Photo Economics: Multiformat Large Format

Getting the Most out of Camera and Lenses

The equipment for large format film photography can be very expensive. While this is true for 4X5 equipment, it gets even more so for 5X7 and 8X10.  Modern lenses and shutters for the bigger formats go for the amounts I am more inclined to pay for a car, and I have worked carefully over the years to avoid investing that kind of money into photo equipment.  The quality of my negatives has not suffered for that avoidance however and I am quite satisfied with my camera kits.  I’d like to talk about that and offer some suggestions on getting the most out of a limited set of equipment.

paragon
Protar VIIa and Ilex Paragon 12 in 4.5

I have a C-1 black beast 8X10 camera that I bought about 15 years ago that came with two reducing backs and an extra 8X10 back for about $250.  The 34 inch bellows was full of pinholes, hence the price.  Still, after about doubling the price for a custom bellows and installing it myself, I had a camera with three film sizes for not that much money.  It takes a six inch lens board and I had one lens, a 12 inch Ilex Paragon 4.5, uncoated and unshuttered.  I found a dealer in Spokane who had the big Compound shutter #5 and who made a reducing ring and mounted the Paragon in front of the shutter.  Mounting it in a wooden 6 inch board got my camera working.  The shutter and mounting cost me 75 dollars.  The lens was free as it was in a closet having spent 20 years demonstrating what aperture leaves looked like to photo classes.  The reducing backs set me on the path of photo economics as a 12 inch lens on 4X5 is very different in aesthetic and technical qualities than it is on an 8X10 inch piece of film.  Combining that with a 34 inch bellows gave me a camera and lens of awesome versatility! My second lens was also someone’s throwaway and I found it dusty and uncovered in a cardboard box, and when cleaning it up recognized the name Protar VIIa, and doing a little research got me very excited.  It is a 7+ inch lens with combined elements, 11+ with only the rear element, and 16+ with only the front element, mounted on the rear.  This lens combination was meant for 5X7 work, but the rear element covered at least 5X8 and the front much more than 8X10.  As the coverage area increases the closer the focus, and as these anastigmat components increased coverage are as they were stopped down, I had a 1920’s lens that gave me wide angle coverage to ultralong coverage depending on which film I was shooting.

the black beast
BlACK BEAST  B&J C-1

I have said before and will repeat that these old lenses prove themselves in both sharpness and contrast, and that I have found no significant loss of negative quality in their use.  In the meantime I had picked up a 5X7 Eastman 2D complete with tailpiece from a friend in California, a donation as he was going blind and couldn’t photograph any more.  This camera takes 4 inch lens boards while the C-1 takes 6 inch.  Over several years I found an 8 ½ inch Commercial Ektar and a 254mm Ilex Calumet Caltar, both in Ilex shutters, for the 5X7. I wanted to be able to switch between cameras and extend the use of my lenses.  The solution came through my friend Johnny Coffey who is a locksmith and machinist extraordinaire.  I took slider parts from a defunct Speed Graphic 4X5 Pacemaker, showed him what I wanted and he created a 6 inch anodized metal lens board with the sliders mounted at top and bottom of a 4 inch square hole.  The 4 inch wooden or metal boards dropped into this ridged slot and the Speed Graphic slider fastened them into place.   Now the 8 ½ inch Ektar and the 254mm Caltar fit nicely onto the 8X10 C-1 with its abundance of camera movements.

reducing lens board
Modified lens board, 6 to 4 in.

What it boils down to is that one of the virtues of a view camera is the flexibility of its front and rear standards, and with the combination of reducing backs and the reducing lens board, and throwing in the convertible nature of the Protar VIIa, I have six different lens possibilities on three different film formats.  I know that the Commercial Ektar doesn’t quite cover the 8X10, but with that long bellows I can do all kinds of in-close work with that lens on the largest film size and it has made beautiful 8X10 negatives in that mode.

 

If I had to do this all again I would look for an 8X10 camera, not a monorail, but like the C-1, or like the Eastman Commercial 8X10, folders that are easy to transport without a big long case, and the reducing backs. One added advantage of having the biggest camera body is that the big bellows can significantly reduce the in-camera flair caused by lenses with more than adequate coverage.  The wider bellows doesn’t reflect light and bounce it all over the inside of the camera like a narrower 4X5 bellows might.  Most photographers who would shoot large format in the first place would tend to have other cameras and multiple formats. Reducing backs simplify that. Reducing lens boards is not a new idea and having acquired one I have found it to be a great one.

 

The biggest drawback is of course that a big camera is a big camera, and an 8X10 is, generally speaking big. It can also be heavy, although the new custom built cameras of carbon fiber and nice thin wood have reduced the weight but at a price far more than I could justify paying (both to my conscience and my wife and partner Kathy.)

