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.

Count the leading lines

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.

“RAW” image
Processed – I enhanced the vignette for effect

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.

Left – metered negative and conversion
Right – +2 negative and conversion

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?

Red filter doing its stuff

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.

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.

Sunday Pinhole

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.

Sheet 1: I could have got a lot closer to the gates

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.

Take 2!
Spot the difference

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!

Sheet 2: This will be a challenge to print – on the negative the centre is much brighter than the edges

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.

Sheet 4: A Sunday morning pinhole – around 7am to get an empty car park! Zero Image 5×4 Pinhole camera, Fomapan 100, 2 second exposure, developed in Rodinal (1+49)

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.

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.

Pinhole Adventures – WPPD

Stating the obvious, a pinhole is a small circular hole, as could be made with the point of a pin.  A pinhole camera meanwhile is a simple camera without a lens but with a tiny aperture (the so-called pinhole).  Literally a light-proof box with a small hole in one side. Light from a scene passes through the aperture and projects an inverted image on the opposite side of the box, which is known as the camera obscura effect.

The camera obscura effect is a naturally occurring phenomenon; early known descriptions are found in the Chinese Mozi writings (circa 500 BC) and the Aristotelian Problems (circa 300 – 600 BC). The first known description of pinhole photography is reputedly found in the 1856 book The Stereoscope by Scottish inventor David Brewster, including the description of the idea as “a camera without lenses, and with only a pin-hole”.  Sir William Crookes and William de Wiveleslie Abney were other early photographers to try the pinhole technique

I was gifted a few rolls of original Acros last year and decided todays urban wander was the chance to try one out – in a pinhole camera. 24th February 2021 Zero Image | Acros | Yellow filter | Kodak D76 | around 12 seconds exposure

An extremely small hole in a thin material can create an image when all light rays from a scene go through a single point. In order to produce a reasonably clear image, the aperture has to be about 1/100th the distance to the screen, or less. The shutter of a pinhole camera usually consists of a hand operated flap of some light-proof material to cover and uncover the pinhole.

If the hole were made bigger then more rays from each point on the subject would pass through the larger hole at slightly different angles causing the image to blur. By making the aperture smaller you block the stray rays of light that would contribute to blur and thus achieve a greater depth-of-field and a sharper image without the help of optics.

I enjoy the occasional foray with a pinhole camera, even building one myself not so long ago and so was annoyed with myself for missing World Pinhole Photography Day (WPPD) in 2019. I was determined not to miss it this year however and had even scouted out a couple of suitable locations on the River Calder ready for the big day. I was it seemed all-set and ready to go.

Zero Image | Catlab 80 | Kodak D76 (1+1) 22nd February 2021

Of course, April was in the middle of Lockdown and I was shielding, however I was determined not to miss the fun though and so the night before I loaded a fresh roll of Acros II into my wooden Zero Image 612 pinhole camera and dug out a mini tripod. At 7.30am on WPPD morning I was out in my backyard with pinhole camera, mini tripod and light meter to capture my first WPPD submission.

When set to 12×6 my pinhole camera takes five frames (you can shoot six but the sixth is truncated) and as exposure can be hit and miss it is important to think before opening the shutter. I took three compositions, two of which I ended up scanning. The first two compositions were bracketed, two frames at different exposure times, and I used an App on my phone as a light meter having first checked with my handheld meter that it was reading sufficiently accurately. The benefit of the App is that it will display the exposure for an f-stop of 150 which my light meter does not.

World Pinhole Day 26th April 2020. Zero Image and Acros II. Perceptol (1+1) 14.5 minutes

After breakfast I processed the roll of film in Perceptol (1+1) and was chuffed to find some decent exposures; indeed, every frame could be darkroom printed if desired and the negatives scanned very nicely on my Epson scanner. My chosen image (above) was uploaded the following morning although I did upload it to my Flickr photo stream on the Sunday afternoon along with one of the other compositions. The third composition I chose not to use as it had not worked as well as I’d hoped but two out of three is not bad!

It’s a local thing

Unless you are reading this is 2101 there is probably no need to explain why I’ve been shooting local for the last year. Apart from four days in September/October 2020 I have not left Elland in almost a year now. I’ve continued to make photographs though, indeed in 2020 I shot more rolls of film than in any year since I started photography in the 1970s.

