Film Dark Room, Film, 35mm, and scans, Rants and discussions, Zenza Bronica SQ-A

Medium Format Film Street Photography for Dummies

Bronica SQ-A camera. Zenzanon PS 150mm f/4 lens. Ilford HP5 Plus film. Home developed in R09. Scanned film Epson Perfection V500.

The above negative was a wee bit thin and underdeveloped – not the best, despite using my digital scanner and Open Source software (Gimp) to improve it.  But I like it, and in amateur photography, that is what is important.

Medium Format film photography in the street, eh?  Who’d ever thought of such a thing.  Well beside a million box camera enthusiasts last Century, there were also the TLR enthusiasts including for example, Vivian Maier.

Don’t worry, I’m certainly not comparing my meagre efforts with Maier.  However, a few things have fired this post.  First, I read a question on Yahoo Answers, from a DSLR user, asking how to use software manipulation in order to emulate Vivian Maier.  Second, I do like to promote the use of medium format film in the street.  Oh, thirdly, in the back of my mind, a debate on a photography forum, whether we film photographers should bother with 35mm anymore.

I enjoy the challenge of lumping my Bronica SQ-A around a town centre.  I feel privileged to use it.  Most of the time, I’m assessing the exposure value merely on my eyes, brain, and the Sunny F16 rule.  Sometimes I use a phone app light meter, an actual old light meter, or a secondary camera built in light meter – but most of the time I simply use my eyes and judgement.  The Bronica has very logical and clunky stops – both a well marked aperture ring on the lens, and a chunky shutter speed control, with 500, 250, 125, 60, 30, and ridiculously slow shutter speeds.  I recently read a post by a DSLR user, that he couldn’t survive with a maximum speed of 1/500 s.  For crying out loud, we ain’t trying to freeze a hummingbird in motion out here in the street!

I’m learning street tricks with the Bronica.  For example the Candid.  I know some feel Candid to be perverse.  However, if you already are perverse (as I am), then try this.  The WLF.  People SEE you staring at them through a range finder or through a SLR / DSLR prism.  However, if you are looking DOWN into a waist level finder (WLF), they do not always cotton on … so to speak.  A photographer isn’t looking at them.  Hint 2.  You can always be even more perverse and incognito, by looking down into the WLF while not facing the subject – hold the camera at a degree to your body.  Ok, that is just nasty sneakiness for the coward (yes I’ve done it).  Another important lesson – learned by using fully manual cameras without any range finder:  Keep the WLF folded down.  You need enough light.  Keep the aperture small (F8 – F32) in order to maximise your chance of a reasonable focus over a field, and point the lens.  Best of course with a wide angle or standard lens.  Needs a fast mind.

Or of course, you can simply ask or nod at the subject before taking – but you will never have that natural or even better, surprised look.  The above photo, I failed at a Candid – I was seen before I was ready- so I asked.  Nice, but not candid.

Getting back to that Vivian Maier look via digital.  Forget it.  Digital will not give either the tones, nor grain.  It’ll also miss the DoF.  Finally – it loses the perspective of her WLF.  Instead, buy a working condition old TLR film camera.  Buy some 120 film.  Then you are sorted.

As for giving up 35mm for 120?  Medium Format (or even better, Large Format) is the CREAM of film photography that Digital has not yet bettered.  However, there are so many freaking great 35mm film cameras out there on the market cheap as chips.  I’m not going 100% medium format yet.


Film Dark Room, Zenza Bronica SQ-A

Rollin’ One. Film onto a Paterson type developing spool

Boho. Anita tries out the Lubitel. Bronica SQ-A camera. Zenzanon PS 150mm f/4 lens. Ilford FP4 Plus 120 film. Home developed in ID11.

As usual, this post has little to do with the above image.  I’ve been home developing film for the past year or so, and in that time, I’ve developed too many films – 35mm, 120, b/w, C-41, and other.  It took me forever to learn how to spool a film onto a reel inside a changing bag with success.

Here is what I have learned as a novice.

Always freshly wash your hands with soap and water before any film changing bag work.  Make sure that they are then fully dry!

Avoid touching not only the inside – but minimise touching the actual edges of the film.  So many problems are down to a little moisture or grease (transferred from hands) along the edges of the film, where they spool (or fail to spool) on a Paterson developing reel.

