I am a relatively recent convert to the joys (and unpredictability) of pinhole photography, even building one myself not so long ago. As with the majority of my film photography I tend to use black and white film in the pinholes, indeed cannot remember ever having used colour film in one. I have pinholes that accept 35mm, 120 and 5×4 film of which my most-used is a Zero Image 612b, multi-format pinhole that uses 120 film. It is multi-format in that it has a pair of baffles inside that can be moved to facilitate using the camera at 6×4.5, 6×6, 6×7, 6×9 and 6×12.
As a black and white photographer I routinely use filters to control contrast, indeed with most of my film cameras a yellow or yellow/green filter is ever-present on the lens. However, my Zero Image is the basic version and therefore has no bells and whistles such as external filter rings. I lack the tools and skills to adapt the front of the camera working around the sliding “shutter” so have reluctantly accepted the lack of filter options.
I have recently modified the Zero Image to accept filters internally. I did this by taking a 25-37mm step up ring and asking my grandson to take the 25mm thread off (without removing his own fingers). This was then super-glued inside the camera, with the pinhole centrally situated within the ring. Because of the camera’s internal dimensions a 37mm filter ring was the largest filter diameter I could accommodate and still screw filters on/off with my old fingers. By incorporating a screw thread inside the camera and purchasing a few small filters I am now able to use not only contrast control filters but also a 720nm filter to enable me to use infrared film with the pinhole. The only downside is I have to choose upfront what filter I will need and install it before loading the film. In addition, I cannot change the filter part way through the roll. Other than that it works fabulously though and the 37mm yellow filter is rarely out of the camera.
At the 6×12 setting the outer edge of the ring is visible onthe edge of the negative as a very definite vignette BUT once cropped the usable negative area still measures 6×12.1. There are no issues at 6×6, 6×7 or 6×9. I haven’t yet tried 6×4.5 but on this evidence I do not envisage problems, although I very rarely use the smallest negative size with this camera.
DISCLAIMER: I am not an expert on Ilford FP4+ (although I know someone who can seriously claim to be) and nor for the matter am I an expert on semi-stand development. This series of posts has simply been a way for me to share my experiences in the hope that someone somewhere will gain a crumb of insight for their own works.
I mentioned in an earlier post that I’ve been using Twitter over the last six months or so and have connected with film photographers around the globe. I have also enjoyed some of the themed group projects and the main “event”for April 2020 has been the annual “FP4 Party”. I purchased some 120 film especially for the occasion and I also decided that for these party-rolls I would use a semi-stand development in Rodinal at 1+100 – even now I’m not sure what possessed me but I’m glad it did. All of the chosen parameters, from film, camera, chemicals and development process were outside my recent norms, the only consistent factor was that I was using black and white film.
I used six rolls of film during my semi-stand week and three of them were these rolls of FP4+ for #FP4Party. Whilst the methodology and timings were consistent I did vary the temperature of the starting temperature using 20° as it’s the recommended, 18° as that is often the ambient temperature where I develop my films and finally 22° as that can often be the temperature in that room during the summer months even with the back door open. As I always use deionised water when making up chemicals I keep a canister ready for use in the kitchen at all times. Looking at the negatives I cannot see that these small temperature differences materially affected these rolls at these development times.
Ilford FP4+ then, ISO 125, an all-purpose black & white film with fine grain, medium contrast and outstanding sharpness. Ideal for most shooting scenarios in good light conditions; although good light was not a given on this occasion! I’ve used it a couple of times and could attest to the fine grain – focusing with a grain focus finder can be interesting! Developers like my recent go-to of Kodak D76 will tend to minimise grain to a degree, and this would normally have been my developer of choice for these films.
Except I’d decided on Rodinal. Rodinal will in normal use tend to accentuate the grain, except as you already know I wasn’t going to be using it in the “normal” way.
Rodinal is I believe, the oldest commercial developer still in production. Famous for its contrast control and flexibility and outstanding keeping qualities. I always have a bottle on the shelf. Used at higher dilutions such as 1+100, Rodinal can help render high contrast scenes with a more normal level of contrast and that would be an asset given the locations I would be photographing and the light I expected to encounter. The appearance of grain is also proportional to the dilution, so at 1+25 it is at its most obvious, and at 1+100 it is at its finest which was a good match I felt for the fine-grained FP4+.
