With tuppence for paper and string …

One of my favourite scenes in the original Mary Poppins film (1964 – I first saw it when I was six) was when the Banks family make their own kite … from paper and string. Sadly, my fine DIY skills are rather limited, I’ve built several large scale aviaries in my time but give me something that needs finer motor skills and I’m stuck.

I’ve considered buying a body cap pinhole for my (digital) Fuji cameras many times but have always been put off by the cost. My own research, backed up by many YouTube tutorials have suggested that making my own shouldn’t cost more than a couple of pounds – or tuppence for paper and string! Ironically it was the gift of a variable pinhole “lens” for my birthday a couple of weeks ago that finally stung me into action.

I will write about my experiences with the Thingyfy pinhole adapter in a future blog but suffice to say that whilst I can see it’s creative potential I was on the whole underwhelmed with something that costs around £80. It was this that stung me into action and online to buy a couple of generic Fuji X-fit body caps. I spent £3.50 on three body caps and as all the necessary tools were here, including superglue, along with several empty fizzy-pop cans awaiting recycling that was my total outlay for three (potentially at least) body cap pinholes.

I won’t bore you with the “build” as there’s plenty of material online doing just that. But, even for me with my meagre skills, it was a simple enough task and I was left wondering why I’d taken so long to get around to it.

Come in number three …

I used a hat pin for the pinhole as it’s a good size for my arthritic hands. My first pinhole turned out to be a little too large although the image it produced was very like that from the Thingyfy. This was at least a promising start. I looked at the hat pin and realised that the point is slightly bent so when I pressed straight down I was inadvertently pushing the widest part of the pin into the aluminium. So, with caps two and three I used the hat pin at a forty-five degree angle making sure that I didn’t actually fully pierced the metal. Just a small indentation which I then sandpapered away to reveal a fairly neat little pinhole.


And it worked! Cap two was a big improvement and cap three slightly better still. Both in fact are very usable and with the bonus that I think I can improve further still. My initial test subject (above) was the nearest thing to hand from where I was sat but I then took the camera into the front yard for a “proper” test.


I misjudged the height of the image with the first attempt (above) but the instant feedback from the digital camera meant I could adjust things and try again (below).

Having noted that I think I can get the pinholes slightly sharper here are a couple of other observations relating to the camera I used, a Fuji X-Pro1.

For this test I used the cameras automatic exposure capabilities, set to the multi metering mode, with the ISO at 1600 simply to keep exposure times below 30 seconds. I found that indoors I needed to set a +2 exposure compensation whereas outdoors I was able to use around +1 or a third of a stop more.

One of the usual “features” of pinhole photography is the vignette that is often seen on the resultant images. My first pinhole body-caps show very little vignetting. One thing I did do which isn’t always mentioned in tutorials, was to chamfer the edges of the hole that I drilled in the lens cap such that the outer edge of the hole is slightly wider than the inner.

So, there you have it. My first foray into DIY digital pinhole photography. It won’t be my last either as I’m convinced I can get an even smaller pinhole with a bit more practice and a smaller pin.

My Holga Week 2021 Diary – Day 6 epilogue

I have owned a Holga or five over the years but until this last week had only ever used them occasionally and rarely more than once in a single week. Nevertheless I’ve used them often enough to know how to handle them (bear with me, there’s a reason for saying this). I currently own two, the 120N and the WPC, and whilst I loaded both at the start of the week I only ended up using the 120N in the end. I’m not short on practice with it therefore.

I’m currently looking at the three rolls from Day 6 and have noticed something odd about the third roll. The first six frames are fine but the second six are all very over-exposed.

I’d spotted it when hanging them to dry but had assumed it was just the “Joy of Holga”. Until now.

On the light box I can see that they are all delightfully blurry!


The roll from Day 7 is still in the Holga, awaiting my release from daily chores when I can develop it (which is looking like Saturday now). I pick up the Holga, turn it over, and … you’re ahead of me I suspect!

Somehow after frame six of roll six I managed to knock the switch on the bottom of the Holga from N to B. I’d used it in bulb mode for those six frames. It also means I’ve used it in bulb mode for all twelve of today’s rural images!!! I don’t normally indulge in multiple exclamation marks but think this is worthy of them.

