I wrote recently about my ongoing exploration of the work of Saul Leiter (1923-2013). In terms of my own photography I’ve been working on images taken through glass or more precisely, compositions whereby the reflections in the glass are an integral part of the image. I’ve incorporated myself in many of these too thus adding reflection selfies to the mix. One location has been a particularly fruitful source of images.
35mm Lucky Dip – Adox HR-50
The third roll of film in my 35mm Lucky Dip was a gift from Jevon and it wasn’t until AFTER I’d used the roll that he expressed his view:
Best of luck. I have rarely managed to get a clean negative but when I have the detail is phenomenalJevon C
He’s not wrong of course!
I used the roll on a wander around my local patch with Andy (@Holga_Pics) and sadly the weather was rather overcast and wet; indeed we got a good soaking once we reached the farthest point of the walk from the sanctuary of my front room.
There’s a few on the roll where I’ve clearly misjudged the exposure and these have very blocked up shadows but where I’ve got the exposure right the negatives sing almost. Looking at them on a light pad the detail, even in the 35mm format, is incredible. The base of the film is also exceptionally clear which perhaps enhances this perception when the sheet of negatives is laid out on the light pad.
I’ve “scanned” the roll with my mirrorless camera and also printed one negative in the darkroom so far (more will follow) and the negatives have been very easy to work with in both scenarios.
The darkroom print above, consciously printed a little darker to emphasise the wet conditions, has lots of detail and also lots of potential for further manipulation (tinkering with images didn’t start with Photoshop you know). This was a straight print and when I look at the negative it’s clear that there’s more detail in the shadows. I don’t want to change the overall mood of the finished print but I think there’s room for a little more detail in those shadows; it’s certainly available in the negative as the comparison below shows. The digital version has been fully processed to bring out detail in the shadows.
So, would I use this again? Short answer is that I’d have no qualms about using it. So long as it’s exposed correctly it will reward you with loads of detail and extremely sharp negatives. However, it is a 50-speed film and this couple with its lack of tolerance of poor metering doesn’t lend itself to my style of handheld, urban photography on the hoof.
This time, pleased as I am with the outcomes, I can at least say that it has not deflected me from my “three film” goal. That said, if Jevon wants to send me some more …
In the meantime here’s a few more digital versions from this roll.
I know my favourite … what’s yours?
Thoughts on LTM rangefinder cameras
I was asked recently by a reader if I could compare the various 35mm rangefinder cameras that I’ve been using over the past few months. I guess it’s important at the outset to say that I’ve only been playing with a small subset of the genus rangefinder. Specifically, the few that I’ve been using all use the Leica Thread Mount (LTM) 39mm screw thread lenses. In addition my reasons for using these cameras is partly aesthetic and partly the pleasure of using such tactile cameras. I doubt if anyone uses these cameras for convenience, ease of use or simplicity of operation.
The first 35mm rangefinder camera that I bought was a Russian copy of the German Leica cameras; the so-called Barnack Leicas that came before the M-series bodies. The Zorki 4 is slightly larger than the Leica III cameras I’ve used but still sits relatively unobtrusively in the hand. Like all of the cameras described here it is not a light piece of kit but whilst cruder in terms of build quality and therefore operation than the Leicas it is still a satisfyingly tactile experience. The Zorki 4K is basically the same camera but it has what we now consider the more usual wind-on lever rather than a knob for the purpose. I have both the Zorki 4 and 4K and definitely prefer the 4K with the lever wind-on.
One common feature of all of these cameras is that the rangefinder/viewfinder are generally calibrated for the standard lens. For the Zorkis I use this is 50mm. My Chroma Glass lens has a 24mm field of view and as this lives on the Zorki 4 I have a matching, and cheap, auxiliary viewfinder that sits in the cold shoe. I also use a 35mm lens and for this I have a Russian-made turret viewfinder that offers a range of focal lengths. To start with, using one window to focus and another to compose the image is a little awkward but I found I very quickly adapted to this new way of working. Some, like my Canon VT and VL2, have an adjustable viewfinder that caters for both 35mm and 50mm lenses.
