Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Return of the Slide Dupe

Almost a year ago, I posted "The Last of the Dupe" as I shot, developed and scanned the last roll of my beloved Ektachrome Slide Duplicating Film. What is so lovable? I suppose it is really subjective, but I just like the way the grain and colors combine. Note: I always cross-process this film in Unicolor C-41 and scan. I do the normal things for scanning film like make sure my stupid scanner (Epson V600) isn't cutting off half of the histogram. But I don't do anything really in the "color correction" realm. So recently, I was looking around the interwebz for some more. I do this periodically, but not usually with any success. Either it is just a single roll, or it is so over-priced, I won't buy it, or both. So when I came across two 100' rolls of Ektachrome, I stopped for a closer look. The were unopened, expired in '80 and '81. One roll was regular Ektachrome 64D and the other was SLIDE DUPE!! I got very excited until I saw the price. $120 plus s/h put this expired film at ~$0.66/foot. That is about 3x what I usually set my limit at for expired film especially with no guarantee, returns, etc. So I put a watch on it to see if it would sell, just out of curiosity and I also wanted to keep track of it if it didn't sell. The film didn't sell and was subsequently relisted as an auction starting at $0.99. Now that's a starting point I can get on board with! I would usually wait until the end and try to snipe the auction, but I really didn't think this was going to stay reasonably priced. So I threw a bid on it for $30 ($0.15/foot). Who knows how, but I won the auction with a winning bid of $10.50! Including s/h the film came out to be $0.12/foot!! If the film was any good, I got a really great bargain. If the film was trashed, I was out $23, which I could live with.

So here are the results of the first few shots. Taken with my trusty Pentax K1000 equipped with the SMC 50/1.7 lens. I set the meter at iso 32 and then I took one shot on center, the next shot was one stop slower (iso 16) and the next shot was one stop faster (iso 64). The roll was developed at regular temps and times for Unicolor C-41.


I did not adjust any levels or anything to make one shot look better than the others. I just set the histogram limits for black and white. At first glance, the iso 16 shots look best. But if you look at the last shot of the rose bud, you will see that the highlights blew. That is the only one taken in full sun, midday. So maybe 16 would be a good number if you are shooting this in diffuse or dim light (golden hour), but I think the iso 32 and 64 shots are more usable as far as the highlights and shadows go.

Here are the 32 and 64 shots from the middle set. I have adjusted these individually in order to compare on level ground.


It is easy to see that the shot at iso 64 has more grain and is a little cooler in tone. That is good to keep in mind in case that is a look I want. I might try another short roll like this and shoot at 64 and 125 and then push the development one stop. That might bring the warmth back to the colors and help with the grain a bit. If I decide to do that, I'll link it here. Until then I am just going to enjoy shooting my favorite film again.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Russian Fog

I took a drive up to Oceanside, CA this morning. With me I had my Speed Graphic and my Isolette III. I haven't shot the Isolette in a while which is tragic because I really like the camera. However, I had loaded it with my least favorite film ever, Svema FN64. I shouldn't say that it is my least favorite film because there are films I have shot that gave no image whatsoever and those top the list for sure. Also, there are examples of FN64 that have produced perfectly acceptable results. I had bought a batch of 10 rolls on the auction site and for whatever reason, these rolls are fogged badly, in a weird way. I think I mostly wanted to just get it out of the freezer, but I feel bad about trashing film, even if it doesn't make images I like. Well, I guess I could sell it to the next unsuspecting bargain hunter, but I don't like foisting (that's right, I said "foisting") my problems on other people. So every once in a while I pull a roll out and shoot it, just in case something good might happen. I had shot that film before at iso 16 and there was one or two shots that were worth scanning and sharing, so I figured I'd try that same iso again. Once I get below 16, handheld gets harder to do and this was going to be my carry around camera for a week, so I didn't want to have to have a tripod everywhere. Maybe next time, I'll try 5 or 3.

Anyway, here are some results.

Isolette-FN64-010 Isolette-FN64-001

Note that you lose the last frame to the old tape. Seriously.


The gear and film.


Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Strange New Development

I am unafraid of getting chemicals on my hands (figuratively) and mixing up concoctions. I have spent my share of time in the lab and have even blown a couple of things up, so mixing up photochemistry is not a problem. Additionally, I am comfortable with a certain amount of uncertainty in my photographic outcomes. I don't shoot weddings anymore, so no world is going to end if I totally screw up what I am doing. So when I recently became aware that X-tol and Rodinal could be mixed and that the results might encapsulate the best of both of those developers, I was on it. I had some X-tol powder that I weigh into 1L portions and I had some Parodinal, so I figured I would shoot some 4x5 Kodak CSG and some Arista Ortho Litho and see what came out of it. Normally, I would develop CSG shot at iso 80 in parodinal diluted 1:100 for 4.5 minutes, so I used that as a starting point and at the last minute decided to cut it in half. I shot the Arista at iso 3, but I haven't worked much with this film, so I don't have a standard development for it. My standard dilution for X-tol is 1+3. So 250 mL of X-tol, 5 mL of parodinal and top off to 1L. Nothing exploded, so I figured I was good to go. I chose 5 minutes with 4 inversions every minute. The temp was probably around 68F. Stop was with tap water, changed 4 times. Fix was 2 minutes in Ilford Rapid Fix. Both of these films have extremely thin emulsion layers and actually fix in about 15 seconds.

The Ortho Litho turned out with VERY high contrast as might be expected. Here are a couple of the shots.


The CSG was much more tame and the negs looked 'normal' as far as exposure and density goes. I think the grain might be a bit smoother with this X-tol based developer. Hard to say without some sort of side by side with the same exposure of the same subject, but my gut says it is smoother. I know, not very scientific, but this is my hobby not my job. I don't have to be quantitative if I don't want to.

SpeedGraphic-KodakCSG-pan01 SpeedGraphic-KodakCSG-pan02

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Like I Need Another Alt Process

I have a project in mind. That usually means I will be spending more than I have of two different things... time and money. I have toyed with the idea for a while of getting into wet plate photography. It is all the rage apparently. I love the look. I love the 'one of a kind' aspect. I don't like the 'wetness'. Having to pour, sensitize, focus, compose, expose, develop and fix all within 10 minutes is too much of a push for my little brain. I need time. I need to think and rethink. I need to decide whether or not I even want to take that photo. These things become more difficult with the constraints of wet plate photography. So I will continue to enjoy the marvelous efforts of others working in that medium. So what do I do if I like the product but not the process? Well, I do what Richard L. Maddox did in 1871 and I use a similar process that uses DRY plates instead of wet. The dry plate process still uses plates of metal and glass coated with silver halides suspended in, let's call it 'goo' which is then allowed to dry in the dark and then exposed like regular film (sort of). This takes the rush of getting to the fixing step before the plate dries out of 'the picture'! (insert sad trombone sound here)

For my first foray into this process, I thought I would just start in the shallow end of the pool and get a dry plate tintype kit. These are sold by Rockland Colloid and come with 8 blackened aluminum plates (4x5), AG-Plus emulsion (light sensitive, open only in the dark), developer (top secret formula) and fixer (standard hardening fixer). Here are a few things I wish I had read before I wasted 4 plates.

  • The emulsion is solid, so you have to heat it in a hot water bath to liquify it. That is outlined in the instructions included with the kit. What they don't tell you is that it will instantly solidify when you pour it onto a room temperature plate. That seems intuitive, but it caught me and I ended up with a big mess. So my solution was to get a regular old heating pad, like you use for sore muscles. Take the cover off and put some paper towels or newspaper on it. Now put your plates on that and let them warm up while the emulsion warms up in the water bath.
  • Even warm, the emulsion is about the consistency of Elmer's Glue. It isn't going to flow nice and easy over your plate even if everything is warm. My first attempt, I tried spreading it around as evenly as I could with my finger. That didn't work well at all. Mostly, the emulsion was too thin and the image turned out to be too faint. Also, it was not at all evenly spread. I later settled on using a small rod to pull the emulsion across the plate. It was still imperfect, but much better and easier to control. I think with a little practice, this could work quite well.
  • The spectral (light color) sensitivity of the emulsion does not lean toward blue. It IS blue (and uv). I tried exposing this under bright studio fluorescent lights and it just wasn't enough. Full sun or some other strong ultraviolet light source will be necessary. Under full sun, the iso comes in around 0.5. That means 1 second exposure at f/8. Now is a good time to mention that the developer starts to die when you open it. It takes about 2 weeks for it to really die, but your iso is going to suffer more and more as the developer ages. Development is done by inspection under red light, so you can extend it, but if development happens slowly, you will get greenish blue swirls (see my examples below).

