New Tricks

It’s no secret that one of my film/developer favourite combinations is Ilford HP5+ and ID11 diluted 1+1. A couple of times recently however I’ve been caught out with HP5+ in my camera in totally the wrong situation and I’ve ended up knowingly overexposing the film and pulling it from the developer early to compensate. But is there a better way of dealing with this situation? It’s something I’ve been giving some thought to recently.

Coincidentally, at around the same time that I was quietly pondering this matter I also posed a question to the #believeinfilm community on Twitter regarding the developer Perceptol as I’d been given a few boxes a while back and it wasn’t a developer I am familiar with. Amongst the responses was a direct message from Andy (author of The Death of Photography) who is not only familiar with Perceptol but was wondering why I’d not used it with my overexposed HP5+. Was serendipity about to offer me a solution that resolved both questions?

“… when you did it, I thought Perceptol might be better …”

Andy Smale

Andy and I continued to exchange messages on the subject, whilst at the same time others were chipping in on Twitter and I also set to it, researching further and eventually formulating a plan. Not an original plan mind you, turns out this is a fairly common approach but it’s new to me.

Which is why after breakfast I loaded a roll of HP5+ into the Horizon S3, set my meter to 250 and went for a walk around the block. Now, admittedly, it’s distracted me from writing up my thoughts on loading the KMZ FT-2 (sorry Bill T) but I needed to check this out for myself. And I needed to do it … now!

One of the reasons that developing HP5+ in Perceptol is a common approach is that this is a very fine grain developer and properly exposed negatives have a very clean and detailed look to them. There seems to be some debate at whether or not you should meter at box speed of 400 or at 250 although in photography this sort of disagreement is normal. I decided to take Andy’s advice not least because another photographer, co-host of The Lensless Podcast no less, also got in touch to recommend metering at ISO 250. You don’t ignore good advice when given so freely and it was also the whole point of the exercise – dealing with a theoretically overexposed roll of film.

The Ilford website recommends developing HP5+ rated at 250 in stock Perceptol for 13 minutes and at this stage I see no reason to ignore this advice. Whether or not I vary from that in the future will depend upon the results over the next few months. So, I will be taking a break from writing this post to develop the film and will be back later with my conclusions.

INTERLUDE: Insert Muzak of your choice …

So, welcome back. Hopefully you enjoyed your choice of music … but don’t blame me if you didn’t!

NEGATIVE: Horizon S3 Pro, Ilford HP5+ at 250 ISO Deeloped in Perceptol (stock) 13 minutes 5th August 2021

We have negatives and they look very nice to me. Bags of detail, crisp and clean. Unfortunately, the digital scans that I am able to produce at home, whilst perfectly good for most things cannot do total justice to any negative. These have a pleasant, well-controlled grain and when compared on a light box with some pulled negatives using ID11 are noticeably cleaner.

So, from an online discussion on Wednesday I was out with the camera on Thursday morning to expose a roll of film, which was developed Thursday afternoon and now a blog post uploaded on the same Thursday teatime.

Very bright – f16 1/250th (Sunny 16 no less)
A simple inversion – no global or local adjustments. The detail is clear to see
Bags of detail under that bench – a simple inversion with just a Levels adjustment to improve global contrast

Am I happy? Yes. The developer gave me everything I was looking for and I wish I’d been aware of this before I pulled my over-exposed HP5+ prematurely from a tank of ID11 on Tuesday. It is however another tool in my personal tool kit and that is a positive. I am going to deliberately over-expose some HP5+ over the coming weeks to see if these results are repeatable (I strongly suspect they are). As I already enjoy HP5+ rated at 400 and I regularly rate it at 800 it’s looking as if this film might also fulfil my needs at lower ISOs too. No wonder someone described it to me recently as the Swiss Army knife of black and white films

In closing, I would reiterate that photography is a very personal thing and just because one, or a hundred people say something is the way to go doesn’t mean to say it’s the way for you. Your tastes, your aesthetic are personal to you and I’d always recommend listening to the advice and thoughts of others but then trying things for yourself before committing to a method. I followed my own advice today and tried the suggestions of various people for myself, was very pleased with the results and have just order a bulk roll of HP5+ which by my estimation will use up the four litres of Perceptol I have here … by the end of that I will have tested thoroughly and will know if this is to become a regular feature of my photography.

Horizon S3 Pro, Ilford HP5+ at 250 ISO Deeloped in Perceptol (stock) 13 minutes

My 365 Project picture of the day for 5th August 2021

Finally, thanks to Andy, Andrew, Jason and John amongst others for their thoughts on this process and for helping me down this particular rabbit hole! Also a huge shout out to John Martin who saved me from a technical meltdown!

