To crop or not to crop

To the left (possibly below if you’re on a mobile device) is a sheet of 10×8 photographic paper. I laid a strip of 35mm negatives across the top from which you can see that the 35mm negative needs to be enlarged by a factor of over 35x to fit on the paper.

With such a large surface area to cover it makes sense to use as much of the negative as possible without cropping in and losing valuable real estate.

I do like to get things right in-camera but am no purist as at the end of the day the final result is the most important thing. As we’ve seen though the enlargement of a 35mm negative to a 10″x8″ print is quite a jump. So, when printing the negative below my initial thought was to print the full frame.

Left, the test wedge and right the first print

Now, this image is 100% reflection in a restaurant window. There are no external elements, everything is on or beyond the glass frontage of the building. Once I had the first print on the desk in front of me my eye was constantly being dragged to the top of the frame. Firstly, it’s bright so naturally attracts the eye. Secondly, that part is sky as you can see and the filth on the window rendered as a not-so-nice texture on the print. I decided therefore to crop the image to eliminate both distractions. I could of course have burnt in the sky but with that jagged roofline the pragmatic choice was to crop.

In the end I think the pragmatic decision to crop also gave a stronger composition too so win-win.

Sometimes I will find myself in a situation where I cannot make the composition I want directly in-camera so then I compose with a view to cropping later. The scene below is a case in point although I did include the whole negative when making the first full test exposure just in case. I was using a Bronica SQ-A which produces negatives 6cm x 6cm on 120 roll film. These are considerably bigger than a 35mm negative so the enlargement required is not as large, nevertheless I try to avoid cropping where possible.

Taken expecting to crop, I did however print the full negative before deciding my gut instinct was sound

So, there we have it. Two images strengthened by cropping, one a 35mm negative and the other 6x6cm on medium format film. What’s your thoughts? If you are a digital worker does the question of cropping become a moot point owing to the large sensor sized in modern digital cameras? Perhaps cropping considerations are greater for us folk who still insist on printing in a darkroom*.

  • for transparency I also use digital cameras and print on an inkjet printer from time to time which includes film images that have been digitised with one of my digital cameras. I therefore embrace all three “camps” – digital, hybrid and traditional.

Take a negative …

… and print it.

I make no bones about embracing the so-called hybrid approach to film photography. I love the tactility of working with film and particularly old cameras. However, in order to share my images with friends scattered around the world, I’m lucky that the internet and digital photography make the process a practical and, to a large degree, a relatively straightforward one. However, when I get the chance I also like to take a negative into the darkroom and print it in the traditional way.

The irony is that I then have to scan my darkroom prints in order that these friends, scattered as they are, can share in the results of these labours.

Over the past weekend I did manage a rare darkroom session and as it was the first for a while set myself to making a couple of 7”x5” prints. Here’s the story of one of them.

I did my now-usual test wedge (above) but in hindsight I could’ve placed the sheet better. The focal point of the image, indeed the only part in focus, was the plant growing out of the wall. I should really have placed the centre of the test sheet over the plant so it appeared in each wedge. In terms of the starting exposure I wasn’t worried about the background, getting the exposure right on the plant was most important. Anyway, rather than retest, I decided to make an educated guess based on the information in front of me and opted for a starting point of 14 seconds. However, before making the print I also had a think about contrast. Sitting in the chair cogitating is an important part of being in my darkroom! The test wedge was unfiltered and looking at the negative and this set of test exposures I thought a grade 3 filter, just to add a little more contrast, might be useful.

Rather than retest with grade 3 dialled in however I pulled out a tool I’ve had for years, the Ilford Multigrade Calculator (see below). This suggested that my initial unfiltered 14 second exposure needed increasing to 20 seconds. So, setting the enlarging lens to f16 I dialled 20 seconds into the electronic timer and pulled out a sheet of Kentmere VC (fine lustre) paper. I use this calculator fairly regularly and on the whole find it a very useful aid.

14 = 20

The resultant print is shown below. It’s a straight print, no dodging or burning, and as I keep notes of all my settings it can be replicated in a future session should I decide to have a play.

I might reprint this and make the large mill to the right a little brighter

So, there you have it. One print and a peek behind the scenes at my methodology.

35mm Lucky Dip – Adox HR-50

The third roll of film in my 35mm Lucky Dip was a gift from Jevon and it wasn’t until AFTER I’d used the roll that he expressed his view:

Best of luck. I have rarely managed to get a clean negative but when I have the detail is phenomenal

Jevon C

He’s not wrong of course!

