To meter or not to meter …

I promised in a recent post to share my metering approach when using the 5×4 camera and as the weather here is disgusting at present what better time to do so. I’m also very aware that my last dozen or so posts have been very “dry” too; which it certainly isn’t outside!


Why did I specify 5×4 and not just generalise? Well, my approach differs depending on what camera I’m using and how I’m using it. With pinhole photography I’ve found that a reading taken with the App on my phone, adjusted for reciprocity and with a bit added on for luck gets me where I need to be pretty much every time. I’ve written before about how I use my Horizon S3 panoramic camera and my metering approach there is based on an initial reading as I leave the house which is adjusted based on experience so that I can enjoy the free-flowing experience of using that camera.

Similarly, on the rare occasions that I use an SLR, typically a Nikon F801, I make use of its onboard meter, putting the camera in aperture-priority and only interfering with what the camera determines when I have a specific need to. When using the Bronica cameras handheld I usually adopt the same approach as I do with the Horizon S3 but when I take the trouble to lug a tripod about I automatically default to my 5×4 methodology which is what I’m going to talk about here.

Now, my current methodology has not been a tried and tested system that’s worked unchanged for years but has been evolving over those many, many years. Over the last few years however it has gradually settled into a more consistent approach using a spot-meter. Realising that I had settled into a set routine in the last twelve to eighteen months I recently decided to harness this further by formalising my note-taking so that I had all the information at my finger tips when getting ready to develop the films or when reviewing the negatives on the light pad.

In the field

Ready to “read” the scene and calculate exposure settings

Every DDS has a post-it note on the back with the holder number and the film it contains written upon it. This helps me determine between empty and loaded film holders as well as being a reminder of what is loaded. I scribble brief exposure notes on these at the time (f32 1/15 for example) but I also make more detailed notes in an A5 notepad I carry with me. Once home these scribbles are transferred to an A4 sheet which captures and organises the information in a logical fashion. One thing I always do in the field is a rough sketch of the composition on to which I write/scribble the spot-meter readings. The example below has a recent innovation … a picture of the scene captured with my phone (see above) to replace the pretty rubbish field sketch I made at the time.

Whilst this sheet is for a couple of glass plates it is exactly the same method that I use for film too.

The numbers on the image of the scene represent the spot-meter reading for that part of the scene. They represent the EV value for that area given the speed of the film in use. I take a series of readings from around the scene making sure I capture areas of highlights, shadow, middle tones and particularly the darkest area of shadow where I want to be able to see some detail in the finished print. Many of you will realise that this approach uses the Zone System as it’s basis and if you’re not familiar with this method I’d encourage you to check it out in more detail. For me, these readings, give me everything I need to calculate the exposure I need.

For the scene above I was keen to retain some of the details in the area at the base of the building which has been painted black. There was a lot of small details there such as a ventilation grill, gas bottles and other detritus and I wanted these visible rather than an amorphous lump of black shadow. The EV reading was 9 and so that gets plotted on the grid to the left as Zone III. This is the lowest zone that will render texture and detail in a print. Where we “place” this value on the grid is as much an aesthetic choice. I could have chosen Zone IV for example and brought out even more detail but for the image I had in mind I chose Zone III.

The next thing is to determine what the range of tones is in the image. My method is to simply count down the grid and seeing on which Zone the highest EV reading will land. In this example EV 14 lands on Zone VIII which is perfect for my needs. This gives a full range of tones which are also within the tonal latitude of the film. Had the highlights fallen on Zone IX or higher then they would have been completely blown out with no detail visible in the print. A choice would then need to be made in this case – whether to sacrifice the shadows, the highlights or to expose for the shadows but make a note to adjust development time to bring the highlights back into the tonal range. As this doesn’t apply here we will leave development adjustments to a later date and a later blog post.

So, I now have all the information I need. I know where my shadows need to be for my creative intent and I therefore know where Zone V, or 18% grey, sits. I also know that the full range of tones in the scene can be captured with out needing to make any adjustments in development. So where do I get my aperture and shutter speed from?

Well, depending on my aesthetic intentions I firstly choose either the aperture I want to use or the shutter speed I need. In this example I wanted everything sharp across the scene so I chose an aperture of f32. I then take my Zone Wheel from my bag, a high tech mix of cardboard and metal work, and setting the readings on the discs I can read off the necessary shutter speed.