I’ve already said I was delighted with the negatives, they provided the fine grain I was hoping for and the first batch out of the tank printed very nicely with minimal fuss.
Now my original aim was to darkroom print a set of six to nine of the #FP4Party negatives ready for “reveal” week which was starting on 19th April. I managed a couple and indeed the image above featured in my blog post Printing a Negative. However, life and a couple of other distractions got in the way and I’ve yet to get the opportunity for an extended #FP4Party darkroom session.
The three negatives that I did get to darkroom print were all from the first roll, taken on a day with a bright blue sky and fairly even light which gave me negatives that printed nicely but no excitement or atmosphere. We were fated to get fairly flat light on most of the days I went out with the FP4+ and so it will need to wait for another day before I give my overall impressions on the film as I want to try it in different situations and lighting conditions. However, this morning I scanned a few negatives from the three rolls in order to have something for the reveal. It’s Day Six today, tomorrow is the last day, and I’ve not posted anything yet as I’ve been waiting to see if I could squeeze a darkroom session in. Time however has now run out.
The first thing that I noted when I popped a couple of strips of negatives on a light pad was the lovely detail from this film and developer combination. I used a Bronica ETRS camera fitted with a Y/G filter for almost all of the images I made.
Where this combination of film and developer excelled however was in detailed, heavily textured, scenes such as the garage door above. This is a scan don’t forget but all I have done is apply a Levels adjustment to the very flat scan and in this case a small vignette. My approach to scanning negatives, the so-called hybrid approach, is to scan with flat contrast and then adjust Levels in software. I rarely do much more but whatever I do decide to do has to meet an important test – could I replicate this in the darkroom? That is I as in me, not an extremely competent printer. If the answer is “Yes” then I do it but if it isn’t then it doesn’t get done.
In the very limited tests that I have made with this film and developer I have been extremely pleased with the results and wouldn’t hesitate to use Ilford FP4+ combined with semi-stand development in the future. That said I would also be considering more traditional ways of developing this film. I’ve been typically using 400 ISO film recently, partly because of the light here in the UK and partly because of the latitude of Ilford HP5+ when using a point and shoot, meter-less clockwork camera. To use a fine-grained, slow emulsion such as Ilford FP4+ has been a novel experience after an Autumn, Winter and Spring of faster speed films.
It has to be remembered that there are so many variables that it is hard to make a ringing endorsement for you specifically, but for me, the way I meter a scene, my use of filtration and choice of camera, the way I develop a film and the way I then scan or print the negative then I have to say I like this film a lot and at some point in the future will investigate and experiment further.
FOOTNOTE: I had a fourth roll of the FP4+ which I inadvertently used the day before the #FP4Party, rendering it inadmissible, and which I therefore developed in Kodak D76 (currently my favourite developer although I have none in stock so am using FX55 – of which more later). The image below was taken early on a Sunday morning, with the sun just peeping above the hills on the horizon. As a result there were some harsh shadows and deep contrasts plus I was also working into the sun for this image. I was well pleased with the negative. It had bags of detail, a great range of tones and it met the “Whenham Test” for hybrid processing too.
I shared my thoughts on this film as part of my semi-stand series. Unlike some online resources I’m not claiming that the single roll I’ve exposed makes me an expert on the film by the way. These were very much first impressions based on using semi-stand development. I have one other roll in the fridge which I will use at some point and I will probably develop that with another process to compare and contrast. First impressions are that this is a very contrasty film but with the right subject it will probably deliver some very nice results. Definitely not an everyday film.
In this part of the semi-stand series I am going to look at another new-to-me film stock: Ferrania P30. This was recommended to me by a contact on Twitter after they read my response to my first roll of FT12; the film which incidentally kick-started semi-stand week and which I will talk about in the final post in this series.
In the first part of the series I talked about the methodology and also mentioned why I was having a week of semi-stand development. The suggested timings for Ferrania in Rodinal (1+1) were a good example of why I often fight shy of using this method. Sixty minutes! By the time you add in stop, fix and washing cycles you are looking at between one and a quarter and one and a half hours depending on how fast I agitate during my adapted Ilford wash cycle. For one film!
