Scanning a whole summer’s worth of film

40 rolls, to be exact, all Tri-X.  It was an incredibly productive Summer last year, and half the reason I took the 4×5 class in the Fall was so I could develop all that film for free in the university darkroom!  And then of course I have to scan it and thank God for the Pakon: it paid for itself twice over in money and time with just that one batch of negatives.

So as far as photo projects go I’m reminded of something our photo instructor Stacy had us read: The Helsinki Bus Station Theory which I’m sure I’ve posted before.  Hopefully I’ve stayed on the bus long enough to start making something unique, and this is where all my best shots are; I was ramping up quite a bit the second half of Spring ’19 and as you can see my output was steady for months there, as it has been this Summer as well.

As far as all the pictures that I took over last Summer, I usually digitally process every one of them and show them to my photo instructor Stacy, but getting involved with 4×5 for the subsequent semester and now COVID-19 has kept me from doing that (also I procrastinated).  I don’t consider myself the best editor of my own work and there have been many times in the past that I’ve had a shot that the class has liked, I’ve overlooked, and it then waits until the end of the project to be seen.  That’s why I have an entire collection of shots that didn’t get used for one critique; sometimes they end up being favorites of the class.

Between last Summer and this one I think I’m at 75 rolls of Tri-X total, with 35 of them awaiting development, as well as processing and editing.  The work continues…

Shooting 4×5 large format film

This was my last “class,” if you could call it that, shooting 4×5 film in a large format camera.  Actually an independent study that I took for only one credit hour, shared with three other students from Adv.Photo.  The photo department bought three large format camera setups and we had some large photo paper donated to us so there wasn’t as much to supply from the students’ end, thankfully.  Due to scheduling conflicts and weather, we didn’t really get that much done (well, I did but whatever).  Anyway we reconvened in January but that didn’t last long either!  These are a few of the snapshots I took with the Olympus Infinity Stylus that I kept around my neck all of Fall 2019, I kept it in my bag with the 4×5.

I’m using a Standard 4×5 which is aluminum and 3D-printed plastic, with a Schneider 210mm f/5.6 lens, on a Manfrotto carbon fiber tripod.  It’s an extremely light setup and I carry everything around in a gym bag taking pictures wherever I feel like, though they’re mostly portraits.  I don’t know exactly why our photo instructor chose Standard monorail cameras over Intrepid field cameras but for what I’m doing a field camera probably would be more practical.  Actually I’d probably be fine with a Speed Graphic for that matter, Bob Jackson tried to sell me one once; I keep thinking about looking him up and buying it.

I used this as an opportunity to try out as many different film stocks as I could, though one thing I stayed away from was slow films.  With a 4x5in negative there’s really no need to worry about grain, so it’s all been ASA400 film: Bergger Panchro 400, Kodak T-Max 400, Ilford HP5+, Rollei RPX400.  Perhaps I’ll shoot some Tri-X 320, but I have read that it’s very finicky stuff and there are so many calculations that need to be taken into account with bellows extension, reciprocity failure, things like that, so I’m not too keen yet.  Plus Kodak does not really price their large format film competitively at all, it’s nearly double what Ilford charges.  Kodak I love you, but just like your price on 100′ bulk rolls of Tri-X, I don’t see why this film should be so much more than Ilford’s.  I only bought 10 sheets of T-Max 400 and I bought it because I wanted a little lifeline, it being the only film out of the bunch with which I was familiar, and I got some of the best results with this film, probably because of that.

Bergger seemed to be nearly the best deal I’d seen for a 50 sheet box, and I’ve seen a lot of good scans of Panchro on 35mm and 120.  They make some of the best photo paper, too.  On 4×5 though, Panchro 400 is a mixed bag, and I agree with what I’ve read online in that it seems to be closer to a 200 speed film, which is disappointing because as much as possible I’ve been trying to pull the film one stop already.  I need to shoot more but I think I’ll have to shoot this at close to 100 if I want to do that.  I knew that Ilford HP5+ would be closest to my beloved Tri-X and it didn’t disappoint me at all.  I could shoot it just the same way and got great results.  It’s also the film I’ll return to first, once I run out of what I have.  The only scanner at UCCS that can handle 4×5 film is the Epson Expression 10000XL which is in the Visual Resource Center and I have to make an appointment to use it.

Love those trains III: Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge

Cripple Creek is a mere half hour South of where I’m currently living, so you’d think I’d get there more often, but I don’t.  Even that day I didn’t do as much as I wanted and decided that I’d have to go back at some point.

