A few frames … Olympus Pen EE3

Over the years I’ve acquired a fairly random collection of cameras alongside the day-to-day “system”. One that only gets the occasional outing is the half-frame, 35mm Olympus Pen EE3. I loaded it with a roll of high-contrast Rollei Blackbird recently and it spent three weeks in my bag being used as and when I got the inspiration.

The Swing

The Pen EE-3 is a compact, tough little half-frame camera from the 1970s and as with all half-frame cameras, you get two pictures on a single 35mm frame. The EE-3 has fully-automatic exposure with the EE standing for Electronic Eye. It measures the available light with the selenium cell meter which wraps around the lens and chooses between two shutter speeds: 1/125th and 1/30th of a second. The aperture is determined via the ISO/ASA rating of the film which is set just below the lens.

Salford Quays. June 2021

My method of using this camera has evolved since I’ve had it. I started by making individual pics in the same way as I would use any other camera. This gives tiny negatives, okay for small enlargements in the darkroom. However, I’d not had it long before I realised there was, for me, a better way. In-camera diptychs. Pairs of complementary images occupying a single 35mm frame.

More recently I’ve taken that further and have made three-, four-, five- and six-frame sequences. This takes the diptych concept further and the four-plus sequences fit the panoramic format very nicely.

Salford Quays June 2021
Blyth beach, Northumberland
Cresswell beach.

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.

“Rest-a-while”: Bronica SQ-A, 150mm, yellow filter, f5.6 1/15th second. Ilford Ortho Plus @ ISO 80 Tripod and cable release. Calder & Hebble 14th May 2021

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.

“Dappled”: Bronica SQ-A, 80mm lens, f22 8second, Ilford Ortho Plus @ ISO 80 with a green filter

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.

Bronica SQ-A, 50mm lens, f22 8second, Ilford Ortho Plus @ ISO 80 with a green filter

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.

River Calder 16th May 2021 Horizon S3, f16, Rollei Ortho Plus

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.

Horizon S3, f16, Rollei Ortho Plus

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.

Blundering in the dark

After a break of almost a year I returned to the darkroom this past week. Mainly prompted by wanting to produce a darkroom print from a negative of mine that a friend is producing cyanotypes and kallitypes from. He’s used a processed TIFF that I created from a scan and used that to create digital negatives to then contact print. In conversation he mentioned that he had no darkroom himself these days so I decided to jump back into mine and make him a darkroom print.

So, up front, a disclaimer. I’m a competent printer rather than an accomplished one. I know the basics and occasionally produce a very nice print somehow but I still class myself as a novice. There’s no false modesty here, just simple facts.

Now, one thing I was starting to get reasonably competent at early last year was split grade printing. It was something I’d never attempted first time round back in the 70s as I did not have access to variable grade papers in those days. It was available but generally inferior to graded papers, so these were what was used largely by us amateurs. Variable grade paper began to become more mainstream in the 1980s however but by then I was raising a family and no longer had a darkroom.

Getting there – but base exposures still not right

Variable contrast paper however, has been a revelation to me over the last couple of years and I’ve eagerly researched how to get the best out of it. Split-grade caught my attention mid-2019 and I’d been exploring that process immediately prior to the pandemic. However, returning to darkroom printing I seemed to have totally forgotten everything I though I’d learnt about the process.

Several (OK – many) sheets later and two days in I decided to go back a step by revisiting the really useful online resource I used last time to get me started … but couldn’t find it! However, I did find a couple of tutorials that recommended a different approach which seemed simpler so that was the approach I decided to try. Within two sheets, the negative that had given me two days of grief (not full days you understand) gave up a pleasing image on the paper. Not perfect but acceptable and by now I’d had enough of staring at that negative on the baseboard and in any case was keen to try another. I will return to it later I’m sure though.

Negative two was dusted and popped into the negative holder. Compose, focus, tweak framing, set timer to two seconds and all set for making a test strip. That was sheet one. Fifteen minutes later I was putting sheet two in the easel and had my printing plan in my head. Six minutes later this second sheet was in the washer and I was returning the negative to it’s sleeve. Yes, you read that right, one test strip and one print. Split-grade, localised dodging and burning and most importantly a printing plan I could, in theory, return to later.

Hanging to dry – at the first attempt!

Which I did the following day. Same base exposures but slightly different dodging and burning approach to create a slightly different look. One take and done.

Two images printed a day apart but with different burning plans

Now, my main enlarger is a Durst M605 which has a colour head. I got it a few years back for a steal so even though my colour blindness will make colour printing problematic it was a better buy than a black and white enlarger at the time. When I started split grade printing I realised I could use the colour head to vary the colour of the light (the basis of split-grade printing with variable contrast paper) and initially thought the colour head would therefore save me the cost of filters.

It definitely works, but trying to read and adjust the dials by the dim light of a safelight is an absolute pain. At least it is for me. I end up covering the partially exposed paper and bringing the safelight to within inches of the head and my nose just as close to be able to make mid-printing adjustments.

Long story short I’ve just ordered an Ilford under the lens filter kit to save me the headache of bringing a safelight up close to the enlarger head so I can peer at the numbers on the Y& M filter dials!! It’s due later this week so I shall report back in due course.

Cryptic – but it works!