Okay, enough blah blah. The bottom line(s) are:

  1. Coat mechanically with everything warmed up
  2. Expose in full sun.
  3. Use fresh chems.
Here are the two images I ended up with following the above advice. They aren't perfect, but they are a step in the right direction.


Saturday, November 5, 2016

Where'd the Numbers Go!?

I just loaded a roll of Kodak Ektar 120 into my 1939 Voigtländer Bessa 6x9. I started winding, looking for the 1 to appear in the ruby window. I wound and wound, but the 1 never appeared, neither did the 2! I was certain that I had wound far enough, but no numbers! I must have done something wrong with the loading or the turning of that little winder thing. It seems simple and I've done it many times before, but hey I wouldn't put it past myself to screw it up somehow. So I went into the dark bathroom and wound the film back onto the supply spool and tried again. Guess what. The same thing happened. I know it is the definition of insanity to keep doing the same thing and expect different results, so I didn't try it a third time. I went where every puzzled photographer goes... the Googlez! It seems that some others have had their Ektar 6x9 numbers go missing as well. Kodak must have recently changed the position of these numbers, because I know that I have shot this film in this very camera in the last few years and not had this problem. Anyway, I pulled out an empty Ektar backing paper and compared the position of the numbers to the position of the window and sure enough, they don't line up. The numbers are too close to the edge of the paper.

Now that I had the problem clearly identified I needed a solution. Moving the window to accommodate the numbers wasn't really an option, so I had to move the numbers. One option for moving the numbers was to just spool the film onto a different backing paper that has numbers in the right place, like Acros. I decided that was sub-optimal since I might get confused later and develop it in the wrong chemicals. So I took that old Ektar paper and wrote on a new set of numbers in the correct position. Then I rolled the film onto the new paper. Voilà!! There are my numbers in the ruby window!

I hope someone finds this useful. I know I did. :P

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Book Review - Beauty In Photography by Robert Adams

Robert Adams is a photographer. He is best known for his landscapes of the American West and the development of the wild places therein. He is also a writer, and not just a writer, but a former English teacher. If you are looking for a "bathroom book" with a little blurb written in language familiar to the average 4th grader next to each picture, look elsewhere. The essays in this book are thoughtful with references to artists and authors that were unfamiliar to me. I kept my phone nearby, so I could look things up quickly in order to better understand the points being made. It isn't some esoteric tome of collected writings culled from the briny depths of academia, but you are going to find yourself re-reading some of the passages more than once to get a full understanding of Adams' point. Having said that, I found the essays in this book to be enjoyable and enlightening. For a book on photography, there are relatively few images. They are printed in black and white, though I don't think that any of them were originally color images, so that's fair. They are illustrative examples though. The point of the book is not to display beautiful photographs, but to describe Adams' thoughts on what makes a photograph beautiful. It is a book of essays about photography, not a book of photo-essays.

The first essay, "Truth in Landscape" is a brief but tightly packed essay that explores landscape photography and what it should (and shouldn't) be. Adams explores the possibilities and pretenses of landscape as well as the necessity for it. He talks of three qualities of landscape photography; geography, autobiography and metaphor, and details how the balance (or imbalance) of these can make a photo truthful and therefore meaningful and therefore beautiful. This is a short essay and well worth the brief time taken to read it.

"If the goal of art is Beauty and if we assume that the goal is sometimes reached, even if always imperfectly, how do we judge art? Basically, I think, by whether it reveals to us important Form that we ourselves have experienced but to which we have not paid adequate attention. Successful art rediscovers Beauty for us." This is from the second essay from which the book gets its title. It is a discussion of, you guessed it, beauty (which the author always capitalizes). I have to say, I think one of the reasons I liked this book so much is that I agree with just about everything Adams writes, so what's not to like? The quote above encapsulates my feelings about why I choose the subjects I do to photograph. I select the mundane, the ordinary and try to capture it in a beautiful way that (I would like to think) makes people say, "Hmm, I never thought of that as beautiful before." Adams goes on to link beauty with truth, which also strikes a chord with me as I am a Christian and a believer in absolute Truth. Adams says, "Is Truth Beauty and vice versa? The answer, as Keats knew, depends on the truth about which we are talking. For a truth to be beautiful, it must be complete, the full and final Truth." To me it sounds like he is talking about Truth that is independent of our belief or experience. Objective truth reveals objective beauty. This is a little harder to get one's head around since it is nearly impossible to separate our experience of viewing a photo from our life experience up to that point. We are not 'objective' creatures by nature. Still, I think it is a worthy artistic goal to try to take photos of beautiful truths.