Day 6: Looks like I’ve spent too long in The Albert!

So, despite being used to the Holga, despite understanding it’s unique quirks, despite knowing to check the N/B switch regularly, the first time I’ve forgotten to check is also the first time I actually managed to knock the switch.

But, this is Holga photography. We know what we are signing up for before we start and we embrace the quirky results. Sometimes we even need to embrace unforeseen “quirks” too!

I at least know that Day 7’s roll has been over-exposed I guess so I can reduce development time to compensate in terms of exposure. Unfortunately it won’t sharpen the images – my only rural images at that!

My Holga Week Diary 2021 – Day 7

I hadn’t intended going out today so for me the final day of Holga Week was going to be getting ready to process the scanned images. In passing, it seems odd that my week is finishing on a Thursday but I got over it pretty quickly.

I wanted to finish the scanning from earlier in the week and develop the three rolls from yesterday. Not necessarily in that order. School run complete, a leisurely breakfast consumed and I was ready to develop the films. I find developing films a relaxing process and not the chore that some seem to find it. I’ve use Perceptol as stock for this week’s films, mixed fresh on Day One, so today would be films 4, 5 and 6 and the end of this litre of developer as I typically only put half a dozen rolls through each batch. It all tied up nicely.

Until. Looking at the accumulated negatives once I’d finished the development of these final three rolls, I realised how exclusively urban they were. Not a surprise really as it’s been my go-to genre for a while now. I hesitated. Was it such a bad thing? After all it’s what I do. Then the little imp on the shoulder chipped in. “But there’s a fresh roll loaded in the Holga … would be a shame not to add another roll. Make a tidy 7 rolls, one for each of the days in Holga Week”. A quick trip down to a local nature trail would give me the chance of a few rural images too I thought, rather unhelpfully aiding the imp.

Here’s one from this walk that I did earlier – Fuji X-H1
September 2021

The imp won. And so it was that I found myself enjoying some early afternoon sunshine and a short stroll. I took just the Holga and that one roll of film for my final trip out for Holga Week 2021.

I’m not sure why, perhaps it appeals to the completer-finisher in me, but an average of a film a day seems about right. I managed to get out on five of the seven days too which was more than I’d anticipated. In terms of effort then I’d class Holga Week 2021 a success.

Just one roll to develop and I’m ready to start on the shortlist for my three submissions. Fingers crossed I can get that done on Friday or at the very latest Saturday.

I shall be back soon to share some images I hope!

My Holga Week Diary 2021 – Day 6

Day Six. Wednesday 6th October, designated by Senior Management as the start of Christmas shopping for 2021.

Holga Week requires verification that I have the Holgas

But, I’m not despondent as over the 45 or so years we’ve been together we’ve slowly evolved an understanding about marathon shopping sprees. I don’t do them. What I do though is drive to the designated shopping centre or wherever, park up and then we go for breakfast. Suitably fed we then part for the duration; the wife goes shopping and I take a walk, with a camera. Usually my Fuji X100T or the Nikon L35AF with its ever-present YG filter. But this is Holga week so it’s the Holga 120N and Ilford HP5+ this time.

Today it is Huddersfield town centre and the sky is blue. A novelty as invariably it’s raining and I get a good soaking. However, as I’m just as likely to be stood in dark alleyways as out in the autumnal sunshine I opt to rate the film at 400. That is to say that I will develop it as if it was exposed consistently at 400 ISO. Not that consistent is a word usually found in the same sentence as Holga! It’s one of the camera’s charms and one of the reasons I always enjoy playing with it, even if it isn’t something that I use every week.

I mentioned in an earlier diary entry that I could pull/push this film if required and whilst each of the two lighting situations I’m likely to encounter today would normally have me rate the film at 250 or 800 it is unlikely that any of the rolls I use to day will be exclusively exposed in one type of light. This will add to the excitement of the morning I hope.

