Kodachrome, how difficult was it for a pro to work with?

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by cian_daly, Apr 21, 2012.

  1. I've read in various interviews with photojournalists from the 60's when colour was just about becoming mainstream, that newspapers wanted photogs to shoot Kodachrome, and it was a gold standard. Given that it was only available in very low iso's/asa's, I would love to hear some recollections from older photographers about the practicality of shooting with it indoors? It must have been nerve-wracking to say the least. Would love to know what kind of equipment you used, how you lit it, what kind of choices you had, or was it a case of buy a powerful handle mount flash and hope for the best as it was too slow for anything else? As a side note, now that we are in the digital era and are able to experiment with lighting indoors with instant image review, how many photojournalists used techniques like bounce flash or off camera lighting, particularly before auto-thyristors came in and provided some reliability/consistency? I'm wondering if the whole strobist thing is a relatively new idea, or were there photographers out there way back when, braving it with fully manual flashes, no time to meter properly, and no instant review of your image?
  2. I would be surprised if newspapers in the 60s asked for colour since back then, newspapers were plain black ink and half-tone pictures. The National Geographic journal, I believe, insisted on Kodachrome being used by its photographers, as did many other high quality colour magazines. That said, most of the colour monthlies in Britain - the 'county' magazines - insisted on medium format tranparencies, and they were E6 processed.
  3. I'm not sure that too many newspapers used color film? Especially one that had to be mailed away for processing? Their MO was to shoot it, soup it and rush it into the paper. If any film was the gold standard for this, it was Tri-X Pan.
    Magazines with their longer lead times , certainly used chromes. Newspapers, not so much.
  4. Thanks for setting me straight on this. So when did colour hit the newspapers?
  5. I have a vague memory of a story that back in the 1930s National Geographic photographers shooting original Kodachrome (ISO 10) were under orders to use a tripod and always f11.
  6. I am in my late 30's and I remember the broadsheet newspapers turning colour in UK. I suspect that the US with its larger readership for smaller publication might well have been able to experiment even more. I don't think we have had any response to the second part of your question about technique although, what David Bebbington wrote about tripod and f11 sounds like a necessity for publication standard photographs.
  7. In the USA color hit the papers c 1980's, and they all had small, in-house C41 processing machines. If I recall processing time was around 38 minutes at that time. The films were limited to ASA 100 color negative. The new "400" was available, but it had many issues. It's hard to imagine that until the late 70's, the only color negative films available were ASA 100 or slower.
    Nat'l Geo and many other periodicals, used Kodachrome exclusively (and brilliantly!).
  8. If a newspaper was using an offset press in the 1960's it was possible to print color, but keeping four presses in registration over a long run was very difficult so it was not often done. I recall an occasional page one color photo for newsworthy events that could be anticipated (such as an Apollo launch). Color photographs did not become common place in newspapers until the 1990s. I recall a 1996 trips to New York City where we visited several major publishers. The Daily News had been using color photos for a few years and was still wrestling with the workflow. The Times had just purchased new presses and was about to launch routine color printing. By this time, color neg was the predominant choice for newspapers because it offered higher speeds and easier processing.
  9. The first paper in the UK to use colour Was 'Today' in 1986. I recall reading an interview with a photographer who said that they used Fujifilm Superia film. I also recall the problems they initially had in getting the CMYK images in registration!
  10. I don't know if this qualifies or not but in high school we always shot tri-x (ASA 400 or higher) for our yearbook photos. The only exception was for 5 photos we knew would be 8x10 and for those we use Plus-x or Pan-x.
    Senior year (1979-80) - the executive decide that we would do a color slide show to help boost lagging sales - and that we would shoot the entire show on Kodachrome 25. Glup.
    The school provided Vivitar and Fuji proved to be useless since the fastest lens we had for them was f3.5 or there abouts. Konica to the rescue. I had a TC and a T4 both w/50 f1.4. For two weeks those became the "color" cameras for getting shots of our classmates in candid (and sometimes not so candid) situations while we shot 10 rolls of 36 exposure Kodachrome. Out of the 360 exposures we had to pick out 60 for the show.
