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Monday, December 5

Yet another darkroom update



I know, I know. When's the bloody thing going to be finished? I can't say I'm working flat out but it is getting there. The US presidential election was a major distraction. Not just the final run-in, either. I was addicted for many months. I have a policy of not talking politics on the blog as I know people get fed up being force-fed that sort of diet when they just want to read about photography. So, unlike Mike Johnston at The Online Photographer, who likes to tell everyone about his politics whether they want to hear it or not, you'll be getting nothing like that from me regardless of how tempting it may be.

And back to the darkroom! The pic above is of the left wall as you enter the room. That's the Leica IC and the Paterson/Philips PCS 130 looking quite handsome in a soft, overhead beauty light. The IC will be used with graded paper, probably Ilford's Galerie, and the PCS, which handles 35mm to 6x6 (6x7 with the right condenser which I don't have), with multigrade.


On the opposite wall is the Durst L1200 for anything from 35mm up to 5x4 and the Hasselblad Xpan format should I ever manage to get one of those. I've come close to an Xpan on two occasions. About ten years back after weighing up the pros and cons of getting a Pentax K10 DSLR or the Xpan and a couple of lenses, I put in a bid for the latter on Ebay and won. The seller reneged so I went ahead and bought the K10D.

Then a few years ago, an elderly photographer friend who had an Xpan but liked to buy the latest, top-of-the-line Canon DSLR, said he was thinking about trading the Hasselblad in for a high-tech plastic thingy. I said I'd happily match or beat the trade-in offer and he said he'd keep me in mind. As it was, he forgot all about me when it came to getting the DSLR and went ahead with the trade-in. So two close shaves but no cigar. 


I was going to keep the Ic, the PCS 130 and the V35 in the darkroom and sell the L1200 but I had a rethink and have relegated the V35 to the camera cupboard. If I decide to abandon 5x4 altogether at some point then I'll get rid of the big Durst and the V35 might see the light of day again.

You'll be astonished to learn that I've also got far too much darkroom equipment, the result of winning local auctions for lots that come with the item I want and sometimes lots of stuff I don't want into the bargain. For instance, I've got 13 developing tanks, probably at least the same number of measuring cylinders, ten paper safes, seven safelights and two identical, wooden-based, paper guillotines. Most of it will need to go as I'm rapidly running out of space.

Above is a view through the open door into the darkroom. To the left and right are the worktops you can see in the first two pics. The sink I'll be building will fit in against the far wall and between the worktops. I think it'll work out quite well but, as ever, it won't be until it's all up and running that I'll be able to say for certain.

It's certainly not a spacious room but is bigger than it appears in these iPhone pics. I know Phil Rogers would like to be able to print without having to kneel down so there's no way I'm complaining.

Thursday, December 1

Get to the chopper!


Recent iphone snap purely for decoration.

I was going to use Schwarzenegger's famous catchphrase "I'm back" for this post title but it was a bit obvious so this, I suppose, is me being enigmatic. Haha. Anyway, as they used to say at the BBC, we apologise for the break in transmission.

Righting the wrong that caused the blog to crash was straightforward enough once I'd gained access to my domain name settings. I'll try to make sure it doesn't happen again. It was quite humbling actually to hear from the number of people who hoped that nothing untoward had happened to me when they couldn't view the site at www.theonlinedarkroom.com. Thank you for your concern and good wishes.

Blogs, blogging and the people we come to know through writing and reading make for strange bedfellows, don't they? All but a handful of those who read the blog are known to me only as a name in the comments field or the occasional email and yet it's slightly troubling for readers when they think a website may have disappeared for good. It's not like losing a limb or anything but it's a little unsettling and disappointing. I know the feeling well myself having clicked to visit some websites over the years only to find that they'd gone forever. I suppose it's like a favourite magazine ceasing publication or, perhaps, a much-liked newspaper columnist retiring.

But, before you all start reaching for the sick bag, I'll leave this mawkishness behind and simply finish with the news that TOD is back to normal. Whatever that might mean...

Wednesday, November 16

TOD Domain name cock-up


Apologies for a brainfart that has resulted in the domain name, www.theonlinedarkroom.com, expiring. If you're reading this then you'll know that the blog can be viewed in exactly the same way at this blogger.com url. Nothing's changed - except for the fact that people who normally visit the earlier domain name are now getting an error message.

