Sunday, July 9, 2017

TEST - 5 Collodions With 3 Developers

  It’s been a while since I posted, but I think a whole bunch of folks, both those who are just getting into wet plate process and those who have worked with it for a while, can find some benefit in all of at least some parts of this relatively extensive test..

  Pushing your own boundaries beyond the technical comfort zone almost always results in improvement of your work.   It is with this goal that I set out to do such a test.

  For the first 3 years of my collodion practice I worked solely with Old Work Horse formula and used the same developer, which I always mixed myself.  That combination worked very reliably for me and with it I settled into a nice and comfortable pace.  Last spring I decided to broaden my horizons and push myself a little further.  I ordered an all-lithium UVP#3 formula from UV Photographics.  Advantages were touted to be faster exposures and long shelf life with no noticeable decrease in sensitivity.  I found both of those to be true, though I must say that I don’t mix a lot of it up at any one time, so maybe at most I let my UVP#3 age for about 2 months or so.  Now I am getting to the point where I want to push my image quality a bit more and so I wanted to look for new collodion mixes.  At the same time I realized that there is a plethora of various developer formulas available both in modern and historic literature.  While some of these developers are touted as being better for warm weather, which is rather important to me as I often shoot in Southern California desert, others proclaim to give more neutral or metallic look to the final image. 

  Inspired by these possibilities I contacted Brian at UV Photographics since he makes SEVEN different excellent formulas.  Brian suggested I try 3 other formulas and also asked me to test a new one he’s been working on for the past year and which is yet to be named or go on the market.  To make my test more diverse, and just to make my life a little more complicated for the sheer fun of it, I then selected two, new to me, developer formulas from over a dozen easily accessible available ones.

Collodions tested:
• UVP#4
• Lea 7
• UVP#3
• UVP-X (not yet on the market)
• Old Work Horse (mixed by UV Photographics)

Developers tested:
Anton’s formula (modified classic plain old iron sulfate, acetic acid kind) –
Waldack’s #2 (for brilliant metallic whites) – available online in Silver Sunbeam
Will Dunniway’s formula (with 10g of sugar said to be good in hot weather) – available in Will’s manual

  So, how would I go about determining which collodion would be most responsive to light and at the same time see which developer gave me the brightest highlights?  After thinking about it for a bit I devised the following procedure.

  Step 1 - I wanted to see how reactive each developer was with each collodion and what would be my maximum development time with each of the 15 resulting collodion/developer combinations.  Collodion will give you brightest highlight if you carry on development to the maximum time possible.  Of course, you don’t want to go overboard with development and have overdevelopment fog set in within shadow areas.  Figuring that out is actually relatively simple – take a plate, coat with collodion, sensitize, do not expose, pour on developer and let it sit on there for about the time you think is good (say 30sec), tilt the plate and with a squirt bottle wash off developer from the bottom 1/3 portion, let the rest of it develop for another 5 or so seconds, start washing it off from the middle section, let the top part develop for another 5 or so seconds and wash off the rest of it.  Ideally after fixing you will see the 30 second be perfectly black, 35sec part may have a tiny bit of fog, 40sec part will have obvious fogging.   If that’s the exact case then your maximum development time is somewhere between 30 and 35 seconds.  If all sections have fog – repeat the test with less time.  If all the sections are black – repeat the test with longer times.  I was able to accomplish testing 15 collodion/developer combinations with 20 little plates (mainly because two of the developer formulas I have never used before and had no point of reference as to what development time to test around). 
  Note – with every formula your maximum development time will vary depending on developer temperature of developer and ambient temperature as well.  Thus, ideally, every once in a while, you might want to waste a plate and do that test whenever something changes.

  Here is and the chart showing maximum development times I arrived at andone of the resulting plates showing development for 30,35 and 40sec.  My developer temperature was about 65F (18C) and ambient temperature was 72F (21C).

