Saturday, March 11, 2017

Kodak Panoram #1 - There's A First Time For Everything

  My recent Kodak Panoram experience has inspired me to do a little write-up for all to enjoy and hopefully sympathize with me.  I had two #4 Panorams come through my hands before, but because they use much larger roll film, which is no longer being made, I always wanted to use a #1 that takes regular old 120 film (originally it was actually 105 film, but 120 fits in there like native).
  Kodak Panoram cameras were introduced  in 1900 and were made until 1926.  The #1 model covers an angle of 112° and the fact that the film is curved makes distortion-free images.  Neat!



  I got this camera a couple of weeks ago from a great fella up in Canada.  He did warn me that the camera doesn't fire, but the temptation of a fair price and an unfounded internal conviction that I'll be able to fix it pushed me to go ahead with the purchase.

  Quick side note, which may help to explain why I'm so happy that I feel the need to put this into writing.  I have been shooting for over 25 years now, but this was the first camera that I dared to take apart and attempt a repair on.  Sure, there was that one 8x10 Kodak 2D that I got about 15 years ago and on which I wanted to refinish the wood.  I took that one apart almost all the way.  After encountering rivets vs. screws I got scared, let it sit on my desk for a few weeks, put it back together, had about a dozen little screws left over, but since it still functioned I sold it along with the extra screws and let someone else deal with it.  Plus there were no springs or levers in the 2D, so it doesn't even really count - it's just a box with a couple of rails and bellows and therefore presented no threat from the start.

  When I got this Panoram it didn't cock, it didn't swing, it was pretty much a shelf queen, which was the function it performed well for the past who knows how many decades (the Canadian gentleman had a very large collection of cameras beautifully displayed in a special room).  How bad could it be though, I thought to myself, it's just a release lever and a double spring!  So armed with a set of little screwdrivers I took it apart down to the stage seen below.


  That was actually a step too far - the viewfinder didn't need to come out, but having it apart gave me a chance to clean it up.
  What I found upon entry was that I was obviously not the first to have been in there.  A missing screw, some scuffing on all other screw heads, a rough soldering job on a couple of parts - all signs pointed to the fact that this camera has given someone trouble before.
  Most frustrating find was the missing half a tooth on the lens shaft gear and the bent stopper arm.  In fact it was bent at such a severe angle, which resembles 45°, that at fist I thought there may have been two of them and the second one was missing.  Here's a picture of the bent arm (turns out it was supposed to be parallel to the black cone in the back) and the gear with the missing tooth.



  Discouraged by the appearance of the part above my spirits sank and I turned to the world wide web for help.  After a couple of days of asking around I found out that a local photographer I know actually has a working #1 Panoram, though his is an A and mine is the later D model.  Difference there are minor though and the actual lens mechanism is the same, so I drive over to his place.  After about an hour and a half of tinkering and after biting my lip and bending back that arm to a straight position while hoping it won't snap off the camera was back together.  It was still rather reluctant to fire and that required another disassembly and bending the catch on the release plate so it would actually engage with the hole on the lock and disengage from it willingly.  At the end of the day though it was working a lot better than is was before.  The missing gear tooth though makes the lens not totally lock far enough when it's in the right-facing position, so, when the spring is tensioned for it to be ready to fire, it swings a bit too far out and basically starts exposing the film before the release button is pressed.   Hence I have to use the lens only in one direction.  That means that after each left-to-right exposure I have to hold the lens back with my finger, tension the spring, cover the opening with another finger, push the release button and while continuing to cover the lens bring it over to the other side.  A lot better though than a fully non-functional camera!

  The next day I loaded some film into it and snapped a few exposures.  Oh, I say 'a few' because this thing makes only 4 images per roll of 120 film!  With an 6x18cm neg though that's all you get.
  Upon development I was really disappointed to see that nothing was actually sharp on there...  And I mean way out of focus.  Here are images of the 4 exposures and one looking through a home-made loupe at the detail of some wires from the top right of the third negative down.




  The lens was obviously set too far back because nothing up close was in focus and neither was infinity.   Time to tediously adjust lens position.   There are plans online on how to shim the lens, which someone sent me a link to, but I didn't even open them up not to confuse myself further.  I figured since the lens screws into the barrel from the back and then the barrel screws onto the part with the shaft from the front I could use those threads to position it more forward or back.

  First I tried a piece of mylar from a colorless binder.  After cutting a strip the same height as 120 film would be I taped it in position along film plane.



  Well, that was far from ideal - the grain on there is so large that when looking at the image using a loupe it's mainly the mylar texture that I could see.   It was however obvious that the lens needed to come back a bit.  To make the image better I got armed with a ground glass loupe with a small piece of actual camera ground glass (again, just the right height so it can be pressed against the rail on which film rides) taped to it.