Commercial 8X10
Eastman Commercial 8X10 B

Speaking of weight, I now have an Eastman Commercial 8X10 that is manufactured from magnesium, and it is considerably lighter than the C-1.  It doesn’t have the wide range of movements, especially at the front standard but for field work it proves itself fully capable.  The C-1 on the other hand is the studio camera of choice.

 

Good Shooting

 

Bill Kostelec,

July 5, 2018

 

 

Using C-41 Black and White Film

adventures in processing and printing black and white chromogenic film

 

 

 

Today I was printing some 35mm black and white negatives I processed this morning in the kitchen sink. Printing negatives in the afternoon that were processed in the morning is not that unusual; the kitchen sink part is.

 

I have a good supply of Kodak c-41 process black and white film, mostly 120 but a half dozen rolls as well of 35mm.  A couple years back a good friend gifted me with his refrigerated stash as he had gone digital in his portrait business.  I was my usual skeptical self and didn’t shoot any right away, and then when I did, sent it off to The Darkroom in San Clemente, CA.   It looked OK, pretty good, not bad.  Still, sending it off was a pain, and expensive for someone used to just going into his own darkroom and processing.  I found a video online from the Film Photography Project about using their kit to process C-41 at home and ordered a kit.  I was intimidated by the temperature requirements but, Heck, I have six or seven thermometers and the kitchen has hot running water so I tried it.

 

It works.

film

A chromogenic film, the image structure is made up of dye clouds rather than silver clumps, and the first thing I found out from the 120 rolls was that it scans very well.  The second thing I found out was that it requires long exposures when printing on variable contrast paper.  I have been using this film in 2 very different ways: the first is an ongoing portrait project, very informal, in which I photograph individuals or couples upstairs in our gallery during a once a month food and music party we host. So often enough the subject lugs up a guitar or fiddle. I have 2 cameras that I use for this, my Mamiya C220 and the baby Linhof, 2X3 with its 6X6 back.  I use one white lightning flash with a shoot through 42 inch umbrella aimed at the subject and within two and a half feet of the same. This light is very soft and the 400 ISO film gives me plenty of flexibility with f-stop and shutter speed if I need a little more depth of field.

joshnmnlisa
Josh and Monalisa

 

The Linhof is blessed with a 105 Xenotar.  It is a happy camera.

Kat2
Kat and the Xenotar

The second way I have been using this film is in the 35mm camera as I roam around public events.  I haven’t been using it exclusively but have been alternating it with traditional silver films like Delta 100 and TMY.  In the last month or so there have been several of these events in town and I finally got around to processing the C-41 films this week.  To be more accurate, I finally accumulated enough rolls to mix my batch of chemistry, a Unicolor kit that has developer, blix, which is a combined bleach and rapid fix, and stabilizer.  A friend who was in the business of custom color printing until the digital revolution told me that in the past there had been a Kodak process that divided up the bleach and fix and had some other differences that made it a superior process, but now we have what we have.  So I use it.

2bitches
Two “Bitches”?

 

 

 

westand together
At A march against school shootings

Some technical notes: I follow my thermometer to develop at 102 degrees, with the Blix about the same. I immerse the bottles in a hard rubber 8X10 developing tank in the kitchen sink, get the water bath at about 110 degrees and monitor the chemistry till it is just right.  My negatives are punchier than my commercially processed rolls and when wet make me wonder if I have burned out the highlights.  But no, they print easily with no filtration under a cold light head on Seagull VC or Ilford Cooltone multigrade paper.  The chemistry is reputed to be short lived so I will want to process some more film in the next week and after that call it good. The instructions say 3.5 minutes at 102 degrees.  For the second batch I do 4 minutes.  The Blix calls for 6.5 minutes and I stick with that but I have doubled the wash time to six minutes at about 90 degrees.  The reason I did this is that I had a persistent magenta runoff after the washing and the stabilizer, dripping down into a white tray, and I was getting ugly white splotches from the runoff.  The stabilizer is supposed to make the film more permanent I guess but I don’t understand the process it does for that.  The video showed these guys wiping down the wet roll with a folded paper towel and my friend the old film processor and printer about had a fit when I did that in front of him.  SO I stopped doing it and started getting these ugly splotches.  Hence, two changes I made; I doubled the washing time and then I made a photo flo final bath in distilled water.  Now they come out nice and clean.

