It started a few months ago with a letter, and ended with a brand new film: Summer Santa!
Packed between boxes of cameras coming in for sale and appraisal was a tiny box. It was far more decorated than the others, and seemed to have absolutely no damage from shipping. It's pretty rare to see a package that pristine.
The handwriting, though, was a different story. It was scribbles at best, and unreadable at worst. Yet somehow it made it here, all the way from.. The North Pole?
Oh, Rae! It had been quite awhile since we had heard from Rae, our elf friend who helps us distribute Santa 1000 film to the world. Rae is an interesting character to say the least, but they’re the only way we can get access to the film Santa uses to keep track of the good and bad kids through the darkest days of winter.
Inside, we found a letter.
“Hello humans!” it read, “The elves and me have been playing around here in the nice spring weather! It’s beautiful outside, even here! On one of our walks, we found an old factory for making toys.”
Just to be clear, I’m cleaning up the grammar. I've picked up some Elvish while working with Rae over the past few months. The letter continued, saying that the factory looked like it hadn’t been used in some time and had a strange smell.
“We quickly realized it was film!” the letter read.
Now I was interested. I called over some coworkers and we read more together.
“It turns out,” Rae wrote, “that Santa used to vacation in Miami during the 80s and found the 1000 speed film too sensitive. He needed a new film to capture his surfing adventures with his friends!”
Santa surfing? Sounds fake, but sure. The letter continued, saying that Santa had the elves create a secret new film with an ISO of 125, which was much better for capturing Santa’s sweet surfing tricks.
“Check underneath for a present! From, Rae” was how the letter ended. Below the note was a delicate arrangement of film, in both 35mm and 120. It was a totally new film, labelled Summer Santa!
Just like the elves probably hoped, we were like children opening presents on Christmas. Each of us took a few rolls to test, and soon our office was a cacophony of winding cameras. Even more than normal, that is.
Shooting Summer Santa
I took my rolls around the city of Tampere in a Minolta Dynax 9. We’ve had beautiful weather here, and the days I spent shooting were no different. The sun was strong, which can be a difficult area for contrasty film. If Summer Santa was anything like Santa 1000, it might struggle!
Still, I loaded the film up and set my ISO. Half my rolls were shot at 50, and the other half at 125. We had tasked ourselves to shoot the film at various ISOs to test the developing.
According to Rae, human developing chemicals are quite different than the ones they use up North.
Both 50 and 125 were perfect for the bright sun and reflective surfaces of the buildings. 125 gives you a bit more contrast, but the film isn’t quite as contrasty and grainy as its winter cousin.
It’s quite sharp, and the grain is a pleasing middle ground between ultra-fine grain and strong, Tri-X style grain.
The detail that Summer Santa resolved in the fountain is quite impressive, and motion looks perfectly frozen even without utilizing the full 1/12000th shutter speed of the Dynax 9. The train station’s subdued lighting provided a bit of a challenge, but with exposure compensated one stop down the light became soft and delicate, even in the heart of an urban environment.
Soon after, I ran into a new puppy in a park and couldn’t resist capturing some shots of her. Stella made a natural model, and her jet-black fur gave the Summer Santa a chance to show how much detail it could capture in the shadows. I think it did a pretty great job!
Then it was off to the beach. In Tampere, we have beautiful forests and beaches within a half hour of the city center, all by foot. The beaches and forests of Pyynikki are just a bit to the west of the city center, and always offer enticing scenery.
Now, I’ll be honest, I don’t shoot much black and white. When our lab tech Sasa and our main elf liaison Roman were telling me about the different dilutions and chemicals they wanted to try, my eyes glazed over a bit. All I know is that I shot this film the same way I shoot normally, and I’m happy with the results.
And that they used XTOL 1+1 fat 20ºC. 7 minutes for ISO 125, and 4 minutes, 35 seconds for ISO 50. Whatever that means! If you're more developing-inclined than I am, click here to see the dev chart for Summer Santa! You can even add to it by sending them a message on Instagram!
Pyynikki was playing host to plenty of locals. There was volleyball at the beaches, tennis at the clay courts, and people climbing rocks, tanning in the sun, and riding bikes. Summer really seemed to be here, and I wanted to capture it all on Summer Santa!
Luckily, I had the Minolta Dynax 9. Equipped with the 50mm f1.7 and the infamous 70-210mm f4 “beercan” lens, I captured tangible memories of this beautiful day on Santa’s vacation film.
Some of my favorites include a tennis backhand, a Volkswagen van, and some exposed roots.
Next, it was off to the Hatanpään Arboretum. Hatanpää is a small neighborhood just south of the city center with a large lakefront park and arboretum. A great choice to contrast the city shots. There were plenty of people out for walks and bike rides along the coast, and the sun was beginning to go down.
This led to even stronger sun than before, especially looking out over the lake. The water’s reflections can be incredibly difficult to capture, but Summer Santa seems to give them an interesting glow. It reminds me of Cinestill 800T and the popular bloom effect created by blown-out highlights. It’s pretty cool.
I think the water really showcases just how crisp Summer Santa can be. It makes sense, since Santa had this film made specifically to capture his waterborne exploits. The lake can also showcase just how soft and delicate this new film can be.
As the sun went down, I dropped the exposure compensation again to silhouette things. I think this is another area where Summer Santa does a great job. The shadows look natural and strong.
Some of my favorites include a silhouetted thinker, a light’s shadow, clear water, and fishermen.
The Film & Conclusions
Overall, It’s quite flexible. It should work well with a wide variety of shooting styles. If you want more contrast, you can shoot this film at up to around ISO 400, even. Only Kodak Portra 400 really has the flexibility to go from ISO 50 to ISO 400 in the color space. It’s really impressive.
Despite the shadows being strong, they are also delicate and still contain quite a lot of data. If you wanted to, you could easily pull out a ton of detail from the shadows in post-processing.
This is hard to show with photos, but the scans we did tend to make the shadows stronger than they are on the negative. There is a lot of detail in those shadows.
One thing worth noting, though, is that Santa film is thin. If you’ve used Santa 1000, it’s very similar. This may lead to the film breaking more easily, so try not to force a camera to advance or your lab may have issues processing the film. It also means that you should keep Summer Santa in a dark place after shooting it. Because the film is so thin, light can creep through the barriers of the film canister more easily than they can with Kodak or Fuji film. This normally means a few shots with slightly lighter areas near the edges. They can even mirror the sprocket holes. It’s totally avoidable, but worth noting!
Some of my coworkers shared their shots and stories with me, confirming what I had thought. Summer Santa is quite a useful film, and its ISO range allows you to use it almost all the time. Between Summer and Winter Santas, you can shoot with Santa all year long!
And that’s the beauty of it. With Rae’s help, we’re able to bring you Summer Santa in 35mm and 120 right away, although our first shipment wasn’t too large. If enough people give surfing Santa a shot, though, we’ll be sure to place another order with the big guy up North!