Another scratch

In my previous post I ended by saying I was off to put some 35mm colour film into a Mamiya RB67. Well, I wasn’t joking so here are the first three scans just to show I’m a man of my word. Once I’ve finished the scanning I will post a full update. A small spoiler though: my first attempt with the RB67 produced 10 negatives, but I managed 13 on the first roll of colour and 14 on the second.

Random Images from Isolation 164
Random Images from Isolation 162
Random Images from Isolation 163

See you soon!

It still itches!

So, having scratched the itch, I also successfully tried the 35mm-in-120 project with the 6×6 Bronica SQ-A which gave a negative 1.5cm longer than the ETRS. I was still forgetting on occasion though that horizontal and vertical are reversed because of the way the film is loaded onto the Bronica back, resulting in some odd compositions. Then I had another thought (awful habit, must stop doing this thinking malarkey) the film back of the Mamiya RB67 runs in the conventional 35mm manner, lengthways, and the film back itself can be rotated to shoot the 6×7 frames in vertical format. The itch flared up again!

Spoiler alert: it worked! Mamiya RB67, 50mm lens and out of date 35mm Kodak TMax 3200

So, despite saying that this was to be a project that I picked up very occasionally, I found myself loading 35mm film into the somewhat larger film back of my Mamiya RB67. One thing to note however. The RB67 film back did not detect the presence of a film and so the first time I tried this I ended up winding the entire 35mm roll onto the 120 spool without shooting a frame. So, out with the changing bag and I removed the now unwound film from the back and rewound it into the original cassette. The solution was the multi-exposure mode of the RB67. In normal use this enables the shutter to be cocked without winding on the film thus allowing multiple exposures on a single frame but I found that by leaving the camera in multi-exposure mode I could still wind the film through without a problem. The longer throw of the 6×7 mechanism means a bigger gap between frames and potentially more waste but I still managed ten shots by attaching the leader of the 35mm film to an eleven inch strip of 120 backing paper to reduce wastage at the start of the film.

The film still needs to be removed in a changing bag (I transfer it straight onto a reel and store it in the developing tank) but that is still only a minor issue especially when shooting at home! I cannot envisage this being something I would spend a whole day doing but if I did for any reason the changing bag is light enough to tuck into a corner of my rucksack.

35mm Kodak TMax 3200 shot using a medium format Mamiya RB67 with 50mm lens. Handheld (test roll) at 250th sec and 400th sec. Aperures f5.6 / f8. Shot and developed 23/5/2020 (ref 2020/063)

No one needs to read an account of loading the film, shooting the images (the rotating back on the RB67 and the horizontal orientation of the film were a huge help) or processing the negatives. The first thing I noticed however when removing the processed film from the tank was the bigger spacing, but then the length of each negative struck me. It’s only 1cm longer, but that is an increase of 1/6, almost 17% longer than the 6×6 negatives and over 50% longer than those from the 6×4.5 film back in the Bronica ETRS.

The negatives were scanned using my old Epson V550 flatbed scanner and the Vuescan software. Rather than lay the negatives flat on the glass as before I used a Lomography Digitaliza 35mm scanning mask to hold the negatives. The Digitaliza holds the negatives by the very edges leaving the sprocket holes revealed. I had read mixed reviews but thus far its proven to be effective and relatively fiddle-free. The loaded mask needs to be handled carefully as it is very easy to nudge the negative out of its magnetic grip – especially with a blast from a can of compressed air! I also varied my technique for converting the negatives into positives but that’s for another day.

Here’s to the next itch – I’m off to load a roll of colour 35mm into a RB67 film back!

Scratching an itch

When you‘ve got an itch – you’ve gotta scratch it!

Sometimes an idea pops into the head and the only way to get it out again is to stop what you are doing and attend to it. It happened to me last Sunday, and by 7pm, just as I was about to settle down with a book for the evening, the itch became unbearable. So, I grabbed my Bronica ETRS, the 220 film back that I’d purchased in error and a roll of expired 35mm B&W film and headed into the garden. By 7.30pm I was mixing chemicals and by 8pm the still-wet negatives were hanging in my bathroom to dry.

So, what got me so motivated? And surely that’s a typo – 220 back and 35mm film?

The idea of putting 35mm film through a medium format film camera is hardly new or innovative but it’s been niggling away at the back of my mind for a while now and I’ve been itching to try it for myself. I’ve seen a handful of images online and even watched a couple of YouTube videos on the subject so I did have some thoughts on how to approach it. So long as it is loaded carefully into a medium format film back, it is possible to shoot images that extend across the sprocket holes of the 35mm film to cover the whole surface of the film and with my ETRS back you get 45x33mm negatives, including the sprocket holes. If I was to do the same with my SQ-A then the negatives would be around 60x33mm although I’ve yet to try this. I say careful incidentally because you need to ensure the film runs centrally down the film plate as you wind on if you want to be reasonably certain of your compositions.