One word of caution with these old Zorki rangefinders. Quality control was not always the best in these Soviet-era factories where quantity often trumped quality when considering manufacturing success. You need to be cautious when purchasing from that well-known auction site therefore that the model you choose has at least been CLAd and preferably film-tested by the seller. It’s worth paying a little bit more for this reassurance.
Leica, or more specifically the so-called Barnack Leicas, was the manufacturer everyone was trying to emulate. With good reason. I have played with the Leica IIIb and the Leica IIIf and from a purely tactile and pleasure of use perspective they are probably the most satisfying 35mm cameras I’ve ever used. Period. They are however bottom loaders and need a specially cut leader to ensure that you don’t foul the shutter curtain during loading. To someone raised on back loading cameras it’s quite a shock to the system. It’s also a right royal pain in the backside if I’m honest. Loading a new roll of film stood on the canal towpath was not a pleasant experience. The Horizon S3 Pro is easier to load and that’s saying something.
But, having got that particular elephant out in the open I have to say that the Leica IIIf that I own is an absolute joy to use, film loading aside. That aspect will get better with practice, I loaded a film sat on a wall outside a church recently, but it will never be as straightforward as a back-loading camera. The shutter release is silky smooth and fires with the quietest of sounds. I genuinely enjoy the sound of this shutter releasing. The camera body is small, despite its weight, fits in the palm of my hand and can easily be dropped unobtrusively into a pocket. Pair it with a collapsible 50mm f3.5 Elmar lens and you’ve a pretty potent kit in your hands that easily slips into a pocket.
Canon also joined the fray producing Leica-clones but I have never used these. Instead, after chatting to Jon and spending way too many hours online I opted for the Canon V-series. These cameras move the concept on and some would suggest they are a bridge between the Barnack style of rangefinder cameras and the Leica M-series. I have the Canon VT de luxe (VTDM) and the Canon VL2. The T stands for trigger and the L for lever. V is the Roman numeral for five, thus these are so-called Series 5 cameras.
The trigger film advance was a revelation for me as I’d not used one before. In truth I’m not sure that I’d known about them before purchasing this camera. The trigger folds up into the base of the camera when not in use and it took me precisely six frames to become accustomed to using it instead of a lever to wind on. The trigger mechanism does add to the height of this camera though so it’s not as small as the Leica IIIf. Indeed, the Canon VL2 whilst slightly smaller is also larger than the Leica.
That said the Canon V-series rangefinders are a joy to use. Being the more usual back loaders they are also easy to load on the hoof.
The final camera I bought was a FED-4 rangefinder. This was the cheapest of the set, slightly bigger and definitely a little rougher around the edges. It’s big selling point for me was the built in light meter. It’s uncoupled but very easy to use; move a dial to align the needles then read off the settings on the dial and transfer them to the camera. My meter appears to work very well which is a bonus. The viewfinder however is not as clear or as easy to use compared to the Leica and Canon models. If I’m honest, whilst still enjoyable to use this is the least used of my rangefinders.
A quick summary.
The Barnack Leicas are the smallest of this small collection and exude quality, they are the most expensive but are a delight to use (apart from film loading). The Canon V-series are well made, score on ease of use (especially film loading) and purchasing one is a little easier on the wallet compared to the Leica III models.
The Zorki 4/4K are considerably cheaper, less well made in general terms, but they are still great fun to use. Care is needed when purchasing to ensure it’s a decent copy but if you get a good copy you’ll be very happy. For those on a very tight budget the FED-4 is definitely worth a look and of those I’ve discussed here is the only one with a built-in light meter albeit an uncoupled one.
