Sunday, October 14, 2018

Worthy of Redundancy

Ultrafine Xtreme! It seems a little silly to brand something with "Ultra" and "Extreme" in the title. In Latin, the prefix 'ultra' means 'extremely' or 'beyond'. So they are trying to send a message here. They want us to know that this film is fine grained. Now if you've shot enough film, you know that these claims are largely created by the marketing department of the film company and don't always hold true in real life. Especially with black and white film, grain is affected by so many variables from EI (exposure index or apparent iso) to the plethora of developers, dilutions, temperatures, agitation schemes... The list goes on. So I'll be forgiven if I approach "Ultrafine Xtreme" film with a touch of skepticism. This is compounded by the very (not Xtremely) reasonable price, which in Western culture means lower quality. I bought 10 rolls of 120 Ultrafine Xtreme 100 for around $5 per roll. For comparison, Ilford Delta 100 and Kodak T-Max 100 are both over the $6 mark (what? no more Acros 100?? BOOOOO! to Fuji!!!). So let's see what my $1 per roll savings is going to cost me.

I loaded my roll up in my 'chrome-tastic' Bronica S2a (read more about that camera here) with the always pleasant and reliable Nikkor-O-C 50mm f/2.8 lens. This is the sharpest medium format option I have and a great camera to use, so why not? I shot the film at iso 100 because that's what the box says on it. Can I push it? Can I pull it? What are it's reciprocity characteristics? None of these questions mattered. I just wanted to shoot it straight and see what the baseline is. And that's what I did.

Before I get to the shots, I'll describe my development scheme briefly for the home developers out there that nerd out on this kind of stuff. I used two DIY developers mixed together. First was My-tol (Kodak X-tol look-alike). I mixed that up at 2:1. Then I added some Parodinal at 1:100. I developed the film for 11 minutes at around 70F using the usual agitation scheme (constant for the first minute and then 4 inversions every 30 seconds). Fixer was Ilford Rapid Fix 1:4. There, how's that for brief?

One of the tough subjects when it comes to fine grain and sharp lenses is animal fur. I scanned this shot at 1200 dpi and I think I am running out of pixels before I run into grain.

Scratchy McBiterton

Here is a 100% crop of that shot.

I have to say I was impressed. At least with this developurr combination (sorry), this film does indeed show very very fine grain. Is it "Ultrafine"? Well, we are dealing with sort of subjective, qualitative terminology here, so I'm going to say YES! It is Ultrafine! Put this film behind your sharpest lens, develop it with a high accutance developer, and be confident that you are going to get some Xtremely good results. "But James", you say. "Doesn't high accutance and sharpness mean that the low contrast areas are going to look grainy?" Let's see. Here is a 100% crop of the blank out of focus wall behind the subject.

The answer is "yes, there is some visible grain." Is it distracting? Is it "golf ball grain"? No. It is what I would characterize as "filmy" grain. It's the grain that lets you know that you are shooting film. I personally like grainy film (usually). The exception to that rule was Fuji Acros in Caffenol-CL. That was so smooth and creamy and lovely. I could just stare at the blurry backgrounds. But usually I like to have some grain in the image just as a creative device, sort of like the way I left the S2a film mask in this image as a border. It's a layer of abstraction that adds interest.

Now we come to the 'caveat emptor'. Here we see what saving $1 cost me. There were two shots on the roll of 12 that had artifacts. These looked like perfectly round clear spots on the film. I don't think that they were air bubbles that didn't get developed since that is not ever a problem with my agitation and there were only two of them on the whole roll. I think these are actually flaws in the emulsion. Take a look near the bottom of the gate. I'll keep an eye out for more of these in future rolls. I hope this is a Xtremely rare slip up by the QA department. If it is truly a "feature" of this film, I'll probably spend the extra $1 per roll and use T-max. But if not, if it turns out that Ultrafine Xtreme 100 is a good reliable fine grained film, then I will certainly buy more.

Friday, April 20, 2018

This Argus is Super

Thanks to Madmen, midcentury modern is the bee's knees. Generally people are looking for furniture and design elements for their homes. Me? I love 50's cameras. Give me bakelite over titanium any day. The classic "faux TLR" is the Brownie Hawkeye Flash. I have two of those and they are genuinely fun to shoot. Taking a (small) step up in control brings me to another favorite, the Argus Super Seventy-five.

