Photo Notes

September 13, 2020

Practice, Test & Play

New house

I don’t suppose it’s news that I’ve retired, at least it’s not news to me. Also, I’ve moved to a place just outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico. I should say that life is very, very good out here. Anyway, that being said, I wanted to say a few things about what I’m doing photographically right now. As I’ve finished up the Courting Chaos project, closed the studio and stopped teaching, there are not a lot of things pushing me to do photography anymore, and, at the same time, I’m not trying to find any commercial work. That used to take a lot of time. What I am doing is working with black and white film and a few interesting cameras. I feel very good about doing this; it’s a kind of re-invention, or maybe, a return to my roots…

In order for me to get my film chops back, so to speak, I need to do the simple basic things that any photographer needs to do, especially when they aren’t being pushed form the outside: practice, play and test. I wanted to write a little about these things today. I think the first time I heard about photographers practicing was when I went to Nikon School. I was selling cameras in Santa Barbara at the time, if memory serves. What they suggested was focus practice. Back in the days of 35mm film SLR cameras focus practice was very important. I remember that they stressed learning to focus anywhere on the screen, not just using the split image. The fact was that they were right: focus practice does make you a better photographer. Of course, if you’re using an auto focus camera it’s different; you need to stay aware of the point or points the camera is focusing on, and how that fits your image. Also, modern digital cameras have so many menus and useful features that it helps to practice using any feature that you like that you don’t often use. One great thing about practicing with a digital camera is that you can take actual pictures to get feedback on your practice, practicing with actual film could get pretty expensive.

I’ve been working with a couple of cameras and with processing equipment, so I needed a lot of practice. It seems a little strange to me that the first camera I started to practice with was the Toyo 810M. Strange because this is one of the most difficult cameras to work that I’ve ever used. It’s an 8X10 metal field camera, so it weighs a LOT. As I mentioned above, working with film can get expensive, especially when each piece of film is 8X10 inches! I suppose I wanted to start with this beast because I knew that if I could work with that everything else would be easier. Then, of course, not only do you need to shoot this huge film; you need to process it! I’m using a Jobo processor. I got an 8X10 film reel that fits my tank and hold 3 pieces of 8×10 film. However just having this stuff doesn’t mean that you can actually load the reel in total darkness and get through a film run successfully. The processor makes it lot easier than running 35mm film in a metal tank: with inversion agitation every 30 seconds… However, it does help to have practice in running the processor. Also, there’s a lot of stuff you have to arrange to process film.  I had to build a darkroom and get plumbing to my sink! And, it’s important to know where you’re going to dry the film before you start! Every time you build a new darkroom, and I’ve built a few, there are a huge number of little details to be worked out.

But there are more details than just processing to worry about. Just composing an 8×10 camera is a little tricky. You’re working on an image that is upside down and backwards. It’s often difficult to see the image, especially if wind is blowing your dark cloth around. Depending on the lens the image can be tough to see. Lenses with smaller stops, and wide-angle lenses are tougher to see. I did get a new fresnel lens for the camera, which is helping. It’s also good to practice getting the camera onto the tripod; not only is the camera heavy it’s very awkward. I’ve purchased a couple of lenses for the big camera recently, so I needed to understand how they see and how they work. Of course, you can look through a lens and know a lot about the way it sees, but you know a lot more if you shoot film with it.

I’ve also practiced with a couple of medium format cameras. I’m trying to find a medium format camera that I want to stick with, but it’s tough to find something that meets my standards. First I’d prefer to work with the 6x9cm format. Obviously I like big negatives, but I also like that this format has the same ratio as 35mm full frame film. This cuts out a lot of popular cameras, like the Hasselblad (6x6cm), my beloved Mamiya C330 (6x6cm), the Mamiya RB and RZ (6x7cm) and the Bronica, Pentax and more. In fact, most of what it leaves you with are press cameras made in the late 1950s and 60s. Actually not such a bad thing, most have rangefinder focusing and they’re pretty cheap. I’ve tried out the Koni-Omega, the Horseman, the Graflex and the Mamiya Press. All of them have their advantages, but right now I’m using the Mamiya. There are a couple of reasons: first the Mamiya has the widest lens I can find for a medium format press camera, a 50mm f6.3. Second, some of the Mamiya Press cameras can use Graflex roll film backs. This is kind of rare, but I have one. I like this because I have a bunch of these backs, and they fit other things I own. Also, they are easier to find than most of the other roll film backs. The actual range of lenses is probably larger than most of the other cameras I mentioned, but the Horseman could take many view camera lenses. The Mamiya has some back movements, sort of like a perspective control lens for a digital camera or a standard view camera. The back also allows some macro work not available with the other cameras. In fact, one of the reasons I don’t like the Koni-Omega, is that it doesn’t have close focusing. Of course, you have to put on a ground glass to focus, but it’s great that the camera has this. Still, there are problems… These are all metal cameras, so they’re bulky and heavy. With 4 lenses my kit weighs almost 25 pounds. Second, these are old cameras and they often need maintenance. One of the things I’ve had to do is re-calibrate the rangefinder, a job which requires patience. You can’t just run to your local camera store and buy one, you’ll be searching for a while on eBay.