I used the roll on a wander around my local patch with Andy (@Holga_Pics) and sadly the weather was rather overcast and wet; indeed we got a good soaking once we reached the farthest point of the walk from the sanctuary of my front room.

There’s a few on the roll where I’ve clearly misjudged the exposure and these have very blocked up shadows but where I’ve got the exposure right the negatives sing almost. Looking at them on a light pad the detail, even in the 35mm format, is incredible. The base of the film is also exceptionally clear which perhaps enhances this perception when the sheet of negatives is laid out on the light pad.

I’ve “scanned” the roll with my mirrorless camera and also printed one negative in the darkroom so far (more will follow) and the negatives have been very easy to work with in both scenarios.

Printed straight at grade 3 … I’m going to reprint at grade 2 and also dodge a little detail into the windows particularly above Andy’s head.

The darkroom print above, consciously printed a little darker to emphasise the wet conditions, has lots of detail and also lots of potential for further manipulation (tinkering with images didn’t start with Photoshop you know). This was a straight print and when I look at the negative it’s clear that there’s more detail in the shadows. I don’t want to change the overall mood of the finished print but I think there’s room for a little more detail in those shadows; it’s certainly available in the negative as the comparison below shows. The digital version has been fully processed to bring out detail in the shadows.

Digital top and darkroom print below

So, would I use this again? Short answer is that I’d have no qualms about using it. So long as it’s exposed correctly it will reward you with loads of detail and extremely sharp negatives. However, it is a 50-speed film and this couple with its lack of tolerance of poor metering doesn’t lend itself to my style of handheld, urban photography on the hoof.

Cropped and edited

This time, pleased as I am with the outcomes, I can at least say that it has not deflected me from my “three film” goal. That said, if Jevon wants to send me some more …

In the meantime here’s a few more digital versions from this roll.

The only image here taken with the Jupiter 11 (135mm) lens – all the others are Jupiter 12 (35mm)
The film captured a full range of tones … the key is careful metering
Probably my best exposure … detail throughout in a very contrasty scene
One for Andrew K
A reminder of the conditions.

I know my favourite … what’s yours?

A test print

I first made a darkroom print in the mid-1970s and marvelled at the wonders of a test strip. An off-cut of darkroom paper, a series of exposures at five second increments to give a starting point for the first “real” print.

© Dave Whenham
Test Strip – Marlborough Downs

I’ve been happily using this method ever since.

Until recently.

I was introduced to an alternative way and decided to give it a try.

A little smaller than a 5×7 piece of paper this is a clear acetate sheet printed with a circle of wedges of different densities (see above). After composing and focusing the negative, the sheet is placed on top of the paper, enlarger stopped down to the required aperture and an exposure of sixty seconds is made. The paper is then developed, stopped and fixed in the normal way.

The end result, see above, gives a test “strip” in one take without having to fiddle with a piece of card, slowly revealing each segment. The numbers around the outside indicate the equivalent exposure time. In this case I thought somewhere between 16 and 32 seconds would be about right. The resulting print is below.

This came out nicely. It was raining when I took the photograph and that comes across well. I printed it at grade 3 and there have been no local adjustments. I will reprint this in the next day or two at grade 2 and with some dodging to the windows above Andy’s head.

So, there we are. A short post to introduce my latest “toy”.

Thoughts on LTM rangefinder cameras

I was asked recently by a reader if I could compare the various 35mm rangefinder cameras that I’ve been using over the past few months. I guess it’s important at the outset to say that I’ve only been playing with a small subset of the genus rangefinder. Specifically, the few that I’ve been using all use the Leica Thread Mount (LTM) 39mm screw thread lenses. In addition my reasons for using these cameras is partly aesthetic and partly the pleasure of using such tactile cameras. I doubt if anyone uses these cameras for convenience, ease of use or simplicity of operation.

The first 35mm rangefinder camera that I bought was a Russian copy of the German Leica cameras; the so-called Barnack Leicas that came before the M-series bodies. The Zorki 4 is slightly larger than the Leica III cameras I’ve used but still sits relatively unobtrusively in the hand. Like all of the cameras described here it is not a light piece of kit but whilst cruder in terms of build quality and therefore operation than the Leicas it is still a satisfyingly tactile experience. The Zorki 4K is basically the same camera but it has what we now consider the more usual wind-on lever rather than a knob for the purpose. I have both the Zorki 4 and 4K and definitely prefer the 4K with the lever wind-on.

