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Friday, October 21

A Tale of Three Rolleis

I've reached the ripe old middle-age of 55 and am finding it increasingly difficult to drag a tripod around with me. Partly, it's because I'm a few stones overweight (diet underway) but I've also found that with each new year comes a host of reasons why I can't be bothered doing things that I used to take in my stride.

I keep bringing to mind that video of Don McCullin in his late 70s walking up and down hills in the depths of winter with his Mamiya Press around his neck to shame me into manning up. Sadly, it just doesn't work anymore where tripods are concerned. I think I need a new source of inspiration.

Mind you, I did manage to overcome the lethargy last week when Cath and I went for a drive to Alyth Glen, a charming, heavily wooded valley about 20 miles away. Cath's a bit of a hot-house flower (she'll have my guts for garters if she reads that!) and didn't fancy scrambling along muddy tracks and undergrowth so I was on my own. I had in a somewhat cavernous Camera Care Systems Gladstone bag my Rollei SL66E along with the 40mm, 80mm, 150mm and 250mm lenses - quite a heavy outfit.

But here's the thing - I also had a tripod in the boot. Not just any tripod but a Benbo and not the wimpy "baby" version either but the full-bodied, bloody heavy, over-engineered and bomb-proof Benbo. I couldn't figure out if it was a curse or a blessing to be honest. Should I take it or leave it? What's that Don? You've got 20-plus years on me? Well, good for you! At this stage of the story I know you're expecting me to say that I left it behind but whether it was Don's nagging or my moral compass homing in on true north, I picked the damned thing up.

So that was me, laden down with a heavy outfit over my right shoulder and a few tubes left over from the Forth Bridge construction in my left hand and wondering what the hell I was doing. I'm guessing that younger, fitter readers will have some difficulty identifying with this scenario but I suspect there are a few grey heads out there nodding along. Anyway, I managed a half hour stint and made it back to the car in one piece having taken three photographs of beech trees so it wasn't a complete waste.

Picking up the thread of this tale, I did wonder if tripods and heavy gear is really the way ahead for me. I love handheld 35mm for the sheer convenience and artistic freedom and it would be great if I could enjoy medium format in a similar vein. I have this recurring daydream where I get rid of the SL66E, the never-used Nikon D700 and a load of other gear and replace it all with three Rolleis - the 2.8F I already have, the Tele Rolleiflex and the Wide Angle version. The Tele and WA versions of Braunschweig's finest aren't cheap but it would be doable.

That trio would fit in a neat little bag and the weight would be quite acceptable. With Tmax 400 rated at an EI of 800 I'd be able to dispense with the lead-lined, tripled-legged monster with the granite centre post and quick release system made from black holes. Hill walking and general landscape photography would be considerably easier. I'd have the equivalent of around 28mm, 50mm and 85mm lenses - and what lenses! Distagon, Planar and Sonnar. If I couldn't produce good photographs with that talented trio then I'd be better packing it in.

A three-lens Leica outfit in one bag and the three Rolleis in another. What a brilliant way of simplifying life and turning something that is in danger of becoming a bit of a burden into a free-wheeling, fun-filled pursuit. At a time when motivation can be found wanting, these considerations  have to be factored into the equation. When photography ceases to be an enjoyable distraction and becomes something akin to an obligation, I have to ask myself what the point is exactly.

Thursday, October 20

Give me patience

by David M.

TOD contributor, David M., wrote a good, long response to the Johnny Patience "Zone System is Dead" blog post which deserved it's own page - so here it is. If you haven't already read Johnny's post then you should pay it a visit so we're all on the same page.

People have been writing about the Death of the Zone System for a long time. Perhaps they misunderstand it. Mr Patience certainly does. Consider: “holding your meter into the darkest part of the picture and letting the highlights fall where they will, brings zones “II” to “IV” up to zone “V”…” Almost everything here is odd. You may care to list the oddities yourself.

Let’s list one. If he is bringing Zone 2 up to Zone 5, doesn’t this sound exactly like overexposing by three stops? He says the Zone System is wrong to do this, and then suggests that his own way of working is to overexpose by several stops.

Confusing for a bear of very small brain.

He is entirely right that modern emulsions are far more forgiving than those of the 1930s and’40s. He is entirely right that modern variable contrast papers offer undreamed of flexibility in darkroom printing. He is right that scanning offers further possibilities, unavailable to but not undreamed of, by Saint Ansel. These factors mean that a photographer may carry a little notebook with a list of exposures – Sunny: 1/500. Cloudy: 1/250 – and get an acceptable print. Have they stopped printing these on the cartons?

