(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.
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.
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.
(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.