Frugal Film Project ’23

The Frugal Film Project is a community of photographers with the task of finding a suitable film camera for under $75 US and use 12 rolls of the same film, trying to be as frugal as is reasonable. We shoot 1 roll per month, develop, scan, and share our favorites. I bowed out last year after a couple months and really missed being in the company of so many talented photographers. So this year, heeding my earlier internal promptings, I rejoined and picked my camera and film.

The Camera(s)

Yes, cameras. Plural. I had initially chosen a really cool point-and-shoot, the Fujifilm TW-300 (see above photo), but disaster struck when I ran through a cassette of bulk-loaded film and asked the camera to rewind at the last shot. The crunching sound and sinking feeling in my stomach meant bad things were falling apart internally for both of us, and I was going to need a backup.

Scanning my unreasonably large collection of film cameras for one that I would have purchased under $75, I chose the 1961 Kodak Retinette IA. I purchased this camera in 2016 for $9.95 + free shipping on eBay. This compact viewfinder camera is actually a relatively nice kit for slowing you down and working on composition. It uses a range-focus system where you get to guess how far you are from the subject. There are markings on the lens that help to gauge that distance, and I have rarely missed with it. It has a decent lens and a low maximum shutter speed, so it works well with ISO 100-200 film. The other interesting feature is the film advance lever. It’s on the bottom of the camera, not the top. It does feel a tad flimsy, but it hasn’t let me down, yet.

I haven’t used the Retinette in a few years and I needed to familiarize myself with it again. I thought about pushing a test roll through it, but the price of film right now makes test rolls prohibitive. That brings me to the film.

The Film

For the 2023 Frugal Film Project, and also for my own color film shenanigans, I opted to purchase a 100ft roll of Kodak 5213 Motion Picture film, also known as Vision 3 200T. The film has an anti-halation coating, called Remjet , that has to be washed away after processing. The procedure is simply develop, bleach+fix, rinse and wipe away Remjet, then a final rinse.

May be an image of nature and bridge

The film has a very distinct look, almost a blue-green cast. Reds and Oranges tend to pop out brightly, while blues and greens are nicely saturated. It is possible to color-correct these characteristics in Adobe Lightroom, but I happen to like the film’s character.

Kodak 5213 is an ISO 200 Tungsten film, balanced for interior/studio lighting. Greens become blue, yellows become green, and white lights often have a soft, beautiful glow. It’s experimental in the sense that it normally would be developed in ECN-2 chemicals (which strips the Remjet layer) but develops fine in standard C41.

May be an image of indoor

I opted to start my reintroduction to the Retinette with a 24-shot roll and some night photography. I began in my house and worked my way outside, tripod in hand. It helps that the kids needed to walk the dog that night, so I had some company.

We have a really nice pool house in our neighborhood with floodlights that illuminated the grounds at night. I like the square windows and pressboard siding, and at night it’s always neat to see it tucked in behind the pine trees. After I shot the above photo of the lamp in my office, I stopped and set up the tripod behind the pool house to get a shot I’d been thinking about for a few days.

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For some perspective, my office walls are Napa Cabbage green, which is a pale olive, and the lamp lights are soft-white. The pool house is mustard yellow with a brighter spotlight. As you can see, the colors become toned-down. I really, really like this film.

The remaining shot was of a lamp post directly across the street from the pool house. I took several shots, but on the last frame I left the shutter open as a car drove by and it turned out to be my favorite.

I’m excited to get back into using this camera for the FFP, and I’m not even upset about the TW-300 grinding to a halt. I will do some minor surgery on it, but it’s an older electronic point-and-shoot and their internals can fail.

Keep on the lookout for the February ‘23 shots. I’ll see if I can come up with some more night photography, and possibly urban landscape ?

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