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Monday, November 19

More format thoughts



One of the (many) challenging things as you grow older is dealing with deteriorating eyesight. I've been quite short-sighted since my pre-teen days but have never found that much of a problem beyond my glasses preventing me from seeing the whole viewfinder with some SLRs and all 35mm rangefinders. For about 25 years I wore contact lenses but can't be bothered with the hassle nowadays, especially since giving up squash which was my main reason for wearing them, fearing a wild swing by a playing partner might shatter them and cause me real eyesight problems.

The eye issue that's bugging me just now is the one of "floaters", those annoying shadowy shapes that float in and out of a person's direct point of focus. Normally, they're only rarely a nuisance and mostly go unseen. Lately, though, I have a particularly annoying one that seems to delight in settling on the point of focus of my dominant right eye. It's annoying enough that I've started to use my left eye when looking through the grain magnifier during printing.

I can usually get it to shift by moving my eyeball around but then run the risk of being called a swivel-eyed loon! So, rather than having people casting aspersions on my mental health, I went for the line of least resistance and have started using the old Nikon F90x with two autofocus lenses, the 35mm f2 AF-D and the 85mm f1.8 AF-D.

I think I've mentioned in the past what a high quality and versatile combination this outfit is and recent use has only confirmed that. If 35mm in general is easy and convenient then AF and matrix metering is doubly so. I know there will be a couple of large format practitioners (naming no names - the guilty know who they are) wondering if the F90x came with a McDonald's Happy Meal or from the bankrupt stock of Toys were Us but, as Father Ted might have said, I'm all out of fecks.

Photography, in my opinion, is about enjoying the process whilst striving for an image that matches or exceeds the visualisation made at the taking stage. I can achieve that to my own satisfaction with toy cameras like the F90x and LF would probably just increase the number of pointless, bland but technically superb photographs I'd take.

Of course, there are some photographs you need an LF camera for (architectural photography and, eh, architectural photography) but there are also many others that suit a 35mm SLR much more so. In fact, the pic at the top of this post was really only possible because I had an AF, matrix metering machine in my hand. I say "hand" because it was raining quite heavily the day I took it and there was no way I would have been standing out in that weather setting up a tripod with the Speed Graphic or SL66e on board.

However, having slotted the 85mm on the toy camera, I was able to venture outside with an umbrella in my left hand and the camera in my right confident that the AF would do its job just fine and the matrix metering would deliver the goods with no weird lighting to screw it up. And so it proved.

This has become one of my favourite photographs of the Perthshire village of Clunie, a regular childhood haunt of mine and one that I returned to again and again as an adult when I had a family of my own. The main attraction for me is the plethora of chestnut trees - our family have always been "conker" enthusiasts. Here's a bit of boring trivia: the chestnuts this year were the biggest I've encountered.

We used to have a wee competition to see who could find the biggest one so I know from previous years that 22g-23g is about as heavy as they normally get. Somewhat sadly now that our kids have all flown the nest, there was only Cath and I enjoying the sweet autumn air at Clunie this year so the fact that I picked up a 28g conker was a bit of a Pyrrhic victory. Still, a record is a record and one to tell the grandchildren about when our brood can stop working and playing long enough to actually get down to obeying the biological imperative.

The film for the Clunie shot, as for the others scanned and presented here, was Tmax 100, rated at an ISO of 200 (this is where all you "EI" nitpickers can jump in. Haha) and developed in ID11 1+1.  I didn't give it the recommended time (can't remember what that is now but probably around 11' 30" to 12') but agitated normally for 11' and then let it stand for 2' 30". That's a favourite method of Phil Rogers and a very handy tip as the resultant negs were just about spot on from my point of view.


Next up is The White Line. It was taken on the same miserable day as Clunie and was another hastily-grabbed shot but without the protection of an umbrella. The neg has plenty of shadow detail but I felt it needed to be quite dark to highlight the line and the wet tarmac. I'm not quite sure that I'd print it as dark as it it here.


Stepladder was a charming scene I stumbled across on Auchtermuchty Common in Fife. It's almost as I found it but not quite. The problem was that the stepladder was much closer to the tree trunk and actually overlapped part of it. There was so much undergrowth all around that I couldn't find a spot from which I could take a shot showing good separation between the ladder and tree. I eventually ended up moving the ladder closer to the camera position and still had to stand in amongst a thicket of brambles and tall weeds to get the shot.