The explanation is simple but doesn't excuse my oversight at all. When I registered www.theonlinedarkroom.com I did so using an email address that I no longer have. The registration expired on November 11 and, no doubt, I'd have been sent a reminder message telling me to renew. Obviously, I didn't get it and, consequently, forgot about the expiry date.

It's proving a bit of a problem resurrecting the domain name. What should have been a fairly straightforward process is proving quite difficult for a couple of reasons I won't go into. At the end of the day, it makes very little difference what the url is as the blog looks exactly the same regardless. I might just continue using this blogspot.com address.

Letting my regular readers know about change is the issue. I dare say that people would find their way back here at their own speed but it would be good if everyone reading this could pass the news onto a friend if he or she is also a reader.

So, with that admission out of the way, it's business as usual - at least for the half dozen readers I have left!

Wednesday, November 9

Century old glass plates

I found this post under the "drafts" column in the Blogger software that I use to write stuff. I must have written it last year and forgotten all about it. So I thought I'd resurrect it here. I sometimes buy old glass plates at local auctions in the hope that there might be a few gems from early last century. This one was close but I'm still looking...



The Woodman's Arms

I enjoyed a spot of detective work recently after picking up a set of quarter plate glass negatives amongst some stuff I bought at a local auction. The negatives were in nice condition and some of them were sharp and well-exposed - not always the case with old glass plates in my limited experience.

They were, however, no good to me and would just have taken up space in the darkroom or a drawer somewhere in the house so I decided to sell them*, figuring that they'd be worth more if I could actually identify the buildings or people they depicted. But where to start?

The first thing was to scan the negs on my decrepit old Epson scanner to see what was on them. The best clue - the only one I think - to their place of origin was the title of a pub in one of the photographs, The Woodman's Arms. That's it at the top of the post and an enlarged section below.


A quick Google search found lots of pubs of that name but none that looked like the one in question. So I added the landlord's name, Alex Watson, to the search and bingo! I found this reference on a forum:
The Mrs. Watson to whom you refer was my grandmother, Emma Day Watson, who, with her husband, Alec Watson, bought the Woodman’s Arms from the Gibside estate in 1904. The pub burned down in 1927 and was rebuilt by her husband who was a carpenter/builder.
So it appeared very likely the pub was on the Gibside Estate - but where was that? Back to google and this from Wikipedia:
Gibside is an estate in the Derwent Valley, between Rowlands Gill, Tyne and Wear and Burnopfield, North East England. Gibside was previously owned by the Bowes-Lyon family. It is now a National Trust property. The main house on the estate is now a shell, although the property is most famous for its chapel. The stables, walled garden and Banqueting House are also intact.
Oooh! The Bowes-Lyons had a famous family member - the Queen Mother. So it must have been a sizable estate. A further search revealed that George Bowes and his family created the buildings and landscaped gardens at Gibside with a fortune amassed through mining the coal seams on his land.

He was one of the most important business tycoons in the north-east of England in the mid-18th century - and there was a lot of competition, believe me - and owned more than 40 collieries in the area. Yet more research revealed that George Bowes was the present Queen's great-great-great-great-great-grandfather.

Were any of the other photographs related to the estate? It turned out some were. It wasn't too difficult spotting the similarities between the two pics below. one old and the other new. That's the estate's "banqueting hall".



Not quite the same situation with the Woodsman's Arms, though. That's the pub below, as it is now, and it bears hardly any resemblance to the original. It's been added to and "developed" over the years - and then there was the fire as well. The original, I've read, is in there somewhere!


The best plates were of the people associated with either the pub or the estate - it's difficult to know for sure. The one below is a cracker.



Gibside House was once one of the most important mansions in the country but it's sadly been derelict for decades. Although a firm of consulting engineers, BT Bell, have been drawing up plans for its restoration, these projects cost a fortune and I can't ever see the house being returned to its former glory or anything even close to it. Take a look at the condition it's in now and think what it must have been like in the 18th century. As it stands, it reminds me of Manderley after the fire from the book, Rebecca. The book has one of the best opening lines ever, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

Gibside House as it is now. Pic from the BT Bell website

Sadly, it's a fact that many of these vast fortunes were built on the misery of working people who were paid very little and had to endure pretty grim conditions, whether in mills or down mines. I've never been able to understand the greed of these tycoons. I'm all for enterprise and building fortunes but surely there must come a time when enough is enough. George Bowes could probably have doubled the wages of his workers, making a huge difference to their lives in the process and earning their goodwill, and still have been incredibly wealthy.

