Over the years I’ve acquired a fairly random collection of cameras alongside the day-to-day “system”. One that only gets the occasional outing is the half-frame, 35mm Olympus Pen EE3. I loaded it with a roll of high-contrast Rollei Blackbird recently and it spent three weeks in my bag being used as and when I got the inspiration.
The Pen EE-3 is a compact, yet tough little half-frame camera from the 1970s and as with all half-frame cameras, you get two pictures on a single 35mm frame. The EE-3 has fully-automatic exposure with the EE standing for Electronic Eye. It measures the available light with the selenium cell meter which surrounds the lens and chooses between two shutter speeds: 1/125th and 1/30th of a second. The aperture is fixed via the ISO/ASA rating of the film which is set just below the lens.
My method of using this camera has evolved since I’ve had it. I started by making individual pics in the same way as I would use any other camera. However, I’d not had it long before I realised there was, for me, a better way. In-camera diptychs. Pairs of complementary images occupying a single 35mm frame.
More recently I’ve taken that further and have made three-, four-, five- and six-frame sequences. This takes the diptych concept further and the four-plus sequences fit the panoramic format very nicely.
For the last three weeks I’ve picked this little camera out of my bag on around half a dozen occasions slowly using the 72 frames at my disposal. Mostly pairs and triplets but also plenty of four-, five- and even six-frame sets. The biggest problem is cutting the negatives to fit into a conventional sleeve. My solution is to scan the full roll before cutting it and ensuring I have full runs of consecutive negatives captured.
I will write a few notes on scanning at another time although I will just say that I used a Pixl-Latr for the three- to six-frame sequences and an Essential Film Holder for the diptychs.
Fear not, I’m not about to get all poetic in my appreciation of the aforementioned wooden box. The box of which I speak is my Zero Image 612b pinhole camera. The ‘b’ is for basic of course, whereas the 612 indicates a maximum negative size of 6×12. In reality the negative is bigger than 6×12 as I’ve mentioned before. It is also multi-format as baffles inside can be moved to create 6×4.5, 6×6, 6×7 and 6×9 in addition to the titular 6×12.
When I bought it I felt it was expensive for what it was and even more so when it languished on a shelf for month after month once the first couple of rolls had been exposed. None too successfully at that if I’m honest. However, just recently I’ve used it more and have started to learn to appreciate it properly. I’ve also started to get the hang of using it more effectively too.
The biggest thing I’ve learnt is that it likes to be close to the action – very close! I’ve taken a couple of images recently featuring coffee mugs – with said mugs never more than three inches from the wooden box. Really, that close. I’m finding that for my taste, using a very obvious main subject very close to the box helps create depth and a real sense of three dimensional space. That’s not to say that every pinhole image I make has a subject right up close but it’s fair to say that I’ve never been disappointed when I’ve got in close and many images could have benefitted from being closer to the subject. This little box does have a fair sized field of view!
One of my early mistakes with this box was with regards to exposure calculations. I metered as I would normally but still seemed to get under-exposed negatives. My mistake was treating the given aperture value as gospel – my box likes light, plenty of it too. I now almost always add on at least a stop to the exposure time I calculate and am never afraid to bracket if in doubt. Reciprocity should also be taken seriously in my experience, especially with the Fomapan 100 I favour for my pinhole work. I chose Fomapan precisely because of its huge reciprocity values. It is actually helpful to have longer exposure times when your shutter is manually opened and closed by simply sliding a piece of wood to reveal and then hide the pinhole.
This is a seriously lightweight piece of kit and despite accommodating 6×12 negatives it is surprisingly small. It fits comfortably in my shoulder bag even with an SLR/DSLR with a second lens already present. Spare film and my mini tripod also fit in and I’ve made plenty of images that I’d not have been able too if the box took up more room. I like to travel with minimal kit and this box adds extra artistic capability without being a burden.
Not only is this box light and therefore easily carried in my shoulder bag “just in case” I need it, it is also pretty water resistant. No electronics to fizzle under the persistent rain we are blessed with here in the UK for a start. No lens to become rain spattered and smeared either. A quick wipe with a micro-fibre cloth and it’s like it was never wet. I’ve used this little box in torrential rain, on the beach, low down on a mini tripod with the sea lapping around and whilst I’ve been careful not to submerge it in water I’ve yet to have any issues with a malfunctioning box!
