Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Voigtländer Avus

Voigtländer Avus
The Voigtländer Avus was my first 9x12cm format folding camera. I initially bought it as a relatively inexpensive and compact large format camera; I did subsequently buy a 4x5 camera not long afterwards, but also found other 9x12cm cameras after the Avus: the Kodak Recomar 33 (which was extremely cheap); the Ica Trona; and the Photo Plait camera (as a format, 9x12cm sheet film is still made: it's essentially the continental European metric equivalent of 4x5 inch film, although not as common). The Avus was the mid-range option of Voigtländer's stable of plate cameras, between the lower-priced Vag cameras and the top-of-the-range Bergheil: the Bergheil cameras seem to have been entirely contemporary with the Avus, while the Vag was introduced later, as a more economical option. The Avus appears to be a relatively common camera, and presumably made in fairly large numbers; it was produced from 1913 to 1934 (some sources give 1914-1935, or -1936), with some minor changes throughout the two decades of that run. My camera is the 9x12cm version that appeared in 1927, clearly identified by the centrally-positioned brilliant finder directly above the lens, rather than offset to one side, as with most plate cameras of this date. Two different origins of the camera's name are given in different sources: one suggestion is that the name is formed from the initials A.V.U.S., as seen on the ground glass back on early versions, derived from "Aktiengesellschaft Voigtländer Und Sohn"; Camera-Wiki states that it was named after an early motor racing circuit in Berlin, the AVUS, also an acronym. This AVUS was under construction when the camera appeared, but not opened until 1921, so it seems highly unlikely that Voigtländer would have been deriving some name recognition from the racetrack's popularity.

Voigtländer Avus - side view
The Avus was made in a number of different formats: there is a horizontal 9x12cm plate version, a 10x15cm, one dual-format version for 9x12cm plates and 122 rollfilm, but the most common sizes are the vertically-oriented folding cameras for 6.5x9cm and 9x12cm plates. Like many folding plate cameras of its time, the Avus was provided with different lens and shutter combinations. My version of the Avus has a 13.5cm f4.5 Skopar lens, Voigtländer's own version of the Tessar, in a Compur dial-set shutter, which together would have been the most expensive options at the time.

Detail with Voigtländer Skopar lens in Compur dial-set shutter
The other features of the Avus are double extension bellows; limited movements in the form of front rise and cross; a rotating brilliant finder with spirit level, and a wire frame viewfinder. Focus is with a ground glass screen; the front standard is focussed with a rack and pinion knob, which pulls out to turn, pushing in to lock the focus. There is also a focus scale on the bed - which needed adjusting, as this was initially out of true: when first using the Avus, I relied on the infinity stop of the focus scale, and found most of the images out of focus as a result (the focus scale can be adjusted with a couple of small screws that, once loosened, can be moved backwards or forwards a small amount). The removable ground glass screen was missing from my camera; ground glass screens, unlike spring backs, have a tendency to get separated from their cameras. I made a ground glass screen from a 9x12cm film pack adaptor which came with the camera, and lacking a focus shade it does have the benefit of opening completely out, without a viewing hood, which I found useful when using the camera for night photography, but, for general use, I have tended to use the ground glass screen from the Recomar.

Avus with bellows extended
Over the years, I've picked up various 9x12cm plate holders, some Voigtländer-branded ones, a number of which came with film sheathes, essential for shooting sheet film with the camera. The Avus is compatible with all the plate holders I have, which is not the case with the Recomar. As the Avus was my introduction to large format, I experimented with paper negatives and Harman Direct Positive paper for ease of loading and development under darkroom safelights. I used a sheet of stiff card behind the photographic paper in the plateholders before I had acquired the necessary film sheathes. When I first started to shoot sheet film with the camera, I attempted tray processing, but found it too difficult to get even development with the negatives and also found it too easy to scratch the film: I had been using Foma film, which in my experience has a soft emulsion compared to others, very easy to damage while wet. I subsequently got a Combi-Plan tank to develop large format film and plates, which I have found much easier to develop sheet film with.

Voigtländer Avus - paper negative, digitally inverted
What drew me to the Voigtländer Avus was its compactness in relation to its negative size: the camera is the size of a fat paperback book. Using it handheld, my general procedure was to focus on the ground glass screen, then replace this with a plateholder or rollfilm back, and use the wireframe finder to compose the shot. I've remarked before on my preference for the dial-set Compur shutter over the later rim-set version for ease of use: when focussing with the ground glass screen, with the shutter speed set, the selector for the I/B/T setting can be quickly turned between 'T' to open the shutter and 'I' for taking the shot.

Voigtländer Avus with Agfapan APX100
I also invested in a Rada Plaubel rollfilm back for the 9x12cm format for the ease of using medium format film with the camera, with a much wider selection of films available, as well as being easier to develop.