Mr J Martin (junior) kindly made my Zone Wheel

So, the EV value 9 has been placed alongside the Zone III marker, see how the other EV values slot in just as they did on my grid? Look at the bottom and you will see a range of f-stops. I wanted f32 which, reading off the time opposite gives me half a second. I wasn’t using any filters and reciprocity isn’t a factor at this shutter speed for this emulsion so my base exposure becomes 1/2 second at f32.

At this point I could adjust matters if I thought 1/2 second was too slow, for example, on a blustery day when I wanted no movement in the image, but these changes are just extrapolations of the base exposure. I could open up to f8 for example at 1/30th second for the same overall exposure.

My final decision is whether or not to tweak the exposure based on my experience. However, the exposure we’ve calculated will give a good result so it is not an absolutely necessary step. In this instance I was using a dry glass plate and my experience with these shows that an extra stop would do no harm and therefore I opted for a one second exposure at f32.

Back home

Back home I try to sit down with my holders and my notebook and a supply of blank forms and write everything up as soon as practical. The scribbles in the notebook provide most of what I need, but I have the post-it notes as a back-up and by doing it whilst everything is fresh in my mind I can capture some of my thought process too. If I need to adjust development times I note this in large letters on the form and also on the post-it note which will stay with the film holder until the sheet of film is transferred to the developing tank.

Once the films have been developed the post-it notes and on location scribbles get put in the recycling bag and I file the A4 sheets along with the negatives in a ring binder so everything is together where it can be referred to as required. When it comes to printing the negative in the darkroom the reverse of the form can be used for printing and development notes – one day I will formalise these too!

So, there you have it. I have tried to keep this focused on the practicalities of calculating exposure in the field but there is plenty more to learn. I have referred to the underlying principles which relate to the Zone System and would recommend further reading as a full appreciation of this methodology will help you to use this approach more successfully in the field.

FOOTNOTE: whilst many people decry phone-based metering apps I’ve found the one I use to be reasonably reliable. In the example above the App suggested 1/4 second compared to the 1/2 second I calculated. Bear in mind that I was specifically looking to hold detail in a small area of shadows and you will see that it isn’t a million miles away.

Dry: An Update

If it’s been rather quiet on the dry plate front it’s not because I’ve not been busy. Indeed, I’ve used most of a box of the Speed plates in the last ten days or so. So, why the silence? A picture might help here.

Notice anything odd?

The example on the left of the three is something I’ve seen before as it happened on my first plate and I’d put it down to user error. However, chatting to Andy who owns the plate holders I was using, revealed he had a similar plate so unless we were both making exactly the same error, be it with loading or seating the holder, then the likely culprit was the holder. We were certainly not using the same camera and lens!

The issue with the other two is different to the first plate, suggesting perhaps that one holder was used for the first and the other for the second two examples? The shape of the light leak, whilst not exactly the same, is very similar too. There’s clearly an issue so some more thinking and testing was called for.

In the case of all three glass plates, used on two different days, each was exposed using exactly the same set up and at the same time as a sheet of 5×4 film. The sheets of film were all absolutely fine. Looking at the scans above shows that the exposures used for these plates were good too which is a small positive from this. I’ve plenty of experience with 5×4 and whilst it’s not impossible I think I can rule out loading errors. To be sure, I used one of the failed plates to load both holders in daylight and could find no way to mis-load them without it being very apparent.

I’ve even tested the plates from the current box themselves. Taking a fresh plate from the box in the darkroom, staying at least six feet from the safelight and putting it straight into the developer gives a perfectly clear plate. What we would expect. Later that morning I used a plate in an Ilford Obscura pinhole (no holder required) which also confirms the plates are probably fine. The other factor in favour of the plates not being the issue is that my first fail was with one of the plates that Andy gave me initially and not from those that I bought for this project.

As a final test I exposed a further plate with a newly-purchased double plate holder. It was a very bright, sunny day and the holder was positioned with the slide pointing upwards as is my norm for vertical compositions. There is the suspicion of an ingress of light, perhaps from where the slide goes, but nothing like the pattern on the earlier plates. I will remember to cover the plate holder in future just to be on the safe side, although that’s something for another day. Taken with everything else though this final test does seem to suggest that there is an issue with the holders I’ve been using.

Speaking to Andy last night he thinks he can see a split in one of the holders so we’ve both spoken to the manufacturer and explained our respective experiences. He is sending replacements to Andy and is going to test the original holders. I have to say the response from him has been first class and very refreshing.

So, a disappointing end to this phase of the project not to say an expensive one as I’ve used one and a half boxes of plates getting to this point. Undeterred though, my new double plate holder arrived last week and I am going to be ordering another box of plates today, I go into the next phase with some confidence.

