We’ve Moved!

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.

Unless…

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.

© Dave Whenham
Des-Res!

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.

© Dave Whenham
Back in business! Bronica SQ-A, Rollei Infrared 400 – scan (oh, the irony!) of darkroom print

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

Nikon FM2n with out of date Rollei Retro 100 shot at box speed and developed in Rodinal (1+50)

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.

Thumbs up!

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.

Some Bronica images

It’s been a couple of weeks since my last post so I thought I ought to do something to reassure my reader that I’m still here! With a compromised immune system I’m being a little careful about social interaction but have been very busy indoors including a full day in my makeshift darkroom recently.

Bronica ETRS / 250mm

Looking at my notes I see I’ve shot over thirty rolls of film this year already, a mix of 35mm and 120 medium format. Twenty six of those I developed before cracking my tank last week so I have five awaiting the delivery of a replacement tank. I’ve opted for a larger tank this time so I can develop two 120 rolls, or three 35mm, at the same time.

Bronica – from my front garden!

A few of those rolls have been created by a newly acquired Bronica ETRS and a trio of lenses (40mm, 75mm and 250mm). I’ve shot medium format many times over the years. I’ve previously shot with a Pentax 645 (the only camera I’ve ever regretted selling), I also have a Hasselblad 500CM, Mamiya C3 TLR and a Mamiya RB67 in my bag all of which I’ve used recently. So I’m no stranger to medium format. But, the Bronica has stolen my heart at the moment. At 6×4.5 it’s the smallest of my medium format cameras but it’s SLR-like handling is a joy. I also have the option to swap in a waist level viewfinder for that traditional MF experience too.

Bronica ETRS

There will be more to come over the months I’m sure but for now stay safe and take care!

Picture of the Day – 18th February 2020

I’m not planning on a POTD every day, that’s what my 365/366 on Flickr is for. However, as I managed a second morning out with the Ricoh 35ZF today I thought “why not?” and so here it is …

Halifax 18/2/2020
Ricoh 35ZF: 1/15th sec f2.8 HP5+ @800ISO
Developed Ilfotec (1+4)

This was a quick handheld shot I grabbed as we left the cafe where we had breakfast this morning. It won’t win prizes for technical excellence but I like the atmosphere it creates.

“Street” with the Ricoh 35 ZF

I think he spotted me!

I’m in the process of down-sizing my camera collection and am currently considering my small rangefinder style cameras. Today it was the turn of the Ricoh 35ZF.

Loading with a roll of Berlin Kino black and white film I hit the first key consideration: could I push the film beyond its box speed of 400? It was dull and overcast so rating the film at 800 would have been useful. The ISO selector goes from 64-800 so that was a tick in the box. In the event I chose to rate the film at box speed but it was nice to have the option.

The Ricoh 35 ZF is a zone focus, shutter priority (or fully manual) 35mm film camera from the mid-1970s. It has a fixed 40mm f/2.8 lens, shutter speeds from 1/500 to 1/8 (plus B), and an ISO range of 50-800. When shooting in an urban setting I have tended to set the shutter speed to 1/125th with the Ricoh, putting the aperture on ‘A’ and setting the focus pictogram depending on how close I expect to get to my subject.

Repeating shapes are always something I look for

The camera’s diminutive size means it fits in the palm of my hand so I carry it without a strap to make it even more discrete. It’s small size and unobtrusive shutter sound, a brief “click”, means I can shoot from the hip as I did for the opening shot here. Pre-setting the aperture and shutter speed and by using the zone focusing pictograms means I can also shoot quickly from the eye too as in the image above.

I won’t comment on the film beyond saying that it has its strengths and weaknesses both of which I tested today. For the very varied lighting situations I encountered today, indoors and outdoors, I would usually use HP5+ but that said there are some images on the roll that I’m very pleased with.

As for the camera, I think that it’s ideal for a walk-around, shoot-from-the-hip camera and I’ve had an enjoyable morning with it.

I’m 90% certain it’s staying in my collection too!

Holga 120 Panoramic Camera

Last week I found a roll of 120 Ilford Delta 400 in the back of a drawer that had lain there for goodness only knows how long. Nothing on the label told me what camera it had been through (I have four that take 120 roll film) nor what was actually on the film. I’ve only recently packed away the darkroom and with it the film processing tools as well so it was sent off to Ag Photographic for processing.

On its return it was clearly the test roll I had put through a Holga Panoramic camera early last year and totally forgotten about in the meantime. Four strips of film, around 6cm x 12cm, each containing one image. I popped the first on to the small light box I still hang on to and it was immediately clear that they were all horribly over-exposed, a fact that I’d already been able to see just by glancing at them in their protective sheet. I wasn’t particularly surprised, the “controls” on the Holga 120 Panoramic are rudimentary to say the least and this was the first roll through the camera.

Undaunted I popped the first on to the scanner (a rather outdated Epson Perfection V550 that I have had since at least 2013) and fired up the interface. It took quite a lot of tweaking to get detail appearing and it took around fifteen minutes to scan the first negative. I scanned at 3200dpi (the scanner has an optical max of 6400) and saved the resultant scan as a 16-bit grayscale TIFF file.

© Dave Whenham
The shot here does have a certain atmosphere or charm I guess.

Why did I buy such a camera in the first place? Tempted by the hype in one online review on the Lomography website perhaps?

“One could argue that its 90mm ‘OPTICAL LENS’ is a piece of crap. I would argue that the fancier competitors (e.g. Linhof, Horseman etc…) produce cold, sad, perfect panoramic shots you wouldn’t even consider hanging in your toilet. Or maybe I’m just frustrated I can’t afford one of these monsters… Anyhow, the usual soft focus and vignette produced by the dirt-cheap lens give the warmth and dreaminess we all love in lomographs”

Well, as you can see the 90mm lens is definitely soft and the promised soft focus and vignetting is there for all to see.