These were made in the mid to late 50's in Ann Arbor, Michigan and man were they well-made! Of course they are pretty simple, but the overall quality of build is just very good. The apertures range from 8 to 16 and the leaf shutter hits in the 1/30th to 1/50th range. Fortunately, the heft of the camera (about 1.2 lb (530g)) and the neck strap make it pretty easy to hold steady. The lens is a simple 65mm "Coated Lumar" meniscus, so don't expect anything tessar-like, but for those of us who enjoy the nostalgic feel of the photos taken with a simple lens, this performs quite well. I have flipped the lens backward in mine, so I get a characteristic radical blur around a reasonably sharp center. Focusing is by range, lining up your subject distance (in ft.) with a pointer next to the lens. At f/8 or higher, you don't have to be extremely accurate with your estimation. It will focus down to 3.5 ft. There was originally a slip-on closeup lens, but I don't have that accessory and probably wouldn't use it if I did. Correcting for parallax with a camera like this is going to take practice and I have too many cameras in the rotation to remember the quirks of each one. In the picture here, you can see the red indicator in the taking lens that says that the shutter is cocked. The shutter button is pretty stiff on this camera, so the chances of accidentally tripping it are practically nil. The real highlight of this camera is the viewfinder. It is so big and so bright that composition is a true pleasure. It is a reflex, so the image is backward, but not upside down. Remembering to focus the lens is the only down-side of having such a nice viewfinder, but get the process locked into your brain before you go out and you shouldn't have a problem (focus, compose, focus, shoot, wind). Lastly, it is worth mentioning that this camera takes 620 film. So get on the google and either clip off the outer edges of your plastic 120 spool or rewind the film onto a 620 spool and you are good to go. New plastic 620 spools can be purchased from the Film Photography Project store, or buy some cheap expired 620 film from Etsy or Ebay and get some classic metal spools with it. However you go about it, these mid-century beauties are well worth the effort to get out and shoot.

These shots were taken on Ektachrome that expired in 1981 and were developed in my own DIY C-41 soup. First up are shots from a cloudy day at the beach.

argus75-ektachrome200-001 argus75-ektachrome200-002 argus75-ektachrome200-004

These next shots were from a sunny walk near the beach in La Jolla. I was surprised at the vast difference in color saturation with just a few more stops of light.

argus75-ektachrome200-007 argus75-ektachrome200-008 argus75-ektachrome200-010 argus75-ektachrome200-011

Friday, April 6, 2018

Reversal - The Finale

Well, it took a while to get this all together and done, but I finally finished the project that I initially had in mind when I bought the Ansco 3A 122 'Postcard format' camera. I wanted to shoot paper in the camera and reversal process it to positive images and send them to friends as postcards. And that is what I did. I made 20 individual exposures on 20 pieces of Arista Grade 2 paper. I had to take the photo, then take the camera off of the tripod and put it in a film changing bag where I had an envelope for exposed sheets and one for unexposed sheets. Then I would remove the back of the camera and take the exposed paper out and put a fresh piece of unexposed paper in. Repeat x20. That took about 2 1/2 hours, just to take the pictures. Fortunately, I chose a beautiful location, the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, so spending time there was a delight. It was mid-January so it was pleasantly cool with a little breeze from the ocean and sunshine just barely filtered by some thin high clouds.

Here is a shot of it on expired Fujicolor, taken in my Vitomatic II, just for reference.Point Loma

I have gone through the processing steps in previous posts and there is a long discussion over on Photrio about it, so I won't rehash it all here. I will just mention that the paper was graded at iso 2 which resulted in a 12 second exposure at f/64. So with no further ado, here is the result.

And here is a scan of the one of the postcards itself.