 

When our garden is in full bloom I sometimes load up a roll of color print film and it is nice to be able to process that as well.  For printing however, we have to rely on our scanner and an ink jet printer, and it is hard for me  emotionally to wax enthusiastically about the chugging of the machine.

pjammersinrain
The PJammers at a protest against school shootings

A couple of days ago we had a nephew here with his old Miata, newly painted a light blue.  His Aunt visiting from back east was ironically wearing a matching light blue jacket.  The black and white C-41 film rendered both the car and the jacket white! I’ll try out the next roll with a K-2 filter and see what happens.

 

I also picked up some Kodak Portra 400 B&W 120 rolls and I look forward to trying that out.

 

Good shooting.

 

Bill Kostelec

July 3, 2018

https://thedarkroom.com/product/film-developing/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI8Y-OrZ6J3AIVEJl-Ch1New71EAAYASAAEgIhpPD_BwE

https://filmphotographyproject.com

 

 

35mm film and Everyman’s Camera of an Age Not Quite Gone By Part 2

 

 

Of all the film formats, for me 35mm is the most fun to use. It can be spontaneous and quick, it can be carried without burden, even when taking an extra lens and film and because the film is the least expensive of any, I can be more aggressive when something catches my eye than I might be with a TLR or 4X5.  I can use it even when I’m taking our dog Bella on a long walk, as long as I pay attention to her and let her know to sit and wait.

 

As my shooting is not limited to family gatherings and special events, or to put it positively, as I am always on a quest for a new image,  throwing a 35mm camera over my shoulder when leaving the house is more the norm, “just in case.”   If I decide to carry a Mamiya TLR and a tripod, on the other hand, it is because I have something specific in mind, i.e.,  I am going to a particular place with a photo or photos in mind. The opportunity to switch film formats in such contexts is a real blessing.

 

So has been my ability to try out a variety of 35mm cameras and I will offer some things I’ve learned in doing so.  There are, after all, so many used cameras available one way or another that it can be a kind of adventure to try them out.

 

I bought a Realist 35 on eBay for about ten bucks a couple years back and did my usual cleanup when it arrived.  It was made in Germany, very early 50’s.  It’s a rangefinder camera with a fixed lens in the between the lens shutter.  The lens does pretty good but the rangefinder image is rather dull.  So one roll through was enough.

 

A student gave me an AGFA Karat, a pretty little bellows 35 a bit like the Kodak/Nagel Retina, with a very nice and bright rangefinder, and although this one does not have a Tessar lens it does just fine, single coated, made in about 1951. The Karat is really nice to use, especially with its great rangefinder. My version does not have any issues with gummy rangefinder shaft that some of them have.  I was walking downtown with it around my neck and some guy starts smiling really big and stopped me, saying, “That’s a rangefinder!” . He was an Associated Press guy from the Spokane office and when he looked closer he said, “Man, that was my first 35mm camera.”  These kind of fun things happening carrying around nearly 70 year old cameras.

 

Another of the rangefinder cameras that was given to me is a Petri Super 28 with a pretty blue-coated lens that looks suspiciously like the Zeiss Tessar 28s, and on its first run it produced  flat dull negatives.  I got ambitious and pulled the front off the lens.  It too has a built in shutter on the front with a fixed lens.  When I looked close with a loupe I found an interior lens element thick with dirt and what was probably grease.  Though I know you are not supposed to do this, I got deeper into the lens and by holding the shutter open with B I was able to clean the lens element with a Q-tip and some lens cleaner, reassemble it all and shoot a roll with fingers crossed that I hadn’t upset the delicate and precise lens setup. Bang, nice sharp, contrasty negatives! So the Petri is a keeper, like the AGFA Karat 35.

 

Kathy and I bought a Minolta SRT set from a couple who were junk collectors several years ago and thrown in the bag were a couple Contaflexes, SLRs from Contax, both with fixed lenses and as they were pretty early neither had an instant return mirror. Press the shutter and the viewfinder goes black. Wind the shutter knob and it comes back. What initially struck me about the Contaflexes was that the cameras finish was perfect, no scratches, no dull spots, as if they were brand new.  Both cameras have 2.8 Tessars with a blue/purple lens coating and one of them came with another front element, a 35mm Tessar.  For this camera the lens was designed to change focal lengths by unlocking, removing and replacing the front elements.  Though I was skeptical, I found both to be very useable lenses. Though both Contaflexes have built in light meters I get much better results using my hand held meter.

 

I did an equipment swap with a friend a couple years back and ended up with a Minolta ST 202, a SRT 101 and lenses, good lenses.  The 135 Rokkor is excellent as are the two 50mm and the 28mm Rokkors. Kathy uses the 101 with the 25mm Rokkor non-focusing auto-bellows lens on her copy stand work and results from the Minolta equipment have been outstanding. My camera repair tech did a clean-up on the 202 body and was very enthusiastic on the Minolta equipment in general but especially the SRT series.