In his short article, Mr Patience does not describe his own practice when metering. Does he really hold his meter in the shadows or is he content to be ruled by his notebook? We must assume some act of measurement takes place, otherwise he can have no idea if he has truly “overexposed” by the amounts that he claims.

The phrase “acceptable print” brings us to Mr Patience’s chosen examples. Are they any better than acceptable? In my view, no. He may like them very much and presumably he has chosen to exhibit them for that reason.

I should point out that in this context we must put aside any question of liking them, as they are not given as examples of his aesthetic choices but to illustrate his personal system of metering, exposure and development and the subsequent, inevitable death of the Zone System. I am a little baffled by his choices.

That picture of the diner (below) looks like a classic textbook example of an underexposed negative, not overexposure by one stop and overdevelopment by one stop. What is one-stop overexposure anyway? Does he mean N+1 in Zone terms? Wouldn’t we all suggest that a little more exposure for those gloomy shadows and a perhaps little less development or a lower grade of paper for that burnt-out exterior? 

Photograph by Johnny Patience

By the by, Mr Patience is not quite right about “box speed”. True emulsion speed is determined by examining the characteristic curve and noting where the toe meets certain conditions with a very specific development routine. The figure on the box is a pragmatic compromise determined by subjective testing and marketing although in practice the difference is small.

Enough of this knocking. Let’s be positive.

Can we produce an acceptable print from a grossly (in conventional terms) overexposed negative. Yes indeed, we can. A skilled printer can produce remarkable results from all kinds of negative, but that isn’t quite the point. Let’s go back to one of his examples. Are we happy with nine minutes – NINE MINUTES – exposure time in the darkroom for that nice spotty dog in the snow (which, incidentally, I like). Just enough time to boil and eat an egg, with nice toasty buttered soldiers (and we haven’t even mentioned dodging and burning...).

He captions his snow scene: ”…Tri-X, overexposed by five stops, overdeveloped by one stop.” He doesn’t mention placement. A Zone System user would say “Tri-X, rated at 12.5 ASA, N+1 dev.” and mean the same thing. Where is the conflict if the two systems say the same thing?

Let us re-state the purpose of the negative. Its principal function is to collect as much information as possible from the scene. The purpose of development is to preserve it in a useful form. Beyond a certain point, exposure can capture no more information and extra development can preserve it no better. Naturally, we all discover that we have personal preferences, but elevating personal preferences to a prophecy of inevitable extinction seems to overstate the case somewhat.

On the other hand, we may commend him for stirring up discussion in the sometimes rather introverted fine print community.

Mr Patience considers that very dense negatives produce prints that he likes and he has shown us some examples. This seems to invite direct comparison with Mr Adams and perhaps Mr Gibson and we are free to make up our own minds about his advice. Let’s do it now.

Friday, October 14

The Zone System is Dead - Discuss

Controversial, yes, but I'm glad I'm not the one having to defend the proposition! It's put forward by a guy called Johnny Patience who's obviously run out of the stuff as far as Ansel Adams and his cohorts are concerned. The thrust of the argument he makes on his blog is fine as far as I can see: you don't need the zone system to get decent results provided you never accidentally underexpose your colour print or black and white film.

Johnny relies on film's great latitude to produce acceptable prints from an emulsion that has been hit by what most would consider to be an overabundance of photons. He believes it's easier to produce prints from negs that have been overexposed and even overdeveloped into the bargain. This is nothing new really although it's presented as such.

Our favourite subject on this blog, Ralph Gibson, has made a career from doing the very same thing. I doubt Ralph has ever given the zone system much thought at all and it shows in his photos - in a good way in my opinion. Bruce Barnbaum also recommends placing shadow values higher up the exposure scale but I didn't get on too well with that when I tried it.

I found Johnny's post through this Rangefinder Forum topic which is worth a read if you have the time. There are some folk there somewhat upset at what he has to say. Take this exchange:
Originally Posted by faberryman
He "moderated" my follow-up post by deleting several of the questions I asked about his metering technique in the photos he posted as examples. He obviously either didn't know how to answer them or simply didn't want to answer them. What a joke.

Did the same thing with mine.
JP has no interest in anything except his own brand, and to bask in the warm glow emanating from the sycophant circle jerk that surrounds him.
Johnny's original post is here. If you have a read of it, it would be good if you returned to this post to leave your thoughts on Johnny's idea, either for or against, in the comments.

