Darkroomist Photographic culture of the analog variety from the fresh coast.


Rough Week in the Darkroom

And I didn't even print! Well it all started with Photostock (which was awesome!). See I got this enlarger from the Bannows, an awesome film photography couple who were moving and downsizing their formidable enlarger collection. I got free-to-a-good-home an Omega D5. Originally I thought they said it was a D2 but after some research, no, it's definitely a D5. I stuffed it an a bunch of other spoils in my Jeep Cherokee and headed home. Upon arrival I brought everything in the house and dumped all my darkroom stuff either in my darkroom or just out side it. I got the enlarger mounted to its baseboard and swapped it out with my old FED and all was good. Plugged everything together and it worked. Yay! Then I tried to put my 80mm El-Nikkor on the turret and could not get it to focus. Put it on the single board and it worked fine though I did notice it was a little dim. After some time I discovered a locking lever that raises and lowers the lens platform sort of setting the stops for the bellows. Weird, but the 80mm now worked on the turret.

Once I finally got this working I took a sip of Founders Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale, looked back and no light. None, and everything was on and set to focus. I thought the bulb might have died so I pulled it out. The bulb looked fine so I grabbed my multi meter and there was no voltage at the socket. Uh oh. After tracing wires out I figured it wouldn't hurt to pull this "voltage regulator" box off the back of the dichro power supply (it's optional). Plugged it all back up and it worked and was brighter.

For years now I've used a foot switch to expose paper on the enlarger. I went on ebay and found one for this piggyback timer that came with the power supply. Dang it was expensive. Pretty much anything for an Omega D5 is waaay more than for a Beseler 23C. I got the foot switch, hooked it up to test, it has a rather unique and goofy connector that only goes in one way. When I powered everything up I heard this sci-fi, jacob's-ladder-type of sound and smelled that horrible burnt electronic smell. The light was still on but the timer didn't time. Pitched the timer. Guess I'll have to try to return the foot switch. I plugged the power supply into my Gralab 535 and it worked wonderfully, so now I'm looking for a second timer. Preferably a digital Gralab.

On the plus side while I was reorganizing my paper stash I found a bunch of 16x20 fiber base paper I'd forgotten about. I also found a bunch of fogged paper I might as well fix and toss. Had to reorg to make room for the stash of 16x20 paper I bought at Photostock from a fellow photographer Mark O'Brien.

All in all it's not that bad, it's just the learning curve of a very different enlarger. I will get it printing but it might be another week.

Before and after of my messier-than-normal enlargers:
Enlarge upgrade before and after

Expired paper to add to the stash!
Newly acquired expired paper

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Print your pictures!

I was originally told this by an antique photo collector about 5 years ago, give or take. She was literally afraid that in the future collecting photos might become impossible. Her reasoning was that lots of people collect photos; fewer collect negatives, and fewer yet of the negatives are ever printed. There's next to no hope of future photo collectors going through old hard drives to look for your pictures. All the stuff stored online is mostly stored by a company, Yahoo for Flickr, Amazon/Apple/Microsoft/Google have a lot of cloud stuff, etc. But if they up and quit or go out of business, or just decide to no longer offer that free service, you have little to no recourse, especially if you're deceased. Well now internet pioneer Vint Cerf shares that opinion. (via petapixel.com) I agree with the photo aspect of what he says but I don't know if I buy the looming "Digital Dark Age" he posits. There are very few formats that were widely used that are now dead. Some of the earliest digital images I saw maybe around 1990 were GIFs and any browser can read a gif. CDs came out in 1983 and any optical drive can read them (of course who knows how long optical formats will last). As far as data goes, ascii has bee around since the 1960s so anything saved as a txt file should last as long as the media it sits on. Still for film and digital shooters, hard copy is a great offline backup. It's an actual artifact you can leave for future humans.

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Only the chimney remains.

Found this gem in Saginaw Township. It looks like it's nestled deep in some creepy woods but it's right next to a house and a subdivision, and a busy road. Evidence of our transience in the middle of suburbia.

Trace of civilization in suburbia

I believe this was shot with the Konica Big Mini (fixed lens) on Arista Premium 400 (believed to be Tri-X), and processed in R09 (Rodinol).