This roll of film ended up being a roll of two distinct parts. The first part of the roll was used on a wander around the back streets of the small town in which I live. Like all of the negatives on the roll these are sharp, punchy and have bags of contrast. The second part of the roll was used up on the moors above Elland and with a foreground in heavy shadow apart from patches of sunlit moorland and a lovely bright sky the film was no match for the dynamic range of the scene. With no means of using a neutral density graduated filter I plumped for a middle-ground exposure and hoped for the best. To be fair I wouldn’t have used the Horizon in such conditions usually but this was an impromptu trip and the Horizon with Ferrania loaded was all I had in the bag at the time.
Overall I like this film, deep blacks and bright whites are its main characteristics (based on using one roll – this is NOT a definitive review!!) with loads of contrast and personality.
On the left, negative with a positive created by simply inverting the negative in Photoshop and adding a Levels adjustment. On the right, the negative and below it a full-worked version created in Photoshop. I rarely do more than the a simple inversion and Levels when posting to social media. Full-blown conversions are a rarity from me these days as I’d rather spend the time with a camera.
So, once again the semi-stand development in very diluted Rodinal has produced some lovely negatives. I am looking forward to working with some of these in the darkroom but before I do I just wanted to say a few words on the so-called hybrid approach. Using a film camera to capture the images and traditional development methods to produce negatives with this approach that is the end of the “analog” part of the process and from here on its purely digital. The negatives are scanned or otherwise copied using a digital camera and the workflow from there involves the photographers software and digital processing techniques of choice. The image at the top of the page was created this way as were those immediately above.
Some people decry the hybrid approach as not being “true”. I think this is a high-handed attitude and have no time for those who denigrate hybrid workers as somehow not being “proper” photographers. To my mind it matters not whether you are a died-in-the wool traditionalist who only uses “analog” (I detest the term) processes, a purely digital photographer or someone who straddles both camps and uses the hybrid method. We are all producing photographic images – it matters not to me how an image was produced. Whilst I can fully appreciate the skills and art that go into producing a darkroom print it does not make the final image somehow better for having eschewed contact with a computer. Anyway, soap box away for today.
So, there you have it. Another successful semi-stand experiment, another new-to-me film with plenty of contrast and bags of personality and whilst it won’t be added to my regular shopping list I look forward to playing with this combination again.
The first part of this series outlined the methodology employed for the semi-stand development of each roll in this series. The second post covered the “scanning” methodology, a basic conversion such as I would do for Twitter for example and also touched upon the benefits of researching beyond simply looking for development suggestions when using a new film. In this part, I looked at Ferrania P30 in semi-stand and talked about a hybrid digital-analog approach to film photography. I hope you have enjoyed it.
In a future post I will look at the development of three rolls of 120 Ilford FP4+ and my approach to printing these negatives. I will conclude the series by looking at another new-to-me 35mm film, FT12, the film that started the week and which is destined through a quirk in my personal logic to close out the semi-stand series.
A single image from yesterdays wander with the Horizon S3 and a roll of Orwo UN54. I talk about it a little in yesterdays blog post too. I bought a single roll of this film to see how it would work for me and my urban photography – I’d seen evidence of why a lot of my friends like the film from pictures they’ve shared on Twitter and the like but would it work for me?
Look at those textures! It’s also held up very well in challenging conditions as the fence on the right is in the sun and everything on the left in shade. I’ve burned-in the fence a touch as I would do in the darkroom.
Fair to say this film is on my shopping list and I’m very tempted to use semi-stand again when I do get some if these results are typical.
As semi-stand week is my party I get to make the rules and so I’m going to start at the end of the week and talk about Orwo UN54 which was the last of the six films I used. The film was an impulse buy; when stocking up recently on my regular films I popped a single 35mm roll of the UN54 in the virtual basket. I’d seen many images from other users of the film and thought I’d have a look for myself.
I used the roll on a changeable Tuesday morning as I walked to the Post Office and then meandered back through the back alleys that I’ve haunted a lot during Lockdown 3. As the roll was 35mm the choice of camera was a no-brainer – the Horizon S3 has been a constant in my bag this year and indeed 80% of the 35mm films I’ve exposed this year have been through this camera.
