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Monday, August 3

When 35mm is just too wide

For a few years now I've considered the 35mm focal length to be my standard lens whenever I was travelling light with just a camera slung over my shoulder. I'm not quite sure how that evolved since, like most people who grew up during the film era, the first few 35mm SLRs I bought came with 50mm lenses.

It began with an OM1 and a 50mm f1.4 Zuiko when I was 18 and was followed by just about every other good SLR from the '70s and '80s, all sporting the ubiquitous fifty. Being a "serious" photographer, it didn't take long before I started adding other focal lengths and a spare body but one camera/one lens outings invariably featured the 50mm.

Friday, July 31

An aid to Light and Shade?

It's the essence of photography, isn't it. Light and shade. Given the right quantities of each the subject matter is almost unimportant. It's what I've been concentrating on for the last six months or so with varying degrees of success.

As I've said before, it's not always easy to weigh up a scene and decide if there's likely to be an image left once the detail has been stripped away and there are only a few elements left in the picture. When looking through negatives of landscapes, it can be tricky deciding which one works and which one doesn't especially if there are some of those "marginal" (semi-failures would be another way to put it!) frames.

With the more graphic photographs I've found that the cut off point between good and bad is much more clearly delineated. I can almost have a quick glance at them and throw the marginal ones straight in the bin. But, while it's easy enough to see if I've been successful when looking at 2D negatives, viewing the 3D, detail-rich scene doesn't give me quite the same clarity.

Thursday, July 30

The Leica look - again

Hotel rest area

Even Leica diehards would probably agree that a lot of rubbish has been written about the so-called "Leica look". I should know because I've been guilty of it myself. It wouldn't be so bad if those who claimed mystical properties for some Leica lenses could put into words what they're seeing. But I don't recall reading anything convincing along those lines. 

Tuesday, July 28

Quarter Plate test.

Kodak Specialist II, 90mm Angulon, Fomapan 100

O.M.G., as Simon Cowell is fond of saying on the X Factor. Cutting up the 5x4 sheets to fit the quarter plate sheaths of the big Kodak Specialist 2 was a bloody nightmare! And here I was thinking I had it easy with a same size glass plate to use as a template…

Saturday, July 25

Quarter Plate, anyone?

The adapted DDS and quarter plate film sheaths.

I've had hardly any time recently to get properly acquainted with the second Kodak Specialist 2 to have occupied a space in my darkroom, a half plate camera that creates its own gravitational pull by virtue of its stupendous mass.

That's why I missed a wee collection of plate holders - more like film sheaths really - in the bottom of the Kodak's custom case. At first I wasn't sure why they were there and then I remembered that one of the two double dark slides that came with the camera was adapted for the quarter plate size.

Sure enough, I tried one of the sheaths in the quarter plate well in the DDS and it dropped neatly into place. That means there are six pre-loadable, quarter plate film sheaths in the outfit and I think I'll give them a try. Quarter plate measures 3.25x4.25 inches. Unlike half plate (4.75x6.5 inches) which is slightly bigger than half of a whole plate (6.5x8.5 inches), quarter plate is exactly that - a quarter of the size of whole plate.

The sheaths simply drop into the quarter plate well.

I've been looking at x-ray film for the half plate holders and have found a supply of 18x24cm film for a very good price. It would be £35 including delivery for 100 sheets which works out at 17.5p a half plate sheet (you get two half plate sheets from an 18x24cm) which I really can't complain about at all. Each 18x24cm sheet would also provide four quarter plate sheets which is an almost economical 9p per shot for a film size that isn't an awful lot smaller than 5x4.

What a cute outfit: The Specialist, 203mm Ektar, 90mm Angulon,
two DDS and film sheaths, lens hood, filters and the cloak of
darkness for viewing the ground glass all in a neat case.

The only slight problem is that, like all x-ray film apart from that used in mammography and industry, it's coated with emulsion on both sides. This has two drawbacks: it's easier to scratch the back side of the sheet when processing it and the double image builds contrast quite quickly so a soft-working developer is required. The usual advice when tray processing the film is to put a sheet of glass in the bottom of the developing tray to protect the underside emulsion. I'm going to ask the supplier if they have any single coated film.

In the meantime I think I'll pinch six sheets of 5x4 Adox CHS 100 II from a box I have in the fridge and cut them down to fit the quarter plate holders. It's a bit of a waste but you know what it's like when you get a new camera and are keen to try it out.

Being just sheaths rather than proper dark slides, I'll have to put them in a black plastic bag once loaded and use a changing bag to fit them into the adapted half plate holder when out "in the field". It'll be a faff but it's workable.

The Kodak outfit came with a 203mm f7.7 Kodak Ektar lens - an excellent lens that covers half plate with a little to spare - and a 90mm f6.8 Angulon that barely has enough coverage for 5x4 but is good for the smaller quarter plate size. The pair, equivalent to around 35mm and 70mm lenses on the 35mm format, are all I'd ever need for quarter plate with this camera.

I've even got a couple of glass plates in the quarter plate size which I can use as a template when cutting the 5x4 film. That'll save a lot of fiddling around in the darkroom! With our house now on the market and much of my darkroom/photography gear boxed and packed away, it's going to be quite a while before I can get any enlarging done so scans will be the order of the day for weeks to come.

We have our eyes on a small house about 15 miles away that has an attic space suitable for conversion into a darkroom but it would be a lot of work and could mean that it might well be late autumn or even winter before I'm in a position to do any printing. Looks like a hybrid workflow for me for the foreseeable future.