The shot of the reflected telephone pole appealed to me because of the reflection in the big puddle and also the two fence posts mirrored in the smaller puddle. It's pretty standard fare for me, to be honest, with all the elements I like such as a little mist/drizzle, surface water and general dreichness.

All three of the photographs after Clunie were made with the 35mm lens and I've just realised the final one of Luthrie Church wasn't taken on the 85mm as I led you to believe at the start of the post but on a 70-210 Nikkor AF zoom. I'd forgotten about that.


Luthrie Church is yet another reminder for me why I prefer 35mm to other formats. Apart from the telephone pole shot, I wouldn't have taken any of the others had I been totting the Sl66e or a large format camera - the two rainy day shots because of the weather and the stepladder one because of the heavy undergrowth around the shooting position.

Luthrie Church was another 35mm only photo - at least for me. Aside from the fact that it was shot around the 150mm mark, it was another where the shooting position was key. The important bit of the photograph was the four spires and their relationship to the background. The spot where I'd parked the car - it was to the right of where I ended up taking the shot - gave me a good vantage point but the spires were somewhat lost in amongst the trees.

I had to walk about 100 yards down the road and through more tall - and wet - weeds on the verge to get to a sloping spot leading down to a fence. I was able to balance the F90x on a fence post which was just as well as the shutter speed was 1/60th. Again, there was really no place to set up a tripod and, with an LF camera, I don't think I'd have been carrying the 5x4 equivalent of a 150mm lens anyway.

I suppose, had I been in my 20s and a bit more adventurous, I might have tried taking the photographs in this post with the SL66e or the Speed Graphic, putting up with a soaking in the rain or possibly hacking away at weeds and brambles with the tripod legs to carve out a viable shooting position but I doubt it. The fact is that it's taken me far too long to realise that I'm a 35mm SLR man. I like the versatility of the 35mm SLR, the range of lenses, the convenience, the portability, etc. The rest is far too much like a really scratchy hair shirt for my liking.

Thursday, November 1

A few prints from a special camera

I love a good, muddy field!

MILD SEXISM ALERT - liberal snowflakes look away now.


The arrival of Autumn heralds many different things. In my house, it seems to bring with it the urge to go back into the darkroom which I'm sure was never nature's intention.

Don't know about you but I've always found it difficult to disappear into a blackened room when it's sunny and warm outside. But now that the weather has turned a 1/60th at f4 it seems the most natural thing in the world.

It's coincided with my ongoing effort to organise my chaotic piles of negative sheets. I hate filing so this isn't a job that will be over any time soon but sorting through the negs has reminded me that there are a lot that I've never printed, albeit you've probably seen most of them here as negative scans.

A snowy scene in the Angus countryside from a couple of winters ago.

It became apparent to me as I held sheet after sheet up to the light box that some negatives looked particularly nice. In the same way that some women can reduce a man's knees to jelly with a "come hither" glance, they had that "come print me" look.

That doesn't mean that they were anything special from an "image" point of view (in the same way that the sexiest women aren't always the most beautiful) but they definitely invited some canoodling in the darkroom.

And then I started noticing a theme: many of these desirable negs had a tiny triangle of exposed emulsion breaking out of the 36x24mm picture area into the surrounding "rebate". You can see this in the small breaks in the borders of the prints posted here. One or two readers might, at this stage, be going, "Aaahh." Most will be wondering what I'm on about. For the uninitiated, that tiny triangle identifies the camera as a Konica Hexar AF.

For a reason unknown to me, Konica decided to put a small knick in the film gate of the Hexar AF so that a millimetre or two of surrounding rebate would be exposed at the taking stage. There are a few cameras that have such identifying marks, including some Hasselblads and the Fuji 6x9, but it's not a common feature. I've read all sorts of theories as to why some camera manufacturers did this from helping resolve copyright disputes to allowing the film to expand a little rather than buckling slightly under certain adverse conditions. Who really knows.

If you're brave, you can add it to a camera by judicious use of a jeweller's file but beware the very real risk of tiny shavings finding their way into the internal mechanism with potentially expensive results.

