Monday, 19 July 2021

127 Day July 2021

Vest Pocket Kodak Autographic with Ilford Selochrome
127 Day is one of the film-themed calendar days which I endeavour to observe, especially in its July iteration. This year I had two rolls of Ilford Selochrome 127 film, both dated September 1970, and I chose to use the Vest Pocket Kodak Autographic camera, having not used this for a few years (had I thought about it, perhaps I should have used it last year, to mark a hundred years since my particular model had been made). I'd previously realised that the camera didn't quite focus on infinity (the camera itself is fixed-focus, but the lens seemed to be set much closer than infinity), and prior to using it last Monday, I had thought to attempt to work out how far from the film plane the lens should be positioned to achieve infinity focus. As the lens is erected on scissor struts, it might be possible to not fully pull out the lens and achieve this. I roughly calculated this to be around 4-5mm. I cut a piece of card to the length of the distance between the camera body and the front standard, so that, in theory, I could pull the lens board out from the body, then push it back in to the piece of card as a guide.

127 format Ilford Selochrome

In practice, this wasn't so easy. It was difficult to push the lens board back in toward the body equally on both sides and keep it parallel to the film plane; it also had a tendency to work itself back towards being closer to fully pulled out, due, I imagine, to the spring of the struts. Nevertheless, I persevered with this approach. The Ilford Selochrome film was originally rated 160 ASA; I generally shot it at 1/25th 'wide' open at f11, or used it for longer exposures stopped down to f22 balancing on walls or railings where I could. Conditions on Monday were heavily overcast, not ideal for using such an old film in a camera with a slow lens. The weather had been a little brighter earlier in the day, but by the time I left the house a mass of dark clouds was looming, and this was the weather front that caused flash flooding later that day in London, the same weather system which caused catastrophic floods in Europe a few days later.

Vest Pocket Kodak Autographic with Ilford Selochrome

I shot both rolls and semi-stand developed these in Ars Imago #9 for an hour at a dilution of 1+100. When I took the films out of the wash, it was immediately evident that on top of the focus issues, the negatives clearly showed that the bellows had light leaks. When I first used the Vest Pocket Kodak I had more or less repaired these with applications of acrylic ink to the rather worn corners of the bellows. Although I'd hardly used the camera since then, clearly this hadn't been a permanent fix and had deteriorated over the years. The length of time the bellows were extended was the main factor as to how intrusive these light leaks were, the image below being the worst; obviously, the time taken with fiddling around with the distance of the extension of the struts to try to get the lens in focus meant that this longer than using the camera 'normally'. Only a couple of frames seemed to largely escape the light leaks. Some frames also had a few losses of emulsion (seen in the image above), not entirely surprising given the age of the film, and the negatives had a pronounced curl, making scanning less easy than it might be, as well as an added difficulty in loading the tank for developing.

Vest Pocket Kodak Autographic with Ilford Selochrome

Once scanned, it was clear that my attempts correct the focus with the Vest Pocket Kodak had not been that successful. In the image below, a stray tip of grass at the bottom of the frame is the only part of the image in focus. I think this was where the lens board had worked itself back towards being more or less fully extended; I probably would not have been able to get this result if I'd tried, and despite the light leaks in the frame, the result wasn't entirely unsatisfactory.

Vest Pocket Kodak Autographic with Ilford Selochrome

Overall, the best frames were those where I stopped the lens down, and used the B or T settings, placing the camera on a wall or railing for exposures ranging from 1 second to something like 12 seconds for the image at the top of the post, probably the best from the two rolls of film, which has just a hint of shake given how difficult it was to keep the camera completely still. Using the Vest Pocket Kodak meant that I got eight frames on a roll, and I did try two or three frames for a couple of the subjects, given all the problems with the camera. In retrospect, perhaps I should have used the films in a different 127 camera, such as the Baby Ikonta, which would have given me twice as many shots; the film itself was an unknown quantity, I had no idea how this had been stored in the decades since it had been manufactured, but the near-pristine condition of the boxes was a hint that the Selochrome might still give good results, as it did, despite all the problems with the Vest Pocket Kodak.

