Film Review: Fujifilm Sensia 200

Where to start?

Fujifilm’s description of their Sensia E6 film goes like this:

FUJICHROME Sensia 200 [RM] is a high-image-quality, daylight ISO 200 color reversal film which features extremely fine grain and sharpness, as well as faithful and brilliant color reproduction and rich tones ranging from the brightest highlights to the deepest shadows. These qualities make this film an excellent choice not only for normal outdoor photography but also for a wide variety of indoor scenes and situations requiring high shutter speeds.

https://www.fujifilm.com/products/consumer_film/pdf/sensia_200_datasheet.pdf

Which leads you to believe that every shot you take is going to be pulled straight from the pages of National Geographic circa 1990, regardless of the subject matter or light conditions (I’m looking at you, people who only take pictures of gas stations, parked cars, and abandoned buildings).

So when I found a few rolls of (lightly expired) Sensia, I was hyped to take some shots around the wildlife refuge where I worked at the time. Dreaming of infinitely scalable photos of golden beach tones and stunning, charismatic portraits of noble wildlife, I worked my way through a few rolls, stocked up on the requisite chemicals, and went to work.

And here’s what I found:

It’s worth noting that these are some of the best images I recovered from these rolls, and only after some careful post-development massaging in Lightroom. Here’s what a less-processed (but still discernible) shot looks like:

And then we get all the way to the worst of the worst. I’m used to film strips coming out poorly, but this was an adventure in futility, low contrast, and noise. While I’ll give it the fine grain, these shots hardly match the “sharpness, as well as faithful and brilliant color reproduction and rich tones ranging from the brightest highlights to the deepest shadows” Fujifilm boasts in its technical data sheet.

Still, let’s look at the why this might have happened.

One of the better shots on this emulsion.

Poor Exposure

Slide film is a little tougher to meter correctly than comparable negative films. Expired slide film probably amplifies those challenges, and although it’s billed as providing rich tones, highlights to shadows, the dynamic range required for photos of birds against the sky might have been more than this film could take.

Poor Development

Some photos on this strip have pretty clear indicators of arreste… challenged development. The low contrast, rainbow wash, mysterious flecks, and vertical bars most likely appear to be artifacts of bad development techniques. Although it only has one additional chemical bath step, E6 processing requires stricter temperature controls than the relatively lax C41 development process, and poor quality tap water and incomplete washes might have amplified any development troubles. Furthermore, although I’ve been developing negatives for years, this was my first time working with the E6 process and this unfamiliarity likely contributed to the errors seen here.

Originally shot in color color, this landscape was so red-shifted that it was better to go black and white.

Poor Scanning

Digitization could be bad! These were scanned with the scanner’s built-in software rather than interfacing with it using Vuescan; so maybe it’s worth another shot and seeing if a software change can bring some more detail back. I don’t think it’ll be enough to matter, though.

Poor Film

I’m just saying: when you buy film from someone on eBay, you never know where it’s been. Without knowing the history of the film, I can’t confirm or deny this, and I don’t want to blame the equipment. But it’s possible – future slide film experiments might hold clues.

The takeaway? Maybe this film isn’t that bad. Maybe it isn’t that good. I think something went wrong, because I can’t believe that all shots with this film are so unpredictable and finicky. The only way to know for sure is to do more testing – so 4 years after shooting this batch, I’m going to give slide film another shot and see how it goes in round 2.

Days 29, 30, & 31: Missouri Loves Company

We pick up our adventure where we left it last, with our hero steeling himself to cross a teetering bridge hundreds of feet above a raging torrent…

Actually, the adventure begins in Chester, Illinois, the home of Popeye the Sailor and all things Popeye related: Spinach, beefy forearms, the creator of Popeye, Popeye Picnic… While I don’t know much about Popeye, this town takes great pride in their nautical heritage and, more relevant to our story, is the site of the only bridge over the Mississippi between Cape Girardeau and St. Louis (a roughly 110-mile gap), and although I wouldn’t describe the Mississippi as a raging flood, it is quite wide and in advisable to swim across in late November.