 

Finally, There are the Leica screw mount cameras, interchangeable lens rangefinder cameras produced after WWII and based on the pre-war and postwar screw mount Leicas. There are the Russian cameras, some of them made on the same tooling snatched from the Leica factories.  I ended up with a couple for under 20 dollars apiece with mixed results. The better way to go is with the Canon cameras from the early 50’s. I had bought the IVSB2 with the Leitz Elma but like most of my equipment it was burned up in a fire in 1992. Much later we agreed to help a lady inventory the equipment her father had collected over a lifetime as he was suffering from Atzheimers symptoms.  We had just volunteered but when she saw I had some nostalgia for a CANON III she gave it to me as a present.  The shutter was shot but I sent it off to get new curtains and 400 dollars later had a very beautiful rangefinder.  The really nice thing, and the reason I am highlighting it, is the availability of LCM lenses, including Nikon, Canon, Leitz, and Minolta, all compatible with the rangefinders of the various cameras.  The color image at the close of the last blog was made with the Canon III and Serenar 50mm 1.8 lens.

young couple color at empyrean

The photo of Larry and his Sax was made with a Leica III from the late 1930’s with an uncoated 50mm Elmar, wide open at 1/25thof a second in a very dark club.

larry W SAX

I got that Leica III from a friend who had been born in the Phillipines just before Japanese occupation and the camera had been his Dad’s, a civilian working for the U.S.government.  It was old and dirty and had some of the internal signs of salt air.  The peepholes on these older rangefinders are very small by contemporary standards and take some getting used to. But isn’t that part of this great adventure?

 

That concludes the series on film formats and their effect on the way we photograph.  Here’s to Good Shooting.

 

Bill Kostelec

May 2018

35mm film and Everyman’s Camera of an Age Not Quite Gone By

 

 

When I was still a kid, maybe 8 years old, I got to take some pictures with my parents Kodak Duaflex 620 camera, flash bulb and all. It was at some big family gathering and when the photos came back from the drugstore a family joke came into being as I had taken a picture of the bare legs of three of my Aunts sitting on the couch, cutting off their heads.  What did I know of parallax, or women’s legs for that matter!

 

Sometime later, my Dad bought a used Argus C-3 from a man who came to the house, and paid 25 dollars, which was probably too much.  That was the family’s first 35mm camera.  As a high school yearbook photographer I used a Yashicamat twin lens reflex a couple of times but when I graduated,  bought my own camera, a Pentax Spotmatic II with a super multi-coated Takumar 50mm 1.4 and a 35mm Soligor 3.5 lens.  I also bought a table top Durst 35mm enlarger with a Schneider Componon lens, all new. In the camera store there were all kinds of cameras, but somehow, it was in my mind that a camera WAS a 35mm, and the 4X5 monorails and medium format cameras on the shelves never even caught my attention.

charliesantiquesfinalb

As I was growing up the National Geographic photographers shot 35mm Kodachrome and the Life Magazine photographers were mostly 35mm shooters.  Gene Smith and Leonard McCombe, Cartier Bresson and Robert Capa, Garry Winograd and Lee Friedlander, and Robert Frank made the 35mm the camera of choice for all those younger shooters who wanted to be photographers with a capital P.  In the days before Canon and Nikon became dominant, there were plenty of choices: Ricoh, Petri, Exakta, Contaflex, Agfa, Werra, Asahiflex, Argus, Mercury, even Kodak with its Retinas and Retinettes.   Because I had grown up in a house with a regular procession of foster babies and kids, and had been crowned the movie maker for them all by my parents, I came to the still camera rather late.  Thus the Spotmatic became my first regular still camera and I read photo magazines to reorient myself to it.

 

old man chicago for john
Old man on Michigan Avenue, 1977

 

The virtues of the 35mm were obvious.  Film was affordable and it was easy to process without an elaborate darkroom.  Instead of hand processing 616 film from my Dad’s Kodak Folder in the dark in an open tray, I could load the film on a reel and use a daylight tank.    A half dozen years later, hanging the Pentax around my neck I was able to roam the streets of Chicago on long lunches with free rolls of Ektachrome when we switched at the studio I worked in from E-4 to E-6.   The Pentax Spotmatic with three lenses (I had acquired the 100mm telephoto) was not much of a burden for a 20 something dude in a denim jacket and blue headband!  Back at the office my friend Bill would process the slides and I’d mount them and take them home to roll a tube on the kitchen floor making Cibachrome 8X10’s.