Tuesday, 29 June 2021

Lomography Berlin Kino 400 - single roll review

Lomography Berlin Kino 400 - Formula 2019

For some time now, when using a film stock that's new–to me at least–I like to test a few rolls, starting by rating a number of frames both under and over its box speed, then giving this normal development for a test of the film's latitude. This often provides some indication whether the film might be sympathetic to both push (and pull) development. I'll typically shoot it in a few different cameras, sometimes in different formats if available. I also like to try at least a couple of different developers, dilutions, and sometimes different temperatures. Usually the manufacturers' recommendations for exposure and development give perfectly good results; however, for some film and developer combinations, there's not much information available online, particularly with new stocks, and it's always worth being attuned to what one wants to get from a film stock if not using a lab: having that degree of control is the main reason for developing black and white film myself, as much as, if not more than, the economy. The Massive Dev Chart is also a fantastic resource, but I have found a few stocks for which I've specifically established my own exposure/development practices through testing - most notably Ferrania P30, but also Rollei RPX 25 and Agfa/Rollei Superpan 200. This is all a preamble just to state that, in normal circumstances, I prefer to live with a film for a while before committing to write about it; this post goes against that preference.

Earlier this year I received a prize for my efforts in the #ShittyCameraChallenge, four different rolls of 35mm black and white film, none of which I'd used before: Rollei Ortho 25 Plus; Film Washi D; and two Lomography films, Fantome 8 and Berlin Kino 400. This carefully-curated prize, sponsored by David Walster (@196photo on Twitter), was an invitation for me to try some films I might not ordinarily use; due to the pandemic, lockdown, work and other circumstances, I hadn't shot any of them until earlier this month. An impromptu road trip to Cornwall was the occasion: I took my Kodak Retina IIa (a German-made Kodak, although from Stuttgart, not Berlin). This was already loaded with Kentmere Pan 100, but I put the roll of Lomography Berlin Kino in my bag as I thought I'd probably finish the part-used Kentmere film. In the event, I only loaded the Berlin Kino 400 for the return trip; having a 400-speed film was at least appropriate for taking photographs from a moving vehicle–from the passenger side–and not all of these were that successful. I finished the roll in the succeeding few days over the week, partly at the same time as I shot the 12-exposure cartridge of FP4 for June's '126 Day'.

Kodak Retina IIa with Lomography Berlin Kino 400
Most of the frames were shot using the 'sunny-16' rule, although I did meter some with my Weston Master II; most shots were made at box speed, or as near as. I did shoot a couple of frames just to compare the use of a yellow filter; unsurprisingly these did give better definition in the cloudy sky in the examples below. Quite possibly a number of the other frames would be better for the use of a yellow filter, as a general rule with most black and white panchromatic emulsions. I didn't try other filters, as I rarely use anything except a yellow, mostly a light yellow filter, sometimes a deep yellow.

Kodak Retina IIa with Lomography Berlin Kino 400-no filter
Kodak Retina IIa with Lomography Berlin Kino 400-yellow filter
For developing the film, I went straight to the Massive Dev Chart. At the time of writing, this has just one entry for Berlin Kino in Rodinal: 13 and a half minutes at a dilution of 1+50. Only after I'd developed the film did I come across Lomography's recommendation of 17m30s with Rodinal 1+50, which seems rather long. When I pulled the film from the wash, to my eye, the negative roll looked more than a little reminiscent of Foma Retropan 320 Soft: very low contrast on a noticeably grey base (initially, I did think it might be under-fixed, but I'd developed other films at the same time with clearer bases in the same fixer that I could compare to the Berlin film, and these looked properly fixed). When I scanned the negatives, my feeling of the comparison was that it was more than apt: the frames showed very prominent grain, and with a very irregular pattern, something that Foma films tend to show. Where the comparison seems to falls down is the lack of halation around the highlights: with Retropan, very bright highlights have a 'glow'. This doesn't seem to be the case with Lomography Berlin Kino 400: the image below would be a good subject to test this out, and it doesn't obviously appear around the bright sunlit barriers and the lintel over the underpass entrance.

Kodak Retina IIa with Lomography Berlin Kino 400
Whenever a 'new' film appears on the market there's always a fair amount of online speculation over what it 'really' is: there are only a few manufacturers of photographic material. Some new film is genuinely new, newly formulated emulsions; some 'new' film depends on specialist emulsions which would not have been previously available to consumers in any convenient format (for example, until relatively recently, a still photographer wanting to use Eastman Double-X would have had to purchase a 400ft roll as a minimum, then somehow get this into 35mm cartridges for use). Some apparently new films are simply existing emulsions rebranded and repackaged. When Lomography first brought Berlin Kino to market, it was pretty quickly established that it was Orwo N74–not a film I've used–and apparently had the same edge markings. However, the roll of Berlin Kino that I shot was clearly marked on the box 'Formula 2019' (intriguingly, Orwo also updated their fast negative emulsion in 2019, now named N75, but with a speed rating of 320, rather than 400 ISO). Having not tried neither the first iteration of Berlin Kino, nor either versions of Orwo N74 or N75, I can't comment on how the Formula 2019 compares. Interestingly, the negatives had no edge markings whatsoever once developed, not even frame numbers (as was the case with Retropan), but I did note it does have standard 35mm still film perforations, and not the more rounded Bell & Howell perforations for motion picture negative stock, which suggests it is not simply or no longer repackaged Orwo N74; the 2019 formula is also available in medium format, but as a one-roll review, I can't comment on what it's like. Perhaps entirely coincidentally, Foma Retropan 320 Soft has been widely reported as discontinued, although still listed on Foma's website (which doesn't have much information in general).