I can never resist a vertorama!

An A-F of the KMZ

I introduced the KMZ FT-2 swing-lens panoramic camera in an earlier post and today I would like to talk about operating the camera. Loading the camera is … let’s say interesting. I will therefore dedicate all of the next “KMZ post” to the subject. Finally, in a future post I will try to reflect on my experiences using and composing images with this camera and offer some thoughts on getting the best from the format.

First off, the top plate, which contains all the controls, looks complicated but in reality this is a very simple camera to operate. Handling and getting the best from the camera may not be simple but the mechanical operation is. Let’s look at these.

  • A – wind-on knob
  • B – shutter cocking lever
  • C – shutter release
  • D – frame counter
  • E – shutter speed selectors and aide memoire
  • F – bullseye level

So, let’s take A and D together. The wind-on knob (A) can only be turned in a clockwise direction and there’s a small arrow to remind the user which way this is. With film loaded the action of turning the wind-on also moves the indicator on the frame counter (D). Given the length of each negative three full turns are required following each exposure ro advance the film to the next frame. It’s not difficult though, before winding on, check what frame number you are on. You then turn the knob three times, each time it comes back to that starting number counts as one rotation. Do this three times and then finally twist a little more to move the dial to the next frame number. In fact, it’s easier to do than explain in writing.

Because it’s my blog post I’m going to turn now to E. Two little levers which can be set in four different configurations as displayed in the handy reference schematic. You will have noticed that there are only three configurations shown. Placing both levers horizontally gives the equivalent of 1/50th second. It’s not well documented but an open “secret” amongst users. The levers apply brakes to the rotating lens turret which in turn enables the different shutter speeds. In the vertical position the relevant brake is off so when both levers are set to vertical the brakes are truly off. More of that in a moment.

Moving to B, the shutter cocking lever. When you are ready to make your exposure, simply turn it to the right and click it in place. It needs a positive action, no namby pamby twists here. When you trip the shutter release (C) the lever will clunk back in place with a very definite thud, especially at the 1/400th setting. At this point, let’s take a short detour and talk about torque.

Having done some reading, I believe that torque is the rotational equivalent of linear force … and boy does the FT-2 have some torque, especially at 1/400th second when all the brakes are off. Pop the camera on a tripod, set it to 1/400th, cock the shutter and watch the whole thing shudder when you release the shutter. You can feel the camera kick in your hand too. All of which explains why I believe the best results from this camera come from using it on a tripod. That said, I do tend to use it handheld, especially when photographing urban locations such as my own local patch. But, let me stop before I digress even further.

Double, triple … multiple exposures are yours with the KMZ FT-2

The final item on the top of the camera is a bulls-eye spirit level (F). A bull’s eye level is a type of spirit level that allows for the leveling of planes in two dimensions — both the ‘pitch’ and ‘roll’ I’m told by those who talk in nautical terms. Standard tubular levels only consider one dimension so this is a handy addition. It takes practice but is easy to use once you get the hang of it. However, it’s only really of any use if you can see the top of the camera whilst using it, which means when using the camera at eye level, you’re on your own!

One quirk of this camera is that it doesn’t accept our usual 35mm film cassettes. Film has to be transferred into one of the special film cassettes before it can be loaded. Owing to the fact that Jon’s camera came with both of these bespoke film cassettes whereas mine has just the one, operation of the two differs slightly and I’ve also had to create some workarounds for my own circumstances. But more of that next time.

So, there we have it. A simple enough camera to operate once the film is loaded (more of that next time). It’s almost a point and shoot in some ways, albeit a very quirky one with manual exposure control. It’s biggest selling points, the 120° angle of view and triple-sized 35mm negatives, however make this a fabulous creative tool especially with some practice.

Going with the swing

My partiality to Russian-made, swing lens panoramic cameras is no secret. I’ve owned and used three Horizon cameras in the last ten months: the Kompakt, 202 and S3 Pro. I eventually made a decision to reduce my collection to just one, mainly because two of them were gathering dust as I evolved a workflow that combined the flexibility of the S3 Pro with the spontaneity of the Kompakt.

Horizon S3 Pro

I was therefore comfortably set up with the S3 Pro, a pocketful of Ilford HP5+ (Tri-X on the rare occasions when it was affordable) and my eye was becoming ever more attuned to the panoramic 24 x 58mm format and the 120° field of view. And then along came … not Johnny but Jon!