In my case, it helped identify the old ex-RAF as a camera that seemed to produce a negative with the right qualities for a nice enlargement. This was a little troubling to me as I've struggled to get on with the Hexar for many years. It has a great 35mm f2 Hexanon lens that I like a lot but has always been a candidate for EBay time because of some handling quirks. For these past few months, it has definitely been EBay bound as I promised myself that I'd fund the acquisition of the Mamiya Press outfit with the proceeds from the Hexar's sale. I think I paid a bit over £200 for the camera but it's now worth at least twice that sum.

When a camera - a 30-year-old electronic camera - attains that kind of value, I'm inclined to move it on rather than keep it and find out that a valuable asset has turned overnight into an attractive paper weight. And yet, I've still got the Hexar despite coming close on several occasions to parting with it. I suppose that says something about its qualities.

High up in the Carse Braes.

But back to the negatives. There was one in particular - again, nothing special as an image (It's the shot immediately below) - that had some nice tones and appeared sharp under the loupe. Well, I printed it and found it to be one of the sharpest 35mm pics I've taken. The film was Delta 100 which I think I developed in D76 1+1. It was printed through the second generation 50mm Focotar, the one known for its large front element, sharpness and flatness of field. I'm not ascribing any special input to the Focotar as there are other 50mm enlarging lenses that do just as good a job and, no doubt, one or two that are better. I include the information just for completeness.

The results got me exploring some other Hexar negatives and I started to realise that there was a good percentage of photographs taken with the camera that were among my personal favourites. For some reason, I just happened to like the look of many photographs produced by the camera. Please don't ask me to explain what I mean: I'd have a better chance of demystifying the Leica glow. I'm sure many readers will know what I'm on about, though. Sometimes a particular lens, film or developer just seems to give us exactly what we're looking for.

There's a good photo here - sadly, this isn't it. If I
could climb up to the second floor of a university
building behind me (as I took this pic) I'd get a
shot of a row of tiny Victorian cottages dwarfed by
the sprawling mass of the Wellcome Trust
research building.

The Delta 100, D76, Hexar AF combination seems to work especially well. I've never really used much Delta as I went from the likes of HP5, Tri X and FP4 to Kodak Tmax films with nothing to speak of in between apart from the odd role of Agfa APX or Adox CHS.

Tmax is excellent stuff with the slower version producing very fine grain and lovely smooth tones. However, it can look a little on the digital side in my opinion. The 400 speed film is more to my taste. Delta 100 isn't as fine grained as its Tmax rival but seems to have more bite for a look I prefer. A 6x9 print on 10x8 paper is very crisp indeed with just a hint of grain and quite punchy tones.

With excellent lenses at the taking and printing stages and careful development in a developer that doesn't mush up the grain too much, it can leave one wondering if there's much point to medium format. I don't mean that in the literal sense as MF will always have a technical advantage but more from a pictorial point of view.

If the 35mm workflow just described produces sharp, fine-grained and well-graded results is there really much to be gained from more of the same? And if there is then where do we stop? Ultra large format?

Wednesday, September 12

Black Dog



A few months ago, in this post, I was bemoaning the fact that I could never get a big black dog to appear in photographs when I needed one. Well, patience wins again. I decided to pitch a tent on the grassy bank overlooking this scene and just bide my time until a suitable hound showed up. I left a trail of aniseed on the grass to encourage some canine interest. Eventually, after several days of frustration, I got what I wanted.

The preceding paragraph is a load of bollocks, obviously. I just happened by Drumgeith Park one drizzly day and thought I'd try another pic with some mist for atmosphere. Having taken far too many shots of this scene on the F90x that morning, I was about to head off when the dog and its owner showed up. My first reaction was to get the dog on its own, which meant cropping a tiny bit off the right hand edge of the frame when scanning as the owner had just sneaked into the picture.

Then I thought I'd be as well including the owner which was a good idea as that pic is probably the one I prefer. The dog looks as if it's about to disappear down a hole but that's just an illusion. Capturing the human figure at the right point can be tricky, though. I always try to catch people in full stride, as in this pic, but sometimes their legs aren't separated enough or their arms are by their sides making them look more like a pole that's about to topple over.

I've got another 16 versions of this subject, all without man and/or dog, that look pretty well identical on the negs beyond some slight variation in density as I fiddled with the exposure so that I could print the scene lighter or darker with the minimum of fuss. In truth, I could have got away with taking just one photograph as it's almost impossible to get the exposure wrong on a scene like this where there are hardly enough tones to capture as it is.


