Week 49: Fuji Acros 100 explores the Icelandic wilderness

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Enjoying a few days stopover in Iceland, I opted for the well regarded Fuji Acros 100 black & white film to capture the essence of Iceland. Here are my impressions of this wonderful place imprinted on 35mm and 120mm film.

Taagreat way to get to the US and enjoy a few days in Iceland on the way there or back. However, with the entrance of Wow Air to the Icelandic air market, and a real marketing push by Icelandair, Wow Air, and the Icelandic Tourist Board, there has been a real explosion in tourists heading to Iceland. Whilst I still highly recommend a visit, I still believe until you have see Iceland in the cold winter months, with plenty of snow and ice around, you haven't really experienced the essence of this unique place. 

A bit more about Iceland

Actually, given I am a geographer by background, and seeing that I spent the vast majority of time in Iceland looking at the wonderful landscapes, let's explore its geological history a bit more. Iceland is actually a relatively young island in geological terms, appearing out of the ocean some 16 million years ago. It lies right in-between the Eurasian and North American plates, and as such is a hotspot for geological activities. These plates are active and moving at a rate of 2.5cm a year. Whilst that might not sound like a lot, make no mistake about it, Iceland is "alive" in geological terms, still forming before your very eyes. 

If you can remember your high school books around earthquakes and movements of plates, all drawn as illustrations of what was happening underneath us. Well here you can see the different plates with your own eyes. Similar in some ways to the visible San Andreas fault in California. Add to this glaciers, geysers, unusual rock formations, some long Icelandic words, and throw in some Icelandic horses and you will start to understand the uniqueness of this place. 

It is said to have over 200 volcanoes, and wouldn't you know it, the ones with the most unpronounceable names get the most attention! Actually, whilst the Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption caused global air travel chaos, it seemingly also bolstered tourism interest.

This island is both a geologist and photographer's dream - but you do have to get up early enough to avoid the tourists.

A bit about my chosen film

I'd been saving this one for a while, specifically for this trip actually. I figured I would get bright weather (which for the most part I did), and I was looking for a contrasty black & white film. I was also going to challenge myself to shoot in black & white and look for interesting shapes and patterns in the landscape. In the end I did actually bring a roll of Kodak Ektar 100 colour film with me, as I figured it might be a while until I come back to this island. 

I had heard very good things about Fuji Across 100, and was keen to try it out. The black & white film market is alive and well, largely dominated by Ilford, but with some other notable mentions by Kodak and the great value Fomapan among others - I was curious to see how Acros 100 stacked up against these. Here is what Fuji has to say about this film:

Neopan 100 ACROS film further develops Fujifilm's existing Sigma Crystal Technology and Super Uniform Fine-Grain Technology by greatly increasing the amount of light captured by the film grains and more effectively utilising the absorbed light. This new film uses Fujifilm's newly developed Super Fine-Grain Technology to overcome the problems of reduced sensitivity that occur with ultra-fine grains, thus creating high resolution and ultra-fine granularity. Fujifilm achieves the world's highest standard in grain quality while attaining excellent intensity reciprocity characteristics. Finer grains bring out the natural beauty of delicate skin tones. This, coupled with its outstanding shadow detail reproduction, broadens the range of photographic expression.

Product Benefits

  • Medium-speed, ultra-high image quality black-and-white film.
  • The world's highest standard in grain quality among ISO-100 films.
  • Super Fine Sigma Grain Technology.
  • Fujifilm's Precision Iodine Distribution Control Technology.

I did do a small photo walk around Reykjavik one day and then spent a long day out in the Icelandic wilderness, mostly on the south coast though, venturing as far as the picturesque village of Vik. Here are my impressions, and a quick note on the medium format version of Fuji Acros (these are the large square images), I scanned these myself and for some reason they had quite a few markings on them, so some of them can appear a bit scratched.

A typical Icelandic sweater, they are really quite the rage here, although I have never seen them being worn outside of Iceland. Pity, as I am all for local designs and customs. Reminds me of the Aran Sweaters in Ireland!

