Testing the Rocket (II)

So, it’s been a few days since I tested the Sprocket Rocket with a roll of HP5+ and although the camera has been back on the shelf whilst I’ve pursued my nocturnal project I’ve still been cogitating quietly on the matter behind the scenes. Key questions in my head have been, will my metering plan work with the Kentmere 400 and should I wait until the February roll to find out?

My reader knows that doing nothing is rarely my answer to matters photographic however, especially when I have the means for doing something so readily available. I accordingly made up a short roll of the Kentmere 400 and loading the Rocket once again headed out.

Now, I’d already decided that I’d assume the camera was f11 and 1/200th (it could equally be f22 and 1/40th of course) and that I’d meter accordingly. The other question was at what speed to rate the film. I’d done some more online research and also consulted friend and technical consultant Andy (@holga_pics)and had decided to rate the film initially at ISO 200 although I might even move to ISO 125 at some point. A handy scrap of paper enabled me to check my logic (see below) and if the meter reading was 1/30th then I’d need seven shutter actuations to build the necessary exposure. Unless I took a tripod then I’d probably be looking at ICM [(un)intended camera movement perhaps?] given the typically grey day here in West Yorkshire.

Prepared!

I wasn’t looking for portfolio images but for the answer to the question “is it worth pursuing this quest for another 12 months?” As Andy had said:

The film is sub par and the camera is junk, so you’re trying to make a silk purse from a sows ear.

Sir Andy of Holga
Could Sir Andy be right?

In fairness I have to agree. The roll I put through the Nikon F801 was perfectly acceptable; not on a par with HP5+, why should it be, but OK. The camera is plastic, made with virtually no noticeable quality control that I can see and will almost certainly be donated to an unsuspecting victim once the December roll is in the tank. Form an orderly queue please!

I developed the film in Perceptol, freshly made stock solution, for ten minutes which is the recommended time for the film exposed at 400 ISO. The resulting negatives were an improvement but decidedly lacking in contrast. Perhaps this is a feature of the film but regardless as I’m digitising the negatives for this project it is not an issue. Every exposure was made using the principals outlined above. Where the metered exposure was shorter than 1/250th I gave just one shutter activation but on the whole erred on over exposing. Only one of the fifteen negatives exhibits any over exposure so I’m heading in the right direction. For February I will rate the film at 125 and develop in stock Perceptol I think.

Metered at 1/350th so single shutter actuation
Quite pleased with this – it’s definitely a distinctly lo-fi aesthetic
My favourite from this test and the last frame on the roll

I’ve now used six rolls of film testing this set up, including a roll of HP5+ and a roll of Kentmere 400 that I sent to a friend for an independent view. I have nine further rolls made up and stored in the cellar which should see me through until the October roll. There should be enough of the bulk film left for me to make rolls for November and December once I have a couple of donor cassettes available!

Next update will, hopefully, be in February.

Snapshots in the dark

A couple of days ago I reached an intermediate milestone in my 365 project – 1,900 consecutive daily images in an unbroken sequence from October 30th 2017. I wanted to mark the occasion suitably and after some cogitation decided to bring forward the handheld 5×4 in the dark idea I’ve been contemplating.

The choice of camera was easy. I recently purchased a 5×4 camera specifically for handheld large format photography. The Chroma Snapshot was the logical choice and whilst I’d some experience with a loaned copy this would be my first outing with my own which had arrived prior to Christmas but which a bout of the flu had prevented me from christening.

Chroma Snapshot, 65mm lens f5.6 1/30th handheld

As I’ve already written in an earlier post I’ve been using a Nikon F801 and Ilford HP5+ to gain some experience of photography in the dark with film so I was confident that, whilst I’d not finished my experiments, I had enough knowledge to make it a feasible proposition. I had a few sheets of HP5+ in 5×4 left from a project last year and so I loaded up a couple of film holders and set forth.

The lens I have paired with the Snapshot is a wide-angled 65mm but it only has a maximum aperture of f5.6, two stops slower than the f2.8 of my Nikon 24mm which I’d been using on the Nikon F801. Looking back at my notes, 1/15th to 1/60th of a second at ISO 3200 was the ballpark for exposure depending on how much streetlight was in the frame. Bear in mind that I was planning on handholding the Snapshot, I would have preferred to have set 1/60th but needing to make up at least two stops I went for the pragmatic choice of 1/30th and bumping ISO to 6400, knowing that I was heading beyond the 3200 limit that both Ilford and many online commentators considered the maximum for this film stock.