 

forsythe county
Forsythe County GA 1985, still segregated

 

Years later when I taught photography at Gonzaga University, the modus operandi of 35mm played a big role in my instruction.  “Carry your camera with you everywhere and if something catches your eye, even if you don’t know why, shoot it.”  The Spotmatic finally fell apart around the time my youngest son was born, which is the main reason why there are fewer photos of him.  I had my second (used) Spotmatic when I studied in Israel in 1986 and if I had known more about photography at the time, especially light, I would have shot negative film instead of the usual Ektachrome.  The contrasty light frustrated me and my failures from that trip convinced me to relearn the whole business of photography. The 35mm camera, on the other hand, was a perfect tool for walking the streets of Old Jerusalem or hiking up to the Mount of Olives in the Summer heat.  Without a tripod to burden me, I could whirr around to take a photo of something happening behind me, and when I photographed three old Arab men in traditional headdress deep in the shadows of the Via Delarosa, and the one in the middle whacked at me with his cane, I was mobile enough to miss the force of the blow. Quickness of use is dependent on a lot of factors beside the camera however.  In a memorable encounter on Michigan Ave in Chicago one Winter,  I heard an explosion of female laughing and chattering behind me.  It was the days of “the Dodge Boys wear white hats” and I turned around and at the curb two white Dodge vans had pulled up and pouring out of them were about 20 girl models in hot pants and white cowboy hats rushing towards me into the Tribune Building.  I had the camera in my hand loaded with film and as they ran past me waving and laughing, with their legs, I would suppose, goose bumping in the frigid Chicago wind, I could not take a shot.  Some other factor had interfered with my photographer’s instincts.

 

McCain Rally
John McCain Rally, Gonzaga

 

I still regret that during the Spring of my first year of college when I went with 3 friends to Washington, D.C. to see for ourselves what was going on with the peace demonstrations and the Nixon White House, I went without the Pentax.  Because, I suppose, of all those years of making Super 8 baby movies, I left the Pentax in the dorm and took a Canon movie camera and all I have of a major historical experience are two 50 foot roll of movies film and not a single 35mm negative.  The Pentax would have been a wonderful tool for the marches and the police lines and the camps at the Jefferson Lagoon with the Viet Nam Veterans Against the War and the Welfare Rights Organization and Black Panthers in black leather jackets hawking their papers.

 

I got my first rangefinder camera by trading a 4X5 monorail someone had given me for a Canon IVSB2 with a Leitz Elmar lens (uncoated).  I had become convinced that my best photos had been made with a 35mm and I wanted to move up to what I thought would be a higher level of equipment.  The Canon was an aesthetically beautiful camera and the Elmar was a nice clean cutting lens. Meanwhile I was learning photography on my own with a voracious consumption of library books and lots of film.  Then my friend John Iacula handed off to me for a few hundred dollars a 2 body Spotmatic set with three lenses, a Minolta SRT set with 4 lenses, a Leica IIIc with a 90mm Elmar and a broken Nicca rangefinder body with a shiny chrome Nikkor 50mm 1.4 lens, the kind that David Douglas Duncan made famous during the Korean war.  I still use the Nikkor.

 

larry W SAX
Larry of the Working Spliffs and his Sax

 

Using a rangefinder camera reduces the bulk of equipment even more and I can throw a couple lenses in bags in my vest and with the camera around my neck I can walk miles just keeping an eye out for whatever might catch it. Nowadays I have newer equipment, a 1962 Leica M3 and a 2001 Voigtlander R2 that has its own meter!  Because I shoot a lot of large format I tend to be very careful with composition, and because I wear eyeglasses, the rangefinder can be a little difficult in getting my edges true.  The pleasure of shooting with the M3 overrides for me any of the difficulties.

 

markiepipe in rinardfixed
Markus and his Great Grandfather, Rinard, IL

 

One thing I’ve learned is that even though I can get a shot with a slower shutter speed handheld, image quality improves with a faster shutter, even with the rangefinders and no mirror. Because the small format comes with naturally bigger depth of field, this isn’t much of a problem.  While the gritty look of the 50’s and 60’s when magazine photographers push processed their Tri-X to extremes had a certain charm, I make too many big negatives to want that for my 35mm shots and I’d much rather use a cell phone with its dinky flash in those situations.  So with 35mm, image quality remains for me just as important as it is with a 5X7 inch negative.

 

Kathy is shooting a series on a copy stand with an SRT body and a Minolta 25mm lens intended for the auto bellows attachment.  She photographs objects that can be no bigger than a dime with this non-focusing lens on Tmax 100, and then enlarges them to 16X20 prints and they are sharp and finely detailed.  The idea that 35mm cannot produce image quality is just nonsense.  It produces under the right circumstances excellent quality but with a different feel than large or medium format film.