You might also like:

Return of the Kodak Specialist
Kodak Specialist 2 Unboxing
Kodak Specialist Half Plate: First Outing

Tuesday, July 21

More "shapes and tones"

Sorry about the posting hiatus. I was a bit burnt out after the decorating/DIY and couldn't get myself motivated. Before I knew it, a week off turned into a fortnight. One reader thought to ask in an email if I was OK but in a follow up suggested I should have said I was taking a holiday to save him checking the blog in vain most days. Not sure if it was my welfare or his own he was concerned about!

Sunday, July 5

Return of the Kodak Specialist

The Kodak Specialist or one of the alien tripod machines from
War of the Worlds?

Back in December, 2013, I won a half plate, British-made Kodak Specialist, a lovely old studio camera, at auction. I was quite smitten by it but, apart from a few paper negs to test the bellows, it never burned any film.

I had a stack of double dark slides in the half plate size for it but I think only Ilford in their once a year custom large format film run would be able to supply it with material. That meant it would have been necessary to buy 5x7 film and trim it to fit.

With one thing and another - including the fact that it's a big, heavy beast - I never actually took it outside at all. Early this year, when I was considering a deal for the Leica outfit I've been writing about in The Leica Diaries, the chap who had the outfit wanted to include the big Kodak as part of the deal. Since I wasn't using it, I reluctantly parted with it.

Then a few weeks ago, a Kodak Specialist owner stumbled upon my blog whist looking for information about his camera. He got in touch to say he was hoping to find a good home for it. Well, I couldn't resist and ended up buying the outfit myself.

Thursday, July 2


You'll have noticed that I've posted hardly any photographs in recent weeks having had to spend most of my time redecorating our home before putting it on the market. Finally, thank God, it's at an end and I can return to the important things in life - photography and, er, photography.

I had a couple of frames left in a film that had been sitting in a Nikon F90x for a while so I thought I'd take a photograph to celebrate the end of the DIY. I've been painting, sawing, filling, shelving, etc and had a few subjects around the house that would have fitted the bill.

Then I saw the shirt I'd been putting on almost every day for the past five weeks lying crumpled on the bedroom floor and decided to promote it from smelly rag to DIY icon. I'm a somewhat messy painter, it has to be said, and very likely to leave dollops of paint on whatever surface I happen to be passing at that moment.

I also get it all over my hands - hence the white dabs on the front of the shirt where I've been wiping my fingers on a daily basis. It's hanging against our bedroom door, one of about 17 that I've painted. If it looks as if it's a little F.B. (full-bodied), that's because it is. Some would say the F.B. stands for something else and I'm really not in a position to argue.

The funny thing is that I started off hating the decorating and ended up quite enjoying it. Well, to be honest, I enjoyed the last part where there were some jobs to be done involving wood and power tools. There's nothing like the threat of amputation by the crazed, violent blade of a circular saw to get the testosterone flowing.

Next week, I'll feed the M2 and see where my "photographic vision" takes me. But, for now, it's enough that I can sit down and watch Wimbledon without feeling guilty.

Tuesday, June 30

The Power of Split Grade Printing and Post Flashing

Some readers who frequent the Film and Darkroom Users' Group (FADU) may have seen this article on split grade printing by photographer Les McLean. If you haven't and want a detailed introduction to this particular technique then this post is for you. Les kindly gave me his permission to republish it here. Sometimes darkroom techniques can seem a bit of a palaver but they're worth it when you arrive at a print like the one below. So if you haven't tried split grade printing or post flashing then I hope this encourages you to give them a go. Many thanks to Les for his generosity.

Thanks also to David M. for reminding me about this article. While I've been redecorating my home, David has been getting through coffee by the gallon sitting in front of his laptop and sending me info, web links and suggestions for posts. It's been a huge help as I've had hardly any time over the past few weeks to think of things to write. Next time I'm down your way, David, I'll treat you to a sarsaparilla.

Finally, if you haven't joined FADU then please consider doing so. They're a great bunch of people and very friendly and helpful. You can register here.

The Power of Split Grade Printing and

Post Flashing

By Les McLean

The development of simple split grade printing has given traditional darkroom workers the ability to quickly and consistently produce high quality prints from well exposed and developed negatives. However, for various reasons, we don’t always get it right at the exposure and development stages, resulting in a less than satisfactory negative.

In the days of graded papers, making a fine print from such a negative could be a struggle and could sometimes end up in having to accept compromise, for the final image that was put on the paper tended not to live up to the original visualisation. Controlling the contrast in the negative is key to making the best possible print but when we mess up in making the negative it is the contrast that suffers, either too much or too little is usually the result.

For many years I considered high negative contrast to be an enemy but in the early 90’s the introduction of good quality variable contrast paper gave me, and all printers, an extremely valuable tool in this battle with contrast.

Sunday, June 28

The "decline" of film photography

“Employee Darkroom Area, Building 9, Kodak Canada,
Toronto 2009”

Here's a sad little item - not new but new to me and possibly some readers. It's a feature charting the decline of film photography through the closure of various manufacturing facilities and labs. Sometimes in quieter moments I think back to what film was like in its heyday and realise how much we've lost. This article, with 5x4 pictures courtesy of Canadian photographer Robert Burley, evokes similar emotions.

“Implosions of Buildings 65 and 69, Kodak Park, Rochester,
New York [#1] OCTOBER 6, 2007”

It's not just materials that have disappeared but the manufacturing capability. Let's face it, the plant being used to produce today's film stock isn't going to last for ever and once it's worn out it's never going to be replaced. It's possible that there are enough spare parts out there to keep some of the machines ticking over for years or decades to come but  …

Anyway, the feature is well worth a look and you'll find it here. Sensitive types might like to have a hanky or two to hand.