Friday, April 26, 2013

The LF Madness

I really didn't need it . . honest I didn't, but you know when your mind starts thinking about something . . .
Well, I was already well-stocked with LF film (100 sheets TMX 100, 50 sheets TXP 320 and some odds and sods [18 sheets of TMX 400, 9 sheets of Delta 100 and about 5 sheets of Adox]) however when I saw a member of FADU offering to sell some of his film, I jumped.
Crazy? yes definitely, but for the princely sum of £105 including postage what else could I do?
I bought 50 more sheets of TXP, 50 sheets of Adox 100 and 25 sheets each of HP5 and FP4. After a word with my wife explaining that it doesn't get any cheaper and we really do have room in the fridge, I am, officially, STUFFED TO THE GUNNELS. 
300-odd sheets. 
I think probably enough film to outlast me, given that I often only expose 4 at a time usually, or maybe 8  or 12 on a good hillwalk.
And what was the reasoning behind this madness . . well, given that last year a box of 50 sheets of Kodak film increased by roughly £25 a box (to £75!), and given that when I started making 5x4 photographs, a box of 25 sheets of Ilford film was around £16 and is now approaching the heady heights of £37, the answer is simple . . economics. 
I really do question the motives of film manufacturers in this day and age. On one hand you want to keep your business going, HAVE to keep your business going, and on the other hand you risk alienating your prime users, the few enthusiasts who are left, who won't go the digital route and find themselves through no fault of their own having to question why (for instance) a roll of 36 exposure Ilford HP5+ now costs around £5!
Yes, I can appreciate that it is expensive to make, and yes the wholesale price of silver rose dramatically last year, due to China and India's demand for it, however this year it is quite different. You only have to look at the share prices of commodity miners to realise that the demand has gone belly-up almost overnight. Just look at the recent drop in gold prices. The world's economic markets are up and down more often than a bride's nightie. This still doesn't make silver cheap, but I would love to see the profit margins on film. Maybe they're not as great as I would expect . . .  
However I do know one thing, film, once the cheapest part of our hobby, is now, pound for pound the most expensive (apart from Leica accessories - my FISON hood, incredibly costing more gram for gram than Gold). And to the big 3 I will say this: all that is happening is that people like myself (your enthusiastic amateur customers) are seeking out cheaper alternatives, which is stupid really, because where the big three have the beans is in the area of quality control. I can safely say that I have had no problems ever from Ilford or Kodak or Fuji, but I have from Foma (not the roll film though, just the sheet film).
Anyway, I suppose this all explains why I went mad and stocked up . . .
So where does this lead me . . well, the crazy impulsiveness of my purchase has made me think that I had better learn to use the 'man's camera' (5x4) more, and use it properly.
I do actually love the whole involved and laborious process of making a Large Format photograph - it is therapeutic and you really feel at the end of a session that you have done something.
Thinking back to when I started I cannot be entirely sure why I did in the first place . . 
I think I was maybe driven by the thought that I could achieve better, sharper, images than the combination of things I was using at the time (Rolleiflex T and Pentax 6x7), but actually, let this be a sage warning to you, unless you are printing to a massive size on a regular basis, then you are going to notice very little difference, and in fact if you are only printing 8x10" then there is almost little point. 
I say almost, but there is one area in which a 5x4" negative excels and that is in rendition of tones of grey. 
I seem to get a broader breadth of grey tones with a larger negative, and you can argue with me on this, but I am just basing it on my experience.
Up to and including 6x6, my greys often seem a little compressed - maybe this is because I am using a 'lowly' Rolleiflex T; maybe it is down to single-coating.
I even found this sort of tonal compression to be the case with the legendary long tonal scale film/developer combo of Ilford's HP5+ and 1:3 Perceptol. In 6x6, it was good (not great), but in 6x7 negatives (one whole cm bigger!) the greys breathed big time. A whole night/day difference.
My problems seemed to vary depending on developer/film combination, but on the whole, it seemed to be pretty much the case (to my eyes). Moving beyond 6x6, to 6x7cm, 6x9cm or 5x4" then it was like a corset being loosed and there was this enormous intake of breath and the image could breath!
My grey tones seemed to expand massively, and I am not sure entirely why. Effectively, the film and developer were the same, so what was the difference? I don't actually know. Chemical conversion per square inch? Rendition of fine detail? Micro-contrast? Film/Dev combo? Lens/Film combo?
Maybe that is part of the mystery, but it looks to be the case to me.
Obviously being able to tweak each and every exposure and develop each sheet individually helps a negative to reach its optimum, rather than just averaging out the whole roll of film, but it also seems to be more than that. 
Anyway, as usual another aside, however if you have any thoughts, please,  leave some comments!