I’ve needed to practice with the Mamiya quite a bit. The rangefinder isn’t very contrasty, so you need to work with it to get the hang of it. The viewfinder is separate from the camera lens, so you need to learn about how the camera actually frames. In addition, the wide-angle lenses require auxiliary viewfinders, which is a little annoying, maybe a lot annoying… I needed to practice changing the lenses, too. If I forget to put the dark slide in, I’ve ruined a frame. One other thing that takes getting used to is that there isn’t any double exposure prevention. You need to decide if you’re going to wind the film before you shoot or after, and stick to it! Of course the upside is that you can change film holders in the middle of a roll. Perhaps it just that I’m a person who likes to d things the hard way. I believe there is evidence for that.

While I’m discuss getting my chops back with various cameras, I should mention the Brooks Veriwide/Graflex XLSW camera. Both cameras were designed for the 47mm f8 Schneider Super Angulon. The 47mm S.A. was designed as a super wide-angle lens for 6X9cm. I really enjoy working with wide angle lenses, just in case that wasn’t evident. The thing about this camera is that it’s quite simple, lens, with built in shutter; viewfinder; focusing helical; and Graflex roll film back. The result is a fairly small, reasonably light camera, with a huge angle of view. Really nice. Of course, it’s scale focusing, no rangefinder. I suppose I could use the Graflex ground glass back, but that would make the camera much slower to use. The other drawback is that the lens is f8, and doesn’t entirely hit its stride until f16, well no one is perfect.

I have several other cameras that I still need to practice with. I’ve done almost no work with my Cyclops camera, which shoots 120 film with a moving lens. It makes very large panoramas. Speaking of very large panorama shots I have a Korona 8×20 camera that I need to drag out soon. I really should do a shot in the next few days so I can say I used it during August, after all the date is 8-20. I haven’t used the 11×14 camera since I closed the Courting Chaos project, but I did use it a lot for that project. If you’re counting my cameras there are a lot more… Keith Richards has three thousand guitars, so I have a way to go.

Now clearly all of this practice is well and good, but practice has its limits. The limits of practice are discovered by testing. Some testing is very easy to understand: all the lenses I’ve been using have leaf shutters, which are inaccurate. Leaf shutters are mounted in the middle of a lens rather than near the film. In addition all old leaf shutters are inaccurate to some degree, and all of mine are old, much like myself. There is actually a phone app that does a pretty good job of shutter testing, if you have old shutters you should find the app. I’ve know a lot of people who do obsessive processing testing. This used to be extremely important. Even as recently as the 1950s and 60s many film emulsions were thicker, which changed the way films recorded light a lot! This has a lot to do with why Ansel Adams and others developed the Zone system. Film recorded low light differently from middle grey and highlights blocked up. There are some films which will still react this way, if you want to experience greater frustration. Modern black & white films, like Kodak T-max and Ilford Delta will handle the highlights much better than say Super-XX; so exposure is easier to manage. In addition, most photo papers are multi-contrast which gives the printer much more control over the way the print looks. Alternatively, you can scan a negative and manipulate it in Photoshop, which gives you much more control over the outcome! You can make a new enlarged negative with a printer and make a variety of different kinds of prints, customizing your negative to fit the printing material. So my goal in testing film is to get a negative with a long scale, many tones between black and white. I’m also looking at the graininess of the film and it’s resolution. So far I like the Ilford Delta 400, but I do want to check more films. While I’m looking at film resolution I’m also examining the resolution of my lenses; all lenses are not created equal. At some time I need to do some writing about the way lenses affect pictures. Many people are fiends for “sharp” lenses, however many people interpret contrasty lenses as sharp because they make images that “pop”. Here’s the thing, if you do post processing of your shots with Photoshop it can be better to have lenses with resolution that you like and control contrast in post. I’ve found that I like Goerz lenses, and I have a bunch of them. More on lenses at another time.

There are some basic tests I shouldn’t ignore: is your camera light tight? Are your film holders light tight? Some of mine were not. It’s important to know where the weaknesses of your gear are. One more test: can you carry the damn camera bag and the tripod without too much suffering…

Here’s the thing, we do all this so that we can PLAY. If we get too caught up in technical details that we forget that photography is way of communicating and documenting. If we aren’t doing any shooting that all the gear and all the knowledge don’t matter. Play means both expressing technical skill, craft, and experimenting. If you don’t make mistakes; don’t walk outside your comfort zone you aren’t really doing anything new. If you don’t express yourself with good craft than people won’t be able to appreciate your images.