The Lutheran church of Hallgrímskirkja, standing at 74m tall one of the highest structures in Iceland, it really is quite spectacular.

View from the top. Actually if these were colour, you would see all the different coloured houses, which really stand out. A quick note on film, looking good so far in terms of fine grain and contrast.
View towards the city airport - the main international airport is about 45 mins away. Although great airport in the city with direct flights to Greenland, I have got to do that next time I go there!
A quite large church organ, actually built by a German organ builder.
I am really happy with how this shot came out, it was really extremely bright. I like the simplicity of this perspective.
A great view of the church with the statue of Leif Ericsson, who is said to have discovered America 500 years before Columbus. 
A very short walk from the church, I stumbled across this fantastic photography print shop, Fotografi. Of course with old film rolls in the window and a really cool display of film cameras, I had no choice but to go straight in. And what a great place, with loads of prints (digital and film) from a variety of Icelandic photographers. Highly recommended, some stellar work.
And of course, I just had to talk to the guy in there! Here is Jens, a super experienced film photographer, who knows more about film and developing than anyone I have ever met, literally. We had a good chat and I got this great snap of him with my Rolleiflex. Oh yes, I am now the proud owner of a Rolleiflex camera. At 50+ years old, this medium format wonder of German engineering still works perfectly. More on this in a special review coming soon. Also, how cool does Jens look with his Icelandic sweater on - have to be Icelandic to pull it off I think!
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A view of the inside of the photography gallery, filled with old cameras! No doubt that they all work too.
The famous Harpa concert hall. A really exceptional design, inspired by the basalt landscape of Iceland, it produces some spectacular and ever changing lighting as the sun reflects off it.
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The inside is really quite amazing on a bright sun day, with rays of light literally bouncing off every surface being reflected in all directions. Oh, and look at that contrast - nice job Fuji Acros!
One to print and frame I think...
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In some ways it reminds me of the Guggenheim in Bilbao, where its surface is somewhat consistent, yet it produces a really random and unique lighting environment.
View away from the Reykjavik Harbour.
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Some random shop display that I thought would look good in black & white, and I wasn't wrong!
Many of the houses here have corrugated metal sheets on the front, sometimes coloured, not sure of the reason of this, but it looks quite cool.
One of the main shopping streets in Reykjavik. This city is really very trendy, with lots of really cool cafes, bars and restaurants. Once you have been here you start to make sense of the fact that the singer Bjork is from here, it all has a lot of personality!
Some pretty cool street art on the side of a building, not sure what I would make of that after copious amounts of Icelandic beer - it might scare me to death. Back to the film, look how sharp this shot is, great stuff!
I saw the sweater and I snapped this scene.
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I quite lighted the lights in the twighlight time. I had also heard that Fuji Acros is particularly good at night, and so far that rings true. I am definitely going to try this film at night in a city environment with bright lights, really great contrast!
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About my day trip

Having been to Iceland a few times before and done "the tourist bit", I was happy this time to have a car. I also did not want to drive to spend all day driving, so concentrated my planned stops around the south coast, as you can see below. The aim was to leave early and head out towards Vik. If I have learned anything from photographing landscapes whilst on holiday, you absolutely must wake up before dawn and get to where you are intending at least 2 or 3 hours before those dreaded selfie sticks. That way you get some alone time with nature and only start to see lots of people as you are heading back. 