Now to the films…

120 Medium Format roll film.  Inside the film changing bag, break the tape, then carefully roll the leader of the paper – while checking for the appearance of the plastic film.  When you feel the film emerge, roll them into two rolls – the paper you’ve already started.  Reel the film up in a separate roll- stroking the back, minimising touching the edges as much as possible.  When they meet at the taped end, tear off the tape, and discard the paper roll out of the way in the bag.  Now cut the corners of the film – taped end, so that the tape doesn’t smear or stick down the developing spool.  Introduce it carefully to the spool.  It should be easy to reel on.  Avoid touching those film edges.

35mm.  If possible, keep the film in the cassette – don’t pull it out.  Either leave the tail out, or break open the mouth – fishing the tail out.  This way, you avoid contacting those sprocketed film edges.  Cut a generous tail off, and trim the leading edges.  Feed onto the spool.  When needed, pull more film out of the cassette, then reel in, until you feel the end and cut the empty cassette free.

Just recently, using the above (clean hands, avoid contact not only with the inside, but also with edges), I’ve been getting 100% transfers with no damage to film.  I wish I knew this earlier.

One more tip.  I’ve recently replaced my Paterson spools with AP System spools – that fit inside a Paterson tank.  They are a poorer quality – in that I find that I can adjust them wrongly – then they are a bugger to free up.  However, the thumb pads and long guides are easier to start films off.  They can be bought from FirstCall as spools alone, and they fit Paterson tanks.

Cameras and equipment, Film Dark Room, Film, 35mm, and scans, Monochrome, Portrait

Back to Basics – the Box Camera

Flint and Myself on a dog walk. Kodak Brownie Flash III box camera. Ilford FP4 Plus expired 2004. 120 film rolled onto 620 spindles.

Every now and then we like to take an ancient box camera out for a little simple fun.  This time it was the Kodak Brownie Flash III.  This is a very late box camera from Kodak, dating to circa 1958.  Kodak replaced their box cameras during the early 1960s, with a wide range of plastic Brownies, some designed to use 127 roll film.

The box camera had a long and noble history – they were central to the popularisation of photography during the first half of the Twentieth Century.  Kodak started making box cameras in their Brownie range in 1900.  In 1901 they introduced 120 roll film, that for many years became associated with box cameras.  This was film photography at it’s most simple and cheapest.  A basic camera obscura – a box, often a cardboard box, with a cheap meniscus lens in a single hole on one side.  Behind the lens, a simple spring shutter linked to a lever – a single stop shutter, and aperture.  A basic roll film loader that slides out of the back of the box.  A red window on the back of the box so that you could see the number of the exposure on the film backing paper.  One or two little reflex viewers in the corner of the box to help you point the lens in the right direction.  That was just about it.  A single stop roll film camera built in a box.  An idea that was taken up not only by Kodak, but by camera manufacturers around the World, and that lasted sixty years or more.

It took photography to the working classes, and it often took photography to youth.  How many famous photographers started out with a box camera?  I wonder if it could teach much to the youth of today, if they were given this, instead of a digital HD all singing dancing gadget camera?  After the shock, they might even marvel at the beautiful and simple idea of capturing light in a box through a small aperture, onto a plastic film coated with emulsions of silver salts.  Imagine children of the Digi Age … one stop, that means no exposure controls, not even manual.  You have to match the camera to the light.  Even the film was one stop, ASA 125.

I can just about remember building a camera obscura at school when I was quite young.  I hope that they still teach this to kids today.

Returning to the above photo, this Kodak Flash Brownie was a late, and advanced model.  It has toggles for two fixed focus zones (under ten feet away, or over), and for a yellow sky filter for B/W photography.  It even has a fitting for a flash gun to be attached.  High technology in 1958.  It was designed to be used with Kodak’s 620 film format.  I’ve often posted on this before, but to recap, Kodak 620 film and paper backing were identical to 120.  However, in order to encourage consumers to buy Kodak film for Kodak cameras, the 620 spindles were different, so common 120 wont fit in the camera.  Unfortunately, 620 film format is now obsolete.  Ha ha, we can easily get around this.  All that you need is a couple of old 620 spindles (most old broken box cameras have an empty spindle in them), and in a light proof environment (I use a film changing bag), you can roll a 120 film/paper backing off it’s modern 120 spindle, then back onto a 620 spindle.  You just need to practice first a little in light, and lift the taped end up – release any slack, and push it back down.  Tutorials are on Youtube.  It takes five minutes a film.

