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April 23rd, 2018

When Cameras Brutalize Film

I use stainless steel developing tanks and wire reels to develop film. I’ve been hooked on them since I was a teenager, probably for the same reason I get hooked on a lot of things that aren’t made of cheap plastic. I like having solid, reliable, built to last things in my life. But there is a lot of interest in the plastic tanks and reels, largely because many of those systems claim to be self loading.

People complain the stainless wire reels are too hard to load without the film jumping over a track and ruining the negatives. I’ve never had that problem, and always assumed people were just doing it wrong. Keep a steady tension on the film and keep it aligned with the reel as you’re loading it and it always works. Plus, if you always shoot the full 36 exposure rolls there is a simple check to see if you’ve jumped a track: if you get to the end of the roll before you get to the end of the reel you need to back up and find where it jumped.

Granted all this is a bit hard at first in pitch darkness. When I was a teen I sacrificed a roll of cheap B&W film so I could practice loading the reels in daylight, until I could do it right every time with my eyes closed. Oddly, sometimes I still close my eyes in the darkroom, pointless though that is.

I’ve never had a problem with this…until recently. And now I think I understand better what’s going on. See…I’ve been a Canon camera kid since I was a teenage boy with his first F1 he worked all summer flipping burgers to buy. And the take up spindle in Canon cameras rolls the film With the natural film curl. My first 35mm SLR, the Petri FT, took up the film Against the curl, and so did the Maranda Sensorex I traded up for. They did that allegedly to keep the film perfectly flat against the shutter frame. Canon, more reasonably, just made the pressure plate bigger. Over the years I’d forgotten how much easier the Canon made loading film onto those wire reels because the film wasn’t all kinked out of shape by the camera.

But now I’ve added two Nikon SLRs to my camera arsenal: a classic F with both standard and Photomic Ftn metering viewfinders, and an F2, with the first generation Photomic head which I am still scouting standard finders for. And I am rediscovering how difficult it is to load the wire frames after those cameras have had their way with a roll of film. I shot a roll with the F last Saturday morning and that afternoon it was a pain getting it on the reel. It happened to be the first one going into the tank and I fussed with it for minutes until I finally got it on. Then came the others from the Canon F1N and they went on without any complaining, and that made me take notice of the difference and I remembered.

Back in the day I was a pretty fierce Nikon critic, and it was this sort of thing that gave me the bad attitude. Don’t even get me started. But time brings perspective and I can appreciate what they did get right, even if what they relentlessly got wrong still irritates. I work with them now, in addition to my Canon F series SLRs, because of a thing I suspect only the old fully mechanical cameras have…a kind of human/machine rapport that can work with you artistically, depending on what you are reaching for.

The analogy I make is to how some musicians have many instruments for playing different kinds of music. It’s more than tonality, it’s how the feel of the instrument helps the artist in the expression of the work. That may sound wonky to some but I’ll bet every guitarist reading this knows what I’m talking about. What I discovered some years ago, when I examined the Nikon F2 I eventually bought in a camera store in Topeka Kansas, is that cameras can give you that feel across the human/machine boundary that helps the work too. I’d never really considered that before in my cameras, though I’d long known about it with my brushes and pens. I’d been very particular about those since I was in my single digits.

So I’ve made my peace…kind of…with Nikon cameras. And actually the Leica’s take up spool does the same damn thing to the film, but I forgive it because the Leica engineers got Everything else exactly right. That little rangefinder blows both the Canons and the Nikons away.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on When Cameras Brutalize Film

September 16th, 2012

Adventures In Medium Format Photography…(continued)

I took a day trip to York, Pennsylvania yesterday to do a little test of the Hasselblad with the metering prism, diopter and focusing screen I bought for it, and two new black & white roll films I’d never worked with before; Fuji Neopan 100 and Agfa Retro 80. The Agfa is advertised has having almost H&W Control like qualities of grain and red spectrum response, but it develops so they say in HC-110. Since Kodak is not at all well these days, and they’ve stopped making Pan-X altogether, which is what I like using in my medium format cameras, I need another source of film.  So I am experimenting.

I haven’t developed the Agfa yet, but the Fuji is already stunning me. It’s emulsion backing is more transparent then the Kodak…to an H&W Control degree practically…so there will be more bandwidth in the resulting images.  Plus it lays absolutely flat on the scanner tray. I don’t need to fuss with it to get it to lay flat, it just does.  My shots with it in York are running though the scanner now.  I’ll see what kind of images I get later today.

But I am already delighted with what I see the metering prism doing for me.  All exposures are exactly on target with the new prism.  Much, Much better then I was able to get reliably get with the Gossen hand held.  My thing is I like shooting into the sun and that can be tricky.  I’ve developed the Fuji and the two additional rolls of Kodak Pan-X I took with me and glancing at the negatives as they came out of the wash everything was spot on.

And it’s faster to work with then I expected. Since there is no direct coupling between the meter and the lens, you have to transfer the reading you see in the meter to the lens manually. But the reading you get is in EVs (Exposure Values) and the Hasselblad lenses have EV settings on them that are a snap to use. Once you set the EV on the lens, the shutter speed and f-stop settings are latched together and you just rotate both depending on whether you want the highest speed or the greatest depth of field.

I am having zero problems now with focus.  The new focusing screen is both brighter and because it has that split-image focusing aid in the center, quicker to focus with.  Plus the diopter is a big, big help.  I can see everything snapping into focus now, whereas before I had to search it out and sometimes I was just guessing at it.  I got it wrong a bunch of times I later found out.