The film was exposed at it’s box-speed of 100 ISO and I followed my usual technique with this camera of taking a meter reading as I start walking and using this as a basis for estimating exposure without having to stop every frame to re-meter. I do also take a new meter reading if the light changes considerably though or if I want to be sure of getting it right for a particular composition. My starting exposure was 1/125th at f11 so most frames on the roll are equal to or +/-1 stop from this base. A couple were f8 and 1/60th.
For many new-to-me films I start by looking at the Massive Dev app on my phone when getting ready to develop the finished roll. This gave a suggested time of 25 minutes for semi-stand in Rodinal at 1+100. I was concerned that this would not be long enough to reap the benefits of a semi-stand development. One of the main benefits of this way of developing film is that it gives the effect of boosting shadow detail while preserving bright highlights in the film. We use a very dilute developer and give it plenty of time to do its magic usually. It’s a technique that can also be useful in increasing perceived sharpness especially in contrasty scenes such as those I had been photographing. I decided to try 40 minutes as this was approximately half-way between the suggested 25 minutes and my more usual go-to time of 60 minutes. It’s worth remembering that Massive Dev is a great starting point but that’s all the times are, a starting point to guide your own experiments.
So, into the tank and on with the development. A little under an hour later the developed, fixed and washed negatives were hanging in my bathroom. A quick look at them was very positive and when later in the evening I cut and sleeved the dried negatives I couldn’t resist a quick iPhone snap (above) which revealed some nice-looking negatives.
Inspecting them with a loupe I was very pleased by how crisp and sharp they looked. Plenty of potential contrast too so the semi-stand had done its work well. As it would be a few days before I could get into the darkroom I “scanned” the full roll of 18 negatives for the next stage. My “scanning” technique for my 35mm panoramic negatives is to hold them flat in a Lomography Digitaliza, place them on a light pad beneath a copy stand and photograph them with a Fuji X-T3 capturing RAW files and using a custom white balance. Not as good as darkroom printing of course but it means I can post them to social media etcetera.
The image above shows the untouched “scan” of the negative on the left, this has not been cropped, is the full negative and has not been adjusted from the original digital capture. Notice the sharp lines and crisp contrasts (ignore the crazy verticals!). The grain is very pleasant too although that may not be so easy to see at this resolution. A simple invert in Photoshop gave an overall flattish result (centre), still crisp and sharp nevertheless which suggests to me it will print well; I shall probably use spit-grade to really bring out the contrasts. Finally, on the right is the inverted image with just a simple Levels adjustment in Photoshop and nothing else. No localised attention, no cloning or tampering, just the full negative, simply inverted and with contrast added back in by a simple global levels adjustment. Incidentally, I stay away from heavily processing my film “scans”, even with the image below which does have some localised adjustments in the lower half, I have spent no more than a couple of minutes on any of these digital versions.
I’m very pleased with how this roll of film has responded to the semi-stand treatment. I have no benchmark against which to measure this film stock as this is the only time I’ve used the film – but on this result it won’t be the last.
Incidentally, had I actually researched the film more widely, rather than just recommended development practices, I’d have found that Lomography’s Potsdam Kino is apparently the same emulsion and there’s lots of words on the web about processing Potsdam! The recommended times for Potsdam semi-stand in 1+100 Rodinal was between 45 and 60 minutes so I was pleased that I played my hunch although I was even more pleased when I took the dried roll down and viewed it on a light box.
The first part of this series outlined the methodology employed for the semi-stand development of each roll in this series. Today’s post has covered the “scanning” methodology, a basic conversion such as I would do for Twitter for example and has also touched upon the benefits of researching beyond simply looking for development suggestions when using a new film. I hope you have enjoyed it. In a future post I will look at the development of three rolls of 120 Ilford Fp4+ and my approach to printing these negatives. I am also planning two other posts regarding a couple of other new-to-me 35mm films, FT12 and Ferrania P30. I also plan to grit my teeth and process a couple of images more fully and consider the benefits of the so-called hybrid, analog-digital, approach to film photography.
Which of these I write and post next you will have to wait and see!
