Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Getting back to analog

Several years ago I purchased a used large format camera and had it modified to accept my dSLR camera (seen here). I basically turned a 4x5 view camera into a very large tilt shift lens. It serves its purpose. I now have a full range of movements not available in a standard tilt-shift. For one, a tilt-shift lens can tilt and shift or swing and shift. It just can't do all three. On my system I have tilt, swing, shift, rise and fall on both the front standard and rear standard.

Now, if all this sounds like gibberish to you take a few minutes and google these terms. While this has nothing to do with the real subject of this post, it's always good to learn a little something in the process. In truth, I want to talk about putting my large format camera back to use as it was originally intended, to shoot 4x5 film. Or, as in my case, 4x5 photo paper (think pinhole cameras).

Shooting film today is definitely a niche activity and, yes, film is still very much available. However, unless you know your way around a darkroom, you are limited considering the days of the Kodak kiosks are all but gone. Back in the film days I used to develop my own black and white 35mm rolls of film. What I didn't do was my own printing. Too expensive, requiring a dedicated room and lots of equipment. Yet, I miss those simpler days of wonder... wonder if the roll will turn out okay.

To shoot film one needs to be able to develop that film and then eventually print it onto paper. As noted above, this requires equipment; To develop film you need developing trays, chemicals, a timer, safety lights and a darkroom with available running water. While it sounds like a lot, it's relatively simple and can all fit comfortably into a bathroom. To print, on the other hand, requires the same stuff as above plus a supply of photo papers, an enlarger and enough room to be able to work comfortably on a larger scale. There goes the bathroom idea.

One easy and viable solution is to shoot directly to paper and chemically develop it into a positive print. Fortunately Ilford makes a direct positive paper, Harman Direct, that has been favored by many pinhole camera photographers for decades. It was discontinued for a while but, as of this writing, it's back in production. Galaxy Papers also produces a similar product using a reversal process (chemicals turn a negative image into a positive one) after their successful kick-starter campaign.

What I like about these products is that I can create a positive print without the need of a film negative, bulky enlarger and all the other burdens of a large darkroom. The entire process can be done in that small bathroom I mentioned. The downside, if it is one, is you get a one-of-a-kind print, but a scanner can change that.

Over that past several months I have been slowly collecting the required materials to shoot analog with my camera. I funded Galaxy's kick-starter and received a pack of 25 sheets of 4x5 papers plus the required chemicals to develop them. I also built up my collection of film holders and bought the required developing equipment from various sources, including scrounging some stuff from Milford Photo. Thanks Jess.

Keep in mind, I haven't shot analog since 2004 when I put my trusty Canon AE-1 Program away, kicking and screaming. So it's with a little apprehension that I return to those days of film when photography was a slower process and there was no such thing as chimping. After more than ten years of honing a new set of skills and workflow, plus my bad memory to begin with. I wondered if I could get back into analog without too much trouble.

I loaded up five film carriers (ten frames) with the paper, grabbed my camera and headed out into the neighborhood. As is with analog, I was forced to slow down. My camera is equipped with a 127mm f/4.7 Kodak Ektar lens in a Graphic Supermatic shutter. Since I had never shot with this paper I metered with my hand held meter based on the manufacturer's recommendation of ISO 120. The image here was shot at 1/125 @ f/5.6.

As you can see, it is grossly underexposed. After some only digging I found someone who mentioned they metered at ISO 60 with good results and I'll be taking serious consideration on that suggestion the next time. The smudge on the left (actually the right since the image is reversed) is probably my hand tripping the shutter. I don't have a shutter release for this camera and didn't realize my hand was in the way. How ameture of me.

All the other images taken that day had similar issues so I won't bore you with additional bad shots. That said, I had a blast getting back into analog photography, this paper process in particular. I purchased a Graflex press camera and I'm looking forward to do another run with this paper. At least now I have something to compare against to make my exposure calculations. I expect the next set to be better.

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