One common feature of all of these cameras is that the rangefinder/viewfinder are generally calibrated for the standard lens. For the Zorkis I use this is 50mm. My Chroma Glass lens has a 24mm field of view and as this lives on the Zorki 4 I have a matching, and cheap, auxiliary viewfinder that sits in the cold shoe. I also use a 35mm lens and for this I have a Russian-made turret viewfinder that offers a range of focal lengths. To start with, using one window to focus and another to compose the image is a little awkward but I found I very quickly adapted to this new way of working. Some, like my Canon VT and VL2, have an adjustable viewfinder that caters for both 35mm and 50mm lenses.

One word of caution with these old Zorki rangefinders. Quality control was not always the best in these Soviet-era factories where quantity often trumped quality when considering manufacturing success. You need to be cautious when purchasing from that well-known auction site therefore that the model you choose has at least been CLAd and preferably film-tested by the seller. It’s worth paying a little bit more for this reassurance.

Zorki 4 with Chroma Double Glass lens

Leica, or more specifically the so-called Barnack Leicas, was the manufacturer everyone was trying to emulate. With good reason. I have played with the Leica IIIb and the Leica IIIf and from a purely tactile and pleasure of use perspective they are probably the most satisfying 35mm cameras I’ve ever used. Period. They are however bottom loaders and need a specially cut leader to ensure that you don’t foul the shutter curtain during loading. To someone raised on back loading cameras it’s quite a shock to the system. It’s also a right royal pain in the backside if I’m honest. Loading a new roll of film stood on the canal towpath was not a pleasant experience. The Horizon S3 Pro is easier to load and that’s saying something.

Leica IIIf

But, having got that particular elephant out in the open I have to say that the Leica IIIf that I own is an absolute joy to use, film loading aside. That aspect will get better with practice, I loaded a film sat on a wall outside a church recently, but it will never be as straightforward as a back-loading camera. The shutter release is silky smooth and fires with the quietest of sounds. I genuinely enjoy the sound of this shutter releasing. The camera body is small, despite its weight, fits in the palm of my hand and can easily be dropped unobtrusively into a pocket. Pair it with a collapsible 50mm f3.5 Elmar lens and you’ve a pretty potent kit in your hands that easily slips into a pocket.

Canon also joined the fray producing Leica-clones but I have never used these. Instead, after chatting to Jon and spending way too many hours online I opted for the Canon V-series. These cameras move the concept on and some would suggest they are a bridge between the Barnack style of rangefinder cameras and the Leica M-series. I have the Canon VT de luxe (VTDM) and the Canon VL2. The T stands for trigger and the L for lever. V is the Roman numeral for five, thus these are so-called Series 5 cameras.

The trigger film advance was a revelation for me as I’d not used one before. In truth I’m not sure that I’d known about them before purchasing this camera. The trigger folds up into the base of the camera when not in use and it took me precisely six frames to become accustomed to using it instead of a lever to wind on. The trigger mechanism does add to the height of this camera though so it’s not as small as the Leica IIIf. Indeed, the Canon VL2 whilst slightly smaller is also larger than the Leica.

Canon VL2

That said the Canon V-series rangefinders are a joy to use. Being the more usual back loaders they are also easy to load on the hoof.

The final camera I bought was a FED-4 rangefinder. This was the cheapest of the set, slightly bigger and definitely a little rougher around the edges. It’s big selling point for me was the built in light meter. It’s uncoupled but very easy to use; move a dial to align the needles then read off the settings on the dial and transfer them to the camera. My meter appears to work very well which is a bonus. The viewfinder however is not as clear or as easy to use compared to the Leica and Canon models. If I’m honest, whilst still enjoyable to use this is the least used of my rangefinders.

A quick summary.

The Barnack Leicas are the smallest of this small collection and exude quality, they are the most expensive but are a delight to use (apart from film loading). The Canon V-series are well made, score on ease of use (especially film loading) and purchasing one is a little easier on the wallet compared to the Leica III models.

The Zorki 4/4K are considerably cheaper, less well made in general terms, but they are still great fun to use. Care is needed when purchasing to ensure it’s a decent copy but if you get a good copy you’ll be very happy. For those on a very tight budget the FED-4 is definitely worth a look and of those I’ve discussed here is the only one with a built-in light meter albeit an uncoupled one.