So, in a nutshell, my new (to me) approach to split-grade printing is:

  • With 2.5 filter in place (10 magenta on my enlarger) create usual test strip
  • Evaluate as normal to determine base exposure (call it B) and also determine dodging/burning plan.
  • Now dial in 0 filter (70 yellow for me) and expose for B/2
  • Without moving paper dial in 5 filter (130 magenta for me). The time in theory should be B/2 but with filters =>4 it needs increasing – I choose to use (B/2)x1.5 as a start.
  • Expose for second part. You now have the basic exposure.
  • At this stage you can develop the sheet and assess however I tend to carry out the planned burning in too.
  • Develop and reassess.

This will hopefully give a very good basis to work from. If the image needs more contrast use a 1 filter in the first step using B/2 as before. If the shadows need controlling then adjust the time for that element. The Ilford rule of thumb for the second exposure is the original base time (B) for filters 4-5 but in my recent experiments I’ve found (B/2)x1.5 a good starting point. You don’t need to restrict yourself to 0 and 5 filters of course but they make a great starting point.

I hope this has been of interest, for a very easy to follow introduction you could do a lot worse than check out this video from Ilford.

New Horizons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Isn’t it ironic?

No, not an Alanis Morissette reference but rather a comment upon the irony of choosing to shoot film as an aesthetic choice and as an alternative to digital only to need to digitise the images to share them to a wider audience. Even creating a book of photographs to be printed requires digitising these days.

Sprocket Rocket teamed with Lomography 800 colour negative film for a riot of abstract colour.

So, to compound the irony, here’s a small selection of recent Sprocket Rocket images that ram home the irony by including the sprocket holes of the 35mm film within the frame! All are scans of the negatives; I use an Epson V550 with Silverfast and NLP software..

Lomography Sprocket Rocket | Lomography 400 Digitized with Epson V550 + Negative Lab Pro v2.1.2 | Digitaliza Home developed in Digibase c41
Sprocket Rocket teamed with Lomography 800 colour negative film for a colourful take on a garage wall
Lomography Sprocket Rocket | Kodak Portra 400. Digitized with Negative Lab Pro v2.1.2. Digibase c41

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!

Another scratch

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

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

See you soon!

It still itches!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rocking the Rollei

Back in January when I was stocking up with film for the Spring/Summer months I picked up a few single films of different stocks to my usual to try out as the opportunity arose. I think that in the back of my mind was that these would be used for something “special” or a specific project that took into account each film stocks particular properties or quirks. As an enthusiastic (digital) infrared photographer, I have an IR-converted Fuji X-T1, and so I picked up a couple of rolls of 120 Rollei Infrared 400 intending to use it whilst in Devon for a family wedding. Well, I’m consigned to barracks and in any event the wedding is postponed until 2021. So, the first roll, which I bought to test before using the second in “anger”, has now been exposed within the confines of my back yard.

Now before any one shouts I realise that Rollei INFRARED 400 is not a ‘true’ infrared film, but one with near-infrared sensitivity to about 820nm. I’m not going to quibble though and in any case this was about experimentation.

© Dave Whenham

My weapon of choice for this experiment was a Bronica SQ-A, for no reason other than I like using it, plus the mirror lock-up would be useful. The film was rated at 400 ISO per the box and I shot a couple of frames without any filtration at this speed. I then attached a 720nm infrared filter and based on what I had been reading metered the scene at 12 ISO, an increase in exposure of five stops. Finally, I developed the film in Rodinal (1+25) at 20°C.

Contrary to some reports I’ve seen elsewhere on the web, the film went onto the reel very easily with no obvious curl to the acetate.

So, to the pictures. My first impression on hanging the roll of negatives to dry was how sharp and crisp they were. Some were clearly over-exposed but as I kept detailed notes that will enable me to learn from these. Popping the dry negatives on the light pad was an exciting moment as it was then I saw just how successful the experiment had been.

The first three frames (see above) had been taken with no filter, a polarising filter and lastly a 720nm infrared filter that I use with a full-spectrum Fuji X-T1. Just looking at the negatives I could see the dramatic differences between the first and third negative; even the negative has an ethereal feel. The third of these frames is shown, fully processed, below.

Rollei Infrared Film 1
Bronica SQ-A 150mm lens Rollei infrared 400 film 720nm filter 1/4sec f16
Rollei Infrared Film 2
Great definition in the clouds from the infrared film. Bronica SQ-A 150mm lens
Rollei infrared 400 film 720nm filter 1/4 sec f16. Developed in Rodinal (1+25)
© Dave Whenham
A typicsl IR scene – green foliage turning white whereas the table and other fittings are rendered more “normally”

So, what did I make of this quirky film? Well, I have to admit that I was predisposed to the idea as I’ve shot a lot of infrared on my digital cameras as can be seen on my FLICKR account. What I wasn’t prepared for was how much I liked these simple front/back yard images. They add a whole new dimension to the portfolio of images I’m creating during the Lockdown. The day I chose was cloudy with sunny intervals and not the full-on sunny day with blue skies I had hoped for but I love the feel of these images nevertheless.

Bronica SQ-A 150mm lens Rollei infrared 400 film 720nm filter – and a blue tone in post-processing

So, what special project will the other roll be saved for? It is simply being saved for the next sunny day here in my back yard. I want to see what effect blue skies will have and can’t wait until I finally get released from the house. Never fear though as I’ve ordered another five rolls to keep on hand for when I do get back out with the camera!

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.