Despite the issues I’ve demonstrated that I can accurately calculate exposure and I’ve had valuable hands-on experience in handling the plates. The developing methodology I’ve adopted is working well and I’m pleased with the results from the HC-110 too. So, loads of positives and I genuinely believe that despite the setbacks and disappointments I’ve learnt a lot so far. The next stage is to concentrate on compositions and locations that will utilise the glass plate aesthetic to its full.

That’s gonna be the tough part!

Pulling HP5+

I’ve been using film since the 1970s and in the last year or so it’s become my main photographic medium. In the last eighteen months I’ve developed over three hundred rolls of film and around a hundred sheets. One thing I’ve not done in all this time however is to “pull” a roll of film. Over-exposing when making the exposures and then reducing development time to compensate. Some people do it deliberately. Pulling film reduces contrast and brings out details in the shadows so can be helpful but it’s not something I’ve ever felt the need to do, certainly not with a roll of film. Until this week.

Arriving at the beach in Seaham on Monday afternoon I pulled the ONDU out of one pocket and the roll of Fomapan 100 out of the other. Only it wasn’t Fomapan; I had inadvertently put a roll of Ilford HP5+ in my pocket. Now, I like Fomapan 100 in the pinhole. The slower speed and the gravity-defying reciprocity give me many seconds of exposure which makes life easier when the shutter has to be opened and closed manually. With a 400 speed film I was getting shutter speeds of half-a-second and faster. What to do.

Seaham – North Beach

In the end I rated the film at 100/200 ISO, whatever gave me a workable shutter speed, and ignored the reciprocity factor. By my reckoning I will have therefore over-exposed the film by between one and two stops. After cogitating, and speaking to fellow photographer John, I decided that a 20% reduction in development time would be about right.

Getting low

So, today was the day. Back home, the laundry up to date, grandson Louie having his morning nap and I am in the kitchen developing the film. Ilford HP5+ developed in Ilford ID11, diluted 1+1, would normally get thirteen minutes in the tank but today I’m reducing that to ten minutes.

The negatives are well exposed although as expected they are a little flat in terms of contrast. Loads of detail in both shadows and highlights too. Perfectly printable in the darkroom however or indeed readily converted in a digital workflow. The images here were in fact copied with a digital camera and converted/processed in the Snapseed app on my iPad.

So, what’s the verdict? Or more pertinently would I do it again? Undoubtedly I would not hesitate to pull HP5+ again if the need arose. Would I do it deliberately? Probably not. Don’t forget we are talking roll film here. Using sheet film, where we can tailor the exposure and development of individual negatives, I would have no hesitation using this approach if the scene demanded it. This experience has shown me that the concept works and I suspect that I was lucky that the whole roll was used on the beach in consistent light and conditions. Had the roll contained a mixture of scenes and lighting conditions the results might not have been so consistent.

Face in the wood

So, the outcome of this enforced experiment has been very positive. Whilst I would not aim to deliberately over expose and under develop roll film it can work and my logic on this occasion was sound. I didn’t use the technique deliberately but nevertheless it’s been a very useful exercise and further proof that you’re never to old to learn new tricks!

Dry beginnings

Wednesday 30th June and the final pieces I needed to start my dry plate experiment arrived so, just after lunch, I headed to my back yard for my first attempt, clutching my Harman Titan pinhole camera rather than the Obscura I’d intended using. I still plan on using the Obscura but with the Titan newly arrived and also film holders on loan from Andy I wanted to give those a try.

My head full of the advice I’d gleaned from the pictographica website, messages from fellow photographers on Twitter and various other sources I set about taking the light reading.

Initial light reading of the subject

I started by metering the scene with an app on my phone. This wouldn’t be my go-to method for any photography other than pinhole. Experience has shown that for pinhole work, with all its foibles, the phone app is just as good as any other method. I was using a J Lane speed plate so I metered at f22, ISO 25. This then needs scaling to f206 and for this I use a conversion table that I’ve printed out, photographed and then saved to the Favourites folder on my phone. This is actually for an aperture of f216 but is close enough for my needs. My 1/20th second, see above, thus became 6.5seconds. Reciprocity then needs to be accounted for and over 4 seconds with these plates requires a fifty percent increase, so in this case 10 seconds which I “rounded” to 15 seconds for good measure. You can see why pinhole photographers have a plethora of camera supports in their bag.

It was then time for the darkroom to tray develop the glass plate, a technique that surprisingly I’ve never tried always preferring tank development. I rarely venture into the darkroom during the warmer months and was very quickly reminded as to why this is so. Even in shorts and tee-shirt it was soon very warm with the room blacked out and the door firmly shut.