Wednesday, October 12

A Developing Interest

One of the many enjoyable things about film photography is the uncertainty about some of the processes. I don't mean that in the current hipster fashion where those who aren't particularly on top of what they're doing when it comes to developing film have cock-ups that they sometimes find "interesting" and "creative" (sorry hipsters). It's more to do with the fact that some things, like developers, still carry a mystical air that prevents them being reduced to just numbers on a chart.

The best developer of them all? There's no single answer, is there. The range of available developers just isn't reducible to a single winner based on testable, scientific criteria. Well, it possibly is if everyone could agree on what those criteria should be but that's never going to happen. You want the finest grain? Maybe Xtol? Perceptol? Pyrocat HD? The obvious one I've probably just missed? What about push processing? Compensating? Edge effects? Ask ten photographers and you'll end up with a plurality of answers. And a good thing, too, I say!

As I mentioned a couple of posts back,  I need to send off for some developer for the wee pile of films - mainly Tmax 400 - I have awaiting development. I still haven't come across my bottle of Firstcall Superfine - my staple for the last couple of years - after our house move. What do you mean your move was ten months ago? That's a mere blink of the eye in the history of the planet. Anyway, I'm pretty sure that it will be well past its sell by date if I do come across it. So I've spent a day or two ruminating about its possible replacement. What fun! We might have lost some film and paper over the years but we still have plenty of developers to think about - and that's not even counting the ones you can make yourself.

Before the research got underway, my plan had been quite simple: buy another bottle of the Firstcall dev, which had been about the cheapest on the market when I started using it. I've used up two bottles of the stuff - one Firstcall sent me to try out and the one I then bought myself. The negs it's produced have been excellent. It's an easy developer to use, semi-compensating with no quirks or surprises. The film dries in a very clean fashion with no nasty residues apparent. The grain seems to be (with the Tmax 400 that I've been using) on a par with D76 and that's one of the top developers recommended for that particular film. Sharpness seems to be of a high order and the tonality is nice, at least as far as the negs look as I haven't made any prints from this combination yet.

The problem? The price of the developer has almost doubled since I last bought it. It's now at a level where it has a lot of competition from the old faithfuls. So I thought it would be wise to check out its rivals to see if there were any performance gains to be made. I now refer the reader back to the first paragraph...

It's genuinely been enjoyable reading up on all the various developers and how well or otherwise they do with Tmax 400, in a way that choosing, for example, an SD card for a DSLR isn't. In the digital world, performance testing tells you what the best memory card is, those that are a bit below it and those at the bottom that will just about do a job. The decision then boils down to the amount of cash you want to spend. Not so with developers. Oh, no.

I've spent time on the forums reading up on the issue and I can't honestly say I'm any the wiser. What is it they say about opinions and belly buttons? Well, everyone certainly has an opinion about the best developer to use with Tmax 400. The problem, of course, is they can only speak about the developers they've personally used - and there aren't many people who have used them all. Some people even recommended Rodinal as the best brew for Tmax 400, for Pete's sake. Well, maybe if I wanted to negate the reasons for choosing Tmax 400 in the first place...

Xtol is a popular choice for US photographers but can only be bought in five litre amounts and can go off quite suddenly and with no warning colour change if it doesn't like your water quality. I reckon distilled or filtered water is a must with this developer just to be on the safe side. HC110 is also popular but doesn't seem to offer any advantages over D76/ID11. Perceptol is nice but you lose a stop. Ilford's DDX is another sometimes recommended but it's pricey. And on and on.

Which brings me to Pyrocat HD, the staining developer. I asked on the Film and Darkroom Users Group if there was any proof for the claims of some pyrocat users that it's the bee's knees. I got two good responses, one saying it is and the other saying it isn't. They both gave cogent reasons for their opinions. What I'd really like is to see prints from identical negatives, one done in pyrocat and the other in, say, Perceptol. That way there would be something concrete to compare.

Phil Rogers has been getting into Pyrocat HD over on his blog and is one who thinks it might have some special properties. Mind you, Phil sees special qualities in old Leica glass. (Don't go there - Ed) Me? Haven't a clue. Why would I when I haven't even tried the stuff yet - or DDX, or Xtol, or HC110. So what to do?

