Film Photography

Another try at home film developing

My second try at processing film at home was an utter failure. I was overconfident and tried a roll of Verichrome Pan expired since the early 1980s. The stuff simply would not go onto the reel. After 45 minutes of trying, it got so hot and humid in my dark bag that the film stuck to itself and was ruined. In retrospect, I probably reached too far too fast.

So for my third try I used up my last roll of Kosmo Foto Mono in my Agfa Clack (review here). I probably should have used my Yashica-12 as last time for consistency’s sake, but the Clack takes 8 6×9 images vs. the Yashica’s 12 6×6 images and I wanted to get through the roll as fast as I could so I could get on with the developing.

I had better luck this time, but the results still weren’t perfect. I diluted Rodinal to 1+50, and used the time-temp converter at the Massive Dev Chart site here to adjust developing time to my developer’s actual temperature, which was 23°, not the recommended 20°.

I am surprised by the widely varying directions online for developing black-and-white film. Some of them call for rinsing the film first, and some say that step is wholly unnecessary. They all use the chemicals in the same order, but except for the developer stage the amount of time for each subsequent step is all over the map.

Last time I used the Massive Dev Chart Timer app, and it was great except that it calls for a Hypo Clear step. I’m not using Hypo Clear and I couldn’t figure out how to skip it in the app. So this time I found some instructions online and followed them using my iPhone timer. My stupid iPhone screen kept shutting off and my damp fingers had trouble unlocking the phone — frustrating, and I’m sure some of my timings were off as a result. So maybe I need to invest in an actual timer.

As I searched online to find those instructions again, I came upon a different article that talked about agitation techniques in film developing — and discovered that I’m agitating too much and too hard, and that the results I’m getting are consistent with that. So next time I’ll agitate much more gently.

Below are all eight photos from the roll, from first to last. I put the film into the reel end first, so the last shots on the roll were closest to the reel’s core.

The negatives came out dense and several of them were blotchy, consistent with overagitation. The images closer to the spool’s core appear to be more messed up than the ones farther away. I had to really work them over in Photoshop. I was able to breathe good life into only a few of them.

My goals for developing my own film are to get scans fast and inexpensively. I’m not doing this because I want to fall in love with the process and be some film-processing fanboy. I’m mercenary; this is a means to an end, period. I’m not enjoying the learning curve. I will persist in hopes that I can soon get consistent and acceptable results.

I’m out of Kosmo Foto Mono now. I have a roll of Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros left so I’ll shoot it next. Looking around online, people seem to get great results with T-Max 100 in Rodinal. The Film Photography Store sells it for a good price, so a 5-pack is on its way to me now.

Here now, the photographs. All but the first two are from downtown Lebanon, IN.

Passsssssat
TTW
Crick
Jameson St.
Saint Adrian
Knights of Pythias
104
Umbrellas

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Film Photography

Scanning 120 color negatives with ScanGear on the Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II

I’m experimenting with scanning medium-format color negatives in my CanoScan 9000F.

I’d shoot more medium format if it weren’t so expensive per frame to get scans. Every lab I use charges about the same to process and scan both medium format and 35mm, around $17 shipped. A roll of 35mm yields 24 or 26 images, while a roll of 120 or 620 yields only eight or 12. If I can get credible scans from the CanoScan without too much fuss it would cut about $5 out of that equation. I might shoot my TLRs, folders, and boxes more often.

I first scanned some Kodak Ektar 100 negatives I shot last year in my Agfa Clack. (Ektar is my go-to medium-format color film.) Old School Photo Lab processed and scanned the film.

Here’s a photo from that roll, scanned through the CanoScan and ScanGear. I scanned at 1200 dpi, the maximum ScanGear allowed to avoid enormous file sizes. This resulted in images 3968 pixels long. I left all image enhancements off in ScanGear. I applied unsharp masking and other enhancements in Photoshop. I shrunk the scans to 1200 pixels long to upload them to the blog.

Here’s a crop of this image at 100%. The Clack is a box camera with a simple lens that’s acceptably, but not exceptionally, sharp in the middle. This is a pretty reasonable result.

Here’s Old School Photo Lab’s scan. It’s 3569 pixels on the long side. I like both scans equally.