Kodak Retina IIa with Lomography Berlin Kino 400
Lomography's marketing on their website does hint at the origins of the first iteration of Berlin Kino film:
A Refined Formula for True Film Lovers
Inspired by the New German Cinema sweeping through Berlin in the 1960s, our original Berlin Kino Film emulsion was an utter blockbuster. However, as German cinema evolved through time, adapting to meet the innovatory spirit of its founding fathers, so did our film formula. Refined and brimming with greater artistic control, the Berlin Kino B&W 400 2019 Formula will allow you to capture moments of your life in an eternalized enchanting monochrome.

As a West German phenomenon, the film makers of the New German Cinema quite possibly would not have used Orwo, an East German film stock, as speculated on in the Casual Photophile's review. Having researched a little into New German Cinema myself, and into the films of Wim Wenders in particular, the only film for which I've found that specific information is Wenders' Im Lauf der Zeit/Kings of the Road (1975): this was shot on Eastman Plus-X and 4-X negative stocks (one could also quibble about the name: Munich might be as–if not more–resonant to New German Cinema than Berlin; maybe they should have called the film Oberhausen, but perhaps that's too obscure for the casual film photographer). Nevertheless, the association is there, and one Lomography has kept with the Formula 2019 version. Again, I'd have liked to have shot a roll of the initial Berlin Kino for a comparison.

Kodak Retina IIa with Lomography Berlin Kino 400
My impressions from shooting a single roll of the film are that Berlin Kino 400 does at least have quite a distinctive look, which comes from two factors: its very low contrast, and its prominent (and irregular) grain. These qualities do feel like they would suggest the film's use for specific subjects, although such ideas–that a particular film stock is necessarily good for a particular subject–should never go unexamined. It certainly wouldn't be replacing my 400-speed film of choice in 35mm (Ilford HP5 Plus), but would be a clear replacement for Foma Retropan 320 Soft–if the latter film has indeed been discontinued. I'd be interested to see how it prints in the darkroom (all images on this post are scanned from the negatives), how it performs in medium format and what it's like in different developers, how it stands up to push-processing, but as a one-roll review, these are outside the remit of this post.

Sources/further reading:
Lomography's page on Berlin Kino 400
The Casual Photophile's review
Random Camera Blog on Lomography Berlin and Potsdam films
Alex Luyckx on the original Berlin Kino 400

Saturday, 19 June 2021

126 Day June 2021

Kodak Instamatic 277X with Ilford FP4
By a quirk of Kodak's practice of re-using its obsolete format codes when designating the new easy-load drop-in plastic cartridge, calendrically, 126 Day follows on immediately from 116 Day in June. I'd picked up a 126 cartridge of Ilford FP4, with a develop before date of February 1974, which I shot on the day; I hadn't reloaded any cartridges with 35mm film as I had done on previous years, so had just 12 exposures in the FP4 cartridge. Having used quite a fair bit of FP4 film from the 1970s, I was fairly confident that I'd be able to get acceptable results from the film, and, as with the Verichrome Pan on the previous day, I didn't bracket any of the exposures.

Ilford FP4 126 cartridge
For the camera, I used the Kodak Instamatic 277X that I've used previously, for the fact that it's got a wider range of adjustable apertures than most Instamatics. With only weather symbols to indicate the aperture settings, using the five-decades-old film, I compensated by generally choosing a setting two symbols wider (or darker) than the conditions indicated: for example, with a subject in bright sun, I set the aperture to the 'light cloud' pictogram, which worked well enough apart from a few frames in relatively deep shadow. In terms of subjects, with more time than the 116 Day before it, I simply followed a cycle route around my local area, one of the loops I'd found for my allowed exercise during the first lockdown last year, and indeed, this was some of the same route I'd taken on 116 Day in 2020.