In the above case, I used an old long expired Ilford FP4 Plus 120 film that needed using up.  I’ve since reloaded it with an equally long expired Fujifilm Provia colour roll.  Anita snapped away over a few days.  Then I quickly developed and processed the film in diluted ID11.  The negatives for this class of medium format box camera are huge.  Massive 6 cm x 9 cm exposures – nine on a roll of film.  Indeed, that’s part of the magic.  Although I digitally scanned the film to produce images like the above, in future, should I wish to, I could very simply make a reasonably sized positive print from chemical process.  It doesn’t need to be enlarged.

By the way, the Kodak Brownie Flash III camera that we used here – I bought it in a box of cameras and equipment for about five quid at a car boot sale – sold a Konica that came with it for a fat profit, so this box camera was basically free.  It is in almost immaculate condition – as new (almost), and in it’s original carry case, with the owner’s address scribbled inside the bag.

We are going to continue using a box camera from time to time, and I’d recommend it to others.  It is back to basics.

Film Dark Room, Film, 35mm, and scans, Pentax ME Super 35mm film SLR

It’s about technique.

Arrrgh, Geee, Beee. Pentax ME Super camera. SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7 lens. AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 35mm film from Poundland. Developed in Rollei Digibase C-41 chemistry. Stitched together post negative scan with open source Gimp software.

Another day of nothing to do but demolish Poundland 35mm film.  Actually, it really is getting easier with practice.  I had a technique that worked yesterday.  Even managed to avoid running into the kitchen screaming “I need the kettle now!  I need temperature!!”.  No spilling of jugs of developer.  No chemicals poured into wrong containers (I’ve carefully numbered my storage drums and measuring jugs to match now).  Now I understand it (until some swot corrects me), the critical 38 C temeperature only really applies to the developing stage – so as long as I pre-soak in water at 38C (or slightly above), and develop at 38 C -/+ 0.3 tolerance, then I don’t need to worry too much about lower temperatures (30 C to 38 C) for all of the following baths – and I can use the water that I heat my jugs of chemicals in, for rinse.  The three scanned Poundland film negatives in this post, were all taken in the Pentax ME Super, using 35mm Poundland film (AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200), and were developed in Rollei Digibase chemistry.  The top image has been stitched from three exposures, post digital scan, using the free open source Gimp software package.  All taken in the last few days and quickly processed at home.

Colour test. As above image.

This will probably be my last post for a week or so, as my ISP wants paying and they are going to have to wait.  Maybe I should rename this blog The Broke Photographer.  Will catch up at the end of the month.  Take care.

I tell yer. I left my hard hat in here! As top image.

Film Dark Room, Film, 35mm, and scans, Olympus XA-2 - 50p camera project II

C-41 Process and Me.

The General Cemetery. Wisbech. Olympus XA2 compact camera. AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 35mm film from Poundland. Developed in Rollei Digibase C-41 chemistry.

For crying out loud.  I really do not like this C-41 process game, and it does not like me.  However, I’m sticking with it, but it is fighting me back.  Ok confession time.  First attempt.  Screwed up totally, although sort of salvaged a few sprocket hole images.  I’ve posted on that one before, so I wont go into detail.  Second attempt.  I accidentally poured some used bleacher into the fixer storage drum.  I’ve checked with the swots on an analog forum – the verdict is that it’ll gradually degrade and to use it ASAP.  I did however pretty well process a 24 exposure of 35mm, although it wasn’t a very good shoot.  I took it in my 50p Olympus XA2, and it included the above image, of the chapel of rest, in the disused General Cemetery in Wisbech.

Third attempt – just now.  I processed two 35mm films in the Paterson tank together.  Too early to say how they’ll turn out, I’ll see tomorrow.  However, I accidentally dropped 600 ml of precious C-41 developer to waste.  I wanted this stuff to last 6 – 8 months, but it isn’t looking good.

Maybe I’m just too much of a rush-about klutz to process my own C-41 colour film.  Too much worrying about temperature, too many jugs.  It’s certainly another learning curve.

Film Dark Room, Monochrome, Zenza Bronica SQ-A

Off Colour

Anita and the Post Box. Bronica SQ-A camera. Zenzanon PS/B 80 mm f/2.8 lens. Ilford HP5 Plus 120 film. Developed in ID11

I know I keep putting off the C-41 thing.  I’ve got the chemistry, but right now, I can’t be bothered with colour.  I guess that my excuse is that I’m still scavenging five litre drums, so that I can properly mix all of my processing solutions, and store them properly.  So for now, I keep on loading those Ilfords into cameras.  Not all Ilfords though – I loaded a Firstcall 400S in my Olympus XA2 35mm compact today.  A very cheap, budget true black and white 135 film from Firstcall Photography.  I’ll see how it performs.  It’s the cheapest such film that I’ve seen on the markets, and 36 exposure.  Prices like that could almost lure me away from using the C-41 Poundland film.  Thing is you see, I’m really enjoying B/W film photography.  I’m not sure now if I want to dirty the bleach waters of C-41 yet.