  Step 2 – Now comes determining if any of the collodion formulas are truly more light-sensitive and seeing how different developers affect the image.  I set up a still life and a couple of stationary Photogenic flashes were hooked up to a modern lens (210mm Fujinon-W).  Aperture was kept the same (f8).  Then all the 15 combinations were exposed exactly the same and developed for the times I figured out in step 1.
To figure out how far to put the lights or what power setting to give them I used a light meter and my previous experience of how Old Work Horse would work with my usual developer.

  Here is a photo of my little still life setup and 15 resulting plates.  The plates are arranged in the same order as written down in the table for step 1 above.  Way at the bottom of the post is a full size render of the 15-plate grid in case you want to look closer at detail.

  A few more technical details about the above results. 

  All of the 5 collodion formulas tested were mixed 2 weeks ago.  As they age they will probably show a lot more difference in speed and contrast.
  First off – these plates were copied DRY on a Polaroid MP-4 copy stand using Canon 5D Mark II camera.  Applying different VARNISH will of course have different effect on final plate tone.
  To keep color balance and curves consistent I first photographed a color test target, then in Lightroom I balanced that target and applied those same settings to all following images.
KCN fixer was used on all plates, 1.4% solution.
  Not all the pours are perfect... In the shuffle during the wash I did manage to scratch a couple plates... I guess a few weren't washed all the way, so there's yellow stains... For all those imperfections that may offend your eye I am truly sorry.

  One more short note.  As I mentioned previously, for the first 3 years of my wet plate practice I used all exact same chemistry – OWH collodion, my modified developer formula, KCN fix and sandarac varnish.   Lately I went to look for a specific image and stumbled upon come of my earliest plates.  To my surprise the tone of most of those plates was almost entirely neutral, while almost no matter what I do recently all my plates are coming out rather warm-tone.  This makes me think that along with everything silver nitrate bath has a very strong effect on final tone of the image.  After all, with all the other chemistry being completely consistent it is only the silver bath that has changed – I do maintain it regularly, but it basically has the same silver in it with which I started in spring of 2013.

  I am not going to drone on about which of the above collodion/developer combinations I personally like best or worst – I’d rather let my readers decide on their own which tonality they would like to see in their images.  I would also like to caution that all of this is just MY TEST – your results will more likely than not vary slightly, so I highly encourage you to contact Brian at UV Photographics and get yourself some new collodion formulas you haven’t tried.  Then, if you want to try other developer formulas, go poke about the web and see what you can find.  Most all of the ingredients for various developers can be bought from Photographer’sFormulary or your local chemistry supply shop.


Sunday, June 11, 2017

Rolleiflex Lens Test - 2.8 Model C Planar vs. Xenotar

  Right off the bat let me say this is NOT an extraordinarily scientific test - lacking a variety of highly scientific tool as my disposal this is nothing but a personal testimony of what I could observe under as stringent of conditions as I would normally exercise while shooting.  That said, I think some may find the information useful.

  I've been shooting with Rolleiflex TLR cameras ever since I was blessed with getting my first one in 1999.   After running a few rolls through it I was seriously hooked and quickly almost completely abandoned 35mm.  Since then I've shot with a variety of other medium format cameras (Mamiya 7II, C330, RZ... Hasselblad 500C and CM,  Pentax 645 and 6x7 as well as others I'm likely forgetting) and nothing came close to the not only the images produced, but also the way Rollei TLRs feel in my hand.

  Through the years I have gone through 12 TLR cameras - models C, E, E3, and F and ALL of them happened to have had Planar lenses.  Since 2007 I have also had a pleasure of moderating the Facebook group dedicated to all things Rolleiflex, which at this point has well over 9.000 members and where a lot of great photography is posted daily.  In that group, as well in other forums, I every once in a while saw fairly heated debates about quality and characteristics of Planar vs. Xenotar lenses, but never having a Xenotar at my disposal I could never experience those supposed differences for myself.  Well, last week I was absolutely delighted to find out that one of the best wet plate photographers I know was in need of a working 4x5 Graflex RB, which I knew of an existence of nearby, and was willing to trade a Rolleiflex 2.8 model C with a Xenotar lens for it.  As it happens I already had a 2.8C Planar, so a test could now be carried out within the same model.