Of course, this isn’t my only pinhole camera. It isn’t even my only Zero Image camera. I have pinholes in 35mm, 120 and 5×4 large format. All of them are simply wooden boxes. I’ve written about them regularly, including this post which could have been sponsored by a rubber band company! It wasn’t but I’m still open to offers!
For some people, pinhole equates to fuzzy, unsharp images but whilst I’ve my fair share of such pictures, with or without a lens, it is my experience that a pinhole camera can also produce lovely crisp images. To support this assertion I present the image above created with the Zero Image 5×4. The key is technique. Which applies to all forms of photography I guess. Whilst a pinhole camera may be a very simple technological concept it is true that you still need good technique. For a start there are no electronics to assure good focus, the correct exposure or even adjust for slight camera movement. The first requirement is that the camera doesn’t move either during the exposure or at the time the shutter is opened or closed. This requires two things. Firstly, a tripod or other support to keep the camera still. A wall is helpful here if you find yourself without anything else although for my part a mini tripod is always in the bag with the camera. Secondly, a steady hand to ensure the camera isn’t knocked whilst operating the shutter. Some pinhole cameras have a cable release mechanism built in allowing the use of a standard threaded cable release although sadly none of mine feature this innovation.
The last ingredient I want to mention is aesthetics. Specifically YOUR aesthetic. It is my view that pinhole photography does not rely on technique alone. Good technique will help tremendously but it is not enough on its own. Using the camera regularly is vital if the photographer is to start to “see” through the pinhole. Not everything you point the pinhole at will work visually in two-dimensions and it takes time and practice to judge what will and won’t work. There’s little point though in me trying to tell anyone what will or won’t work; photography is a very personal medium and what works for one person may not necessarily work for others. Of course, it’s great when other folk appreciate your work but as ever the most important viewer of your work is you.
This has been a short appreciation of the humble pinhole camera and I have hopefully shared a few thoughts that will help those new to pinhole photography or indeed those thinking of jumping in to the fascinating genre. Technique is the key to successful images but even technique is subservient to the aesthetic.
After the very successful ‘zine of urban panoramas last year I’m currently working on my next ‘zine offering. Whereas the panoramas were all made within a short period of time the images I will be using for A Sense of Place were created over a much longer period of time and in fact were not originally intended as a series, let alone a zine.
Although I have been creating images by the water for as long as I have been making photographs the genesis for this collection are the four pinhole images above. They were created one after the other at Cresswell Beach in the north of England using a Zero Image pinhole camera and Ilford HP5+ film in early October 2020 after four months of being confined to the house and a further three months confined to within a few miles of home. I had never been to Cresswell before – but it was like coming home.
Whilst I’ve not made the final selection yet, and in fact I have not finished the photography yet, all of the images will feature water; representing my “happy place”. Time spent by a river, alongside a lake, walking the canal towpath or strolling on the seashore is always a relaxing and peaceful place for me. I am at peace alongside water, calm and relaxed – even when the camera is playing up!
Well, somewhat belatedly, the final part of my semi-stand series has finally made it into the ether. The last, but not least, of the films that I am going to talk about for my semi-stand week series is FT12. It was the first roll of film I used during the week and because I’m a contrarian I’ve left it to the end of the series. This was a completely new-to-me emulsion that I bought on a whim from the good folk at Nik & Trick.
So, I spotted the film on the website of Nik and Trick in Folkestone. The blurb states that “Replacing Eastman Kodak’s fanatically loved SO-331 … we think that this lush 50asa film – that was not originally intended for photographic purposes – is better!!” Two exclamation marks, how could I resist. Especially as they went on to claim “… incredibly high contrast negs with a good range of mid-tone detail and amazing sharpness with near zero grain…”. They recommended rating the film at 50 ISO and stand developing in Rodinal for forty five minutes. The semi-stand week was born.
Admittedly I chose a fairly dull day when there was little or no interest in the sky but even I was surprised by how contrasty the negatives were. They certainly delivered exactly what the folk at N&T promised!