    I don't think we went to the tripod - but we did learn how to hold a camera, how to pick our shots, and how to bounce flash real fast.
  11. @Dave
    Were you guys using auto thyristor flashes or fully manual and mentally calculating/calculating from tables? In the case of the former, how reliable were they and what was the tolerance of Kodachrome for overexposure? I only ever got the chance to shoot 4 rolls of kodachrome before it died, and I was surprised to say the least to see that slide+ ETTL flash was not the horror story I thought it would be, in fact metering slide in general was not the horror story I thought it would be, having mainly used neg.
  12. To answer a different part of your question, I shot Kodachrome almost exclusively (as an amateur), mostly 64 ASA, but some 25, and it was wonderful, not at all an ordeal. Yes, it was slow, so it required a tripod or fast lenses and good light. I mostly shot with an Olympus OM1, and used a 35mm f/2.8, a 50mm f/1.4, a 135mm f/2.8, and a 400mm f/6.3. I decided on the 135mm rather a 75-150mm zoom (that had gotten great reviews) because the zoom was only an f/4. The 400mm always needed a solid tripod and mirror lock-up anyway, so in a sense it didn't matter so much that it was slow. The only difficulty about Kodachrome wasn't shooting with it, but, in later years, getting it processed. It was excellent when Kodak did it. Kodalux was the same, but then they stopped, and without photo.net I didn't find great places like A&I until much later.
    There was one nightmare. Once, while on an extended stay in Eastern Europe, I asked someone in my family to take a lot of precious exposed Kodachrome rolls back to the U.S. to process, and insisted that it should only be done by Kodak. They took it to a local shop that processed it like Ektachrome (E6 instead of K14.) When I saw the saw the ruined slides and complained, they said that the shop used Kodak paper. I hadn't asked them to order prints. That one still hurts, almost 30 years later.
    Much later, Kodachrome 200 came out. It didn't seem like the same film, a similar color palette, but very grainy.
  13. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    In the USA color hit the papers c 1980's, and they all had small, in-house C41 processing machines.​
    One of the first US newspapers that had color pages was USA Today. They first came on the scene around 1983 or so. I recall that my wife and I were graduate students, and she first noticed those white USA Today newspaper vending machines that looked different from others.
  14. SCL


    Kodachrome was used mosly for other things, not newspapers until the latter 1960s. It wasn't difficult to shoot because people were brought up knowing how to do it. Probably more people shot it, from the end of WWII until the middle 1960s, using the shooting instructions printed on the box, than using light meters, which were a luxury. Those instructions, by the way, were basically the "Sunny 16" rule, and often if one was uncertain, one merely bracketed their exposures to ensure the perfect shot. When I was growing up, the old bulb style flashbulbs were already a dying breed and manypeople used AG1 bulbs, which were much smaller, cheaper to purchase, and gave adequate light for the typical "snapshots". There were some strobes out there, besides those of professional studio portraitists, Honeywell being popular with photojournalists. Everything was manual as far as exposure was concerned, so one had to know filter factors for using Kodachrome in tungsten environments (with the proper filters), as well as guide numbers to do the mental math to calculate exposure. It wasn't a big deal in many cases as there was sufficient latitude to encompass minor errors. In the 1960s smaller strobe units which could mount on a shoe on the cameras became available, as did auto-exposure which, as I recall, didn't really improve results much in early models. By the early 1970s the thyristor versions had become popular, reliable, prolific and relatively inexpensive. My keeper ratio on Kodachrome (no meter) in the early 1960s (exposure wise) was about 3:1. I remember shooting the Apollo 11 astronaut recovery from aboard the USS Hornet using Kodachrome, again, no meter, and the slides still have amazing color and vibrancy. I think a lot of newer photographers today think it was a horror show using Kodachrome "in the good old days", but really it was pretty straightforward given the options of the time...most photographers knew the basics or followed box instructions and got at least acceptable results. Overexposure was the bane of shooters, so many of us tried for slight underexposure to get more saturated colors.
  15. The assumption that flash photography was unreliable back then is WAY off. Both Bulbs and Electronic flash gave very reliable and consistent light. The variability was always in the skill and or laziness of the photographer. If you took the time to learn your equipment anduse it properly, there simply were no significant failures.