The first few miles of Missouri were as flat as those in Illinois, but as the terrain rose into the third dimension I gave up on the idea that Missouri was going to be an easy cruise. it reminded me a lot of New York and New Jersey- oak trees are popular around here- and the hills weren’t super steep, or super long, but they were super everywhere, as were the cows.
About 30 miles into the ride, I was stopped for lunch when I unexpectedly heard a bike freewheeling, and excitedly turned around to see another cyclist heading east on the TransAmerica Trail! He stopped and we chatted for a while- two Red Lanterns, probably the last people crossing the country in each direction- and it was great to catch up with someone and share stories of what we’d accomplished over the past few weeks, compare the east and west sides of the trail, and our experiences and the people we’d met. One of his suggestions was to try more riding at night; something I did that evening and regretted within half an hour (who knew Missouri’s country roads could be so busy, or so full of trucks?), leading to a pretty sudden campsite at the side of the road to wait until traffic died sufficiently for riding, or the sun came out- whichever was first.

Well, it was the sun. Because I’d camped out so early, getting going before sunrise wasn’t too great of a challenge- a good thing, because between Farmington and Summersville lie the Ozark Mountains, and it took almost 10 hours of riding, plus a few hours of lunch breaks, to make it through them. The Ozarks were beautiful in a different way than Appalachia- they were more gradual, the rivers were bigger (and also Listerine-blue), and the confederate flags a little less prominent. Reynolds Country wasn’t particularly great- although the majority of drivers are good (and I so mean the outstanding majority), this part of Missouri had more than its fair share of dangerous traffic. I did get my first death threat of the trip and was strongly reprimanded for being a tourist (Can’t avoid the truth, I guess), but soon after someone slowed down to talk with me for a bit before driving on, so it ended up okay.

As the day drew on and the sun sank lower, I became deeply aware of how emotions are strongly related to bike speed- and by extension, to hill steepness. (Emotion is the derivative of slope?) Racing downhill, it’s all optimism and excitement and “oh man I’m gonna bike like A HUNDRED AND SEVENTY FIVE MILES TODAY!!!!”, whereas uphill, particularly when there’s heavy truck traffic, you can almost feel your life sliding away as every mistake, insecurity, and defeat of the last decade somehow come to mind at once (It’s not really that bad- there are mountains to marvel at, forests to observe, and often the fantastically grisly remains of some animal to ponder).

Stopping just short of 100 miles in Summersville, I finished the century with a trip to the grocery store before making camp for the night and trying to convince myself that after the Ozarks, the rest of the country is “basically flat,” which is exactly what I said after leaving Connecticut, and after crossing into Kentucky, and after finishing Appalachia, and at the top of every hill I’ve climbed.

Waking early and moving on, my goal for the following day was to make it to Springfield, which at 113 miles was by far the greatest distance I’d attempted so far. Good weather, flatter-than-Ozarks terrain, and lots of caffeine helped make it possible. The greatest challenge was probably Missouri’s enthusiastic, but relatively unrefined road-patching techniques and making a successful transition from the TransAmerica Trail to Bike Route 66. With some minor fanfare, I hit 2000 miles and soon after made a left turn into America’s Mother Road (Which I always though was Interstate 195 or maybe US Route 1 or 6, but hey I guess I’m wrong) towards Springfield. Along the way, I was happy to pass by a very large solar farm, wattage unknown, but definitely big enough to charge more than a cellphone!

A lot is up in the air for riding over the next few days- rain, floods, cold, etc- so plans are likely to change. What did you expect?

Days 27 & 28: Illinois (Hillinois, Chillynois)

Trying to make the most of a rainy day in Illinois, I got going on Saturday about half an hour before sunrise. Since I’ve mostly been letting the sun wake me up, this was the first time I’ve been able to watch the sun coming up in a few weeks- and it was fantastic. (The sunrise is one of my favorite things about rowing, incidentally, and makes it worth getting up at 5 to go splash around in the dark.)

I was able to make about 10 miles before the rain started. The next five hours weren’t particularly exciting- I ate breakfast, read, took a nap, and remarked on how it was getting colder as well as windier and rainier- but finally the rain cleared and I got back under way again. While it was finished with its rainy antics, Illinois still had plenty of tricks left to throw at me: rolling hills, the famous “wind coming from every direction you’re trying to bike in,” and even a few snowflakes (I counted 7). As the day went on, the wind gradually lessened and the hills flattened out, so by the time the sun was down, the riding was more or less tolerable.

Waking up (post sunrise) on the following morning, iwas very happy to find that the weather trend had continued overnight, and except for the sub-freezing temperature, the day was just about perfect. Starting out with a stretch of the Tunnel Hill State Trail, I got to see an abundance of icicles (the first ones of the year for me) and a very cool/spooky tunnel. I hadn’t expected to find any rail trails this far west, so although I only followed it for a mile or so, I did get to imagine I was a train, just like back in New York.