  There's two things I was testing for - sharpness and bokeh.  I must note here that for me Model C is the the best one - it's lighter and slightly smaller than later models (lacking a light meter, which I don't generally use anyway), it was the first one to feature the better Planar/Xenotar lenses AND, importantly, it was the last model to have 10 aperture blades, that give a smoother rounded bokeh.  I wanted to see though if there would be any difference between the two lenses in that regard.

  So, a quick overview of the conditions of the test.  Ilford Delta 100 was chosen as the finest grained film available locally.  All the images were taken on a tripod with cable release and lens hood.  Focusing was done with the use of a magnifier provided with cameras waist level finder. Both rolls were developed together in Rodinal 1+50 for 10min.  Prints were made on Ilford RC Satin paper using Sainders 4550XLG enlarger with filter set to 'focus' position.

  Here are the two rolls.  There you can also see my little exposure log.  As you can see from the film, the new-to-me Xenotar camera is running a bit sow on 1/10th speed, but I don't think that would have affected much, especially considering that at this speed I had it set to f22.  Oh, also it was of no help as far as density consistency that today in San Diego we had very fast moving thin clouds and the lighting changed rapidly...  Frame 1 is on bottom left of each roll.

 Here's where I see possibilities of various faults sneaking into my test.  I could have missed the focus while taking the image.  I mean, thankfully I do have fairly good vision, but nobody's perfect, right?  Also who knows - maybe the Xenotar camera is ever so slighlyout of alignment between taking and viewing lenses?  Planar one ha been services by Harry Fleenor (he's REALLY the best) and so I'm sure the alignment on that one's perfect.  I could have also missed the focus while making the prints. I did use a grain focuser, but the enlarger was WAY up and I had to use an extension arm to fine-tune focus....  Negative could have buckled slightly between me focusing and making the print.  Although to eliminate that variable I always have a practice of waiting a minute or two after placing the next negative in position and then checking the focus right before making the print.
  Another reason not to take this test too seriously, after all this was just one man's exercise in futility - Harry Fleenor made a good point during one of my visits to him.  He said that two cameras could have come off the line on the same day and have the same lenses in them, but one will be a ton sharper than the other because the guy who set one lens was on top of his game and the other guy might have had a hangover or troubles with the wife and wasn't paying attention as much as he should have...

  So, if after reading all the disclosures in the previous paragraph you still care enough to look at the images, here are the prints from the sharpness target test.  For these prints of I put the enlarger as high as it would go, which resulted in just about 21x magnification meaning a 46x46 (1m 17cm square) in print would have been made. Then I just made 5x7 prints from the center.

Planar f22

 Xenotar f22

 Planar f8

 Xenotar f8

 Planar f2.8

Xenotar f2.8

  Both Planar and Xenotar are not tack sharp wide open.  Very strange to me is that Planar seems to be sharper at 2.8, but then is slightly softer than Xenotar at f22 and also a bit more softer at f8...  Weird, right?

  Here are two compositions I printed in full frame to see if I can detect any differences in bokeh.

 Planar f4
 Xenotar f4

 Planar f22
Xenotar f22
  I see no different in the ways these lenses render out of focus areas, do you?

  No comparison was made of edge sharpness of the lenses - that would have required a whole new set of prints, a different sharpness target and so on and so forth.  Also I did not feel like getting into possible variation of contrast - for that I would have needed extremely consistent lighting, perfectly maintained shutter speeds and a highly accurate desitometer.  Personally, when looking at the negatives that are close in exposure, I see no evidence of difference in contrast.

  In conclusion I'd like to say that any Rollei in the hands of the right person cam produce amazing results, while a Rollei that's been worked on by Harry, had an upgraded focusing screen, and which happens to have one of the sharpest lenses ever assembled by Rollei being used by a mediocre photographer will never make a masterpiece.  So get your camera, go out there, look at the world form a different perspective and shoot, shoot, shoot.  Then back to the darkroom to make some real prints that will convey your vision to the world long past you're dead, all your hard drives are in landfills and all the cloud services you so faithfully backed up your digital files on are out of business.

