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.

Anton Orlov

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.

Anton Orlov

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Puzzle Post - 4 Half Plate Petzvals - Voigtlander vs. Darlot vs. Dallmeyer vs. Scovill Peerless

  This is a rather short little post centered around the fun of Petzval lenses and the images they create.

  Back to Petzval portrait testing today.  Why?  Because some folks out there have extremely strong opinions on one brand being superior to the rest and they never really back it up with anything concrete.  Frankly, as I expressed in my previous lens test post, I don't agree with that point of view.  Two similar lenses made by any company can be more or less sharp.  A lens with no name on it at all can be sharper than your favorite (and I say that with 100% certainty from personal experience).  A lens made by a manufacturer that is considered run of the mill among collectors and lens hounds can be just as sharp as a lens with similar attributes by the most renown of firms.  One can sell for 1/2 as much as another and the actual performance can be better or the same.  Oh, and then there's 'bokeh' argument - "this brand lens has the creamiest bokeh"...   Well, let's see about it, shan't we?

  Since I have 4 lenses with extremely close attributes I thought I would do a blind test and see how many people who claim to be experts in sharpness and bokeh of various lenses will be able to correctly identify which lens created which image.  I encourage anyone interested in taking a closer look to download the images I'll post at the very bottom - I will upload them in full resolution there, so they'll likely be too large to be displayed properly in your browser, but you'll be able to download them and zoom in at 100% in Photoshop or Preview of whatever your favorite program is.

  Here's the result of of today's labor.

  Test conditions were as follows.  The model was prevented from movement with the help of a head rest and I focused on the left eye using a loupe. I tightened the knobs for the movements on the camera as tight as I could without breaking the knobs - there was no tilt or swing involved, both standards were perfectly parallel. All lenses were shot wide open.  All exposures were as close to 2sec as I could do while just using a cap for a shutter. Development ranged between 30 and 40 seconds (I always develop by inspection).   Afterwards all 4 plates were copied with a Canon 5DII on same exposure setting, imported in Photoshop, given standard 100% sharpening with 1 pixel radius and 0 tolerance and nothing else was done with them.

  Thing I was NOT focusing on in my test are - contrast and swirl.  Most people shoot portrait on a plain background anyway and yes - all these lenses would indeed have a different amount of swirl should you chose to shoot for it.  However the Petzval swirl can be easily controlled and if I did a test the centered around it I guarantee you I could make it just as hard to guess which lens is which.

  So that't about it.  If you care - please enter your guesses in comments below.  In about a month or so I will come back to this post and edit it revealing which lens was used for each image.

The lenses I tested are pictured below and from left to right they are:
  Scovill Peerless Quick Acting - 8.5in f3.3 (must mention - this one has a touch of haze)
  Dallmeyer 2B - 8.5in f3.3
  Voigtlander 4 - 8.5in f3.3
  Darlot - 8in f3.5

  Of course the pictures numbered below are not in the order that the lenses appear above - wouldn't be any fun to guess if I did that, right?


Guess away!
Anton Orlov
EDIT Feb 6th 2017

OK - So I think it's time to reveal what the lenses were.#1 Voigtlander#2 Scovill (wasn't really fair putting it up against the others because it has fog between two front elements).#3 - Darlot#4 - Dallmeyer
All in all I'm not surprised that people went for 1 and 4 - I mean it's true, Voigtlander and Dallmeyer - solid lenses. I am happy to see that people liked #3 as well - I will continue insisting that a good Darlot can be as good of a lens as any out there.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Using Rolleiflex Cameras to Make Tintypes and Daguerreotypes

  Those who have known me long enough are aware of my passion for Rolleiflex cameras.  Back before I got deeper and deeper into alternative photography I used to shoot my TLRs all the time.  Sadly, ever since I got bitten by the collodion bug of wet plate and then thoroughly chewed by the silver monster of daguerreotypes all my film cameras, including the Rolleis, have been sitting quite idle.   A little while back though I did get a nifty accessory called 'sheet film adapter', which was originally designed for single sheets of 6x9 film or glass.  I used it to make a couple of tintypes a month or so ago and people suggested that I make a writeup about the procedure.  Seeing how I'm concentrating my efforts on perfecting the daguerrean craft I wanted to wait to make the post until I have proper sized plates.  I ordered those from Mike Robinson of Century Darkroom (best plates on the market by the way) and waited patiently for the holidays to be over and mail to come from Canada.  The plates got here late last week and today was the first day with weather fair enough to do this, so here we go.

For those who can't wait here's the final result of today's efforts

  I decided to bring out the whole gang and let them all play together, so here are my babies - Rolleiflex 3.5F Planar, 2.8C Planar, Rolleiwide and Telerollei.  Sitting on bottom left is the sheet film adapter the use of which I'll explain below.