  That worked a lot better.  It took a while, but after futzing with lens threads and meticulously checking if the image is as good as it can be I finally ran another roll thought it and this time looking at the negatives though a loupe the wires were a lot sharper.



  One thing that may not be visible in that final image is that, while horizontal lines are pretty darn sharp, all the vertical lines have a bit of a motion blur to them as if the world is spinning around the camera.  I'm suspecting that's a function of the fact that the lens is a simple meniscus, which aren't known to be ultra sharp, and so as the lens swings and makes the exposure it's actually projecting the image with a bit of a left to right motion.  I'm also thinking that I'm looking at these negatives with a bit of a too critical eye.  First off these weren't meant to be enlarged - back in the day they would just contact print them on AZO paper and that would look good enough to the naked eye.  Secondly I probably keep thinking it can be sharper overall because I'm kind of used to nice sharp lenses like Petzvals, Planars and modern large format glass - a simple one element meniscus is not meant to match that level of detail...

  In the end though I think I can learn to live with the slight side-to-side blur.  Before I go out to areas more picturesque than my neighborhood and run another roll though it I think I'll spend another 20min messing with the focus to see if I can make it any sharper.   I actually do have some sheets of AZO left, so I'll make some prints, make decent copies of them and put a little update on here once that happens.

  Another thing I'm thinking of doing.  Meniscus lenses get sharper the more stopped down they are,  There's no aperture control in this camera, but there's no reason I couldn't make a little washer to slip into the lens barrel and put a hole in there that would equal 2 stop reduction in light from where it is now.  Right now it's working perfectly with ISO 100 film, but with a lens stopped down a bit 400 ISO film will expose properly.  Making the opening smaller will not only increase sharpness and depth of field, but it may or may not also reduce the side blur effect.  Without enlarging no effect of larger grain will be seen, so I think I'll work on that.

  I hope I didn't ramble on too long and some of you enjoyed at least the images.

Anton Orlov

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Puzzle Post - 4 Half Plate Petzvals - Voigtlander vs. Darlot vs. Dallmeyer vs. Scovill Peerless

  This is a rather short little post centered around the fun of Petzval lenses and the images they create.

  Back to Petzval portrait testing today.  Why?  Because some folks out there have extremely strong opinions on one brand being superior to the rest and they never really back it up with anything concrete.  Frankly, as I expressed in my previous lens test post, I don't agree with that point of view.  Two similar lenses made by any company can be more or less sharp.  A lens with no name on it at all can be sharper than your favorite (and I say that with 100% certainty from personal experience).  A lens made by a manufacturer that is considered run of the mill among collectors and lens hounds can be just as sharp as a lens with similar attributes by the most renown of firms.  One can sell for 1/2 as much as another and the actual performance can be better or the same.  Oh, and then there's 'bokeh' argument - "this brand lens has the creamiest bokeh"...   Well, let's see about it, shan't we?

  Since I have 4 lenses with extremely close attributes I thought I would do a blind test and see how many people who claim to be experts in sharpness and bokeh of various lenses will be able to correctly identify which lens created which image.  I encourage anyone interested in taking a closer look to download the images I'll post at the very bottom - I will upload them in full resolution there, so they'll likely be too large to be displayed properly in your browser, but you'll be able to download them and zoom in at 100% in Photoshop or Preview of whatever your favorite program is.

  Here's the result of of today's labor.
  

  Test conditions were as follows.  The model was prevented from movement with the help of a head rest and I focused on the left eye using a loupe. I tightened the knobs for the movements on the camera as tight as I could without breaking the knobs - there was no tilt or swing involved, both standards were perfectly parallel. All lenses were shot wide open.  All exposures were as close to 2sec as I could do while just using a cap for a shutter. Development ranged between 30 and 40 seconds (I always develop by inspection).   Afterwards all 4 plates were copied with a Canon 5DII on same exposure setting, imported in Photoshop, given standard 100% sharpening with 1 pixel radius and 0 tolerance and nothing else was done with them.

  Thing I was NOT focusing on in my test are - contrast and swirl.  Most people shoot portrait on a plain background anyway and yes - all these lenses would indeed have a different amount of swirl should you chose to shoot for it.  However the Petzval swirl can be easily controlled and if I did a test the centered around it I guarantee you I could make it just as hard to guess which lens is which.

  So that't about it.  If you care - please enter your guesses in comments below.  In about a month or so I will come back to this post and edit it revealing which lens was used for each image.


The lenses I tested are pictured below and from left to right they are:
  Scovill Peerless Quick Acting - 8.5in f3.3 (must mention - this one has a touch of haze)
  Dallmeyer 2B - 8.5in f3.3
  Voigtlander 4 - 8.5in f3.3
  Darlot - 8in f3.5

  Of course the pictures numbered below are not in the order that the lenses appear above - wouldn't be any fun to guess if I did that, right?