Thank you,

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Film Test - History in the Darkroom

  Realized I haven't posted anything in a while and having spent a day in the darkroom I thought it's worth a little update.

  Recently I got a large stash of film from a local freezer and a couple of types of film I have not seen before, so I was anxious to try them out.  Among them were Kodak Pan 2484 and Kodak Ortho 6556. There was also some Panatomic-X there - I have been very well familiar with that film, but decided to test it as well.  One step at a time though.

Originally 2848 is a 2000 ISO film, but as I have found after some online research it is prone to gaining serious base fog over the years and also to losing speed.  Knowing that it was in the fridge for at least most of it's life at first I was hopeful and exposed it at about ISO 2000 to 1000.   After developing it for 20min in Rodinal 1+25 I came out with super thin images on extremely fogged base.  Next I loaded a little more film from the bulk loader and shot it at ISO 200 bracketing +1 and -1.  I developed that roll for half the time (so 10min) and this time used a 1+50 Rodinal.  Results were better, but not all the way good.  Still pretty good amount of fog present and the only frames that turned out printable were the ones exposed at +1, so ISO 100.  Here's the negative I printed and the resulting 5x7 print plus a crop from blowup of about 8x10.

  Verdict - in case of my particular batch it seems it would do best if exposed at ISO 100 or even 50 and then developed for 10 or 9min with 1+50 Rodinal.  The grain is pretty juicy - large and acute, reminding me of the old T-Max 3200, but you get that grain with basically a slow speed film.  Even though the grain is large it gives very nice sharp detail.  Intriguing combo if you're in that whole salt and pepper look of old-time photos.  Also, the base it's on is the Estar-EH - SUPER tough, so don't even try to rip it by biting the edge like you would with most films - scissors only here.

Next is Kodak Ortho 6556 (please ignore the pack of Arista on top of it)

  This film is fun.  Orthochromatic means you can work with it under deep red (Kodak 1A) safelight, it also means that any redness in skin tones will turn out a lot darker than it appears to the eye.  Originally this high contrast film was used for copying documents and developed in Kodalith, which gave it pretty much pure black and white look with no mid-tones.  However, if developed in regular developer it will yield a pretty nice gradation, though still tends to have high contrast.  I exposed this one at ISO 12 and developed in Rodinal 1+20 for 10min.  Being a slow film it is a lot less prone to losing speed and gaining base fog over time, so my roll came out from the first try with a perfectly clear base.  Looking at the negatives I think I probably should do 1+50 next time for maybe 12min - get a little less contrast that way and have not as blocked up of highlights.
  Below is a shot of the negatives on a light table, a 5x7 from the middle frame in the top strip in that first shot and then a crop from a 20x30in enlargement.  Note the eyebrow hair of my friendly neighbor Fred.

   Verdict - Kodak Ortho 6556 has super nice tiny grain, extreme resolution, high contrast that should be tamable with lower concentration of developer.  I like it even though the grain is not particularly sharp on the edge - compare the last image above to the crop from Panatomic-X below.

  Now, Panatomic-X.  This is a legendary film developed for areal reconnaissance.  It has the highest resolving power of any film according to this chart.  I have always felt that this film is my favorite by far and finding that chart last week solidified my love for it.  The contrast on it is amazing - plenty of shadow detail and highlights don't block up easily.  Grain is not as small as on the Ortho 6556, but it's very high in accutance and the detail you get is just amazing.  The batch I got is actually from a large 1000ft roll of it that was made for spy planes, expiration date 1972 (5 years before I was born!).  It's on Estar Thin base (another one of those bases that you won't be able to tear no matter how hard you try) and it was actually in the freezer all it's life, so it shot perfectly at initial ISO of 32 and developed beautifully with zero fog.  I probably should have pulled out the remaining stock that I have of Gamma Plus developer for this one - that developer gives (or gave, as it's no longer produced) incredible resolution...  This however being just a test roll I souped it in Rodinal 1+25 for 5min.  Below are the negatives, 5x7 print and then a crop from a 20x30in blowup.  As you can see from the negs below I didn't really pull all the shadow detail possible in my printing - sorry about that...  Believe me though, all the info is there. Note the little numbers and lines there - I BET Gamma Plus developer (or I hear Microdol-X also) would be able to make those even sharper.