11.20am. I’ve spent the last hour or so zig-zagging my way through the town centre, down alleys, up brightly lit streets and ambled through a town centre park. It’s busy, there’s a university in the town centre, but nowhere near as busy as I remember it from 2019. Two completed rolls are nestled in the pocket of my shoulder bag and a part-used roll sits in the Holga awaiting the next opportunity. It’s time for a strong black tea though and an opportunity to update this diary. In pre-pandemic days I’d visit Huddersfield every few weeks but we’ve not been here for well over a year now. I’m pleased to find my favourite coffee shop still doing business and even happier to find my “usual” table upstairs is free.

This is the first time I’ve attempted a daily diary and it’s rather strange talking about going out and using the Holga but not including examples of the resulting images. I’ve not noticed anyone on Twitter, my main social media outlet, sharing images as yet so I guess it’s not the “done” thing. I’m still developing within 24 hours though, usually within a few hours, so I at least am able to see the fruits of my labours.

But enough of that I’ve a roll of film to finish and potentially a fourth and final roll awaiting its moment in the sunshine. My weekly tally from the first five days has doubled in just over an hour this morning. I’ve a good feeling about these rolls.

Catch you tomorrow for the final day!

My Holga Week 2021 Diary – day 5

Day Five is/was a Tuesday. That’s Louie-Day in my week, the day when we look after the 22 months old grandson. It’s a day I never expect to make photographs, apart from phone snaps, as what with getting two live-in grandsons to school and looking after Louie my day is pretty full-on. But after yesterday’s dismal failure to expose any film for Holga Week I hatched a cunning plan.

I left for the walk to the school at my usual time but instead of rushing back I dawdled via the back streets with the Holga which had somehow managed to find its way into my coat pocket. On my return, Louie was stood at the back door with his Grandma waiting for Grandad to sort his breakfast. I thought he may have been totally oblivious to the fact I was ten minutes late getting back but clearly his stomach had noted my absence! Nevertheless, I had managed to expose my third roll for Holga Week and even if there were no keepers I’d at least used the Holga which is part of the aims of the event.

Which got me thinking. Which was most important to me – using the camera or having a roll full of keepers? I think it’s the former; the actual act of using the camera gives me a lot of pleasure. Keepers are a bonus almost, the icing on the cake as it were. Peer appreciation is perhaps the cherry on top – but perhaps I’m spreading the analogy rather thinly now. I may only have spent ten minutes making my pictures but then the Holga encourages that sort of approach for me – don’t think too much, let your shutter finger be guided by the camera almost.

10:47am, thankfully Louie still has a mid-morning nap which means I get time to do household chores, and today to sneak in the developing of my sneaky roll of HP5+. So, whilst completing the laundry and tidying up generally I also developed the film which, with 12 nice-looking negatives is currently hanging to dry in the bathroom. No click-panoramas today. Just eleven “straight” exposures and one (deliberate) double exposure. The negatives looks good and I’ve a positive feeling about roll number three.

Day six falls on a designated Christmas shopping day (don’t ask) so I will be chauffeur as always whilst the wife starts the annual retail binge. Fortunately she know I dislike shopping immensely so I will at least get to wander Huddersfield town centre with the Holga. Well, that’s the plan at least. Check back tomorrow to see how the day unfolded!

Holga Week 2021 – days 3 & 4

Day Three was a Sunday and despite the weather it arrived as it was bound to. By 7am I had poured the day’s first mug of strong black tea and reassessed the roll from Day 2 which I digitised yesterday evening. Definitely not as bad as I’d originally thought and in fact there are two keepers, one of which, now that I’ve processed it, I am very pleased with. Not something that happens that often! So, that’s definitely a good start to the day.

The Holga WPC hasn’t yet seen any #HolgaWeek2021 action – but is sat patiently in my bag

Last night I got my last brick of Ilford HP5+ out of the fridge. The light and the weather are definitely favouring higher ISOs and I know how much I can abuse (push or pull) HP5+ if required. I used my last roll of Fomapan 400 yesterday and had planned on using some Rollei 200 but seeing yesterday’s negatives I suspect that I will definitely need at least 400 for Holga Week. But the Rollei stays in my bag just in case.