The main route I did, with a slight detour on the way back.
The impressive Seljalandsfoss waterfall.
A bit harder to shoot from close up because you end up getting quite soaked. It has a cool cave behind it so you can go right around the inside.
A side view of the 60m waterfall, no doubt these two were getting somewhat wet.
A stopped on the side of the road for this shot - suddenly the heavens opened and this most amazing light shone down across the land. It was near biblical. I kind of wished I had colour here, but sometimes imagination is the best artist.
Finally a bit of colour! Seljalandsfoss from the distance. Iceland is really quite green in parts, but I might prefer it covered in snow.
A view of the village of Vik, which despite its small population size of c.300, it is prominently displayed on maps as there is really not much else near it. It has a black sand beach, which is unlike anything I have ever seen before, really quite dramatic. In the distance you can see stacks of basalt, which are remnants of the cliffs, unsurprising seeing as see coastal areas receive the full force of the Atlantic ocean. Popular folklore says these rocks are trolls, who got caught as they tried to take their boats out to sea (or onto land I can't remember which way around it is) and were turned to stone dawn broke.
A colour film view from the beach.
One of my favourite shots actually. I wandered a bit off road for this and saw this really excellent view. Really great colours as always with Kodak Ektar 100.
And this shot is even better! Definitely one to print.
Back to black & white and the fabulous view looking over the Reynisfjara Beach, with Vik behind the big cliff. I really like this photo, really clear and sharp despite changing light conditions. 
Really curious basalt columns at Reynisfjara Beach. These are formed when lava flows and then cools over a period of time, also known as columnar jointing. You may also recognise this formation from the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland.
I opted for a non tourist traditional shot here. Partly because people were climbing all over the columns to take hundreds of photos and there really was not that much free space. Pity really as I doubt any of them did any homework to actually find out what these geological formations really are...
Another favourite shot. I was quite fixated by the black sand, so I decided the focus of this shot would be the many small pebbles dotted everywhere.
A colour shot of the view from above.
This time the shot from the beach up towards the cliffs where the previous shot was taken. Another great shot, those rock formations are really quite something.
Really happy with the contrast in this shot, Fuji Acros is living up to its name so far!
When in Iceland, one must take copious amounts of rock photographs!
More unique and interesting formations.
Quite an eerie sight to look at as you drive across this barren landscape - what a view!
Random photo, but I was lucky with this guy walking right into my frame at the right time and even having a semi reflection in the puddle.
The very famous Skogafoss waterfall, with a drop of over 60 metres! 
I am glad I did have some colour film on me, otherwise I would not have been able to capture this really excellent rainbow. There is so much spray from the waterfall you can sometimes even get 2 rainbows with the right amount of sun shining.
Yep, the place is popular. If doing a self driving tour of Iceland, get here first thing in the morning and you will have the place to yourself, bar a few hardcore photographers.
A random shot of a house built into a big rock.
The view from the top of the Skogafoss waterfall. It is quite a trek up, but the views are quite breathtaking.
Not for the faint hearted, it is quite a drop and it doesn't help that what you are standing on has holes!
And over the edge we go...
This scene is so good I wanted to take it in colour also. Just spectacular.

Overall impressions

Well as you can see I am a big fan of Iceland. In fact it is one of my favourite places in the world. However, I am not one for real mass tourism in delicate natural environments, and the boom in tourist has been very noticeable since my last visit. That being said - go in Winter! You will have fewer people and get a real sense of what Iceland is all about.

So back to the film. Despite the scanning challenges with somewhat marked negatives (I had 3x120 medium format films that I scanned, and 1x35mm film that the pro lab scanned (excluding the Kodak Extra film)), this film turned out mostly very well. I did notice some differences in shading and level of contrast, but put that down to differences in scanning. It is also the first time I have used this film, and certainly need to try it again (especially at night). From what I can see it certainly has the potential to be a great film, and I know it has a superb reputation in the market. 

I also really enjoyed the challenge of shooting landscapes in black & white, really very different to colour and you have to a be so much more attentive to lighting and the various shapes and geometry the landscape is presenting you with.

So there you have it, my journey around a very small area of the wonderful Icelandic landscape (don't forget this island is really much bigger than you think...about 25% larger than Ireland, yet with a population of 300,000 - that makes for a lot of empty space).

Only 3 more weeks left and then this project is all done - exciting times! But not to worry, I already have my eyes set on my next project, all will be revealed soon! Thanks for joining me on our great holiday in Boston and Iceland, see you in Week 50!

Cheers,

Neil