Thursday, 13 June 2013

Recent Glass Plate Work - part two

Ensign Folding Klito de Luxe No.9
Over the past few months of looking out for unused vintage photographic plates, I have noticed that the most common size of plates to find in online auctions (in the UK at least) are in 'quarter-plate' format (3 1/4x4 1/4 inch/8.2x10.8cm). Smaller formats, like 6.5x9cm and their Imperial equivalent are also relatively common, while 4x5 inch plates are rare in comparison. I had been intending to make adaptors for my 4x5 format holders to fit the quarter-plate size, but it was as easy to buy a camera in the right format specifically to shoot the plates: the Ensign Folding Klito de Luxe No.9. This would have been a fairly well-featured hand-and-stand camera of its time. My model has an Aldis-Plano Anastigmat f6.8 lens in an Ensign-Sector everset shutter. The camera features double extension bellows, held by the distinctive hinged metal arms at each side, significant front rise and fall, and front cross movements.

Ilford G.30 Chromatic plate, Ensign Folding Klito
With the Ensign Folding Klito, I loaded a number of plate holders to test plates from some of the already open boxes in the quarter-plate size. Apart from the Ilford G.30 Chromatic plate, which I shot as a single exposure based on my previous experience of the plates (the results were more fogged than the other boxes I used), I made graduated tests with successive exposures on each plate. FP4 first appeared as a plate emulsion in 1955, and as Ilford's packaging changed around 1960, these plates could be dated to 1955-60 (Ilford didn't produce FP4 for roll film until 1968 - and according to Photomemorablia this was not the same emulsion as the plate version: the plates were rated 160 ASA post-1960, unlike the rollfilm FP4, which remains 125 ISO to this day in its 'Plus' iteration). For this test I rated the plate at 40, half its pre-1960 speed rating, and took four successive exposures.

Ilford FP4 plate, Ensign Folding Klito
I also had a box of Imperial Special Rapid plates, the test of which did not come out, and two boxes of Kodak plates, Kodak Orthochromatic plates and P.1200 Super Panchro Press. The Orthochromatic plate, below, was partially fogged from exposure to light: the dark diagonal line in the lower left of the picture is a shadow from the cardboard runner that usually holds the plates together in pairs (the rest of the box may be in better condition). The P.1200 Super Panchro Press plates have a handwritten date on the box '11/04/61'; the plate test below is fairly unpromising.

Kodak Orthochromatic plate, Ensign Klito
Kodak P.1200 Panchro-Press plate, Ensign Klito
Having shot the tests, I swapped the original Aldis-Plano Anastigmat f6.8, for a faster lens (to aid focussing in low light), an f4.5 Dominar from an Ica Ideal III, which, unusually for a 6.5x9cm camera, has a 120mm lens rather than the standard 105mm focal length for the 6x9 format.

Ensign Folding Klito de Luxe No.9 with Ica Dominar lens
Entrance to a Park, FP4 plate, Ensign Klito with Ica Dominar lens
Park at Night, Ilford G.30 Chromatic plate, Ensign Klito with Ica Dominar lens

In same lot as the quarter-plate FP4 and G.30 plates that I've tested and used with the Ensign Klito above, there were three boxes of plates, which didn't have a size on them, but were in slightly larger boxes than the others. These were 9x12cm plates, which I shot with a Voigtländer Avus with a f4.5 Skopar lens; I've also got a Kodak Recomar 33, but this has a slower lens, and less suited to night photography.

The three boxes (all previously opened) contained Barnet Line-Tone (Thin Film) plates, Ilford H.P.3 and Ilford Soft Gradation Panchromatic plates. The Barnet Line-Tone plates were too heavily fogged to scan, although an image was discernable against a bright light, from three successive exposures at 10 EI.