Today my attendance was required at an under-six rugby match, in the role of doting grandparent. Sadly, old men with cameras aren’t the done thing around lots of youngsters these days and so I got there early and made my images before the kids arrived. As I wound the film on after frame 12 I realised the flaw in my plan; I then had a full hour to wait until people arrived and the match could get underway! Again it was cold, windy and wet and so I was frozen by the time the youngsters and their parents arrived. So, it was lucky that the rugby club was well organised and I could get a coffee and a bacon butty … and later a spam butty.

We may be two days in, and I may only have exposed two rolls but I’m enjoying Holga Week so far!

Holga WPC – July 2021

Day Four. It seems to me that Holga Week is destined to be chock full of domestic chores. Turns out that the annual central heating service is scheduled for today. Estimated time is between 7am and 6pm. An eleven hour window! At least yesterday’s roll, which I developed last night, is looking promising.

I say promising, I have to be honest, a largely successful roll, one frame skipped because I missed the number. Thinking back I could’ve stopped, done a “click” exposure and continued. 20/20 hindsight is fabulous. Again, there are two images that I think standout from the others. By my reckoning I now have two contenders for my three HolgaWeek entries, one from each of these first two rolls. It would be nice to reach the end of the week with a small shortlist of say seven or eight!

8:02am, I am busy getting the grandsons ready for school when the mobile rings. We are first on the list and the engineer will be with us in ten minutes! It looks like Day 4 will see some Holga-action after all.

Except … “as we’ve got the day free after all … can you run me into town please for some shopping …”. I look up from loading the Holgas but the look on Senior Management’s face brooks no argument. When I eventually get back there’s a message awaiting me … son-in-law unwell can Grandad pick the boys up from school, feed them and look after them until Daughter gets in at 6pm. By which time it will be dark.

Here endeth Day Four. At 1.07pm. 🤔

On Digitising (Part 3 – my process)

In part 1 of this series I introduced my digitising set-up and in part 2 I then talked about how I hold the negatives flat and steady for copying. In this third and final instalment I want to cover the copying itself and finally the post production.

Let me start by saying that I keep it simple. No stitching, no fancy software, no wet-mounted negatives or any of the other interesting things that you may be aware of. So, keep that in mind. This is not a highly technical article but the real-life process of someone who recognises the need to digitise his film especially for sharing on social media but dislikes doing it and rarely prints digitally. My printing is done in the darkroom and only very occasionally do I purchase an inkjet print (I do not own an inkjet printer).

I guess that is the first point I would make for anyone contemplating getting into digitising their negatives. What are you going to use the files for? If it’s just for social media, websites or blogs etcetera then I believe that my method as described here will work very well. If however you want ultimate quality then what I am going to describe may not be your best approach. That said, I believe that the results from this form of digitising negative film can be far more than simply adequate! I will give an example at the end of the post.

Capturing the files

So, let’s start with the hardware that I use to capture the files. The copying set-up (left) was briefly discussed in Part 1. It comprises a Fuji X-T3 mirrorless digital camera, a 60mm f2.8 Nikkor Micro lens with adapter, a copy stand and various holders.

I’ve already mentioned that I work in a darkened room to avoid reflections but it is worth knowing that the 60mm lens I am using has a front element that is very deep-set in the lens body so I doubt any stray light is going to be striking the lens but nevertheless I am continuing to work in the dark.

I use a solid copy stand so everything is kept as stable as is possible and I also use a cable release so I do not need to touch the camera itself. I use an aperture of f8 or f11 and move the camera up and down the stand until I fill the frame from left to right with a single negative. I manually focus on the negative using the focus peaking feature of the camera to guide me. In practice I find that once I’ve set the focus for a roll of film then I do not need to touch it again for that roll, however I keep an eye on the LCD screen throughout to make sure the focus peaking lines are still glowing.

I manually set the shutter speed using the histogram to guide me. I will typically bracket one stop either side of the camera’s recommended shutter speed* but often find that I can create four exposures that all fit within the histogram without clipping. Incidentally, when considering clipping don’t forget that black parts of the holder or bare parts of the light pad will skew the camera’s recommended exposure. At some point I will do some experiments to see whether simply exposing for the highlights/shadows is all that is needed but for now I like having my options open without needing to rescan the negatives on another occasion. Hard drive space is cheaper than my time at present but one day I will sit down and work out which works best for me.

