Paul Rogers that features some of the great guitar players of our time: Jeff Beck, Neal Schon, Richie Sambora, Brian Setzer, David Gilmour and the great Buddy Guy. Free? Bad Company? This record kicks ass.

-Remember “Mississippi Queen” from a group called Mountain? Probably not. But their guitarist/vocalist Leslie West certainly is worth remembering and “Leslie West Collection: Blues Bureau Years” is proof positive of his place in rock history. This 2007 album features knockout covers of “Boom Boom”, “Crossroads”, “House of the Rising Sun” and “Summertime”.

- The Houston-based Tony Vega Band has been around since the late 90’s and their music has that tight feel and machinegun riffs that make me think of… heaven forbid … Steve Ray Vaughn. Check out their 2001 release “Dear Sweet Goodness” for a great intro to their music.

-And the final worth-a-listen is the recent release from Serbia-born guitarist/singer Ana Popovic "Can You Stand The Heat". Yeah I admit the cover photograph first caught my attention, but the music is top notch.

As always, special thanks to: Deanna & Emma Hanashiro, Brad Mangin, Grover Sanschagrin, Joe Gosen and Jason Burfield.

Thanks this month to contributors: Joey Terrill, Jack Kurtz, Brian Blanco, Brad Shirakawa, Matt Brown and Rhona Wise.

The comments, opinions and other perceived nutty statements that the writers may have expressed, implied, imagined or made up are theirs and theirs alone. Sports Shooter, Inc. and published these articles in good faith with the purpose of education and inspiration. Permission in writing must be obtained from Sports Shooter, Inc. and the author of the article before being reprinted. Comments, corrections, suggestions and contributions are appreciated. Please e-mail me at

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