So far I’ve just been talking about camera bodies but the lenses are also a factor and an important one too. As yet my knowledge is not yet advanced enough to comment with any confidence but camera bodies are in essence just light tight boxes designed to hold film and lens in the appropriate relationship to each other. Film and lens choice might arguably make more difference than the camera body. I have native 50mm lenses for the Leica (Elmar f3.5 collapsible) and Canon (Canon f1.4) bodies but also have a set of three Soviet-era Jupiter lenses, a 35mm, 50mm and a very recent acquisition a 135mm. Thus far I’ve been very happy with the look of the images I’ve been able to create with this modest set of glass.
It’s hard to draw a specific conclusion as I’ve enjoyed, indeed continue to enjoy using each of the cameras mentioned here. To my mind, the most practical of this small selection would be the Canon V-series but, film-loading aside, the Leica III are, for my tastes, the most satisfying for actually taking photographs with.
My experiences using the KMZ FT-2
I’ve already written several times about this camera. I have talked about the camera itself, cogitated on my first experiences using a loaned KMZ FT-2 and of course written about loading the film into the cassettes and into the camera itself. To conclude the series I am going to reflect on my first few months with this camera and what I’ve learnt.
Perhaps I should start by saying that this camera can be a fair bit of work. For a start, as we’ve already discussed, it needs two special film cassettes (I only have one) but even with two, loading is a bit of a chore. I borrowed one with both cassettes before buying my own. Firstly, film has to be transferred from a standard 35mm cassette into a special cassette, in the dark. This then needs to be attached to a second special cassette, in the dark, before being loaded into the camera … in the dark. I made a video demonstrating this aspect. To make it more helpful I made the video … in the dark (not).
Let’s skip the using of the camera at this point and jump ahead to unloading the film from the camera … in the dark. I simply dump the camera in the changing bag, pop in a pair of scissors, tank and reel and take the film directly from the camera onto the reel and into the tank. From that point on its business as usual as the film is standard 35mm film. With negatives the size of three “normal” 35mm negatives however there’s only two per strip in the filing sheet.
Now, if you like using a camera one-handed then this one isn’t for you. Similarly, if you like to “run ‘n’ gun” then this one isn’t for you. Shaped like a brick and weighing in at just over 1kg in its case this isn’t a camera you carry about just-in-case you might need it. With just 12 frames (assuming you respool a 36 exposure film) and an awkward loading/unloading regime it is best used when you’ve a definite plan in mind. Not that I take my own advice there of course! I tend to pop it in my shoulder bag alongside my main camera for the day although do occasionally make a trip with just the KMZ FT-2 or, more often, take it partnered with the Horizon S3 Pro.
I’ve never thought of these panoramic cameras as being for specific subjects or situations. My approach has always been to proactively look for compositions that work well in the format. Over time my hit rate has improved and one thing I’ve learnt is that a straight, long, thin, linear subject only works occasionally. In general it is better to look for compositions where the viewer has a choice of where to let his eye be led. Urban images at intersections of two, three or more streets are usually more effective (see below) than a straight-on view of a row of houses for example. There’s exceptions to every “rule” however.
In truth, the principles that apply to other formats also work with the panoramic form. Don’t be afraid to turn the camera on its side to create long, thin and tall vertoramas.
I’ve found that leading lines work very strongly in this vertical format, really dragging the viewers eye up through the frame.
Presenting these vertoramas as diptychs or triptychs works nicely too.
The speed of the exposure is determined by a spring which pulls the lens turret around. Brakes are used to vary the speed giving the four shutter speeds found on the FT-2. At 1/400th second when all the brakes are off the camera physically bucks in your hand from the force. Pop the camera on a tripod, set it to 1/400th, cock the shutter and watch the whole thing shudder when you release the shutter. Which explains why I believe the best results from this camera come from using it on a tripod. That said, I do tend to use it handheld, especially when photographing urban locations such as my own local patch.
Book-ending subjects can work well too, as in the example above where a very simple scene has been bookended by trees which give added context and hold the viewers attention in the central portion of the frame.
One thing I’ve not mentioned is that as the film wind-on and cocking of the shutter are two distinct operations the opportunity for double, triple, whatever exposures is the photographers for the taking. The one below is three or four exposures for example.