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One more thing, there are almost 14,000 people registered on this blog. Wow! Thanks everyone.

May 16, 2020

Shutter Hacks 2

So it’s been a long time since I last updated this blog. I’ve done a lot of personal projects since I updated this blog. The biggest one has been moving to New Mexico. I’ve also done a number of equipment related photographic projects in the last year, which I am going to add to this blog as time goes by. This is the first one of those, and in some ways it’s just an extension of the last blog post I did. You may remember, or you can check below, it was about shutters and lens boards for large cameras.

New Photography from Taos San Francisco de Asís Mission Church #1. Made with the Toyo 810M and 6 ½ inch W.A. Dagor.

The two elements that have the most do with how your final images are captured, are first, the lens that makes the image, and second the way in which you record the image. Many lenses are designed to have as little character and to be as sharp and contrasty as possible, but that’s not true of all lenses. Some lenses are designed for soft focus, some lenses are designed primarily to bring the image closer or to give you a wider angle. Many lenses have lower contrast and more flare. Modern lens design is often more concerned with contrast than with sharpness. The human will often see contrast and saturation as more graphic than actual detail. Also, some lenses are just not very good. Many older lenses, while they may have flare or other defects, can make very compelling images. Some modern lenses have been designed for digital cameras that exhibit these properties: check out Lomography.com for examples. The lens you use may have more effect if you’re working with a large format film camera; and you’ll have more lens choices.

 

Regarding recording the image, if you’re recording it in digital then the simple thing is how much resolution do you have? But if you’re recording it in film, the size of the film and the characteristics of the film will have a huge effect on your final image. The resolution of the film, whether the film is color or positive transparency, or black and white negative film, all these things have a tremendous amount to do with your final capture.

In order for the lens and film (or sensor) to function well, you need a number of controls on your camera. You need to control how much light finds the final capture area, whether it’s film or digital, and that’s done by blocking some of the light in the lens with a diaphragm (aperture) and by using a shutter (shutter speed). You’ll need to focus the lens by changing the distance between the lens and the film and of course, you need to keep everything dark between the lens and the capture area.

So a camera may be quite simple: just a film holder and focus. With large format cameras the shutter is usually mounted in the lens, as is the diaphragm. Many large format cameras are little more than a platform for the assemblage of parts. Many cameras are much more complex, particularly digital cameras, which will have the sensor and shutter and meter and viewfinder and electronics built into the camera. One advantage of a large format camera, not only can you change the focus of the lens, but you can change the geometry of the camera: the camera allows you to change whether the film plane and the lens plane are parallel to each other as well as the distance between the two. Sometimes simplicity offers more control than complexity.
All of this means that you can modify large format cameras. You can create or customize cameras that give you special abilities or enable you to use special lenses or enable your lenses to do things they might not otherwise have done. You can put different sizes of film on behind lenses that were designed for something else. And all of this can be very creative, and it can be fun! It can enable you to make images you couldn’t otherwise make.

The Sinar shutter mounted onto a Toyo Bellows lens hood. You can sell all the shutter speeds on the side. It’s mounted sideways to keep the shutter control away from the rails of the bellows lens hood.

In the last blog post I talked about changing lens boards and mounting different lenses onto multiple large format cameras. I showed how I made a make lens board converter to enable me to fit a Toyo lens board on my old 8X20 Korona view camera. I also showed how to mount an external shutter, called a Packard shutter, on to a bellows lens shade. This puts the shutter in front of the lens. Packard shutters are air-driven shutters and they’re incredibly useful, but they have only limited control. In this post I’m demonstrating two more shutter adaptations: one is using a shutter from a Sinar camera and the second one with a Packard shutter.

A side view of the bellows lens hood and the shutter. The adapter from the lens hood is glued to the lens hood. The original purpose of the lens hood and the barn doors is similar.

Sinar are made wonderful view cameras, very complex, with very precise levels of control. Very fine Swiss workmanship. They were some of the finest view cameras you could buy, but they were also some of the most expensive view cameras you could buy. They made some really, really interesting accessories. One of the things they made was a shutter designed to fit into the camera. This shutter was way better than your average Packard shutter because this shutter what had accurate shutter speeds from 1/60 to 30 seconds. As time went by their shutters evolved into electronic devices that could only work with Sinar cameras. The shutter I adapted was designed to work with the older Sinar Norma cameras. It is a completely mechanical shutter.

The Sinar barn doors, before disassembly.

Rather than use the magnetic strip I used to hold a Packard shutter to my bellows lens shade, I used the mount from a Sinar barn door attachment, which I put on the front of a Toyo bellows lens shade. Now it works with any of the cameras that I’ve already adapted to take the Toyo bellows lens shade: my 8X20 Korona camera, my 11X14 camera, my Toyo 810M and Toyo 45C. Not only will it fit a lot of cameras, it will fit a lot of lenses. You can see how this comes together in the pictures associated with this particular post. The Sinar shutter requires a cable release with an extremely long throw, much longer than a regular cable release. This is because the cable cocks the shutter as well as triggering the shutter. I’ve found that the only cables that work are the ones Sinar built for the shutter.

The whole assembly mounted onto my Toyo 810M. Note the Sinar cable release.

Another project that I want to share here is a shutter I attached to a Toyo board that was originally made to fit adapt the Speed Graphic lens boards onto the Toyo cameras. Many of my lenses are mounted on the speed graphic lens boards since the boards are common, inexpensive and small.  The Packard shutter mounts directly behind the Toyo board. You can see this in the pictures. This is a smaller Packard shutter. There’s a pipe which attaches the air hose through the shutter. It’s a very handy item.

The front of the Toyo/Packard board. The tube in the upper right is for the air hose.

The back of the Toyo/Packard lens board. You’ll notice the tube from the front is attached with rubber air hose to the piston.

Both projects are also shown with the diaphragm adapters that allow you to hold lenses that aren’t mounted onto boards and don’t have retaining rings. This all makes for very, very flexible lens mounting system. You can put practically any lens on the front of your view camera, even lenses that were never designed for cameras.

The Toyo/Packard board with a lens attached. I’ve used an old diaphragm holder to attach the lens.

I’ll be describing several more projects in upcoming posts, including a tour of my new darkroom. Also, I will be selling a number of items that I no longer need. So, if you watch this blog you may find those items listed; and they will cost a little less money here than on eBay.

So if there’s anything that you’re particularly looking for you might let me know send an email to John@Siskinphoto.com, thank you very much for your attention.

I hope you’ll also check out my books, use the links below:


One more thing, there are more than 13,000 people registered on this blog. Wow! Thanks everyone.

March 27, 2019

Lens Board Hacks for Large Format Cameras

I’ve been teaching people about view cameras for a long time. I used to tell people it was like a cross between an erector set and a camera. You can put it together in whatever way you want. I also used to tell them that it was a simple camera; the thing is simple doesn’t mean easy. An ax is a very simple tool, but if you need to cut down a tree, I guarantee you that a chain saw, while more complex, will be easier…

 

The view camera is essentially three parts, the lens, the bellows and the film holder. The rest of the camera is there to make it possible to fit these parts together in the best position for a specific photograph. I’m going to be discussing how the lens is mounted on the camera in the rest of this post. Almost any lens will fit on almost any view camera. Brands don’t matter because lenses are fitted to boards which fit specific cameras. There are no electrical contacts, rangefinder cogs or complex bayonets in this system, only rectangular boards. These boards are designed to fit on a camera so that no light can leak around the board. Many recent manufacturers use metal boards with a sort of lip that fits the camera, but may versions have been used over the years. This s the problem: most cameras use a board that only fits that brand, or at most a couple of brands, of camera. In fact, many camera companies use different boards for different model cameras. While this doesn’t mean that you can’t exchange lenses between different cameras it does become a pain in the neck. In order to mount a lens on a different board you generally have to unscrew the rear elements and remove the retaining ring before you put it back together on another board fitted to that lens.

 

If you only have a couple of lenses and a couple of cameras this isn’t intolerable, but for me it’s getting out of hand. I have a couple of dozen lenses and five cameras I might use them on. Since each lens might be used with any of the cameras this can mean a lot of lens boards. I’m not the first person to create conversion boards, in fact, many of the camera companies build boards to fit boards from other cameras. However, a couple of my recent cameras, my 11X14 and 8×20 camera, are older and no conversion boards exist. Also my main lens boards, the 6X6 inch Toyo board, is too large to easily fit to these cameras. To compound the problem these two cameras don’t take the same lens board. So, I want to show you how I solved this problem. In addition I want to show you a way to use lenses that don’t have a retaining ring and lenses that don’t have a shutter.

 

The basic plan, which I’ve illustrated below, is to take a lens board that fits the new camera and attach it to a lens board that fits a Toyo camera. You’re going to put them together front to front, with a little space between. The space allows for the boards to be connected to the camera. Then you can take the center piece of the front standard and mount it to the Toyo board. Since the standards on Toyo cameras, and several other cameras, are the same on both the front and back this works well to give a place to attach any lens mounted on a Toyo board. I should also point out that the standards on Toyo cameras, at least older ones, are pretty fragile, so it’s possible to get the part you’ll want off a broken camera.

THIS PROCESS REQUIRES POWER TOOLS. BE CAREFUL. USE EYE PROTECTION. IF YOU HAVEN’T USED THESE TOOLS BEFORE PRACTICE ON UNIMPORTANT MATERIALS.

01: This shows my new Korona 8X20 camera. The lens board I’m converting is mounted on the camera.