A bit of extra detail pulled out at the expense of some increase in grain

I had four sheets so would photograph one scene (top image) where the subject was reasonably well lit (well lit is a relative term at night) and I would get in close, a second would be a similar scene but from a distance of around 15 feet (middle image) and then two others where the scene was a wider field of view with the light points well scattered (bottom image).

Would have benefited from a little extra exposure

So, as the results above show this experiment was a reasonable success albeit with room for improvement in terms of my technique and perhaps also my copying of the negatives and subsequent processing. I will cogitate and come back to this in a future blog post.

For completeness, these sheets were developed in stock Microphen for twenty three minutes; the suggested time was twenty minutes thirty seconds which I rounded to twenty three to allow for the fact that I’d already used the chemicals for a previous roll.

The other thing to note is that all the images here were created by copying the whole negatives with a mirrorless camera as a single frame and then inverting the images in Snapseed. For improved quality I need to copy the negatives in three or four segments, stitching and processing them in Lightroom. I shall do that for the next stage of the experiment.

Watch this space!

Stoating in the dark with the Nikon F801

It was a forgone conclusion that having spent several evenings perambulating the streets with a digital camera that I would then proceed to load a roll of film and give that a try. Indeed, I intimated as such in an earlier post:

As night-time photography will of necessity mean pushing the film you can expect some blog posts on the subject. I’m thinking that a roll of Ilford HP5+ rated at ISO 3200 and developed in Microphen will be a good starting point but watch this space!

Dave in Elland

I’d been looking at the EXIF detail from my Fuji X100T image files and noted that ISO 3200 and 6400 were the two most common settings (I was using Auto-ISO) and so that gave me a ballpark for choosing a film. I wanted to use a film stock that was available in 35mm, 120 and also 5×4 formats – I was looking even further ahead than simply a 35mm SLR. The logical choice for me was Ilford HP5+, my go-to black and white film, but I still did my research online to understand other peoples’ experiences. To cut a long story short I stuck with HP5+ but decided that, to start with at least, that ISO 3200 would be my ceiling. Let the testing begin!

Now, I’ve never used a digital camera in the field to meter a scene for a film camera but nevertheless I thought that studying the EXIF data further might be a useful place to start thinking about shutter speeds and apertures. I’d used the Fuji wide open, so f2.8, and the most common shutter speeds were in the range 1/15th to 1/60th so that gave me my starting point.

In terms of an aesthetic I am looking for images with inky shadows and bags of contrast so after studying the images from the Fuji I set ISO 3200, f2.8 and 1/60th of a second on my Nikon F801 paired with the 24mm Nikon lens. The logic in my lens choice was that as it’s a wide angle lens it might be a little more forgiving of being handheld at slower shutter speeds.

The other consideration was developing the film. I’d kept this in mind whilst researching what film stock to use and had tentatively decided on Microphen, a box of which has been in my chemicals box for several years. How I came by it I’ve no idea, I’ve never used Microphen, but as it was in powdered form I was confident it would be fine to use. However, one of the benefits of the #believeinfilm community is that there is generally someone online ready to offer support. So it was that Andy (@holga_pics) and I had a conversation during which I laid out my proposed treatment of the film and Andy offered his views and a slight tweak to my proposals. I was ready to go.

Before I left home, I put the F801 into manual mode, set f2.8 and 1/60th of a second and was thus prepared to go outside as soon as the street lights came on. I’d also set the ISO manually to 3200 so I could keep an eye on what the camera was thinking of my exposure settings. I found that for most of the time it was able to autofocus quite happily but when needed the 24mm lens was easy to focus manually too.

Having little or no previous experience of night photography I’ve now got a fair few urban stoats (that word again!) under my belt and I’m comfortable with both my film choice, the developing thereof and the camera settings.