Street photography is a challenge when there are few people on the street

Despite the restrictions though I seriously believe that my photographic skills have improved during this period. I’ve been honing my “eye” for a photograph for many years and like to think I can spot a possibility where many non-photographers would see nothing of interest. But walking the same streets day after day I have refined this even further, coming home each time with at least one new image for my efforts. I really hope that this will extrapolate itself to new scenes and locations when I can travel again.

Bronica ETRS | Bergger Pancro 400 | Kodak D76 | 25/2/2021

Even the stretch of canal nearest my house, which I have walked hundreds of times in the years I’ve lived up here has yielded several new images such as the one above. Fancying a change I chose to walk on the main road rather than the towpath. The road only offers access to the canal at a couple of spots along the route, one of which is immediately below the bypass. I stood here for around ten minutes and came up with two or three images that I was really pleased with. Most of those minutes were spent waiting for someone to walk into the patch of light. There’s another one below.

Under the bypass Bronica ETRS | Bergger Pancro 400 | Kodak D76 | 25/2/2021

As is normal for me the vast majority of my images are in black and white whether film or digital. However, we had a few misty mornings recently and I did something I’d not done before when there’s been mist – I went for a walk in the town. Instead of being frustrated that it was misty and I couldn’t get “somewhere” I got on my feet and went into town (for context, the centre of town is a two minute walk from my back door).

Out and about in Elland on a foggy morning: Fuji X-H1
Out and about in Elland on a foggy morning: Fuji X-H1

I even dusted off the Fuji X-H1 and set it to shoot colour rather than my default B&W. Straight out of the camera I had a handful of very pleasing images, none of them compositions I had shot before and all of them within ten minutes of my home.

By taking a camera every time I go for my daily exercise I have been embracing the old adage to practice, practice, practice, and its born fruit. Without consciously intending to, I’ve even started to shoot my digital cameras as if they were film cameras. I’ve shot fully manually for a long while but I’ve now taken to turning the LCD screen off and only taking one, occasionally two, images of any scene. I usually carry one of my film panoramic cameras which restricts me to 21 frames on a 36-exposure roll of film and usually I shoot the whole roll on my walk. If I take just a digital camera there’s rarely more than a dozen images on the memory card when I get home. By being more selective I’ve not only improved my “hit rate” but more importantly I have been training my eye to “see” better. This more discriminate style of working with digital means less time on the computer which is an added bonus. Indeed, ironically, the only images I process on the desktop computer these days are film scans; almost all of my most recent digital images have been processed on my iPad using Snapseed.

Horizon Kompakt and Fomapan 400 developed in Rodinal (1+25). Shot 30th November in the rain/drizzle around Elland town centre Scanned with a Fuji XT-3

It’s not only my “eye”though. During 2020 I shot and processed 180 rolls of 35mm and 120 film and around 50 sheets of 5×4 film. For the first time ever I developed my own colour negative films, saving £££s in the process; I can develop 18-20 rolls for the same price as having three rolls lab processed. I have experimented with different black & white developers but particularly pleasing has been that the consistency of my processing has increased exponentially. Developing film most days has also improved my efficiency and time management during the process. Without wishing to tempt fate I have been very pleased with the consistently good quality negatives that have come out of the tanks.

Horizon 202, Kentmere Pan 100 Shot 1/12/2020 Processed Diafine (3+3)

Early on in the pandemic I was told to shield, something I did religiously for over four months. During this period, embracing the need to stay at home, I experimented with still life and close-up film photography. I also dug out an old hard drive and reprocessed a few earlier images. However, this was not to be the most productive period of the pandemic as being confined to home for so long became very wearing very quickly. When shielding ended for me I vowed not to follow the shielding requirements quite so slavishly should the need arise again and indeed despite being told to shield during this latest Lockdown I am still taking a daily, socially-distanced walk; walking locally of course and avoiding people (which is my preferred option at the best of times). I don’t believe I have driven my car since November last year.

Bold contrasts for Bold Street, Liverpool (pre-pandemic)
March 2020 – darkroom printing underway … but not for long.