FULL RESOLUTION IMAGES





Guess away!
Anton Orlov
EDIT Feb 6th 2017

OK - So I think it's time to reveal what the lenses were.#1 Voigtlander#2 Scovill (wasn't really fair putting it up against the others because it has fog between two front elements).#3 - Darlot#4 - Dallmeyer
All in all I'm not surprised that people went for 1 and 4 - I mean it's true, Voigtlander and Dallmeyer - solid lenses. I am happy to see that people liked #3 as well - I will continue insisting that a good Darlot can be as good of a lens as any out there.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Using Rolleiflex Cameras to Make Tintypes and Daguerreotypes

  Those who have known me long enough are aware of my passion for Rolleiflex cameras.  Back before I got deeper and deeper into alternative photography I used to shoot my TLRs all the time.  Sadly, ever since I got bitten by the collodion bug of wet plate and then thoroughly chewed by the silver monster of daguerreotypes all my film cameras, including the Rolleis, have been sitting quite idle.   A little while back though I did get a nifty accessory called 'sheet film adapter', which was originally designed for single sheets of 6x9 film or glass.  I used it to make a couple of tintypes a month or so ago and people suggested that I make a writeup about the procedure.  Seeing how I'm concentrating my efforts on perfecting the daguerrean craft I wanted to wait to make the post until I have proper sized plates.  I ordered those from Mike Robinson of Century Darkroom (best plates on the market by the way) and waited patiently for the holidays to be over and mail to come from Canada.  The plates got here late last week and today was the first day with weather fair enough to do this, so here we go.

For those who can't wait here's the final result of today's efforts


  I decided to bring out the whole gang and let them all play together, so here are my babies - Rolleiflex 3.5F Planar, 2.8C Planar, Rolleiwide and Telerollei.  Sitting on bottom left is the sheet film adapter the use of which I'll explain below.


  First off a bit of warning.  Silver nitrate used in wet plate photography is highly corrosive, so be very careful wiping off all excess liquid off the back of your plate before inserting it into the holder.  It might also be a good idea to just pick one holder and dedicate it to wet plate only as it will likely begin to deteriorate after a dozen or so plates.  It'll last longer of course, especially if you keep wiping it between plates and after the shoot, but it might start looking rather rough.  It is DEFINITELY a good idea to take a damp paper towel and after each plate wipe the frame inside the camera where the film usually rests - these holders push the plates right up agains the metal there and some silver is bound to end up on that frame, that's the worst part about this whole procedure.  I have heard of people simply dedicating a camera to wet plate only and letting the silver do it's thing with no worries.  That's not a bad way to go if you're not planning on using that camera for film ever again - then you don't even have to have the sheet film adapter - just stick the plate right into the camera and off you go.  I like my cameras though, so I'm trying to keep them clean.  
  One more note on the holders - originally they are supplied with a thin black metal plate to hold your sheet of 6x9 film flat.   Luckily it can be taken out to fit glass 6x9 negatives, which is exactly what you want to do if you want to fit a piece of aluminum for tintypes or a silver plate for daguerreotypes in there.  Below is a photo of an aluminum plate sitting in one of the holders and the adapter to take that holder installed on the back of a Rollei.  Note that I bent aluminum tape around the two edges which hold it down - that way less corrosion will take place and I can always replace that tape later.


  Now, there were two generations of those adapters - ones for later models and one for earlier models and Rolleicord cameras.   If you're gonna go looking for one to fit your camera take a look at the bottom of your camera and make sure that the locking mechanism looks like the one on the adapter.  I also hear that at least the older adapters fit some of the Rollei knock-offs, so who knows, maybe they would even fit a Yashica.  I wouldn't buy one without trying it first, but you might luck out there... 
  Installing the adapter is pretty easy - there's a little sliding lock on top right corner of your back.  Simply open the back all the way as far as it will go and swing open that little lock - the back will come right out on that side and then you pull the pin out the socket on the other end of the top edge.  Putting the sheet film adapter in is pretty much the same operation done in reverse.  One thing I found is that it fit right onto the C model, while in order to put it onto the F I had to take out the dark slide.
  Cool thing about the back - it has a ground glass just like regular grown-up large format camera!  To use it you have to set the shutter on B and lock it open with a cable release (oh, and take out that dark slide of course).  This allows you for precise framing with no worries about parallax correction and also you can preview depth of field given by any aperture - super nifty!  I was using Rolleinar closeup filters, so that feature came in very handy indeed.
  Here's the setup with Rolleiflex 2.8C shooting a Rolleiwide and the plate that was produced. 
  NOTE:  My silver bath needs cleaning and badly...  And I just need to get back to shooting more wet plate for Pete's sake!  That daguerreotype thing has really taken a toll on my ability to produce a clean tintype, so please accept my apologies...