The exposure for both the pics here was the same but I darkened the foreground in the top shot to increase the 3D feeling and the atmospheric recession of tones. For the man and dog shot I left the foreground untouched as I had in mind a generally light and airy scene with just the two blobs of darkness in it. When it comes to making the print, I'll need to dodge the bottom left corner just a touch to make it the same tone as the rest of the foreground.

The film was an old roll of Delta 100 which I rated at 200 ISO and developed in Microphen stock. This was about the eighth roll I'd developed in the 1 litre stock solution and I cocked up the calculation - each film after the first one needs an additional 10% - so the highlights are a bit dense. One of the good things about Delta 100 is that it needs the same development time as HP5 in Microphen stock whether rated at the box speed or pushed a stop. If I settled on those two films for 35mm and 120 I could bung everything in the same tank and save a bit of time.

I might stop by Drumgeith Park again if I'm passing but I'm quite happy with the man and dog image and no longer feel the need to go out of my way. The shot above was pretty much what I had in mind when I first saw this scene and I'm pleased that a combination of perseverance and good luck have delivered a decent result.

Friday, September 7

The Robbins Files



A couple of weeks ago, I decided to do something about my non-existent negative filing system. It was getting beyond the ridiculous stage making it impossible to find anything without riffling through piles of see-through sheets.

In the course of this effort, I started unearthing negatives I hadn't seen since the days when I could also see my feet when standing up. Yes, some of them were that old! I scanned a few of them and pinged them to Phil Rogers as, for some reason, he likes looking at my old negatives, particularly if they're 6x9, as some of them were.

Sunday, August 19

Plucked from the bin



This is a 5x4 shot from the Speed Graphic that I've had lying on my desk in the man cave for many, many months. During that time it's picked up some scratches and lots of dust since it wasn't even in a neg bag. It's suffered terrible neglect and the reason was because it was 1. underdeveloped, 2. I didn't have any scanner software, 3. the darkroom was in no shape for printing and 4. the bulb in my big Durst L1200 had popped and I hadn't got round to buying a replacement.

Monday, August 13

Back to the Future



Way back in the mists of time, I was an early adopter of things digital. The cameras were handy for a young father with little free time and helped me get back into photography after a lay-off of several years. Mucking about with image files on the computer was good fun but I soon wanted to see some prints. That's where the problems began.

Saturday, August 4

The Carse - quick update





It's been a while since I posted anything about the Carse and when I realised I still had some unpublished snowy shots I thought it was time to bring you up to date - before the next winter is upon us.

These are all 35mm negative scans dating back to February. One or two might look familiar since I've covered some of the same subjects before but they're all new pics. I've not spent much time on the Carse project for a couple of months having, it has to be said, begun to tire of repeatedly shooting the same or similar subjects.

Maybe the old enthusiasm will rekindle of it's own accord or perhaps I just need to work a bit harder at finding new subjects, locations or viewpoints in the Carse.

Tuesday, July 24

Mamiya Press update


Farmyard at Evelick

I've been having a whale of a time with the Mamiya Press outfit I bought recently. It's the first rangefinder I've felt entirely comfortable with because, for the first time, I can see all the of the frame lines with my glasses on! I grew to love the Leica M2 but that took some perseverance and involved a certain amount of guesswork when it came to the edges of the frame.

Monday, July 16

FP4 and Microphen


Bridge at Finlathen

HP5 and Microphen is working out nicely as far as the 6x9 negatives from the Mamiya Press go so I've been turning my attention to the 35mm format and what might give me a similar look. Having decided a while back that I'd try to stick with more traditional films rather than the T-grain stuff, I loaded up some FP4 in the OM1 and went for a wander.

Monday, July 9

If I don't reply to comments...


...it's because bloody awful Blogger no longer sends me an email alerting me to them. I try to remember to check the admin side of the blog for comments but I got so used to the email alerts that I sometimes forget.

I checked five minutes ago and found about ten comments dating back to June 23 that I hadn't approved. I have to use an approval process otherwise spam bots would flood the comments with garbage.

All comments are greatly appreciated. If from now on your comment doesn't appear in a timely fashion then please remember that it's not laziness or disinterest at work but just my bad habits. Hopefully, though, I'll not be quite so forgetful in future.