Medium Format Film Photography

Loading an Isolette folding camera with 120 medium format film. Taken with Sony A200 DSLR and Sony DT 50mm f/1.8 SAM lens.

To those who do not know (e.g. some young photographers that have not yet discovered film).

Once upon a time, when photographs were made by capturing photons of light, using an emulsion of silver salts painted onto a film of plastic, there were three bears …. I mean three categories of film size.

The smallest bear – film size, was called miniature.  This included 35mm film, which would capture light on an area of film the same size as the latest and very expensive professional “full frame” DSLR sensors.  Yes, in the Old Days, we called that miniature.  That should crush a few phallic egos.  35mm still exists and is still manufactured by several companies.  It is still very available.

The Mummy sized bear / film, we called medium format.  This included 120 roll film, that when for example, exposed in 6cm by 6cm squares, captures light on an area that is four or five times the size of that professional DSLR sensor.  120 film was introduced to the World in 1903.  Over 110 years later, there are still several manufacturers.  It is still very available.

Then there was a Daddy sized bear / film, we call Large Format.  This is so large that it is shot on plastic sheets rather than on film that can be wound.  Guess what?  Still easily available.

This article concerns that Mummy Bear (Medium Format) film – 120.  This is a roll film.  It comes on a plastic spindle.  Donkey years ago, the spindle was cork or wood and metal.  Kodak invented it as an amateur film.  Indeed, up until the early 1960s, it was pretty much the amateur film.  The actual film is a shade over 6 cm wide, and usually around 76 cm long.  It is taped at one end to a longer slightly wider strip of paper, and they are rolled together onto the spindle.  The backing paper seals the film from light while on the spindle.  It also has a series of numbers printed on the back – which can be read by various cameras through a red window – depending on the mask (size of exposure).  The number of exposures that you get off a 120 roll film depends on that masking of the camera, most commonly between 8 and 15 exposures per film.  A common choice is a 6cm by 6cm square, that gives 12 exposures.

The top image shows a 120 roll of Ilford HP5+ being loaded into a folding camera, that fits in a large pocket.  It gives me 12 squares per film.  There is a magic to this stuff.  Loading it connects you with a great tradition.

Cameras and equipment

The Animistic Atheist

Anita and the lurcher. Portrait using the Agfa Isolette I, Agnar 85mm f/4.5 lens, Foma Fomapan Creative 200 film. Developed in ID11

I’m the crustiest old atheist imaginable.  I know that it annoys Anita sometimes, but I lack faith not only in the existence of any gods, goddesses, or godlings, but pretty much in any supernature or hocus pocus.  Mr Rational, the skeptic, that demands testable evidence.  Not that I think that is boring – the World, it’s Life, and the Universe, as scientific investigation is revealing them, is far more magical than any creation myth.  Still, you get the picture.

Yet, I have to confess to some pretty innate animistic tendencies.  Lots of us have them – we become fond of an inanimate object.  It might be our car, our home, our musical instrument – we invest it with personal feelings.  We might even refer to this object as “her” (or him maybe).  When we handle them, we do so with a care and reverence.  When we change the oil, we might wonder if the car is happier.  We sad atheistic animists.

I confess.  I see old cameras this way, especially when they have been long abandoned, and have ended up at the car boot sale, in a box with old cutlery and scary looking broken dolls (now, they have a Manitou).  You wonder how it feels for them to be cleaned, and carefully loaded with a new film.  To have it’s shutter open onto the 21st Century, a second chance to live.  Sixty year old cameras are not supposed to rise from the grave, are they?

I even imagine their life, if they could talk.  I developed a found film from one, and found photos of steam railway that dated to around 1961.  The camera was last used in 1961.  A different world.  Did they expose rolls of Kodak to happy family scenes from Butlins during the 1960s?

A few weeks ago, Anita, pleased with the results of the Kershaw Penguin, encouraged me to use another of my old folders that needed testing for light leak.  This time, it was a lovely condition Agfa Isolette I folding camera from around 1954.  I actually have two of these, and have previously used the other one – but it started to leak light.  Bellows age.  I still had a roll of Foma Fomapan Creative 200, from a batch that produced some poor quality images with dark blotches.  Perfect for a light test.

So the above and below images were born last week, of that Isolette and Fomapan 200.  The camera said hello to the 21st Century.  No light leaks.  The film did have some blemishes, but I’m pleased enough with the results.

As a post script, the Isolette had a post code and house number on it’s rear.  I took a look on Google Street View at a row of semi detached houses in the North of England.  I thought about that camera and it’s history.  If only it had a memory.

The Limes Farmhouse. Isolette I. As above.

Cameras and equipment, Film

Pick up a Penguin

Our Kershaw Penguin Eight-20, picked up from the car booty. This image captured on a Sony A200 DSLR and Sony DT 50mm SAM lens.