Suburban banalia

Here’s another scan from this roll using the CanoScan and ScanGear.

In this case I like the Old School Photo Lab scan better, as its colors look more true to life. I did the best I could in Photoshop to get better colors from my scan but they just weren’t there. Either scan is acceptable for my usual bloggy purposes.

Suburban banalia

Next I dug out some Kodak Ektar 100 negatives I shot in 2017 with my Yashica-D and a closeup lens attachment. Old School Photo Lab processed and scanned the images.

ScanGear let me scan at 2400 dpi but no larger to avoid extremely large file sizes. This yielded images of about 5200 pixels square. Again I left all image enhancements off in ScanGear and used Photoshop to apply unsharp masking and other enhancements. I shrunk the scans to 1200 pixels square to upload them to the blog. Here’s my favorite photo from this roll.

Because this scan is so large, a crop from 100% shows only a small portion of the image. But as you can see it’s reasonably sharp and detailed.

The Old School Photo Lab scans are about 2400 pixels square. My scan offers more contrast and a lovely purple in the sky, but the OSPL scan offers a more limited and nuanced color palette.

Spring flowers from my garden

Here’s another CanoScan/ScanGear scan from this roll.

The Old School Photo Lab scan is flatter and warmer. Both scans have their charms.

Spring flowers from my garden

Finally, a CanoScan/ScanGear scan of this lily. I made all of these shots in my old house’s front garden, which I sorely miss.

The Old School Photo Lab scan is again warmer. It’s been a while since I’ve seen these lilies but I believe my scan’s purple is more true to life.

Spring flowers from my garden

Unsurprisingly, the CanoScan and ScanGear do credible work making scans of color medium-format negatives. It was far, far easier to get good enough scans from these negatives than with any of the color 35mm negatives I’ve scanned. When it comes to negatives, there’s no substitute for size.

Scanning isn’t a joy any way you look at it. The act of scanning mostly involves waiting, which isn’t terrible. The real work begins after the scanner produces the files. The worst of it is removing dust marks. Even after gently wiping these negatives with a cloth designed for the purpose, a lot of dust remained on them. It was tedious to remove all of the marks in Photoshop.

Saving $5 on scans is nice, but the real savings is in processing and scanning my film myself. I still have in mind to buy processing gear and try a monobath black-and-white developer like this one from the Film Photography Project. I had hoped to be doing that by now this year, but life just seems to keep dealing us energy-consuming difficulties. Maybe this summer, maybe this autumn. Wish me luck.

Next: scanning black-and-white medium-format film. I expect it to go very well.

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Camera Reviews

Operation Thin the Herd: Agfa Clack

Suburban banalia

I began Operation Thin the Herd with my Agfa Clack because it was handy. I’d just moved into my new house and my cameras were all still in boxes. The Clack had been on display in my home office and so got packed into a box of office stuff. It was unpacked early because I needed my home office set up pretty much first thing.

Agfa Clack

While unpacking it I remembered very well how pleasant it was to shoot and what lovely results it returned. I’d always shot black-and-white film in it before, slower stuff like Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros and Ilford Pan-F Plus 50. So this time I spooled in some color film, Kodak Ektar 100. I blew through the whole roll in 20 minutes without ever taking more than ten steps from my new house.

Suburban banalia

These colors are a little washed out, rather than showing Ektar’s signature vibrance. Perhaps I needed to shoot on a cloudy day. Or maybe I’ll just stick with black-and-white film in the Clack from now on. Here, take a look at how Pan-F 50 performed on an earlier shoot.

Crew Carwash

I now live in typical modern suburbia. My previous neighborhood of 1950s-60s brick ranch homes was typical suburbia for its time. But in my old neighborhood, owners had placed their individual touches on their properties over the years. Here, the HOA makes sure every home always looks just like every other. Property values, don’t you know. Stultifying sameness.

Suburban banalia

And what is it about modern home design that makes giant exterior walls of vinyl, punctuated only by random tiny windows, seem like a good idea?

Suburban banalia

Oh, and our home overlooks beautiful and scenic I-65. See the big green sign there through the brush? This is suburban living at its best, folks. The retention ponds do nothing to blunt the relentless traffic noise. Fortunately, I stopped noticing it after just a couple weeks. One positive: this unblocked westerly view has shown us some spectacular sunsets.

