Film Photography

Greater success developing black-and-white film at home

I’ve had my most successful go yet at developing black-and-white film at home.

I had trouble getting the Kodak T-Max 100 onto the reel, though. I tried six times before it took. The first five times it took up okay but at about two-thirds spooled it crumpled and jumped off the track. The stuff feels thicker than the Acros and Kosmo Foto films I’ve developed previously, films that went onto the reel like they were born to be there. The T-Max felt almost as thick as the expired Verichrome Pan I could never manage to get on the reel. It, too, kept crumpling and jumping the track.

I vocally compared the film to the male offspring of a female dog and tried again. It crumpled and jumped the track again, but in frustration I forced the film flat and back onto the track, which crumpled it further but let me keep on. From there I ratcheted the reel very slowly, and finally all of the film was wound on.

Naturally, those crumples showed up as dark curved lines on the developed negatives, which translated to light curved lines on the scans. With Photoshop’s healing tool I was able to fix them well enough.

I used Rodinal at its 1+50 dilution and used the spinner to agitate the film. Because the weather is cooler now my bathroom, and therefore all of my solutions, were a perfect 20° C so I didn’t have to adjust developing time for temperature. I also made sure the reel was pushed to the bottom of the core, and therefore the tank.

To my eye the negatives are a little thin. I fiddled with exposure and contrast in Photoshop to counteract it. I also misfocused a couple shots. I’m usually spot on with my Yashica-12, but not this time. Finally, and I’m not sure why, my scanner simply would not bring in the entire frame of the frog statuettes. The ScanGear software detects the frame’s edges for you, and when it gets it wrong you have no recourse. I muttered under my breath, cropped the scan square, and moved on.

Here are ten of the 12 photos in order from first to last. The other two turned out so well that I’ll share them as Single Frame posts next week.

On our lane
Parked cars
Second Presbyterian
Door
Heavy door
Bench
Arches
Headless
Froggie
The Ruins

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Camera Reviews

Argus Argoflex Forty

With waist-level ground-glass viewfinders and coupled high-quality viewing and taking lenses that focus in concert, real twin-lens reflex (TLR) cameras are fine and capable instruments. Some of them, like the legendary Rolleiflex, became luxury items in their day. They still are.

In the 1950s, to try to capture the TLR cachet some camera manufacturers made cameras that looked like TLRs with waist-level viewfinders and separate viewing and taking lenses. But these were glorified box cameras, usually with fixed focus, fixed exposure, and simple brilliant viewfinders.

Rising above the crowd among these pseudo-TLRs is the 1950-54 Argus Argoflex Forty, as it boasts a 75mm f/4.5-22 Coated Varex Anastigmat lens that focuses down to 3.5 feet, and a nine-blade leaf shutter that operates at 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, and 1/150 sec. and bulb.

Argus Argoflex Forty

The viewing lens isn’t coupled to the taking lens, however. The viewfinder always shows everything in focus. You have to guess the distance to your subject and twist the focus ring to that number of feet.

Argus Argoflex Forty

At least the brilliant viewfinder is bright and crisp. If you’ve ever shot a real TLR you’ll find this viewfinder to be small, but except for adapting to it reversing the scene left to right I never had any trouble framing my subjects with it.

Argus Argoflex Forty

You’ll find this camera in three slight variants: one called the Argus 40 and one with no name printed on the body at all. Some of these cameras have black plastic winding knobs instead of the metal one on mine. Otherwise, these cameras are identical, with bodies of Bakelite with a metal back, trimmed in aluminum.

Argus Argoflex Forty

You’ll find a few different Argus pseudo-TLRs that share this body. The most common is the Argoflex Seventy-Five and the later restyled but functionally identical Argus 75. Both have a fixed-focus, fixed-exposure meniscus lens. The similar Argus Super Seventy-Five offers a focusable 65mm f/8-f/16 lens.

I bought this camera because I’ve admired the images fellow photoblogger Mike Connealy has gotten from his for years. He says that his Forty has reliably produced images for him as good as those from more sophisticated cameras. See his work here. When I came upon this Forty for a good price, I scooped it up.

