Shooting SantaColor 100 with a Leica M6
Earlier this year I backed an Indiegogo campaign started by Santa Film, for a 5-pack of SantaColor 100, color negative 35mm film. This happened to coincide with me acquiring a gently used and well loved Leica M6 that I’ve been lusting after for 20 some odd years from an old friend, along with a vintage 50mm Summilux and newer Voigtländer 28mm Ultron lenses. Two weeks ago the film arrived, just before I set out on an epic road trip.
I started to shoot film again in April of 2021, mostly on a well loved Rollei 35, as a way to slow down, as a way to reduce the editing. I will get around to sharing those rolls, this post is about my first experience with a new, old stock, SantaColor 100.
Post-pandemic, film has sadly been in short supply and prices have spiked, as have developing costs. On the positive though, new film stocks have emerged, some a bit more funky and creative, others are bulk stocks used for other purposes that have been cut down and re-spooled into 36exp canisters; SantaColor is just this.
SantaColor 100 is aerial surveillance photography film that was likely left in cold freezers for years. It’s perfectly fine to shoot as still photographs, carries an ISO of 100 but can be shot up to 800 without color shift, only enhanced contrast. I chose to shoot box speed of 100.
The unique characteristics of the film are a thinner base and a clear back, which do present their own challenges. From their Indiegogo page,
Highly colour accurate with slightly increased red sensitivity. When scanned, typically on the warmer side and sometimes on the redder side.
With that in mind, I packed the film, hopped on a plane and off to Los Angeles I went. The following morning at the painful time of 4AM I set out on what was to be 4 long days of driving and adventure having.
The route left Hollywood and headed north to Lassen Volcanic National Park, staying on the eastern side of the Sierras, then return down the western side and into Yosemite National Park. The timing couldn’t have been better, starting autumn and fingers crossed it would be prime leaf changing season. The plan was to keep a somewhat loose schedule and pull off wherever something interesting caught my eye.
Below are the images followed by some info on where they were taken.
The 1,734 mile round trip adventure started off with a stop at a hot spring just outside Bishop, in what turned out to be a luke-warm spring, but my first crack at shooting some images. The first two images below are from the winding rode leading to the hot spring. I couldn’t decided on horizontal or vertical so I included both.
Next is a similar, dirt road to the mountains taken off 395 near a placed called Buttermilk Road
The next 3 photos were taken at a campground in Inyo National Forrest
Somewhere near Hilltop Hot Spring (which I never ended up going to) was this beautiful old church.
Leaving the church the goal was to make it to Mono Lake before Sunset, and that didn’t exactly happen. The next 4 photos turned out to be rather amazing during the post-sunset, golden / blue hour where the sky churned through wonderful pastel colors.
The next day involved driving north even further along 395 but the old truck on the side of the road had me hit the brakes.
Lassen Volcanic National Park is absolutely massive and admittedly I didn’t spend enough time in it, however the one photo on this role that I really enjoyed of the trees is next. Much of the park (and the drive in) have a post-apocalyptic feel due to the Dixie Fire that burned in the summer of 2021, engulfing 73,240 acres with flames. What remains is both saddening, and a wake-up call that Mother Nature is fierce and can be unrelenting in her ways.
Outside of the park on a random road back towards the neighboring town of Susanville I came across this beautiful fence, lush trees and the mountain in back. Hucked a quick U-turn and snapped another photo.
In the town of Susanville is this old, abandoned and forgotten home, with a storm brewing overhead in the distance, early in the morning, I’m very pleased with this image.
About an hour outside Susanville to the south-east is Lake Almanor, and where I found this collection of cars enjoying some afternoon sun.
Returning to Susanville in the late afternoon, after the sun had shifted I was finally able to line up a photograph of the Sierra Movie Theater. I had passed it a handful of times the day before, I wasn’t happy with morning or mid-day light and there was always cars in front, so with the afternoon sun shining, I eagerly grabbed a pic. Sadly, I neglected to notice the overhead wires and wish I would have framed it differently.
Last photograph on this roll was the first photograph in Yosemite National Park of the famous, El Capitan.
While I did load a second roll of SantaColor100, I wasn’t able to finish it before the trip ended, it’s still in the camera and I returned home only snapping a few quick photos inside Yosemite.
Returning to Los Angeles at the end of this trip, I dropped the film off at Samy’s Camera, a staple in LA since 1976, to get the film processed and scanned. The gentleman I dropped the roll off with seemed to know what it was, but I’m not 100% sure the lab did.
The images I shared in this post have only been slightly cropped and, or, rotated, and scanning dust removed. I’ve played around with color correcting them but ultimately am deciding to leave them as is. From the Indiegogo page, I expected there to be some reddish hues,
Due to the clearer base, some scanners are confused by the film and give a very red image. This is easily correct when home scanning or when done by a good lab.
And this is painfully obvious, but not in a detrimental way. If I wanted pure color accuracy I could have shot Portra 160 or 400, or even Kodak Gold 200, I knew what I was getting into and don’t blame Samy’s for their scanning job.
As of publishing this blog post, I have a half roll in the Leica and 3 more rolls in the fridge and am looking forward to producing some more amazing images in the near future.