© Dave Whenham
Soft & really? Or just crap?

© Dave Whenham
Can you see any sharps spots?

Well, I paid over my pennies as you can see and I took the camera for a wander down Gog Hill (above) to the Elland Bridge (first picture) and shot the allotted four frames. Then promptly forgot about it! I was probably waiting to process it with another 120 roll film but got diverted and started playing with the 35mm film SLRs instead.

© Dave Whenham
All images Holga 120 Panoramic with Ilford Delta 400 roll film.

What do I think now? Well, the images are everything I thought they would be so no disappointments there, but they probably don’t sit with the type of work I’m doing right now. They have taken a fair bit of work to look half decent, and I’ve not tried printing them yet. But the fact that they don’t “sit well” with my current work is perhaps irrelevant. We all experiment at times, or at least we should experiment, and these have produced images with the characteristic Holga charm. Charm is highly subjective of course and one mans charming image is another’s out-of-focus, soft piece of crap I guess.

Yesterday I was ready to ditch the Holga, even offering it to anyone who wanted it amongst my Flickr friends. But this morning, having processed the other three negatives I’m a little less inclined to ditch the experiment altogether. I won’t be rushing off to put another roll through the plastic-fantastic but it will live to see another film at some point I think.

 

 

Birch Trees and Limestone

I took the Hasselblad with me to the Isle of Skye recently and this weekend I developed the black & white film before retiring to the darkroom to print a couple of frames.

It’s been three weeks since I printed owing to the trip away and other domestic duties and I was keen to get in the darkroom to try the Fotospeed RCVC Oyster paper I bought recently.  It proved to be an excellent choice of paper and I was very pleased with the outcome.

© Dave Whenham
Birch trees on limestone outcrop Hasselblad 500C/M, Ilford FP4+, Fotospeed RCVC Oyster

My favourite from the first roll out of the Hasselblad was taken on the road to Elgol showing a small group of birch trees  on a limestone outcrop. There was a lingering mist and scudding clouds so it was not ideal weather nor light but I was keen to capture the atmosphere and the roll of FP4+ made the Hasselblad the perfect tool for the job.

The paper is a variable contrast paper, something I never used back in the 1970s, and my initial test print was printed on an equivalent grade of 2½ which rendered the cloud and mist very nicely. After producing the envisaged print (above) I then experimented with a harder grade which made a dramatic difference to the foreground and even accentuated a narrow band of light falling at the foot of a distant mountain.

© Dave Whenham
Hasselblad 80mm lens FP4+ Fotospeed Oyster RCVC All 4 secs 0-90-0 Sky + 19 secs 0-30-0 5mins in Kodak selenium toner

Back to the Darkroom

My enlarger arrives Monday. I’ve finally progressed in my photography sufficiently to go back to the darkroom – this time with a Hasselblad 500CN and a Mamiya RB67.

© Dave Whenham
Lake of Mentieth, Scotland.
Camera: Mamiya RB67
Film: Fujichrome Velvia 100

Now that is not something I was expecting to be writing even as recently as 27th September. However, on the 28th, and courtesy of my wife, I achieved a long-held ambition and became the proud owner of a Hasselblad film camera.  Just two weeks earlier I’d been contemplating selling my Mamiya which has languished unused in a box on my bookcase for at least four years.

There is a saying the when life throws you a lemon then you should make lemonade; so applying the same principle, and in short, I am going to shoot film again after many years of being exclusively digital. Over the last weekend I spent a few days in Snowdonia with members of the Postal Photographic Club some of whom still shoot film, a couple exclusively. Chatting to them over dinner one evening I realised that if I’m going to do this then I may as well do it properly so have spent the last few days creating a space in which to establish a permanent darkroom. More on that in a future post.

Whilst clearing out though I found an envelope of negatives and transparencies dating from 2009-2011 and couldn’t resist scanning some of them.  The results exceeded my expectations and I shall be printing some of them (digitally) later to then compare with a darkroom print once I’ve got the equipment set-up and the chemicals have arrived from the suppliers.

© Dave Whenham
Marlborough Downs, Wiltshire.
Camera: Pentax 645
Film: Ilford XP2 Super

© Dave Whenham
Imperial War Museum, Salford
Camera: Mamiya RB67
Film: Fuji Neopan 400

Over the weekend I shot four rolls of 120 roll film using the Hasselblad (48 pictures in total) and one roll of 35mm film (36 pictures) using a Pentax ME camera I’ve owned for a while and never previously used. On getting home I found two rolls of exposed 35mm film in a drawer and on inspecting the film magazines for the Mamiya found that one had two frames remaining and the other had four. In total I sent nine films off for developing last week and I’m eagerly awaiting their return. Once I’m happy that the camera is functioning properly I will start to develop my own films again but I want to remove that variable at this stage of the process; I need to know the cameras function properly without wondering if any failures were down to my processing.  I’ve since found two more part-exposed 35mm films in a Canon A1 and Canon EOS 650 which I’ve finished and will use for my first foray into home developing since the mid-1980’s.

So, watch this space and in the meantime here’s a few more scanned images.

© Dave Whenham
Scotland
Camera: Pentax 645
Film: Fuji Acros 100

© Dave Whenham
Amanda – who started this all! c.1982
Camera: Canon AE1
Film: Agfachrome

I mentioned at the top that I felt I’d progressed enough to return to the darkroom – at least I hope I have!