For anyone interested.  For B/W processing, I use Ilford process chemicals, including Ilford ID-11, which I last bought in powder form, to make up five litres of developer solution.  Far cheaper than buying smaller packs, and it packs nicely into a recycled five litre drum (that contained car windscreen wash previously – well washed out), that you can squeeze quite a lot of air out, as you use it up.  The developer was muck cheap from an online dealer – but to make it even cheaper, I dilute my ID-11 down to 1:3 with tap water just prior to processing a film, at 20C.  This of course greatly extends process time.  For Ilford HP5 Plus film (my favourite) with no push, at ISO 400, it’s twenty minutes, with 10 seconds of gentle inversions in every minute.  Prior to developing, I’ve also started to pre-soak with tap water at 20C for three minutes.  Stop and fix solutions are re-used several times.  I use an extended Ilford rinsing technique – progressive inversions, and four rinses – with a fifth rinse at the end, containing a wetting agent.  I’ve stopped using a squeegee again (tram lines!).  It’s a long process, but it’s very cheap, and it’s starting to give me the developed B/W film negatives that I want.

Reading the above, I realise that yet again, I’m posting on techie issues, rather more than creative issues.  I recently read an opinion by someone, that photographers tend to divide into two different types – those that are very knowledgeable about photographic technologies, and those that are more artistic and creative.  I’m afraid that I’m more of the former.  I mean, why would anyone give a toss about how I process my films?

Cheapskate News

On a recent visit to the local refuse / recycling centre (what use to be tips), I spotted a load of old leather camera cases in the “Small Electrical” skip.  Please forgive my tight-fistedness.  I rummaged in the skip and found an old Kodak Box Brownie 620.  Whenever I spot an old box camera, I quickly open it up, check for used film and for 620 spindles.  This one had an empty 620 spindle.  I’ve posted on this subject before, but briefly, you cannot buy 620 film anymore, except for grossly priced, grossly expired rolls.  However, 120 roll film is widely available, and in a darkroom or film changing bag, can be rolled off it’s new 120 spindle, and with care, onto an old 620 spindle (lifting the taped end to release the slack), bringing any 620 camera back to Life.

I asked the refuse workers if they can sell cameras.  The reply was no, as they are classed as “electrical” and could cause an issue with health & safety.   I don’t know where that 620 spindle in my pocket came from.

620 spindle next to a 120 spindle, and one of my Box Brownie cameras.

Film Dark Room, Monochrome, Pentax ME Super 35mm film SLR, Portrait

FoolHardy Clowns

The Likely Lads. FoolHardy, clowns in Wisbech. Pentax ME Super camera. SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7 lens. Ilford HP5 Plus 35mm film, developed in ID11

Clowns at the Christmas Fair in Wisbech.  From the FoolHardy circus in Norwich.  Joe Fool, and his partner Cosmo Hardy.

A place in Explore, and over 11,000 views, and 180 faves for this image on the Flickr website yesterday.  Well I liked this one, so I’m glad that others do as well.  It was a good strip of film.  I’ve started pre-soaking my film in water at developing temp (or slightly above), and it’s probably just me or a lucky film, but the grain looks really nice.  As I’m moving towards Colour film and C-41 developing, I’m having serious second thoughts!  I’m liking my home developed b/w so much!

On the C-41 front, I’ve found an online article, based on my Digibase chemistry kit, using stand processing. The method develops C-41 at a lovely familiar 20 C, with minimal agitations, but very, very slowly.  It sounds safe, and I think I can manage that better, so when the time comes, I’m probably going to use that method.  My dark room notebook is starting to dry out (since I dropped it in water), and I need to start writing a C-41 plan stand processing plan.  Not too sure that I fancy bleach bypass though.  Meanwhile I also need to do two other things.  1) take some photography, and 2) find some nice 5 litre drums to store chemicals in.

Film Dark Room, Film, 35mm, and scans, Lubitel 166B

Chaos Colour

Upwell Church and the Well Stream, Norfolk. Taken with Lomo Lubitel 166B camera. AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 35mm film, developed in Rollei Digibase C-41 kit.