  Tintypes don't take too long - 5min and you're done.  Daguerreotypes are a lot more labor-intensive...  Polishing that silver plate takes a while, then fuming, then development, then gilding... Sheesh!  However persistence pays off and I was VERY happy with the result.  I think this is my cleanest daguerreotype to date!  There's a few white specs from tiny imperfections on the plate catching the light off my copy stand and also I probably could have developed about 15sec less to avoid some very minor 'frosting' of the shadows...  I also went a little too wide with my flame swings during gilding and so that's where the white edges come from, but otherwise I'm fully satisfied with the image. 
  Here is the shot of a daguerreotype plate loaded into a holder, a photo of Rolleiflex 2.8C shooting a Telerollei and the resulting daguerreotype.





  Oh, one final note - don't forget to pull that center tab before shooting!!!  I sure did once and came up with a completely out of focus plate...   Here's that pesky little tab - it rotates to unlock and slides inward to drop the plate into the plane of focus and then you pull back on it to bring the plate back into the holder and rotate again to lock it.


  Summarized procedure for working the sheet film adapter is something like this:

• Install the back, focus (you can use the regular viewfinder for this or ground glass)
• Take your holder into the darkroom
• Take out the dark slide
• Pull the tab in the back and rotate it - the part that holds the plate will pop forward
• Load your plate
• Pull the plate back into the holder and lock the rear tab by rotating it again
• Put the dark slide back in place
• Bring it out to the camera
• Take the part with the ground glass out of the back on your camera (there's a little lock - top left)
• Place the holder with plate into the back
• Take out the dark slide
• Pull the tab and rotate it until it goes inward and the plate goes into plane of focus
• Expose
• Pull the plate back and lock the tab by rotating
• Replace the dark slide
• Take out the holder and back to the darkroom you go

  The above procedure might sound like a lot of steps, but once you do it you'll realize that I was probably a lot more longwinded and detailed than need be.  I just like to address every detail possible.
  Well, I hope you enjoyed this my little adventure.  I know I'll be using my Rolleiflex cameras to make a lot more daguerreotypes - 6x6cm format is great and the lenses are sharp as can be.  Don't know how many more times I will do wet plate though - a little silver is always going to be left behind and I hate the idea of ruining one of my babies with it...  Maybe for wet plate I'll try to find a deal on some beater body with which I have not yet had time to form a personal bond.


Anton Orlov

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Effects of Exposure and Development Times on Wet Plate Collodion

   Recently I have been seeing a lot of people having problems identifying the signs of their plates being either overdeveloped or overexposed, so I decided to do the following simple exercise that should make it easier for folks with a discerning eye to see if one of these troubles may be possibly plaguing them at the moment.

  I might have mentioned before that when working with wet plate collodion it is possible to overexpose and underdevelop a plate and still achieve a tolerably good plate.  It is also possible to SLIGHTLY underexpose and overdevelop, but only very slightly so before serious ugliness sets in.
For absolute best results of course there's really nothing like nailing the exposure within 1/4 of a stop and having development run the length of time which you have previously determined to be the best based on your collodion and developer formula.  We all know however that bullseye is sometimes hard to hit, so here's what we can do to fudge it a tad.

  I have always develop by inspection.  I use slow developer and use it cold.  I know that with that I can usually go to about 50sec without any ill affects.  With a perfect exposure I see the highlights start to appear at about 7-8 seconds, mid-tones come in at about 15-20 and then the shadows start building.  Sometimes though I don't nail my exposure (especially with the very first plate of the day) and I see the highlights pop up after only 4-5 seconds.  That's when I know I'll have to stop development early ('pull' is the film term for that).  Sometimes I slightly underexpose and don't see the highlights come up only after 10 seconds - that's when I know I may be in trouble, but I still 'push' development longer just a bit hoping that even at 60-65sec mark the fog of overdevelopment won't show....  I find that if anything it's better to expose a little more and cut development a bit short than ti underexpose and try pushing it.

  When plates are OVEREXPOSED and underdeveloped they still have nice and clear shadows, but the highlights are not as bight and mid-tones are also a bit flatter and muddier.  They aren't all that bad looking.
  When plate are UNDEREXPOESD and overdeveloped it's a different story though.  Just a slight overdevelopment my cause only a barely visible problem, but it will get worse very quickly as you keep pushing development.  There are MANY different types of 'fog' that are possible with wet plate, but the one that comes from overdevelopment is probably the ugliest.  Luckily it's also one that is the easiest to identify.  It looks as if there are tiny golden crystals lodged in the dark areas of your image.  They shimmer slightly in the light.  it tends to happen first in the parts of the plate where the collodion is thickest, so a lot of times, when you just barely overdeveloped, you'll see those crystals outlining the area of your plate where the collodion was first poured on.