Me. Now, that’s an important word for You. Whatever you read, watch or listen to is only that person’s way of working. It’s what works for them and you are right to use it to inform your experiments but ultimately it’s what works for you that matters. Ooops, nearly slid the soapbox out from under my desk then! Back to business.

* Since preparing this post I have found a resource which suggests exposing at the camera’s metered exposure, or one stop over (exposing to the right). All of which seems to validate my approach – apart from making one exposure at -1 of course. I will adopt this going forward.

Converting the files

So, I have a memory card holding my newly copied files with a choice of exposures and also saved in both RAW and JPEG. This is an old habit from when I worked exclusively with Fujifilm digital cameras but is actually helpful given that I process the files on two different systems. Depending on where I am and/or what mood I am in I will typically convert my files using either the iPad or my desktop computer. Whilst all these negative images are destined to live on my computer hard drive I typically use the JPEGs on my iPad and the RAW files on the computer.

As a rule of thumb, and pending any proper experiments, this approach of effectively bracketing exposures currently works for me. I typically use the file with the most central histogram as it usually gives a flat, low-contrast image with which to work. Why make life complicated if you don’t need to?

SNAPSEED is my conversion software of choice on the iPad. It is simple to use, does everything I need and was free. I start by straightening the image and cropping away all the extraneous parts, leaving me with just the negative itself in whatever format I was using. I then apply a normal black and white adjustment to ensure I have no colour cast. I capture JPEGs as monochrome on the Fuji so this is probably a redundant step but it keeps the process consistent compared to my desktop conversions.

Rotate followed by Crop (highlighted)

I then Invert the image using a Curves adjustment (again as I would on the desktop). This gives the basic image from which to work and from here it’s a case of using the normal local and global adjustments to convert the image to taste.

ADOBE CAMERA RAW (ACR) and sometimes Photoshop (PS) are my weapons of choice when using a desktop computer. I use the RAW files, hence I always start in ACR and oft times that is enough. However, if I want to add borders or undertake anything more involved I will take the initial conversion into PS. I have tried to keep the desktop workflow very similar to that used on my iPad and on the whole this is what I do, however there’s no escaping the greater scope that PS offers when required. Whilst I try to avoid using the computer as much as I can I will sometimes take a few of my digitised negatives into Photoshop for a “play” – more on that perhaps in another post.

So, my basic workflow in ACR is as follows. Open and immediately crop and rotate as required. I then reduce Saturation to -100 and invert the Curve to give me the basic conversion. I then make any global adjustments in the Basic panel, typically adjusting contrast and overall brightness using Clarity, Dehaze, Exposure and Contrast. If that gives me what I want I will add a vignette if required and sharpen both from within ACR and save out my finished file.

ACR conversion – this hasn’t been into PS

Sometimes, perhaps if I want to add a Duotone or a border to the final image, I will take the file into PS for finishing off but I will still do all the basics in ACR. For my recent woodland series this was the approach I took; tidying up the crop and a basic conversion in ACR then into PS for the duotone and final tweaks before adding a large white border.


None of this is overly sophisticated and of course it only relates to black and white and not colour negatives. I do occasionally use colour and for what it’s worth use Lightroom and Negative Lab Pro for my conversions but that’s out of the scope of this post. In fact, I use it so rarely I wouldn’t be so bold as to write about how I use it!

My specific reasons for digitising negatives, to give me something to post to social media, informed all of my choices from the start to the finish of this process. Yours should too. I share my images with like-minded folk on Twitter and often use a film image for my picture-a-day challenge on Flickr. But that is usually the limit of my expectations for these files. If my reasons change then I will of course be re-evaluating the current process in the light of any revised requirements.

Finally, I did mention that I occasionally have a digital print made and recently I had a 24×12 inch metallic print made from a 35mm negative from the Horizon S3 Pro. The negative had been scanned using the method described here and was processed in ACR and PS again using the approach described here. I didn’t do much in Photoshop apart from add the large white border and rather than sharpen in ACR I did sharpen it in PS too. Framed, and on my wall, it looks fabulous.