I’ve written before about the technique of “stand” or “semi-stand” development. If I’m totally honest, whilst I’ve done it since I wrote that piece when the film required, it’s still not my favourite technique. So, I was very surprised when I chose it as my development technique of choice for the FP4Party. Coincidentally, I then found that I was out of D76 and was going to need to make up 5 litres of ID11, the powder I’d bought as D76 has been hard to get hold of recently … but the raw chemicals for FX55 are due any day and 5 litres of stock ID11 would be in the way of my plans to experiment with that for a few months alongside a couple of fellow photographers.
So, my last six films, FT12, Ilford FP4+, FERRANIA P30 and OrwoUN54 have all found themselves sitting in Rodinal at 1+100 for between 40minutes and an hour.
I used Rodinal, diluted at one part Rodinal to one hundred parts water for all the films. Where the tank size required less than 500ml of developer I still made solution at 5+500 and simply discarded the excess. Temperature was based on ambient temperatures in my kitchen at the time of development apart from one roll of FP4+ where I chose to increase temperature to 22° without changing the timings to see if it made an appreciable difference.
Development times were based on recommendations I found online with the exception of the Orwo film. At around twenty five minutes, the times I found for UN54 seemed too short so I made an educated guess at forty minutes. Agitation of each film varied depending on the length of the semi-stand. For the forty five minute developments it was ten seconds initially then ten seconds at the twenty three minute mark. The sixty minute development had an initial sixty seconds agitation the ten seconds at fifteen, thirty and forty-five minutes. Each of the films was processed individually. Last but not least, the forty minute development received forty five seconds initially and then ten seconds at fifteen and thirty minutes.
I’m going to write about each film in future posts but suffice to say the results with FP4+ far surpassed my expectations. Indeed, I was happy with how each film turned out and I’m looking forward to printing some of these negatives over the coming weeks.
I have mentioned before that I am a competent rather than good printer. So, the discipline of writing down how I printed a recent negative will be good to help me think about my process and might, just might, be of wider interest.
Looking at the negative I realised that dodging and burning might not be the most appropriate approach given the complexity of the shapes in the image. To my mind a split-grade approach would be an appropriate starting point. I described my approach last month in Blundering in the Dark so my first step was to pop a 2 1/2 filter under the lens and make a test strip at five second intervals to determine a base exposure from which to work from. Between 5secs and 10secs seemed to be the optimal and looking at the foliage I decided to try 6 seconds as a base. The next stage was to expose a fresh piece of paper for 3 seconds (half of base) using a Grade 0 filter. Without moving the paper or the negative I then replaced the 0 with a grade 4 filter and created another test strip (see below) which had a first exposure of 3 seconds at grade 0 and then a series of exposures at 1 1/2 second intervals at grade 4.
I liked the look of 6 seconds but thought it could be held back just a touch to benefit the sky so on a hunch opted for 5 1/2 seconds (this is where experience/intuition trumps science I guess). Before setting up for a first print I looked carefully at the test print for any signs of dust, hair (eyelashes are bigger than you think) or other imperfections. I’ve circled these on the print above. I then took out the negative, cleaned it and the negative carrier again before setting up for my first “proper” print. I was aiming for an initial exposure of 3 secs at grade 0 and 5 1/2 secs at grade 4 with no dodging or burning.
I was very happy with this first print but felt that the front of the flats, which were in the full glare of a naked morning sun in a cloudless blue sky, could be a little darker; the sky had benefited from reducing the exposure slightly but not the buildings. I therefore made a second print using the same settings but in addition I burned the front of the flats in to selectively darken that part of the print.
I was using 10″x8″ paper and ended up using two sheets for tests and then a further two sheets to create my final image. To be fair I would usually use strips of off-cuts for the test strips but I chose to use full sheets for the purpose of this blog post (thinking ahead!) as they would be easier to examine. A methodical approach is the key to making best use of precious resources such as paper in my experience. A considered and thoughtful approach, examining the negative and thinking through how to approach printing that specific one will repay in less wasted materials and ultimately save time.
Annotating the back of prints is a useful discipline
To help with this I make notes as I work in my darkroom book (see below) and I also use a waterproof marker to annotate the back of each print (above). This helps me remember what I’ve done and also means I can often get a fairly close first stab at other negatives from the same roll. I printed three similar looking negatives in this session, all had been taken at the same time under the same lighting conditions at the same location. The second negative was printed using the times already established and I then made a second print, again burning in a selected area. The third negative was also printed using the same timings but needed no burning or dodging. Three negatives and just seven sheets of paper is not a bad return for a bit of note-taking and a little thinking time before turning the lights out.