All images Nikon F801, 24mm Nikon lens at f2.8 and ISO 3200

My long term aim is to create handheld 5×4 large format black and white film images of my local urban environment in the dark (there I said it) so everything needs to be capable of scaling to an aperture of f5.6 which is the widest aperture on the lens I use with the Snapshot. Realistically, this means that I may need to compromise in terms of ISO but thus far I’m thinking that I might just get away with it at ISO 3200!

Testing the Rocket

So, in my first FFP update I commented on how underexposed the negatives were and speculated on how I’d test this plastic-fantastic to try to encourage better results next time.

It was very unlikely that the development was to blame as I’ve developed hundreds of films in the last couple of years and have yet to have one fail due to faulty processing; so it’s a possible cause but not a probable cause in my eyes. I even refixed the negatives with fresh fixer just in case but with no changes to the negatives. The most likely cause in my eyes was the camera. Shutter speed and aperture are probably arbitrary concepts for such simple, plastic affairs where shutter speed is dependant on a tiny sprung wire so this was where I concentrated my efforts.

As to methodology, I chose HP5+ as it’s a film I know intimately so that removed the variable of a new to me film stock (Kentmere Pan 400). I also developed it in ID11, again a tried and tested developer, and used fresh fixer to provide a belt and braces approach to the development process.

I made some exposures handheld under normal wandering about conditions and a few on a tripod. For each of the ten different compositions I made a meter with my phone and kept a copy of the reading for my notes. I also kept a note of all eighteen individual exposures recording the number of shutter actuations made for each one and, on the assumed 1/100th of a second shutter speed, the variance of the exposure made from the meter reading. This I collated on the laptop for ease of use. I also taped up all four sides of the camera back, removing light leaks from that source as a variable.

I chose some dubious conditions for the test – we ranged from rain to bright sunshine during the hour or so that I was out.

Now, I’m aware that both the aperture and the shutter speed could be inaccurate, and indeed it’s likely both are, but I decided that as the shutter actuations are more important from a practical point of view (multiple exposures being part of the project) I would leave the aperture as a constant so the only variable was the number of times the shutter was actuated.

So, all the meter readings were taken at f11 and ISO 400. The film was developed in ID11 assuming that the film had been exposed at the box speed of 400. All of the exposures were, nominally at least, between -1 and +3 EV so I was expecting eighteen usable negatives and that is indeed what I got.

When I examined the negatives on a light pad all of them were suitably exposed for darkroom printing or scanning. The “under-exposed” images were usable as were those I had “over-exposed” but the best ones were between one and one and a half stops “over-exposed”. From this I decided that in future I’d make my meter readings on the assumption that the aperture was f11 (it may not be but that is largely irrelevant now) and that the shutter speed was around 1/200th second. There was however an additional test to be made.

This image had four shutter actuations which, based on the assumed shutter speed of 1/100th should have given a negative one stop over-exposed. In the event it looked to be around two stops over-exposed against the others which is in accord with the conclusions reached. Note however that the latitude of HP5+ is such that it’s still a perfectly acceptable result. Incidentally, all the images were processed using identical settings in Snapseed, none have been adjusted to give optimal results unless stated.

These days it’s possible to gauge shutter speeds fairly accurately with an app on the phone and a small optical measuring device. I cannot find mine as it’s been put away somewhere safe but Andy reminded me that the app does have a sound activated mode. Now this isn’t as accurate as the optical but it would be a useful test so I made four tests using the app (see below) with the result that the measured shutter speed came out at 1/40th of a second; not very close to my estimate from the testing but consistent with the aperture being one stop smaller than assumed!

Not a perfect method but I got the same result on two of the four measurements
In theory this was two-stops over exposed based on the original assumption which now suggests it was just one-stop over exposed and indeed has produced a very usable negative.
Finally, an individually processed image from the test roll. Taping up the back of the camera has I think helped with contrast too.

Moving forward then I will assume a shutter speed of 1/200th of a second and set the meter at f11 on the basis that, based on this test roll, this camera thrives on plenty of light. I now need to decide whether to wait until February to run that months FFP roll of Kentmere Pan 400 through the Sprocket Rocket or to make up a short roll in order to test it with the FFP a film of choice.

Decisions!