  So to demonstrate the theory I made 5 plates today.  I shot in a place right by the darkroom where I shoot a lot, so I know that my ideal exposure there is about 3 seconds (Dallmayer 2B lens did have a Waterhouse stop in and at the given bellows extension the effective aperture was f6.5).  The 5 plates were thus given the following exposure/development times in seconds:

1) 3/50 - normal
2) 6/30 - one stop overexposed and 40% less development
3) 12/20 - two stops overexposed and 60% less development
4) 2/75 - about 2/3 stop underexposed and 50% overdeveloped 
5) 1/115 - about 1.5 stops underexposed and 130% overdeveloped 

  Here are the 5 plates.  Center one is normal #1, top left is #2, bottom left is #3, top right #4, bottom right #5


  Oh, just for reference - here's the setup I shot in color.  As you may know yellow of the brass photographs really dark, but I chose that on purpose so that there would be big empty area where the first signs on overdevelopment would show on plate #4.


 So here are the plates individually.  I shot all these on a copy stand with Canon 5DII, nothing was done in photoshop to clean them up or change brightness or contrast.

Normal

Overexposed by 1 stop - underdeveloped by 40%
  
Overexposed by 2 stop - underdeveloped by 60%

Underexposed by 2/3 of a stop and 50% more development than normal

Underexposed by 1.5 of a stop and 115% more development than normal

  As you can see the last plate is just terrible.  Crystallization galore! However in the slightly underexposed and only a bit overdeveloped one the crystallization is only really evident in the lower part of the lens barrel.  But under magnification it's there for sure.  That's probably where the edge of my puddle stopped initially when pouring and so the thickest collodion deposit is right there in that crescent-shaped area.  Here's a closeup of that spot.  There's more crystals that you can see in the full plate image, but in real life there are slightly less apparent than in the image below.  Still, best not to let that happen to you!



  Oh, and some of you may wonder about the chemistry I use for this test so here it is.

  Fresh UVP#3 Collodion mixed from A/B stock about 5 days ago (available from http://uvphotographics.com/ - excellent and super fast collodion, but I still can't get rid of those darn lighter areas you see on top of each plate...  very weird, but that's a topic for more experimentation and possibly another future blog entry)

  Developer at about 45-50°F as follows:
  Water 350ml
  Iron Sulfate - 7.5g
  Glacial Acetic Acid - 10ml
  95% Grain Alcohol - 15ml
  
  I sincerely hope this was at least somewhat helpful to at least some of you.

EDIT:  Someone asked if overdevelopment fog wipes off.  NO WAY - this stuff is deep there.  It really does look totally different from all the other types of fog possible...

EDIT 2:   Here's a good exercise that you may want to do to determine what is the absolute MAXIMUM amount of development time that your developer will allow.  It'll take only an hour or less and it'll be helpful - believe me.
  Coat and sensitize a plate and then develop it for just a little longer than you normally do. Keep careful track of time in developer.  Look for the signs of golden-looking crystals.  Don't see them?  Do another plate for just a little longer.   Do a few plates until you start seeing those crystals.  Again - they usually appear first in the center of the plate where collodion first came in contact with the plate during your pour.
  So say you start seeing then at 25sec (most people use more concentrated developer than I do their usual development times are 15-20sec).  That means you can PUSH development to about say 22-23sec without ill effects.
  Make sure to note the temperature of your developer - hotter developer will work fast, colder will be slower, kinda obvious, but I thought I'd mention that.

Anton Orlov

Saturday, December 24, 2016

1960s Mec-16 SB 16mm Camera Back in Use

  Today I had a little fun with a Mec-16 SB camera, so I thought it'd be good to post a little something about my experience.



  Mec-16 SB was the later model of the original Mec-16.  The first model was great and all, but the SB, which was introduced in 1960, was the very first camera of any format to feature TTL metering. 
  This camera came to me a couple of weeks ago among a large lot of odds and ends I picked up in San Diego.  At first I wasn't too excited about it other than thinking that it's got a pretty nifty design reminiscent of a Minox on steroids.  Obviously the film, which came in proprietary canisters, is no longer being supplied by the company and so I thought I would sell it.  However, when it was brought to my attention that this was the first TTL metering camera and thus is a rather historic piece of equipment I knew it was a keeper and got a bug to shoot it.


  First, wanting to see what it's capable of, I decided to make some prints from a 1960s roll of film that was actually developed back in the day and was included with the haul.  