The recommended developer for these plates is HC-110 but having none I used the ID11 stock that I had ready for use. I was using my usual darkroom trays as the simplest way to develop these plates is using open trays. I couldn’t find a suggested time for ID11 but there was a time of 9 minutes for D76 and given the similarities between the two developers this is what I opted for. Develop, stop, fix and wash. Straight forward and so it was out of the dark and back into the light.

This was the first intimation that something hadn’t gone to plan. I know the camera is OK as I’ve since tested it with sheet film so the options were either a dodgy plate or user error. I immediately tended towards the latter as being the culprit and inspecting the plate later I came to the conclusion that I probably did not have enough developer in the tray. I’d used up what was in the bottle and whilst this would have been sufficient for developing paper I suspect that it was not deep enough to fully submerge and keep submerged a plate of glass 1.3mm thick. I knew that there would be a learning curve with these and here was the first lesson. I as also using a black tray and so couldn’t see what was happening very well either.

But what were the positives from this? The negative image that is visible is properly exposed which hopefully suggests that my experience with film and pinhole cameras will stand me in good stead as the project progresses. I shan’t be using pinhole cameras exclusively either with glass plates as I have ordered my own dry plate holder so I can use the Intrepid too.

Whilst I had been concerned about dish development, apart from the warmth of the room this proved to be a straightforward process although as we’ve seen I probably do need to adjust my methodology. Finally, I now have a glass plate I can use for practicing loading both the Obscura and dry plate holders and also for “dry” runs with the trays so that’s a positive too.

Houston we have a problem

So, two immediate next steps. I’ve ordered a set of 5”x7” trays which will both reduce the amount of chemicals I need and also stop the plate clanking around in a tray designed for 12” prints. I’ve also ordered a bottle of HC-110, Jason Lane’s preferred developer, for use with the dry plates. I make ID11 in five litre batches for day to day use and yesterday only had around 300ml available. Not wanting to spend the time making up a new batch of developer and cooling it down for use I simply went with what I had – which probably wasn’t enough in hindsight. Using HD-110 as a one-shot developer at dilution B will hopefully be more convenient without sacrificing the consistency I am looking for.

Whilst I may expose a second sheet over the next day or so I won’t be able to develop it until the smaller trays and HC-110 arrive; no hardship as I am hoping this little project will keep me occupied for a few months yet. From late September onwards UV levels will start to drop considerably here in the UK from what I’ve read, if this is true I want to have nailed my technique for exposing and developing before the more challenging winter light.

A week spent semi-standing

I’ve written before about the technique of “stand” or “semi-stand” development. If I’m totally honest, whilst I’ve done it since I wrote that piece when the film required, it’s still not my favourite technique. So, I was very surprised when I chose it as my development technique of choice for the FP4Party. Coincidentally, I then found that I was out of D76 and was going to need to make up 5 litres of ID11, the powder I’d bought as D76 has been hard to get hold of recently … but the raw chemicals for FX55 are due any day and 5 litres of stock ID11 would be in the way of my plans to experiment with that for a few months alongside a couple of fellow photographers.

So, my last six films, FT12, Ilford FP4+, FERRANIA P30 and OrwoUN54 have all found themselves sitting in Rodinal at 1+100 for between 40minutes and an hour.



Ilford FP4+

Ilford FP4+

Ilford FP4+


Orwo UN54




45 mins

45 mins

60 mins

40 mins

45 mins








I used Rodinal, diluted at one part Rodinal to one hundred parts water for all the films. Where the tank size required less than 500ml of developer I still made solution at 5+500 and simply discarded the excess. Temperature was based on ambient temperatures in my kitchen at the time of development apart from one roll of FP4+ where I chose to increase temperature to 22° without changing the timings to see if it made an appreciable difference.

Development times were based on recommendations I found online with the exception of the Orwo film. At around twenty five minutes, the times I found for UN54 seemed too short so I made an educated guess at forty minutes. Agitation of each film varied depending on the length of the semi-stand. For the forty five minute developments it was ten seconds initially then ten seconds at the twenty three minute mark. The sixty minute development had an initial sixty seconds agitation the ten seconds at fifteen, thirty and forty-five minutes. Each of the films was processed individually. Last but not least, the forty minute development received forty five seconds initially and then ten seconds at fifteen and thirty minutes.

I’m going to write about each film in future posts but suffice to say the results with FP4+ far surpassed my expectations. Indeed, I was happy with how each film turned out and I’m looking forward to printing some of these negatives over the coming weeks.


