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Sunday, February 15

Hard Frost

A chilly winter's morning and a low sun finally roused me from my photographic torpor and saw me out and about with the OM2 for the first few "serious" frames of the New Year. Incredible, isn't it? We're well into February and I've shot precisely one roll of film and most of that in the last week.

Sometime over late December/early January I did expose half-a-dozen frames but it was more just to exercise my trigger finger than anything else. I just couldn't get myself going at all and was only exposing film for its own sake.

It's a horrible feeling when you know you're just going through the motions when it comes to taking pictures. There's no impetus, no real desire to get out and make images and, worst of all, no apparent solution to this malaise.

So what did I do to overcome it? Absolutely nothing. Sometimes there's no point in flogging a dead horse so I just waited until I got the urge to pick up a camera again. I didn't think it would take quite as long as it did to be honest but, at least, I seem to be firing normally once more.

I've been using nothing but Tmax 400 for the last five or six films and enjoying the handheld freedom the faster film provides - especially at this time of year and at this latitude where the sun seems to hibernate for a few months, sending up a very weak imposter to provide a pathetic light in the sky.

So far, I'm thoroughly enjoying Tmax. I've used it in the past but not in any great quantity, just a roll here and there. The developer I'm using isn't anything exotic, in fact it's about as cheap as you can find on the UK market. It's Firstcall Photographic's Superfine brew which is a repackaged developer from Germany. Firstcall kindly sent me a bottle to try and it's great stuff. I asked the company if they could tell me what it sells for under it's real name but they asked me to not say anything about that beyond pointing out its German heritage so I'm obviously going to respect that position.

However, I think it's only fair to say that it doesn't take an Ansel Adams to work it out from Firstcall's own PDF development chart which you'd probably have to look at anyway if you were planning on getting some Superfine. I don't think I'm breaking any confidences saying this and, even if you work it out, you still haven't found the original source of the developer. That one takes a bit more work but I'll leave it to you to figure it out if you're sufficiently interested.

I've not had the time to properly test Superfine against another developer so what follows is just my initial thoughts from having used it to process around four films. It's a really excellent developer - even more so when you consider that it's £4.99 for a litre that can be diluted at up to 1+15. That's as many as about 50 35mm rolls at 10p per film. Here's what Firstcall say about it:

Our new film developer is a high performance developer that is very sharp working and highly compensating: Virtually any film exposed at their nominal speed has the same developing time and this makes our own film developer one of the most universal developers on the market. Full development times can be found in the PDF section of our website on the Homepage.
It is a Super Fine grain, High Speed film developer that copes with a wide speed range from 100 to 6400 ISO. Dilution varies from 1+7 to 1+15 depending on film and result required-typically FP4 would be 5.5 minutes at 1+12.

I'd be perfectly happy to use this as my standard developer with Tmax 400 as I can't find fault with it. It's very clean working and produces quite punchy negs with an apparently high level of sharpness. There's enough shadow detail with Tmax 400 rated at its box speed for my taste and grain appears similar to what you'd get developing the film in D76. In short, it makes me wonder why I'd want to pay more for a developer.

It's possible in strictly controlled tests involving tripods and other developers there might be some differences for or against Superfine but I don't think I'm sufficiently motivated to go down that road. The negs look great and that's good enough for me.

The three photographs here were made with the OM2 set on auto and tweaked via the handy exposure compensation dial. I can't be bothered using manual exposure on a 35mm SLR preferring the compensation method or, in the case of my Contax SLRs, exposure lock.

The pic at the top of the page was taken with the much-maligned 70-150 f4 Zuiko. It might not be the sharpest lens ever made but it's extremely handy as far as I'm concerned being light, having a built-in lens hood and taking up little room in the camera bag. I used it handheld for this photo but had to set it at around f5.6 because of the low light.

The other two were taken with the 50mm f2 Zuiko macro, something of a legend amongst Olympus lenses. What a versatile lens it is! I didn't take to it initially and wrote about that experience on the blog but the more I use it the more I come to appreciate its qualities and now it has a permanent place in my bag - sometimes it even seems permanently attached to the OM2. I think it was probably its largish size that put me off but I've since grown used to that and now it's not really noticeable.

The macro is a very sharp lens indeed when closed down a couple of stops. In reasonable light at f5.6 there's probably no noticeably sharper lens than the Zuiko unless you're inclined to set up a microscope to view the evidence - and even then I reckon it would hold it's own against just about everything else.

The two close-ups I've published above, both using the low sun to highlight the texture and frost on the road surfaces, are bitingly sharp on the negatives. I couldn't reasonably wish for anything more from the 35mm format.

You might also like:
A Sharp Wee Number
Now It's a Zuiko Dilemma
South of the Tay


Steve Mack said...

Speaking of 50mm lenses, I bought a 50mm f/1.8 Nikon Series E lens, which now sits on my new (to me) Nikon FM2n. It seems that it will work out to be a wonderful kit; my only problem is that I've been laid up with knee replacement surgery, so getting out and about is a challenge. But I'll keep trying. I've been looking for a dedicated film camera, just one, and I have found it.

With best regards,


Gerald said...

I'd definitely like to give that developer a go at that price, but what exactly is meant by:

"Virtually any film exposed at their nominal speed has the same developing time "

The same developing time as what? Am I missing something obvious?

morris1800 said...

Glad to see your photog 'mojo' is returning Bruce. The only time I suffered those symptoms was when I tried digital photography. It gave me nothing to look forward to. With film my 'mojo' is maintained through looking forward to trying this film or that developer,going somewhere with a different camera or armed with different lens or lenses. Using an alternative process to create an image of a scene I have photographed many times.With so many approaches to film photography for anyone to explore I feel its a hobby that is difficult to tire of. 95% of my picture taking is done on a Monday morning a couple of times a month . But on those days I am not unlike the shutter on my old Rolleicord .... Yes I'm like a coiled spring ready for action. Well providing its not raining or too windy!

Bruce Robbins said...

But surely with digital you have all these alternative processes just the click of a button away? :)

Bruce Robbins said...

Hi Gerald,

In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, I'd say they're talking bollocks. I don't get the thing about the same developing time either. There are some useful coincidences that will let you develop a few different films at the same time but it's certainly not universal as a quick look at the Firstcall PDF will show.

Gerald said...

Thanks Bruce, glad it's not just me; I thought I was being thick. Although, to be fair, I have got form...

Bruce Robbins said...

I was having another look at the development times in the PDF, Gerald, and it's quite interesting that, although the times are often different, they're all either 3, 4 or 5 minutes unless it's something like Tmax 3200. So, although not the same, they're quite close I suppose.

Keith Tapscott said...

Thanks for this link Bruce. What dilution and time are you finding works well with T-Max 400? I am thinking of trying this combination with my Rolleiflex TLR.

Bruce Robbins said...

Rating the film at 400 ISO, I give it 7mins at 20C with a 1+9 dilution. Agitation is continuous for the first 30s and then one inversion every 30s. The recommended time for that set up is 6mins but I shoot a lot in bad weather so I give it a little extra.