Voigtländer Avus with Adox CHS 100 in rollfilm back
The Proxar and Distar supplementary lenses that I used with the Ica Trona - which I found at the time I bought the Trona - also fit the 37mm lens mount on the Voigtländer Avus; the Proxar lens can be used as both a close up filter and a wide angle one due to fact that it's possible to reduce the distance between the camera's lens and film plane in order to achieve infinity focus. With a full 9x12 frame, there is some vignetting and distortion towards the edges of the frame, as can be seen in the image below; a narrower aperture might reduce this somewhat.

Voigtländer Avus and Proxar with Fomapan 100
With the roll film back, the 6x9cm medium format frame, normally cropped of course, approaches an equivalent angle of view as the full 9x12cm frame without the Proxar: the two images below give a good comparison in terms of the difference the Proxar makes. On the 6x9cm frame, the vignetting and distortion lies outside the image area; it does appear to make the image softer however.

Voigtländer Avus with Ilford XP2 Super in rollfilm back
Voigtländer Avus with Ilford XP2 Super in rollfilm back and Proxar lens
In use, although the Avus is well-made, I found that the front standard on my camera had a tendency to hold the lens a little out of parallel to the focal plane, possibly due to tension or simply the weight of the bellows on the unsupported top of the front standard, with the result that the plane of focus in photographs taken with the Avus would often shift across the scene in front of the camera, less noticeable with smaller apertures of course. As well as this issue, the Skopar lens on the camera, uncoated of course, was very soft, prone to halation: this is clear in the image below with the sky backlighting the subject, creating a haze around the ruin.

Voigtländer Avus with Rollei Superpan 200 in rollfilm back
Although the Kodak Recomar 33 has a slower lens, and a simpler shutter, I have found this easier to use than the Avus. The Recomar has a triplet lens, the Radionar, which is around the same age as the Avus' Skopar, but on my cameras, it gives a better result, and so I've used the Recomar in recent years in preference: although it was my introduction to large format I found the Voigtländer Avus frustrating to use, and I never felt like I quite got the quality of the images from the camera that I felt it promised.

Voigtländer Avus with Adox CHS 100 in rollfilm back
Voigtländer Avus with Ilford HP5 Plus in rollfilm back
Voigtländer Avus with XP2 Super in rollfilm back and Proxar lens
Voigtländer Avus with Ilford Soft Gradation Panchromatic glass plate (label dated to 1947)
Voigtländer Avus with Ilford HP3 glass plate (1950s)
Voigtländer Avus with Ilford HP3 glass plate (1970s)
Voigtländer Avus with Fomapan 400
Voigtländer Avus with HP5 Plus
Sources/further reading:
Full range of Voigtländer Avus Models

Voigtländer Avus on Camera-Wiki 
Early Photography on the Avus
Voigtländer Avus on J. Noir Cameras
Voigtländer Avus on Collection-Appareils
Camaras sin Fronteras - Avus (with manuals and original adverts) (in Spanish)
Voigtländer Avus manual

Friday, 8 November 2019

Kentmere Pan 400

Kentmere Pan 400
When I bought a few rolls of Ilford Pan 400 earlier this year to test the film, following up my use of Pan 100, I'd been informed that Pan 400 was to be discontinued, and that the Kentmere films, made by Harman, Ilford's parent company, were to fill their budget niche. The Kentmere films had been introduced around a decade ago after Ilford had acquired the old Kentmere brand; in their recent rebranding the Kentmere films had been given a rather prominent 'Pan' to the name (I imagine that photographers are supposed to refer to the film colloquially as 'K-Pan 400'). There have long been discussions online as to whether or not the Kentmere 100/400 emulsions are the same as the Rollei RPX and the (new) Agfaphoto APX films in those speeds (not to forget the Fotoimpex CHM Universal films as well; but these seem to be less widely available). I have used Rollei RPX 400 quite frequently, but particularly in medium format. Kentmere Pan 400, like the Ilford Pan films is only available in 35mm currently, and, having been around for many years is unlikely to suddenly be offered in medium and large format, although this is not impossible: Ilford's Ortho Plus film, a niche sheet film emulsion for decades, has just been introduced in 35mm and 120.

I had used a few rolls of Kentmere 400 (as it had been known) before, but my experience with the film was limited  - and I hadn't tested it in any way. The relatively recent rebranding of the film, with the addition of 'Pan' to its name and the new packaging, as well as the rumour of Ilford Pan 400 being discontinued, suggests that Kentmere Pan 400 is a brand of film to be supported by Harman for the foreseeable future; this seemed to be a good opportunity to write a post about the film, as much as anything as a comparison to Ilford Pan 400.

For a first test with Kentmere Pan 400, as with other films, I shot a range of exposures for latitude, then developed the film as for box speed. On the contact sheet below, the first and second rows are rated, from left to right, 100/200/400/800/1600/3200; the third row is at box speed. This film was developed in RO9 One Shot diluted 1+25 for 6m45s at 21ºC.

