Monthly Archives: November 2014

Been Thinking…

I haven’t had a great deal of free time available lately. As a result my picture-taking/film-developing/negative-scanning activities have been limited. Needless to say, as a result I have not had much fodder for my highly tuned blogging machine…

Regardless, I have been mulling a few things over of late. In particular I have been pondering the issues of resolution and grain. Thus far my Caffenol C efforts have yielded too little of the first and too much of the second.

Don’t get me wrong – I like the pictures I’ve gotten thus far. But when I’m being hyper-critical of my work, those are the two complaints I have – not enough resolution and prominent grain.

For example, here is a slight enlargement of one of my pics:


While I really like this picture – with any enlargement beyond about 5×7 it just looks wretched. The leaves on the tree look rather indistinct and the middle gray tones are really grainy. Looking closely at other Caffenol C images on Flickr, it appears that this is not too different from the results others have obtained.

Just for reference, I broke from the Caffenol C experiment and developed a roll of my Ilford FP4+ in Rodinal. It ended up being a minor disaster, and only one image from two rolls of film worked out. Here it is:

Dead Tree

On close inspection, I have to say that the Rodinal image looks better on both scores – resolution and grain, but not VASTLY better.

This puzzled and disappointed me. I had been led to understand (primarily by Ken Rockwell’s site) that scanning 35mm film was significantly better than digital. I am proving that this is NOT the case. I have made direct comparisons between images I have taken with both 35mm and my Nikon D5100. The D5100 wins handily – at least as far as the resolution and grain.

While mulling this over, I ran across an interesting bunch of articles written by a guy named Roger N. Clark comparing scanned film to digital cameras. They are a bit dated but the information is still valid. I read several other articles which came to similar conclusions.

The bottom line is that current DSLR’s are at least as good as 35mm film, and chances are that the digital images will LOOK sharper than film. 16-20 megapixels are required to capture the information in a 35mm negative. Your average Nikon or Canon is in that neighborhood.

With medium format (6×6, 6×4.5, etc.) is where you will likely be ahead of the game, or at least on par with current digital cameras. Estimates say that a 6x6cm negative holds about 30-50 megapixels worth of information. A shade ahead of current higher-end DSLR sensors.

Large format is a different story. 4×5 negatives fall somewhere above 200 megapixels.

Now we’re talking!

So the punch lines here are:

1) Ken Rockwell is full of crap. At least as far as the blanket statement that scanned 35mm is better than digital image quality. While this may have been true eight to ten years ago when the best digital cameras offered a whopping six megapixels. Nowadays – not so much.

2) 35mm film is kind of waste of time – but not completely. There are certainly ways of obtaining better quality images than I have been getting, but in most circumstances digital will still look better. On the other hand, film has a charm all its own. Image quality is not the only reason to shoot film. If nothing else, I’m sorting out my process and figuring out how to get acceptable (if not ideal) results.

3) I should just get over it, embrace the imperfection of film and love the awesome analog look. I’m reminded of what my seventeen-year-old daughter said as I was busily trying to digitally fix some blemishes that sullied one of her negatives. She said “I’m ok with spots and scratches, isn’t that the point of shooting film anyway?” Hmmm… Darn kids…

4) I need to finish my 4×5 camera. Then I can put the resolution/grain issues to bed. With negatives that big, I should be way ahead of the game. However, 5×7 or 8×10 is sounding more and more reasonable all the time. But I need to take baby steps here, and my view camera is almost done.

A bit of fun with my "under construction" camera.

Holding mechanism for rotating back

Rear swing mechanism

I would love to have some discussion on this topic, if you have insights to offer. Comment away!


A Long Afternoon

I had to work on Sunday a few weeks ago.

As I drove home mid-afternoon, the low-angled autumn sun was pouring out warm, golden light. The sky was deep blue and stippled with clouds. It was looking good for a few pictures, if I could find a worthy subject.

Many times before I had noticed a lone cottonwood that stands in in the middle of a marshy area the road passes by. Knowing that this would likely be a choice opportunity to photograph this stately tree, I made a detour from my usual route, slipped surreptitiously through a barbed-wire fence or two and made my way across the fields. Eventually the ground gave way and I was able to walk further on rushes that had fallen in thick mats over the water. Having approached as closely as possible, I got out my trusty FE and started shooting.

I had decided to try pushing the FP4+ to ISO 250, which made using dark filters a bit easier – as I didn’t have a tripod.

Upon returning home, I mixed up some Caffenol C-L with 1.5g of KBr (carefully weighed out on the powder scale). I stand developed the two rolls I shot – meaning that I poured in the developer, agitated for the first ten seconds, then let it sit completely still in the water bath for the remainder of the development time. Since I was pushing the film a full stop I settled on 90 minutes rather than the recommended 70.

Stop bath and fixer were carried out normally.

The negatives came out looking pretty good. The highlights were not too blown out and I got a nice range of tones. They are a bit grainy, but not too terrible.

Spanish Springs Marshes

Tree and Marshes 1

Tree and Marshes 2

Marshes Tree and Clouds

Tree and Marshes 3

Tiny Skull 2

Portable Darkroom – No, Really…

In order to develop film you need a darkroom, right?

Of course you do! Don’t be silly!

Well… Maybe not…

With the daylight developing tanks that abound on eBay and in flea markets, all you absolutely need is a way to safely get your film out of the roll and into the tank. Once you do that, you are home free. If you don’t intend to print on photographic paper – you are done with darkness at that point! No stuffing towels under the bathroom door required!

Ok, so without a room that is – you know – “dark” how DO you get your film into the safety of the processing tank?

Well, to the best of my knowledge the traditional changing bag is the most popular answer. And this is an answer that works quite well. Just stuff all your film and the tank into the light-proof bag, zip it up and slip your hands in through the elastic cuffs and get down to business.