The conditions were probably not ideal for such a simplistic camera as the Horizon S3, with limited control over exposure and no local exposure options such as graduated filters. My usual urban compositions which typically look in two directions at once, as in the image above which looks down the main road to the right and the cobbled back lane to the left, just weren’t working when I got the negatives on the light pad. I was able to crop (see below) but whilst that helped with tonal balance it spoilt the composition to my eyes.
To summarise, FT12 is a slow (50 ISO) film – that was not originally intended for photographic purposes! I believe it is intended for sound recording. Based on this one roll, it certainly produces incredibly high contrast negatives with a good range of mid-tone detail and amazing sharpness. To be fair this is exactly as promised! Whether or not it’s the film for you though is a matter of personal preference. It has definitely taken me out of my comfort zone for sure.
So, there we have it, a week of semi-stand development in Rodinal and a week in which I found a new respect for this venerable old developer. Would I do it again? Indubitably! Do I keep Rodinal on my shelf at all times? Absolutely!
OK, old joke but it’s very relevant still. We are hiring a caravan on the north-east coast for a few days and given how long it’s been since I had some “proper” time with my cameras I want to cover every eventuality. Except I can’t. There simply wouldn’t be enough time to use everything and I certainly wouldn’t be able to get everything in the boot of the car without ditching the suitcase. I know, lack of dedication, the suitcase should really go – but you explain that to my wife 😊
I started the process of preparing to pack for our four nights away a couple of weeks ago. I started with a yellow legal pad and various coloured pens arranged neatly on the table whilst I sipped a small whiskey. These lists were then studied and refined over the following ten days until four days ago when I started to pull gear together ready for packing. What? You thought I’d been talking about clothes? Ha!
Three days before departure day I threw the list in the bin and put most of the gear back in the cupboard. What caused this precipitous action? The wife announced that I had to do things with her and not spend every minute with a camera in my hand. What a nerve! I immediately loaded an Olympus Pen EE3 (half frame, 35mm) and popped that in my shoulder bag to ensure I would ALWAYS have a camera with me. With just three days to go I had to go back to the drawing board!
I decided to start over by thinking about camera and film formats I would need (want?) over those few days. 35mm – easy – the Horizon S3 was always going to make it on the trip. No question. Thinking back to our last trip away eight long months ago I definitely over-packed on the 35mm front and this was before I even owned an Horizon. Even if I didn’t admit to it publicly I didn’t want to repeat the mistake. The panoramic Horizon excepted, 35mm is my least-used format. No, the Horizon would be my sole 35mm companion. Apart from the EE3 of course which was already hiding in my shoulder bag. A roll of UN54 found its way into the Horizon and I treated myself to a glass of wine to celebrate the achievement.
So, moving on to 120. The Bronica SQ-A was one of the items that survived the cull already described. It is to be my main focus (see what I did there?) over the four days as I want to give Fomapan 100 in 120 a good workout. It’s become my go-to in 5×4 but can it do the business in medium format? So, that was easy, medium format in the bag – literally. Although, I do love playing with the ETRS … no, I can crop 6×6 to 6×4.5 if I need to. You can see that I was being strict with myself.
Except. What about pinhole? I’ve done a lot of pinhole work recently. My 120-devouring Zero Image pinhole camera has been a regular companion too, not least because it fits in my shoulder bag, and it would be good to test 120 Fomapan in the pinhole too. I popped a roll in that too and quietly slipped it in my shoulder bag.
Checking my backpack all I had was the Bronica with a trio of lenses and the usual filters. Doing well, just one camera so far, oh and the Horizon in its own small carry case. The wife would be pleased at how little I was taking. The EE3 and 120 pinhole were in my shoulder bag so they didn’t count.
I picked up the other backpack, permanently loaded with the 5×4 Intrepid camera and it’s various accoutrements. That was easy. Although I now had two big backpacks. Hhhhmmm. I’ll sleep on this.
I woke up, with two days to go, and over breakfast checked Twitter and Instagram. My Zero Image 5×4 images have gone down well and actually I had great fun with those. The three 25mm frames and a jumbo bag of rubber bands were soon nestling in the bag next to the Bronica. An hour later I had 26 sheets of 5×4, mainly Fomapan 100, loaded and sitting in the bag too. It was starting to fill up. I quietly popped my 360 camera into the backpack too without myself noticing.