And yet, it's uncomfortably true that practically everything in the country worth looking at from the "built environment" point of view is only there because of the excesses of these businessmen and others like them who truly were rich beyond the dreams of avarice.

* My avaricious dreams were more modest but I was pleased that the plates sold to someone in the Gibside area and earned enough for about ten rolls of film.

Sunday, November 6

Giant paper test* at FADU




Marty from the Netherlands has printed the same negative onto 23 different types of paper and posted the results in an album at the Film and Darkroom Users' group. You have to be a FADU member to view the album but it's free to join and they're a great bunch of people who don't engage in the snarkiness or one-upmanship that can be found at some other forums.

It's well worth taking the time to check out Marty's test just to see the different tones that are achievable depending on the paper type. Some are far too warm for my taste, it has to be said. I like the look of Ilford Galerie the most but there are others that are attractive, too. I've included a few of them here to whet your appetite.

There's a forum thread about the test as well which anyone can read here - no sign-up required.


 



* That's a giant test of paper and not a test of giant paper in case you're wondering. :)

Wednesday, November 2

What is a camera collector anyway?


Iphone pic of my wee collection

It's true that I have far too many film cameras but I've never actually been a "collector" in the real sense. I'd never dream of getting a display cabinet and arranging cameras according to type, date, etc, not that there's anything at all wrong with that. And yet, I seem to have developed a collection of mainly 1960s Pentax screw mount cameras and lenses.

It's a collection in the sense that I've only ever put one film through any of the bodies so they're just sitting there "displayed" in a McDonald's cardboard fries box (it's the box that's cardboard: the fries just taste that way) behind a couch. We used the McDonald's boxes for packing stuff when we moved house since they're freely available if you ask nicely and more robust than the bona fide packing boxes you can buy.

The other night, for no good reason, I decided to have a look through the box at what I had and was surprised it was so much. It all started a few years ago (as most tales do) when I bought a cheap - about £15 if I remember correctly - Pentax S1a body and standard lens. The lens was fine but the body had a shutter fault. I bought another £10 body, a black SV, from the same website but it also had a shutter fault. Determined to cock a snook* at the famous quote about insanity usually attributed to Einstein, I bought another cheapo SV body and this one finally worked.

The black SV is a lovely-looking camera

At some stage I also bought a 135mm Auto-Takumar and a 35mm Auto Takumar - possibly off Ebay, can't remember for sure but again for peanuts - and had a nice little outfit. I fixed the seals on the SV, tried it out and was quite pleased with the results. Being meter-less, it was never the first camera I picked up when heading out the door but I liked the 35mm f3.5 lens in particular so bought an adapter so I could use it on the Pentax MX and then another one that worked with Contax SLR bodies.

That was it until earlier this year when a very nice and generous guy on the Film and Darkroom Users Group was giving away a book about the SV. A p.m. to him and the book was soon headed my way. It was followed by an email asking me if I wanted his Pentax screw equipment which he no longer had a use for. He wouldn't accept any payment for it but wanted it to go to someone who would give it a good home so that ended up in my hands as well. I remember him saying, "I've had good use out of it and it owes me nothing at all".

It comprised of an SV with a mirror that was stuck up and 24mm f3.5, 28mm f3.5, 35mm f3.5, 50mm f1.4, 85mm f1.8 and 135mm f3.5 Takumar lenses, all in lovely condition. A few of the lenses have somewhat sticky aperture blades but I'll get them working again OK once my repair kit turns up from wherever it's hiding. A seized mirror seems to be a common complaint on the old M42 Pentaxes according to the internet but the recommended fix wasn't applicable in this case. After removing the base plate and spending a while looking carefully at everything and comparing the various functions with my operational SV, I got the mirror back down again.

The camera also had a shutter fault but some tweaking of the shutter curtain tensions rectified that so the SV was usable once more. With the knowledge gained, I got my non-working black SV out and managed to sort that as well. All three cameras could probably do with a service to get them working as smoothly as when they were new but, at least, they are now all functioning well enough.

I think they're suffering from the SLR equivalent of hardening of the arteries - "lubrico sclerosis"®. The oil and grease inside starts to gum up, slowing everything down. Increasing the shutter tension overcomes this but it's a dodgy fix at best as putting too much strain on the curtain tension shortens the life of the shutter mechanism. The answer is to have the old gunk cleaned out and newer, better lubricants applied. Two of the cameras also need their rear seals replacing, though, and that's something I'll do as soon as I can find my seals repair kit. There are so many things I can't lay my hands on that I sometimes think this house we're now in is a holiday home for The Borrowers.