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Thoughts on New55’s R3 Monobath developer

New55, a company who's primary goal is to bring back Polaroid's Type 55 instant film, has released a new product that is making quite a splash. It's called R3 monobath developer. Usually developing black and white film or paper is a three step process followed washing any remaining chemical residues off the film. You develop, stop, and fix. Developing brings out the latent image on the film or paper, stop stops the development and neutralizes or rinses any developer off the emulsion, and fix makes the emulsion no longer sensitive to light so what's left is permanent. A monobath is just like it sounds, one bath, no three steps, just the one and you are ready to wash. How is this possible? It must be some org of chemistry wizardry right? Nah. It's surprisingly simple.

See film needs the develop and fix steps and it need them in that order. Fix first and you'll get nothing from developing, a black roll or sheet. Stop keeps the developer from contaminating the fix. Technically you don't need it but if too much developer builds up in the fix you'll start developing again before fixing is over which changes the density of your negatives. In short skipping stop in a traditional processing paradigm reduces consistency. Developer will also increase fixing time and exhaust it faster. Fix contaminated developer is less common but also bad as any granules that are fixed before development don't get developed.

So how does a mono bath work? Essentially it's a fast developer and a pokey fixer in one solution. The developer works faster than the fix and when the fix kicks in development is near completion. Monobaths chemically time development. Polaroid instant film was probably the biggest commercial usage of monobaths. The have a "pod" that contains a chemical liquidy-goo which coats the emulsion when the pod is broken. That one goo has to do all the work. Polaroid Type 55 produced both a black and white positive and a negative of the image taken. It was generally regarded as a super awesome film and loads of photographers loved it including Ansel Adams. When trying to recreate this wonder of the film world the first thing you're going to need is a black and white monobath to put in the pod to process the film and direct positive paper (which Ilford just announced it will be producing again!).

Enough of the back story, what is this R3 monobath stuff? Well if you look at the R3 MSD (Materials Safety Data) sheet it pretty clearly states that it's Kodak HC110 developer, Ammonium, and Rapid Fix. Wait, Rapid Fix? I thought you need a pokey fix. Yup you do, it needs to be slower than the developer. Developer is also very temperature sensitive whereas fix much less so. New55 recommends warming the R3 up to 80degF which is pretty warm for a developer. At this temp, the development time for new Tmax is around 2 minutes with the most highly concentrated HC110 working solution. The fix time for rapid fix is 2-5 minutes. The recommended time for the R3 is 6 minutes probably because the fix is contaminated with developer and buffered with ammonium.

This is actually a very similar formula to one that popped up on a 2004 news group rec. photo.darkroom by Donald Qualls:

My specific HC-110 monobath was developed after taking a statement in
Anchell & Troop as a challenge; they said they weren't aware of anyone
developing a monobath that used rapid fixer instead of hypo, because
development would have to be exceedingly rapid. Well, let's see –
HC-110 Dilution A at 75 F is pretty darned fast; how much do I need to
dilute the fixer to get the fixing time to six minutes? That much?
Does it still have enough capacity for 135-36? Cool!

I had to adjust the alkalinity and fixer proportion after the first
test, but the second was a complete success.

For 256 ml of HC-110 Dilution A, instead of pure water, use:

50 ml household clear ammonia
10 ml Ilford Rapid Fixer concentrate
Water to make up 256 ml including the HC-110 concentrate for Dilution A

At 75F, this mix develops and fixes 400TX in well under ten minutes,
likely as little as six (I haven't opened the tank that early, but
development should be completed in under three minutes and I lose some
shadows to fixing away the halide before the shadows develop; it might
work in four minutes total time).

Which sounds pretty obscure if it wasn't for the fact that the top google hit for "Kodak HC110" mentions it. :) These are the same instructions that the New55 blog has if you want to roll your own.

It's probably no surprise that I'm not a big proponent of monobaths and that's the fairly default perspective from the photographic community. I looked in six different darkroom books including The Darkroom Cookbook (which a pretty definitive guide on mixing darkroom chemicals) and Ansel Adams' The Negative and none of them even mention monobaths. I believe that you are necessarily losing something by fixing and developing at the same time. I've read that monobaths were marketed to photojournalists back in the day but it didn't catch on. Probably because the mixture is chemically timed and if you're not using a film that lines up with that timing you're out of luck. Even the HC110 page mentioned above states that development times under 5 minutes are difficult to control. Judging from the development times I'd guess that R3 would make a mess out of fast films. According to the R3 resource page you have to pull iso 3200 films to 800 (two stops) for R3 to work properly with them. It states that base fogging is normal with monobath developers. The resource page also eschews the idea that monobaths need to be tailored to a film by stating the person that claimed that was a Kodak crony. They then go on to answer the "if it's so great how come no one uses it?" question by citing instant film. Instant films had monobaths tailored for them! They were packaged together. The answer to "is it archival" is pretty much a side step.