  I must say that I was rather disappointed though as the prints came out fairly soft.  I knew something wasn't right... I mean I got better looking 8x10s out of my Minox than the 5x7 prints shown below. The real hint that this camera is capable of better images though came when while looking at the negatives thought the grain focuser under enlargement I could not see ANY grain.  I don't know what kind of film it was, but there was not even a hint of grain - everything was uniformly mushy...  I still made these two prints just to have something to go from.




  Next was the task of finding film and loading it up once more.  At first I bought Fuji microfilm, thinking it would probably be the sharpest thing available.  Unfortunately when I went to load it I discovered that microfilm is not perforated and so that didn't work...  Luckily a local camera store happened to have some old Eastman Double-X 16mm movie stock.  I mean OLD, I don't know how old that stuff is or how it was stored, but it's pretty toast - the base is fogged worse than some of the films I've shot from the 50s...   If that 2003 on the box refers to the expiration date than this film was stored terribly... Still, better than nothing for sure!



  Loading the cartridges is both very easy and a little tricky.  The easy part is that there's no spool inside, so all you have to do is slide the correct length of film (about 19in) in there.  The trick is to have the cut on the end that you slide in not going across sprocket holes - otherwise it catches on something once the first inch or so is inserted.  If the end is nice and straight though it seems to go in relatively willingly.  Opening 16mm spool of film, measuring out and cutting off a strip of correct length and then feeding into a canister has to be done in total darkness of course.


  I did actually have the manual that came with it, but of course I forgot it at home...  Well, thank goodness for Butkus!  What!?  You don't know who Butkus is???  For shame!  Mr. Butkus has dedicated countless hours of his life scanning operational manuals for every camera he could find and making them available online in PDF form for free!  He does ask that every once in a while you drop him a buck of two and I do it once or twice a year - I mean the amount of times I found useful info on his site as mind-boggling.  Click here to get redirected to his site.  Drop him a few bucks - the man's a living analog photography saint.

  Today was nice day in San Diego with patches of sunshine interrupted by light drizzle and complete with a very brief but exciting little hail storm, which I totally missed except for the sound of it pounding the AC unit outside the darkroom.  I roamed about the neighborhood and shot off almost all of the 24 frames on random subjects distant and close.  When I got back to the darkroom I still had a few frames left and what's a photographer to do at that point other than to finish the roll with a few selfies? 

  Now, I don't have a dedicated 16mm developing reel (and I'll be looking for one now), but what I do have is a universal roll film developing contraption affectionately known as the Pixie Tray.   It's simply filled up with about 120ml of developer and then, once again in complete darkness, the film is fed under middle bar and agitated manually by pulling the ends up and down.  


  Yes, a real reel would be best, not only because I wouldn't have had to be in the dark for 6min, but this little Pixie is obviously prone to creating little scratches as the film slides along the hard rubber.  In the end I was actually happily surprised as to how few of those scratches I managed to get.  
  By the way, I developed in Rodinal 1:25 for 6min after exposing for ISO100.  This film being so fogged I think next time I'll shoot it at ISO50....
  When the buzzer on a Gralab timer went off (scaring me as usual) the film was simply thrown in a tray full of fixer and after a minute or so the light was turned on and I was rewarded by seeing that indeed some kind of imagery was recorded there.




  Back at the enlarger I was glad to see that indeed this film has some grain to it and the detail was showing.  I think this film isn't the highest resolution one I probably could get my hands on.  It's suggested ISO is actually 200 and there's a 100 speed Adox on the market in Canada.  Maybe I can' find it in US or I'll just splurge on a roll from abroad - after all 100ft of film makes for about 70 Mec-16 rolls.  Also a thing to note - there were two lenses offered with the SB model - an f2 6-element Rodenstock and an f2.8 4-element Enna.  Unfortunately mine has the 2.8 lens, so maybe the Rodenstock would have been slightly sharper...
  

  So, without further rambling here are the results of today's photo adventure with a 1960 Mec-16 SB.
Yours truly - no filter.

LeStats Lion - UV filter

Wires and Clouds - yellow filter
(not too bad as far as sharpness if you can see the wires, right?)

  Well, I hope you have enjoyed this quick write-up and even if you didn't I still want to wish you a very Happy New Year!

Anton Orlov

Friday, September 30, 2016

Daguerreotype Photography - My New Obsession

  Well, I have not posted here in a WHILE, but that's because I've been waiting for something worthy and I think by now there's something ready.

  Over the past few months, along with shooting a lot of wet plate work of course, I have been delving into the wonderful world of daguerreotype photography.  It has been a rough ride, but persistence is in my nature when it comes to photography, so I pushed on despite many failures.