This despite it taking out-of-production 620 film. You can occasionally find expired 620 film on eBay, and the Film Photography Project sells 120 film they’ve hand-respooled onto 620 spools (here). To save a few bucks you can spool 120 film onto a 620 spool in a dark bag. The Film Photography Project has instructions here.

But there’s no strict need for any of that with the Forty, as a 120 spool fits snugly but functionally in its supply end after you trim off the edges of the spool ends (instructions here). You need to use a 620 spool in the takeup end, however. My Forty came with one, and I just asked my lab to return that spool to me after processing.

The Argoflex Forty is smaller and considerably lighter than a regular TLR, making it not too bad to carry in your hands on a photo walk. If you have a strap lying around, though, you can tie it on to the lugs and sling it around your neck or shoulder. That’s what I did.

By the way, if you like pseudo-TLRs see also my review of the Kodak Duaflex II here. Other good boxes I’ve reviewed include the Agfa Clack (here), the Kodak Brownie Hawkeye (here), the Kodak No. 2 Brownie, Model D (here), and the Ansco B-2 Cadet (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I had some 620 Kodak Verichrome Pan, expired since June of 1980, chilling in the fridge. What a perfect film for this old camera! I spooled it in and took the camera out. As you can see, it makes square photos, 12 per roll.

Clock at Coxhall

I started with a quick trip to Coxhall Gardens, a park in Carmel. The Argoflex Forty was an easy companion, performing well in my hands. The shutter button was a little heavy to push.

Ampitheater

The big, bright viewfinder made it easy to frame my subjects. I did a reasonable job of holding the camera level, too. I did manage to cut off the top of this statue, unfortunately.

Statue

I finished the roll around the square in Lebanon. As I wound the film, it started to bind up a little, becoming hard to turn. What I didn’t know is that the film wasn’t winding evenly onto the takeup spool. After I removed the film from the camera, light leaked a little onto several frames, the ones that peeked past the spool’s end. The effect was worst on this, the last image on the roll.

Umbrellas and light leak

Unfortunately, I didn’t notice this wonky winding until a couple days later. There wasn’t much to do at that point but send the film right in for processing. Fortunately, only the one above was significantly affected. I could have cropped it out of the other photos had I wanted to.

Down the alleyway to the courthouse

This shot of the courthouse down an alley was the last shot not affected by this leaking light. Notice what you’re not seeing here: the vignetting and corner softness common to box cameras. There’s good sharpness from corner to corner. Really, if I told you I took these with one of my real TLRs, like my Yashica-D, would you have been any the wiser?

I had a roll of Kodak Ektar 100 in 120 sitting here doing nothing so I cut the edges off its spool ends and loaded it into the Forty. It worked; the film wound with no trouble. Here’s the federal courthouse in Indianapolis.

Federal Courthouse

With its exposure latitude, Ektar has never failed me in any old box camera. It helps a lot that this particular box lets you set exposure. On this Downtown Indianapolis photowalk I first used the light meter on my phone, but it kept giving me readings consistent with Sunny 16 so I quit metering and just used that age-old rule to guess exposure myself.

Bank of Indianapolis

The Argoflex continued to be simple to use and to return images sharp from center to corners. The lens delivers medium contrast, which seems strange in this era of uber-contrasty digital images, but the look is pleasing.

Orange Truck

I finished the roll on a walk along Main Street in Zionsville. It’s my tradition to photograph the Black Dog Books sign. By the way, this time the film wound properly onto the takeup spool. I don’t know why it didn’t on the previous roll.

Black Dog Books

I did notice some flare or haze in shots where the sun wasn’t well behind me. But that’s not surprising for a camera of this era.

Red Jeep

To see more from this camera, check out my Argus Argoflex Forty gallery.

The Argus Argoflex Forty is a surprise and a delight. It’s easy to carry and use, and its lens returns images of pleasing contrast and tonality with good sharpness. It’s also more easily used than most 620 cameras given that it can take 120 film with the spool edges cut off. The Argoflex Forty is a keeper, a great little box for a day when I just want to shoot for fun.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Old house

Old house
Argus Argoflex Forty
Kodak Verichrome Pan (expired 6/1980)
2019

One more from the Argoflex Forty as I finish writing my review. I was in Lebanon on an errand and brought the camera along.

This photo was late in the roll. Winding had always been uneven, but by this frame there was a spot during winding where I had to turn the knob hard.

For whatever reason the film didn’t wind evenly onto the takeup spool and spilled past the spool’s edge on one side. I didn’t notice that until a few days after I took the film out of the camera, which allowed light to leak onto the edges of some frames, as here.

Nice old house though. I’d guess it dates to before 1850.

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Film Photography, Preservation

single frame: Old house

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Jail

Boone Co. Jail
Argus Argoflex Forty
Kodak Verichrome Pan (expired 6/1980)
2019

Coming soon: a review of the circa-1950 Argus Argoflex Forty. It’s basically a box camera in twin-lens reflex guise, but it has a good, coated Anastigmat lens that’s sharp from corner to corner.

I had a great time with it and a roll of expired Verichrome Pan. I heard that this 620 camera can take 120 film if you snip the edges off the film spool and use a 620 takeup spool. I did that to a roll of Ektar, which is at the processor’s now. As soon as I get scans back I’ll finish writing my review of this camera and share it with you.

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Film Photography

single frame: Boone Co. Jail

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Film Photography

Recommended film labs

Shooting film is fun. Figuring out where to get it processed, scanned, and printed is not. I’ve tried a lot of mail-order labs over the years and I’m going to share with you the ones I like best, and why.

I am a frugal hobbyist photographer in the midwestern United States, so I’m looking for basic services, good quality, and low prices within reasonable shipping distance.

I’m also looking for labs that can handle more than just 35mm color negative film. My town’s camera store processes, scans, and prints that stuff for a good price and I use them for it a lot. But sometimes I want to shoot black-and-white film or color slide film, or medium-format (120/620) film. The by-mail labs I choose can handle all of it. Some of these labs can handle obsolete formats like 127, 828, 110, and Disc.

The labs I use all do at least good quality processing and scanning, and all respond very well when something isn’t as you expect. Things do sometimes go wrong.

Unfortunately, with one exception these labs’ basic scans are too small in resolution for anything more than snapshot prints. My strong preference is for a scan of at least 3,000 pixels on the long side, which lets you print comfortably to 11×17. It also lets you crop the scans if you need to without the resulting image being uselessly small.

I’ve tried lots of labs, but these are the ones I keep going back to because I like their service.

Fulltone Photo

Fulltone Photo, of La Grange, KY, processes, scans, and prints 35mm and 120 (and presumably 620) film. Their Web site says they also handle 110 and 126, but their order form disagrees. They handle color and black-and-white negative and color slide films.

Their Web site is at fulltonephoto.com. You print and fill out their order form and mail it in with your film. They provide a postage-paid label for mailing your film to them. After they’ve processed your film, they email you for payment. They take only credit cards.

Fulltone does good work at the lowest price anywhere. Processing and standard scans for color negative film costs $7. Medium format films cost an extra 50 cents; black-and-white films are a dollar more. Slide film costs $14-16 to develop and scan. Shipping is $4.50 for orders under $15 but free otherwise, so it pays to send them many rolls at once.

Standard scans are especially small at 1545×1024 pixels (despite their order form claiming 1818×1228). Fortunately, for an extra $5 you can get scans at a whopping 6774×4492 pixels (again, despite their order form claiming 4535×3035). Even with this upcharge, Fulltone undercuts everyone on price. To my eye, their larger scans look better than their smaller ones, too. When your scans are ready they send you a download link.

Customer service is good — once their scanner whiffed some of my scans and they cheerfully rescanned the negatives. They’re the closest by-mail lab to my central-Indiana home, which cuts shipping time. Fulltone has a lovely Instagram feed here that I enjoy following.

Old School Photo Lab

Old School Photo Lab, of Dover, NH, processes, prints, and scans 35mm, 120/620, 110, 126, 127, 828, APS, and 4×5 sheet films. They handle color and b/w negative and color slide films.

You order and pay through their Web site, oldschoolphotolab.com. Processing a roll of 35mm or 120 color or b/w negative film and getting their standard scans costs $18, including shipping both ways. Color slide film costs just a dollar more. They give discounts if you send several rolls at once. They accept credit cards and PayPal.

What I love most about OSPL is that their standard 35mm JPEG scans are a generous 3072×2048 pixels. I know no other lab that offers standard scans that large. You can order giant scans, at 6774×4492 pixels, for an extra $10 for JPEG or $20 for TIFF. Medium format scan sizes are similar.

The other thing I love about OSPL is that they’ve never let me down — their processing and scans have always met or exceeded my expectations. I can’t say that about any other lab I’ve used. When the film really, really matters, I send it to OSPL.

Unfortunately, over the years OSPL’s prices have crept up so that they’re now the most expensive of this class of labs. You can get good service and quality for less at the other labs I recommend.

When your scans are ready, they email you a link to where you can download them. If you want a CD of the scans, it’s 3 bucks extra and you have to wait longer to get them. I occasionally order 4×6 prints from OSPL and they’re lovely.

OSPL is popular and therefore a little slow — after you mail your film, expect scans in no less than two weeks. The staff responds promptly and cheerfully when you contact them. The lab is active on Twitter and the feed is often a hoot. The same goes for their Instagram feed.

Dwayne’s Photo

Dwayne’s Photo in Parsons, KS, is the granddaddy of all by-mail labs. They process, print, and scan 35mm, 120/620, 220, 127, 110, 126, Disc, and APS films. They process color and b/w negative and color slide films.

Their Web site is dwaynesphoto.com.  Ordering from Dwayne’s straight outta the 90s: you have to print out and fill out order forms, the right one for the kind of film you’re sending. When you send them more than one kind of film you have to fill out multiple order forms. Here’s hoping Dwayne’s upgrades to electronic ordering. They take PayPal and credit cards, as well as checks and money orders

Processing and scanning one roll of 35mm or 120 color or b/w negative film costs $10. Slide film costs $13.50-$15 depending on format. Other services’ prices vary. Return shipping costs $5 for the first roll and 50 cents for each additional roll. They don’t offer prepaid mailing labels so have your postage stamps ready.

Their 35mm and 120 scans are a not-bad 2740×1830 pixels at 72 dpi. For an extra $5, you can get scans of negative films at a ginormous 6770×4490 pixels. Scan resolutions vary for other film types and formats.

You can choose to download your scans or have them mailed to you on CD. I go for the downloads and Dwayne’s pretty consistently emails me a link to them within a week of receiving my film. (Slide film takes longer.) I’ve not ordered prints from Dwayne’s.

Dwayne’s can handle any curveball I throw them. Once I broke some film while rewinding in one of my old cameras. I stuck the camera into a dark bag, coiled the film into a black film canister, marked the can “Loose Film Open in Darkroom,” and sent it to Dwayne’s. They processed it without skipping a beat.

Customer service is good if impersonal. Once I sent them a roll of expired Kodak Gold 200 in 620 and they accidentally processed it as black and white. They sent me a note of apology, my black-and-white negatives and scans, and a fresh roll of Ektar, albeit in 120.

Film Rescue International

Sometimes you’ll find some very old, very expired film in a camera. Any of the above labs will process it, but they might not get good images because old film deteriorates.

Send it straight to Film Rescue International, filmrescue.com. They process any film, no matter how old, and use creative darkroom and Photoshop techniques to coax the best possible images from it. They’re expensive and they’re slow, but they do outstanding work.

I used Film Rescue for a roll of Verichrome Pan I found in a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye. That film had been in the camera for more than 40 years in unknown conditions, so I was afraid it might have deteriorated badly. They got good, high-contrast images from that film. They lacked “that Verichrome Pan look” but were crisp and clean.

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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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