  Verdict - Panatomic-X is still my favorite film ever.  I don't need the speed, I like resolution.  Keeping a lot of this 1000ft roll in the freezer until the day when I become too old and frail to lug about a 4x5 with a wet plate setup, it will survive in as new condition for another 30-50 years or more.

  A few more technical details - the above images were all taken on a dingy old Contax 137MA camera, but that was outfitted with my favorite lens - 85 f1.4 Zeiss Planar.  Prints were made on a Saunders 4550XLG enlarger using a Rodenstock Rodagon 50 2.8.  I printed them on Ilford RC Pearl (using different filter numbers for each shot and I don't remember which ones they were of course) and then used a Canon 5DII with 24-105 lens on a Polaroid MP-4 copy stand to digitize those.  In Photoshop all I did was add the usual necessary Unsharp Mask filter (set to 100%, 1 pixel, 0 tolerance).

Hope you enjoyed this little tidbit of photographic history in action.


Saturday, March 11, 2017

Kodak Panoram #1 - There's A First Time For Everything

  My recent Kodak Panoram experience has inspired me to do a little write-up for all to enjoy and hopefully sympathize with me.  I had two #4 Panorams come through my hands before, but because they use much larger roll film, which is no longer being made, I always wanted to use a #1 that takes regular old 120 film (originally it was actually 105 film, but 120 fits in there like native).
  Kodak Panoram cameras were introduced  in 1900 and were made until 1926.  The #1 model covers an angle of 112° and the fact that the film is curved makes distortion-free images.  Neat!

  I got this camera a couple of weeks ago from a great fella up in Canada.  He did warn me that the camera doesn't fire, but the temptation of a fair price and an unfounded internal conviction that I'll be able to fix it pushed me to go ahead with the purchase.

  Quick side note, which may help to explain why I'm so happy that I feel the need to put this into writing.  I have been shooting for over 25 years now, but this was the first camera that I dared to take apart and attempt a repair on.  Sure, there was that one 8x10 Kodak 2D that I got about 15 years ago and on which I wanted to refinish the wood.  I took that one apart almost all the way.  After encountering rivets vs. screws I got scared, let it sit on my desk for a few weeks, put it back together, had about a dozen little screws left over, but since it still functioned I sold it along with the extra screws and let someone else deal with it.  Plus there were no springs or levers in the 2D, so it doesn't even really count - it's just a box with a couple of rails and bellows and therefore presented no threat from the start.

  When I got this Panoram it didn't cock, it didn't swing, it was pretty much a shelf queen, which was the function it performed well for the past who knows how many decades (the Canadian gentleman had a very large collection of cameras beautifully displayed in a special room).  How bad could it be though, I thought to myself, it's just a release lever and a double spring!  So armed with a set of little screwdrivers I took it apart down to the stage seen below.

  That was actually a step too far - the viewfinder didn't need to come out, but having it apart gave me a chance to clean it up.
  What I found upon entry was that I was obviously not the first to have been in there.  A missing screw, some scuffing on all other screw heads, a rough soldering job on a couple of parts - all signs pointed to the fact that this camera has given someone trouble before.
  Most frustrating find was the missing half a tooth on the lens shaft gear and the bent stopper arm.  In fact it was bent at such a severe angle, which resembles 45°, that at fist I thought there may have been two of them and the second one was missing.  Here's a picture of the bent arm (turns out it was supposed to be parallel to the black cone in the back) and the gear with the missing tooth.