Spoiler alert: this experiment with the ETRS worked and I’ve already loaded the ETRS 220 back with a roll of 35mm colour negative film for a more “serious” session – when the sun decides to reappear.

I chose the 220 film back as it was designed for longer rolls of medium format film which allowed for 30 shots on the ETRS so I would not be advancing the film back past the number of shots the 35mm film would provide.  There is however a lot of wasted film at the start of the roll due to the way the Bronica winds on the 120 film at the start of a roll, the back is designed for roll film and needs to pull sufficient backing paper through to reveal the film buried inside the roll. I did however manage 21 exposures on this 36 exposure test roll (remember this is a 6×4.5 back and not 6×6 so if using a 6×6 format camera the number of images obtained will be less although they will be wider). I could try sticking a length of old backing paper to the start of the 35mm film I guess to minimise this wastage but that is an idea for another day.

Out of date Ilford HP5+ 35mm film in a Bronica ETRS 220 film back

As the image above shows the idea worked and the subject is lined-up correctly and not sloping due to wonky film loading. So what did I learn?

Vertical = horizontal and horizontal = vertical!

As the picture of the loaded film back shows, first and foremost: vertical = horizontal and horizontal = vertical! The film in a Bronica ETRS back runs top to bottom unlike a 35mm SLR where it runs left to right. Which means the 35mm film inside the 220 back is running down the middle rather than width-ways. It takes some getting used to, and I may cut a mask for the viewfinder to remind me, but basically when holding the camera normally the film is covering a vertical strip down the middle of the viewfinder. Tip the camera on its side (as you would normally to shoot a portrait or vertically orientated image) and the strip now runs horizontally across the middle of the frame.

That aside, and I have a lot of spoilt images because I hadn’t noted that quirk earlier, everything else went well. I used a pair of adaptors on the 35mm cassette which enabled me to insert the film in the same way I would have inserted a 120 roll. In a traditional film camera the 35mm film is loaded with the glossy side towards you but as the emulsion is on the other side of the plastic strip you need to reverse this when loading 35mm film into a roll film back (see above); basically the emulsion (non-glossy) side needs to be foremost in the holder so it is exposed to the lens when the film back is attached to the camera and the slide removed.

This quick and impulsive test was in most respects successful. Yes, every frame is orientated in the opposite direction to that in which I shot it and so many do not make compositional sense but this was not about creating masterpieces but about seeing if I could make it work – and I did. The first few frames were horribly under-exposed as the light meter I was using was still set to 800 ISO from an earlier session and I had also chosen to underexpose by a couple of stops, partly to give a darker frame to the main subject but mainly to achieve a shutter speed at which I could handhold the camera.

There were a couple of images however where, by dint of the 40mm lens I was using, the subject was centrally placed and therefore the composition does still work. Sadly, they were also amongst the first few underexposed frames but I have salvaged one of Grandson Harry which gives an idea of the kind of image I was hoping to capture.

Like many of these techniques, this one is unlikely to become my go-to method of shooting and needs to be used sparingly if it is not to become cliched and, dare I say, a little boring. The occasional 35mm cassette for a bit of fun is all I expect to be exposing in this manner. That said, I have ordered a 220 film back for my 6×6 Bronica SQ-A so I can try out the larger format. I’m hoping to shoot some panoramic images of the rooftops opposite for a sub-project within my main 366 project. There is also a roll of 35mm colour negative film in the ETRS 220 back .

So, as has been said countless times before – watch this space!

Scanning colour negatives

With all the differences between different colour negative film stocks, scanning can be a bit hit and miss. Here I briefly demonstrate the method I use, it is not perfect but produces acceptable results most of the time. I’m sure with a far more rigorous approach it could be done better but who wants to spend hours scanning and processing negatives – I’d much rather be in the darkroom!

Developing 25+ year old colour film

An interesting challenge came my way a week or so ago. A good friend of mine found a roll of JESSOPS colour negative film in his garage and brought it over for me to play with. How long it had been there he knew not, but a note inside the film canister suggested it had been in there for over twenty five years.

Ready to go!

After giving the matter some thought and consulting with a couple of other film workers I decided to process the film in black and white chemicals. The logic being that even if the latent colour images had survived the years in the garage it was likely that the colours would have shifted somewhat; the consensus being that if there were images they would have a noticeable colour cast and I may we’ll end up converting these to black and white anyway.

