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Friday, March 13

Artful Cock-Ups



Ilford's Pan F+ is a lovely film capable of producing very sharp and fine-grained negatives but not without its little foibles. For a start, it can be tricky to handle in contrasty light without giving some thought to development. Potentially more serious than that, though, is what can happen to it if you've finished the roll and then wait months to develop it.

Normally, I'm keen to see what my negatives are like so I develop film within a day or two. However, there was this roll of Pan F - it had to be Pan F - that had been sitting in my old Rolleiflex Standard for about six months and the results when I finally got round to developing the film were very interesting.

This particular roll had a bit of history to it. It originally started life being loaded into my Rollei SL66 but operator error - the SL66 has a very specific method of loading and I forgot one aspect of it - meant that I had to wind it straight through the camera without exposing any frames.

It sat in the camera for a couple of weeks before I decided to respool it manually onto another 120 reel. This meant some fiddling around in the darkroom but it seemed to work out OK. The roll then sat idly by on the darkroom worktop for probably several more weeks, pleading with those big doleful eyes for me to give its life a purpose.


Now, it just so happens that I'd been tinkering with the Rollei Standard cleaning the lens elements and wondered if I'd upset the focusing slightly. So I loaded up the Pan F+ to shoot a test roll to find out. In particular, I wanted to know if the camera was in focus using the Zeiss Proxar close up lenses I have for it.

That was the plan anyway but I only exposed a frame or two and then put the camera aside for another lengthy spell. The Standard has no double exposure prevention lock so I usually wind the film on immediately before taking the photograph to avoid this. For whatever reason I didn't follow that regime when I once more picked the camera up resulting in the double exposure at the top of this post.

After another couple of exposures, the camera went away for a few weeks before it was dragged out again and a couple more fired off. And that was it for…months. Not sure how many but it was quite a while.

Latent tendencies

So far, this post has been all about the Rollei but here's where Pan F+ enters the scene. Ilford are open and up front about what they call a "compromise" in the film's overall performance. Basically, if you don't develop an exposed roll of Pan F+ within three months, strange things can start happening to the latent image.

It kicks off by starting to slowly fade and this can result in just a ghost image being visible if you leave it long enough. I first noticed this about 30 years ago after I'd exposed a few rolls in an old Mamiya TLR during a trip up Scotland's west coast. For whatever reason, most likely laziness, I left the undeveloped film sitting in a drawer for the best part of a year and effectively lost every image that I'd taken. That was quite a lesson.


The other problem that goes in tandem with the fading is a blotchy, mottled effect and a sort of peppery fog. I saw that, too, on what was left of my west coast images.

The roll that's the subject of this post suffered from both of these defects but only on the first eight frames. The other four were taken just a couple of weeks ago, a few days before I developed the roll. There's a clear difference in the older exposures and the fresher ones as the deterioration only seems to affect latent images and not unexposed film.

On this occasion, I think I got lucky as some of the cock-ups look quite good. The double exposure has a nice, Gothic look to it and would probably make a great print (all the pics here are negative scans). The second photograph would have been a likely contender for Boring Photo of the Year but the mottling, etc, has given this minimalist composition (that's me being kind to myself) an eerie atmosphere as if it could have been a still from The Ring or maybe a badly-stored copy of Jeepers Creepers.

The third one isn't too sharp but this sort of adds to the look, I think. It was a foul day and while I was standing in the middle of the road trying to focus on the Standard's dim viewfinder I was conscious of a car coming so everything was a bit rushed.

It's occurred to me that it would be interesting to deliberately go after this look by leaving an exposed roll of Pan F+ for six months before processing it. Does that sound daft? It's quite an investment in time, though, but there might be some pleasant surprises to be found. It would be suited to subjects like the old lane I posted about a few weeks ago or maybe the image above that I took a couple of years ago. If I stuck to these spooky kinds of subjects I might get really lucky from time to time.

And what about combining the latency thing with deliberate double exposures? With the ubiquitousness of camera phones, it would be easy to take the first exposure with the camera on a tripod and photograph the ground glass for a visual reference when it comes to lining up the second, double exposure so they gel compositionally. I really got lucky with the double exposure at the top of this post. Look at the way the building in the background fills in the space to the left of the archway and how the tree branches provide a nice frame along the top. It's better to be lucky than good, so they say.