Old Point Loma Lighthouse

This was a super-fun project and I love sending these postcards off to friends and family. The Ansco 3A performed beautifully and was great fun to have out in the field. I highly recommend making postcards and sending them with hand-written notes to those you care about.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Reversal Revisited

If you remember this post about reversal processing images taken on photo paper (enlarging paper) in-camera, then this might be of some interest. I have done some more experimenting. At first, I made the terrible mistake of changing too many variables at once. I was trying different papers and rushing through the processing procedure and the results were all bad. In order to understand a process like this, you have to isolate a variable and just change that incrementally so that you can see what effect that variable has on the end product. So I decided to just use one paper (Arista Grade 2), one camera (Graflex Speed Graphic with the Graflex Optar 135mm lens), and one dev/reversal process (outlined in the aforementioned post). So I took 4 shots of a high-ish contrast subject. I only varied the exposure. I used iso ratings of 0.25, 0.5, 0.75 and 1.0. I know those seem like extremely low ratings, but it turns out they are in the right ballpark. I started here based on some vlogs by Joe Van Cleave as well as some initial Googling and experimentation. Anyway, I wanted to share my results, so here goes.

These are in order of low to high iso rating. The subject is a scooter and a padlock against a brown fence in direct sun. The exposures were all done at f/16 and the times were 4, 2, 1.5 and 1 second respectively.

I can tell very little difference between the last two, but they both look about right. They might tolerate a bit less exposure, but for a regular scene with more mid-tones, I think iso 1 will do nicely. So here's what I think I am learning about this process. Expose more than you think you should. Develop to completion on both dev steps. Stop and wash completely! Keep the bleach fresh (I make 300 mL and discard after 4 sheets). If you have bleached adequately, you don't need to restrain the second exposure. I am using bright bathroom lighting for 2 minutes.

Now the next step will be to make exposures in my Ansco 3A and get some postcard format pictures out that I can send to my analog photo friends. I might even try tank developing those and see what happens. If you are doing reversal processing, drop me a comment and let me know how it's going.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Film Hack - Fuji Eterna

I like shooting movie film. It is cheap and plentiful and with my new DIY ECN2 chems, it is super cheap to develop at home with accurate color. The one and only down-side is the remjet. For the uninitiated, remjet is a powder-coat on the back of movie film that serves as the anti-halation layer as well as an anti-static agent for films that travel at high speed through a movie camera. There are numerous approaches to dealing with remjet, but they do not include just sending the film off to your usual color lab. The remjet comes off in their machines and tends to get redeposited on your (and everyone else's film). That makes them unhappy with you and you will be invited to never send them any film again. So I choose to develop color films of all sorts at home, but I still need to deal with the remjet for the same reason. I don't want it coming off in my developer, bleach or fixer and then getting redeposited into the emulsion of future films. So I use a sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) solution (about a tablespoon per liter) as my first pre-soak (about 2-3 minutes). Then I shake it like crazy... I mean really shake it like you are trying to prank your little brother with a can of root beer. Shake it for a solid minute, then pour it out. It should look grey. Then rinse and pour until the rinse water is clear. Now the remjet is gone and you can continue with your regularly scheduled development process. That's it! Well, not quite. If that was it, then this post would be done, but it isn't. Keep reading.

Often, the soak-shake-rinse process is imperfect. That means that there are places on the film where the remjet doesn't come off. So at the end I will take the film off of the developing reel and gently, oh so gently, rub the back of the film with my thumb under warm running tap water. Even then, there are places I miss, but I can't tell where they are until the film has been hung, dried and scanned. Then I see something like this.

GAAAH! What a mess! Now what? One alternative is to make another bath of bicarb and try some more gentle rubbing to see if I can get it cleaned up. But that is an iterative process that could take a loooooong time, and I am impatient. I honestly can't remember how I discovered the second (and much better) alternative. I must have been desperate, or maybe it was an accident. Here it is, the secret to quickly and easily (and completely) removing bits of remjet from your film. Hand sanitizer. That's right. Get a couple of those little cloths that you clean your glasses with. Lay the film emulsion-side down on one. Then get a little dab of the sanitizer on your finger and gently rub it on the back of your negative. Don't rub so long that it evaporates, just long enough to dissolve the remjet. Then use the other cloth to wipe it off. This is what I get after that process. Note: I did not correct, adjust or clean either of these scans. They are "straight outta scanner".