The next decision was what developer. Colour negative film is generally developed for three or three and a quarter minutes in C41 chemistry but that information was of little use to me. I eventually opted for what is called stand development which involves immersing the film in highly diluted developer for an extended period leaving the tank to stand untouched for the duration. My developer of choice for stand development is Rodinal so the decision was made. Timings are less critical with Stand development as the very diluted developer is basically allowed to exhaust itself. It has a compensating effect in that the developer exhausts itself in areas which require greater development while remaining active in less-exposed areas, which has the effect of boosting shadow detail while preserving bright highlights.

Pre-wash in deionised water for 5 minutes

Develop in Rodinal, diluted 1+100, for 1 hour

Agitate initially for 30 seconds very slowly then two slow inversions at 30 minutes (which technically makes this semi-stand)

“Stop”, using deionised water for 1 minute

Fix using Ilford Rapid Fix for 8 minutes

So much for the theory. What about the reality? My plan, which I followed carefully, was based on my usual stand workflow with some tweaks to accommodate the unusual circumstances. I rarely use pre-wash but thought it might be helpful here to lubricate the film as it were. I usually use a Stop bath but plumped for water on the basis of keeping the chemicals used to the minimum. Finally, I fixed for 60% longer than usual.

It worked!

To view the negatives are a bit on the dense side but there are definitely images!

Undeterred by the very dark negatives I turned on the scanner and set to work. It was not a fully exposed roll of 36 images and it had clearly been removed from the camera when only part-used. Most of the twenty-odd frames were out of focus shots of rally cars in a wooded area. A couple were taken indoors at a car show and one of these was pretty sharp so it was this one that I chose to scan fully.

A section of the film fully scanned with a Epson V550 flatbed scanner
Beyond my wildest expectations!

So, there are images and my friend and I are delighted with how the negatives look. There remains one puzzle though. He does not recognise them and is adamant that he would never take a part exposed roll out of the camera!

Stand developing: follow-up

Any lack of sharpness is down to poor camera craft!

As a brief follow-up to the Stand Development post, here is an image printed in the darkroom from one of those negatives.

A brief recap. The camera was a Nikon EM with a 50mm “E” lens. The film, Kodak 400TX (expired circa 2013) with this particular image being taken in early 2016, so the latent image has been languishing in the camera for over three years.

The print is grainier than I would prefer but as I already noted this was not the perfect situation for trying stand development. However, this is a straight print and despite the tonal differences between Zac and his background the whole print had a 17 second exposure under the enlarger and I have not needed to use contrast filters or any dodging and burning.

So, whilst it is unlikely that I shall be using stand development for 400 ISO films in the future I shall certainly be employing the technique from time to time and it’s a useful tool in my developing (pun intended) toolkit.

Panoramic woodland

Panoramas are often seen as a landscape photographers tool but they have many other uses and I like to use them in all sorts of settings, not least in woodland. Two or three vertical images stitched together can make for a very detailed 1×1 image for example and whilst the resultant image does not look like a panorama as we know it the methodology is exactly the same.

The image here though takes a more traditional approach and stitches multiple images to create a super wide panorama without the need to crop out a large chunk of the image top and bottom which would have been the case if we’d used a super wide lens to capture everything in one frame. Indeed, this particular image is a 180° panorama and even a fisheye would have been hard pressed in this instance!

For less ambitious stitched panoramas I will typically shoot 4 or 5 frames, overlapping each by around a third and using the camera handheld. Practice has helped me in this as the camera needs to pivot around the same point (on all axes) to avoid large alignment shifts which result in having to crop deeper into the stitched image. Given that I was looking at a 180° panorama for this image I shot my frames with the camera firmly mounted on a carefully levelled tripod. The initial image (below) was created using the merge function in Photoshop and is shown exactly as produced. Note the blank areas where no data was captured and how small they are; this means that the tripod was allmost levelled perfectly but not quite!

The panorama is made up of 13 individual files as can be seen here and Photoshop has applied masks to each so that the final image is comprised of a little of each individual frame. You can see the progression of the lens as it was moved between each shot.

Once I was happy that it was properly aligned I simply flattened the file to create just one layer with the raw panorama ready for processing in the ordinary way. As I set white balance, aperture, ISO, focus and shutter speed manually I tend to stitch the files first and post process afterwards.

Levelling the tripod is important as it means that you maximise the usable area of each frame. Overlapping each sequential image by between 35% and 50% gives the software the maximum material to work with and creates a better stitch. I always shoot an extra frame either side of my intended area – if my intended scene extends from B to E for example I’d shoot frames from A to F inclusive to ensure that my intended outer edges of the image are fully covered.