When I picked Tmax 400 as my film, I wanted something that was readily available, fast enough for handholding and with reasonably fine grain. I've decided that I'll restrict 35mm enlargements to around 6x9 inches on a sheet of 10x8. That's not going to stress the film too much so I don't think I need a 100 ISO emulsion for finer grain. I picked Firstcall Superfine as my developer for no other reason than that I had a free bottle to try. Yes, it's true what they say about we Scots. I remain of the belief that the differences between films of the same type and developers designed to do a similar job are so slight that they are likely to be swamped by inconsistencies in the photographer's working method. In other words, it's not as important to pick the very best as it is to get to know the materials you're using.

That's why, after getting a quick education on the merits and demerits of potential Tmax 400 developers, I'm going to stick with the Firstcall dev. There might be benefits from using another developer or there may not but they're not going to be of earth-shattering proportions. I did think of mixing up some D76 from the raw chemicals I have but I want to get the best out of the exposed film and it usually takes one or two rolls to gain confidence in a new combination. Plus, I don't know where the raw chemicals are either! Probably sitting somewhere in a box keeping my Firstcall developer company...

Saturday, October 8

The Rosslyn Chapel Experience

That's Rosslyn up on the skyline.

Dan Brown's book, The Da Vinci Code, and the Tom Hanks' film of the same name were probably most people's introduction to Rosslyn Chapel, the ancient church sitting atop a hill about seven miles south of Edinburgh.

The church features towards the end of the film and is, supposedly - at least according to Brown - where the remains of Jesus's wife, Mary Magdalene, lie interred in a sacred vault. Brown's theory, in a nutshell, is that Jesus married, had a family and his line can be traced right up to the present. A secret order was charged with the job of protecting the offspring of the sacred line.

I've known about Rosslyn for a lot longer through Baigent  Leigh and Lincoln's controversial book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. They advanced a similar theory, only 21 years earlier. Baigent and Leigh sued Brown whom, they claimed, had nicked their idea. They lost. Having read both books and being unwilling to be subjected to an expensive court case, I can only say that there is no way that Brown pinched the theory from the earlier book. Wait a minute, I can hear you say. Are you really trying to tell us that Brown's theory is so similar to the Holy Blood that it's blatantly obvious he stole it? No comment.

Anyway, our daughter Freya had to be in Edinburgh early on Saturday morning so I suggested that Cath and I take her through and go on to visit Rosslyn Chapel, something I'd been meaning to do for years but never got round to. By 10.30 a.m., then, we were turning into Chapel Loan and then into the chapel car park about 60 yards from the church. I was getting a bad feeling already. I like visiting ancient places on my own or at least without crowds of people around. I'd imagined the two of us walking up to Rosslyn Chapel the way Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu did in the film.

There were early signs that this was not going to happen. The first was the small group of Japanese tourists milling around the car park. Then I caught sight of a line up of cars all with German number plates. Yes, the Deutschland Subaru Owners' Club was on it's annual outing! Looking ahead, I could see the white roofs of a coach or two. Brilliant. I could have easily imagined this sort of situation at the height of summer but I'd imagined the tourist season might have been winding down by now. We left the car park and joined a gaggle of people all headed for the chapel. Then there was the sight to strike terror into the heart of all anti-social loners - a modern glass building near the chapel. Rosslyn, it appeared, had become an "experience".

Call me weird - plenty have in the past - but I cannot fathom how a visit to an ancient monument or place can possibly be enhanced by a visitor centre selling loosely related cheap crap. When I visit a site like this, I want to feel as if I've stepped back in time - not as if I'm in the middle of a virtual reality tour. Did they have smoked glass, computers and snazzy keyrings when Rosslyn was built in the 15th century? I think not.

That was it for me. I turned to Cath and said I'm not visiting the church just to have the experience ruined by commercialism. And, for the record, that was before I realised they wanted £9 per adult for it! Then, as if to add insult to the kick in the Tetenals they'd just administered, I read a small notice saying visitors could photograph the outside of the chapel - you're so generous - but not the interior. That's the most interesting part, for Foma's sake. What a bunch of absolute Barfens. Sorry for the bad language but this sort of thing really gets my goat.

If this is such an important building - not least in Dan Brown's eyes - then the Scottish Government should take responsibility for its maintenance and provide the funding. That's all that's needed. OK, taxes might have to rise by 0.0001% or something but at least we'd have a chance of experiencing Rosslyn Chapel the way generations of native Brits and tourists have in the past: as an ancient part of the country's built environment and not as a crass money spinner.