Below is one of my first attempts with 4×5 film, marred by either the film holder or uneven development, possibly both.

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Will I ever find the perfect compact camera?

I’ve written previously about my love for the Olympus Trip 35, though unfortunately the shutter seized on me and I haven’t sent it in for a CLA yet (though at least it can be repaired…I’m looking at you, Contax).  Instead of spending a cool hundred bucks on repairing a camera that cost me about $8, I went back to my roots, shooting cheap-as-shit cameras I’ve happened to snap up at my local thrift store.  Another rule for me: I wanted to only buy cameras I knew I could make a profit from later on.

First was the Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80 ($4) which has an annoying design flaw in a circular light leak.  It also has all the other failings of its ilk, including iffy autofocus, a flash that needs to be turned off every time one activates the camera, slow zoom, zoom at all with the accompanying drop in lens quality.  I also bought a few more zoom models at the same time but decided it wasn’t worth it to burn a roll of film in one.  Oh, some more downsides: the CR123 battery cost me about $12 and there’s no manual ASA setting or exposure adjustment.

I then lucked into an Olympus Infinity Stylus ($5) with its 35mm f/3.5 prime lens.  Sure, I’d prefer the Epic with is faster f/2.8 aperture but I’ll take what I can find at a bargain price.  And there are a few nice improvements over the Zoom 80 version.  For starters, the prime lens makes this camera truly compact.  The ’90s rounded styling make it easy to fit into a pocket though it’s light enough (read: plasticky) to fit around my neck where it hung all of Fall 2019.  Having shot the Zoom 80 I already knew many of the failings though this one has at least a couple more: the fiddly shutter release that occasionally doesn’t fire, as well as a truly horrendous shutter lag.  The camera doesn’t shoot until the lens is fully extended and it makes a rather loud mechanical whir in doing it.  I lost quite a few shots due to this little problem.  And the lens flares at the drop of a hat.  It’s a camera I found useful for my photo project but it’s something that I will never be able to love unreservedly.

The newest acquisition is a Canon AF35M II ($4) and I’ve got to say I’m happy with just how manual this automatic camera is!  I suppose being older had a bit to do with it, but the design philosophy is so much closer to being something that I approve.  For starters, the flash needs to be engaged to work, something I don’t ever imagine using.  But thank God I’m not having to push another button every time I turn on the damn thing.  Another plus is its manual ASA setting from 50-1000, a wide range to handle not only different films but exposure adjustments for things like backlighting, snow, etc.  And it has an AE lock mode as well, though admittedly it’s slow, requires both hands, and makes one depress the shutter release twice. The shutter is responsive though, and there’s no ambiguity surrounding pushing that shutter release.  It shoots quickly and though battery-dependent, it’s the most ubiquitous battery of all, the humble AA.

The Canon AF35M II is the antithesis of the Olympus in nearly every way which is simultaneously its greatest asset and worst flaw.  For starters, it takes not one AA battery but two, which not only increases its weight but also its size by a considerable margin.  And most glaring of all, the motor drive makes a horrible and loud noise that would wake the dead.  If you want to draw attention to yourself during a quiet meeting, this is definitely the camera for the job.  But for now this camera works well for me and ensures that when I drive it’s easy to keep a camera at the ready.

And now that I’ve deconstructed all these cameras and their failings it’s time to bring it back to the Olympus Trip 35, a camera that has caused me many a failed photo due to its lack of automation.  Its zone focusing system can be a bit tricky at full aperture, and while it has two shutter speeds, the slower one at 1/40 second is nearly always preferred.  I find that I have to be very careful shooting it because if I’m too fast the shot will be blurry.  Giving the camera to a stranger to get a picture of me has almost never turned out a good result.

One thing that I’ve discovered along the way is that the longer time went on the more camera design would go toward making cameras so simple even an idiot can figure it out.  Well actually, I already knew this.  But we’ve come a long way from the days of Grandpa shooting Kodachrome slides with an all-manual camera (something which took a bit of skill).  The more they try to make something foolproof, the more I tend to say “Don’t overestimate the fool.”  So customers “demanded” simpler cameras that would give them the ability to expose pictures like a pro and this has led to the average photographer being a complete idiot.  Take away their iPhone and make them think for any length of time to see that it just keeps going downhill still today.

So the end result: the Olympus cameras went on the ‘bay and I made quite a lot of money off them.  I’m keeping the Canon for the moment, as it seems to be less annoying than the others, plus it’s not worth as much.