H.P.3 - Hypersensitve Panchromatic plates were introduced in 1943. Before the 1960 change in meter settings these were rated at 200 ASA. The box style suggests these plates are from the late 1940s to the 1950s. According to Silver By The Ton, HP4 was first produced in rollfilm as early as 1960 and sheet film in 1964: it may not have been produced as a glass plate, and it doesn't appear in the plates list in the Appendix of Silver By The Ton. The Technical Information Sheet for HP3 plates from the Ilford Technical Information Book is dated 1961, so HP3 plates were produced alongside HP4 in rollfilm for a period. For the test below, I metered for 100 EI, and took four successive exposures.

Soft Gradation Panchromatic plates were introduced by Ilford in 1928. This emulsion was later given the designation R.10, and post-1960 were rated at 100 ASA. These were the first plates I shot last year, in a smaller size, and gave good results. The box of the 9x12cm Soft Gradation Panchromatic plates has an earlier packaging style, possibly dating back to the 1940s. I metered for 50 EI, and gave the plate three successive exposures. The results were as good as the same plates from the 1960s, and suggest 25 to 12 as a usable exposure index.

H.P.3 plate test, Voigtländer Avus
Soft Gradation Panchromatic plate test, Voigtländer Avus
For the first 9x12cm glass plates I shot at night, I chose a fairly difficult subject. The lights inside the telephone exchange are very bright in comparison with the exterior of the building, which is lit from streelights partially obscured by trees. This gives the lighting of the scene a look reminiscent of being underwater. The plate might also be a little underexposed due to reciprocity law failure (for comparison I also shot the scene on Fomapan 100 film). Despite the heavily fogged Barnet Line Tone plate, I'd loaded a couple more plateholders with them, so I shot two. I scanned the best result which shows the light from the doorway just visible.

Telephone Exchange, Ilford H.P.3 plate, Voigtländer Avus
Telephone Exchange, Barnet Line-Tone plate, Voigtländer Avus

Sources/Further reading
Silver by the Ton - A History of Ilford Limited 1879-1979, RJ Hercock and GA Jones
Ilford Technical Information Book Volume 2


  1. My first camera was a Kodak Instamatic 25 - which I still have. I put a film through it lately and it does still work. Thanks for the link earlier for the Harman odd film size special order, as I was able to order some 70mm wide HP5 that will fit my marvellously named Houghton Butcher Ensign Carbine Tropical Model. I have some C41 neg for this camera and have two old Kodak Verichrome Pan 116 size papers that I laboriously re-roll and get expensively processed. It does produce lovely pictures, and is a beautifully made camera, but if I can process and print bw pictures for free, it might make it a bit more usable. I am impressed by your glass plate images, and the sensible approach of buying a plate camera for smaller sizes, rather than trying to find 5x4 plates. I recently bought two boxes of 4.75x6.75inch HP3 film, and it works perfectly. I bought these as sealed and luckily they were, and the results are nearly perfect. But I have to stick the film into my 5x7 darkslides using rolled bits of masking tape! Works a treat!

  2. I've got a 116 format Zeiss Ikon Cocarette that I've converted to take 120 film, not having any backing paper, but there's a few problems with it I've yet to resolve. However 120 in a 116 camera does give a nice long-format negative.
    The Ensign Folding Klito I picked up for I think £32, which seemed very reasonable for a relatively high-spec plate camera of its time.

  3. A question: with different plate cameras, but a common plate size, do all plate holders fit every camera or is that too naive to expect. For example, would Zeiss 6x9cm holders fit a Houghton Butcher Cameo 6x9cm camera? Any ideas?

    1. As I've found, different plate holders by different makers are not necessarily interchangeable. I've found at least four different types of 6x9cm holders- often it's the rim or lip around the edge of the holder that makes them incompatible. I have some holders with a single lip which fit both my Ica Icarette and Wallace Heaton cameras, but the 'double lip' Ica holders will only fit the Ica camera. I also have a Glunz camera which takes plate holders without a lip or rim at all. I think holders got more standardised post-war.