  Discouraged by the appearance of the part above my spirits sank and I turned to the world wide web for help.  After a couple of days of asking around I found out that a local photographer I know actually has a working #1 Panoram, though his is an A and mine is the later D model.  Difference there are minor though and the actual lens mechanism is the same, so I drive over to his place.  After about an hour and a half of tinkering and after biting my lip and bending back that arm to a straight position while hoping it won't snap off the camera was back together.  It was still rather reluctant to fire and that required another disassembly and bending the catch on the release plate so it would actually engage with the hole on the lock and disengage from it willingly.  At the end of the day though it was working a lot better than is was before.  The missing gear tooth though makes the lens not totally lock far enough when it's in the right-facing position, so, when the spring is tensioned for it to be ready to fire, it swings a bit too far out and basically starts exposing the film before the release button is pressed.   Hence I have to use the lens only in one direction.  That means that after each left-to-right exposure I have to hold the lens back with my finger, tension the spring, cover the opening with another finger, push the release button and while continuing to cover the lens bring it over to the other side.  A lot better though than a fully non-functional camera!

  The next day I loaded some film into it and snapped a few exposures.  Oh, I say 'a few' because this thing makes only 4 images per roll of 120 film!  With an 6x18cm neg though that's all you get.
  Upon development I was really disappointed to see that nothing was actually sharp on there...  And I mean way out of focus.  Here are images of the 4 exposures and one looking through a home-made loupe at the detail of some wires from the top right of the third negative down.

  The lens was obviously set too far back because nothing up close was in focus and neither was infinity.   Time to tediously adjust lens position.   There are plans online on how to shim the lens, which someone sent me a link to, but I didn't even open them up not to confuse myself further.  I figured since the lens screws into the barrel from the back and then the barrel screws onto the part with the shaft from the front I could use those threads to position it more forward or back.

  First I tried a piece of mylar from a colorless binder.  After cutting a strip the same height as 120 film would be I taped it in position along film plane.

  Well, that was far from ideal - the grain on there is so large that when looking at the image using a loupe it's mainly the mylar texture that I could see.   It was however obvious that the lens needed to come back a bit.  To make the image better I got armed with a ground glass loupe with a small piece of actual camera ground glass (again, just the right height so it can be pressed against the rail on which film rides) taped to it.

  That worked a lot better.  It took a while, but after futzing with lens threads and meticulously checking if the image is as good as it can be I finally ran another roll thought it and this time looking at the negatives though a loupe the wires were a lot sharper.

  One thing that may not be visible in that final image is that, while horizontal lines are pretty darn sharp, all the vertical lines have a bit of a motion blur to them as if the world is spinning around the camera.  I'm suspecting that's a function of the fact that the lens is a simple meniscus, which aren't known to be ultra sharp, and so as the lens swings and makes the exposure it's actually projecting the image with a bit of a left to right motion.  I'm also thinking that I'm looking at these negatives with a bit of a too critical eye.  First off these weren't meant to be enlarged - back in the day they would just contact print them on AZO paper and that would look good enough to the naked eye.  Secondly I probably keep thinking it can be sharper overall because I'm kind of used to nice sharp lenses like Petzvals, Planars and modern large format glass - a simple one element meniscus is not meant to match that level of detail...

  In the end though I think I can learn to live with the slight side-to-side blur.  Before I go out to areas more picturesque than my neighborhood and run another roll though it I think I'll spend another 20min messing with the focus to see if I can make it any sharper.   I actually do have some sheets of AZO left, so I'll make some prints, make decent copies of them and put a little update on here once that happens.

  Another thing I'm thinking of doing.  Meniscus lenses get sharper the more stopped down they are,  There's no aperture control in this camera, but there's no reason I couldn't make a little washer to slip into the lens barrel and put a hole in there that would equal 2 stop reduction in light from where it is now.  Right now it's working perfectly with ISO 100 film, but with a lens stopped down a bit 400 ISO film will expose properly.  Making the opening smaller will not only increase sharpness and depth of field, but it may or may not also reduce the side blur effect.  Without enlarging no effect of larger grain will be seen, so I think I'll work on that.

  I hope I didn't ramble on too long and some of you enjoyed at least the images.