Lots of firsts – and a fail

This weekend I achieved quite a few firsts in the field of film photography. Here are the headlines:

FP4+First attempt at pulling film to control contrast

I shot some Ilford FP4+ (nominally rated at ISO 125) at ISO 50 in bright sunlight. Under-rating film in this way is called pulling, and in this case I was trying it out as a way of reducing the contrast, i.e. capturing a wider range of tones in the negative. I’m no stranger to advanced metering using the zone system and a spot meter, but this is the first time I’ve tried contrast control while making the negative rather than when making the print.

First outing of my Mamiya Sekor C 90mm f/3.8 lens

I bought this lens ages ago for my Mamiya RB67 for a bargain price – I now own the 50mm, 90mm, 127mm and 180mm lenses. This was its first proper outing, excluding some basic testing in the past. On the 6×7 format, 90mm is a normal lens and it is also the joint fastest lens (with the 127mm) for the RB67 system. It’s also a beast, weighing in at 805g (just the lens!) which is about the same as an entry DSLR with kit lens.

Mamiya Sekor 90mm
Mamiya Sekor 90mm

First use of medium format sheet film, cut down from 120 roll film

When pushing and pull film to deal with the range of tones in a scene, each negative should ideally be developed specifically for the conditions it was shot in. This isn’t possible using roll film, where all the negatives on the roll have to be developed the same way and a compromise must be made. Now I am at the stage where I want to regularly push and pull my landscape photos individually, I decided to start shooting sheet film rather than roll film for some shots. I don’t have a large format camera (yet) but you can also get sheet film holders for some medium format cameras, including my Mamiya RB67 and Horseman 980. Which brings me onto my next item…

First use of a Graflex Grafmatic six-shot sheet film holder

Traditional sheet film holders have two dark slides and hold two sheets of film, back to back. You expose one sheet, flip the holder over, and expose the other. The Grafmatic back takes six sheets of film and exposes them sequentially using a clever mechanical system. Once loaded, It’s almost as easy to use as roll film.

The Grafmatic takes US-sized 2¼ × 3¼ sheet film so not only did I have to cut my roll film into sheets, I also had to make the sheets about 4mm narrower to fit. It’s a bit of a pain to load compared to roll film.

First use of Kodak T-Max developer

For the past few years I’ve been working my way through a giant stack of Ilford Microphen developer that I was given. Before that, I was using Ilford ID-11. Recently, I was given two litres of Kodak T-Max developer concentrate so I thought I’d give that a whirl, as Microphen isn’t really the thing to use for pull processing. Early indication is that T-Max works nicely with FP4+ but as with any film-developer combination, some experimentation is required to get the best results.

First attempt at “taco” processing of sheet film

As I had to trim the sheet film down, it no longer fits in a 120 spool. I didn’t fancy doing open-tray processing so I decided to have a go at the taco method. Basically you curl each sheet of film up with the emulsion facing inwards, pop a hair band around it and hold several tacos in a film tank.

Taco processing

Unfortunately, taco processing seems best with larger film. My tacos were a bit skinny and apparently while I was agitating the tank by inversion, the films slipped out of the hair bands and came loose. When I finished processing and looked inside the tank, all the negatives had stuck together in a clump. Three of the negatives were ruined as they hadn’t been properly exposed to the developer. Murphy’s law dictates that the three pictures I was most looking forward to seeing were the ones that came out blank. Three other photos survived, although they have large areas of uneven development.

Troopers Hill
Troopers Hill

I had problems scanning these negatives, too. As I had trimmed the film down by 4mm it no longer fitted in a 120 film holder in my scanner. I had to lay the negatives directly on the glass, and to keep them flat I put a piece of picture frame glass on top. It wasn’t ideal.

Given that I was investigating sheet film to improve my image quality, I’m not sure if that aim is achievable with the equipment I have. The difficulties in cutting, loading and developing the film mean that damage to the emulsion is more likely. I think for now I will stick to roll film and put the idea of sheet film to bed until I get my hands on some 5×4″ large format equipment. The camera is the easy bit – I’d also need a corresponding enlarger and film scanner – and they’re expensive!

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