The topography of the mount upon which Rosslyn Chapel sits is also problematic from a photographer's point of view. It's the highest spot for miles around so you can't find an overlooking vantage point. And the slopes are so heavily wooded that it's a devil of a job catching a glimpse of the chapel almost regardless of where you go.

The pic at the top of this post was about as good as I could get. It's another iphone shot. I couldn't even be bothered to get the Contax SLR out to commit it to film. Our day was complete when, with a few hours to kill before we were due to pick Freya up, Cath had the "brainwave" (it seemed more like a stroke to me) to visit nearby Ikea. Great. Just great. But, at least, it was commercialism in the right place.

Wednesday, October 5

Darkroom Update

I've had a few emails requesting some details about the ongoing work on my darkroom so here they are. Apologies for the quality of the photos. They're iPhone pics again because I can't find the charger for my Nikon DSLR. The darkroom space is the area you can see in the first pic. It measures something like 9ft x 5.5ft but isn't the easiest space to work with as there's only about 18 inches of normal ceiling before it slopes down to the rear wall about 4ft high.

The initial plan had been to build a darkroom in the garage but I was worried about the effects of a less than bone dry environment on the enlargers and lenses. The space I'm now working on is in an upstairs bedroom, smaller than the garage darkroom would have been but much better and with the possibility of plumbing in a sink.

The first thing to do was to build a wall to partition off the sloping-roofed section and hang a door. That's now been done - not by me as originally intended but by a joiner. I don't mind having a bash at joinery work but there was some rerouting of wiring to be done and I always steer clear of electrical stuff.

There are four double sockets and a ceiling light within the darkroom space but no sink yet. An en-suite bathroom adjoins the end of the darkroom and I thought it made more sense to have the sink installed when we had a plumber in to fit a new bathroom suite. The wall that you can see in the third pic (below) has to be plastered and painted on the bedroom side. I'm just going to paint the darkroom side.

I have a few kitchen-type units for storage space that I've built up but not yet fixed in place as I'm still trying to work out the best layout. With one or two enlargers it would be straightforward but adding a third in such a small space is not easy. I think the Durst L1200 might have to be sacrificed leaving the Leitz 1C and Philips/Paterson PCS150 to handle 35mm and 6x6 respectively.

The biggest issue just now is finding a suitable sink for the darkroom. Typical kitchen sinks aren't really big enough for print washing. A Belfast-type sink might do the job but most proper darkroom sinks I've seen are just too long for the space I have available. There's no obvious solution apart from building one myself but that's a tall order. Does anyone have any ideas for a sink?

Making a return to printing isn't too far off then but, annoyingly, there always seems to be more to be done than I'd anticipated and it always takes longer than I'd thought as well.

Monday, October 3

Rediscovering Glenisla

Forter Castle, Glenisla

I've found a "new" location that I really love. It's Glenisla, one of the Angus Glens and a 40 minute drive away. I've visited the glen a couple of times in the past but not with any photographic intent. But last week, heading off in the car with my mum and Cath, I decided to drive in that direction to see what the day would bring.

It was my type of weather: absolutely miserable. Heavy cloud, a light mist, constant drizzle. Does it get any better? Why would anyone want to take pictures in bright sunlight? Beats me. So that puts me and Don McCullin in a two-man club, I suppose.

I really don't like Don's war photographs. They're too direct, too accurate, too unsettling. Don once said pretty much the same himself years ago when it gradually became apparent how little impact they'd had on the world of armed conflict. As if the demonic forces which drive such cataclysmic events could be dissuaded from their gory, blood-soaked, money-grabbing quest by mere silver gelatin.

To me, Don is a landscape photographer and a very good one at that. I'd developed my own style of dark, moody landscapes before I'd seen any of his but I at once recognised a kindred spirit. Please don't think I'm comparing myself to Don: that's not the intention, It's more the feeling that the elements he seeks out in the landscape are exactly those that I go in search of whenever summer shakes off its pollen-covered cloak and defers to the muddy wellingtons of autumn. For new readers, here are another few moody shots I've published on the blog in the past to let you know what I'm on about.