So far I’ve just been talking about camera bodies but the lenses are also a factor and an important one too. As yet my knowledge is not yet advanced enough to comment with any confidence but camera bodies are in essence just light tight boxes designed to hold film and lens in the appropriate relationship to each other. Film and lens choice might arguably make more difference than the camera body. I have native 50mm lenses for the Leica (Elmar f3.5 collapsible) and Canon (Canon f1.4) bodies but also have a set of three Soviet-era Jupiter lenses, a 35mm, 50mm and a very recent acquisition a 135mm. Thus far I’ve been very happy with the look of the images I’ve been able to create with this modest set of glass.

It’s hard to draw a specific conclusion as I’ve enjoyed, indeed continue to enjoy using each of the cameras mentioned here. To my mind, the most practical of this small selection would be the Canon V-series but, film-loading aside, the Leica III are, for my tastes, the most satisfying for actually taking photographs with.

Frugal Film Project – May update

A short-roll this month as it turned out. Most of my hand rolled cassettes have 30-36 exposures but for some reason this one had less than 20. A fact I only found out when I got to my ultimate destination and found just one frame left in the camera. Ho hum, the FFP has been good at throwing curved balls so far this year so I wasn’t that surprised. Slightly disappointed as I was looking forward to exploring a new-to-me location.

The FED-4 performed impeccably again although this time out I paired it with a new-to-me lens that had only arrived that morning. The Jupiter 11 lens has a focal length of 135mm and a maximum aperture of f4. This isn’t the time or place for a lens review. However, my lack of experience with the lens, indeed I have limited experience of using a telephoto lens within the urban environment, meant that not ever image worked out. By the end of the short roll though I was starting to get my eye in I thought.

Polling station selfie

The viewfinder of the FED-4 is calibrated for the 50mm lens so with a 50mm lens fitted you focus and compose using the same viewfinder. Fit a 135mm lens though and whilst you still focus using the viewfinder you need to fit an external viewfinder to the cold shoe in order to compose the image. It was an interesting experience especially as mine kept sliding out of the cold shoe which made for some fun and games.

Depth of field is going to be a big consideration with this lens
I even managed an image for a forthcoming project – “Peeking”

So, despite the disappointment of an unexpected short roll I really enjoyed this month’s roll. The 135mm lens will add a new dimension to using this camera too; I just need to practice a bit more with it before June!

35mm Lucky dip – Adox CHS-100 II

Let’s cut to the chase. Buy some! Here’s my full roll …

Some repetition as I was also testing a new-to-me camera and checking shutter speeds
All images: Canon VL | Jupiter 12 | Adox CHS-110 II

The first of the “lucky dip” films to be tried was Adox CHS-100 II, an orthopanchromatically sensitized B/W film with classical grain and a sensitization optimized for greyscale separation. But don’t take my word for it. Check out this selection from that test roll.

Shame I didn’t separate the weed and mill
That’s better!

I’ve mentioned before that I like to do as little post processing as I can get away with and these negatives delivered very nicely on that score. Developed in Adox FX39 II (1+9), they “scanned” easily and have needed very little tweaking in Snapseed. All these images were, as ever, processed on my tablet.

WPPD 2023: the runners-up

I used eight sheets of Acros for my WPPD entry this year, of which just one will be submitted to the WPPD portfolio. I’ve narrowed it down to two (see previous post) but what of the others? Well, of the eight, one sheet just didn’t work out for me, but the others are presented here for posterity along with the shortlisted two.

I probably need to take the processing for this one!

I chose an iconic location and made the iconic composition albeit with a pinhole camera. I then explored a few compositions that I’ve previously photographed with a lensed camera, before my final two sheets which were a composition I’d not spotted prior to that visit. Whilst I did take them with the Canon VL before leaving the two sheets through the ONDU 5×4 Rise pinhole camera were the first and they are also the shortlisted pair.

World Pinhole Photography Day – the image

So, the sheets have been developed and I’ve been deciding which image will be my WPPD contribution for 2023.

Behind the scenes

The ONDU 5×4 Rise pinhole camera has three pinholes enabling for more control of the composition. The “middle” puts the horizon line central whereas the “top” captures more of the upper portion (sky) of the scene and less of the foreground.

“Middle pinhole”
“Top” pinhole

So, I’ve chosen from the five different scenes, but which version of this chosen scene should be my WPPD submission? The jury is still out!