Week 20 + 21: Fuji Pro and Kodak TMax visit Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Austria!

Taking advantage of Frankfurt's central location, my 52 rolls of film project goes through 4 countries in just two and a half days. A combined weeks 20 + 21 in colour and black & white!

The plan was relatively simple, drive south towards Switzerland, leave the car in a garage, jump on a train, head around the Alps, and return. Of course nothing ends up being that simple, but it's good to have some kind of a loose plan!

The loosely planned journey would take me down to Chur in Switzerland, then jump on a train to experience the world famous Bernina railway line and head over to St. Moritz. From there (and weather permitting) head further along the Bernina line nearly as far as Italy and return. The drive back would take me through Liechtentstein ('cos why not it is right there and happy to add another country to my list of places visited!), a very small part of Austria along the Bodensee and back up into Germany and home.

A word about the films

I had actually planned for some low ISO (100) film but as the weekend trip got closer I saw the weather was up to its usual non-cooperative antics, and so I decided for a more neutral ISO 400. I was also interested to see the Alps and other scenery in both colour and black & white so I ended up with the following two films of choice:

  1. Fuji Pro 400H: I have heard good things about this film, also that it has a broad exposure latitude (I figured that would come in handy for the snow shots) and is suitable for "general photographic applications and working in a wide variety of lighting conditions." (according to Fuji)
  2. Kodak TMax 400: another strong contender in the black & white market, known for its "versatility benefits working in difficult lighting conditions and with moving subjects, and its fine grain profile, broad tonal range, and high resolving power benefit scanning and enlarging applications" (according to Kodak)

A bit more about the railway journey

Now I am certainly not putting myself in the class of an anorak wearing trainspotter, but how could one not get excited about the prospect of going on a Swiss train through the Alps?! I had always dreamed about taking one of those famous Swiss red trains, and what better way to do it than as part of this 52 rolls of film project!

Being based in Chur (a small quaint Swiss town in the Alpine Rhine valley) would give easy access to the Bernina Railway line (the famous Bernina Express starts in Chur) and relatively easy to get to from Frankfurt (about a 4 and a half hour drive). Now, thanks to lots of traffic on the fastest route down, I ended up taking the worst route on the other side down via Basel. I was also rudely surprised to learn what the word vignette means (trust me if you ever see that word - run!). Basically it's a highway tax, which I don't have any issue with in principle - although having to fork out 40 euro for a yearly pass that you cannot use in another car (I had a hire car) is no laughing matter. But, when heading to Switzerland I have learned you cannot really do it on the cheap - yes, it is expensive!

Less complaining, more optimism...and back to the drive to Chur. What was interesting about this drive was turning on the radio once you get into Switzerland and hearing German, Italian, French, Swiss German and some other language I couldn't possibly follow (probably Swiss German!), very cool!

As a geographer I also found the demographics of Switzerland interesting, a population of 8 million living in a country of 40,000 square kilometres. Compare that to Ireland with a population of roughly 4 million, but double the size at 82,000 square kilometres. Also, the largest city in Switzerland (Zurich) only has c.400,000 inhabitants, which means there are lots and lots of smaller towns all over the place.

OK, enough of being a geography geek - time for photos!