Don’t be frightened to crop as there’s plenty of real estate available.
In summary, it isn’t the easiest camera to work with but I’ve never been afraid of working for my images. Despite everything I’ve said about its idiosyncrasies it is however great fun and worth the effort in my view – your mileage may vary of course!
The 37 Club
I’ve been digging around on the internet for background information on the Nikon L35 AF that I was using in Salford Quays recently. Lots of opinions on the noise the camera makes, vignetting of the lens and the lack of manual controls. But none mentioned a big positive in my eyes – 37 frames per 36 exposure roll! I’ve just developed five rolls of black and white film, four Tri-X and one Kentmere 400, and every roll has 37 frames. Bargain! Did some of the other reviewers not get through a whole roll I wonder? [takes tongue out of cheek]
On the subject of vignetting, yes, there is a slight vignette but its not obtrusive and in my case I often add a more obvious vignette myself. The image below is un-processed apart from inverting the “scan”. There is a slight drop off in light at the edges but it isn’t objectionable to my eye.
Another thing that gets mentioned, albeit generally positively, is the +2 exposure override function. As I’ve mentioned previously its easy to use and the lever is well positioned. With the benefit of hindsight I found that in most cases it wasn’t needed, even though I made liberal use of it. I suspect that for portraits, especially closer in than I typically get, this function will repay its deployment but for the urban photography I practice it’s simply nice to know that it’s there. Overall I found the cameras exposure to be pretty good. Possibly a tad over at times but none of the negatives from this trip are problematic and as I’ve already noted my “scanning” might be a factor. Certainly the negatives look fine on the light pad.
In the example above the automatically derived exposure is pretty close whereas the +2 is definitely over-exposed. In both cases though the negative would be usable, especially in a hybrid workflow. My take-out from this is that for general scenes such as these I really don’t need to bracket as I was doing last week on occasion.
The other thing mentioned regularly is the filter ring. This point and shoot accepts proper screw-in filters and automatically adjusts the exposure accordingly. Neat. I only had a red filter with me but left it on for the whole of one roll to see what happened. The camera didn’t miss a beat and I’ve a nicely exposed sheet of 37 negatives … did I mention 37 frames from all five rolls?
So, there we go a few more thoughts on the Nikon L35 AF, and another blog post squeezed from a two day trip with one point and shoot camera and a pocket full of 35mm film.
Orthochromatic – a new treat
Ilford Ortho is an ISO 80 orthochromatic black & white film with fine grain and sharpness and “perfect for stunning landscapes” according to the Ilford website. When they brought it out in 120 last year I bought a few rolls but for various reasons I hadn’t used them until very recently when the arrival of a 35mm roll of Rollei Ortho 25 Plus prompted me to have a play.
Over the course of three days I used a roll of the 120 in my Zero Image pinhole camera and another roll in the Bronica SQ-A and finally the Rollei Ortho was put to use in my Horizon S3 35mm swing-lens panoramic camera.
So what is an orthochromatic film? The film stocks we typically use nowadays are panchromatic meaning they react to all colours of the visible spectrum. Orhochromatic films on the other hand are only sensitive to a part of the visible spectrum, ranging from blue to the end of green. Early films were typically orthochromatic until the process of adding dyes to increase this sensitivity was developed. Orthochromatic films can create interesting effects in pictorial applications in that red colours become dark or black, and everything blue becomes white or light coloured.
The first roll, through the pinhole, was not destined to be a big success due to a schoolboy error. Remember me saying that orthochromatic film has no red sensitivity? So, why did I pop an orange filter inside my pinhole camera? I was pretty disappointed with the negatives until the light bulb moment happened and I realised that whilst the conditions that day were good for an orange filter – the film wasn’t!
The following day, like a grown-up, I opened a second roll and this time put it in a Bronica SQ-A and headed for a small patch of woodland with a tripod and a set of filters.