There is one backward step to include for the sake of completeness. Apart from a short flurry in March 2020 I’ve not been in my darkroom in the past 11 months. Darkroom work is mainly an autumn/winter activity for me so I was not surprised that I kept away from it during the very warm summer we had which drifted into early autumn too. However, as Autumn progressed there were few signs of me getting back into the darkroom. A leaky slot processor caused some activity in October and I thought that this would be the catalyst for a return to printing (I do not have an inkjet printer) but no. By early December my darkroom was press-ganged into extra storage ahead of Christmas BUT much of that is still cluttering the room three months later.

Took the long way home from the school run and got rather wet in these heavy April-esque showers. Horizon S3 Pro, Kodak Tri-X, D76 (1+1) Shot 12/3/2021

My darkroom – in reality one side of the small study I am sat in at present.

So, in a peculiar way the pandemic has largely been a real boost for my photography. Photography has also helped protect my mental health and has encouraged me to take some exercise every day even if it was just to take the image for my ongoing 365. I’ve been shooting a picture a day since October 2017 and have been determined not to allow a pandemic to get in the way of the Challenge. If I can motivate myself to reopen the darkroom over the next few weeks I will at least have a large collection of new negatives to play with!

One final image: Horizon S3 Pro, Kodak Tri-X, D76 (1+1) Shot 12/3/2021

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

Talking about GAS

Like most of us I suspect, I did not get into photography because of the gear, I got into because of its ability to capture a moment or preserve a memory but largely because of the satisfaction I got when the occasional “good” image was created.  I got satisfaction from the way it enabled this artistically-challenged teenager (and now an artistically-challenged sexagenarian) to channel some of the inner creativity that always lurked within, unfulfilled but nevertheless a part of me. Curiosity too drove me on. How things work was a childhood interest and as I grew into my teens this developed into a willingness to take things apart (not always successfully reassembling them if I’m honest) and see how they worked.  With photography I could experiment with the chemical processes, trying different developers, exposing a part-developed print to light, toning and even physically manipulating the print. Sadly, none of the evidence of these experiments survived the post-teen, starting-work, kids-of-my-own years. At least not physically, they are still real inside my head.

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C41 film processed in B&W chemicals – still experimenting in 2020!

Even now though there is one aspect that has always stayed with me – the satisfaction that comes when you hear that shutter “click”.  Or more accurately the noise, and sometimes feel, as that mirror slaps and bounces itself out of the way of the film or sensor. These small things shouldn’t be overlooked or down-played either. My Fuji X100T camera is virtually an extension to me now. I use it almost every day and can intuitively do anything that I want to with this diminutive but highly capable digital masterpiece. But, it has no mirror so that satisfying “click”, or “slap”  as some describe it, is conspicuous by its absence.  Even after around 16,000 images with the X100t I still miss the satisfaction of that audible memory of starting in the 1970s with a Zenith E.

FILM: Canalside
Bronica SQ-A

So, if I didn’t get into photography because of the gear why do I have these recurring bouts of what resembles GAS?  I don’t admit to GAS by the way. GAS, or Gear acquisition syndrome, is a bit of a buzz word in the photographic community, and of course it is not a legitimate medical condition, but nevertheless I do feel it is a legitimate concept. Camera and lens manufacturers and the growing list of firms making must-have gadgets and add-ons for the “serious” photographer rely on GAS to provide an ongoing stream of customers for their new products. Economically they have to keep selling to stay afloat and stimulating demand for new products is one way of keeping the cash flowing.  With this in mind it is tempting to say that GAS is driven entirely by manufacturers and retailers of photographic gear but that doesn’t explain why I, and many others, still choose to shoot with old film cameras and to add more of this old kit to our collections.  Incidentally, I am definitely not a collector, I am a photographer and so everything I own gets used, some of it more often than others admittedly, but none of it has been purchased to satisfy a purely acquisitional desire.