Heading north to Carbondale, I encountered the greatest challenge of the Illinois leg of the trip: The Indian restaurant I had hoped to have lunch at was unexpectedly closed. I should point out now that one of the several purposes of this trip is to complete a nationwide evaluation of Indian restaurants. So far, the best was Lumbini in Baltimore, with Princeton NJ coming in a close second, and Taste of India in Charlottesville a distant third. I had high hopes for Reema’s Indian Cuisine, but now I may never know. After coping with the disappointment and having some peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, I headed west towards to Mississippi, where I was rewarded with the most incredibly flat floodplain to ride upon. My goal for today had been to make it to Missouri, but with such an abundance of flat land to traverse I took a scenic detour, riding along the levee on the riverbank and crisscrossing the fields, in total awe of the zero elevation change for almost 12 miles. Curiously, it appears that there is a coal mine only a few hundred meters from the river itself, with a huge conveyor belt that travels up, over the levee and road, and all the way to the river to deposit coal in barges. It’s very loud- I think they keep the machinery running all the time regardless of mining/loading activity- and probably is annoying to live near. But it might explain the villages build seemingly at random in the middle of what’s otherwise a wheat field- I guess someone is doing the mining and loading.

As easy as the flat riding was, the excessive detour pretty much guaranteed that I did not cross the river today, but by early morning tomorrow I expect to be on the western shore.

Day 26: Kentucky & Illinois

Another sunny morning, the second in a row, but this one vastly more frosty than the previous. The biggest problem with frost is that all that water stays stuck to things- and then melts- so it’s difficult to dry things off, even if you whack as much ice off them as possible.

If you have any tips, I would love to hear them.

I got going through what I pretty quickly realized is chicken factory farm territory, complete with company-owned farms and hatcheries, which oddly have signs that say “work carefully, someone who loves you is expecting you home tonight.” I assumed until that point that a chicken hatchery is a place where baby chickens are hatched, but perhaps there is some dinosaur hatching at work here too? More flat lands meant more smooth and quick riding, and before too long I moved out of sad chicken territory and into tobacco, oil well, and power plant territory! Tobacco is a curious plant- it actually smells very nice when it’s hanging out to dry, a sweet and leafy smell, but burning it creates a smell somewhere between melting brakes and PVC fires that I don’t believe anyone actually enjoys. Truly, one of the marvels of organic chemistry.

Passing into yet another agricultural area, which I’ll call “The Corn Zone,” I found a tantalizing clue to a mystery that’s haunted me for years: the DeKalb corn sign that’s hanging in our basement. Where is it from? What does it mean? Who is DeKalb? Well, today I found one that’s very similar at the edge of a cornfield, leading me to surmise the DeKalb is a company that breeds varieties of corn for commercial growth. I don’t want to check that online, because it would ruin the mystery, but it sounds like a good hypothesis to me. (My previous hypothesis was that DeKalb was someone, a distant relative perhaps, who had run for some political office, and their campaign icon had been an ear of corn.)

Continuing onwards, I found (to my surprise) that I would be taking a ferry across the Ohio River into Illinois, and (to my very great surprise) it was free! Once over the border, I realized that although my goal for the day had been met, there was still plenty of sunlight, and I had already gone 92 miles… So I pushed onwards for the second century of the trip, making it to Elizabethtown, Illinois before making camp.

Checking the weather, tomorrow appears to be a better day than I had anticipated- rains falling mainly from 1000 until 1300, which should give me some time to do laundry (vastly necessary) and some reading before continuing onwards across Illinois and into Missouri.

Back in Charleston (briefly)

Travel is lovely. Every once in a while, getting to somewhere new (even if it’s somewhere old) is one of the best things about being alive.

There’s not much of a story to these – just a nice afternoon walking around a neigborhood with friends, pretending to pick out which houses are the best to live in and which streets are the coziest to stroll down.

Here’s my favorite street in Charleston, and probbly one of my top five favorite streets ever.

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Day 25: Kentucky, or, 💯‼️

Fantastic day! After threatening it for nearly a month, I finally got a whole century done- fine weather, flat land, and a need to atone for a day spent inside a WalMart all helped make it possible.