 

young couple color at empyrean
At the Old Empyrean

 

Today, one can get hold of a 35mm camera and lenses inexpensively and easily either at an online auction or from a local listing.   Millions and millions of cameras are out there and there is still plenty of film available.  It’s true that the cellphone has replaced the 35 as “everyman’s camera”, but then, that means that it is the cellphone that has become ordinary while a 35mm hanging on your shoulder will catch the attention of passers by.  And if you really crave the attention, get one from the 50’s, shiny and solid and no plastic!

 

Bill Kostelec

 

May, 2018

 

Medium Format in the Digital Age

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This is the second in my series on film formats and how they influence our photographs. “…how they influence our photographs” is a rather loose way of putting it as there are countless things that influence us. Still, my own use of medium format roll film convinces me that it is a topic worth exploring.

When I was a 35mm shooter only, and when 35mm was the standard for most amateur and hobbyist photographers, the notion of using a medium format camera seemed pretty exotic to me. I could never have afforded a Hasselblad or a Rolleiflex and those cameras seemed to be for professionals and for me out of reach. In fact, I think it would have been much more economical and affordable for me in the 1970s to buy a monorail 4X5 and a lens and some holders.

When I moved to Spokane, Washington from Atlanta, a house fire burned up all my equipment, negatives etc., and a goodwill gesture from my boss landed me his old Rolleicord, my first medium format camera. Shooting square negatives was a big change as was, “shooting from the belly” which I somehow connected to forms of meditation that I had studied in graduate school. That was 25+ years ago and in the last several years I have acquired a nice setup with two Mamiya TLRs, a C-220 and C-330 with 6 interchangeable lenses and a couple alternative viewing hoods. The accumulation of the Mamiya equipment is not because I acquired wealth, it is rather, directly related to the digital revolution in professional photography! I have gotten hold of the discards from professional portrait and wedding photographers who went digital, and for little money.

I started using the Mamiya TLRs at a time when almost all my images were made on either 4X5 or 5X7 sheet film. A friend had given me a Rolleiflex T that was having winding problems and I did some research and settled on the Mamiya as a camera that I could use more loosely, without a tripod, to make more or less spontaneous snapshots when I was in such a mood, the bigger negative then supposedly increasing the image quality. I guess I was thinking of an upgrade from 35mm.

hilyard widow with markBLOG2

What I found instead was that the TLR worked best on a tripod, was lightweight, with brilliant lenses and good viewfinder, and lent itself to more formality than I had envisioned. It was also quicker, much quicker than the large format cameras and much easier to carry around with me. As Kathy liked the TLR as well, we found a second body and lens and within the first year became very enamored of the possibilities; hence 6 lenses.

I usually characterize the experience as a dramatic increase in productivity, by which I mean the increase in negatives that excited me, were easily printable, and that helped maintain a strong degree of motivation. I padded my interest in making images by every roll off successful negatives. What was especially gratifying in this process was that I also increased my output of sheet film work, developing a couple of series sets that I found very satisfying. Those were particularly suited to large negatives, long bellows draw and a slow and contemplative process of setup and shooting. In other words, the prolific medium format work made the particular characteristics and strengths of the large format equipment much more obvious which then pushed me to develop the aforementioned series work.

Hosata leaves after the rainBLOG2

 

I often print square, with little or no cropping. The square is a nice slice of film and looking down at the ground glass the square is what I see. I know Ansel said that he mentally cropped his Hasselblad images before he pressed the trigger but as he had always preached visualizing the finished image before the exposure he could hardly say anything else! When most of us compose, we quite reasonably use the black 4 walls of our viewfinders or groundglass frame to do so and so I look for a composition that makes good use of the square. Another advantage to printing square is that I can take an expensive piece of printing paper and square it, getting a test strip and a print out of the same rectangular sheet.

Using the TLR on a tripod also means that I can most often use film of 100 ISO or less, increasing the ability to enlarge with little in the way of grain or other “artifacts” of the film negative. It seems strange to think about artifacts with a film negative. Sometimes I really like the feel of grain in an image, but the tripod means that I can use a film like Pan F when I have something else in mind.

As far as image quality goes, I have seen some comparisons done in online blogs “proving” that high end digital cameras produce sharper images than medium format film cameras, but such things are the fodder for self congratulations for those who don’t have the patience to work in a darkroom anymore, and that’s just fine. The notion that one has to have the “best” and sharpest and so on is, in my mind, detrimental to the whole purpose of the game, which is to make significant and satisfying images. And the darkroom is not for everyone, but it is satisfying to see our students, most who have never worked in a photolab before get so excited when one of their prints begins to reveal itself in the developer tray.

