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Wednesday, October 8

Focotar v CE Rokkor





This is a pic taken with my old Voigtlander Vitessa and its famous 50mm f2 Ultron on Firstcall 400S rated at 160 ISO and developed in Spur HRX. Since getting back into the darkroom a couple of weeks ago I've been eager to see how negatives I've only scanned up to this point look on paper. In particular, I wondered how the Ultron would perform and what the grain from the Firstcall film - the cheapest on the UK market - would be like.

I deliberately printed this negative a bit dark and contrasty. When I scanned the neg a while back I went for a normal-looking image and it didn't do an awful lot for me. I opened the scan up again in Lightroom and gave it a bit more of the old Gibson treatment and thought it had more impact so I tried printing it in a similar fashion (you can see the two versions of the scan here).

I mentioned to my pal Phil Rogers that I was doing some prints using the 50mm Focotar on the Leitz Focomat 1C I picked up recently and he, being a bit of an aesthete (or is it connoisseur? a picky bugger anyway) immediately asked a couple of awkward questions. "Do you like the look of the lens though - is it quite low contrast or just normal? Have you tried printing at f4.5?" I need to train myself up to that level of discernment. To me, the print had blacks and whites and just a few shades of grey in between. Isn't that enough?

I suspected it wasn't for Phil so I thought I'd better give myself something to judge the Focotar against. So I did a couple of near identical prints - the Minolta CE Rokkor one is slightly larger - on the 32-year-old Kodak Bromesko I have. There's a little extension tube that screws into the Focotar and I needed to swap it over for the CE Rokkor. Whether the Rokkor has a little longer focal length I don't know but the upshot was that I had to refocus slightly and that made the Minolta print a few percent bigger.

No matter. This is a blog, not an academic paper so it's close enough. And the answers to Phil's questions? All I can say is that the five-element Focotar, to all intents and purposes, is identical to the six-element CE Rokkor. Contrast, sharpness, the works. The two prints could have been made by either lens and I'd be hard-pressed to notice any difference.

Edge crops: The CE Rokkor is on the left.

Centre crops with the CE Rokkor on the left again.

If I had to do a bit of grain-peeping then I'd say that the Focotar is very, very slightly sharper near the edges of the frame but it's not something I'd see without sticking my nose up against each print in a good light and peering really intently. You might see it in the first two crops - the Focotar is on the right. This might be because of its fabled flat field. Although the overall contrast between the two prints is similar, I think I see a tiny bit more contrast (microcontrast?) in low contrast areas of the print from the Focotar. The centre crops are beneath the edge crops and I really can't see any difference to speak about here at all.

As for Phil's second question - did I print wide open on the Focotar at f4.5? - the answer is no, they were both done at f8. Sorry, Phil. I'll do that one later. And the Firstcall 400S? It's good stuff. The grain is visible on a 6x9 inch print but it's tight and has a nice, even pattern. I think it adds something to this photograph as it would to many that are a little grittier in nature.

Here's another aspect of this wee exercise I wanted to test - would a vintage lens (the f2 Ultron from the Voigtlander Vitessa) and a vintage enlarging lens result in a vintage-looking image on vintage printing paper? Can't see it myself, can you? I think this would have looked the same had I'd shot it on a 50mm Zuiko and printed it on Multigrade FB (apart from the slight difference in print tone). But, again, without having prints made each way in front of me how can I tell?

You might also like:

Kodak Bromesko: A 32-year-old gamble
Leitz Focomat 1C: A Newcomer to the Darkroom
Firstcall 400S: In search of a "dull day" film



1 comment :

David M said...

"...black and white with a few greys in between."
You seem to have summed up the whole of monochrome printing, very neatly. Some people may want a lot of greys and some fewer, but that's mere formalist niggling.
Not all pictures need a black and a white, although it's mostly true. It's what we tell beginners.
It's funny how hard it can be to do in practice.