I have two changing bags. Both are too damn small – end of story.

Once I cram in my film and tank there is barely enough room to move anything! I am working blindly here – getting the thin, flexible film onto the reel while bumping into other stuff with the slightest movement is maddening!

What other option is there?

I was fortunate enough to find a very fine one, for relatively cheap!

On CraigsList I noticed a posting for a “Portable Darkroom.” I had no idea what this might be, but I was definitely intrigued. Expecting complete disappointment in the shape of some home-made nightmare constructed of cardboard and duct tape, I half-heartedly clicked on the posting. There were no photos included, but the listing was for a “Fuji Portable Darkroom.” Hmmm… Produced by a “real” and reliable manufacturer. Could be something worthwhile. It definitely deserved being run past Google.



A few keystrokes later I discovered that, yes, Fuji did in fact produce this “portable darkroom.” It consists of a folding base and collapsible frame that opens from a briefcase-sized package into a light-tight tent about three feet by three feet at the base and almost three feet tall and sports the same elastic-cuffed sleeves as a regular changing bag. Wow, very cool!

The seller was asking $150 for this little gem or $250 as part of a package deal with a desktop light box they had as well. I decided to pass.

A couple of months went by. Occasionally I would see this thing re-listed on CL. Obviously nobody else was snapping it up either.

At last I reasoned that by this time the seller probably realized that this thing wasn’t going to “fly off the shelf” and might be willing to come down on the price.

I contacted them and arranged to come have a look.

I arrived at their charming double-wide well after dark, parked in the unpaved driveway and let myself in through the collapsing picket fence. Ahhh, this positively HAS to turn out well!

A lady greeted me on the doorstep and by the light cast by the bare bulb overhead, she proceeded to display the offered wares. At first glance it appeared that I had stuck pay dirt! The thing looked great!

We opened it up and assembled the arms that suspend the tent. Fabulous!

As she rambled on about how hard these are to find and how it was in perfect condition, I unzipped its opening to take a look inside.


The zipper was held shut about halfway along its travel with (you won’t believe it) duct tape! A tear in the rear of the tent’s inner liner was closed up with (wait for it…) MORE duct tape!

I pointed these shoddy “repairs” out to the seller. Hardly batting an eye, she said “How about fifty bucks each?”

I felt adventurous.

“Ok, I’ll give you fifty for the darkroom,” I replied coolly, “but I don’t have much use for the light box.”

She vanished into the mobile home, emerging a moment later.

“He said you can just have the light box.”

Nice! Two-hundred dollar discount. I love it!

I got the things home and made a closer examination of the loot. The light box functioned, which was honestly more than I expected. The darkroom proved to be a bit more “needy.”

After I turned out the lights, I put a bright light inside the tent and shone it all around inside. Most of the tent was quite light-tight, but several areas looked like some kind of planetarium – loaded with pinholes.

It was feeling like fifty bucks down the drain when a great idea struck me – rather than using the near universally applicable fixall (duct tape) why not use a spray-on vinyl or rubber product? The holes were all very small and would likely be closed up nicely with a few coats of black stuff.

I happened to have several spray-cans of black Plasti-Dip on hand (my daugther ordered six cans of it on Amazon for another project, most of them remained unopened) and I put it to work.

It required about six coats over the problem areas, but the tent is now light-tight. I did actually use a little bit of black duct tape to close up the tear in the inner liner after I used it as an access-port to spray Plasti-Dip onto the tent’s inner surface.

Here is how it looks:


The additional space inside it makes unloading and loading film a MUCH more enjoyable experience. I don’t think these Fuji portable darkrooms have not been sold for years, but if you run across one, think very seriously about buying it – even if it needs a little restoration. It will be worth it!


The Next Roll…

Just before beginning my Caffenol adventures I had been goofing around with some expired Fuji Velvia which I cross-processed in C-41 chemistry. This was great fun and a few of the pictures turned out OK.
(Apart from cropping and dust removal, these are straight scans of the resulting negatives – no blasting the saturation up or anything else.)

View Out Window.jpg

Down Spout Wall Sky.jpg

Ceramics 2.jpg

All well and good…

The only issue was that later, when I loaded up a roll of FP4+ to shoot the flume on the Truckee river, I forgot to change my Nikon’s ISO setting from 50 to 125 and I unwittingly messed my exposures up.

“No problem,” I said to myself. “I’ll just stretch out the development time and push the film from 50 to 125! Basically a one-stop push. No biggie!”

Of course this was exactly the WRONG thing to do, but my thinking was completely backward. Believing that I would need to add development I extended that by 2.5 minutes to 17.5 minutes in Caffenol C-H and processed at 22°C rather than 20°C.

In fact, I had actually overexposed the film by about a full stop and I should have reduced development. Unfortunately, I made this realization as the film was in the fixer, if I recall correctly and nothing could be done about it.

Despite my misguided alterations in the development scheme, I got fairly useable negatives out of the tank. They were kinda dark to be sure, and kind of blotchy-looking, but after some stroking in Lightroom and Photoshop, a few of them turned out ok.

This was also the first time I really got to mess around with the contrast filters I ordered up from Amazon. They are Tiffen, uncoated and junky, but for now they are good enough and definitely cheap. In that regard I am really happy with the results I got. The sky turned out nicely – a big improvement on the blank field of white I would have ended up with otherwise.

Truckee River Flume

Rock Tree and Flume

Again, these took quite a bit of massaging with the Adobe icons to get anything worthwhile. But I don’t think I’ll make the same mistake again!

What was really driven home for me was the utility of a tripod when shooting slow film. Probably half of the shots were useless – even if they had been processed to perfection – because they were blurred. It was either shutter-shake or me just not holding still enough. Either way it was No Bueno!