For the last six months or so I’ve been using Twitter to interact with some of the film photography community scattered across the globe. I’m not a huge social media user, in fact this was the third or fourth time I’ve had a try at using Twitter. This time was slightly different as I’d written an article for a website and the owner had suggested a few people to follow and a way of insinuating myself into the community. Six months on I’ve a good circle of like-minded folk that I regularly interact with; some I’ve collaborated on projects with, others who I’ve established an off-Twitter conversation with and three of us who chat regularly and have even combined to purchase raw chemicals to make our own chemicals.
One thing I have enjoyed has been some of the themed projects and even anti-social me has joined in and enjoyed the experience. The main “event”for April 2020 has been the annual “FP4 Party” and I purchased four rolls of 120 especially for the occasion. Admittedly one I used on the day before the party so it’s been “disqualified” but the thought was there.
Most people set themselves a particular challenge and so entering into the spirit I decided to shoot my film exclusively in the Bronica ETRS with a 40mm lens and yellow/green filter, rating the film at box speed of 125 ISO. Ilford’s FP4+ is a film I rarely use so simply using it has been a novelty in itself. I’ve also been using my Horizon S3 almost exclusively recently so forcing myself to use a well-loved but rarely used camera was also in the spirit of #FP4Party I felt. If that wasn’t enough I also decided on a semi-stand development in Rodinal at 1+100 for 45 minutes. All of the chosen parameters, from film, camera, chemicals and development process were outside my recent norms, the only consistent factor was that I was using black and white film.
The first full week of April has been set aside for exposing the film and the second week for developments etc before “show and tell” week in the third week of April.
I’ve made three trips this week with just this camera in my bag (my S3 is sulking in the corner) and today was my final “shoot” for the party. The final roll was developed at lunchtime and I’ve now got three rolls of negatives sleeved and ready for printing. I’m planning on printing six images on Fotospeed Oyster RCVC paper for sharing on Twitter during w/c 19th April. Three of these are drying as I type and I now need to choose another three to print over the next few days.
Sadly, no pictures to share though as these are embargoed until week three!
I have had an interest in photography since my early teens and I suspect my experiences, at least in parts, will be familiar to many. I remember using a Kodak Instamatic to make photographs of industrial dereliction in the Valleys of South Wales for a school project. Small, fuzzy prints with strange colours but I thought they were fabulous. I passed my Environmental Studies exams too.
Like so many of my generation my first SLR was the hefty Zenith E. I’ve claimed many times that you could knock nails in with this beast but never actually tried it if I’m honest. Looking back most of my surviving transparencies and negatives are on the soft side and nowhere near as sharp as I’d remembered. There are exceptions though. I chuckled recently when I saw how sought-after those Helios lenses are especially amongst digital users. I quickly shut up when I realised I had bought several in recent years.
A Canon AE1 was next. Checking on the web I must have bought mine within six months of it being released although mine was definitely bought used. In fact I would be in my fifties before I bought a brand new camera. I acquired a second pre-owned AE1 fairly soon after and a telephoto lens from a chap at the local camera club. The late 1970s and early 1980s saw me photographing a lot of sports with this brace of Canons. I loved photographing motorbike scrambling and in those days with a high-vis jacket and a press pass courtesy of a friend of a friend at the local paper it was access all areas and no health and safety. Looking back it was recklessly stupid but at the time I was in my element. I even bagged a few jobs for the local paper on the back of these images. Not glamorous, mainly photographing school swimming galas but pictures of the kids swimming I was free to sell to parents, all the paper wanted was pictures of the Mayoress handing out the silverware!
In the mid-1980s a work colleague introduced me to a local studio photographer and for the next eighteen months I worked for him on an unpaid, casual basis helping run studio nights for local camera clubs and other organisations. Lots of fetching and carrying but I had great fun. They were mostly model evenings but occasionally he ran still-life workshops and the like. A promotion at work meant I no longer had the time to spare and sadly had to give this up but I’d learnt a lot and had a fabulous time doing so.