"But James", you ask, what happens if I get the hand sanitizer on the emulsion side by accident?" I honestly don't know. My intuition says that in all the times I have done this, I must have at some point gotten sanitizer on the emulsion, but I have never noticed any smudging, smearing or any other artifact that made me think I had. So the usual disclaimers apply. This is the internet. I am not a professional (or even trained) film cleaning expert. I claim no responsibility for the destruction of every frame you shot at your cousin's wedding if you try this procedure. Try it first on a crappy shot of a Christmas concert! Happy shooting!!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

DIY Color Dev Comparison

If you have by chance read any of the other posts on this blog, you might have gotten the impression that I am into do-it-yourself (DIY) film developing and historic (aka 'alt') processes printing. That is really only half true. The other half of this blog is that I'm really cheap and am always looking for ways to economize with my photography hobby. The third half is that I just like taking pictures on film rather than with digital devices. So having said that, this post is about my first foray into making my own color developers. I started down this path when I somehow cross-contaminated my Unicolor developer with the blix, thereby killing all activity and pulling 3 completely clear rolls of film out of my developing tank. That sucked and it was completely my own fault for not doing a test strip. Always do a test strip in the developer! Anyway, I was faced with the choice of buying another kit (not a bad or really expensive option) or figuring out how to make my own (attractive to the chemist in me and probably cheaper). I googled up this post over on Flickr and it seemed like a reasonable place to start. I had most of the chemicals, so I just needed to get the developers for C-41 and ECN2. ECN2 is the process used for 35mm movie film (like Cinestill). Most people just cross process it in C-41 and it looks fine, but I thought there was enough overlap in the chemistry that I could just get the developer and give it a try.

I bought the developers from Artcraft and the other components either from Amazon or eBay. I did the calculations for both developers and bleaches and they came out pretty close. For a liter each of C41 developer and bleach it cost $5.47 and for a liter each of ECN2 developer and bleach it cost $4.57. I used my regular Ilford Rapid Fix diluted 1:4 and didn't include that in the cost, but it's cheap too. I know that (if I'm careful) I can get 25+ rolls through a Unicolor kit. So if I only get 5 through this DIY mix, that effects the price per roll. That will take longer to determine, so stay tuned.

These are the recipes I used for each developer and bleach:

C-41 DeveloperECN2 Developer
Sodium Carbonate - 24gSodium Sulfite - 2g
Sodium Sulfite - 3.6gPotassium Bromide - 1.4g
Potassium Bromide - 1.6gSodium Carbonate - 25.6g
Hydroxylamine Sulfate - 2gSodium Bicarbonate - 2.8g
CD4 - 5gCD3 - 4g
Distilled water to make 1LDistilled water to make 1L

C-41 BleachECN2 Bleach
Potassium Ferricyanide - 80gPotassium Ferricyanide - 40g
Potassium Bromide - 20gPotassium Bromide - 29g
Distilled water to make 1LDistilled water to make 1L

C-41 Times all 100FECN2 Times
Developer - 3:15Developer - 3:00 @ 106F
Stop - 00:45Stop - 1:00 @ 100F
Rinse - 00:30Rinse - 1:00 @ 100F
Bleach - 3:30Bleach - 6:00 @ 106F
Wash - 1:00Wash - 1:00 @ 100F
Fix - 5:00Fix - 5:00 @ 100F
Wash & fotoflow - 5:00Wash & fotoflow - 5:00 @ 100F

Here's what I did to test out the developers. I loaded up a roll of expired Eterna 500T into each of two comparable cameras (Pentax K1000 and Chinon CP5)with comparable lenses (50mm f/1.8-ish). I used the Chinon to meter at iso 250 (1 stop over exposed per decade past expiry) and then set the K1000 to the same exposure and took the same shot. I put both rolls into a dev tank and soaked them in remjet remover then shook and rinsed in tap water until it ran clear. Then I put one roll into a different developing tank. I repeated the shooting process with two rolls of regular C-41 film (Fujicolor 100 - expired, shot at iso 50). Each of those rolls went in with one of the Eterna rolls and I developed one tank with my DIY C-41 developer and one tank with my DIY ECN2 developer. So what I have now is two rolls with identical shots, one developed in 'native' chemistry and one cross-processed. I scanned each roll with color correction turned off, then I scanned it again with color correction turned on. I am using my Epson Perfection V600 flatbed scanner with the bundled EpsonScan software. So enough talk, let's see some pictures!