I set about picking up the odds and ends that are so important. Lens cloths, air duster, tripod plates, screwdrivers, pens, batteries, cable releases … you know what I mean. Oh, film. I need film. But what to take? I will fast-forward several hours and just record that I’m taking more film than I can actually afford to use over four days and leave the rest to your imagination. Except to add that if I use even half of it I will be developing films full time for weeks.
So, Sunday has arrived and I’m doing final checks to make sure I have everything. This is a dangerous time as it’s when I usually get cold feet and start worrying I’m taking too much. In the past I’ve managed to quietly slide past this obstacle so when the wife enquired a couple of hours ago whether I was taking my drone, which I’d forgotten, I was confident the danger had passed. But, as I sorted out batteries for the drone and recharged everything the nagging doubts returned and niggled away until, shock horror, I returned the Intrepid and 5×4 gear to its place of readiness behind my armchair. The likelihood of me getting a decent chunk of time to use it is slim, it was last time too, so I decided to leave it behind in favour of the 5×4 pinhole. Since when did I get so grown-up?
So, there it is. I’m packed and once the drone has been charged and it’s firmware updated I will be ready to wrestle everything into the boot of the car. I’ve still got just the three cameras in the backpack. Oh and the drone makes another. Oh, there’s the Horizon in its own little bag, next to my shoulder bag with its EE3 and pinhole.
But wait, what’s the second shoulder bag on the floor next to it all?
Ilford Ortho is an ISO 80 orthochromatic black & white film with fine grain and sharpness and “perfect for stunning landscapes” according to the Ilford website. When they brought it out in 120 last year I bought a few rolls but for various reasons I hadn’t used them until very recently when the arrival of a 35mm roll of Rollei Ortho 25 Plus prompted me to have a play.
Over the course of three days I used a roll of the 120 in my Zero Image pinhole camera and another roll in the Bronica SQ-A and finally the Rollei Ortho was put to use in my Horizon S3 35mm swing-lens panoramic camera.
So what is an orthochromatic film? The film stocks we typically use nowadays are panchromatic meaning they react to all colours of the visible spectrum. Orhochromatic films on the other hand are only sensitive to a part of the visible spectrum, ranging from blue to the end of green. Early films were typically orthochromatic until the process of adding dyes to increase this sensitivity was developed. Orthochromatic films can create interesting effects in pictorial applications in that red colours become dark or black, and everything blue becomes white or light coloured.
The first roll, through the pinhole, was not destined to be a big success due to a schoolboy error. Remember me saying that orthochromatic film has no red sensitivity? So, why did I pop an orange filter inside my pinhole camera? I was pretty disappointed with the negatives until the light bulb moment happened and I realised that whilst the conditions that day were good for an orange filter – the film wasn’t!
The following day, like a grown-up, I opened a second roll and this time put it in a Bronica SQ-A and headed for a small patch of woodland with a tripod and a set of filters.
Given what we know about the sensitivity of orthochromatic film the results are not surprising. The red version has more detail incidentally only because I over-exposed it by one stop compared to the orange filtered version. The key characteristics of blue skies turning almost white and reds becoming very dark are clearly apparent as is the emulsions ability to give more nuanced colour separation in the greens.
I had read that a yellow filter was a useful tool with orthochromatic film and whilst there are differences between the no filter and yellow filter test shots they are subtle to my eye.
What I did find very useful in this woodland setting was a green filter however and I was lucky that it was a relatively still morning as the combination of a slow film and a small aperture meant exposures up to 8 seconds with the filter in place.
So, I clearly enjoyed the Ilford Ortho 80 in 120, but what of the Rollei Ortho 25? I put this roll of 35mm film through my go-to 35mm camera – the Horizon S3 Pro. This was the first time I had used the S3 on a tripod but with the aperture kept to f16 for maximin sharpness and depth of field the resulting exposure times of between 1/4 and 1/2 of a second left me little choice. Well, look no further than the next image in this post, one of the most pleasing compositions from my S3 to date and look at those tones.