    As far as Kodachrome went. It wasn't a hardship at all. Primarily because that was what was available. If you needed high ASA (what we used to call iso) you shot Tri-x and you push processed it yourself to ASA1000. It was a mark of competence to be able to select your tools for the job at hand.
  16. I used kodachrome 64 when I was a
    kid in the 80s. I'd have to say that the
    indoor flash shots were easier (from an
    exposure point of view) than the
    outdoor shots. The flash exposure was
    set by the sensor on the flash
    recording reflected light. The outdoor
    exposures were much more likely to
    have the increased dynamic range that
    would fool a center-weighted TTL
  17. Ok Old times, a long time ago, Popular Photography Published a story about
    peter Gowland who shot 4 sheets Kodachrome gamlmourPhotos.,
    I think he was being drafted in the '40's and his wife sold all four.
    This implies that it required skill and understanding to make 4 out of 4,
    or so the article implies. The magazine treated it as a perfect batting average.
    As a small boy I read National geographic I saw that most photos were shot
    on Kodachrome. national geographic , at the time, had their own kodachrome lab.
    Some , liker the guards at buckingham palace were shot on anscochrome 100.
    Kodak, at that time only had Ektachrome 32. I do not know what process.
    Agfa-ansco was owned by the US goverment during WWII and I think the
    HS anscochrome was developed for aerial photography.
    In the 1960's, I used both Kodachrome and Plus-x.
    Kodak processing in fairlawn took one week., a 20 exp roll of Kodachrome
    iso 10 or later 25, was $1.39.
    Many shots than were done by the instructions on the box. or the kodak paper wheel.
    My aunt, who was a US army Nurse had a kodak 35rf andf an argus c-3.
    as far as I know she did not have a meter. she took hudreds of slides in both
    europe and korea and japan just after ww II. I saw very few bad shots.
    whe n I started 35mm photography in 1960, there seemed to be few bad
    shots on a roll. Flash shote were a problem until I leared thet manufacturer's LIED.
    I had to adjust exposure as my shots came out underexposed.,
    later they redesigned the Ultrablit Monojet so the reflector was smaller.
    I sometimes used asa 32 Ektachrome instead of asa 10 kodachrome..
    Just because of the weak flash unit.
    But Ektachrome sometimes was FOOLED and there were blue/green color
    crossovers making some photos unusable. Kodachrome did not have this problem.
    when asa 25 kodachrome came out I stopped using Ektachrome.
    My first 35mm cameras the C-3 and the "classic IV" ($14.00)
    were meterless and things worked out well. a few washed out but not many.
    Many of my early kodachrome shots with my first meterless SLR
    were either by eye por sunny 16. it worked, but you had to be thinking.
    I think the problems with narrow latitude slide film were exagerated.
    I think partly it was because people took photography seriously and were not the
    same as today's snap shooters.
    The early roll film flash cameras using various forms or Kodaclolor were a
    different matter. and folks with no idea what they were doing just banged away.
    I think the Kodachrome era when cameras were metal and glass .
    Each photo took more than a second to compose.,
    and people were thinking while taking photos.
    Was the Golden age of photography.
    we are in a different age now.
    ( yes I really tried to edit and correct this post)
    I am not altogether a LUDDITE. I enjoy using an auto evberything 35mm P&S
    with 200 or 400 kodacolor. especially with poor eyes.
  18. The slow speed of film back then was the main reason lenses had so much glass and were so "fast". You'd often need the extra light through then lens to get the shot. Of course, the extra light through the lens allow focusing better since you could see your subject better in low light. Today, fast lenses are over rated since digital ISO's allow faster shutters with smaller apertures. LED's amplify the lower light as well so you can see your subject as if in daylight. While larger aperture are good for shallow DOF for portraits, shooting at such open apertures make DOF field so small as to not allow enough of the subject to be in focus.
  19. I was a photojournalist back in the 60s (The San Francisco Chronicle) and I quit when, in the early 70s, I was told that it would be another ten years before the daily paper would be able to use color photos.
    I made much of my living for the next eight years with Kodachrome, and didn't feel particularly burdened by it at the time. And even many years later, when I "went digital", those old Kodachromes produced 24 megapixel scans, which produced some great prints.