  First a few brief details for those unfamiliar with the history and technical aspects of daguerreotype photography.  
  Daguerreotype was THE first truly successful photographic technique and it is of course named after it's inventor, a Frenchman Louis Daguerre.  He worked it out in mid to late 1830s and on August 19th 1839 disclosed the secret to the world after the French government agreed to purchase it and in return gave him a lifetime stipend.  The whole concept of 'photography' took the world by storm of course and daguerreotype technique became popular very fast.  It remained as the only commercially viable method of making photographic images through 1840s and into early 1850s - at that point it was overtaken by the new wet plate collodion method, which was faster, easier, cheaper and also let multiple images to be printed by allowing one to make negatives on clear glass.  In historic writings one can find the way photographers of the time spoke of daguerreotype images.  Even though the image is somewhat hard to see, due to the highly reflective nature of the plate, a lot of contemporaries write with deep love about little silver plates and sound nostalgic for the uniquely beautiful and almost dimensional look those images possess.  Due to that some daguerrean artists remained true to the craft even into 1880s and 90s.  Very few people practiced daguerreotypes through the 20th century and even today there is probably less than 50 people worldwide who work with the true method on any sort of regular basis.
  Briefly the technique of making a plate can be summarized as follows.  A plate of pure silver is polished to as near mirror surface as possible.  Traditionally copper plates were covered with silver by cold-cladding, today electroplated method is also used.  The plate is then first exposed to fumes of iodine, then bromine and then iodine again.  Side note - originally Daguerre used only fumes of iodine, but within a few years American photographers discovered that bromine fumes made the plates much more sensitive to light and also gave a more pleasing contrast. After fuming the plate is placed in a camera for exposure - exposures of many minutes when only iodine is used turn into seconds or even less when bromine is introduced.  After exposure the development is carried out by placing the plate over fumes of hot mercury (nasty stuff and one of the reasons not too many folks play around with this amazing technique).  The way the mercury acts upon the halides of silver is still somewhat of a mystery (at least to me for sure...), but it draws up those particles exposed to enough light and creates a silver-mercury amalgam, which basically is what makes up the final image.  Next step is to remove the rest of the silver bromides and iodides and that is done with good old sodium thiosulfate (commonly known as Hypo).  The last step is to gild the plate.  Gilding is done with gold chloride and heat and acts upon the image in a few different ways: brightens the highlights giving them a warmer golden tone, deepens the shadows, minimizes oxidation over time thus making the image much more permanent and also physically toughens the surface, before gilding the image is extremely fragile and a light swipe with a soft feather will take it right off the plate.  Finally the plate is sealed in an air-tight enclosure (under glass with a mat to separate the two) to restrict air from coming in contact with it, again to make it last longer without oxidizing. 
  Small note - there is such a thing as Becquerel daguerreotype technique, which differs both in procedure and outcome.  There the plate is only fumed with iodine (light sensitivity of those plates is A LOT less), exposed and then covered with red glass or plastic and placed outdoors.  The action on UV light when passed through the red filter acts to bring out the image (form what I know this part is still completely unexplained by science).  Though safer and easier (and because of that actually most people who make daguerreotype plates today use this method), Becquerel plates lack in tonality and have extremely high contrast with much fewer shades. Both high contrast and extremely long exposures make it almost unsuitable for portraits, scenes too look rather odd...

  I've always been extremely curious about this historically important and visually stunning method of image-production, but my love for daguerreotypes was really sparked in 2012, when, while being on my first cross country trip aboard The Photo Palace Bus, I had the extreme pleasure and luck of meeting Rob McElroy in Buffalo NY.  You can read about that incredible adventure and see some images HERE and then a followup HEREAside from being simply an amazing human being, Rob is one of the very best in the world when it comes to this form of art and I was truly astounded by his work and observing the whole process.  The bug got it's bite and since then I have been dreaming about making my own plates.  Daguerreotype equipment though is extremely expensive - the safety that must be factored into mercury pots and low demand leading to very small number of people producing this stuff all contribute to the cost factor, and that's not even to mention the plates - pure silver isn't cheap...  So my desire to become a daguerreotype artist seemed far off and nearly unattainable.  
  In 2012 though I wasn't even doing wet plate....  Well in 2013 I learned to worked with collodion, got acquainted with the community and lo and behold - one of the folks who was living right in San Diego did both collodion and daguerreotypes!  Race Gentry is now a good friend of mine and we hang out as often as his busy life and school schedule lets us.  He has been kind enough to let me use his equipment to start learning and also shared a wealth of knowledge that he accumulated over the years both from experience and by reading historic literature on the subject.  Right now I'm in the final stages of gathering up all my own equipment, but I know that Race and I will be friends regardless - he's just too much fun to hang out with.