Using filters on the S3 is a fiddly process and so I generally leave them at home and such was the case on this day. The negative has a very white sky but a little bit of burning-in has revealed some detail. These images are all digital scans by the way, I have yet to try darkroom printing any of these negatives. Even from the scans however the tonal separation in the foliage is very evident and my sense from looking at the negatives is that when I do get the time they will print very nicely.
All of the films were developed in Ilford ID11 (1+1) at 20°C with the Ilford film given 10 1/2 minutes and the Rollei 8 minutes. Whilst I may experiment in the future I see no reason to change this for my next roll of either film.
Whilst the Rollei was a single roll of 35mm film that I had been sent I do have a few more 120 rolls of the Ilford Ortho 80 in the fridge and I shall be looking for an opportunity to play with them further in the future. Clearly green or yellow filters will be a useful addition to my bag on the day depending upon the intended subject and I have a mental note to have them at the ready.
Earlier this month I had a hospital consultation and unusually for these strange times it was in-person rather than by telephone so I headed into Halifax, mask in pocket, for my early morning appointment. Also in my pocket was my mobile phone with it’s handy light meter app and in my shoulder bag was the Horizon S3 Pro loaded with a roll of Adox Silvermax. Little did I realise when I left the hospital but I was just about to go and make four images that would provide me with a totally unprecedented (for me) and unexpected response on social media.
Have you ever peered behind the facade of your town centre?
I do regularly, in the name of urban photography of course. The service yard behind various premises including offices and fast food premises in Halifax town centre that I ventured into was a sight and smell to behold. As I slowly edged my way inwards I was stopped in my tracks by a movement that I only just caught with my peripheral vision. What was it? A piece of paper flapping perhaps?
Well, no actually. A second movement in my line of sight confirmed what my subconscious had suppressed. I’d aroused the interest of a family of rats.
When I got home I developed the film in home-made FX55, an eco-developer I have been trying out, and hung the roll of images to dry. There were various panoramic views of the “public” face of the town centre but my attention was focused on the three images I’d taken before rats-stopped-play. I’d also taken a few on my ever-present Fuji X100T and knew that with the silver-rich Silvermax I was using in the Horizon there was the chance of some fabulous tones alongside my signature panoramic viewpoint – just so long as I’d got my exposures right.
I was not disappointed and having waited impatiently for the film to dry I was quick, unusually so for me, to scan the negatives and get them on to my computer. I love darkroom printing but even I have to admit that this hybrid approach has its appeal at times! Uploading the first image to my Twitter account I was nevertheless very surprised when my notifications went crazy. The four images from that six or seven minutes in the back yard have given me my best ever response on social media and I was very humbled at the response they generated – even the one that suggested I be permanently posted to the service yards of Halifax!
It was a strange sensation making the images, stood in a less then salubrious situation with the local wildlife increasingly in evidence, but I knew as soon as I released the shutter that, so long as I’d worked out the exposure correctly, I would have a couple of very nice images for my portfolio. I didn’t stay long however as the rats were getting increasingly curious! Seriously!!
All images: Horizon S3 Pro camera | Adox Silvermax film | developed in FX55 unless stated otherwise
Three images from a recent visit to Scammonden Water, within sight and sound of the busy M62 motorway. I was on my way home from a local reservoir where I had been practising with the Intrepid 5×4. Like many of us I do practice setting the camera up whilst I’m at home, developing muscle memory as it were. However, being out in the field is a different experience, especially stood a few feet from a busy road hence the occasional trip out. I will (hopefully!) be going to the coast for a few days at the end of the month and will be taking the Intrepid for some long exposure photography.
Whilst my main purpose for the short trip was practising with the 5×4 I still had a couple of other cameras in the boot of the car, one of which was the Horizon S3. Having spent around six months making urban panoramic images with the Horizons it was a joy to point the camera at something that was living.
I have mentioned in the past that I have been making an image a day since October 2017 as part of a 365 Challenge. On Saturday I wandered down to make that day’s photograph with just the Fuji X100T in my pocket and a vague idea of photographing the virtually derelict garages behind the petrol station. In the end I saw a different composition and left the garages for another day.