Once more down the rabbit hole …

That short exchange on social media contains two seeds which bring us to where we are today. The offer of the loan of a KMZ FT-2 and the lead which ended in the subsequent purchase of my own copy of this quirky, odd-looking camera. Rather than re-hash what’s already been written into my own words here’s what the Lomography website has to say about the KMZ FT-2:

Manufactured by the Krasnogorsky Mechanichesky Zavod (KMZ) between 1958 and 1965, the FT in its name stands for “Fotoapparat Tokareva” which means “Tokarev’s camera.” Interestingly, camera historians say that “Tokarev” actually refers to the Russian weapon designer Fedor Vasilievich Tokarev, who was a personal friend of Joseph Stalin.

Odd-looking certainly, but this is a compact and surprisingly hefty little camera. In theory it should give you 12 negatives measuring 24 x 110mm on a roll of 36 exposure film. However, in my, admittedly limited experience thus far, I’ve only reached the dizzy heights of 11 frames on one occasion and never 12! The film also needs to be loaded into special light-proof cassettes which are notoriously difficult to get hold of. The camera I borrowed had both but (spoiler alert) the copy I bought had just the one.

Unlike the S3 which has a 28mm lens the FT-2 sports a 50mm lens which swings through 120° from right to left. The viewfinder is a simple metal frame that can be folded over the camera’s back when not in use. On top of the camera, amongst an initially bewildering array of knobs and dials, is a very basic, round spirit level. Let’s take a look.

Confused? It’s easier than it appears at first glance.

My regular reader has already seen some images from both the borrowed FT-2 and my own copy. In my next FT-2 post I will cover the challenges of loading this camera, the added complications of only having one cassette instead of two and my initial thoughts on how the camera handles.

The FT-2 packs a lot of real estate into every frame

Pulled … again!

I know I said I wouldn’t deliberately pull 35mm Ilford HP5+ again.


I did.


Let me explain.

I’ve not yet written about the KMZ FT-2, the latest addition to my camera collection and a swing lens panoramic camera to boot. I will rectify that shortly (ie within the next few weeks) but suffice to say, this is an interesting camera to load not least because it needs to be done in the dark. It also means that swapping out a film is not really a straightforward task. So, having loaded HP5+ the night before expecting an overcast day there was no way that when I awoke to clear blue skies and sunshine that I was going to swap the film out for some FP4+. Choice of film speed is critical with this camera by the way as it has one aperture (f5-ish) and a fastest shutter speed of 1/400th of a second. That probably puts things into perspective.

Had I spotted it in time I would have waited for the narrowboat to emerge further from under the bridge

What to do? Leave the camera behind? I was loath to do that as I’m still working out how to best overcome the camera’s physical handicap (more later – you tease!) and this was to be the first non-test roll. I would also be in somewhere other than Elland which doesn’t happen very often at the moment. Brighouse was to be the destination and whilst the wife was shopping I was to have a thirty minute pass to take some photographs.

Underneath the road bridge (see below) I took the first meter reading of the day. At ISO 400 I was getting 1/60th at f16. A breeze for the Horizon S3 but extrapolating for the circa f5 aperture of the KMZ FT-2 meant a shutter speed of around 1/1000th second. With a nominal top shutter speed of 1/400th of a second and allowing for the flexibility of the film emulsion this was still a good stop adrift. It was either, put the camera away, expose at 1/400th and trust the film could handle it or rate the film at 200 and pull in development. The first was a non-option. The second wasn’t ideal given I’m still feeling my way with this camera and so I went with the option to pull the film. Given the contrast in the scene it turned out to be the best choice too.

Who could resist those reflections on the underside of the bridge?

The image, above, of reflections underneath the bridge has really benefitted from the pulled process as it’s brought the contrast in the negative down nicely and made for an easy conversion in Snapseed. I rarely mention my choices for hybrid working but I really like to keep it very simple. I copy the negatives with a Fuji X-T3 and an old Nikon micro lens before opening the file in the Snapseed App on my tablet.

This camera really is very wide!
It can still be used for more “intimate” compositions though

I mentioned last time that pulling HP5+ wasn’t something I’d do on a regular basis but I’m really glad that I had the technique up my sleeve as it were when I went out yesterday. Knowing your film stock and knowing how it reacts to different processing methods is a very useful thing. To acquire it you need to work with the film regularly and be prepared to experiment. Putting in the effort to do so may seem like a pain at the time but it rewards the patience in the long run.

Three for the price of one to finish.