 

tumblr_ny80ovVdEE1uj13z1o1_1280Despite the excellent outcome, the day certainly had its ups and downs. It started out weird- on the banks of a river engorged by the recent rains, I had dreams (nightmares?) of the river sweeping me away as I slept. Although I was a considerably safe distance from any erosion, I think that being able to hear the bank wearing away may have prompted these particular dreams.

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The day could really only improve from there- just waking up to find myself not being swept to sea was an improvement on its own. Post-rains, the weather was fine and warm (at times I felt like I was inside a computer desktop image), and I was able to get underway before 8 without needing to bundle up too much. I stopped for lunch, where I met s very kind cyclist (truck driver as well, but primarily cyclist) who’ll be riding the Trans-Canada Highway next summer. We got to talk about biking logistics, the best bike paths in Canada (alongside the canals!), and even rowing- he was very familiar with the rowing scene in Welland, Ontario. I also met an Amish guy who, and I must quote this exactly, said to me: “I would be remiss if I did not ask you if you would like to smoke some home-grown, Wisconsin marijuana with me.” I don’t smoke (and I suspect that Kentucky has a capital punishment for weed, if trespassing is liable to end in death) so I said no thank you, but I’ll always remember that as one of the most exciting lunch breaks of my life.

 

The remainder of the day was smooth rolling- a bit windy at times, but not bad. I thought about rowing a lot during those miles, and almost before I knew it, the sun was setting beautifully, the lights were on, and I was fast approaching 100 miles. After making a last turn into Kentucky Highway 1738 (which is a number I hear has some relevance for “today’s youth”), I rolled down a hill and finished the first century of the journey- a great way to end a great day.

 

Day 24: Kentucky

Gray day this morning, quickly becoming a gray and rainy day.

I wish that rain didn’t mean no riding- but trying to stay on the road while cars blast by and spray me doesn’t seem like a good way to stay safe. While the rain is on, anyways, there’s no sense in setting out- everything gets soaked and no one wins.

I found Arabian Nights in the WalMart bargain books aisle- it doesn’t seem to be a hot seller in this part of America- so I got to settle down and wait on the weather with 700 pages of classic literature. (As an aside, WalMart has all these ridiculous drivable trucks and cars for kids. For God’s sake, get your kid a bike instead. It’s cheaper and faster and more dangerous and everything you could want in a toy.)

By 4:00, the weather and radar had both cleared up, leaving a little time for riding into presumably improving conditions. Trying to take advantage of what time there was left (and also to deal with the feelings of restlessness that come with sitting in WalMart for over 6 hours), I set off. The weather held, and I even saw the faint glimmer of a sunset, as well as some incredibly purple skies and distant hills, before the rain settled in again. Bummer. I stopped in a barn for a moment to check directions, where I learned that although I was on the right road, I’d probably get shot if I tried doing that again. Slightly Ill at ease, I continued onwards to find a good camping site, hopefully safe from bullets, stray or otherwise, that might be headed in my direction.tumblr_ny2ed6L5581uj13z1o7_1280.jpg

Day 23: Kentucky

After a cozy camp out last night, I stayed in a little later than usual today to wait for rain showers to pass before heading on towards Bardstown- a mere 60 miles away.

Along the way, I passed a vaguely sinister plant of some sort (far, far to the north of me), was warned of the hazards posed by horse and buggy, and perhaps more tangibly, actually visited the Abraham Lincoln Homestead and Golf Course. (Yes, it is actually billed as a combination historical monument and golf course.) It was very closed, not very informative, and I got a flat tire while there, so unless you’re a very avid Abe Lincoln fan or really want to golf the same course as the Lincoln family did in times of old, I recommend skipping the whole attraction.

Although the rains held off, the sun never actually made its way through the clouds today, resulting in some fascinating opalescent sky effects that had a shimmering property besides the normal “gray” of distant rainclouds.

As I mentioned, the ride into Bardstown was pretty short, so I arrived with plenty of daylight left. Checking in at the post office, I found out that general delivery mail does actually work- there are few things like getting a letter to cheer you up.

tumblr_nxzjdfNaWy1uj13z1o6_1280In addition, I found that most of the trees around here still have leaves on them- it’s like they don’t even know we’re in the middle of November! Warm weather bodes well for the next few weeks- as long as I can avoid the rain, camping should be easier and quicker, and I’ll be able to get more miles in as well.