Sorrow 3
Not a great picture, but were it not for the fact it is obviously sculpted,
you could almost believe that those were eyelashes instead of cobwebs
and there was skin underneath the lichen.
Sinar F, Schneider 150mm f5.6 Symmar-S, Ilford FP4+, Barry Thornton 2-Bath

Sorrow 2
Same subject, different angle, different camera.
Rolleiflex T with Rolleinar ~1
Kodak TMX 100, Barry Thornton 2-bath.

See what I mean about tonal compression?
They're not great examples, and obviously there are enormous variables, but that is just my experience. I think, were I to invest in a Hasselblad or 'proper' Rollei, then I would have to say I might well notice a difference. Certainly looking at some of the great old 'proper' Rollei and Hasselblad photos out there, there seems to be a good breadth of greys and a tonal smoothness which is very acceptable, so maybe I am talking bollocks . . . .
Anyway, we've been sidetracked . . . onwards troops . . this way . . .
So the LF Madness and a hunger for something other, led me to purchase a Sinar F and a Schneider 150mm Symmar-S (the cheapest modern lens I could buy secondhand). I then obviously needed a tripod - and this is where bottom feeding came in . . a Linhof Twin Shank Pro tripod (see photo below) - £35, closely followed by a Gitzo Series 5 low profile head that once belonged to the British Museum - £25. Together I can guarantee you that that combo can hold the heaviest camera you can throw at it. I was once able to make an exposure with the column fully raised (nearly 8 feet high) in the wind with the Sinar atop, fully extended with the 6" extension rail and angled. Not exactly the lightest or least unweildly combination, but it did the job beautifully.
The tripod must be about 30 years old, same with the head, and they both operate beautifully.
You can still buy parts for Linhof tripods too if anyone has one that they need to sort - quality engineering from a golden age.

You call that a tripod?
Linhof Twin Shank Pro Tripod in action.
The ladder is optional.
Oh, and that is me in our (oh so difficult to wallpaper) hall btw.

However, having nearly killed myself by doing a 7 mile hillwalk carrying the above (you can imagine can't you . . I didn't take the ladder though .  .that would have been a bit mental and besides I have never seen a hillwalker carrying a ladder!) I realised that something less weighty was required. Beavering away and saving my pennies, I came up with a (relatively) lightweight kit: Wista DX, Gitzo Series 2 with Series 2 head, Kodak Ektar 203mm, Schneider 90mm Angulon. Cost, respectively: £300. £120, £45, £90. Less than the price of a Leitz 50mm Summicron . . .
And that is where I am today. Good to go and itching to get out now the Winter is moving on.
There are other factors where LF tops everything else, namely in being able to control pretty much everything that you see within the image. Converging verticals, depth of field, weird out of focus areas, pin-point sharpness, you name it, you can do it, it just takes time, and rather a lot of it. You can even make something more Pictorial rather than just a straight renditioning of 'fact'.

The Garden
The Garden
You could probably have made this with a 35mm camera,
but I quite like the olde-worldy look the Angulon has given it.
Adox CHS 100, Schneider 90mm Angulon

Sometimes under the dark cloth (nuthin' fancy . . two T-Shirts inside each other!) I think to myself, why the hell am I bothering when I could have done it with a Rollei, or even a 35mm camera? 
And then the madness overtakes me again and I feel the weight of Adams and Weston, Bullock and Evans and White and Strand upon my back, and I make my exposure and take down the camera, head off, spy something that takes my interest and go through the whole process of setting up the camera again, inserting the film holder, removing the dark slide, timing my exposure, packing up everything again and moving on. 
And I feel that all is right with the world actually. 
It is a significantly different feeling to normal photography (whatever that is) but it is a feeling I enjoy. 
I remember once being in a beautiful place with the Sinar. It was mid-March so the permafrost was still in the ground. Everywhere I looked there were icicles. I set up the camera, moved down the hillside to retrieve my hat which had blown away, and making my way back, looked up as sunshine dowsed my camera and tripod and the T-shirts flapped away in the wind, and I thought to myself, that this could be a scene from the making of any of the great photographs that I love looking at, and I think from that point I was hooked.