The next essay is entitled "Civilizing Criticism" and in it Adams discusses the critique of art. I didn't think I was going to like this essay since I don't generally place much value on whether a critic likes something or not. If you read the paragraph above, you will see that (Adams and I think) beauty is rooted in Truth and in a personal connection to the subject of a photo. "Criticism's job is to clarify art's mystery without destroying it. Short of that it is a clumsy, intrusive embarrassment." He goes on to discuss three questions proposed by Henry James... What is the artist trying to do? Does he do it? Was it worth doing? I will leave the discussion for you to read, but will say that Adams identifies this as the "right methodology" for criticism and further identifies John Szarkowski as one of the few people to have employed it successfully. He is next on my reading list.

In Photographing Evil, Adams addresses the reasons we might want to take or view photos of evil things or events. " as art does address evil, but it does so broadly as it works to convince us of life's value; the darkness that art combats is the ultimate one, the conclusion that life is without worth and finally better off ended." A more worthy cause I cannot conceive.

I really enjoyed Making Art New wherein Adams talks about the idea of making original art and the fallacy of that pursuit. He says "the only thing that is new in art is the example; the message is, broadly speaking, the same - coherence, form, meaning." He talks about making old things new again instead of trying to create something heretofore inconceivable. We can rely on the previous millennia of art to shape our vision without replicating specific pieces (although sometimes that can be fun). Bringing our experience and unique sensibility to an image is what makes it 'new' even if it is an image of the Eiffel Tower or the Grand Canyon.

The book is concluded with three very brief essays about individual artists. These are interesting and have caused me to look further into their work. I will probably come back and re-read these once I have explored the artists a little more and am more familiar with what they did.

So there you have Beauty In Photography, in a nutshell. I hope something in my review will prompt you to go pick it up. Each essay is good and can stand alone, so you don't even have to read it cover to cover, though I'm not sure why you wouldn't. Drop me a comment if you have read the book and/or have thoughts on the topics. Art is almost as much fun to discuss as it is to create!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Apples and Oranges... and a Sunflower

I have wanted to write a little comparison article about these two films I have for a while, but you know... life... I finally got around to developing some sheets I had exposed months ago and I was happy to see that I had taken the same photo with each of these films. So, let's get to it.
First, let's get the variables out of the way. Both are 4x5 sheets taken within minutes of each other with my trusty Graflex Speed Graphic with the nice Graflex Optar 135/4.7 lens mounted. This was in early summer in the full mid-day sun. Film #1 is Kodak Vericolor II expired in 1997. This film is tungsten balanced, so shooting it in sunlight gives a blue cast. This can be corrected either by putting an 85 color correction (warming) filter on the lens or applying it in post. I do the latter. The problem with this particular box of film is that I don't think it was stored well and the base is fogged. Also, the edges drop off suddenly. I think the original box speed was around 80, but I shoot it at iso 25 to try compensating for the base fog. However, with all of these flaws, it can make some interesting and dramatic photos. Please excuse the dust on this, I hadn't really planned to share this, so I didn't dust spot.
You can obviously see the blue shadows and the high contrast. I could let the shadows drop out, but then I would just have some orange flower petals floating in space. I would rather let the film's character shine through and appreciate the uniqueness.
Next is Kodak Internegative Film. This was intended to make a positive duplicate from a negative which would then be used to make more negatives. Alternately, it could be used to make negatives from slides which would then be used to make prints. So it wasn't really intended to be a 'pictorial' film used in the camera. It was meant to be used in a commercial enlarger. With that in mind, I am shocked at the quality of this film. I don't think there was a set iso. The technician would have to test and adjust exposure depending on the original and any filtration they were using in the enlarger. I shot this at iso 5.
The colors are beautiful and the grain is nice and smooth. As I discovered when I scanned these and as I said in the title, these two films are not 'comparable'. So in that respect this little experiment failed. But that is not to say I didn't learn something. I found that the internegative film will produce nice smooth, accurate photos at iso 5. With a moderate scan resolution, this makes a 90 megapixel image that can be enlarged to any size you like. On the other hand, the Vericolor II makes a more unconventional/challenging image that brings a layer of abstraction to the subject. This definitely has its place in most film photographers' repertoire.
Here is another example of each film just for good measure. Enjoy.