I’ve succumbed to buying a few car boot sale cameras of recent – much to the displeasure of Anita, who points out quite correctly that I already have too many.  I bought a tasty looking Carl Zeiss Werra 1 for a fiver, but on initial testing, it looks as though it may have a shutter fault.  You can lose money on old film cameras.

I also bought the above Kershaw Penguin Eight-20 folding camera.  It came in a nice leather case, complete with manual.  I paid ten quid for it.  It is quite good condition, but I’d expect the bellows to leak.  Anita wanted to try it out, so a few days later, she loaded it with a roll of Foma Fomapan Creative 200 film.  Folders are cool.

Elm church. Penguin Kershaw 8-20 folding rollfilm camera. Circa 1951 manufacture. Foma Fomapan Classic 200 film. Developed in ID11. Film scanned in V500.

We developed the film in the evening with ID11, and left it to dry.  Results?  Well, what about that – no light leaks.  Nice job.

35mm, and scans, Film

35mm film to 120 size converters from Ebay

35mm film converters to 120 size. Fitted here onto a Poundland film. Taken with a Nokia Lumia 1020 phone camera.

I haven’t tried them out in the field yet, but a few readers have asked for more information on these 135 to 120 canister converters that I purchased on Ebay.  Link to the Ebay listing here.

The seller is manufacturing them on his 3D printer.  Simple, but apparently an effective little design.  They simply plug into either end of a 35mm film canister, and hey presto – the 35mm film now fits into a 120 medium format film loader.

The seller does state that they haven’t been tested with many films or film loaders.  Still, they are a neat little product.

For those of you that might be interested in “sprocket hole” scans, just be aware, that these don’t come straight out of many film scanners including the Epson V500.  The masks cover the sprocket holes either side.  You need a bit of ingenuity.  Newton glass mounts, or, modified masks, simply trying to peg them into a 120 mask, or old school – use a digital camera and light box set up instead of a scanner.

As above image – but mounted in the film loader of a Lubitel 166B camera.

Cameras and equipment, Monochrome

Street Candid V Street Portrait?

Candid of molly dancers waiting to perform at the 2015 Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival. Bronica SQ-A camera. Zenzanon PS 150mm f/4 lens. Ilford HP5 Plus medium format film. ID11 t 1:1.

Personally… I only describe candids as Street Photography.  Where the subject is aware, and in consent of my taking their photograph, that I regard as a Street Portrait.  It’s semantics I know.  Doesn’t really matter.  However, I almost always prefer the former.  I like to see the subject un-posed, natural – or if suddenly aware right at the point of exposure – maybe a little surprised or suspicious.  Not that I’m going to going the school of shoving a camera and flashgun into the faces of strangers.

Street Portrait of Mr Crow. Molly dancer with the Witchmen at the Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival 2015. Gear as in top image.

What are your views?

Monochrome, Rants and discussions

Shanghai GP3 – tight fisted 120 roll film

Anita makes shadows on the headstones at Upwell. Trying out cheap Chinese 120 roll film, Shanghai GP3, in the Bronica yesterday. Bronica SQ-A. Zenzanon PS 150mm f/4. Shanghai GP3 120 film ID11 at 1:1.

How did I miss Shanghai GP3 for so long?  The cheapest 120 medium format b/w negative film on the market.  Somehow, my frail old brain must have filtered it out as “Chinese”, perhaps associating it with those ‘orrible Chinese toy cameras.  My attention was finally brought to Shanghai early in the winter.  I bought a pack of ten on Ebay – which appears to be where they are being marketed.  I shopped for minimum price, and bought this ten pack with free p&p, working out at a cost of £2.10 per film.  Crikey, that is cheap.  When you think that I have to shop around normally to find Foma Fomapan or Ilford HP5+ for around £3.50-£4.20 a film with p&p.  Heck, if I was to pop in a local shop and try buying Ilford Delta Pro, then I’d expect to shell out at least seven quid a film or more.  So you see that Shanghai is incredibly cheap at £2.10 per film.

Taken from outside of the church. Couldn’t resist the beautiful light. Testing a roll of Shanghai GP3 budget medium format film. Specs as top image.

So what is it like?  Well, I mainly use faster film, especially at this time of year – mainly around ISO 400.  A couple of stops saved on the camera are essential when trying to capture street or candid.  Shanghai is rated at an optimum ISO 100, although I hear rumours that it might be nearer to ISO 80.  Still, we’ve been having some mid-day January sun of recent, so a couple of days ago, I thought that I’d have some fun with a test roll, and promptly loaded an SQ film back with Shanghai GP3 film.

Photograph taken yesterday in Upwell church yard, of a headstone leaning against a tree.Trying out the Chinese budget film. Specs as top image.