Suburban banalia

But back to the Clack. It was just as much of a joy to use as ever. It’s a glorified box camera, but it’s so much easier to carry and use than a boxy box. It’s small and light. It’s easy to frame subjects in the bright viewfinder. It offers a few easy settings: apertures for cloudy and bright days plus a built-in closeup lens and a yellow filter. The only downers: the lens is soft in the corners and there’s some pincushion distortion.

Suburban banalia

But as soon as I finished this roll my mind started thinking of other eight-photograph monographs the Clack and I could make. Imagining a future with a camera: is there any better sign that it should stay?

Verdict: Keep.

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Photography, Stories Told

Photo essay: Pleasant suburban shopping

Please don’t revoke my man card, but I like to shop. Even a weekly trip to the grocery store delivers a dopamine rush. And when my weekly trip takes me to the big-box store — ohhh yes, I can spend an hour just wandering the aisles looking at things I didn’t come to buy.

Meijer

The big-box groceries are squeezing the local players out. Marsh is the last local chain standing. I seldom do my weekly shopping here, as the big boxes offer compelling prices. But I’m suspicious of the big-box meat. Hamburger shaped into a rectangle? Pork chops shot full of “15% of a solution?” No thanks. I prefer to buy my meat at a butcher shop, but it’s a special trip. Marsh’s meat counter is convenient and respectable, and so gets a lot of my business.

Marsh Hometown Market

But I wonder how much longer that Marsh will be open now that Walmart’s Neighborhood Market is in the area. It became my main grocery store the minute it opened last summer. It’s just around the corner from my home! And their prices are just too good to ignore. Marsh feels that pinch — since Walmart opened, I get a lot of direct mail from Marsh, sometimes with coupons for $10 off the total bill.

Walmart Neighborhood Market

My routine shopping is about more than groceries, of course. I fill my prescriptions at a CVS across the street from Marsh. That’s pretty much all I do at CVS — for the non-pharmacy items they carry, pretty much any other store beats their prices. I used to have my color film processed here, but they took out their 1-hour lab a couple years ago. What a sad day.

CVS/pharmacy

I’m not as crazy about shopping for hardware and home-improvement items. Maybe it’s because I’m usually trying to quickly pick up one or two things so I can finish a project. The little Ace Hardware near my home closed ten years ago, so I switched to a smallish Menards that was only a little farther away until it, too, closed. I’m left with Lowe’s and Home Depot, both longish drives from home, both enormous and bewildering. Woe betide me when I need something small, as I did this day. Three different employees scratched their heads over where I might find the thing I sought. I ended up searching for a half hour. In a big store, small items might as well be invisible.

Lowe's

I choose Lowe’s over Home Depot because this Goodwill Store is next door. Sometimes they have an interesting old camera for a few dollars. Believe it or not, I bought my favorite suit here for $8.

Goodwill Store

This Walmart Supercenter is around the corner from Lowe’s and Goodwill. When I went through my divorce, I lived on next to nothing and this Walmart’s prices let me afford to feed my family. In those days, this store was filled with rude staff and angry customers. I hated shopping here. But then Walmart built a new Supercenter nearer my home, and overnight this Walmart became orders of magnitude more pleasant. I can’t explain it. It’s like all of the problems migrated to the newer Supercenter. It’s a war zone over there.

Walmart

When the shopping is over, I sometimes treat my car to a wash. Works Wash please, and no, I don’t want the extra-cost tire shine. This gives me a few weeks’ respite from a super annoying body squeak my car has developed. It was a tip from my mechanic, who said that an underbody wash is a good, cheap lube job.

Crew Carwash

It feels good to drive a clean car. And it feels good to wrap up the routine weekly shopping.

Photographed July 14-28, 2015 with my Agfa Clack on Ilford Pan F Plus 50 film.

