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Sunday, February 17

This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both Of Us

Guest post by my cyber pal, Phil Rogers. Phil's alter ego at his FogBlog is Herman Sheephouse.

I, Herman Sheephouse, being of feeble mind and sound body, do here declare that over recent years I have been extraordinarily focused. Literally.

You see for the age of a pig (a great expression and I have no idea where it came from) I did all my printing through an 80mm f5.6 El-Nikkor lens. This covered me, as most of my photographs were 6x6cm and 6x4.5cm. Darkroom life was happy and very simple!

But then one day I went and spoiled everything and purchased a Pentax 6x7 and when that went back to the vendor (because it was faulty), a Sinar F. . . and consequently, after I discovered that contact printing a 5x4" negative didn't really work (to my eyes anyway), I ended up packing away my lovely Meopta Magnifax enlarger and purchasing a DeVere 504 with a 150mm Rodagon.

So that was me up to two enlargers, two enlarger lenses and the ability to print everything from 35mm up to 5x4.

Everything was fine, until I received the second great gift. (The first great gift, was a truly lovely Nikomat FT [1965] and an early compensating type, 55mm Nikkor [the sharpest lens I own in the close-up range - honest, they used them to film Star Wars!).

The second great gift was a HUGE box of Nikon gear from the parents-in-law of my friend Canadian Bob. If you are of sound mind and body, look away now, because imagine being a keen photographer and receiving this lot:

Nikon F Photomic S, Nikon F2S, 
50mm f1.4 Nikkor, 35mm f2 Nikkor
105mm f4.5 Nikkor, 300mm  f4.5 Nikkor, 
500mm f8 Nikkor-C mirror lens, 80-200mm, f4.5 Zoom Nikkor

Add to this, all appropriate cases, lens caps, rear caps, converters, manuals etc etc, and you'll being to see why I call it the great gift. Everything was in superb condition, and even though it had seen a semi-professional life, it had been carefully cared for. I paid the robber barons of UK customs £90 in fees and duty, and it all arrived.

I was overwhelmed to start off with simply because I hadn't thought properly inside the 35mm frame since college. But I eventually ended up approaching it with gusto, moving out into the dawn light with mostly the F2 and the 35mm lens.

It was a revelation.

I was no longer tied to a tripod as I was with my Sinar and to an extent with my Rollei. I could shoot as many pictures as I wanted, though actually, I still found that my Medium Format Discipline worked very well and I tended to compose carefully and hopefully make each frame count (though there are more than many frames of utter rubbish).

Here's a print from that earlier time - I like this. It was made with the 35mm Nikkor and the F2 and was around the time I started to discover that you could find the whole world in a window.

Bet this makes you feel hungry. Easily the most bizarre thing
I have seen in a shop window. It's a shame Fuji Neopan 400 is
so expensive these days - look at that tonality.

Anyway, I seem to have moved away from the theme of this. Was there one? Yep. Ka-tchow!

This town ain't big enough for the both of us . . .der, der, derder. . . and it ain't me who's going to leave!
As I stated at the start, my adventures into the land of enlargers resulted in me owning two lenses, the 80mm El-Nikkor and the 150mm Rodagon. They are both very fine lenses, however as it always seems to be with photography, somewhere an itch starts and you begin to wonder whether you are getting the optimum sharpness from your lens . ..

Now this is dangerous territory, because like all things like this, the search for optimum sharpness doesn't actually result in anything useful . . . or does it? Well such was my actual thinking.

I only print up to 10x8". I could go to 11x14" . . . hell, I could actually go up to beyond about 23" . . . but there's no room for the trays in my darkroom, so I stick to the manageable.

I also wanted a dedicated lens for printing 35mm stuff, so the upshot of my thinking was that I found a good deal on a 1980's 50mm Durst Neonon.

If you don't know about Neonons, basically they were re-badged by Durst but made by usually Schneider or Rodenstock . . . however, they also had lenses made for them by Pentax. Now this is quite a big thing for Pentax collector's because the company never made enlarging lenses.

Quite unusual don't you think for such an esteemed manufacturer? I don't know how Durst managed to pursuade them, but they did and they made an excellent job of it too! 50mm Neonons will either say Made in W. Germany or Made in Japan. Obviously the Japanese ones are Pentax.

Mine is a very nice example - very sharp indeed and an excellent lens for normal size prints from 35mm negatives. So, three enlarger lenses and the ability to print anything I fancied . . . you would have thought that would be enough, but, no, as it has got to be a bit of a mania.

For instance I recently found a 100mm Vivitar VHE for sale for £20. Too nice to turn down. It arrived covered in strands of fungus (and was apparently discovered in a box in a factory unit that was being cleared - it is unused, that is obvious), however some ROR and TLC and I now have a mint condition 100mm Schneider Componon- for that is what it is.