Now framed and hung on my wall

I hope that these notes are of some interest/use to you the reader. I’m always happy to share my workflow and experiences and when I do eventually sit down to work out the optimal exposure for the digital copies I will be sure to post my thoughts here. Don’t hold your breath though as this is working at the moment – for me!

Holga Week 2021 – days 1 & 2

Welcome to my #HolgaWeek2021 Diary and specifically to days 1 & 2.

Holga Week 2021,  a week long celebration of the humble, oft-revered and also oft-maligned Holga camera. This year it runs from 1st – 7th October. I have two in my collection, both use 120 film; one is a traditional 6×6 format whilst the other is a 12×6 pinhole camera.  The Holga is one of those cameras than can truly aspire to cult status and once you get into the right mindset they are a truly liberating experience.

Holga 120N – August 2021

Less than two weeks ago I was photographing along the beach and waters edge at Hunstanton with a drone in the mornings and a Bronica SQ-A medium format camera in the afternoons. Both require a level of technical mastery to get the best from them.  In the case of the drone some skills are needed simply to get it back on the ground safely! Exposure settings for both are all down to the photographer and with the Bronica so is the focusing. So, why am I spending a week limited to only using two cameras which have no exposure controls, little or nothing in the way of focus controls and in the case of the pinhole no viewfinder? The only things the photographer can control are the composition (well, mostly) and the film to be used.

  • Because I can?
  • Because they (the cameras) are there?
  • Because they are great fun to use?
  • Because they are a complete antidote to my normal style of photography?
  • Because they produce unique images?
  • Because you can never be certain what will be on the roll?

Or perhaps – all of the above?  They both have one thing in common though – they are great fun!

Day One was literally a washout. Rain poured down from the sky in quantities that made even me want to be indoors. I am usually happy to venture out in the rain, especially with the prospect of interesting skies and a few sunny intervals. But stair rods? No thank you. I should really have scanned my films from last week, but of course I decided to spend the day writing a three part blog post on my scanning routines. It was at least a productive day and whilst the weather did brighten up for an hour in the afternoon I decided to restrict Day 1 Holga activity to choosing the films for Day 2.

Day Two started brighter but still wet and grey, albeit a steely-blue-greyness to the sky at 7am which was white blandness by 8am.  Not a day for including lots of sky then!  I was glad for the 400 speed film in the Holga 120N. I’d prevaricated sufficiently that the pinhole camera was still devoid of film.  I was booked in for my flu jab at the doctors at 8:30am, so popped the Holga in my shoulder bag and set off.  

Back home, I loaded my first film of #HolgaWeek2021 into the developing tank with the usual feeling of anticipation.  Which lasted until I hung the roll up to dry.  Whilst there is definitely something usable on the film, and an experiment I tried at the end of the roll has worked out OK, it’s not on the face of it the best start to the week.  However, I’m not sure if we are supposed to share work yet so no spoilers … something to check out though!

In the meantime playtime is over for today and it’s back to the domestic grindstone … looking forward to Day 3 already!

On digitising (Part 2 – holding still)

In Part 1 of this series I talked about my set-up and the gear I use for digitising negatives. In this second part I will describe my experiences using the two film holders that I briefly introduced in Part 1. How I set-up the Fuji X-T3 and my workflow once the negatives have been copied will go into an (originally unintended) Part 3 as this part got very long very quickly.

When I first saw the Pixl-Latr I immediately thought that it was a simple and very practical solution and looked far better than the Lomography Digitaliza masks I’d been using up to that point. Up until then I had only been copying negatives occasionally so it was something I put up with but with my film usage increasing I wanted something to make the process easier.

The premise is simple. Use the supplied gates to create a masked area into which the negative sits. Turn the frame over, place the negative into the opening you’ve created and pop the diffuser back on. Turn the whole assembly back over, place under the camera and off you go.