  So, with Race's help I started making becquerel plates last year.   I made some good ones rather quickly as it's not all that complicated of a technique.  Here are couple of my early Becquerel plates.
 4x5in (staining on bottom right from gilding)

24x36mm (35mm format)

   The lack of fine tonality and long exposures (25 seconds on the plates you see above) made me become rather bored rather quickly.  Don't know why I took so long after that boredom set in to start pursuing success with real mercury daguerreotypes, but I only really dedicated myself to this task a couple of months ago.  During that time there were periods when I made multiple images a day for a week or two straight and then there were times when discouraged I took breaks only to return with more force later.
   I'm not going to try to make is sound like obtaining a decent-looking plate is the hardest thing in the world.  I'm sure climbing Mt. Everest to the summit, running 100m under 10sec, truly understanding women or making a mentally challenged squirrel be able to teach calculus are all things that are harder.  However daguerreotypes have their challenges and quirks and overcoming (or at least sidestepping) them have proven to be quite a feat for yours truly.
  First there's buffing - that darn plate must be so perfect and so clean and so much like a mirror that sometimes it seemed that I'll never get it...  Then there's fuming - it's done by visual inspection and there's only a small window of particular hues of pink that works best and to top that off the proportion of iodine to bromine that is used in achieving that hue reflects on both speed of the plate and contrast of the final image.  Next there's development - that's relatively straight forward, one just have to find an optimal combination of mercury temperature and development time that doesn't go too long and lets mercury globs to accumulate in the shadow areas (like the ones you see in the below image of a box camera in the center - that one's under-exposed so in vain I tried pushing development, something that you just can't do with daguerreotypes).  OH, and then, after you might have gotten the best results you have seen in your plates you have to gild that thing and THAT is one conniving and malicious step I tell you!  The most perfect plate can go to being absolute garbage right in front of your eyes literally in a span of a few seconds and there's not a single thing you can do to stop that once it starts happening...  To top it all off almost every single practicing daguerreotype image maker I have asked seems to have their own unique workflow that works for them - sometimes steps vary only slightly from one person to another and in other instance it made me wonder if they are even working on the same technique....  All advice was taken with stride and a grain of salt.

  OK - time for some images.  
  All 5 of the good (and in the eyes of some that may be a stretch of the word 'good') images you see below are copied after gilding.
  Here's a an image I did yesterday - I believe it's my best mercury plate so far and I was extremely excited when gilding didn't ruin it completely (some back spots in the sky did show up, but I have a faint hunch about what may have caused that, so let's see if in the next few sessions I can prevent them from occurring again).


3.25x4.25in

  Now let's quickly compare the above plate to just a few of the plates that I deemed worthy of copying with my phone camera during the long and winding road of learning the craft.



  Progress is evident, no?  Here's a few more recent images made after last week I for one reason or another had what seemed like a breakthrough.  This was the first one I made that wasn't awful - as I said above, it's about a full stop or maybe even two underexposed and I tried correcting that by pushing development time past where it should have ended, but in real life now it actually looks not too bad thanks to the amazing Carillo Method of brightening gilded images - this method was discovered very recently by Daniel Carrillo of Portland OR and if it works it does wonders to dull images.  Let me assure you though it doesn't exactly work perfect every time though, at least it hasn't for me...

 4x5in

  Here's is the first portrait I was truly happy with - even the gilding spared it from irregularities.  To top it off this is the first daguerreotype plate that I sold, so thank you very much Robert Matheson!


 2.75x3.25in with vintage mat and preserver

   Oh, and of course here's Fred - the wonderfully patient man of kind temper who resides across the stairs form my darkroom.  In the compilation of failed images above you see how many times he posed  for me and not once was he reluctant to do soHe is a true gentleman and a scholar. It is unfortunate that during gilding the stain on bottom right decided to appear, but otherwise I believe it's a solid plate in all respects.



2.75x3.25in with modern mat

  And here's a still life composition - my little homage to the old-times, the photographers who came before me, the tools they used and the people who passed in front of their lenses. 

3.25x4.25in with vintage mat and preserver

  I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to not only the people mentioned above as being instrumental in shortening my learning curve, but to all those who may or may not read this, but have patiently helped me along the way by providing tips and sharing their methods online.  There are too many of You to mention and I'm not even going to try for the fear of forgetting some of You, but I believe You know who You are - THANK YOU!

 Things I now look forward to include but are not limited to:
• Transforming my portable wet plate dark box to be safe for daguerreotype production and going on location with this technique.
• Generally improving consistency with which my plates turn out to my satisfaction (for now I'm attributing the fact that 5 out of 7 of the last plates I did turning out well to some sort of a fluke wave of luck...)
• Taming the gilding step
• Possibly receiving commissioned work to sustain myself and the pursuit of the above three goals as all three require financial input...


Thanks to my readers as well!

Anton Orlov