There are some who say that the optical formula on these is the same as that of the legendary Leitz Focotar II's which were made for Leica by the Schneider factory around the same time. Who knows, there certainly was a 100mm f4.5 Focotar II and from what I can find (which is sketchy) the optical formula of the 50mm VHE seems pretty similar to the optical formula of the Focotar II. All I do know it that the VHE is an excellent and sharp lens.

So, four down . . . and even further down madness street I spotted a poor wee orphan. It was huddled in a doorway, weeping quietly. I kept an eye on it for a number of weeks and it wasn't going anywhere. My heart broke and I took it in . . . A 50mm f2.8 El-Nikkor - the second version.

It was a stone-cold 'dusty optics' bargain from Ffordes . . whipping out an SK Grimes spanner wrench, I removed the rear element, used a Giottos blower, and hey presto . . . mint condition lens . . . £19.99. Hard to believe really - they were over £100 when they were being manufactured . . .

Now a lot has been written about the f2.8 Nikkor, but what really swayed me and made me trust this orphan, was reading the books Darkroom and Darkroom 2 on Lustrum Press. Just about everyone interviewed for the books was using this lens to print 35mm, so I thought why not . . . and you know what? Its reputation is deserved. I am delighted with it. I decided to use it for a print session and was very pleased with its ease of use and sheer quality.

Printed with a 50mm El-Nikkor, 14 sec, f8. Grade 2 on fairly old Kentmere Fine Print VC Glossy.Kodak Polymax, Kodak stop, home-made plain fix. 400 Dpi scan.

I am happy with this print, though it is one of the world's duller photographs. I made it on 8x10" Kentmere Fineprint FB VC. It's an OK print but nothing special, and has gone into the big box of prints (unsleeved). Only my favourites go into sleeves.

So, from here, this is where it starts to get crazy. Five enlarger lenses in, and a thought struck me during this session that I had three 50mm lenses to hand (there's one I haven't mentioned yet!) and time on my hands . . how about testing them in a practical way for me. Not MTF charts and all that stuff, but real prints and sections of prints, so, I thought, why not give it a shot.

The above seemed a suitable candidate as the lettering was clear, but still has that hand-held element of slight unsharpness and would hopefully do the job. I wasn't going to be scientific about this - I like making prints not studying my navel, so I strapped on my leather chaps, had a tot o' red-eye in the Last Chance Saloon, girded my loins, gulped in some courage and came out shooting.

Firstly, there was only one way to go with the enlarger and that was up - as high as possible.

Were I to actually print this, the image size would be 25¾ x 17 inches!

My darkroom is a tight space. The DeVere topped out and was jammed up against the ceiling - it could have gone  higher (if the ceiling weren't so low). For the benefit of the photograph, my easel isn't in this picture.

The victim's were as stated: El NikSergio Neone and . . . a stranger in town. He'd ridden in on a dusty old donkey, climbed down, pulled back his poncho and positioned himself outside the corral. I was friendly and offered him a drag of an old charoot I was chawin'. He accepted and came in. He was a wizened geezer, but he still looked tough . . .Turned out he was one of those immigrants from Germany. His name was The Old TimerThis was going to be messy, but I had to know who could be the guy for the job.

Each lens was set at the same aperture, for consistency, though in the case of the Elmar it was approximate, as it moves from f6.3 to f9 . . . and from there I set up my easel, focused very carefully with my Omega critical focuser, and eased some 6x4" paper into the slots . . .
All prints were exposed and processed for the same length of time.

50mm Nikon El-Nikkor (N), f8

50mm Pentax/Durst Neonon, f8

50mm Leitz Elmar, f8 (approx)

Now there are a few things quite remarkable about this . . .

Firstly it is extraordinary how much you can squeeze out of a properly processed 35mm negative . .
And secondly, that paper I used for the sections was Jessops own-brand resin coated . . it was roughly ten years old. It hadn't been kept frozen, indeed I had forgotten I had it, only discovering it in a pack of Silverprint Proof . . I knew it was Jessops because it was 6x4" and I'd only ever bought that size from Jessops.

Astonishing quality for a RC paper. No compensation for loss of speed or grades. I think it may well be re-branded Fotospeed - again, not many people use Fotospeed RC however I will flat out say it is the best resin coated paper on the market bar none. It just seems to exude quality, more so than Ilford or Agfa/Adox. If I had to print on RC, that would be my choice. In fact I would say that of all RC papers it is the only one I would consider of exhibition quality . . and that is saying something.

Anyway, another thing I would say about this little lot, is that it is remarkable how similar they all look.
So I have gone one step further and scanned the prints at 720 DPI . . . thinking this will separate the dogs from the pups . . the judgement is all yours dear reader.