In any case, the Mamiyas have proven their ability to produce images of high resolution, great sharpness and fine detail. Even our oldest chrome shutter 80mm lens performs very well.

The histories of photography are usually narratives of “great photographers” who somehow became guiding lights for those that followed them, and to a limited extent there is truth in such stories. My take on the history of photography is a little different, in that I picture the major changes in photography as being technology driven, with the guiding lights as the pioneers of using technological developments to good advantage, (e.g., Stieglitz and the 4X5 Graflex SLR). Each major development in the camera and lens let talented photographers expand the possibilities of the medium. Each new development did not eliminate the utility nor the potentiality of the earlier technologies. Sheet film was not replaced by roll film. This means that because we have such a variety of photo technologies available to us, there is a vast number of approaches to image making. And because so many professionals had to abandon film to meet the market demands, that also means those of us without endless wealth can have access to loads of excellent equipment and the potential images that such equipment represents.

And that is good for us all.

Bill Kostelec

April 2018

 

Film Format and Image Differences

I’d like to spend a few blog posts on thinking about how moving from one format to another, from 35mm to 8X10, for example, can significantly transform the way a photographer works and the kinds of images he or she produces. There’s nothing mysterious in this and I’m not offering a new idea, but I usually gain something whenever I start reflecting on my own camera work and because Kathy and I received a camera collection as one man relieved his own burden onto another, I often feel almost plagued by too many options.
In reality though, my-go to cameras are much more confined than the collection. For this first reflection, I want to think about shooting large format, which for me includes 8X10, 5X7 and 4X5. For the past couple of days I have been contact printing older 8X10 negatives on Fomalux contact printing paper. For these sessions I have been mixing Ansco 120 developer, a soft working formula that has only Metol and a lot of sodium carbonate. The Fomalux paper is available only in grade 2 but it is a pretty harsh and contrasty grade 2, much more so than the Lodima grade 2. It is also much more affordable. The Ansco 120 did its job and really tamed the contrast without sacrificing the rich blacks that mark this Foma paper. We are able to enlarge up to 5X7 negatives so for the 8X10s scanning or contact printing are our present options.

I have had an 8X10 camera for over 20 years. The first was an Eastman 2D with no back rail extension nor sliding block. Then I bought a C-1, B&J version with 3 backs very cheaply on eBay and after installing a new bellows I have a very useable and versatile camera, and very heavy. My last acquisition is an Eastman Commercial 8X10 with block and extension rail and is made of magnesium! This is my big field camera. I don’t own any large format lens later than the 1960s, nothing multicoated, mostly Ilex Acme shutters and my older lenses include my favorite Protar VIIa in a Compound shutter. It dates from the early 1920’s while I have a brass lens with the faceplate missing that I suspect is an 10 inch Goertz Dagor in an Ilex Acme no 4. I mention the lenses because as a large format shooter, I can successfully use a lot of old glass and be very happy with the results. This is, I think, a prime positive characteristic of making large format negatives.

This first illustration is a scan of a platinum/palladium print from an 8X10 negative shot with the 7 inch component of the Protar VIIa. None of the big equipment is really light and the 8X10 and 5X7 cameras require a tripod. These college girl models were dancers and were very good about holding their poses. All of us knew that the big wooden camera required something more than flashy moves, and their facial expression, very relaxed and focused, was at least in part the result of being before the 8X10. So besides that truism that large format takes more time, there is this truth, that often it has a positive effect on those who stand before its studied gaze. Using a tripod leads to a second characteristic possibility of large format: one can do long, long exposures.

DancersSMALL

The second illustration is from a 4X5 negative taken with a Crown Graphic and a typical Optar 135mm lens. I was deep in a cavern looking down at an unnamed creek with a small waterfall behind my back. The creek and its bed were not spectacular, kinda of tangly and disordered, but there were some interesting rock outcrops. Around here there is a lot of basalt leftover from slow flow lava from long, long ago. My meter groaned at the darkness and I stopped down to f-22 and held the shutter open for a clean 60 seconds. My tiltall tripod did the trick and I made two negatives. Now the disorder and messiness of the little creek became something else, all mystery and light, things that my eye could not see were revealed. It was the possibility on the groundglass that pushed me to the image. If I could have used a 35mm on a tripod I might have got something similar but the 4X5 glass is much more revealing and the large negative evoked much more of the presence of the wet rocks, now luxuriously there!

waterfall negative edit mysterycrop.jpg

The third illustration is of a chair sitting by the fireplace. There is a high window behind it, a typical multi-pane Craftsman house window. This is also a scan of a PT/PD print. With an 8X10 negative, it is a natural thing to make a contact print and doing that invites the photographer to explore some of the 19th century printing processes. This image was shot with Ektascan xray film, a very inexpensive option for 8X10 shooters which I have also found hard to process to its full advantage. It is exceedingly sharp, and scratches if you breathe a little too heavy in its direction! (that is an exaggeration). Here the convenience of being in the house makes a heavy 8X10 camera seem very manageable and so it lends itself to such intimate shooting.