When I made the image of the scene for my 365 (above) I had to compromise on the composition slightly in order to mask a couple of cars behind the bushes to the right. With that in mind, when I returned early Sunday morning I was hoping the cars would be gone so I could get the view I wanted with the church tower clearly visible.
I was lucky. Not only were the cars gone but conditions were similar, if not slightly better in terms of the light. I was pleased therefore to create the version I’d hoped for.
I was actually out that morning on a mission to make four pinhole photographs. so this was an adjunct to my main purpose. Of course, I couldn’t resist making a version of this image on 5×4 film.
Not unexpectedly there is a world of difference between the very clean, almost clinical, digital images and the extremely wide version created with the Zero Image. In hindsight I could have added the other two frames I had with me to narrow the field of view of the pinhole but I was hoping for a uniform look to the pinhole series. A possibility for another morning perhaps?
Even after more than nine years of retirement I still cannot lie-in bed once I wake. Nor does my body seem to want to change the habits of a working lifetime and whilst I’m not crawling out of bed before 5:30am these days I rarely sleep beyond 6:30am. Today was no exception and so at 7am I was out of the house with a 5×4 camera and a few sheets of film in my shoulder bag.
The detectives amongst you will have already worked out from the title that it was a pinhole camera, a Zero Image 5×4 to be precise. The plan was to visit four locations around town that I have visited recently and recreate the images using the pinhole – and one sheet only, no bracketing and one composition only. I often impose restrictions on myself to make things more challenging and keep me on my toes. With the cost of 5×4 it is also a sensible approach. Being a Sunday each location was quiet meaning I didn’t have to worry about getting in peoples way, especially at the final location which involved me standing the tripod in the middle of the road. That was sheet five (see next paragraph) however so won’t be making an appearance here.
I took six sheets of film with me and used five. Why five sheets and just four locations especially given the parameters I’d already set? User error! At the third location I set everything up, metered the scene, adjusted the reading for the pinhole and adjusted for reciprocity and finally removed the dark slide ready to open the shutter. Except it was half open already. A lapse of concentration as I generally check the shutter as I place the camera on the tripod and also just before I remove the dark slide.
Except it was half open already.
A lapse of concentration, as I generally check the shutter as I place the camera on the tripod and also just before I remove the dark slide.
My Stearman tank holds four sheets of film, part of the reason for limiting myself to four locations. I developed the first four sheets, from the first three locations, as soon as I got home. I chose Rodinal at a dilution of 1+49 partly because I’d not used it in this way before and I was hoping this would give a good compromise between the typical dilution of 1+25 and a semi-stand in 1+100. A dilution of 1+25 generally gives good contrast and acutance whilst I really liked the grain and detail I got from the semi-stand series so wondered if a dilution midway would give good negatives without a forty five minute semi-stand. By 9:30am the four sheets were hanging to dry, the errant third sheet clearly showing the effect of accidental pre-exposure on approximately a third of its surface (see above).
It was at 9:31am that I remembered I’d not had any breakfast yet – but that’s another story!
I was very happy with the negatives as they came out of the tank and impatient to get them on a light box and under a loupe but of course these things can’t be hurried so after breakfast I started this blog post in readiness and anticipation.
With all four sheets on the light pad I was very happy with the fruits of my morning’s labour, despite the momentary lapse. There’s plenty of detail in each sheet and the grain is very restrained. They all scanned nicely (with a mirrorless camera not a scanner) and on the whole look as if they will print well even if the puddle reflection above will take some work to tame the much brighter central portion.
The Zero Image at 25mm gives quite a strong vignette but I like this effect so it doesn’t displease me. With high contrast scenes it can produce tricky negatives as with sheet 2 above but these challenges are all part of the fun of pinhole photography and darkroom printing. The field of view is very wide (I have three frames but only used one today which equates to approximately 25mm) and in all of these images I could have got much closer to the subject if I’d wanted to. For the reflection image I used a mini tripod at the very edge of a deep puddle so perhaps not that one but certainly I will revisit the third location (sheet 4) and place the pinhole much closer to the rusty door in the middle of the frame.
If you’ve not given pinhole a try yet I can very much recommend it – especially as an introduction to the joys of 5×4 large format photography.