Finally, what about giving some blank frames of Pan F+ a zone 1 or 2 exposure with the lens racked out and pointed at an empty sky, leaving the development for ages and then sandwiching the defective negs with ordinary negs when making the print or scan? There must be some fertile ground there just waiting to be drilled by the plough of creativity.



The final two pics (above) are fairly normal and unaffected by the latency thing. Of all the cameras and lenses I've used, the old Tessar on the Standard gives me the most consistent vintage look and I think that's apparent in these final images. The vintage thing is impossible to put into words and I'm beginning to think that it might be a purely subjective phenomenon anyway.

It's likely that a host of cultural and visual references come together to create what each of us might think of as an old-fashioned look and it's probably something that's different for everyone. So, while I might see it in these two pics, that doesn't mean you will and nor might I see a claimed vintage look in someone else's photographs.


And the Standard's focusing? As I suspected, it's slightly off with the Proxar close-ups on it and it might need to be tweaked for other distances, too. I photographed the groyne post above with the close-up lens on and the camera on a tripod. Focus was on the bright-ish highlight in the very centre of the rectangle delineated by the four bolt heads. It's not off by a lot but other parts of the groyne are sharper.

However, I've now got a cut film back for the Standard and it comes with a built-in focusing screen so that I can check the focus at the film plane and see if the ground glass agrees with it. That will keep me occupied on a rainy afternoon.

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7 comments :

morris1800 said...

Hi Bruce I'm a big fan of Pan F . Shot at 25asa and developed in perceptol.Wish they made it in 5x4.I Like your happy accident shot. My double exposures happen often when out shooting 5x4 where I forget to reinsert the dark slide without flipping it over, then using the film holder again as an unexposed sheet. But happy results thus far have eluded me. I think shooting double exposures in the field is probably hard work . Unless as you say you shoot two negs to combine in the darkroom. I think this approach has the potential to be more creative as you can go out and shoot images that compliment negatives selected from your existing library. I have attempted to do this on one occasion creating a Lith print. Wasn't a great success but will post result in your online darkroom flicker group.I am sure with your patience and darkroom skill you could produce some unique images.

Bruce Robbins said...

Andy,
If anyone can get to grips with this sort of thing then my money is on you. The breadth and quality of stuff you upload to the Flickr group never ceases to amaze me.

For anyone interested, the Flickr group is here:
https://www.flickr.com/groups/theonlinedarkroom/

Dave said...

Bruce, interesting subject this PanF stuff. I've shot it twice, both with issues of unwanted mottling/specking on the film.

The first was a kind of blotchy mottled clumping of the grain, which Ilford advised was probably because I was using a pre-wash before the dev (as I had always done with FP4+ and HP5+ without issue). Was developed quite soon after shooting, a few days.

I tried a roll again about a year ago, no pre-wash. This time I got white specks all over the images (I.e. Spots of increased density). Ilford suspected something up with my processing such as inadequate temp control, but since it was done in a Jobo that I use for E6 processing for years without a single issue I doubted it, so sent the film to Ilford and having looked at it under their microscopes and inspected by the tech people they concluded the processing was spot-on (no pun intended) and basically couldn't explain the spots on the film.

Needless to say I'm avoiding PanF in future!

Bruce Robbins said...

Interesting, Dave. I've read similar reports around the web. Not a lot but enough to suggest that the film can be a problem under certain circumstances.

morris1800 said...

I have not experienced any issues with Pan f. I have just purchased another ten rolls (120)for summer landscapes. I will say though that I have never developed it in anything but perceptol diluted 1-3. Is the film possibly vulnerable to short dev times or paticular developers?

John carter said...

For some of us in USA, Pan F + is a thought for if and when Tmax100 goes away . I have to say your post has made me nervous.

Bruce Robbins said...

That wasn't the intention, John. As long as you process the film promptly then I doubt you'll ever have a problem with Pan F+. It's really good stuff.