 

02: The wooden lens board for the Korona and a metal Toyo board. I want the Korona to take Toyo boards.

 

03: After I’ve outlined the hole I want; I drill holes around the edge of the hole. These holes make it easier to control the Dremel tool.

04: The Dremel set up. The bit cuts to the side. The black collar makes it easier to control the Dremel tool. BE CAREFUL, the Dremel is tricky to use.

05: Cutting the hole with the Dremel tool.

06: I use the hole in the wood lens board to size the hole in the Toyo board.

07: I’ve used the same process as I did on the wood lens board. Holes first then the Dremel too. The metal board is more difficult to cut than the wood board. BE CAREFUL-USE EYE PROTECTION!

08: The metal board has sharp edges. I’ll use the Dremel to sand them smooth

09: I’ve drilled holes in the edges of the Toyo board. Then I’ll use those holes to drill hole for the bolts into the wood lens board. I’ve placed washers in the space between the boards. If you just screw the two boards together you won’t have space to mount them on the camera.

10: I’ve assembled the two boards. I’ll check this assembly on the camera Before I Glue The Parts!

11: I’ve put a bead of the glue onto the wood board. I use Ultra Black Gasket Maker Glue. Basically it’s black silicone sealer.

12: I’ve put the glue into the gap. Use a lot of glue. You don’t want light leaks. This is a messy step.

13: This is the part I salvaged from a broken Toyo standard. I had to fill a couple of screw holes with the same Ultra Black Gasket Maker Glue. I use the same part on my 11×14 camera.

14: the assembly mounted on the 8×20 Korona camera.

15: My Schneider 270mm Wide Angle G-Claron f6.3 mounted onto the camera!

View camera lenses are connected to lens boards with a threaded ring machined on the outside of the lens. These threads mate with a ring called a retaining ring. This is a simple system which works well until the retaining ring is lost. If all these retaining rings had been standardized to just a few sizes losing a ring might not be a problem. Unfortunately there are at least dozens of different widths and thread counts and pitches, so it’s impossible to just order a replacement. Generally you’ll have to have a new retaining ring custom machined. This is expensive; if you can find a machinist with the needed skills. However there is a fix! Many years ago, a sort of universal lens holder was made. This used a variable diaphragm, like the aperture in a lens. These diaphragms were made with very stiff blades, which could be locked in place. These are generally available at eBay, but they are pricey. Expect to pay from $200 to $500 for a good one. You want to be careful to check how large and how small the diaphragm adjusts, so you can be sure it will fit as many lenses as possible. Use terms like adjustable large format lens diaphragm to find one on eBay. Keep in mind that you need to be sure the lens is probably seated and locked in place before you put the lens on your camera.

A1: The lens mounting diaphragm on the camera.

A2: An old brass lens on mounted to the 8×20 camera.

In addition to lenses that don’t have a retaining ring there are also a lot of lenses that don’t have a shutter. Of course you can use a lens cap if you’re working with a long exposure, but if you want more choices it’s good to have a shutter. You can have a machinist install your lens in a new shutter, but this is quite expensive and requires a very good machinist. If you have as many old lenses as I do this can be a daunting prospect. There is a way around this problem as well, but it isn’t as controllable as a modern leaf shutter. The solution is a Packard shutter. Strangely enough these are still being made! You can find a new shutter at packardshutter.com, or you can find used ones on eBay. These are air driven shutters, which means that they’re powered by an air bulb that you hold in your hand. In fact these air bulbs are the reason that most shutters have a B setting, b stood for bulb. With these shutters you can hold the shutter open as long as you want, or open and close the shutter in about 1/20 of a second. It’s important to stress that that fast speed is extremely variable. These shutters are often mounted inside a large view camera or on the back of lens boards. I’ve arranged one to fit on the front of a Toyo compendium lens hood. This works very well for a couple of reasons, first I can use a very large Packard shutter that wouldn’t fit into my camera. Second, I can use the same shutter with several cameras. The compendium lens hood protects my film from being exposed by light from the side of camera. It’s also nice that the compendium hood fits onto the part of the front standard that I used as my lens board converter! This means that I can mount the same shutter assembly on several cameras, including some that are quite old.

B1: The Toyo standard has mounting holes for a compendium lens shade. The shade is mounted in this shot.

B2: I’ve moved the compendium shade in front of the lens. I put magnetic strips on the front of the shade. These strips are holding the Packard shutter in this shot.

B3: The Packard shutter is open in this shot. Now I can use the Schneider G-Claron on the camera!

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December 7, 2018

About Lenses #1

So this post is sort of a plan or, if you prefer, a work in progress. A couple of days ago I put a post on Facebook announcing a series about lenses; this is the beginning. The idea is to have place where there will be links to the other posts and to give a sort of outline for the project. I’ll update this post as the project takes shape.