  First off a bit of warning.  Silver nitrate used in wet plate photography is highly corrosive, so be very careful wiping off all excess liquid off the back of your plate before inserting it into the holder.  It might also be a good idea to just pick one holder and dedicate it to wet plate only as it will likely begin to deteriorate after a dozen or so plates.  It'll last longer of course, especially if you keep wiping it between plates and after the shoot, but it might start looking rather rough.  It is DEFINITELY a good idea to take a damp paper towel and after each plate wipe the frame inside the camera where the film usually rests - these holders push the plates right up agains the metal there and some silver is bound to end up on that frame, that's the worst part about this whole procedure.  I have heard of people simply dedicating a camera to wet plate only and letting the silver do it's thing with no worries.  That's not a bad way to go if you're not planning on using that camera for film ever again - then you don't even have to have the sheet film adapter - just stick the plate right into the camera and off you go.  I like my cameras though, so I'm trying to keep them clean.  
  One more note on the holders - originally they are supplied with a thin black metal plate to hold your sheet of 6x9 film flat.   Luckily it can be taken out to fit glass 6x9 negatives, which is exactly what you want to do if you want to fit a piece of aluminum for tintypes or a silver plate for daguerreotypes in there.  Below is a photo of an aluminum plate sitting in one of the holders and the adapter to take that holder installed on the back of a Rollei.  Note that I bent aluminum tape around the two edges which hold it down - that way less corrosion will take place and I can always replace that tape later.

  Now, there were two generations of those adapters - ones for later models and one for earlier models and Rolleicord cameras.   If you're gonna go looking for one to fit your camera take a look at the bottom of your camera and make sure that the locking mechanism looks like the one on the adapter.  I also hear that at least the older adapters fit some of the Rollei knock-offs, so who knows, maybe they would even fit a Yashica.  I wouldn't buy one without trying it first, but you might luck out there... 
  Installing the adapter is pretty easy - there's a little sliding lock on top right corner of your back.  Simply open the back all the way as far as it will go and swing open that little lock - the back will come right out on that side and then you pull the pin out the socket on the other end of the top edge.  Putting the sheet film adapter in is pretty much the same operation done in reverse.  One thing I found is that it fit right onto the C model, while in order to put it onto the F I had to take out the dark slide.
  Cool thing about the back - it has a ground glass just like regular grown-up large format camera!  To use it you have to set the shutter on B and lock it open with a cable release (oh, and take out that dark slide of course).  This allows you for precise framing with no worries about parallax correction and also you can preview depth of field given by any aperture - super nifty!  I was using Rolleinar closeup filters, so that feature came in very handy indeed.
  Here's the setup with Rolleiflex 2.8C shooting a Rolleiwide and the plate that was produced. 
  NOTE:  My silver bath needs cleaning and badly...  And I just need to get back to shooting more wet plate for Pete's sake!  That daguerreotype thing has really taken a toll on my ability to produce a clean tintype, so please accept my apologies...

  Tintypes don't take too long - 5min and you're done.  Daguerreotypes are a lot more labor-intensive...  Polishing that silver plate takes a while, then fuming, then development, then gilding... Sheesh!  However persistence pays off and I was VERY happy with the result.  I think this is my cleanest daguerreotype to date!  There's a few white specs from tiny imperfections on the plate catching the light off my copy stand and also I probably could have developed about 15sec less to avoid some very minor 'frosting' of the shadows...  I also went a little too wide with my flame swings during gilding and so that's where the white edges come from, but otherwise I'm fully satisfied with the image. 
  Here is the shot of a daguerreotype plate loaded into a holder, a photo of Rolleiflex 2.8C shooting a Telerollei and the resulting daguerreotype.

  Oh, one final note - don't forget to pull that center tab before shooting!!!  I sure did once and came up with a completely out of focus plate...   Here's that pesky little tab - it rotates to unlock and slides inward to drop the plate into the plane of focus and then you pull back on it to bring the plate back into the holder and rotate again to lock it.

  Summarized procedure for working the sheet film adapter is something like this:

• Install the back, focus (you can use the regular viewfinder for this or ground glass)
• Take your holder into the darkroom
• Take out the dark slide
• Pull the tab in the back and rotate it - the part that holds the plate will pop forward
• Load your plate
• Pull the plate back into the holder and lock the rear tab by rotating it again
• Put the dark slide back in place
• Bring it out to the camera
• Take the part with the ground glass out of the back on your camera (there's a little lock - top left)
• Place the holder with plate into the back
• Take out the dark slide
• Pull the tab and rotate it until it goes inward and the plate goes into plane of focus
• Expose
• Pull the plate back and lock the tab by rotating
• Replace the dark slide
• Take out the holder and back to the darkroom you go

  The above procedure might sound like a lot of steps, but once you do it you'll realize that I was probably a lot more longwinded and detailed than need be.  I just like to address every detail possible.
  Well, I hope you enjoyed this my little adventure.  I know I'll be using my Rolleiflex cameras to make a lot more daguerreotypes - 6x6cm format is great and the lenses are sharp as can be.  Don't know how many more times I will do wet plate though - a little silver is always going to be left behind and I hate the idea of ruining one of my babies with it...  Maybe for wet plate I'll try to find a deal on some beater body with which I have not yet had time to form a personal bond.

Anton Orlov