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Camera Reviews

Agfa Clack

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I’ve been on a quest for easy medium-format shooting for a long time. The two film sizes most identified as medium format are 120 and 620, which are the same film but on spools of different diameters. 620 cameras were aimed at the amateur market, while 120 cameras tended to be for advanced amateurs and pros. 620 cameras are extremely plentiful, but unfortunately the film hasn’t been made in decades. You can reroll 120 onto 620 spools or buy it pre-rerolled, but for me the hassle of the former and the expense of the latter have lost their charm. 120 film is still produced, but the pool of available cameras is smaller, especially when you limit yourself to lower-end cameras.

The Agfa Clack, which takes 120 film, has naturally been on my radar. It was a hugely popular family snapshot camera in Europe in the 1950s and 1960s. Because the Clack didn’t catch on in the US, they can be hard to come by – and they command tall prices. I routinely see them go for $60 and $70 on eBay. For a glorified box camera! I decided I would pay no more than $30, and I waited a year before I found one at that price.

Agfa Clack

This camera is a paragon of simplicity and functional design. It’s so German! And since it’s German, you pronounce the As in this camera’s name as ah. Ahgfa Clahck. This camera just has to be named after the sound its shutter makes as it opens and closes.

In many ways, the Clack is as simple as it gets – light-tight box, single-element lens, single-speed leaf shutter. But it offers some surprising features and clever engineering. On the lens barrel is a lever that slides three aperture masks into place – the first for closeups, the second for overcast days, and the third for bright sunlight. The closeup aperture includes a magnifying lens that’s supposed to focus to 3 feet. Without it, the lens focuses from 10 feet. The sunlight aperture includes a yellow filter, which adds contrast to skies when using black-and-white film. The first and third apertures are slightly smaller than the second, though there’s wide disagreement about what f stops these apertures actually are. f/8 and f/10? f/10 and f/11? f/11 and f/13? Nobody seems to agree on the shutter’s speed, either, with guesses ranging from 1/35 to 1/60 sec. But specs in this range are in line with the slow-speed, wide-latitude black-and-white films consumers bought in those days.

Agfa ClackThe camera’s ovoid shape (when viewed from the top or the bottom) was not just styling. There’s no pressure plate in the Clack to hold the film flat. Instead, the film flows along the curved back, which is engineered to match the curve in the single element lens to yield an undistorted image.

The Clack is essentially two pieces that come apart for film loading. You twist the mechanism on the bottom toward AUF to open it; the top pops up and you pull it out. All of the camera’s works are in the top piece, and you spool the film around the back of it. When you drop the top back into the bottom, twisting the mechanism to ZU draws the top down and locks it tight.

In the middle of the open-close mechanism is a tripod socket, an unusual feature on such a simple camera. The Clack pairs it with a cable release socket, which is on the lens barrel below the shutter lever. These two features make it possible to eliminate camera shake for the sharpest photos the lens can deliver.

The Clack’s lens can deliver remarkable sharpness for its simplicity. I loaded a roll of Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros and spent a very sunny afternoon in South Broad Ripple. This little retaining wall had taken a tumble.

Crumbles

This former gas station is now Good Morning Mama’s breakfast-and-lunch place. Most of the images from this roll were slightly overexposed, which I attribute to the ISO 100 film. A sticker inside the Clack recommends DIN 17 film, which is equivalent to ISO 40! Fortunately, Photoshop Elements let me correct exposure on each shot.

Good Morning Mama's

A little farther down the street is a produce stand built into another former gas station. They also offer a some freshly prepared foods.

Signage

I took two photos of this scene, one with the close-up lens and one with the yellow filter. I think this is the one I took with the close-up lens, because the pumpkins in the background are softly focused. I stood about eight feet from the sign.

Pumpkins for Sale

In this camera’s heyday, images were usually contact printed from the negatives, resulting in 6 by 9 centimeter photographs. Contact printing gives crisp results when there was a little camera shake or when the lens itself was poor. But the Clack’s lens is surprisingly good for as simple as it is. I sprung for bonus-sized scans of these images; click here to see one at full scan size. The corners are slightly soft, but everywhere else detail and sharpness remain good. I’m sure I’d get even better results from the lens in, say, my Kodak Monitor. But then I’d have to use 620 film!

The Clack is a winner. I just bought a whole bunch more Neopan 100 Acros so I can use this camera again.

You’ll find more photos of and from this camera in my Agfa Clack gallery.

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