    But a couple of days ago it struck me how much of a pain it actually was. I put two new 128 Gig CF cards in my Nikon D3x, which brought back memories of schlepping a picnic cooler holding 100 rolls of K64 135-36 around the world. (This was a shoot for a construction company in 1974.) The two new cards will let me shoot more pictures than that whole batch of film, at higher ISOs, with much greater latitude and zero schlepping.
    So I'm grateful to Kodak for having provided a fine photographic material, and I'm very glad I don't have to use it anymore.
    richardendress likes this.
  20. I don't know about the Pros but the most non-pro were doing fine with an Argus C3 or Kodak Pony 135 and Kodakchrome
  21. Surely when the fastest film was Kodak Tri-X or Ilford HP3 at 100 ASA you just got on with it or else experimented with May & Baker's Promicrol to get 800 ASA plus. Indoors Kodachrome was a whole stop faster with Type A. In the studio I was started with Ilford Special Rapid ....25 ASA :)
    Maybe that was the fifties and things were better in the sixties? I was editing for Tv by then and shooting col neg at home.
    More interesting I think is to note the angle of shooting as press photographers changed from eye level Speed Gaphics down to waist level Rollies and then back up to eye level again with prism VF for the Rollei and 35mm cameras ... of course there was no change for those using Leicas and Contax. Canon/Nikon? ... urrgh, Japanese copies :)
  22. My recollection of the days of ASA 10 - 25 Kodachrome was that we definitely set the bar lower than we do today both with respect to the expected accuracy of exposures as well as the variety of shooting situations under which we might reasonably expect decent exposures.
    Expectations were that almost anyone who could read and follow directions could take reasonably well exposed outdoor, daytime pix using the little exposure tables (ie, sunny / open shade / cloudy /etc.) included on the data sheet packaged with each roll of film. Much to the surprise of many newcomers to photography, these variants of the Sunny-16 rule still work quite well even in today's era of digital cameras.
    In addition, in the 1950's and '60's, a lot of folks used elaborate "exposure calculators", ie, extensive tables of different lighting situations. These worked well enough if the subject matter was such that being a stop or two off could be attributed to artistic choice and not regarded as an obvious error. Night photography of buildings and landscapes comes to mind. Some of these "exposure calculators" are still around, e.g., http://www.fredparker.com/ultexp1.htm . Bracket by a couple of stops on either side of the exposure recommended by one of these, and you could almost always get an exposure that was quite acceptable in those days.
    The real challenge came when you had to get a decent color shot outside of those situations, especially of people indoors with artificial lighting that could vary tremendously in brightness, color temp, etc.. In the 50's pros used Weston and Gossen meters, with many other mfgrs of light meters becoming available by the early '70's. Most of these meters were not terribly sensitive (compared to today's meters), nor were they very accurate, especially in low light, but at least they gave you a reasonable starting point. In the late 1950's, I started using a Weston, and it greatly improved my rate of keepers for indoor color available light shooting. Obviously, exposure for B&W shots was always much less of a problem than shooting slides because of the much larger dynamic range and the ability to do a lot of tweaking of B&W images in the darkroom.
    If you were shooting an event and were willing to use direct flash either from a flashbulb or an electronic flash unit, life got much, much simpler because you could work from reasonably reliable Guide Numbers. OTOH, if you wanted to bounce the flash, it was much more of a crap shoot because of the different heights and colors of ceilings, walls, etc. Nowdays, we think nothing of bouncing a flash, confident that the exposure will be very close because of all of the automation in modern cameras and flash units.
    So, I think the answer is we nailed a lot of shots and "we got by" on the rest of them. We selected where and when we pressed the button, we relied on exposure tables and the best meters of that era, we used direct flash when we could, we replaced light bulbs in lamps and fixtures with photobulbs, and, most of all, we simply didn't expect to nail every shot when doing indoor color available light event photography.
    Tom M
  23. Although I wasn't a pro back then...
    I didnt' shoot a lot of Kodachrome in the 70's, but I shot some. Mostly I shot B&W films. Panatomic-X and Plus-X were my favorites. I didn't really care for Tri-X, because I didn't like the huge grain when I enlarged. So I would have to say that lower ISO values didn't bother me. I'd just meter and shoot. Most of my metering, BTW, was incident.