Developing the film, I used the standard time and temperature for modern FP4 Plus, 15 minutes in Ars-Imago #9 diluted 1+50 at 20ÂșC with normal agitation. I had intended to re-use the plastic cartridge (in part due to the late 1960s/early 70s 'sunburst' Ilford symbol on the label), but even after repeated scoring with a knife, this proved too difficult to take apart cleanly, and it broke in the changing bag while attempting to do this. The spool and attached 126 backing paper were salvaged in the process however: when re-used with 35mm the backing paper can end up getting somewhat ragged after a few rolls. As an aside, on the leaflet which came in the box with the film, there are instructions for home processing, with a pair of illustrations on how to break open the cartridge (figures 1-3 on the first side of the leaflet show loading, advancing the film, and unloading).

Scanning the negatives, it was clear that the emulsion had reacted to the backing paper–this showed up nicely in the rebate at the lower edge of the film where the shape of the long hole with its rounded ends is imprinted into the film (this doesn't match up with the single perforation for each frame as it's where the emulsion has been in contact with the back of the backing paper while rolled together). This reaction has caused a certain amount of mottling across the film, but, with enough exposure, in some frames it's hardly visible and only really shows in larger areas of smooth tones, such as the sky. The pre-exposed 126 frames also vary: on denser negatives, these begin to disappear; on thinner negatives, or with larger areas of shadow, these frames are much clearer. I chose not to crop the scans of the film, instead showing the whole width of the film, pre-exposed frames, perforations, rebate and frame numbers, and the overlapping edges of each exposure: the frame below shows all of these, the mottling and the backing paper hole too.

Last year, I'd shot a cartridge of 126 Verichrome Pan, and had used a yellow filter for the entire roll; many of the shots this year would have benefitted from the same, as the conditions were sunny and a number of frames had areas of sky with some light fair weather clouds; potentially a yellow filter might also have lightened the tones in some of the foliage, something I didn't consider until part of the way into the film, having left home without thinking I might need a filter. The other error I made was in not ensuring that the flap of the plastic every-ready case was always entirely clear of the lens, having it intrude into the bottom part of the image in a couple of frames.

Comparing these frames with those on Verichrome Pan from last year also brought up something which seems like a oddity in the manufacture of these 126 films: the pre-exposed frame lines do not appear to be a single exposure all around the nearly-square image, but an operation performed in (at least) two steps. The exposures for the horizontal and vertical frame lines clearly overlap; the horizontal lines at the top and bottom edges of the frames look continuous for the whole length of the film, while the vertical frame lines extend from the top edge of the film but do not entirely meet the lower edge of the bottom horizontal frame line, stopping a little short. I did reflect that possibly the exposure of the vertical frame lines could have been linked to a stepping motion at the same time as the exposure of the frame numbers, with an ascending counter linked to the position of the perforation hole. This is relatively easy to discern in the image below, one of the frames that has a lot of shadow areas around the edges. Last year's cartridge of Verichrome Pan shows the same overlapping pre-exposed horizontal and vertical lines. 

Overall, the FP4 came out reasonably well considering its age, some frames did need more exposure, and some carelessness on my part notwithstanding with the camera case, as well as overlooking using a filter. Thirty-odd years ago, had I dropped the cartridge into Boots for processing (as I did when first photographing with a handed-down Instamatic) I'd no doubt have received my twelve square prints with a sprinkling of advice stickers on them.

Thursday, 17 June 2021

116 Day June 2021

Zeiss Ikon Cocarette 519/15 with Kodak Verichrome Pan
Having not taken many photographs recently and having posted even less, last Friday, 11th June, was my prompt to shoot a roll of film in my Zeiss Ikon Cocarette 519/15 for '116 Day'. I had intentions of shooting more, but I'd been working all day on the day itself, so only went out in the early evening, which had become overcast, and took a walk, following a route familiar from earlier in the year, my allowed daily exercise during lockdown and recovery. I shot a roll of Verichrome Pan, usually quite reliable for a fairly out-of-date film, and with no new film in the 116 format for decades, expired film is the only alternative to some form of conversion to use 120 medium format film or rolling film (120 or 65mm) with 116 backing paper; using an expired roll of 116 provides a spool and backing paper in order to be able to do this.

The Verichrome Pan had a 'develop before' date of June 1972, and I rated it at 24 against its original speed of 125 ISO. As a result, I took all the photographs using a tripod, with speeds varying from 1/5th through to 6 seconds; although I could have used smaller apertures and longer exposures, the camera did not feel especially sturdy on the tripod I was using and there was a bit of wind when I was taking the photographs to contend with too.