I like the New55 project. I want very much to use New55 film someday. I was pleasantly surprised when their kickstarter got funded. What kind of tweaks me about R3 is that monobaths are an experimental process. R3 is not being marketed as an experimental developer. If photographers could skip two steps (stop and fix) and still get results that were "good enough" they would. R3 might fit some niches very well, some photographers may like or love it, but I have a hard time believing you wouldn't get better results with regular HC110 at a more normal developing temperature followed by stop and fix. What's more it's superficially being marketed as a New55 developed product and it is not. While the correct attributions aren't exactly hidden, they are kind of buried. Most of what I've read online and on social media is excitement over a commercial monobath and a "new" developer. It's largely hype with very little grounding. If you ever get your hands on some New55 you'll probably be using some R3 (probably with some thickening agents so it's not so watery) and that's great. That's how it's supposed to be, but it's not a necessity in the darkroom. They're just trying to make some extra cheddar off of some R&D that is needed to make New55 a reality and I guess I can't really blame them for that.

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The risks with urbex are real.

I've done some urbex photography and I will attest that it is no place to be foolish. There are risks and if urban exploration is something you chose to do with or without a camera you need to respect that. These buildings are old and unmaintained. You need to assess the risks and act accordingly. You need to be aware of your surroundings, the structure, the ceiling, the floors, environmental hazards like broken glass, you need to be on the look out for other people and feral dogs. This story out of Flint of a teen killed in an abandoned school by falling through the roof is tragic and it is a worst case scenario of what can happen if you're less than cautious:


Going into abandoned buildings is risky behavior. Be aware and exercise caution. Your life can literally depend on it.

If urbex is something you want to do, reach out to those doing it for advice and read up on how to do it. I'd recommend the Book Access All Areas as a good urbex how-to.

Access All Areas an Urbex How-to

No one wants to see anyone hurt or killed in this endeavor. Especially when a talk with someone who's urbex'ed, or a book, or some conversations on online urbex forums could have prevented this. Be safe out there people.

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Tri-X is 61!

A Wired Article points out that Tri-X is 61 years old this year.

I was a little slow on the uptake of Tri-X. My very first experience with black and white film in High School was with the brand new (then) Tmax. I distinctly remember my Photography Club proctor saying "I hope this works with regular developer because we don't have any Tmax developer." It did. Almost a decade later when I picked up photography again in 2001 Tmax was about all the local Ritz had.

I eventually switched to Ilford Delta which is still a "T" grain film but I thought it looked more "organic." Over time I meandered out of "T" grain films with Efke and then budget Chinese films and Foma. Which brought me to Tri-X. Freestyle sold some Tri-X as it's Arista Premium and I started shooting it.

I like it. It was actually quite a jolt going from 120 Fuji Neopan Acros developed in Xtol, to 35mm Tri-X developed in Rodinol. The Acros would have grain so tight it was hard to see with a grain focuser on 8x10 prints. The Tri-X formulation had golfball size grain by comparison. Not that there's anything wrong with that! :) Now I like Tri-X, I think I like Kodak XX a bit more but I'd rather shoot Tri-X than Shanghai or Lucky SHD. Neopan Acros still rules the iso 100 category though. That stuff is Magic!

This abandoned pier was shot in a brief crossover period when I was processing Tri-X in Xtol:
Old Pier Pano

Like the article mentions, this is an old, probably the oldest black and white film in continuous production, it's been there and proven itself in the hands of innumerable photographers.

Shooting Tri-X is like time traveling. It's fun, a timeless look, and those of us still shooting film should consider adding it to our repertoire.