One characteristic of GP3 that is worthy of note – there is no sticky tape at the end of the roll.  If I was to shoot more than one roll, then I’d need a roll of sticky tape in my pocket.  After a quick shoot at Upwell church, and along a drove, I took the film home, and later that day, developed it in a dilution of 1:1 Ilford ID11 at 20C for 14 minutes.  (By the way, I recently calculated that such a dilution costs me £0.71p per 120 film.  I have been told that I could save money by switching to Kodak D76.).

After processing and drying – the second characteristic – this stuff dries out really curly.  Not a good characteristic if you are to digitally scan the negative in a mask on a flatbed film scanner.  I’ve heard people complain about Foma being curly – but I never had a problem with it.  Shanghai IS curly.

The results.  I never pretend to be much of an authority nor an expert.  However, to my eyes – much better than expected.  Very smooth, fine grained (although having recently shot a lot of Fomapan Action 400 – anything else looks smooth).  Good tones and contrast.  A real surprise – a budget film that looks good.

Although slower than the film that I like for my kind of photography, Shanghai GP3 is definitely going to feature as a medium in my photography in the future.  I’ll keep a film back loaded.


Back in the saddle – absentee blogger reporting for duty

Candid of a Pig Dyke molly dancer at Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival 2015. Taken on Saturday. Bronica SQ-A camera. Zenzanon PS 150mm f/4 lens. Ilford HP5+ medium format film. Rodinal at 400

Apologies for absence.  A combination of a lack of opportunities, and to be honest, a bit of a period of self doubt as a photographer.  But I feel back in the saddle now, and ready to resume blogging.  Happy 2015 to you all.

The above photograph was taken, as the blurb says, at the Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival last weekend.  I’ll post much more on that later.  The candid subject was a Pig Dyke Molly dancer.  I’d like to expand, but nah – it’s the subject of another post, so I’ll save it.  I have to confess, I wasted more than six rolls of 120 film that day, so much opportunity.  I still have four to develop and scan – when I get time!  I’ll just briefly mention, that this festival was saturated in colour – but I only took b/w film!  One digital photographer has already suggested that I must be some sort of dim wit – but it is 1) the dedication to Panchromatic, and 2) the challenge.  See how my b/w results look later.

A realisation – I have no passion for full digital photography.  I tried, I really did.  I really tried to rekindle it with the Sony, but I now understand.  Although I do enjoy the results of some digital photographers – using full digital cameras myself just doesn’t get me off – so to speak.  Of course hybrid film is not better than full digital … but for myself, it feels a damn sight more fun.  I just love making home developed and digitally scanned b/w film images.  End of.

Enjoy the above image, lots more like that to follow very soon.

Portrait, Rants and discussions

Perfection V the Box Camera

Kodak Brownie Flash III box camera. Yellow filter toggled on. Foma Fomapan Creative 200 film (rolled onto 620 spindles). Developed in R09. Digitally scanned film with Epson Perfection V500.

I’ve read a few articles recently, concerning the present mainstream appetite for sharp perfection in photography.  Beginners ask, which brands of camera produce the sharpest image.  I’ve read someone describe this obsession for digital perfection as the crack cocaine of present day photography.  An image is expected to contain full, sharp, perfect, detail.  Perfectly exposed of course.  Perfectly composed as per guidelines.

I’ve also read others suggest that this is the reason for the counter or retro revolution.  The Lomo school, new Chinese film cameras such as the Holga, the revival of the Instant photo, and even for those that cling onto digital – all of those post process digital filters that give a variety of Retro looks to the image.  I’ve even read claims that the current trend in the Adobe Lightroom / Photoshop brigade, is to tone down the post process editing – to go a little bit au naturel so to speak.  Personally I still seem to see a march of HDR imagery gathering pace, but there you go.

Therefore I feel that I can publish the above photograph that I took yesterday, in a 55 year old box camera.  Between you and me though, the streaks were unintended – I suspect that the soft Foma film didn’t like my rough handling when I rolled it off it’s spindle and onto an old 620 spindle to fit in the camera.



From Stone Age to Mobile Camera Phone

In the footsteps of our ancestors. Typical late prehistoric struck flint flake, picked up on a walk in Thetford Forest. Camera phone – Sony Ericsson C510.

I use to be a very keen amateur archaeologist, and devoted lots of time to recording local sites, and surveying areas of clearfelled forest, for past land use, artifact scatters, etc.  The artifact type that I would encounter by far the most in the area of east Anglia that I then lived (Thetford Forest), were late prehistoric struck flints or ‘lithics’.

I just found this photo in my Flickr stream – taken with a cheap Sony Ericsson C510 mobile phone!  I think I did rather well.  I’m holding a typical flake.  Probably struck by someone in the Later Neolithic or Early Bronze Age (5,000 to 3,800 years ago).  Quite possibly earlier though, as this particular site was rich with microblades and microblade waste cores, that probably date back to the later Mesolithic (over 6,000 years ago).  My shadow was quite cool don’t you think?