You might be wondering why I'd bother with old M42 gear but the fact is that these are beautiful cameras and lenses to use, not just to look at. I've written in the past that a nice SV feels a little like a Leica rangefinder in use. Everything is well-machined and built to last. They're smooth-handling, too. The viewfinders are a little dim and the eye-point isn't very high but the ground glass fresnel focusing screens snap in and out of focus very well.

I'm looking forward to shooting a few rolls using the various Takumar lenses. The wide angles, from what I've read, seem to be OK but nothing to write home about. They're sharp in the centre but soft around the edges. The 50mm f1.4 and 85mm f1.8 do seem to be a bit special. The 85mm promises the smoothest, creamiest out-of-focus-areas imaginable whilst the 50mm has long been known as a sharp operator.

What I could really do with are the appropriate lens hoods and caps for all the lenses. If anyone has one or more available for a reasonable price then please get in touch. Now, if only I could lay my hands on that display cabinet...

* Just out of curiosity, I tried to find the origins of this phrase but it seems nobody really knows for sure.

Saturday, October 29

Good old D76


Well, after my usual bout of procrastination I finally sent off for some developer. I ended up buying it through Ebay as the postal charges at the likes of AG Photographic, Silverprint and Firstcall ended up almost doubling the price of the chemicals. I can understand that these companies don't want the hassle of having to deal with different postage costs for smaller or cheaper items and that it can be different fitting a wide range of shipping costs into a "shopping cart" system but, still...

When a £4.98 litre of D76 - we're talking about dry chemicals weighing not a lot - ends up costing just short of a tenner at AG Photographic when delivered to my home or 500ml of Firstcall's own developer, priced at £9.49, works out at £17.50 with postage then  I think the companies should be trying to do something about it. For the D76, that would work out at £1.66 (!) per 35mm roll of film at 1+1 and 72p per film for the Firstcall dev.

Incidentally, the Firstcall developer has shot up in price over the last year or so but the company explained to me that it's the result of the brew effectively doubling in strength so it now goes twice as far as it used to. That may be the case but it used to be around £5 for a litre and is now £9.50 for 500mls so it doesn't account for all of the increase. And the price is about to go up again in November probably as a result of the weak pound v the Euro.

I'm not sure why all of these photographic chemicals are so expensive to start with. The going rate for the dry chemicals that make up a litre of D76 at most photographic dealers is about four times that of a litre of petrol - and think of the processes involved in producing that!

I'm not trying to single anyone out here as all the dealers are the same. They don't have high shipping prices on purpose but just as a result of trying to make everything available for purchase through their cart systems. That's why I turned to Ebay. There isn't a huge selection of developers on offer but at least the postage charges are reasonable. In the end, I decided to just go with D76 and picked up a 3.8 litre pack for £9 including postage (40p per 35mm roll at 1+1).

The same developer and postage at AG would have set me back £12.43, £13.43 at Silverprint and just short of £19 at Firstcall. There may be some dealers out there who can do better than this but I haven't found them yet. Obviously I'd have preferred to have supported photographic dealers who still support film but I think they have to do more to support us as well.

D76, from my "exhaustive research" on the issue, isn't the "best" developer for the Tmax 400 I'm using but I think it's so good that the differences would be very difficult to see unless in direct comparisons involving large prints. There was another reason as well, though: I have a roll of Eastman Double X 5222 to develop - and just try getting a time for that in Firstcall Superfine! Fortunately, there are dev times out there for D76 for just about every film ever made.

So the developer should be here early next week and if I can clear my diary (Do you mean "get the finger out"? - Ed) then I might even be in a position to post some photographs on my photography blog. Fancy that!

Tuesday, October 25

One camera, one lens - for and against


Crail

The answer, it seems, to my complaints about being weighed down by heavy gear and tripods was simple, obvious and cheap. Or so it would appear from the comments. Instead of being overburdened by the tools of the trade, I should leave some lenses and the tripod behind and go out with just one camera and a single lens.

This is something I regularly do already if I'm walking around in town or taking photographs for which a standard - or at least just one - lens is likely to be perfectly suitable. And that's really the key to this issue: there's not much point in just sticking to one lens if you think you're going to need more.

There may be photographers who are happy with one lens on a "photographic outing" but I'm definitely not one of them. Take my most recent trip to the Fife fishing village of Crail. I took just three photographs on the SL66E - one with the 40mm, one with the 80mm and one with the 250mm. I needed the lenses for different reasons and not just because I wanted to switch focal lengths for the fun of it.