The scan hasn't done the print any favours.
Ilford Delta 100 (EI 64), Kodak Xtol (200ml stock+200ml Water).
Sinar F, Schneider 150mm f5.6 Symmar-S

So, there y'go. I will maybe be detailing my trips on a semi-regular basis, just because I can.
Over and oot playmates - be good, and if you can't be good be careful . . .
Keep your fingers crossed for me for this weekend - it's supposed to be Sun, Shite and Showers . . .
As usual, thanks for reading and God Bless.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Big Bunny

Morning friends. Well, firstly can I say that no one is more surprised than me that I have sat down and written this. I thought I was gone. I had no motivation for writing anymore FBs. I think I shall put that down to my weekly regime, it was too much. Trying to come up with something that is interesting to yourself (never mind a possible larger readership), every single week for a year is quite an achievement, not least to say, punishing.
It burned me out and made me feel that it was all rather pointless.
I suppose, it is pointless really.
I know none of my readers properly, though I will say a hello to you if you have made it a habit to read and comment, but at the end of the day, I am here at my wee desk in the early hours of a Scottish morning, and you are out there in the big wide world, and the distances between us are gulfs.
I thank you for your efforts in reading FB, you didn't need to really, but it is appreciated.
What my regime did do for me though, is hone my writing skills. I feel a far more confident and flowing writer than I did at the start, and to that end I have revisited several writing exploits I started a long time ago and have decided I should do something with them. It seems pointless to leave them languishing in drawers and folders . . all I need to do now is find the time and the concentration to complete them . . but I'll get there (though I have said that before).
Anyway, that is another thing. FB was pretty much always about FogBlography and it still pretty much  will be, so let me have a brief detailing about everything that has occurred since I hung up my keyboard just before Easter . . .
In a word nothing.
I haven't made a single photograph.
Now fortunately for me, I recognised something within in myself which has happened three times before in my life . . extreme passion burn-out. Sounds serious doesn't it, and you know what . . it is. VERY.
A brief aside into past-times again:
Burn-out 1:
From the year dot, I was an amateur artist. I drew all the time. It was a hobby which consumed me like a flame, and in a typical Sheephouseian fashion, whilst I wasn't brilliant, I was a solid plodder. You just have to look at pictures of me when I was young to realise that me and speed were not bedmates. So what did I do with my wonderful hobby? Yes, I went to art college. And as detailed many times before, it managed to snuff my love of drawing out as if it were no more than a small candle in a gale. The people I met were so talented and arty (quite a number of current high-falootin' major Scottish artists too) that my solid plod of line and form were as nothing against these folk. Also the whole feel of being in a mincer never did quite leave me, and pop! . . .one day it was gone. I haven't really picked up a pencil in anger since graduating in the mid-80's. I burned out, locked the door and have never returned.
Burn-out 2:
Music. Did I tell you I can play a guitar like ringing a bell? Yep, from the age of 13 when my Mum and Dad finally relented and bought me one, I was obsessed. Not a minor obsession either, but a full-blown, honest, down-to-earth whopping one. I spent vast amounts of hard-earned cash. I spent whole months of my life practicing, and I became pretty good.
It is easy to learn the guitar these days, but in those days it really wasn't.
Good players were few and far between and if you ever did meet up with another one it was more akin to Gunfight At The Rock N' Roll Coral. I kid ye not.
Anyway, for all the years of effort, you know what, the inevitable happened. Burn-out. And I have never gone back.
I stopped playing seriously when I met my wife and realised that there was more to life than sitting alone with a lifeless lump of wood and metal and trying to coax it into something akin to the flames I was feeling inside.
I haven't really picked up a guitar in anger since the early 1990's.
I will occasionally, but it is just for a quick strum and flail over the strings, check out me Al Di Meola chops, and back it goes into its case again.
Burn-out 3:
Too much, and I could feel it coming, so that is something else I have learned: if your pleasure starts to feel like a chore or a duty, stand back.
Drawing felt (at the end) like something in the world I hated.
Guitar playing felt (at the end) like a desperate attempt by me and my bandmates to persuade people how great we were . . in a word it became a chore.
And FB too. Yep a total chore, every week, like cleaning a toilet. Hence I have held back.
So where does this lead us now?
Well actually, I do rather enjoy FB, and I have missed it. Stopping felt like turning off a creative tap, so here we are again, and for the moment folks, whilst it won't be a weekly thing, I think I will approach it as more of an occasional, like that jar of Gentleman's Relish that you dip into every now and then.