Well that was a cock up.  Ok, not all of it.  Let me start from the beginning.

The plan was to go crazy, and to load a Poundland 35mm film onto the 120 spindles of a Lomo Lubitel 166B camera, expose it in a day, then develop it using the Rollei Digibase C-41 chemistry kit.  My first ever attempt at C-41 colour film development.  A fun project.

The Lubitel 166B is a TLR (twin lens reflex) camera, built in the Lomo factory of the former USSR during the early 1980s.  It is designed to use 120 medium format roll film, exposing it in 12 frames of 6 cm by 6 cm squares.  It is an entirely manual camera, with no light meter.  They were mass produced in the former Soviet Union as a medium format camera for the masses – but with full exposure controls.  I bought mine at a car boot sale in Cambridgeshire for two quid (GBP £2.00).

I’ve already shot several rolls of Ilford b/w 120 roll film in it, and I’ve been pleased with it, although the Bronica SQ-A has replaced it as my number one medium format film camera.

I placed the camera in my film changing bag, with two empty 120 spindles, a small pair of scissors, and a 35mm cassette of Poundland film.  Later Lubitel’s have been fitted with masks for using 35 mm film – but the 166B was exclusively 120.  I rolled out the film from the 135 cassette, snipped it off, then rolled it back onto the middle of the 120 spindle.  Simple.  No masks or complications so far. I then fitted the spindle into the Lubitel, fed the end of the film into the second spindle, and then pulled it across – fitting the top spindle into the camera (all of this was done in the safe confines of my film changing bag).    I had already taped the red window over in case of light leak.  Shut the back, took out the Lubitel loaded with 35 mm.

In the field, I exposed the film using my usual Sunny F16 Rule of manual guess-timate settings.  I wound the film advance two full rotations between frames.  It turned out to be generous.  Next time I’ll use one and a half rotations, and should get an extra few exposures to my film.  I felt the 135 film release from the bottom spindle on my last exposure.

So far, it had gone very well.  The film had exposed quite well, although some wasted film between frames.  The Lubitel had performed well, and as expected, the whole width of the film, either side of sprocket holes had exposed, to give that sprocket holed

Leverington Church Spire. As above.

film look so beloved of the Lomo school of photography.

Then disaster struck.  I decided to rush into my first ever C-41 film development using the Rollei Digibase C-41 kit.  I did everything wrong.  I tried developing at a high temperature that I couldn’t sustain.  I mucked up solutions.  Last second realised that I hadn’t got a stopwatch in the house.  I dropped my beloved developing log book in water, losing my notes.  It turned into chaos.

I learned lessons, and I wont make certain mistakes again.  I’m not giving up with the C-41 colour film developing yet.  Indeed, I’m determined to do it better.  All of that lovely Poundland film demands it.  I was also quite pleased qith the Lubitel on 35mm.

More patience next time.  I’ll also try to C-41 develop at lower more sustainable temperatures.

This is partly what amateur photography should be about.  Challenges, learning, and improving.

Film Dark Room, Film, 35mm, and scans

Waiting For My Prints To Arrive!

Feeling Negative. Sony A200 DSLR. Sony ST 35mm f/1.8 SAM lens.

A little note of caution for any other novices in film photography, just trailing behind me.  It’s worth buying some film storage binder pages.  Look after those negatives.  They are your treasures.  I’m really pleased that I finally got around to buying some 135 and 120 sheets, although I wish that I had started before.  Regardless of how well you fix and rinse those developed films, they will scratch and damage unless properly stored.


Film Dark Room

Bad Man! Stop that Cross Processing!

Bad Man. Olympus Trip 35 camera. AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 C-41 film cross processed with Ilford B/W chemistry.

Sorry about that.  In future I’ll try to develop my Poundland film, and any other C-41 films (quite fancy trying some 120 medium format C-41) in full glorious colour!  I ordered the mini Rollei Digibase C-41 developer 500 ml  kit in the evening.  It arrived at my door mid morning the next day!  Well done to FirstCall Photographic.  It’s so cute that I don’t want to break the seal.  I already wish that I’d gone for the five litre Super Maxi size kit, but this will do for a tester.  Now I need a bunch of used 35mm colour films!  I have nearly forty AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 36 exposure 200 films from Poundland in hoard.  I just need to find something to photo.  I’m afraid inspiration is a bit short lately.

I took a quick snap with a DSLR of my new Rollei C-41 kit just now, and slotted it into my previous post below.  It seemed more appropriate for that post.