Except for me it wasn’t as straightforward. I found that every time I turned the frame over to put the diffuser at the bottom I had to hold it really tight to avoid it all spilling open and me having to start again. It is not practical to load film with the frame and diffuser the correct way up and even turning the diffuser over made no difference. For a while I went back to using the Digitaliza for 35mm and 6×6 120 film. With no alternatives for 5×4 however I found an uneasy peace with the Pixl-Latr for the limited amount of large format copying I carried out. (Stick with me – there’s a happy ending and I really like this mask).

That might have been how the story was left if it hadn’t been for Josh from Pixl-Latr who got in touch with purchasers to see how they were getting on via an after-market online survey. I shared my experiences happily mainly because I wanted to help this small company to continue to thrive. I was very surprised however when Josh got in touch to find out more and even more surprised when he offered to send me a replacement frame and diffuser as to him it sounded like I probably had a less-than-perfect kit. He was right, the new one arrived whilst I was working on this post and it is a big improvement. Top marks for customer service Josh!

A recent addition was the Pixl-Latr A4 Mask which has three primary functions:

– Masks extraneous light
– Helps prevent pixl-latr from slipping on the surface.
– Grips strips of roll film either side of pixl-latr

All of which it does and it has replaced my home-cut foam board mask. I’m not normally big on after-market accessories but this was one I was pleased to have bought. As an aside, the diffuser on its own is fabulous for copying glass plates, I simply place the mask over the diffuser to mask out unwanted light from the light pad and pop the glass plate on top.

Lockdown wasn’t kind to many people but one person who probably had a better time than most was Andrew Clifforth. To quote from his website: “The Essential Film Holder started as my ‘lockdown project’ and has now shipped nearly 3,000 units to film enthusiasts in over 29 countries around the globe.”

Pretty impressive figures and as one of those 3,000 or so enthusiasts I can attest that the holder is pretty impressive too. The Essential Film Holder (EFH) delivered everything that was claimed for it on the website and has considerably sped up the process for me. I have 120, 35mm and 35mm panoramic masks and using these I am able to copy entire rolls of film in one go. Set up once and then copy until the roll is finished.

If I was actually copying the negative I would have curtains drawn and room light off

The EFH is a self-contained unit with a built-in diffuser and a 120 mask forming the next-to-bottom layer of the unit. Above this can be placed masks for other formats including 35mm panoramic (XPan format) and standard 35mm frames. These are held in place by wing nuts and the design cleverly means the 120 masks can stay in place permanently. Once in place you thread one end of the full roll of negatives into the unit and then push/pull the strip through stopping as each new frame comes into view and making the exposure. I use my right hand to gently push the negatives through and my left hand to release the shutter using a cable release.

The one fiddly part is removing/replacing the guides and masks when changing format. I find the retaining nuts fiddly. Not a deal breaker by any means and you really do need to replace the wing nuts to be able to control the grip on the negatives. I have large hands and slightly arthritic fingers though so I cannot imagine it will be an issue for many!

When considering which of the many systems to use it makes sense to consider how often you will use it, what you will be copying and whether or not you use multiple formats. If I only copied negatives occasionally and used multiple formats then the Pixl-Latr wold be a no-brainer for me. If I only used the standard 35mm format then the EFH would be my choice regardless of how many rolls I digitised a month. That said, you do need to consider the cost per roll if you only use film occasionally. I will exceed two hundred rolls of 35mm and 120 combined this year so the cost/roll ratio is less relevant.

So, my current set up for holding the negatives uses both the Pixl-Latr and the EFH and to my mind plays to their various strengths. Whilst it can easily cover all my formats, for me the Pixl-Latr is perfect for my 5×4 sheets, for non-standard formats such as the 35mm panoramic negatives from my KMZ FT-2 and for larger 120 negatives such as the “stream of conscious” pinhole images I occasionally create on 120 film. It is also just right for my glass plates as I’ve already mentioned too. The EFH on the other hand I use primarily for quickly copying a roll of 35mm or 120 before cutting it for sleeving and filing and it is amazing how quickly I can work through a full roll. Perfect for someone who doesn’t enjoy this process!

This simple set up is a far cry from the days when I spent more time loading negatives into the Digitaliza frames than actually copying them. The EFH is used before the rolls are cut for sleeving and it handles the bulk of my copying needs quickly and efficiently at a reasonable price. The Pixl-Latr is very competitively priced and very versatile. I choose to only use part of its potential but know that if needed it has all my bases covered. In particular, it covers everything that my current EFH rig cannot as yet (I’m choosing words carefully as I know that EFH are working on further improvements).