The first thing you should know: if you’re looking for advice about what lens to buy for your dSLR you may just want to pass on this whole thing. There are a lot of places you can get that information. This series is about understanding lenses and lens design. It may help you choose a lens for a dSLR, but the intent is to help you choose lenses for large format film work. Regardless it will help you understand how lenses work, and that can’t be a bad thing.

I was shooting with my 11X14 camera yesterday. I made a dozen negatives and shot with four lenses: a casket lens-focal length about 230mm; a Schneider Dagor-14 inch focal length; a Goerz Artar-focal length 12 inches; and a Goerz Gotar-13 inch focal length. The thing is, the focal lengths are very similar on these lenses, so there must be other reasons for making choices about which lens to use. When shooting with a small camera one of the first reasons to make a choice about a lens is the distance you’ll be from the subject. If you are closer to a subject you build more shape into the image, while if you’re further from a subject the image will feel flatter. People discuss this as if the lens changes the perspective. But that’s not true-it’s how far the subject is from the camera. If you shoot a persons face from 10 feet away it will always look flatter than if you shoot the same face from a foot away, regardless of what lens you use or how you crop. Distance from the subject is important to my work, but many other things influence my lens choice. First I think about coverage: you need a lot of image to shoot an 11×14 inch camera. I have a lot of lenses that would just make a circle in the center of the ground glass, and I have a lot more that won’t be sharp over the entire frame. The sense of sharpness and how the un-sharp image feels is critical to conscious lens choice. It’s like a painter picking a brush; even a house painter uses different brushes for different tasks, even more so for a portrait painter.

There’s more to the character of a lens that just sharpness. Contrast is also very important. The human eye interprets contrast AS sharpness. As a result of this modern lenses are always designed to maximize contrast, and that is generally a good thing. Maximizing contrast was particularly important before Photoshop because it was very difficult to control contrast in color printing. One of the things that improved contrast, perhaps more than any other factor, was lens coating.

Shot with 28 cm and back elements of my C. Bethiot casket set. An un-coated lens.

So this is a quick discussion of some of the topics I’d like to explore.

History of lenses. Lens construction pre-dates photography by at least a couple of centuries and possibly millennia. Lenses added to human vision. The thing is that since the human eye sees only a small field at any moment you don’t need to make lenses that are accurate over a large field since a person can move the eye or lens to compensate. Making photographic lenses that would cover a large area, at one time, was an early challenge.

Soft focus lenses. There is a difference between spherical aberrations and chromatic aberration and just poor focusing. I’ll also spend some time on soft focus filters. Many lenses have been specially designed to make soft focus images.

Flowers Wrapped in Newspaper-Shot with a Bausch & Lomb Plasigmat. This is a double exposure at two different apertures, which allowed me to selectively choose what was soft and sharp.

Process lenses. These are specially designed to meet the challenges of making printing plates for off-set presses. They are highly corrected for color and field flatness. Using them offers some special opportunities and challenges. I have several of these lenses that I use with my 11×14 camera.

Shot with a Goerz 12 inch Red Dot Artar on my 11×14 camera. Processing effects do not reduce the great sharpness and contrast of this lens.

Lens aberrations. These include pin cushion distortion, barrel distortions and coma.
Classic designs. Of course there is the Tessar from Zeiss, and there are so many more: Dagors, Dogmars, Angulon, Biogon…
Casket lenses and convertibles. Large format lenses are basically fixed focal length lenses, but many large format lenses have been designed that offer multiple focal lengths. I wrote an article for View Camera some years ago about DIY casket sets. You can download it here: www.siskinphoto.com/magazine/zpdf/LensAssembly.pdf

Shot for an article in View Camera about DIY soft focus lenses. This uses Kodak Portra lenses (add on lenses) instead of a lens designed to be used alone.

This whole thing will go on, but if I don’t post something now I may never get started.

I hope you’ll also check out my books, use the links below:


One more thing, there are almost 9000 people registered on this blog. Wow! Thanks everyone.

November 15, 2018

Courting Chaos-The show, Part 1-Silver Gelatin Prints

This post includes all twenty silver gelatin images from my current show at Indiana Landmarks. The show is going to be on display until the end of November, so you still have a chance to see the real photographs. I say real photographs because looking at an online version of images adds a sameness to all images. On line images are always about the same size and the color is always affected by your monitor. If you care about photography its a really good idea to see actual photographs, not just digital versions. I used 3 types of prints in the show: silver gelatin prints, cyanotypes and a couple of Kodak color glossy prints. As I mentioned in the last post you can visit this previous post for more information about print types: http://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=2243. The other images, the cyanotypes and the color glossy images are posted as parts 2 and 3 of the show. The Cyanotypes are at: http://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=3630 and the Kodak color glossy images are at: http://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=3633

The show has 41 images up on the walls, these are the 20 traditional silver gelatin prints also called fiber base prints. The images are for sale. The silver gelatin prints, the first group below, are $550. They are matted to 20X24 inches. The price includes shipping in the U.S. For this and all the other images please contact me directly at john@siskinphoto.com to arrange the purchase. These are all hand made prints, done by me in my darkroom. Please contact me for more information about any of these images. These images are copyright by me and are NOT INTENDED to be shared. You are welcome to post the link to this blog, but do not re-post my images. Thanks for your respect.