The Frugal Film Project 2023

The Frugal Film Project is now in its fifth year and like a lot of film photography initiatives had its genesis online. From a bespoke website in 2019 it has migrated to the Facebook social media platform and this is my first involvement with the project although I’ve been aware of it for a couple of years now. The premise is simple – one camera, one film stock, one roll a month. The catch? Well, it’s frugal so a strict limit on the cost of gear and the cheapest film you can find. The following has been taken directly from the Facebook Group pages.

New rules from 2022 carried forward for 2023

When I introduced myself on the group one member, who I also converse with on Twitter, made reference to my panoramic credentials. I felt therefore that I ought to see what I could do in that respect but my Horizon and KMZ FT-2 are both well outside the budgetary limit, as was my RSS 617 pinhole camera. Then I remembered the Lomography Sprocket Rocket, a plastic-fantastic that I’ve never got on with at all … but it is panoramic and I only spent £29 on it. Dare I? Well, yes I have but after the January roll has been developed I’m really wishing I hadn’t!

Here’s what I wrote about my January roll …

First roll for the FFP 2023 was an eye opener … rather (a lot) under-exposed, seems the stated 1/100th second shutter speed of the Sprocket Rocket is rather ambitious! Kentmere Pan 400 rated (not that it mattered!) at EI800. I’m also experimenting with intentional camera movement and multiple exposures at present, something the Rocket facilitates very well.

Dave-in-Elland writing on Facebook

For the record, I metered the scene at EI 800, which suggested around 1/25th second at the nominal aperture of f11. The Sprocket Rocket claims 1/100th second so a multiple exposure consisting of four shutter actuations should, in theory, let in 1/25th of a seconds worth of light. Well, that was my theory but the negatives are so thin that I’ve not even kept them after digitisation. I will never be able to get a decent darkroom print so for the first time in my life I’ve consciously disposed of a roll of negatives.

They are that bad.

Seriously.

I have had to work hard to drag detail out of the negatives and even then I’m not a happy bunny.

So, what am I going to do? I’ve used my January roll so however unhappy I am with the negatives I’m stuck with them. I know, I could have pretended I never shot the roll and redo it but that’s hardly in the spirit of the project. I’m still cogitating, but I’m considering a roll of HP5+, a film I know well, and some test shots from a tripod. Meter the scene, then make a multiple exposure of the relevant shutter actuations as if the shutter speed were truly 1/100th second, wind on and repeat but with two more shutter actuations, wind on and repeat with double the suggested actuations. Repeat with a few different scenes, keeping notes, develop at box speed and see what the verdict is. I cannot influence the aperture in any way so playing with the shutter speed and nominal ISO is all I can do at this stage. I can expose the film in the garden one morning, cut the exposed part out of the camera and develop it that afternoon ready to scan in the evening.

One of the aims of the project is to encourage photographers to really get to know a single camera and film stock so I’m taking all of this in that spirit. The only excuse for changing cameras mid-project would be terminal mechanical failure (such as standing on it I guess) but I’m confident it won’t come to that!

In case you’ve had a thought about playing with development times let me reassure you that I used a semi-stand for this roll, a process that is to a large degree ISO-agnostic. I’m hoping my tests can lead me to a point where I can develop using my normal methods. Time will tell.

I shall let you know how I get on and how that influences my February roll.

A few more from the wee stoat

A few more from my nocturnal wanders during the first week of January 2023. All digital but as I prepare to start week 2 of the series thoughts are turning to some nocturnal film photography to complement these. I am planning to use the film camera alongside the digital.

As night-time photography will of necessity mean pushing the film you can expect some blog posts on the subject. I’m thinking that a roll of Ilford HP5+ rated at ISO 3200 and developed in Microphen will be a good starting point but watch this space!

iPhone 1/1/2023
All Fuji X100T unless stated

A wee “stoat”

Stoat: Scottish slang, meaning to wander around aimlessly. For example: “I was just stoating aboot the toon”.

I am indebted to John Farnan for introducing me to the term “stoat” which I immediately associated with my own photographic perambulations which I’ve often termed psychogeographic. For the first seven days of 2023 I’ve been “stoating” about my neighbourhood making nocturnal images for my 365 project. I’ve gathered a few together here to open my blog account for 2023.

All images: Fuji X100T 6th & 7th January