I even used the camera as a way to get out of works-organised football matches, obstacle courses, “fun” runs and the like simply by volunteering to be the office photographer. Of course, the downside was I also had to photograph the Christmas dances, presentations etc.
I was well hooked by the time I was in my late teens and whilst my circumstances would force me out of the hobby for periods of time over the years I returned to it with amazing regularity and never lost the interest.
Coinciding with this promotion was the birth of our first daughter. It was also the start of three house moves in six years due to work promotions and by the end of the decade we were living on the south coast with three young daughters and another due. Another move was also imminent, we didn’t know it but we’d be living in Bristol before number four arrived. Photography was very patchy during this period as evidenced by the number of baby pictures. Daughter One was well documented but this gradually reduced and by the time Daughter Four appeared I was taking very few photographs, a fact she still reminds me of regularly. Photography had to fit around the many demands of a young family, large mortgage and a very demanding employer.
It was a Nikon Coolpix 775, my first ever brand new camera, that was the catalyst for me returning to photography in a serious way again. It was 2002 and to acknowledge 25 years with my employer I was sent a corporate catalogue with a rather uninspiring choice of gifts. Nothing much caught my eye so I opted for an electric shaver for the wife (she’d put up with loads over the 25 years) a new electric drill and with the remainder I bought a small digital camera. This 1.9mp wonder machine had got me thinking what had until then been the unthinkable … digital photography?
Long story short, I didn’t enjoy the Coolpix but by 2004 I was the proud owner of a Canon 400D with 10.1mp and two kit lenses. The downward slope into chasing pixels and upgrading cameras before I’d outgrown the previous one had begun. A Canon 40D replaced the 400D within six months (easier to hold with big hands), a 5D MkII arrived (I “needed” the pixels) and a 7D replaced the 40D (better frame rate for wildlife). The 5D MkIII was next on the list (who doesn’t need 22.3 pixels) and my lens collection also grew in direct correlation with promotions, bonuses and pay rises.
The good news however was that I was back in the hobby in a big way and for the first time wasn’t going to be held back by the demands of a young family, although the hefty mortgage and demanding employer were still there. In hindsight though, the bad news was that I’d become obsessed and was constantly chasing perfection, buying ever more powerful software, obsessing over image quality and a paid-up member of the pixel chasers club. Relentless dissatisfaction with my images was starting to become the norm despite winning club competitions on a regular basis. By 2013 however I was starting to realise that this was sucking the fun out of my hobby and that the pixel race was getting ridiculous. I started to question what I was doing. So, it was rather ironic that this was also the year in which I decided to switch systems and moved to Nikon. I’d been a Canon user since the 1970s so this was quite a big deal at the time. I took a huge financial hit by selling a complete Canon digital kit I’d built up over almost ten years and bought a Nikon D800E and the “Holy Trinity” of zoom lenses (14-24, 24-70, 70-200). My pixel chasing had reached its zenith but, although I had no notion of it at the time, my interests were even then moving away from the all-singing, all-dancing digital cameras and back towards the tactile pleasures of my Canon AE1. Yes, it was still in the cupboard.
But there was one more twist in the digital tale. Starting in 2016 or thereabouts I started a three year process that saw me switch systems again, this time from Nikon SLRs to a mirrorless Fuji X system. I’d owned the Fuji X100 since it’s launch so the growing Fujifilm ecosystem and their approach to improving existing cameras through firmware releases really drew me in. It’s the only digital system I use now in 2021 but as my regular reader knows it’s not my first choice system any more.
September 28 2015 was an auspicious day. On my 57th birthday I fulfilled a dream I’d had for most of my adult life and became the owner of a Hasselblad 500CN. I had a lovely Pentax 645 (why oh why did I sell it?) and four or five years earlier I’d also purchased a Mamiya RB67 that was going for a song in the local camera shop, so this wasn’t my first medium format film camera but it was a dream come true. It also was the catalyst for what I am doing now in 2021 as this was the moment I decided to get back into the darkroom. Whilst clearing space for my makeshift darkroom I also rediscovered a box of negatives, dated 2009-2011, and these formed the basis of my return to the dark.