Drying fibre-based papers

OK. Not an exciting subject but a vexed one for many darkroom printers. I generally avoid using FB papers but when I do use them I resign myself to a frustrating period of waiting before I can view them properly. Six, 10×8 FB prints, laid one on top of each other can easily reach six inches in height. So, as I don’t have anything better, the dried prints spend a week underneath a pile of the six biggest books I own.

So, you can imagine my delight when I spotted a YouTube video which promised a solution.


Not elegant … but it works!
Six dried prints – straight off the washing line!

Once the prints have been thoroughly washed simply place two prints, back to back, and hang them to dry (see above). Once dried, remove pegs and you will have prints that lay reasonably flat. Certainly flat enough to trim and properly examine. They will still need a day under the books but what a difference!

What a difference a peg or two makes!

I’ve just ordered some clear plastic mini-pegs to use in lieu of the big pegs around the sides and bottom. It’s a small price for flat FB prints – guess who’s going to be using a lot more FB paper going forward!

The YouTube video I referenced:

New Horizons

Back in October 2020 I bought a new-to-me camera, the Horizon Kompakt. A Russian-made, swing lens camera for shooting 120 degree panoramas on 35mm film. In January 2021 I added the Horizon S3 Pro to the bag having also played with an Horizon 202 in December 2020. This post is a summary of the key things I have learnt whilst working with this incredible but very idiosyncratic tools. They are in answer to questions I’ve been asked over the last few months and are in the order they tumbled out of my head!

1. So long as you load the camera properly and wind on smoothly there should be no problems with torn film. Unlike my Kompakt and 202 the S3 is relatively very smooth.

It rained toay … all of the day! Horizon Kompakt | HP5+ | Kodak HC-110 (B) Shot and developed 20th January 2021

2. To the right of the film gate in the S3 there is a silver bar with sprockets – the film goes under this BUT make sure you also thread the film UNDER the black bar to the immediate left of the silver bar. This is important to ensure film lies flat and reduces tearing risk considerably. With all of the models the basic advice is that if it can go under then it should!

3. Some film stock is inherently thinner and prone to snapping, I’ve used mainly HP5+, Tri-X with the S3 although have used self-rolled Kodak XX successfully. The key as I’ve said is to be gentle.

Horizon Kompakt | Ilford HP5+ | Kodak D76 (1+1) Shot 15th Fenruary 2021

4. I use an app on my phone to gauge exposure and it’s rarely too far out. It’s a wide field of view though so I use my experience to tweak if appropriate, especially high contrast scenes such as the one above. I rarely bracket but that’s an option too I guess. If shooting something like HP5+ there’s plenty of inherent latitude within the emulsion itself. 

5. Expect 21 frames on a 36 exp film. Around 14 on a 24 exp film. Don’t be tempted to try and squeeze an extra frame – therein lies film snapping potential 😀

Calder & Hebble Navigation 10th February 2021 Horizon S3 Pro | Kodak TriX | Kodak D76 (1+1)

6. Some users report banding at one end of the frame. Not regularly however and when it does appear it is mainly when the sun is around in my experience – so not that often up here! There’s some debate as to whether it’s light leaking in through the shutter hood as it travels. Myself and many other Horizon users I know tend to keep the camera in our shoulder bags until we are ready to shoot. Anecdotally this does appear to work. In my experience, it’s not as big a problem as many make out though and in any event the negative is wide enough that you can crop it without an issue. Interestingly, the more basic Kompakt seems to suffer less from this phenomenon in my experience.

7. If your Horizon has the handle use it as it really helps keep stray fingers out of the shot. I also hold the right hand side of the camera from the back between finger tips to keep stray fingers out of harms way when pressing the shutter. It feels (and looks) a little odd to start with but is worth persevering with.

8. I used HP5+ exclusively to start with as it’s a film I’m very familiar with. Now I’m confident with how everything works I’ve used all sorts of film stock with success, even home-rolled Redscale. In short, I would say that once you know what you’re doing then anything goes film-wise!

9. Metering: I took my spot meter out just the once but decided that this just slowed me down and took some of the spontaneity out of using the S3. Now I take a basic reading when I leave the house using my phone, set that and then tweak as I need to based on my assessment of the scene. If the light changes dramatically I take a new reading. 

10. One last thought, make sure the film is tight on the take up spool too as this helps ease pressure on the film as it moves through the film gate. 

I’ve not talked about composition here, just the mechanics of using the camera and creating images. I may well pen some thoughts in that area too … but don’t hold your breath as this post is my first in almost six months! I must rectify that.

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!