The wide angle shot - the 40mm Distagon is roughly equivalent to a 24mm lens on the 35mm format - was of randomly-shaped stones set into the road surface. I went in close with the 40mm to emphasise the stones and included some of the village houses in the background.

The 80mm was used to frame the harbour and its houses. The wide angle was too wide for that shot. The 250mm photograph was of the distant Isle of May. The long lens was needed to get a big enough image of the island on the frame. Here are a few old digital shots, taken on a dull day about eight years ago, to put you in the picture.




When photographing the beech trees I mentioned in the previous post, I used the 40mm and 80mm lenses. I would have used the 150mm as well for one shot but couldn't find a vantage point clear of overhanging branches.

A total of six shots wasn't much of a return from two outings but it was still three times as many as I'd have taken with just the 80mm on the camera. When I'm using 35mm equipment my shooting style is exactly the same. A "normal" outfit consists of 28mm, 50mm and 100/135mm lenses. Sometimes I use a 24mm in place of the 28mm. This 28/50/135 outfit is for landscape-type shots. If I was wandering about in a big city then I might just settle for a 50mm as it can be a pain switching lenses in a town.

So for those readers who suggested one lens only at the end of my last post, then I'm afraid that's just a non-starter. David M suggested a Mamiya TLR with its interchangeable lenses. I had one of those 30 years ago and gave it up because it was too heavy! David's suggestion of a carbon Gitzo tripod would save a few pounds but they're hellishly expensive. I have a nice Induro tripod that weighs 6lbs - the Benbo is 10lbs. The Gitzo traveller that would seem to be suitable for an SL66E weighs about 4lbs. So a saving, yes, and better than nothing but less than 10% overall. Another reader, Frank, who's struggled with the same problem that's bothering me, came up with an interesting idea - the Fuji GA645Zi. That's it below.


The name sort of rang a bell but I had to google it to find out what it did. It's a 6x4.5cm camera with a 55mm-90mm zoom lens, about the same as a 35mm-55mm lens on the small format. It seems to be very good at doing what it does and is well worth a closer look.

The zoom range isn't massive but it's handy for shooting in woods and for general landscape work. It would also be great for the "flaneur" type of photography on city streets. It weighs just under 2lbs which is a fraction of what I was lugging around on the two trips I mentioned above. Aside from the 10lb Benbo, the SL66E outfit tipped the scales at 18lbs. The three Rolleis idea from the previous post would weigh in at around 9 lbs. Not particularly lightweight I suppose but less than just the Benbo on its own.

There's a certain reluctance to part with the SL66E not least because it was a 50th birthday present. It's a fantastic camera and the lenses are superb but I'm just not feeling it anymore. It's all becoming too much of a trauchle*. The total of 28lbs I was carrying around is about the same as a set of golf clubs.

Wandering about on slippery rocks in the harbour at low tide with this outfit was not a lot of fun, to be honest. I kept wishing I had my OM2 or, even better, the Leica M2 with me instead. I think most of us use medium and larger formats for the extra quality that's apparent in prints courtesy of the nice, big negatives. Side-by-side, 35mm negs look pretty dinky in comparison. But I'm not going to be making big prints in future and 35mm might well be just fine so why the need for the larger negatives?

I've been using medium format for more than 30 years but I still consider myself to be a 35mm photographer. I think it's probably time now to just accept that fact and concentrate on the smaller format. Making a permanent switch to 35mm more compelling is the fact that I've been experiencing a lot of aches and pains, mostly coming from my back.

I won't be making any hasty decisions, however. First of all, I want to get the darkroom up and running and make some prints from my Leica Tmax 400 negs using my chosen enlarger and lens. I'll evaluate them to see if I'm happy. After that, I'll decide what to do. As well as the SL66E, my 5x4 Speed Graphic and the big 5x7 Kodak Specialist Model 2 will probably be shown the door. If I can't be bothered totting the Rollei then I'm not going to fair much better with the large format leviathans.

And the Crail photographs? Well, another roll finished and added to the "to be developed" pile so nothing to show yet. The pic at the top of the post is an iPhone photo taken by my talented other half, Cath. A quick duotone in Lightroom and it looks great. Handy things these Apple devices. And perhaps a good argument for the one camera, one lens proponents!

* A good Scottish noun
1. work or a task that is tiring, monotonous, and lengthy

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.