Chair

Finally, this last illustration represents yet another characteristic of the big cameras. With 34 inches of bellows, some of my lenses can get really, really close. This photo, made on a 5X7 negative is the result of an hour or so of playing with things at hand on the shelf below that same multi-pane window. I had a theme in mind, working in the context of a series of images and this makes a vague reference to the “Devil and his Wife” which in addition refers to a song I wrote and recorded, “The Devil is Beating his Wife”, which also, in turn, refers back to an old Southern saying which my young and Southern wife introduced me to. The Zuni Bear is apparently, their pet. Here the big 5X7 glass lit up with the bright daylight flooding through and behind the widow glass and with painstaking balancing and fiddling and lots of experimentation I finally saw this image, and shot it. The closest object to the lens was about one foot away, thanks to that long, long bellows. At this point, measuring the bellows extension is required and reciprocity factors in as well. I love looking at the big ground glass. It’s beauty is infinite because we can continue to look at new things and see how the glass transforms them.

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So that’s a little reflection on using large format film and cameras. The next reflection will be on using medium format film and cameras.

Bill Kostelec
April 2018

Using a Fungussy Lens

LADYINBLACKUsing a Fungussy Lens

I have a Canon screw mount lens from the early 1950s. It’s a Serenar 50mm f 1.8 in a shiny bright chrome mount. It came on my Canon III. It has a fungus on an internal lens element. My camera tech did not want to disassemble as far as it would have taken to get to the fungus, so we let it go. This is a lens with a very good reputation. It was created fast, sharp and contrasty. It still is.

The coating on the front and rear elements is in nearly perfect shape on the Serenar and I have used it happily from time to time. Still, it has a fungus. The other day Kathy and I went downtown Spokane to photograph the MLK Day march. It was cold, but bright and sunny. I decided to take two cameras, a Minolta SRT 201 with a 135 Rokkor, and my M3, with appropriate adaptor and the Canon Serenar. I wanted to see just what I could get out of the fungus, afflicted lens in bright, contrasty light.

I shot two rolls of film through it, a 24 exposure roll each of TriX and TMAX 100. Most of the exposures were made at f11 or between f8 and f11. The fungus is translucent and it is off center.  The set up area for the march was at the Convention Center with its high and brilliant white block long wall that faced the late morning sun directly. People standing up against or close to the wall threw distinct and sharp shadows behind them and the light made for some very interesting images.   Figure no. 1 is of a lady dressed in black, just a couple a feet away from the wall. I was standing straight on and parallel to her and the white wall. At 1/250th of a second between f8 and 11, the TriX negative is nice and sharp. When I printed the first copy of this I used a 3 ½ filter on Seagull VC fiber paper, and the first print was too light. What did reveal itself in this print was light from the wall behind subtly bleeding around the edges of the lady’s dark clothing and hat. Very subtly. I increased the print exposure by about 50% and got the good print, illustrated here. There is no sign of the flaring, no fog obscuring detail and I think of this as a successful exposure. Obviously the fungus had glowed in the brilliant wall light. My lens hood could not hold that back. Still, the quality of the negative is good and I printed without any burning or dodging.

FLARINGINMARCH

The second image is near the end of the march with a lot of brilliant backlighting. As my custom, I put myself into a shadow area, this time a multi story building whose roof just cut out the noontime Winter sky from the shot. Any light that could flare the fungus in the lens would have to come from the reflections off the street or windows or shiny objects on the marchers. In this case it was hair and pavement and a parked car. Here the effects of the fungus is more pronounced and there are several little bursts of white light on distant marchers where the sunlight backlit hair. The shadows and light on the pavement was very striking in reality and the fungus I think tended to emphasize that in a very pleasant way. If I’d used my Summicron 50mm instead perhaps the backlighting would have been cleaner and more controlled but I am really happy with the fungal glow.

So what is the lesson here? My Dad told me a long time ago, “Don’t throw it away. You could use it someday!” I learned my lesson. A photographer’s equipment does not have to be perfect, nor new. It just has to be used properly, and at the appropriate time. So, make some pictures.

Bill Kostelec