Given what we know about the sensitivity of orthochromatic film the results are not surprising. The red version has more detail incidentally only because I over-exposed it by one stop compared to the orange filtered version. The key characteristics of blue skies turning almost white and reds becoming very dark are clearly apparent as is the emulsions ability to give more nuanced colour separation in the greens.
I had read that a yellow filter was a useful tool with orthochromatic film and whilst there are differences between the no filter and yellow filter test shots they are subtle to my eye.
What I did find very useful in this woodland setting was a green filter however and I was lucky that it was a relatively still morning as the combination of a slow film and a small aperture meant exposures up to 8 seconds with the filter in place.
So, I clearly enjoyed the Ilford Ortho 80 in 120, but what of the Rollei Ortho 25? I put this roll of 35mm film through my go-to 35mm camera – the Horizon S3 Pro. This was the first time I had used the S3 on a tripod but with the aperture kept to f16 for maximin sharpness and depth of field the resulting exposure times of between 1/4 and 1/2 of a second left me little choice. Well, look no further than the next image in this post, one of the most pleasing compositions from my S3 to date and look at those tones.
Using filters on the S3 is a fiddly process and so I generally leave them at home and such was the case on this day. The negative has a very white sky but a little bit of burning-in has revealed some detail. These images are all digital scans by the way, I have yet to try darkroom printing any of these negatives. Even from the scans however the tonal separation in the foliage is very evident and my sense from looking at the negatives is that when I do get the time they will print very nicely.
All of the films were developed in Ilford ID11 (1+1) at 20°C with the Ilford film given 10 1/2 minutes and the Rollei 8 minutes. Whilst I may experiment in the future I see no reason to change this for my next roll of either film.
Whilst the Rollei was a single roll of 35mm film that I had been sent I do have a few more 120 rolls of the Ilford Ortho 80 in the fridge and I shall be looking for an opportunity to play with them further in the future. Clearly green or yellow filters will be a useful addition to my bag on the day depending upon the intended subject and I have a mental note to have them at the ready.
Even after more than nine years of retirement I still cannot lie-in bed once I wake. Nor does my body seem to want to change the habits of a working lifetime and whilst I’m not crawling out of bed before 5:30am these days I rarely sleep beyond 6:30am. Today was no exception and so at 7am I was out of the house with a 5×4 camera and a few sheets of film in my shoulder bag.
The detectives amongst you will have already worked out from the title that it was a pinhole camera, a Zero Image 5×4 to be precise. The plan was to visit four locations around town that I have visited recently and recreate the images using the pinhole – and one sheet only, no bracketing and one composition only. I often impose restrictions on myself to make things more challenging and keep me on my toes. With the cost of 5×4 it is also a sensible approach. Being a Sunday each location was quiet meaning I didn’t have to worry about getting in peoples way, especially at the final location which involved me standing the tripod in the middle of the road. That was sheet five (see next paragraph) however so won’t be making an appearance here.
I took six sheets of film with me and used five. Why five sheets and just four locations especially given the parameters I’d already set? User error! At the third location I set everything up, metered the scene, adjusted the reading for the pinhole and adjusted for reciprocity and finally removed the dark slide ready to open the shutter. Except it was half open already. A lapse of concentration as I generally check the shutter as I place the camera on the tripod and also just before I remove the dark slide.
Except it was half open already.
A lapse of concentration, as I generally check the shutter as I place the camera on the tripod and also just before I remove the dark slide.
My Stearman tank holds four sheets of film, part of the reason for limiting myself to four locations. I developed the first four sheets, from the first three locations, as soon as I got home. I chose Rodinal at a dilution of 1+49 partly because I’d not used it in this way before and I was hoping this would give a good compromise between the typical dilution of 1+25 and a semi-stand in 1+100. A dilution of 1+25 generally gives good contrast and acutance whilst I really liked the grain and detail I got from the semi-stand series so wondered if a dilution midway would give good negatives without a forty five minute semi-stand. By 9:30am the four sheets were hanging to dry, the errant third sheet clearly showing the effect of accidental pre-exposure on approximately a third of its surface (see above).
