medium format film madness: sorted

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(Bronica SQ-A. TRI-X 400. f8 1/500. This spot has become my default test-shot location.)

In two earlier posts, medium format film madness and medium format film madness: update, I detailed my attempts to get moving in medium format film photography. It wasn’t going so well. There was dust (lots of it) all over my scans. I was having under-exposure and softness issues and I was having doubts about the whole faff and expense of buying and developing film.

Well, I’ve resolved the big issues by taking drastic action.

In desperation I did some test blank scans and noticed that the dust pattern was suspiciously similar from one scan to the next.  I therefore took the scanner apart and sure enough it was full of dust on the inside. It was also full of bits of plastic that looked like they should be attached to something. At this point I realised that I’d been sold a dud.

So, step one: I purchased a brand new, factory sealed, Epson V500. You don’t see many of those as it’s quite an old model so I was pretty lucky. Using the new scanner there’s still some dust on my scans, and it’s still a pain, but there’s a lot less of it, it’s manageable and it feels like the effort is worthwhile.

I’d also not bonded with the camera, a Fuji GW690. It’s huge – a beast of a camera – and it’s not that easy to hand-hold… yet it felt really weird using a rangefinder on a tripod. In fact what I learned was that I don’t think I like the idea of a medium format rangefinder at all, especially for portraits (which is one of the things I want to use MF film for); I want to see what’s actually going on! I want to be able to see where the point of focus is at any point in the view, not just in a small and hard-to-see central rangefinder patch. How the hell am I going to focus on someone’s eye, when the depth of field is razor-thin, with a rangefinder on a tripod? It simply does not work. Focus and recompose? Yeah right – that may work at f11 but not at f3.5. I realise that some of you may be happy to work like that, but with larger format cameras I like to actually see what’s in focus.

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So, step two: I purchased another medium format camera to see if that would help; I picked up A Bronica SQ-A. I instantly fell in love with it. The moment I looked down into the waist-level finder and onto that ground-glass screen, where I saw a beautiful, clear, bright image of what was actually coming through the lens I knew that the Bronica and I were going to get on. My first test shots have been sharp and perfectly exposed, so it wasn’t me after all – perhaps that Fuji needs a service.

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And the square negatives from the Bronica are so lovely. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t really like the 4:3 aspect ratio, preferring 3:2 (which is why I ended up with the GW690 in the first place) but I’ve now discovered that I really like 1:1.

Step three: I have started using iso 400 film to give me more flexibility with shutter speed.

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(Bronica SQ-A. TRI-X 400. f16 1/250.)

As for the faff and expense of film, it’s not so bad with the Bronica because, being a 6cm x 6cm format, I get twelve shots per roll instead of the eight I get from the GW690. I’ve also got used to sending the rolls to Peak Imaging, who are quick, offer good quality, and are reasonably cheap. They even have a freepost address for getting the film to them. Waiting for the negatives to come back is actually rather pleasurable.

I should sell the Fuji because I promised myself I would when I got the Bronica – but somehow I’m not sure now. Perhaps after shooting with the Bronica and getting my medium format skills in order I might just want to try that huge rangefinder again :-). Isn’t Gear Acquisition Syndrome a terrible thing?

I’m having fun now. Expect some proper medium format postings soon.

 

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medium format film madness: update

Some of you may remember an earlier post, medium format film madness, about my entry intro the world of medium format film. Well here is the first result even vaguely worth posting:

industrial branches 2

“Industrial branches 2”. (Fuji GW690. 1/125 sec @ f11 (I think!). Ilford FP4+ 125)

It’s a revisit to the location of this polaroid shot.

I have to be honest, this whole film process continues to be rather tedious and so far I have few results that I am happy with. I have had under-exposure problems, despite metering with both a light-meter and a digital camera, and I have had some focus and sharpness problems. Most of this is likely down to user error, though it’s possible that there are some mechanical issues with my Fuji GW690; I simply don’t know because I don’t have another medium format film camera to compare it with.