Cameras ready to go. A larger map of the Rhaetian Railway map, including the world famous Bernina Railway line, more on that here.
The Alps in all their glory. I really like how the Kodak TMax film comes into its own under difficult lighting conditions. I also used my Leica exclusively on the train, the Hasselblad (I call him the bazooka) is too big and does not have a fast enough shutter speed to reduce image blur (1/500 vs 1/1000 of the Leica)
A view into one of the many valleys this wonderful train takes you through. You can see the back end of the train too. Fantastically large windows, although hard to avoid a bit of window reflection.
Overlooking Lake St. Moritz. You can (barely) see someone walking at the very bottom in a red jacket - yes, that is a big mountain! I had heard that shooting film in snow is hard, and now I see why. My external light meter nearly gave up and went home - hard to expose for!
St. Moritz train station. I really like how the Kodak film manages the differences in light between extremely bright snow and the rest of the scene, well done!
St. Moritz from the other side of the lake. Tough conditions to shoot colour film in, and a cloudy sky doesn't help!
What a white mess.
Ah, finally a bit of colour. Engineers hard at work...let me tell you I have never seen such an efficient train system as that in Switzerland. They are usually early and always impeccably clean. Nice colour rendition by this Fuji film too.
Missed the World Ski Championships by a few weeks, but plenty of marketing still around. Nice photo given a strong back light.
Snowing and happy. As you can see, it is hard to get snow right without it becoming a blob of white mess. Nice colour in the trees though.
I wanted to see how Kodak TMax faired inside, bit of a flat image overall, but potentially due to the lighting. More and more I find black and white film excels in darkness with some light (e.g. street lighting) and scenes with strong contrasts.
A view over a frozen Lake St. Moritz.
Mr. 52 rolls of film.
This scene caught my eye, lots of lines and different levels. St. Moritz overall is very small, and I was less interested in all the high end shops and posers. Lots and lots of skiers though, which is easy to see why.
Back on the Bernina Railway Line, however less lucky as I moved on from St. Moritz and climbed with the railway. The weather became worse and worse, eventually ending up in more snow than I have ever seen before. However, unsurprising given it is the highest railway line in Europe, but definitely worth a trip back during the summer months. I also learned there is a direct Frankfurt-Chur line, which would avoid the horrid vignette! This trip could make another appearance towards the end of the 52 week project, and hopefully in better conditions!
That is one mean looking snow plough.
The world famous Ospizio Bernina, at an elevation of 2,253 metres above sea level and the highest point on the entire Rhaetian Railway network. More on that here.
The long windy climb of the Bernina Railway. By the way those two black dots are people on sledges heading all the way down, winding around and under the railway line - it has got to go on for a few kilometres and looks like a ton of fun!
A very snowy Chur early Sunday morning.

A short 40min drive from Chur and you drive over a river and suddenly you're in Liechtenstein. I thought I was in a fairytale when I saw this scene. Great moody shot.   

A very brief break in the foggy conditions. I like how bright this Fuji film is under the right conditions. Fun driving on the switchback roads too!
Vaduz Castle
Moments later (I'm talking about 90 seconds) - it always amazes me how quickly weather can change. Actually not a bad photo given it is obliterated by the fog.
It didn't take long to drive out of the 25 kilometres of Liechtenstein (yup 25 km!) and head into Austria and up towards the Bodensee (also known as Lake Constanz), taking a break in Bregenz. I am happy to report the Austrians have a vignette valid for 10 days and for only €8,90 (the Swiss need to re-think their highway taxes for tourists if you ask me!). Photo below taken with my Hasselblad and a 120mm roll of Kodak TMax - I really like how clear this photo is and I can see why there are comparisons to Kodak's Tri-X film.
One of my favourite shots from the trip - definitely going to print this one and put it on the wall with my black & white collection. By the way, this lake is big - c.60km long!
Some of these shots were taken in Lindau, on the German side of the Bodensee. It is famous for its island that stretches right out into the lake and has a really cool railway line heading out there too. The colours are a bit over saturated for my liking, but at least it is bright!
Another favourite from the black & white series. I couldn't resist when I saw the light and I am delighted with how it came out.
Under the restaurant that you can seemingly go swimming from - bit dark overall but I was in the shade.
Kinda looks like a basketball court in the middle of an ocean.
Got to love the preciseness and optimism of this sign - Green is coming!
So by mistake I shot this double exposure (when you take a photo and don't wind the film forward and then take another photo on top of it) and it actually came out great! I couldn't have done it better if I tried. Nice bright colours too!
Some funky trees making a nice frame for the wonderful setting that is the Bodensee.

Overall impressions

So whilst it was quite a lot of driving and running around getting trains and looking for good photo opportunities in a non-cooperative Swiss Alps, it was a great few days. I would definitely like to go back during the summer when I have a better chance at capturing what is really jaw dropping landscapes. 

So, what about the film? Overall I am very pleased with how both of these performed under some very difficult lighting conditions. ISO 400 film is always good to have as a bit of a safety net for most situations, and these two films proved that to be correct. I would like to try the Fuji Pro 400H again, next time maybe in some low light streetscapes or concert environment (think artificial lighting). The Kodak TMax 400 is, well, excellent. I'd put it up there with Kodak Tri-X and will definitely shoot it again. And similar to the Fuji, I would like to try it at night to see how it stacks up. 

So there you go, 2 weeks in one go, lots of variety and 4 great countries to visit.

See you next time - now get back out there and...take some more photographs!

All the best,

Neil.