When the cloud level drops, bare naked branches stand out starkly against a low sun and the scars and fissures of the hills and glens glisten and run from the drizzle and damp, that's when photographers who love the dark side of the landscape check their cameras, blow the dust from their lenses and pick out their favourite film stock. Take a look at this classic McCullin shot:

"View From Hadrian's Wall, England" by Don McCullin

And what he says about Hadrian's Wall:
"I go in winter in blizzards. When you’re standing on the wall, which you’re not strictly allowed to do, it’s incredibly romantic and melodramatic. I feel as if I’m in history, as I do at home in Somerset at the iron-age forts. 
"I like to imagine what it must have been like to be a Roman soldier. I was there last year and it was incredibly cold – I was wearing long johns. I walked along the top, around the bend, then took this picture. I’ve just had it made into a platinum print – it’s one of the most beautiful scenes."
For overseas readers, Hadrian's Wall was a defensive barrier built by the Roman Empire in the north of England from coast to coast and was, at the time, the furthest north they had ever penetrated. They took a look at the Scots, wet themselves at their appearance and barbarous nature (if you're in certain parts of Glasgow on a Saturday night you'll get the general idea - haha!) and decided to do a Trump.

We're not quite in blizzard country yet but the weather and the landscape are at last starting to turn in my direction. After weeks of driving around and taking a single exposure here one day and another there on a different day, I'm beginning to experience the old appetite being thoroughly whetted.

The photograph at the top of this post is a not too sharp iPhone file. I'd stopped the car to photograph Forter Castle* in the distance and I whipped out the iPhone so I'd have something to illustrate this post with. I liked the way the drystone dyke in the foreground led almost directly to the castle as did a couple of other strong lines and the hills on the left.

You might be relieved to know I also photographed this scene on my Contax 137MA fitted with the 50mm f1.4 Planar. TMax 400 was in the camera. The castle is very small in the frame but I remembered the way Fay Godwin often depicted the subjects of her photographs by placing them almost as secondary features within their environment rather than switching to a longer lens. The negative will probably show slightly tighter composition than the pic here as the iPhone 4 camera is nearer 40mm if I remember correctly. The digital file was converted to black and white in Lightroom, the highlights given a sepia tone and the edges burned - both of which I could do in the darkroom.

I haven't got round to developing the film yet but I've at least looked out all my developing bits and pieces. All I'm lacking is developer. I've still got the Firstcall Superfine brew I'd been using before my hiatus but it's knocking on a bit now so I'm inclined to order something fresh. Not sure what yet. Maybe more of the excellent Firstcall developer (it's the same as Amaloco's AM74 or Rollei RHS) or perhaps some good old ID11/D76 or even Xtol for something new. What's the local knowledge on getting the best out of TMax 400 negs anyway?

* In case anyone fancies a holiday away from it all, you can hire Forter Castle for holidays, weddings, etc. It also has quite a history.

Wednesday, August 10

Build That Wall!

It's been a funny old world at the home of The Online Darkroom this year. You'll obviously have noticed the dearth of posts. Well, it's been matched by a similar dearth in picture taking. I blame it all on our house move in November last year.

For several months before the move I'd been doing less photography and blog posting than normal, mainly because of the work involved in getting our old house looking its best before putting it on sale. The actual move was a lot more disruptive than I'd anticipated. My get-up-and-go, marginal at the best of times, went walkabout, got lost and apparently couldn't find its way back to our new home.

I sort of lost all interest in photography preferring instead to sit around on my fat arse reading political stuff on the iPad. "Creative work" was limited to DIY and painting and decorating. It didn't help that I had no darkroom up and running nor even a computer for scanning purposes. I think I managed to expose two 35mm rolls over about seven months - which I've yet to develop. There were a few false dawns when I thought I was getting the old image-making urge back again but to no avail.

This has, more or less, been the situation for me throughout 2016. Slowly it dawned on me that there was little point in waiting for something to happen: in the words of Captain Kirk's somewhat dodgy successor, I'd have to make it so. That's why I went online on Monday and ordered the timber and plasterboard for the partition wall I need to build to create a darkroom. The supplies should arrive tomorrow and I'll get cracking as soon as possible. Once the wall has been built I'm hoping my enthusiasm will start to return.

For some strange reason, Wickes couldn't deliver the two 3m lengths I need until next week (no problem delivering the 2.4m lengths or plasterboard this week) so I picked them up in the old Saab this morning instead. I was able to select good straight lengths which was just as well as most of the others could have been used to make hockey sticks with very little work. Many were twisted in three dimensions. Does the amount of time I had to spend sorting through them count as a fourth dimensional twist? Choice Canadian kiln-dried lumber my bottom: they were like off-cuts from the Corkscrew Hazel section of the local tree nursery.

