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Tuesday, July 28

Quarter Plate test.


Kodak Specialist II, 90mm Angulon, Fomapan 100

O.M.G., as Simon Cowell is fond of saying on the X Factor. Cutting up the 5x4 sheets to fit the quarter plate sheaths of the big Kodak Specialist 2 was a bloody nightmare! And here I was thinking I had it easy with a same size glass plate to use as a template…

I didn't reckon on the tough polyester substrate of Fomapan 100 sheet film, though. It's thicker-skinned than Peers Morgan. Even with a brand new scalpel blade, it took about half-a-dozen passes to slice it all the way through. No, I couldn't believe it either!

Working on finicky things like this in the dark is never particularly easy and I should have known what was in store but the glass template and scalpel thing seemed foolproof to me. I sat the 5x4 sheet emulsion side up on an enlarger baseboard and placed the non-emulsion side of the glass plate on top. After lining the two up with the side of the baseboard, I got "scalpel-ing".

The problem was that the scalpel had a habit of veering off slightly in the wrong direction leaving the sheet slightly "flared" at one end and too big for the sheath. It's difficult to sense this in the dark and I wasn't about to put a finger down there to see what the scalpel blade was doing.

Then I found that unless I kept a heavy, constant pressure on the glass plate, the scalpel could drag the film out of position without me noticing. It was time to apply a little brain power - and that's exactly what I gave it, with the emphasis definitely on the "little". How about stopping the tendency of the film to move by taping it along two edges? That'll work! Well, try applying sellotape accurately to the edges of sheet film in total darkness.

By this time I was getting royally hacked off. I'd buggered up two sheets of film and was nowhere nearer to a bit of quarter plate material. Then I remembered my print guillotine. That's what I used to cut darkroom paper down to fit into 5x4 dark slides for the Speed Graphic. Why didn't I think of that earlier?

The jig I finally arrived at.

I taped a glass plate on the guillotine baseboard to act as a stop for the long edge of the film and another beneath it as a guide for the short end. Lights out, film out and two quick snips later I had a perfectly formed quarter plate sheet. It was as easy as the earlier carry-on was hard.

Loading the sheaths and dropping them into the quarter plate well on the half plate-sized double dark slide was also a doddle. So, there I was with two sheets of film to expose - but what subjects? I'd all but made up my mind to pay a return visit to the 18th century stables near Dundee when the rain came on so I quickly shelved the idea.

At about 7 p.m. last night, it stopped so I wandered out to the garage just to expose a sheet to make sure everything was working. The lens and bellows had to be checked but the Fomapan, which I got from Phil Rogers a couple of years ago to test the Speed Graphic, was long out of date so I wanted to see if it was usable as well. The garage, as you'll see from the pic on this post, is chock-a-block with all sorts of rubbish but mainly my old bike frames and wheels in various states of disrepair.

My Sekonic exposure meter was suggesting 15 seconds at f22 but I knew from past experience that reciprocity failure with Fomapan 100 is epic. Sure enough, I looked up the table and the 15 seconds turned into 150 seconds. The Kodak tripod designed for the camera holds it very firmly in place so the long exposure wasn't a worry.

The Kodak tripod/make-shift bomb shelter. Note the print
in the background from some obscure 20th century
photographer whose name escapes me.

The result is at the top of the page. It's not a good idea to read too much into just one shot but the Angulon doesn't seem the sharpest lens I've ever used. If you click the pic you can check it out for yourself on quite a large jpeg. The Angulon is in very nice condition with few signs of scratches or anything untoward.

Focus was on the plastic bubble wrap about a third of the way into the garage. I gave the lens panel a slight downwards tilt but only about half that required to bring everything into focus according to Scheimpflug rules as the bellows was fully compressed and wouldn't allow any more tilt. There's also some veiling flare which has killed contrast over the garage door. I quite like that effect, however. On first look then, it's a lens of character rather than one that is clinically sharp.

First quarter plate neg. If there's any "hatching" texture visible it's
from the iPad screen I used as a lightbox when taking this pic.

I was very pleased with the way the neg looked. There were a lot of variables to pay attention to but it's pretty much spot on. When you think of the new camera and lens, out-of-date and cut down film, reciprocity failure, the fact I'd rated the Fomapan 100 at 50 ISO and didn't have a time for it in Firstcall Superfine developer and even the whole large format, composing upside-down ritual with which I'm still very far from comfortable, I'm amazed I got anything at all!

I was surprised when I checked the neg to see that there is full highlight detail in the window glass. Check the pic at the top of the page full-size to see what I mean. I tweaked the processing in Lightroom slightly to just clip a small portion of the glass highlights but it was all there. Whether that's down to the Firstcall developer, the flare from the Angulon or a combination of the two is anyone's guess. But considering that the shot needed 15s at f22 with 50 ISO film and the real world outside probably merited something like seven stops less, that's good going.

The postscript to this article is that I never, ever felt the same satisfaction using a digital camera that I got from just this wee exercise.

7 comments :

Andrea Ingram said...

Nice. Bout time you got those steel framed bikes sorted. Eroica is brilliant!

DavidM said...

I clicked on the first image and it grew. Excellent. Like it. A certain indefinable glow, one might say. Detail for the eye to explore...
But how can anybody need so many disembodied naked wheels? A picture crowded with mysteries.

DougH said...

Great detail.
The cutting down of the negative sounds downright painful. I use a rotary paper cutter for such tasks. Seems a bit safer.

Bruce Robbins said...

David,
I've done a bit of trading over the years as I've collected vintage racing bikes. Sometimes I'd buy a bike because I wanted a rare part from it which accounts for odd frames lying around. Other times I'd want the frame and the wheels would be redundant. Since it's easier to sell off spare frames than wheels, I've got rather more of the latter. However, I've whittled down the collection over the past few years and am slowly selling off stuff to leave me with just four or five bikes that will be fully restored. These are the ones I couldn't bare to part with. Think Rolleiflex TLRs if you want a camera analogy.

Herman Sheephouse said...

That's a good result though Bruce! The Angulon's aren't super-sharp, but there's variations, so when you're sorted with somewhere new to live you can have a shoot-out with mine (about 1967-ish) which is pretty decent.

Currently still researching relative values of impending DSLR purchase . . . honest to God, we had it so simple with film . . why can't I buy something as simple and as easy to use as a Nikon F and a 50mm 1.8 . . . that works . . . it's sheer torture.

Those frames . . . bloody hell!

DavidM said...

Very nearly as bad as me and tripods. Can't bear to part with one. And they take up so little space. And they might come in useful. And selling is such a bother. And I might need to lend one to somebody.

John Robison said...

For this application I would have used paper, easy to cut to size and can be handled under safe light. Try fixed grade 2 RC paper, you should be able to cut 4 pieces from a 8X10 sheet. Scan the finished negative on a flatbed scanner and adjust for output if you want to or make a contact print onto another piece of paper. Has added advantage of being cheap compared to film.