I hope that is alright with you chaps.
Don't go throwing yourselves off of tall buildings or anything . . .
Right, in my break I have become a tad gear hungry again, however, that has manifested itself in one way . . . Try and make the most of what you have. I am feeling like I need to slim down my camera collection - you can only compose one frame at a time, and spreading yourself over so many formats can only mean that you dilute yourself in some way. However this doesn't mean that I am giving up on the Leica and the Nikons, the Rollei, or the Koni, but I have felt rather bad about neglecting my Large Format cameras (yes, ridiculously two . . a Sinar F and a Wista DX) so I feel I should get out and about with them again.
I also have rather a lot of film I stocked up on before Kodak made it nearly impossible to afford film (£75 for a box of 50 sheets of Tri-X these days) so I have to use that up.
I have also made a small purchase (well, actually it is pretty large). I have always struggled to carry my LF gear, shoe-horning it into the only rucksack I own (a 25 litre Deuter) and to be honest it was pain to use, and left little room for anything else important like lunch (I slimmed my hillwalking lunches down to dry oatcakes and dried fruit!), so I put my money where my pain was and bought for the grand sum of £39 from Ffordes, one of these.

Wista DX, Light Meter, 8 Film Holders, 3 Lenses, Loupe

Ready To Rumble
That's a Gitzo Series 2 Reporter tripod

It is a rather old Tamrak Summit 777 rucksack, and it fits the bill handsomely. I can now just unzip one compartment and everything is to hand . . what a relief!
Very well made (in the USA), great zips and a solid feel, and even though it is roughly 12 years old, and has been used, it is in fantastic condition still. Tamrak rather gets overlooked with regard to its bags, but I can tell you that they are second to none. Great build quality and comfortable.
So that is me, all packed up and waiting for a clear weekend, and I hope to detail some trips in detail soon as it were - we shall see. Stay tuned and all that.

Whilst I am here and on the subject, I thought I would show you what a lens which is universally disparaged, can do. 
People go nuts about lpm and all these crazy sharpness tests, and to be honest it is great to be reading about things like that, however at the end of the day it is all about the picture. If your composition is off, and the subject is dull then what is the point?
So to that end, here's a bottom-feeder of a LF lens.
The tiny 90mm Schneider Angulon f6.8, is either loved or hated. I actually love mine, it is tiny and sharp enough if you stop it down to f22 and beyond. If you are looking for a Large Format lens to start out with and you like wide angles, then they are about the cheapest thing out there, regularly selling for around £100.
As you can see it is small - that is a UK 50 pence piece, and it is on a standard Linhof/Wista lens board.
Mine is a later model and it is single coated.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Late 1964 Schneider 90mm Angulon f6.8

And to prove the point, this is what it can do. 
The scan isn't great, but the print is as sharp as you could wish for. Certainly you have no room for movements, but when doing landscapes like this you don't really need them.

The Suicide's Bridge
The Suicide's Bridge
Ilford FP4+, EI 50
11 Minutes, HC110 Dilution H, 20 Degrees Centigrade.
Ilford Galerie, Grade 2.

As you can see the lens has given the photograph a lovely 'airy' quality in the way it renders the distant foliage. I am not keen on 'smoky' water, however in this case it is quite muted and not in yer face. It has also managed to convey some of the mournful atmosphere of the setting. Whilst I am unaware if anyone has actually committed suicide from this bridge, it sort of had that melancholy feel to it, hence my title for the photograph.
So folks, again thank you for reading, and whilst I might not see you next weekend, I will see you along the trail sometime soon. 
If you want to shout words of encouragement like 'Get Off Yer Arse You Lazy B.' in your best Brian Blessed bellow, then please feel free. 
Leave a comment at the bottom.
It is nice to know I am not just propelling this out into the dark . . 
Take care and God bless.