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Fuji X100t

My most used cameras at the moment are a pair of Bronica cameras hailing from the late 1970s (a Bronica ETRS) and from the early 1980s (a Bronica SQ-A).  I bought the former in February of this year with two lenses, one film back and a speed grip. By mid-March I had a third lens, a 2x converter, a set of extension tubes, three more film backs and a set of 62mm screw-in filters for black and white photography. This week I took possession of a set of macro bellows too.  In early April, having watched far too many YouTube videos I found that I “needed” a 6×6 camera, specifically the Bronica SQ-A. On the surface a reasonable, if very swift, upgrade to the 6×4.5 ETRS. But, it neglects the fact that I have a Mamiya RB67 (6×7) and a Mamiya C3 (6×6) in the cupboard with a pair of lenses apiece. I therefore have the larger medium formats covered already so despite having perfectly good options for 6×6 I “needed” an SQ-A … GAS! Pure and simple GAS.

But is it as simple? True, I had existing cameras to satisfy that creative requirement. I also have a full digital set-up comprising three Fuji mirrorless system cameras, a range of lenses covering all eventualities from fisheye to macro to long telephoto. So, I do not actually “need” any more cameras or lenses, my digital set-up covers everything I am ever likely to need and I have a selection of film cameras from 35mm SLRs, through 120 folders and TLRs to the beast that is a Mamiya RB67 to satisfy my interest in using old cameras and reliving the simple joys of producing my own negatives and darkroom prints. So, yes, on the face of it, simply GAS. 

Except….

It is this feeling that ones existing camera is somehow devalued by the release of a shiny new upgraded version that is a major indication of GAS and it is this that manufacturers rely on to some degree to keep their business model afloat. But I have not bought a new digital camera model since 2018.  I did not buy the Bronica ETRS because of any perceived gap in my kit or because I thought it was superior to anything I already owned.  I bought it because of a “feeling”.

Yes, a feeling. Remember why I got into photography. The opportunities that photography gave me to explore, to satisfy my curiosity, to exercise some creativity and to experiment. Remember too that satisfying “click” or “slap”? I bought into a new (to me) camera system in February for precisely the same reasons I bought the humble 1960s Zenith E back in mid-1970. For the same reasons I bought a secondhand Canon AE1 in 1978, two years after that debuted. For the same reason I made a pinhole camera last year and purchased a vintage Polaroid SX-70 (manufactured from 1972 to 1981).  For me photography is a way I can satisfy my need for creativity, experimentation and exploration wherever I am and whatever the situation I find myself in – even incarceration in my own house for the past two months or more hasn’t stopped me experimenting and creating.

Rose (alternative view)
Focusing screen of the Calumet Cadet 5×4 camera (taken with iPhone)

Hang on – with a full digital set-up at your disposal surely all these film cameras are evidence of GAS?  Well, for me, film photography is both a nostalgic nod to my past but also a way to further develop (pun intended) my curiosity and with the benefit of experience to reconnect with the spirit of experimentation and exploration of my teenage self.  I also enjoy the physicality of these old cameras. I can’t flick a switch and start shooting within milliseconds.  The Mamiya RB67 is fully manual; I have to unlock the focusing system, remove the dark side, lift the mirror (great big clunky lever on the side) and manually advance the film.  I then need to read the light in the scene and transfer these settings to the lens – yes the aperture and shutter speed are both set on the lens which incorporates a leaf shutter.  All of this provides a satisfying tactile experience and a feeling (warranted or not) that I have created each image myself.  Each of my film cameras works differently and this variety also appeals especially to someone like myself who has the attention span of a goldfish and is constantly seeking something new to explore. The fact that I can do so with gear that was financially way out of reach to me in the 1970s is a bonus.  

So, do I have GAS? 

Well, despite my implied protestations above the answer is probably “yes”. However, in my defence I would point out that all of my gear gets used and rarely gets sold-on these days as I regularly return to them.  I am also not upgrading to the next miracle-electronic-marvel every time Fuji release an upgraded model (my X100T is two generations old) but I am expanding my creative opportunities with new purchases. This past week I have used all three of my Fuji mirrorless digital cameras, both my medium format Bronicas, the Mamiya RB67, an Olympus Pen EE3, a Nikon L35AF, a Canon ACE, the Fuji X100T, the full-spectrum (infrared) converted Fuji X-T1 and not forgetting my smartphone!  

All of which suggests that there are degrees of GAS in the same way that real illnesses have degrees of severity. That GAS is not necessarily a “bad” thing and that GAS does not always benefit manufacturers.  But this is not the forum for such a discussion – and that is not a bad thing either!