So, there you have it. A lot of words which perhaps can be summarised in a sentence. I digitise all my film with the help of EFH and Pixl-Latr holders to hold the film in place. I hope this has been of interest. Part 3 (of what was intended as a two-part series) will cover the digitising and post production itself.

Disclaimer: My only connection with these two companies is as a very satisfied customer and these notes are based purely on my personal experience. The links below are provided as a service, I have not been asked to post them and I receive no reward or other incentive from their use.

LINKS (non-affiliate!)
Essential Film Holder

On digitising (Part 1 – the gear)

I am in the fortunate position that following the end of home schooling there is a spare desk in the house so I’ve been able to set up a reasonably permanent digitising/scanning station. It isn’t immune from being dumped on by other people off-loading their junk onto the nearest clear(ish) space but on the whole it’s generally ready to go at a moments notice.

So, what do I have on the desk? The one indulgence is a proper copy stand. I did buy a cheap stand from a certain auction site but it almost toppled when I added the camera and, not for the first time, I decided it had been a false economy. A tripod would not have been practical given the lack of floor space around the desk and as I wanted to have an ever-ready desk-based system I came to the conclusion that a copy stand was the most practical option. After researching and then checking prices I purchased a Kaiser RS2XA copy stand which on checking this morning has gone up considerably in price since I bought mine. However, having a rock-steady means of holding my camera and lens with a good-sized baseboard has made home digitising a far more pleasant experience in the long run.

The camera I use is a Fujifilm X-T3 and this is paired via an adapter with a Nikkor Micro 60mm f2.8D lens. Both pieces of kit were already in the gear cupboard (my digital set-up is a Fuji mirrorless system and pre-Fuji I worked with full frame Nikon DSLRs). A cable release (just sneaking into frame bottom left) is permanently attached and held in place with a blob of blu-tac.

I have a generic A3 lightpad which I use for looking at negatives and a small Kaiser Slimlite Plano, which was a birthday gift and probably more than I actually need, that I use to illuminate the negatives when digitising. Also on the desk is a normal desk lamp. I work with the curtains drawn and room lights off so this gives me a spot of light when reloading film holders etc and is easily turned on/off without leaving the desk.

I haven’t done any testing to see whether it is strictly necessary but I like to exclude as much extraneous light as possible so have made some masks from old mounting boards into which the film holders can be sat. The usual small tools of the trade such as dust blower, pens, loupe etcetera sit at the top of the desk along with the 35mm film cutter (every 35mm photographer should have one IMHO). To the right are scissors and a small plastic box to hold trimmed negative ends prior to them making their way to the bin. A minor thing perhaps but it’s great not having bits of negative strewn across the desk!

Holding the negatives is the aspect that I’ve seen more words written about than perhaps any other aspect of digitising negatives apart perhaps from which software to use. My approach, as it is with all aspects of this, is to keep it simple. I have a couple of Lomography DigitaLIZA film scanning masks which for quite a while were all I had. Effective but fiddly and certainly not time-efficient when digitising a lot of film. So. when it first came out I invested in a Pixl-Latr film holder which came with a diffuser as part of the kit and several “gates” which can be used to mask-off the negatives. I will write more about using the Pixl-Latr in Part 2 but suffice to say it’s still in use despite adding a second system to my kit a few months ago.

The Effective Film Holder came to my notice during one of the Lockdowns and after a lot of reading and thought I purchased one as, based on my experience to that point, I felt it would complement the Pixl-Latr. It’s not going to spoil Part 2 by saying that my hunch was correct and that these two relatively inexpensive systems together meet all of my home digitising needs.

In Part 2 I will talk about my experiences using these two film holders. I had intended to also use part 2 to write about how I set-up the camera and my workflow once the negatives have been copied thus making this a two-part series. However, as I typed, part 2 quickly became longer than expected so these aspects will be covered in Part 3. Fingers crossed I don’t end up with a four-part series!