It was at 9:31am that I remembered I’d not had any breakfast yet – but that’s another story!
I was very happy with the negatives as they came out of the tank and impatient to get them on a light box and under a loupe but of course these things can’t be hurried so after breakfast I started this blog post in readiness and anticipation.
With all four sheets on the light pad I was very happy with the fruits of my morning’s labour, despite the momentary lapse. There’s plenty of detail in each sheet and the grain is very restrained. They all scanned nicely (with a mirrorless camera not a scanner) and on the whole look as if they will print well even if the puddle reflection above will take some work to tame the much brighter central portion.
The Zero Image at 25mm gives quite a strong vignette but I like this effect so it doesn’t displease me. With high contrast scenes it can produce tricky negatives as with sheet 2 above but these challenges are all part of the fun of pinhole photography and darkroom printing. The field of view is very wide (I have three frames but only used one today which equates to approximately 25mm) and in all of these images I could have got much closer to the subject if I’d wanted to. For the reflection image I used a mini tripod at the very edge of a deep puddle so perhaps not that one but certainly I will revisit the third location (sheet 4) and place the pinhole much closer to the rusty door in the middle of the frame.
If you’ve not given pinhole a try yet I can very much recommend it – especially as an introduction to the joys of 5×4 large format photography.
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.
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.
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 😀
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.
Yes, we’ve moved! Not the family you understand but me and my enlarger. Having had to close my previous darkroom so one of the older grandsons could have a bedroom I then set up a darkroom in the corner of the cellar last year and whilst I had some good sessions down there it was never a place I was keen to go. The last time I used it was February and that had been the maiden session for 2020. Once I received the instruction to isolate I thought that I might at least get some darkroom time but eleven weeks in and I’ve not been down there once.
The drawback is the need to set up and then pack everything away; the cellar is in daily use and just recently there have been more things to store as we have been doing one large shop every fortnight rather than smaller shops three or four times a week. It’s amazing how much extra space is needed for two weeks worth of groceries rather than the usual two or three days! It’s also uncomfortable. I’m over six foot tall and the ceiling is barely half an inch from my head. The floor joists are level with my forehead and the light fitting attacks my nose if I forget to duck. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve nearly knocked myself out!
Add to the physical constraints the difficulty of keeping developer at twenty degrees when the ambient temperature is a constant fourteen and the picture hopefully becomes clearer. Washing prints means a walk up some old, steep stone steps to the kitchen or if that is in use up to the first floor to use the bathroom. I’ve also lost count of the number of times someone has opened the cellar door forgetting I’m down there – fortunately only two prints have been spoilt this way.
So, after eleven weeks of endless opportunities and not having once been down those stone steps with a bucket of water (for holding prints until washing) it was time to take some action. One option would be to mothball the darkroom equipment again but given the number of rolls of film I’ve developed this year so far (over fifty B&W and 25 colour) that wasn’t very appealing. I have nothing against scanning, the so-called hybrid approach, but much prefer darkroom printing largely because of the sense of satisfaction it gives me. Selling the gear was not even an option but where was I going to put a darkroom in a house with very little spare space?
My study has two desks and computers (his and his – mine and another of my Grandson’s) so no space there.
A surprisingly quick negotiation with Senior Management and I had permission to move his desk and computer into the spare bedroom. He’s been doing his schoolwork there, ironically on my original darkroom table, so it made sense to put his computer and all his bits and pieces together with his “school” books. I’d moved everything within three hours of completing negotiations.
The next job was to create a black-out. Usually a simple job – visit to the DIY store, pick up what I need and home to sort the job out. But I’m “shielded” so that wasn’t going to happen even if I wanted to queue for hours to get into a DIY store. Wickes home delivery to the rescue and amazingly I managed to get delivery within 48 hours too. The materials arrived at two pm and by four-thirty I was testing how successful the job had been. Our house is over one hundred and fifty years old and there is not a right angle in the place. Windows are almost rectangular, door frames are rhomboid, you get the picture. I’ve still got a few niggly bits to sort out but to all intents and purposes I have a functioning space.