Well, except for tomorrow. The forecast doesn’t look great, so I’ll be spending a lot of time indoors- museums? Walmart superstore? We’ll find out soon- I want to replenish some supplies (rear tire is starting to look a little thin, plus yesterday’s flat meant I had to use my last spare tube) and write off some letters and postcards as well. Then, it’s off into the flattening West!

Day 22: Kentucky, or, Kentucky with fewer mountains than before.

tumblr_nxxpqgUc3L1uj13z1o1_1280A frosty (beautiful) morning in Booneville today. Got going pretty smoothly, and after getting lost just once (Kentucky, at this stage of the game, has stopped taking care of their route markers and distinguishing landmarks) I was making pretty good progress until I stopped for lunch just after passing JCHS Road. I assume that’s an acronym, but… It doesn’t really roll off the tongue. After lunch, I found myself in Big Hill, Kentucky, luckily rolling down the 2-mile 6% grade into a blissfully flat landscape as far as I could see.

I’m not saying that the part of Kentucky I’m in now is absolutely, South Carolina Lowcountry flat- but compared to Appalachia, it is beautifully flat, the hills are smooth and rolling, and rarely do I need to gear waaaay down and crank my way up switchbacks anymore. I’m back in farm country, a huge relief, and was able to make a pretty easy 89 miles in less than 8 hours- definitely the fastest average speed of the last week. I ought to make Bardstown by early tomorrow afternoon. The forecast calls for thunderstorms Wednesday… Maybe I’ll get lucky. With the new terrain, I don’t feel the need for a rest day just yet, but if I need to take a day off, it would be good to have it land on a place where I can refuel, make bike repairs, and of course, check out a distillery.

Day 21: Kentucky Canines and Caverns

 

tumblr_nxxoctW2uM1uj13z1o1_1280Maybe because yesterday was Sunday, maybe because people like to stay inside here, or maybe because mountain spirits regularly transform people into dogs here- I’ve seen more dogs than humans for most of the last two days. Western Virginia/Eastern Kentucky has every kind of dog imaginable- big dogs, small dogs, huge dogs, tiny dogs, loud dogs, quiet dogs, dogs in cages, dogs on chains, dogs that follow you half a mile down the road, dogs that ignore you, dogs that come over and sit with you while you’re having lunch. I will now do my best Roger Williams impression to describe my encounters with some dogs, including liberally replacing “s” with “f”:
The beasts, which possess four legf, doth run, bark, and yap without fail when a rider paff them by. One could believe that they have nothing to do all day, being penned up in cage and held by chain, and made to protect their mafter’s home. On occasion, one of thefe creatures will break free and thuf does follow, tapping at the wheels of mine trailer or attempting (with no great succeff) to halt my westward progreff.

Thanks for letting me get that out of my system.

tumblr_nxxoctW2uM1uj13z1o2_1280I can also see why there is so much coal mining here- coal literally falls out of the hillside onto the road. I took a break next to an intriguing looking cave, and upon venturing inside, found that it was an abandoned coal mine. “Sweet,” I thought, “this is both a fascinating geologic formation and a great way to die!” I grabbed a handful of semi-anthracite and headed out, before I could get lost, caved in, asphyxiate, get black lung, cause and explosion, or any of the other typical hazards of coal mining. I’d actually hoped to find fossils in the cave, and I suspect that there were a few if I’d taken the time to explore, but I’m happy to say that I avoided the temptation and returned to scanning for fossils as I biked- not very fruitful, but possibly safer nonetheless.

tumblr_nxxoctW2uM1uj13z1o3_1280Continuing on, I stopped at H.C. Sparks’ grocery, where I found they’ve been keeping a logbook of every cyclist to pass by (and stop in) for the last 40 years. I didn’t take a picture of the store- it was great, half of it was grocery, half of it was a hardware store, and the last half was an “indoor yard sale”- but you will notice the Log Cabin Cathedral right across the street, a fascinating sight to behold as you eat peanut butter sandwiches.

tumblr_nxxoctW2uM1uj13z1o4_1280Post sandwich break, high points included reaching 1,234 miles and breaking into song (1, 2, 3, 4, climbing hills, my legs are sore…) à la Feist, and seeing another very lovely sunset as I came into Booneville.

Booneville is a city that, despite its appearance on the map, is actually just an intersection of 4 highways, with the county courthouse at the center. It’s actually a very interesting proto-traffic circle- the highways all meet, and you can just do laps around the courthouse without ever actually going anywhere. It is also a great place to camp out. @adventurecycling