Silver Gelatin Images

Bree #12

Cassie 2 #14

Leslie #14

Rachel #11

Andrea #5

Wayne #2 V3

Wayne #1

Tyler #12

Rubella #14

Rubella #4

Mindy #7

Wayne #13

Leslie #6

Jennifer #1

Shelby #2

Cassie 2 #7

Bunny #9

Rachel #10

Bree #4

Andrea #9

September 26, 2018

Courting Chaos

Curt #2

I’ve been working on a project involving my 11X14 camera for about two years now. I’ve done more than a dozen shoots with the camera. The first show of this work will take place on November 2nd at Indiana Landmarks (1201 Central Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46202). Images will be available for sale at the show. I may make prints available on line as well. I’ve included small digital versions of the images with this blog. Theses versions of the images are only a shadow of the final prints, so please come to the show if you can.

Wayne #2

These images are figure studies handled with a very unusual and chaotic process described below. Many of them are nudes and several of them are disturbing. I’m writing a lot about the process in this post but I should also share some thoughts about the results. I’ve found the entire project to be a voyage of discovery. I really did not know how the project would evolve when it began. My response to the images continues to change as I prepare them for the show. I am very happy with the way the finished prints look. They have a strong impact. There are a lot of parts of the images, wings horns and make up designs that have symbolic impact. The images seem to invite the viewer to create a narrative from them. My narrative involves ideas about escape. I hope you’ll find them interesting. I’m sure the project will continue to evolve.

I’d like to share some thoughts about the inspiration, the process and the results in this blog. There are a lot of places I could begin this story because this project integrates photographic techniques I learned in high school with image manipulation techniques I’ve learned as recently as a few months ago. The project integrates inspiration from my first trip to Europe in 1971 and continues with images I saw this year. Finally this project requires me to come to terms with allowing chaos to be a co-creator in my photography; as a commercial photographer for more than four decades I’ve been fighting chaos. A commercial photographer wants to control and direct images to produce effective visual communication. In this project I’ve used special processes to push the images into shapes I couldn’t predict or control. The results have been the most surprising images of my career.

Mindy #14

I saw a series of sculptures by Michelangelo called the Prisoners when I was in Europe in 1971. I was about fifteen at the time. At first these images appear unfinished, especially in comparison with the David sculpture, but when I continued to stare at the pieces they seemed to be struggling to escape from the marble. The effect was quite surprising to me at the time: the seemingly unfinished sculpture conveyed movement while other sculpture remained static. It’s now almost fifty years later and I still remember the effect and the details of these sculptures.

I remember seeing an Edward Weston photograph of a pepper just a few years after I saw the Prisoners. This image also had a lasting effect on my development as a visual artist. The design of the image was beautiful, but the medium: a silver gelatin photograph was also gorgeous. Of course I had seen photographs before, but this was a contact print from a large format negative. Over the years, in my classes and in working with photography, I’ve often met people that think photographs are somehow independent of the medium in which they’re presented. So a person might think that they’ve seen “Moonrise Over Hernandez” by Ansel Adams because they’ve seen it on line or in a magazine or a book, but a fine photographic print by Ansel has a different effect than an image from an offset press or a computer display. In order to appreciate a creative work it helps to see the work as the artist intended. Of course there are many posters of paintings by Van Gogh or Monet and so many others, but is seeing theses posters equivalent to seeing the original painting? It was the effect of the actual Weston print that allowed me to see beauty of the medium.

Cassie2 #14

Of course there are so many images that affected my way of seeing, and these images, but the work of Man Ray is really part of this process. Man Ray worked in a variety of media: doing sculpture, painting and photography. My perception of his work changed when I saw original pieces at the Getty in Los Angeles. Many of the reproductions of his work are just poor quality, which affected my understanding of his art. When I saw original pieces I was able to understand the technical mastery inherent in the work. This was important to this project because I realized that he was solarizing his negatives in a way I had never seen before, more about this later. The way that Man Ray integrated creative and innovative technique with creative images is spell binding.