I also bought some 35mm and 120 Tmax 400, the film I've decided to use to the exclusion of everything else apart from large format materials, to gee myself up a bit. I even sent the Rolleiflex SL66E off to have the tiny piece of metal lodged by the shutter curtains and rendering it useless removed so it's functional now. The Leica and associated lenses remain in need of a good service, though. With the intention of flogging off my two Billingham bags and a couple of other makes I no longer use, I picked up a Domke F-802 on Ebay only to find it has no inserts but it should be easy enough to sort something out there. The Billinghams are lovely but a pain in the neck to use.

So that's where I'm at. Hopefully, I'll start building the wall this week and begin the process of fitting it out next week. I've decided to add a sink - a first for a Robbins darkroom - so the services of a plumber will be required. It's not going to be the largest darkroom ever at about 9x5.5 feet but I'm hoping it will be very usable. I wouldn't say having the use of a darkroom is imminent but it's at least in the foreseeable future.

Oh, and I almost forgot. TRUMP 2016!

Wednesday, April 20

World Pinhole Photography Day

By David M.

World Pinhole Photography Day is almost here. It’s always held on the last Sunday in April and in 2016, that’s the 24th. A little bit of pinhole photography should be part of every serious photographer’s experience and WPPD is a little nudge in the right direction.

Almost all photographers have a comfort zone and tend to stay comfortably inside it. As we’ve mentioned zones, lets start with the LF brigade, perpetually agonising over highlight and shadow detail, the rendering of texture and the smoothness of tones. Fair enough, you may think, but they do bang on about the lovely wood grain and shiny brass work on their cameras, or the provenance of some ancient shutter or lens. You may well ask how all this gets onto the print.

Let’s look at other film-consuming photographers. Do we sometimes wonder if a little less reverence for the Leica might be healthy? Or less fiddling with miracle developers? How can it be that they seem to have unlimited stocks of outdated film? Why didn’t they shoot it when it was young?

What are we to say of DSLR users? We’ve all thought it. So much is done for them by the camera that soon, a drone-mounted DSLR will be programmable for say, Cartier-Bresson, Cindy Sherman or Martin Parr and sent out to do all the work by itself.

Finally, in this round-up, we must not forget the most popular camera of all – the all-conquering iPhone. But who, except the FBI, knows what goes on inside an iPhone?

Wouldn’t it be nice to do something simple for a change and to do it all for ourselves. Why not try doing it on April 24th and then send the results to the website. (http://pinholeday.orgThere are no prizes and no fees. You might find a group of photographers or an event near you. Perhaps you might like to look at to see the 3450 entries in 2015. It’s the most international thing that most of us will ever do.

Wednesday, March 9

Not another one...

I'm still lacking motivation, inspiration, imagination and probably many more words ending in "shun" when it comes to taking photographs - but I've still managed to buy another camera. Just now, I honestly feel more like a home for strays and waifs than a photographer. I can't seem to see an old film camera in a vulnerable position without wanting to give it shelter and some TLC.

This Minolta SRT101 and 58mm f1.4 MC Rokkor-PF cost me the grand total of £15 in a local charity shop. The previous owner had glued a hot shoe on top of the camera's cold shoe but I managed to remove it by squirting some solvent between the two using a syringe. The camera and lens were fairly grubby but have cleaned up nicely. The lens is in very good condition and the body works perfectly from what I can tell apart from the usual rotten seals. I've cleaned them up and will put new ones in as soon as I locate them - they're still in one of many boxes we've yet to unpack since moving.

I don't have a clue what I'm going to use the Minolta for but It's a good camera with a fine lens that deserves to be appreciated. It might make a good "night photography in dodgy areas of the city" camera. I could use it to beat off would-be attackers or, if they're bigger than me, let them run off with it. It came with a Hoya HMC skylight filter, lens hood, half case and a Super Paragon 28mm lens.

I can remember when the SRT101 with f1.4 lens would have cost around £200 - quite a substantial price for a very substantial camera. The 58mm lens is the least sharp of the fast Rokkor standards but it's still an excellent piece of glass. If I remember correctly, it has about the same depth of field wide open as a 50mm f1.2 lens so can be useful for throwing backgrounds out of focus. The bokeh is reputed to be nice as well.

Once the seals are good, I'll run a film through it and even if it doesn't see much use at least it won't take up much space sitting on a shelf in my camera cupboard.