Sunday, 27 January 2019

#FP4Party January 2019/Revisiting the Butcher's "Cameo"

Ilford FP4 shot on Ilford FP4 with Butcher's Cameo and close up lens attachment
When choosing a camera for January's #FP4Party, a clear deciding factor for me was already having a fair stock of quarter-plate (8.2x10.8cm) FP4 sheet film. With one part or mostly used box of 50 and one unopened box, I decided not to buy any new rolls of FP4 and use this instead. Both boxes have a handwritten date of 16/11/78 (one box looks like it starts with 17/- which was then changed to 16); the film dates to well before the 'Plus' iteration was introduced in 1990 but I've previously used it with just one stop of extra exposure to compensate for age (I have also shot it at an exposure index of 100, and pushed the development by one stop instead). Possessing three cameras for the format: the Klito, Midg, and Cameo, all plate cameras, all of a similar age, over a hundred years old, I picked the Cameo, having used it for the first #FP4Party in September 2016, being the smallest and lightest of the three, and it seemed time to revisit it for this month's #FP4Party.

Butcher's and Sons "Cameo"
I restricted myself to expose just two sheets a day over the 'shoot week' (although on the first day I actually shot three sheets; I also didn't count the shot of the FP4 box in the total, but it made sense to photograph this on the film itself, using the lens attachment, during shoot week). Low light and short daylight hours in the northern hemisphere in January do not make for using a film rated at an exposure index of 50 necessarily sympathetic. In addition, using the Cameo handheld is not without a number of difficulties. Not entirely trusting the focus scale on the drop bed, to focus the camera using the ground glass screen requires one to use the spring clamps to position the front standard at the correct distance on the rails of the drop bed: it needs a certain amount of dexterity to put one's hand in such a way to move the front standard without obscuring the image on the ground glass with it: I miss rack-and-pinion focussing with the Cameo, particularly when using it hand-held.

Home-made ground glass screen; lens wide open
Even in relatively bright light, the Cameo's Beck Symmetrical lens produces a dim image: its widest aperture is nominally f8 (although it's most likely f7.7 when fully open beyond the f8 mark), slow by modern standards, and the screen is missing its hood to shade the ground glass, making this image difficult to assess. The ground glass was missing from my camera when I acquired it; I replaced this with some glass that I ground myself, but used too coarse a grade of grit, which adds to the difficulty in focussing. Once the image is in focus (as close as one can tell) on the ground glass, one then has to remove the focus screen and replace it with a plate holder, adjust both aperture and shutter speed to the desired settings, remove the darkslide from the plate holder, then frame the subject using the brilliant finder - and then gently press the shutter release lever. The Lukos II shutter has three 'instantaneous' speeds of 1/100th, 1/50th and 1/25th, and, while it would have been possible to get usable exposures at 1/25th, wide open on f8, for overcast, dull days, I only used the Cameo hand-held on a couple of days (Tuesday and Friday) when there was some winter sun, partly to use smaller apertures in the hope that a greater depth of field might compensate for any errors in focus.

Brilliant finder on the Cameo
For most of the shots during the week, I used a tripod or simply balanced the Cameo on a flat surface for long exposures, low-light shots, interiors and those at night. I also used the wide angle/close up lens attachment for some shots (Friday and Saturday) and the image of the box itself. I did my first batch of development during the shoot week rather than the 'development week' that followed. This acted as a check on my exposure and development regime: the first batch of film I developed with a one-top push - on top of the one and a third stop extra exposure - but developing the first few sheets appeared to show that extra development was unnecessary and the rest of the week's shots were developed in RO9 One Shot for the recommended time, 9 minutes, at a dilution of 1+25 at 20ÂșC.

Revisiting the Cameo, the quality of the results from the shoot week varied. Some of this was down to user error of course; other aspects were to do with the camera's limitations. When using the wide angle/close up lens attachment, there is clear vignetting, with a falling off of both illumination and definition towards the edges of the frame. This is less obvious when used as a close up attachment, as the lens' image circle would be wider the more the bellows are extended; when used as a wide angle attachment, the bellows are extended less than normal, making the image circle smaller. As well as the difficulties of focus set out above, there were also problems with film flatness (notably visible in the middle of the shot from Saturday); this might be due to the motley group of film sheathes I've been using, with some clearly home made, and others professional: some fit the sheet film better than others. The film itself stands up remarkably well: over four decades old, with only a little loss in sensitivity, the quarterplate-sized FP4 is still very usable.