First up we have the Eterna.

Images on the left are developed in native ECN2 chemistry and images on the right are x-pro'd in C-41. First I did a straight scan with no color correction. These are obviously different. The C41 developer made denser negatives. They weren't so dense that the scanner had any trouble with them, but just good to know in case you are intentionally over-exposing, which is a common practice with color negative film. The color difference on the raw scan is not really reflective of any real difference in the color of the negatives as I look at them. Just the density seems to be different. Now let's see what the scanner does with color correction.

Now we're getting something interesting. Never mind the low contrast on the lower left shot, that's probably an issue with the scanner on that frame. I could have corrected it, but I really wanted to compare the color hue between the two processes. What I see is that the native process is reproducing a more 'true' color. That shouldn't surprise me, but I never really thought that C41 x-pro of cine film gave much of an "x-pro" look. I always thought it was just the tungsten balance cooling everything down. But now I can clearly see that the colors are shifted, and significantly.

Next let's look at the Fujicolor 100 film, designed for the C-41 process. For consistency, I will keep the ECN2 negatives on the left and the C-41 on the right. First the raw scans.

Pretty much the same story here. Not much to say, but the ECN2 negs are denser. But look at the color corrected scans.

The Fujicolor C-41 film is actually showing more dynamic range in the ECN2 developer. Now that's interesting. There is some color shifting going on as the orange umbrella on the right is the 'truer' color, but given this 'out of the box' corrected scan, I think I like the ECN2 developer results better!

So what did I learn with this little experiment? I think either film works adequately in either one of these DIY developers. Now it comes down to personal preference. Do I like the x-pros or the natives? I think I like the x-pros better in both cases. The C-41 developer gives the Eterna a bit more of that "cinematic" look that I want when I shoot that film. The ECN2 developer certainly provides a saturation and dynamic range bump to the C-41 film thought the blue-shift might need a little work in post. I am excited to try these developers on different color films in the future. Since they are so cheap to make, I suspect that they will become my regular CN developers going forward.

Please leave a comment if you have any further information, or experience with these homemade developers. I'd love to hear from you. Also, check out my Flickr album to see more photos from these rolls.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

An Unexpected Leak

That's like a chapter title from a bad spy novel (or maybe a bad plumber's manual). Anyway, I just thought I would make a brief post to show the dangers of using thin base films. Generally we think of film as just emulsion layered onto a sheet of flexible thin plastic that is then cut, perforated (optionally) and rolled. I realized when I started developing my own film that the 'base' support is quite different for different films. Certainly color films are different than black and white. The support material on most color films is some shade of orange, while on black and white films it is either clear or a neutral grey. But what I hadn't really thought about was that the support material is different thickness depending on the film and it's intended purpose. Movie film needs to be thick and strong enough to stand up to the forces that are pulling it through a movie camera. Still camera film can be thinner so that more exposures can fit into a standard roll. Then you have specialty films like Kodak Plus-X Aerecon II. I have written about this film before, but I don't think I have mentioned much about the consequences of rolling it into standard 35mm cartridges. Standard cartridges have a little fuzzy piece of fabric around the inside of the opening where the film leader comes out. That serves dual purposes. First, it keeps the metal edges of the canister from scratching the film. Second, it acts as a light seal so that light does not enter the canister through the slit and fog the film. Well that's all fine if your film has a thick base support layer and it takes up all of the space between the two light seals on either side of the slit. However, Aerecon II was intended for aerial reconnaissance photography. When flying long distances, it is important to economize on weight so that your fuel will last for the entire mission. So the film was made with a very thin base so that a big roll of a few hundred or a thousand feet would weigh significantly less than it's consumer counterparts. This means that the film does not fill up the space between the light seals in a standard 35mm cartridge and if you are not careful, the light will come in and make nice stripes on your beautiful pictures. So let this be a warning to all of you shooting thin base films. Load and unload in the DARK! Not the shade, and not 'subdued light'... the DARK. Cautionary photos to follow.