I’ve had the best results yet in developing black-and-white film. But all’s not perfect.
This time I shot my last roll of original Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros in my Yashica-12 and developed it in Rodinal 1+50 for 10:30 at 23° (as that’s the temperature of my bathroom). I used the Massive Dev App and, thanks to a tip from a commenter, removed the Hypo Clear step that I don’t use. I agitated by twisting the agitator rod. As you can see from these phone photos I made of the negatives, one edge was washed out.
I think I know what happened. I didn’t push the reel to the bottom of the core I’m using, which is longer than the reel. 500ml of Rodinal solution in the tank was therefore not enough to cover the whole negative.
The well-developed part of each negative looks really good to me — neither dense nor thin. But my scanner tried to compensate for the washed-out edge of the film and I had to play with the exposure, highlights, and dehaze sliders in Photoshop to fix that. I also had to crop out the washed-out area. But all twelve photographs are usable.
I took this camera with me to Plymouth, Indiana, for a board meeting of the Historic Michigan Road Association. I made photographs on the way home, in Plymouth and Logansport, at Sycamore Row near Deer Creek, and in Burlington and Kirklin.
Well, sort of. Apparently they’ve changed its formulation to get around difficulties sourcing some of the original Acros’s raw materials. But their press release promises the new film, to be called Neopan 100 Acros II, to be equally good.
Given that Fujifilm has been regularly discontinuing film stocks for years, this news is more than welcome, it’s a bloody miracle.
Neopan 100 Acros II is slated to be available this fall.
I wonder why square photographs aren’t more common. Maybe it’s because starting in the 1980s 35mm point-and-shoot cameras became popular. That could have cemented the format’s 3:2 ratio as normal for photographs.
In the digital era the DSLR kept 35mm’s 3:2 aspect ratio. Point-and-shoots went with 4:3 for some reason, but that’s close enough to 3:2 to not look weird. My digital point-and-shoot, a Canon S95, has a 1:1 setting buried somewhere in its menus. My iPhone 6s also offers a square setting. But no digital camera I know of shoots square by default.
For me, however, shooting square feels like going back to my roots. For the first eight years of my photographic life, I shot nothing but cameras that made square photographs. It was the 1970s and early 1980s; square was very common then thanks to the wildly popular 126 format.
Here’s a scan of a print from my first-ever roll of film, Kodacolor II in a Kodak Brownie Starmite II, August, 1976. Side note: just look at how beautifully these drug-store-print colors have kept over the last 40+ years! These are my childhood friends Darin, Colleen, Christy, David, Mike, tank-topped kid whose face I can’t see and therefore whose name I can’t recall, and Craig just entering the frame from the right.
Here’s a scan of the negative, cropped 3:2 to the subject. Conventional wisdom calls this the better composition because the subject fills the frame. But what it lacks is the big blue sky we used to play under and the city infrastructure that lay all around and above us. The crop also cuts off the rounded tip of Mike’s grand walking staff. The square format brought in all the details.
That’s not to say that square format is inherently magic. Just like with any aspect ratio you have to find the subjects and compositions that work best. Here are some decent square photos I’ve taken more recently.
I made one more experiment scanning negatives on my CanoScan 9000F Mk II and its bundled ScanGear software. This time I tried scanning black-and-white medium-format negatives.
I hope to start processing my own black-and-white film, especially in medium format, this year. I don’t shoot as much medium format as I’d like because processing and scanning costs about $17. That’s a buck and a half to two bucks per frame! Processing and scanning my own will manage medium format’s costs better.
I went back to 2016 to find some images I made with my Yashica TLRs, a Yashica-12 and a Yashica-D. These cameras have wonderful lenses that make the most of whatever film I put behind them. Here is a scan I made of a scene on the square in Lebanon, Indiana, on Kodak Tri-X.
Here’s a crop of my scan at 100%. I scanned at 2400 dpi, by the way, and applied unsharp masking and other tweaks in Photoshop until the image was to my liking. That’s some pretty good detail right there.
Here’s the scan Old School Photo Lab delivered, after I tweaked it in Photoshop to my liking. Both my scan and Old School’s scan are crops of the original image to the interesting part of the scene. My scans are about 5200 pixels square, give or take, while Old School’s are slightly off square at 4832×4760 pixels.
Here’s my scan of the Boone County courthouse in Lebanon’s square.
And here’s Old School Photo Lab’s scan. Either scan is acceptable. I like the tonality in my scan a little better as it feels more realistic to me. The Old School scan looks to be a bit sharper.
The next two images are from my Yashica-D on Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros. I could have done a better job of cleaning minor dust marks off my scan, which is below. It’s otherwise a perfectly usable scan.
Here’s Old School Photo Lab’s scan. At blog sizes, they’re hard to tell apart. Both images are crops of the original frame, by the way.
These two images are from the far-northwest corner of Indianapolis, which is quite rural. Here’s my scan of a cemetery that lies along the road above.
Old School Photo Lab’s scan appears sharper — compare the grass in both scans. But either scan is eminently usable for my purposes.
I am pleased with my scans. I would use them for any of my usual purposes.
These experiments, and your comments on them, have taught me some key techniques. First, thanks to your advice I’ve turned off all the built-in image improvements in ScanGear and scan at as close to 4800 dpi as I can. Second, I’ve learned enough about the Amount, Radius, and Threshold settings in Photoshop’s Unsharp Mask filter to sharpen my images acceptably.