Kentmere Pan 400 latitude test
My immediate impressions, which the contact sheet displays to some degree, is that Kentmere Pan 400 has better latitude than Ilford Pan 400, possibly with lower inherent contrast - to me, the two latitude tests certainly don't look the same. Although there would be some variability in the tests, both were shot with the same Canon A-1, of similar subjects, and developed in RO9 at 1+25; the Kentmere Pan 400 was developed at a slightly higher temperature, as this was done on a warm day, which would be more likely to increase contrast, which must have a bearing on latitude.

Kentmere Pan 400 rated 100, i.e. two stops overexposed
Kentmere Pan 400 rated 1600, i.e. two stops underexposed
At two stops overexposed, some tonal compression was evident but possibly acceptable; two stops underexposed also scanned well enough. Rated 3200, three stops under, shadow detail was clearly being lost to a greater degree at this point. This latitude test gave me some parameters for push processing; the current data sheet for the film only lists times for 400 and 800 (and 320 for Perceptol). The Massive Dev Chart has very few times listed for Kentmere 400 at 1600 - and none with developers I habitually use. Previously, when rating Kentmere 400 at 1600, I'd used stand development with RO9 at a dilution of 1+150 for 3 hours, which had been successful enough.

Kentmere 400 rated 1600, stand developed in RO9 1+150 for 3 hours
Obviously, three-hour stand development isn't always ideal. For this post, I used the Massive Dev Chart formulation for pushing two stops: multiply the given time at box speed by a factor of two-and-a-half. In Ilfotec LC29 at a dilution of 1+19, this gave a result of 18 minutes at 20ºC - long, but not too long (a shorter result would have been achieved at a dilution of 1+9 of course). The results demonstrated that the film was easily capable of a two-stop push - which the latitude test appeared to show would be the case.

Kentmere Pan 400 rated 1600, developed in Ilfotec LC29 1+19, 18m at 20ºC
It was logical to test the film with a three-stop push, rating it at 3200 to shoot - as with rating it at 1600, without any development times listed for this, I again used the Massive Dev Chart push-processing factors, which give four-and-a-half times for three stops. As the timings were in danger of getting rather long, I used Ilfotec LC29 at a dilution of 1+9, and a time of 19m30s at 20ºC, only later realising that my multiplication had been a little off, and it should have been 20m15s; I doubt an extra 45 seconds would have made much difference to the end result. The negatives showed a marked difference from those rated 1600 - with one further stop, in many of the frames, the shadow detail simply wasn't there any more. This was something that the latitude test bears out: at 3200, there isn't sufficient shadow detail to overdevelop. With scenes such as the one below, overexposure and underdevelopment would help to counteract the inherent contrast present in most urban night scenes; of course, it would not then be possible to take the shot handheld, as I did here. The second image below, taken in daylight, provides a better range of tones, but is still high in contrast with little shadow detail (mostly obscured by the choice of subject matter: the busy frame makes this less noticeable).

Kentmere Pan 400, rated 3200, developed in Ilfotec LC29 1+9, 9m30s at 20ºC
Kentmere Pan 400, rated 3200, developed in Ilfotec LC29 1+9, 9m30s at 20ºC
As I was following the same set of parameters as my post for Ilford Pan 400, I did also shoot some Kentmere Pan 400 at 200, as I had done with the Ilford Pan film, although I would very rarely pull film one stop (the one difference with this particular test was that I'd shot the Ilford Pan 400 with a Kiev-4 and the Kentmere Pan 400 with the Canon A-1 again). Here there were development times on the Massive Dev Chart which I did follow: 8 minutes in Ilfotec LC29 at a dilution of 1+19; the effect of pull-processing does appear to show a lessening of contrast in the frames. In the image below, with the near tree and foliage in shadow, and brighter highlights beyond, pulling the negative appears to have given the image more luminosity - although much of this might be through use of a yellow filter.

Kentmere Pan 400 rated 200, developed in Ilfotec LC29, 1+19, 8m at 20ºC
As a general comparison with Ilford Pan 400, despite looking as though it has better latitude, Kentmere Pan 400 does not appear to push quite so well when rated at higher speeds, although the subjects shot with both films on each post aren't strictly comparable. I would however, broadly echo my conclusions on Ilford Pan 400 on my post about that film: there's nothing about Kentmere Pan 400 which is distinctively characteristic to distinguish it from other similar films at the same speed and price range; at the same time it's a perfectly good, competitively priced, all-round 35mm black and white film with a certain flexibility in exposure and development.

Kentmere Pan 400 rated 200, developed in Ilfotec LC29, 1+19, 8m at 20ºC
Kentmere Pan 400 at box speed, developed in RO9 One Shot
Kentmere Pan 400 at 1600, developed in Ilfotec LC29 1+19
Kentmere 400 rated 1600, stand developed in RO9 1+150 for 3 hours
Kentmere Pan 400, rated 3200, developed in Ilfotec LC29 1+9, 9m30s at 20ºC
Kentmere Pan 400 data sheet: