Film Photography

A test roll in my malfunctioning Olympus XA

I got out my Olympus XA specifically to shoot some Kodak Plus-X I bought recently. Because the film has always been stored frozen, and because Plus-X is so hardy, I expect it to behave as if new.

Olympus XA

After I put batteries in the XA, I noticed that the needle inside the viewfinder read a few stops off. Drat it! The XA actually, and strangely, has two meters, one that controls the viewfinder needle and one that controls the shutter speed. It was possible that the shutter-speed meter was fine, and only the viewfinder needle meter was off.

I decided to shoot a test roll to check for that. But there was no way I was going to potentially waste a precious roll of Plus-X. Instead, I used a roll of T-Max 100. I shot all but a few frames with the XA set in its snapshot mode, focused to three meters at an aperture of f/5.6. Both of these settings are marked in orange on the camera.

I developed the film in Rodinal 1+50. The negatives were appropriately dense. This is the first time I’ve scanned T-Max 100 on my Plustek 8100, and I wasn’t wowed by the images straight off the scanner. I boosted contrast considerably on all of the images. But they were all properly exposed. Here are the best of the images.

Pool house
Looking out over the retention pond
The American House, Burlington
Suburban houses
The road, she is closed
Dance studio
Bathroom mirror selfie

Several of my film cameras are queued to be sent for repair and CLA, and with this, my Olympus XA joins the group. I enjoy this camera enough to invest in having it overhauled and having its needle meter repaired. But because the camera sets exposure properly and otherwise works fine, it goes to the end of the repair line.

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Olympus OM-4T, 40mm f/2 Zuiko Auto-S

Agfa APX 100 (x/7-98)
Rodinal 1+50

A law went into effect here this summer prohibiting drivers from holding their phones in their hands while driving.

The only reason I pick up my phone in the car is to skip a song or start a new playlist. I play music from my phone over the car’s Bluetooth link. But my car is just old enough not to have integrated controls. The only way to interact with my playlist is via the phone itself.

I bought a phone holder that clamps to the vent’s louvers. Because the phone is so available, it tempts me more to interact with it. Could Indiana’s new law have backfired?

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Film Photography

single frame: Dashboard

The dashboard of my car, with my phone prominently displayed.

Collecting Cameras

Operation Thin the Herd: Certo Super Sport Dolly

Statue before the big house

Yes, Operation Thin the Herd is still running. The pace has slowed to a crawl, however. I’ve been distracted by cameras donated to the collection since this project began, which is a wonderful problem to have. I’ve also wanted to shoot some of the cameras I’ve kept in this project! But back to it at last, down to the last few cameras. This time I’m considering my Certo Super Sport Dolly, a folding camera for 120 film.

Certo Super Sport Dolly

I used this camera last not long after it was given to me. It needed some repair to work properly, including patching pinholes in the bellows and replacing a broken focus-stop ring. But once repaired, it worked well. Here, I shot some Kodak Ektar 100 in it.


The Super Sport Dolly gave me great sharpness from corner to corner. The colors are a little strange, but that isn’t unexpected with an uncoated lens. This camera is from the late 1930s, before lens coating was a thing. This lens is the 75mm f/2.9 Meyer Görlitz Trioplan, a three element, three group design based on the Cooke triplet. It’s set in a Compur shutter that operates from 1 to 1/250 second.

For this outing I loaded some Ilford FP4 Plus, which I developed in Rodinal 1+50 and scanned on my Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II. I got unexpected results.


The light leak is back, but that’s not surprising as my bellows repair consisted of dabbing black fabric paint onto the pinholes. That lasts only so long. The leak shows up in only a couple frames because I closed the camera between many of these shots.


But check out that vignetting. I didn’t experience that at all with the other rolls of film I’ve put through the Super Sport Dolly. Who knows why it’s showing up now. (I cropped the vignetting out of some of the photos that follow.)


I also didn’t get the same sharpness I enjoyed before. My scanning might be to blame; I’m still figuring out how to get the best results from my scanner.


But man, did I have fun shooting the Super Sport Dolly. I can’t say the same with many other old folders that I’ve used. The Super Sport Dolly is small and light compared to many other old folders. Its f/2.9 lens and 1/250 shutter might not strike you as blazing fast, but I’ve encountered a lot of old folders have limited use except in blazing sunshine due to specs like f/6.3 and 1/100. The Super Sport Dolly’s pop-up “frame” viewfinder offers easy framing, where many old folders have small, hard-to-read brilliant viewfinders. Finally, the Super Sport Dolly takes 120 film, rather than a defunct format like 620 or 116.


I normally keep cameras that work very well and, ideally, are in very good cosmetic condition. This Certo Super Sport Dolly doesn’t clear this bar. But I enjoy it enough that it doesn’t matter. I already want to shoot it again.

Verdict: Keep

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Preservation, Road Trips

Revisiting the bridge over Cagles Mill Lake

I climbed down the bank to see what kind of bridge this was. I was richly rewarded — it’s a true beauty.

Bridge over Cagle Mill Lake

That was in 2008 when I toured Indiana’s State Road 42, which stretches from near Indianapolis at Mooresville to Terre Haute. Along the way the road reaches Cagles Mill Lake, an Army Corps of Engineers flood-control project. This bridge was built in 1951 to span the lake, and SR 42 was realigned to cross the bridge. Upon my visit, it had been freshly renovated. It looked like new!

In the years since I stopped clambering down banks to see the undersides of bridges. Perhaps after seeing enough bridges I stopped being surprised and delighted by them. I’m sure that as I’ve gotten older I have become more risk averse — climbing down a steep bank can be hazardous! But after I visited the new SR 46 bridge near Bowling Green, I knew I wanted to see the Cagles Mill Lake bridge again, up close and personal. It wasn’t too far away.

It was like old times when I clambered down the bank to photograph this bridge. I had my Nikon F2AS along with a 35-105mm zoom lens attached. This unwieldy kit did not make it any easier to get into position.

Bridge over Cagles Mill Lake

I made one shot at 35mm and another at or near maximum zoom. Neither of these photos turned out as well as I hoped. When I visited last time, the bank was clear except for large rocks placed to retard erosion. This time, the rocks were still there, but so was a considerable amount of brush that made it hard to get a good angle on the bridge. A lot of brush can grow in 12 years! I’m also not pleased with the exposure in either of these photos. But at least I got them.

Bridge over Cagles Mill Lake

The best photo of the visit is this one of the deck. I love how the road disappears into the trees.

Bridge over Cagles Mill Lake

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Road Trips

Goodbye to the bridge that kindled my love of bridges

I fell in love with bridges because of this bridge.

Public domain image by Wikipedia user Nyttend

In 1987 I was a junior in college and I had a girlfriend at Indiana University. My buddy Doug also had a girlfriend at IU — and he had a car. He generously let me ride along every time he drove to Bloomington.

Terre Haute and Bloomington are connected by State Road 46. It rolls and winds gently through the countryside. It’s truly a lovely drive; make it if you’re ever out that way.

I never paid any attention to bridges until Doug and I started making this trip. Just west of tiny Bowling Green, State Road 46 crosses the Eel River. Starting in 1933, it did so over this two-span Parker through truss bridge.

Passing through this bridge became a quiet highlight of the trip. I probably never mentioned it to Doug. I came to enjoy the shadows the sun cast through the overhead trusses as we passed.

I came to enjoy other truss bridges in my travels. Soon I was curious about other kinds of bridges. My inner bridgefan had been awakened.

A regular inspection in 2011 found some failed gusset plates, critical to the bridge’s safety. They were repaired in a one-month closure. Then in 2012 more structural problems were found, leading to a three-month closure for repairs. But the Indiana Department of Transportation could see that this bridge would soon need either a thorough restoration — or replacement.

I’ll cut to the chase: INDOT chose replacement. People who lived near the bridge wanted it restored. They rightly pointed out that this bridge was on the National Register of Historic Places thanks to its association with settlement and economic development in the county. Their arguments only delayed the inevitable. In 2019, this old bridge was removed, and this bridge was built.

Replacement SR 46 bridge near Bowling Green

It’s been years since I had been out this way. Since moving to Indianapolis in the mid 1990s, I had little call to drive the road between Bloomington and Terre Haute! But in August I met one of my sons at a state park near his home for a long hike. Because of COVID-19, we hadn’t seen each other in at least six months. We were long overdue. That state park is on State Road 46.

After our hike, my son needed to be on his way. I had a couple hours to kill, so I plotted a long drive and went on my way. My first destination was this bridge. I knew not seeing the old truss bridge would be challenging. Fortunately, SR 46 is just as charming a drive today as ever. Enjoying the drive took some of the sting out when I came upon the new bridge.

I’ve lamented modern bridges before: they stir no hearts. Their utilitarian design probably makes them less expensive to build and maintain. As a taxpayer, I appreciate that. Also, when this one has outlived its useful life, nobody will protest its demolition and replacement.

I’ll say this much in praise of the new bridge: it’s plenty wide. The old bridge’s deck was just 23.6 feet wide. Encountering an oncoming semi in there always felt like an uncomfortably close encounter! Actually, those semis are a big part of what make old truss bridges like these obsolete. Trucks just weren’t as big and heavy when these bridges were built. Today’s semis simply wore these bridges out faster. The new bridge offers no eye candy, but it is stout enough to take on any vehicle the modern era can throw at it.

Because of the bridge’s historic status, all is not lost. It was dismantled and will be relocated to a park near Nashville, Indiana, where it will serve as 2 single-span pedestrian bridges. When I hear that this project is complete, I’ll make a trip to see — and experience this old bridge once again.

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Film Photography

Lessons learned so far in home film development

I’m finally achieving consistent results when I develop black-and-white film at home. This is in large part thanks to several of you. Thank you for commenting encouragement and valuable tips every time I share my results here.

I put off developing my own film for years for a whole bunch of reasons. One of them was that I wasn’t looking forward to the learning process. Some people intuitively understand physical things: mechanical, manual, chemical. I’ve never been one of them. I always struggle to learn. It takes me an enormous amount of time to build the habits and muscle memory for it to be automatic. I don’t enjoy the process.

I’ve developed about 20 rolls of film over the last ten months or so and finally have it down. I can do it without much thinking. This is exactly where I want to be.

I thought I’d share my process. Maybe you have further tips that will help me make it more efficient and effective.

I do everything in our master bedroom and its attached bathroom. I spread my dark bag out on the bed and put the tank, reel, and film inside. For 35mm film I also include a bottle opener and a scissors. I use Paterson Super System 4 developing tanks (graciously gifted to me after the original owner stopped using them). I have a 290ml tank for 35mm and a 500ml tank for medium format. For 35mm, I use the bottle opener to pry the end off the film canister. Then I use the scissors to cut the leader off the film and cut the end of the film off the spool. For medium format I just peel off the tape at the end of the film off the spool. I load the film onto the developing reel, put the reel in the tank, and snap the inner lid into place.

I take the tank out of the bag and into the bathroom where my big plastic tub of developing gear and chemicals awaits.

I’m still sold on one-shot developers with long shelf lives. I don’t want to hassle with replenishment or worry about developer going bad. I started with Rodinal (R09, actually; it’s the same thing) and soon added a Kodak HC-110 clone, LegacyPro L110. Both are equally easy to use. The Rodinal gives me sharper results at the cost of more noticeable grain. L110 gives me smoother but softer results. (HC-110/L110 is reusable, by the way; I just treat it as a one-shot developer.) Later I added Adox HR-DEV specifically to develop a roll of Adox HR-50 film.

Right now, I prefer Rodinal. I dilute it 1+50. Rodinal gives great apparent sharpness. I scan on a flatbed Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II. Typical of flatbed scans I always need to sharpen them with unsharp mask in Photoshop. I can always sharpen my Rodinal scans to my satisfaction, but sometimes not my L110 scans.

Conventional wisdom is that Rodinal isn’t a good choice for films ISO 400 or faster. Yet I’ve gotten acceptable-to-me results on T-grained Kodak T-Max 400.

I use L110 for fast traditionally grained films like Kodak Tri-X. I also reach for it on any film when Rodinal 1+50 leads to a development time of under five minutes. I’ve had poor luck with development times shorter than five minutes — there’s just no room for timing error. L110 diluted 1+63 leads to long enough development times on all of the films I use.

L110 1+63 leads me to use the 500ml tank for 35mm, however. The quantity of L110 1+63 in my 290ml tank is is insufficient, risking developer exhaustion before developing completes.

If I wanted to stick with Rodinal in this case I could try a 1+100 dilution in stand or semi-stand development. But so far I haven’t wanted to wait the 30 to 60 minutes that takes.

I also use L110 is with expired film. I love Kodak Verichrome Pan, which hasn’t been made since the 90s. It’s a hardy film, but it’s still subject to base fog after so many years expired. L110 cuts right through and gives me great images.

The L110 isn’t in its original bottle, by the way, because I read somewhere that air is this developer’s enemy and it is best to divide the developer into smaller, very full bottles so air touches a smaller quantity of it as you use it. But Mike Eckman of mike eckman dot com uses HC-110 exclusively and tells me this actually isn’t necessary; HC-110 and its clones are hardy. So I won’t do it again.

The HR-DEV gave me stunning results on Adox HR-50 film — Adox intended this film and developer to work together. I have one more roll of HR-DEV to shoot, but I’ll still have a lot of this developer left. I’ll probably experiment with this developer on other films to see how it behaves and use this bottle up.

Whenever I break out the developing chemicals I light a scented candle. My wife is super sensitive to odors and many chemical odors interfere with her breathing. The candle helps.

I mix the developer first and start developing. Between agitation periods, I mix the stop bath, fixer, and wetting agent. I use Kodak Indicator Stop Bath, Kodak Kodafix fixer, and Kodak Photo-Flo wetting agent. At first I used a graduated cylinder to measure these chemicals, but later I bought some 10ml syringes, which are easier to use. I use distilled water to dilute my chemicals.

I reuse my fixer about five times before discarding it. So most of the time I’m not actually mixing fixer, but rather pouring it out of a storage bottle. I’ve gotten advice that I can use my fixer far more than five times. But fixer does eventually exhaust, and I don’t want to learn when the hard way. Fixer isn’t all that expensive, really. It’s just needlessly wasteful to use it only once.

In the photo above, you can see my fixer (far left) is yellowing a little, probably thanks to residual stop bath in the tank after having developed four other rolls. After I pour out the stop bath I usually rinse the tank with a swig of tap water to prevent that. It looks like I must have forgotten somewhere along the way.

I use the Massive Dev Chart Timer app on my iPhone to manage the developing process. It cost eight bucks, but the app is worth it. It keeps all the recipes from the Massive Dev Chart and lets me adjust developing time for temperature. The app then leads me through the entire developing sequence with timers that tell me when to agitate and when to pour out a chemical.

When it’s time to agitate the film I use the agitator rod, usually five spins one direction and then five the other, repeating until it’s time to stop agitating. I follow the Massive Dev App’s agitation scheme, which for every recipe I’ve used is continuous for the first minute and then ten seconds every minute thereafter. I tried inversions early on but gave them up. It’s challenging to get the lid on the tank, especially under time pressure. Also, I never figured out how to invert gently enough and thus burned a lot of film. The agitator rod works perfectly for me.

I use the Ilford method to wash my film. Here, I don’t mind putting the lid on the tank because timing isn’t important and the Ilford method saves time and water. I fill the tank from the tap, put on the lid, invert five times, and discard the water. Then I repeat with ten inversions, and then with 20 inversions. I rotate the tank a quarter turn with each inversion to make sure the water distributes over the film evenly. Then I put in the diluted Photo-Flo, let it sit for 30 seconds, and discard.

Then I open the tank and take out the film. I squeegee the film using the Johnny Martyr method. Some people worry about the squeegee scratching the film, but that hasn’t happened to me. When I skip this step I get water spots, despite my use of Photo-Flo. Then I hang the film to dry off the shower curtain rod, using a plastic hanger and a binder clip at each end of the film. Miraculously, I get very little dust on my negatives.

I enjoy trying new-to-me films, but what I’m discovering is that every film has some developers that bring out its best look, and the developers I use might not be among them. Right now I really want predictably good results when I develop and scan at home.

So I will figure out a few films that look good in Rodinal or L110, and stick with them. I want one good film at each of ISO 100/125 and ISO 400. I’d also like an inexpensive film for testing cameras.

I just bought a bunch of Ilford FP4 Plus in hopes it can be my good ISO 125 film; it wowed me when I shot it for the first time recently. I’ve already developed a lot of Kodak T-Max 400 and it’s pretty good in these developers, but I might try a couple other ISO 400 films to see if I can do better.

When I get around to trying inexpensive films, I’ll try Ultrafine and Kentmere. I’ve tried Foma in its ISO 100 and 200 guises and haven’t been thrilled, though I’ve gotten advice that Fomapan 200 delivers best results shot at EI 125 or 160.

That’s it! If you have wisdom to share that might help me refine my technique or get better results, let me know in the comments!

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