So, I now have my darkroom in the corner of my study (see picture above) and I’m now sat in the living room feeling very smug because less than a week after first starting the train of thought I have prints hanging to dry and I’ve just resolved a couple of teething problems with my new set-up so am ready for a “proper” session tomorrow.
The one big compromise I’ve had to make is in the way I process the prints. Since I first started printing I’ve always used open trays. Watching the image appear in the developer was what hooked me back in the 1970s and even now it’s not lost any of its impact. But, there is simply not enough space in my study for a proper wet-side. So, I’ve had to use the slot processor I impulse bought last year but have never used for various reasons. It was this that caused teething problems but they were quickly resolved and I’m now looking forward to being able to print a negative without having to schedule it up front and then spending forty-five minutes getting everything set-up and put away afterwards.
Watch this space!
Rollei Retro 100
It’s not often I shoot 35mm film these days despite a drawer full of film and twenty-plus 35mm cameras to chose from. However, on a whim, I picked up the Nikon FM2n over the weekend and noticed it had a part exposed roll of film in. It was also fitted with a 24-70 zoom lens I had been sent aa while back but not yet tested so I decided to finish the roll.
Nothing formal however, the live-in grandsons were playing in the back yard, in and out of their paddling pool, so I took a few snaps of them first. When they saw what I was doing they both wanted a go too, so that used a few more frames. Harry then decided to pose; composing a fast-moving, naked subject so as to preserve everyone’s modesty was a challenge. That the lens was manual focus with a sloppy focus ring just added to the fun!
Reaching the end of the roll I decided that, as everyone was outside and the kitchen therefore empty , this would be a good time to develop the film and see what I had. The first surprise was that I had loaded Rollei Retro 100 in the camera. Why that had been so I couldn’t decide and having now seen what the first few frames were I still don’t know why I had a 100 speed film in the camera. I’ve been using Perceptol a lot recently, mainly because I’ve been shooting mainly Ilford PanF+ and FP4+ in my Bronica ETRS but reached for the Rodinal, mainly because I wouldn’t have to make up a new batch of Perceptol rather than any aesthetic choice on this occasion.
After consulting my notes I settled on 13 minutes at 20 degrees C in Rodinal diluted 1+50. The result was, as expected, good negatives with a reasonable amount of contrast. I left them hanging to dry in the bathroom and later in the day cut and sleeved them ready for a proper look on the light pad the following day.
As soon as I placed the first strip on the light pad I knew that all was not well. I had a good range of tones and the negatives were not overly contrasty so I was confident that they would print well in the darkroom. They also scanned well it turned out. Even from inspecting the negatives however, I could see immediately that the lens was, to say the least, a little “soft”. Excluding the frames ruined by camera shake (due to the low shutter speeds the 100 film required) and the erratic mobility of my subjects, very few of the images were the crisp, sharply focused negatives I had expected. That was disappointing especially as there appeared to be some nice images at the first glance of the still-wet negatives the afternoon before. But not the fault of the film.
So, frustrations with the now-discarded lens aside, what did I make of the out of date Rollei Retro 100 (also known as Agfa APX 100)?
Despite the film being out of date, I made no compensation in respect of exposure, mainly because I didn’t know what film was in the camera and the ISO dial was set to what I realised afterwards was box speed. I liked the “look” of the images from the film, although defining “look” is a futile exercise as it will vary from person to person. The grain is very apparent in these negatives but I don’t mind that at all; as someone who used to regularly shoot Kodak Tri-X at 6400 ISO in the 1970s I’m used to a bit of grain! Purely digital shooters with no history of working with film will probably be horrified at all the “noise” however.
It‘s a thumbs up therefore from me. I shoot mainly 120 film and my emulsions of choice are Ilford PanF+ and HP5 but I would not be averse to putting a roll or two through the Bronicas if the subject was right.
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