I should have done this Much earlier, but it was a pricy accessory.  The only problem I was having as I wandered around York was the Distagon wide angle lens is flarey.  I had to pass by a bunch of interesting shots simply because there was obvious lens flare where I was shooting from and I could not find a way out of it.  The Distagon is an old design.  It also has noticeable vignetting at the extreme corners.   But it’s amazingly sharp.  There is a newer 50mm lens for my Hasselblad I’ve seen on the used market, which they claim has improvements over the Distagon in terms of vignetting and flare.  But that’s another big wad of money.  There’s a 40mm that’s an even bigger wad of money and I really like shooting at the wide angle perspective.  It suits the kind of work I do.  But I can only spend so much on photography equipment in a year.  Film itself is getting a tad pricey…for some reason.

The Hasselblad is a tad heavy to start with, and the metering prism adds to that.  But it’s a compact weight and I don’t mind carrying it around if it’s because the camera is built to last.  I like solid things in my life and especially my tools.

[Edited a tad…]

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Adventures In Medium Format Photography…(continued)

September 13th, 2012

Adventures in Medium Format Photography.

Looking back over my receipts, I bought the Hasselblad in January of 2005 with the Kiev 45 degree prism and the 80mm Zeiss Planar lens and hood for just under a thousand bucks. Sounds expensive but they went for about that new back in the 70s when I was a poor teenager and a thousand bucks back then might as well have been a million. I’d wanted one ever since I saw what those amazing Zeiss lenses were capable of. But it was way out of reach. New ones are still way (way!) out of my reach. But used older ones are something I can afford now, and this one was in cherry condition…like whoever owned it had barely used it. Over time I bought another two film backs for it and a 50mm Distagon lens because I like shooting wide angle. But the camera mostly sat in the camera cabinet.

That was partly because Apple’s Aperture software just gaged on the large scans off it. To work with them in Aperture I first had to drop them down in resolution in Photoshop. It was a pain in the neck. The workflow completely broke with those scans. You couldn’t even bring the image up in the browser because it would just go gray and you would get an “unsupported format” error message. Eventually Apple just declared it would not support grayscale image scans altogether, that Aperture was for digital photography only, and that pretty much meant it would not be usable for photographers who still liked working in film.

I could have switched to Adobe’s Lightroom product, but after working with the Hasselblad for a while I was discovering that everything about working with that camera was a pain in the neck. The standard focusing screen had no focusing aid and my aging eyes could have really used one. Or at least a diopter. So I was never able to focus on a subject quickly. Plus I had to work with a hand-held meter which only added to the slow deliberate pace of taking pictures with it. Some photographers are fine with that but that just completely messes me up when I want to explore a subject. And it was a triple pain when I had the red filter on it and had to futz with calculating the filter factor in addition to everything else.

It was: see an interesting subject. Stop. Fuss with taking the meter out of my pocket and its case. Figure how to get a good reading. Do I need to walk in close? Angle the meter down a tad? Wait…I don’t have my reading glasses on. I can’t see what the meter is telling me. Put the glasses on…take a reading. Transfer the reading to the lens. Bring the camera to my eye and compose. Wait…take your glasses off.. I’ll just set them down over here. No…better put them back in my pocket. Now try to focus. No…I need my distance glasses to focus because I don’t have a diopter on this thing. Focus…focus…not sure that’s right but it’s the best I can do… Compose. Shoot. Put meter back.

So I became disappointed with it and mostly the camera just sat. And I never got a chance to see what an amazing camera it really is or how much fun it could be to work with. I figured I would just stick to my 35mm SLRs for expressive photography.

As I said, Apple eventually declared it would not support film photographers. I discovered this after an upgrade to Aperture completely hosed the display of all my black and white image files and I looked on their support boards to see what the problem was. (As an aside…Never tell Apple disciples…never even hint to them…that their holy computers and software are anything but perfect.) So I bought a copy of Lightroom. I figured since Photoshop had no problem with the scans off my film scanner it wouldn’t either. And it doesn’t. So I was finally was able to just wander around the shoots I’d done with the Hasselblad. as few as they were because I hadn’t taken it out much…and I was stunned.  (The following JPEGS don’t do justice really to what I saw…but to do that I’d have to upload the original size image files and at about 150 meg a shot you would wait a long time for those to load…)

My God…why hadn’t I been using this camera more…? Well..could be because I needed a diopter and a metering prism at least. Through the lens metering is much, Much faster, more accurate because you are getting a reading of exactly what you’re taking a picture of, and if you put a filter on the lens you get a meter reading on the light coming through the filter…you don’t have to futz with filter factor calculations (those two shots of Monument Valley were taken with a red filter, which darkens the blue sky and brings the clouds out into sharp relief).  Then this month KEH ran a medium format equipment sale and I decided it was time to spend the money to make the Hasselblad usable for the kind of photography I do. Light footed, hand held wandering around for what I like to think of as found images. What I figured I needed to do it right: a plus 1 diopter, a brighter grid lined focusing screen with a split image focusing aid, and a center weighted metering prism.

The pieces came in the mail over the past couple days and just a few hours ago I assembled everything and…whoa. Gonna shoot some test rolls this weekend. One roll of Rollei Agfa Retro 80 and a roll of the Fuji neopan 100. Because Kodak is not looking at all well and I need other sources of film to feed my habit. But already I am Loving what the Hasselblad has turned into with the new accessories. This is going to be fun. Finally.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Adventures in Medium Format Photography.

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