    I did do a bit of faster paced flash work with a humungous Honeywell Strobonar 780s (thyristor version). I did have to keep up and didn't have the luxury of missing shots, so I used only direct flash (no bounce). In fact "small" strobes in those days weren't built for bounce flash. There was no way to set the head at an angle and still meter the scene. There was also no TTL flash metering. So back then, flash looked like flash, and we just lived with it. It was my preference to use natural light whenever and wherever possible, but when the light got too dim, out came the potato masher.
    Photography with multiple flashes (either bulb or strobe) was an available option back then, mostly for studio work. In such work, Polaroid test shots were used by quite a lot to fine tune their lighting before the real shot.
    I suppose fill flash would have certainly been an option back then. I had a little Vivitar shoe-mount flash with thyristor circuitry that would have worked. However, it wasn't an art I had yet developed.
  24. One problem that newspapers had in that day with color (regardless of whether it was Kodachrome, Ektachrome, etc.) was that color separation negatives had to be made from the transparency before a color photo could be printed. A separate image through colored filters was made on black and white sheet film. Kodak's long gone Super XX was popular for this process because its spectral response to each color was similar. The local newspaper here had to send its color to a lab 100 miles away to get color separations made and then precise alignment was essential to get a good reproduction in the paper.
  25. Well, my experience was different that what some are saying here. I remember my first roll of Kodachrome (ASA 10), and the three photos that came out other than solid black. Next paycheck I bought a light meter. So much for the sunny-16 rule of thumb. Through the rest of the ASA 10 days I averaged 3 to 6 black frames even with the light meter.
    Kodachrome II improved things to where I almost never got a black frame, and after Kodachrome 25 came out I do not remember getting any at all, except deliberately for transition slides.
    Then an assignment came back from Kodak, with every image cut in half, and I never used Kodachrome again. But for 25 years Kodachrome was the only color film I shot.
  26. I shot a lot of Kodachrome 25 in my college days using my Konica Auto S2. I even once got some that was out of date by a year and the colors were still excellent. Didn't care as much for the Kodachrome 64, though. When I needed more speed I used High Speed Ektachrome or Fujichrome R100.
  27. Greg's photo of the Trans International jet is a stunner by any standard.
    I did a couple of photo books with Kodachrome 64. In those days you used your noggin more and relied on automation less, and I still like working that way. Your brain is fast if you know your tools, especially without all of today's camera "features" to clutter the process.
    In the 60s flash was done by guide numbers which you knew by heart, or if you didn't, there were tables or simple calculators ready at hand. For direct flash, guide numbers have the advantage of avoiding "subject failure," which can fool meters.
    Someone wrote that E-6 processing was available in the 1960s. If memory serves, Kodak in the 1960s offered either Kodachrome processing or E-3. E-6 didn't arrive until the mid-1970s with E-4 in between.
  28. Back to the original question:

    From my experience on a small daily in the 1970s -- no one there shot Kodachrome for publication. Processing time lag was too great (down to Palo Alto and back) and then slides would have to be sent out for separations. Although our press was color-capable, the set-up time and general economics made no sense for 99% of cases.

    Film was Tri-X in HC-110. Cameras were 35mm SLRs and Mamiya TLRs, both hooked when needed to Honeywell Strobonars that were powerful and reliable. Ours ran from separate battery packs.

    Fujichrome was just appearing. Kodachrome II and the K-12 process disappeared in 1974, replaced by K25, K64 and K-14. The replacements weren't impressive and cost Kodak a lot of goodwill.

    When color printing became more feasible, in the mid-80s, photographers used color neg film and in-house mini-processors. By then I'd moved over to writing and editing, so am less familiar.
    The strobist mini-cult is emulating '70s flash techniques. Advances in digital image quality and enhanced ISO reduce the immediate need to add lighting, which doesn't mean that expertly used lighting doesn't make for a better photo.
  29. Thanks everyone for their wonderful responses, I've certainly learned a thing or two and it has dispelled some misconceptions.

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