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Analog Photography Auto Rap

I couldn't resist doing a little analog photography ditty with the Auto Rap app :) :

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I Got Two Images in Lightbox Photographic’s MobilMagic XVIII Exhibit

Snap! I got two images accepted into Lightbox Phhotographic's Mobil Magic XVIII exhibition! It's a regular exhibition of camera phone art. It's juried and comprised of the top 25. While it's $10 per entry the Juror's top choice is awarded $50 and EVERY submission is printed and mailed to you. For $10 that's really pretty dang good. A bonus is that it's super accessible as all you need is a camera phone and a paypal account. I edited my images using Snapseed which is a free image editing app that you can use on your phone. There's an open call for the next Mobile Magic Exhibit and you can find that here.

Here's the prints I received:
Prints from Lightbox Photographic

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Manfrotto Monopod Clearance Deal at Walmart!

Last night I had to make a quick run to Walmart and took a quick look through their clearance isle. That's when I happened upon this super deal. It's a Manfrotto MMC3-01M monopod. They had it marked down to $10, Amazon has it listed for $24.75! It's small, and I mean really small (I included and iPhone 3gs for size comparison). Fifteen and change inches long when collapsed and 4.5 feet at max extension. It has the typical Manfrotto solid construction and the slightly oval shape feels very comfortable one's hand. Being extremely compact means this will see use on trips when bulkier gear wouldn't be welcome. Family vacations, hikes, geocaching, and other outings when photography isn't the main purpose would be the perfect time to pack this little wonder. There's only two draw backs to it really. The first is that there's no head on it so it's square and landscape only unless you put a mini ball head on it. Which brings up drawback number two. The max weight limit is 3.3lbs. If you put even a small ball head on it, or a pan/tilt head, you'd be bumping up against that limit fast. Best bet in my opinion would be a Holga for film or some other lightweight square format film camera, or a cell phone. Still, despite the drawbacks this monopod is way better than my old SLIK monopod. Not sure if this was a one-off deal at the Walmart down the street from me or if it's at more stores, but it never hurts to browse the clearance isle!

Manfrotto MMC3-01M Monopod

Manfrotto Monopod

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The Lensbaby 1.0 Lens

Lensbaby Lens

I mentioned The Lensbaby Lens in a HiFi and LoFi approaches to film photography. The Lensbaby is a unique tool that can give your images a distinct look, but it's also a bit of a double edged sword.

The Lensbaby is a take on plunger cam A lens mounted to some flexible tubing that you can get tilt, shift, and soft focus effects. Lensbaby took this concept and paired it with the single element soft focus lens and came up with a soft focus plunger cam. Effectively a selective soft focus lens that can blur the out of focus bits dramatically. Pictured above is their very first product The Lensbaby 1.0. Lensbaby has since gone on to create more refined and even completely new lenses.

This is not an autofocus lens. It's manual and in a very different way. To use the lens baby lens, you place a finger or two on each side of the metal flange surrounding the lens while you hold the camera and compose the shot. It takes a bit of coordination. By pressing towards the camera you focus further away. By tilting the flange, and hence lens, out of parallel from the film plane, you can move the point of focus around in the frame. This is how you get the tilt effect. Shift effects are possible as well but I've found them to be more difficult to execute and less pronounced in effect. You can also slightly tug on the lens to get get it focus on closer objects for a macro effect. All in all a very versatile lens.

Lensbaby pictures:
Child Portrait with Lensbaby 1.0

Lensbaby 1.0 Pine Cone

The downside of this lens is that it can get gimmicky very quickly. I got my Lensbaby Lens just before a trip to New Orleans and I went a little Lensbaby crazy. Off the top of my head I can say I took two really good images with it. The rest of the Lensbaby shots left me wondering why I shot that with the Lensbaby. Luckily I did bring and use more conventional lenses. Now I treat it like a fisheye lens. It's great for some shots. It is THE tool to use for somewhat soft and extremely selective focus effect, especially if fast hand holding (as apposed to using a tripod) is essential. Chromatic Aberrations are not corrected for and fringing happens regularly. On top of it, I don't believe the element is coated. The Lensbaby is NOT a walking around lens. It doesn't work well for that for me. The lens itself is too much a part of the image to use it without careful consideration like you would a fisheye.

A final bright spot in this write up is the size and weight of the Lensbaby. For a lens it's tiny and extremely light weight. If I were traveling light with a film SLR I'd probably pack this lens, a pancake, and a wide angle. The focal length is around 55mm so it should work well with most SLRs even ones with mirrors. Plus the milled metal lens cap is probably bulletproof! This model and its successor are no longer made by LensBaby but you can find an impressive line of its descendants in their product offerings.

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