I see I’ve still much to learn about how to look at a photograph and see its details. In these experiments I’ve studied my scans in far more detail than I’ve ever studied a photograph, and compared them in depth to the lab scans, and thought about what I like in a scan. I realize I need to study far more photographs to learn how to see their details and decide what I like.
I also now realize just how much the quality of a lab scan might have affected my views of various cameras, lenses, and films, and how excellent scans might have enabled the praises I heaped on particular gear or films.
I feel like a man who thought he’d climbed a mountain, only to find that he had scaled but a foothill to see the real mountain emerge from the mist.
I have a deep affection for this little bit of Bakelite, aluminum, and glass. The first argus a-four I owned, in the 1980s when I was a teenager, was the first camera I ever shot that let me set aperture and shutter speed. It generated the little spark for photography that, in my 40s, would finally burst into flame.
I put several rolls of film through that a-four, including a roll of bulk-loaded Plus-X that I developed in my high school’s darkroom. The photo below came from a roll of drugstore Kodak color film that I shot around my neighborhood. My brother made this shot of me leaning on the family car. It was the summer I turned 16.
I set aperture, shutter speed, and focus for my non-photographer brother — this is a viewfinder camera with no onboard light meter, so you have to guess and then set all of those things before every shot. You also have to cock the shutter by pulling the cocking lever atop the lens barrel. You’ll never make a quick shot with an a-four. But in the 1950s, when this camera was new, it was a solid step up from the box cameras amateurs otherwise used.
As my first marriage crumbled away I did a few regrettable things, including selling my entire camera collection. I owned a couple hundred cameras then, mostly junk excepting that a-four and a handful of others. My life eventually settled down and I started collecting again. I searched for and eventually found another a-four. I took it along to a muscle-car auction with some Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros loaded. Just check out the resolving power and sharpness of that 44mm f/3.5 Coated Cintar lens.
This a-four hasn’t given me such great results on every roll, however. It seems like one roll turns out great and the next not so much, kind of like Star Trek movies. This was a not-so-great roll as too many shots turned out soft. I don’t think I focused wrong on so many shots, and I used apertures of f/8, f/11, and f/16 most of the time, so I should have had plenty of depth of field. It’s not so evident at blog size, but if you look at any of the photos at full size you’ll see that softness. Unfortunately I burned my last roll of Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros for these results.
The a-four’s viewfinder isn’t precise. When I made this photo every bit of that arch was visible in the viewfinder.
The camera is roughly the same size as a compact SLR like the Pentax ME or the Olympus OM-1, but is much lighter. The shutter button is awkwardly placed, but after a few shots you get used to it. The winding knob is this camera’s big usability disappointment. It’s too close to the body to really grab it, so to wind it on you make a whole bunch of short turns with just your fingertips. Mine turns stiffly, as though it could rip through the film sprockets.
When I finished the roll and started to rewind, the film immediately tore. I’d been meaning to buy a dark bag anyway, so I bought one, put the camera in, spooled the film into a black 35mm film can, and sent the film to Dwayne’s. They processed it no problem.
The lens is also prone to flare when the sun isn’t behind you. Or perhaps the lens is dirty. This a-four was on display in my home for nearly a decade and who knows how much grease and dust landed on the lens over the eyars. A swab dipped in rubbing alcohol, applied gently, would have been a good idea before I shot this camera. I regret not at least checking its condition.
The shutter’s 1/200 top speed makes it challenging to shoot fast films on sunny days. I shot Tri-X 400 in this thing once and even on a cloudy day my external meter wanted exposures this camera can’t give. I shot everything at smallest aperture and fastest shutter (f/16 and 1/200 sec), relying on Tri-X’s famous exposure latitude to cover. Pro tip: use films of no more than ISO 200 in this camera.
The argus a-four was Argus’s answer to Kodak’s Pony, and unfortunately the Pony bests it slightly in every way. Its shutter is slightly faster, its lens is (in my experience) sharper and less prone to flare, and it’s a little easier to use.
Yet the whole roll through, I felt good when I brought this a-four to my eye. It connected me with my photographic beginnings and that just felt great.
I’m going to move on from the argus a-four, however. I’ll never shoot it again. Yet my first a-four introduced me to photography’s possibilities, and for that reason this camera has a special place in my heart. I reserve the right to change my mind.
What I like most about Acros is how images come back with lovely grays across the tonal spectrum, no matter the light. Many ISO 100 films I’ve used tend to go high contrast in direct sunlight, blowing out highlights, which makes me nuts. Not so Acros. It’s also extremely fine grained, so much so that if I told you I shot digital and converted to black and white you might believe me.
I’ve fed Acros into cameras ranging from a simple box with a meniscus lens to my Nikon F2 with good Nikkor glass attached. I’ve metered precisely and wildly misguessed exposure. Acros handles it all with aplomb. Here, look:
Argus A-Four, 2010.
Argus A2B, 2011.
Ansco Shur Shot, 2012.
Voigtlander Bessa (w/ 110 mm f/4.5 Voigtar), 2012.
Agfa Clack, 2012.
Ansco B-2 Speedex, 2012.
Nikon F2AS, 135mm f/3.5 AI Nikkor, 2017.
I just shot my last roll of Acros in 35mm, in my old Argus A-Four. The film broke as I started to rewind. In a dark bag I wound the film into a black film canister, and then sent it to Dwayne’s with instructions to open the can in the darkroom. I have one more roll of Acros, in 120, chilling in the fridge that I’ll probably put through my Yashica-D when its turn comes in Operation Thin the Herd.
But then that’s probably it. And it’s a shame, because this is very good film.