Kodak Verichrome Pan, process before date of June 1972
I stand developed the film in Ars-Imago #9, diluted 1+100, a developer replicating the original Agfa Rodinal formula (earlier in the year, when I bought this developer, it seemed very hard to find Rodinal in the UK, and I did wonder whether this might have been due to the UK leaving the EU, given that all the versions of Rodinal I've used come from manufacturers in the EU: Adox Rodinal/Adonal, Compard R09 One Shot, Fomadon R09). In terms of exposure, the results were acceptable enough in the main: with only eight frames on the roll, I didn't want to bracket any shots; I had one accidental light leak due to not properly aligning the shutter to the T setting and the shutter didn't close properly. There were some scratches on most frames, more prominent in some than others. On a couple, the focus was off, a problem I've realised that the Cocarette suffers from. I've ascertained that infinity is closer to the 30ft mark on the focus lever than the infinity stop, and I've assumed that each focus mark was offset the same, although I haven't properly checked this with measuring each focus mark. Focus issues besides, six frames felt worth posting; perhaps the best shot from the roll is the one at the top of this post, the last frame on the roll, just as the clouds began to lift.

Sunday, 25 April 2021

#FP4Party April 2021

Two years ago, less a couple of months, for the #FP4Party in February 2019, I used my Ensign Folding Klito de Luxe No.9 with some old Ilford FP4 sheet film in quarterplate size; two boxes of this had come as part of a larger job lo: both were unopened boxes of 50 sheets each, both with the handwritten date of 16/11/78. I'd used film from this stock for the January and March #FP4Parties in 2019 too, in different cameras; for April 2021's #FP4Party, when considering what format to use, I saw that I had seven sheets of the last box of this film left, assuming I'd tallied my usage correctly. Thus, I decided to simply shoot one sheet a day for each day of shoot week, and the choice of camera had to be the Ensign Folding Klito de Luxe No.9 as it's the best of the three quarterplate-sized cameras I have. In 2019, in the three successive months, I'd shot two sheets a day, hopefully providing a 'good' and a 'spare'; with only seven sheets left this was not a luxury I could allow myself. In the event, I did accidentally use two sheets on one day, a result of unclear labelling of my plateholders. 

Although I was exposing just one sheet of FP4 each day, I also photographed each subject on other film stocks, some Ilford F.P.3 from the 1940s, and Ilford Fine Grain Ordinary N5.31 film (this box has a handwritten date of 11/3/70): without thinking, I picked up a second plateholder when photographing on the Friday, thinking it was the latter film when instead it was a second sheet of the FP4. In order to shoot FP4 film each day of the shoot week with two days to go and only one sheet of quarterplate-size FP4, I then cut down some larger FP4 Plus film to fit the format. Having made a jig that I taped to a cutting mat to cut the film to size inside a changing bag, I found this more difficult than expected. I tried to cut some 9x12cm film to quarterplate size–8.2x10.8cm–but found it was far too easy for the film to move around while changing from a cut in one orientation to the second cut in the other. After spoiling one sheet of 9x12cm FP4 Plus, and badly cutting another, I then cut down a sheet of 5x4-inch FP4 Plus. For this I only made one cut, going from 5 inches to 3¼ inches; quarterplate film measures 4¼ by 3¼ inches, but for ease of cutting down film to use in the Klito, 4 inches by 3¼ would have to do.

Part way through shoot week, I developed the first four sheets, partly as I didn't have enough spare film sheathes to load seven plateholders at the start of the week. This was also instructive: I had overestimated the bellows factor on the sheets already exposed, resulting in dense negatives, especially Thursday's; as a result, on Friday and Saturday I didn't compensate in exposure for bellows factor, and the negatives developed fine (Saturday's shot was taken on the cut-down 5x4, rated the same as the FP4 from the 1970s, although its process before date was only April 2010). As a consequence of simply being at home throughout the week, almost all the photographs were of close-focus subjects around the house and garden (such subjects needing to compensate for bellows factor–or not as the case seemed to be). The weather was almost uniformly sunny, with the brief exception of showers on the Saturday afternoon, which I tried to record somewhat obliquely.

The first shot of the week I'd hoped to have been better, but there was too much of a breeze to use an exposure time of 1/5th and expect the subject to be sharp; Sunday's subject, the last sheet of the 100, I chose the tree outside my window which I had been photographing for an entire year, and had indeed only recently finished that project, but wanted to record its new growth after being heavily pruned in the autumn. This shot suffered from a light leak which I think may have been due to mixing up darkslides and plateholders: some of the plateholders which fit the Klito camera are branded Klito; some are AP Paris; and others are unbranded, and, although very close in all respects, it's easy to mix up the darkslides and then find some are a better fit than others.