From that moment on I was destined it seems to return to film photography as my principal hobby. Learning from past experiences though I did not trade-in my Fujifilm mirrorless system but have run both film and digital side by side. I’ve even embraced the so-called hybrid approach, using film and then scanning the negatives. I refuse to spend more than a few minutes converting an individual negative though and only use those tools I could employ in the darkroom. From shooting >95% digital in 2015 though I’ve steadily increased my film usage and now in 2021 the situation has reversed and <5% of my photography these days is digital. I must emphasise here though that I enjoy both; each plays it’s part in my enjoyment of the hobby and I have no time for the digital vs film debate – it’s all photography. I even have a drone these days!
Of course, the story goes ever on. Once I’d made the decision to concentrate on film and build a darkroom I also retrieved the Zenith E and Canon AE1 from their exile in the loft, remember them? A Nikon SLR or two (OK, several) followed as did a dalliance with a Pentax ME Super. Then there was the Olympus OM10 and because I liked the form factor of the Fujifilm X100 digital camera I started “needing” a compact film camera, or three, or more. I will draw a veil over some of the other purchases I think just in case the wife reads this. Many of these have however featured in blog posts of course.
Then, the Curse of Image Quality struck again. This time not pixels but film formats. A Mamiya TLR joined the stable, the RB67 was brought out and I started to use less 35mm and more medium format film. For a short period I became obsessed again with image sharpness but this time it was very short lived, it seems that with age does, occasionally, come wisdom. I like film for the aesthetic, the film-dependant grain, the ability to alter the look of negatives through choice of developer or processing method and there are situations where less than clinical sharpness are part of that aesthetic. I also enjoy the tactile nature of preparing to make images with film photography. Loading and rewinding film, putting the film onto reels and into tanks, standing and developing the film and never failing to be awed as the roll of negatives is eased off the reel and hung to dry.
The cameras I use most often are manual, they are also more tactile; removing dark slides, manually setting aperture and shutter speed, winding the film or removing the film back after each squeeze of the shutter. On some winding the film on and cocking the shutter are separate actions too and I enjoy the routines involved in using these cameras.
This Curse was, rather surprisingly, finally lifted when I moved in to large format film photography. I initially bought a dedicated 5×4 pinhole, partly because it was going cheap and partly because through it I could try out the loading and developing of sheet film before parting with a goodly sized lump of cash on a full LF kit. It was a field of photography I’d never really played with before and I loved the pinhole aesthetic at my first use, it helped the also new to me Large Format process had gone smoothly I suspect! I now have 35mm, medium-format and large format pinhole cameras and the Curse of Image Quality has finally lifted.
Unsurprisingly, a full 5×4 kit does also now have a place in my gear cupboard, albeit fairly recently, and I am enjoying slowly getting to grips with this format. A couple of early mistakes in terms of lens purchases means I have only limited options lens-wise but this in a way is helping as I’m needing to really work in a thoughtful manner. By its very nature LF slows you down, I’m not the first to note that of course, but this slow, deliberate, almost calculated approach is helping me to think first and release the shutter second. You can’t “spray n pray” with one of these!
Thankfully, throughout all of this my love of the hobby has never diminished, even during the barren years when I could afford neither film nor time. I use all of the many cameras I own. I never use the word collection to describe them either – they all have a use and are all tools, albeit well cared-for tools. I mainly use an X-Pro1 or an X100T from the Fujifilm stable when I choose to shoot digital despite the X-T3 permanently clamped to a copy stand. I use film cameras for most of my photography though, from 35mm, medium format, large format, instant cameras and several pinholes in various formats. I no longer see image sharpness as the ultimate goal, although that doesn’t mean I accept any old rubbish from my cameras, they still need to perform in accordance with the aesthetic I’m aiming here for. My embracing of the lo-fi as an acceptable sub-genre of the hobby was compounded recently when I picked up a couple of Diana F+ cameras and a bag full of accessories. They don’t get a lot of use but if the project calls for them they are used with as much enthusiasm as my beloved Bronicas. Sorry, didn’t I mention the Bronicas? They first appear in early 2020 but I’m running out of space here – suffice to say I picked up an ETRS pre-pandemic and then sold my Hasselblad to help fund the Bronica SQ-A kit.
So, there you have it. One photographers journey from film to digital and back again. Featuring constant upgrading to get more pixels and sharper images, returning to film and embracing MF, then getting into 5×4 for ultimate image quality … and then buying a complete Lomo kit!
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