Worst of all, I continue to have terrible dust and hair problems during scanning, despite using cotton gloves and constantly cleaning the negatives and the scanner (and even hoovering the room frequently). The amount of spot removal I end up doing in Lightroom is shocking.

I have also shot a roll of 35mm film on a Yashica Electro 35 recently – I dread to think how bad the dust issue is going to be on those smaller negatives.

I’d love to pay someone else to do the scanning but it’s really way too expensive

What’s especially awkward is I don’t really know what to expect: How much dust is normal? Just how sharp should a 10,000 pixel wide scan of of a 9cmx6cm negative be at 100%?

Paying for film and dev, and the rigmarole of posting it (to Peak Imaging) is a grind too.

There’s no exif either – all the shooting info has to be written down manually somewhere.

So am I a little down on the whole process? Yes.

Am I seeing some film magic, some glorious tonalities, some medium format lushness? No, not really. Not yet.

Am I going to give up? No. Not yet.

Stay tuned…

 

medium format film madness

One reason why I haven’t posted any new photos this week is that I finally got myself a medium format film camera. It’s a rangefinder too… a Fuji GW690. I guess it was bound to happen sooner or later; I simply have to find out for myself what medium-format film is capable of.

The main reason I chose the Fuji was that I figured if I was going medium format I might as well use the biggest and most detailed negatives available and this camera puts out enormous 6cm x 9cm negatives. Just eight of these will fit on a roll of 120 film!

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The GW690 may look like a normal rangefinder camera in the photo above… but it isn’t normal at all, it’s almost comically huge. Take a look below at how it compares to my Sigma DP1 Merrill.

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It’s not actually that heavy, mainly because a lot of it is made of plastic. Some people find this annoying but the camera actually feels solid and durable and not unpleasant in the hand.

No batteries are required because its entirely mechanical and doesn’t even have a light meter. The lens is a fixed 90mm, which is the equivalent of a 39mm lens on a 35mm camera… so it’s a nice all round focal length.

The Fuji is fun to shoot with.

So why no new photos yet?

Film is hard work. This is an inescapable fact, unless you want to spend a fortune paying someone else to do everything for you.

Firstly I had to get my first test roll developed. I drove 10 miles to a local photographic lab and handed over £8 as I’m not ready to do this part myself yet. I may or may not develop myself in the future.

Once I had the film developed I had to thoroughly clean my scanner, both the main glass and the dedicated film unit in the lid. I then put on some cotton gloves so I could cut the negatives by hand and then clean them, first with an air blower on both sides and then with some microfibre cloth. I then had to carefully load the negatives into the custom film holder, align them correctly and then carefully lower an anti-newton-ring glass insert on top (to keep the negatives flat). I then did a preview scan, cropped by hand, zoomed in, scanned again, and imported the scan into Lightroom. Finally the negatives had to be carefully removed (time to put the cotton gloves back on) and inserted into a Kenro negative file page for storage.  This process had to be repeated for each shot – it was even necessary to quickly clean the scanner each time as it seemed to attract dust between scans.

Despite all the cleaning I then had to manually spot-heal countless bits of dust and hair out of each shot. This was a real nightmare and may seriously test my patience (and reduce image quality) unless I can find a way to reduce dust levels.

And after all this work? The test shots are ok – a little under-exposed perhaps but not bad – and I’ll nail my exposure with practice… but they all seem worryingly soft when looked at 1:1. Maybe this is what film looks like when you zoom in on an image that is 10000 pixels wide, I can’t remember, maybe my scanning is at fault, maybe the rangefinder is out of alignment. Certainly none of the test shots are good enough to post here.

Clearly more work is required… and work seems to be the thing with film… everything takes so long and needs so much care.

There’s supposed to be some sort of zen here, the joy of the craft, the slow deliberate nature of it all… on the other hand it might just be a world of pointless pain.

Time will tell if I think this is worth all the effort.