El-Nikkor, Section 720 Dpi

Neonon, Section 720 Dpi

Elmar, Section 720 Dpi

Yes, there are obvious differences, however when you weigh it all up and consider that we are talking markedly different lenses here the differences aren't that massive are they. The Nikkor, is I think the winner. It has rendered the grain very sharply, with a good balanced contrast.

The Durst is also very good indeed, though it hasn't quite resolved the text quite as sharply. For a lens that cost £15 secondhand it is still an excellent performance, but then I suppose it is a 1980's Pentax lens so what do I expect.

The surprise for me is the Elmar. The story behind it? It is a 1934 uncoated lens - I use it for making pictures on a regular basis. Stop the presses . . hold on. A lowly lens from before the Second World WarCan you Adam and Eve it?

Oh sure, it was fairly difficult to focus and the grain was very mushy wide-open at f3.5. Stopping down was difficult due to the aperture control on the lens, but against all odds, it has rendered the lettering very well. Certainly, there is a slight mushiness, but remember we are dealing at an enlargement size way beyond what it was ever intended for. I should think that for my standard printing size (10x8") it would be alright.

The other surprise about it is that it has given the image a very smooth quality which I quite like, and it has made me wonder whether it might be worth trying out some of those old uncoated Schneiders you see on eBay.

Obviously when it comes down to practical everyday darkroom use, the Nikon and Durst win hand's down with their lovely illuminated aperture controls. As I have already said, an old Elmar's aperture control is difficult to use in daylight and almost impossible in the dark. But if you lost everything and this was all you had left, you would still be able to make decent prints with it . . . folks . . that'll be a future FB methinks!

So there you go - madness and lots of it. I'd actually love to have a massive Alamo-style shootout with all sorts of different lenses. . it would be interesting, but I don't know if I am quite mad enough.

Anyway, just to prove that the session wasn't entirely an exercise in tomfoolery, here's a genuine print from it.

Kodak TMY2 400, Kentmere Fineprint VC Glossy
Gofos And Ena Just Love Dundee's Waterfront Project
December 2012

The negative was made on a cold late Winter's afternoon (approx 3.30PM and the light was going!) and I was footering around down by 'Vision' - Dundee's 'digital hub'. Basically it is a massive white elephant in the heart of the city, down where the old railway yards and sidings used to be. I remember the area being full of coal and trains back in the 1980's, but now it is full of recently constructed empty buildings thanks in no part to the British Government's attitude towards tax breaks for computer games programming.

Foreign governments give healthy ones and value the industry, and in Britain we don't, so consequently the much predicted coming 'golden age' of games programming didn't happen here. If you are interested in such things, Dundee was an early player in the industry - it was the place where they programmed Lemmings (remember that?) and Grand Theft we have a hell of a lot to account for!

Duncan Disorderly College Of Art in Dundee still has a hefty investment in animation and programming and so on and it is considered to be a key course . . . a heady change from the day when someone broke the Quantel machine...

Anyway - I used the 1960 Leica M2 and the 1934 50mm Elmar. Do I like old cameras? Erm...

The film was expired TMY2 400 rated at approximately EI 400, though I was guessing exposures...

It was developed in HC110 Dilutuion B for 7 mins and 30 secs at 21 Centigrade. I printed it on ancient Kentmere FB VC and used the newly acquired 50mm El-Nikkor. The grain is crisper than a family bag of Walkers...I am going to really like using this lens.

Two other things - firstly, the physical print is great I love it and it is sleeved, so I must like it. It has cockled a bit on the edges, but that's the paper for you.

Secondly, greyscale scanning on my scanner imparts a greenish hue, which makes it look terrible, like a non-selenium toned bromide print from years back if you can remember that...

Also you cannot get the full quality of a nice glossy proper silver gelatin print from the web . . go to an exhibition and see some in the flesh - they will knock you out.

It was a weird photograph to make. I'd pushed through a broken fence, turned around, and there was a frog's face! Yes it is very low contrast, not least because of the failing light, however the Elmar has actually rendered things very crisply. The detail of the screwheads is there, so I must have had a steady hand that day...

Anyway, as usual thanks for sticking in - I have had fun doing this and spent a number of hours of my life writing it all up. Hope you found it interesting. Please let me know. Take care and God Bless.


Anonymous said...

Was that pig seen in Victoria Street, Edinburgh per chance?

Anonymous said...

Was that pig seen in Victoria Street, Edinburgh per chance?

Herman Sheephouse said...

Just off the Grassmarket . .yes!
it's not still there is it?

Anonymous said...

Interesting post, I enjoy using old lenses too, the same elmar for instance, and then using the same lens to print the negative!