On another level this project began when I purchased an 11X14 inch camera. While it’s not necessarily difficult to think about scaling up a camera “it’s just the same thing only bigger” the reality is pretty impressive. A full frame dSLR uses a sensor that is 1X1.5 inches, regardless of how high the sensor resolution; it’s a small area. The camera for this project has a capture area of 11X14 inches. In addition, while the sensor may have high resolution, film resolution is on the molecular level. The total amount of information you can capture is mind blowing. The costs of the thing are pretty impressive as well; a single sheet of 11X14 inch film costs eight dollars. Adams used 4X5 inch camera much of the time; Edward Weston used an 8X10; Brett Weston did use an 11X14 camera occasionally. The problems of using a camera this size are not just expense and weight, it also needs a lot of light. So when I got the camera I wasn’t sure that I would use it much, maybe just a couple of times to prove I could master the thing. Then, after a lot of thinking, I came up with a way of using the camera to make images that I couldn’t create with any other camera. I decided to explore solarizing (re-exposing) the negatives. I am aware that some people refer to the solarization process as the Sabatier effect, but I prefer to use the term solarization.

Shelby #9

This is similar to what Man Ray did, during the processing of his film he re-exposed the negative to light. This creates a reversal effect. This was a pretty common process when I was in high school, but we solarized prints rather than negatives. When you solarize a print the white area of the print black or gray, which can look pretty compelling. It’s impossible to entirely predict what will happen, and even if you do the same thing twice, the results will be different. The thing about Man Ray’s solarization process is that he turned the black areas of the image white AND he could make multiple prints that were the same. This was because he solarized the negative rather than the print. This creates another big problem-you have to process modern film in total darkness (yes, even black and white film) so you can’t see what you’re doing. When Man Ray did this people used orthochromatic films; films that couldn’t see red light, so he could see what he was doing. I realized that I could shoot 11×14 photographic paper, which can be used under safelight. Since I have an 11×14 inch scanner I could take these negatives, which were on paper, and scan them. This enables me to interpret the images in Adobe Photoshop. The reason that the large area negative is an advantage with this process is that you can choose what part of the image you want to re-expose and you can also choose what part of the image to re-develop. Most of the time I used a Mini-Maglite to re-expose the negative and various paint brushes to re-develop. Of course what actually happens to the image when you re-expose and re-develop is chaotic, almost totally unpredictable. Thus I am courting chaos in making these images.

I did a couple of blog posts when I started this project: http://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=3401 and http://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=3207 and http://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=2871 . These posts detail some of the development this process. One of the first things I discovered was that the material I was using to shoot, Ilford Multigrade RC Glossy, was much more light sensitive than I would have thought. It has an ISO of about 100 when used with strobes. I was able to set up a sodium vapor safelight, which made it possible to move around the studio quite easily when shooting. One of the greatest advantages of shooting the paper is that the processing is quick and easy. You can develop the RC paper in about a minute. Even with re-exposure it was only about 5 minutes from exposing with the camera to seeing the negative in white light. Almost as quick as Polaroid! In addition, since the large scanner was in the studio I could scan and reverse the images in short order, so the subject was able to leave with prints! The entire process was very fun and interactive.

Leslie #6

Part of that interactivity was the team that made these images. Of course that includes the models, but it also includes David Kidwell, assistant extraordinaire, and Julie Powers, makeup artist for angels and devils. Julie did a couple of really remarkable things for this project: first she designed the make-up for all the models. This is tougher than it might appear because the Multigrade paper doesn’t react to color in an even way: reds and yellows are very dark while blues are brighter that you would suppose. Julie also arranged for all the models, THANKS! David managed set up and kept me on my feet all through the shoots. Now that I’m in my sixties I couldn’t have done it without him! Each of the models was special. It can be difficult to come to terms with normal pictures of yourself, it’s more of a challenge when you’re teaming up when chaos. You know that all of the images will present you in unpredictable ways. My thanks and gratitude to all!

In another way this project began at University High School in Los Angeles, specifically in bungalow L79. At sort of the end of the campus was the photography classroom. I first learned about photography in that classroom. The instructor was Arnold Rubinoff. Arnold was teaching things that really weren’t common in high school photography. I remember learning to make color prints from him. One of the things we learned was how to do solarization. I remember that a couple of the students were particularly enthusiastic about the process. There is often a line that defines the transition from a normal tone to a solarized tone, referred to as a Mackie line, and these two students created an image that was nothing but a Mackie line. They used a process that involved a wash, squeegee and a controlled re-exposure under an enlarger, then putting the image back into the developer. I based my process on what I remembered from that time. I remove the print from the first developer after most or all image development has taken place. I rinse the image and squeegee the water off the print. Then I use a Mini-Maglite with a #5 Ilford Multigrade filter to re-exposure the print. I usually do this from a distance with my fingers occluding some of the light. This gives me more time and more control over the second exposure. The filter also changes the contrast of the second exposure. Then I use a variety of brushes to add developer. I usually use a more concentrated developer with the brushes.

Andrea #5

There are a number of important insights that led to this process. Of course one of the first problems that had to be solved was the cost of film. Other people have reached this point and turned to litho film. This is a graphic arts film that is designed to hold only black and white tones, no gray tones at all! It can be processed to hold grays, but there are issues. Particularly the stuff is really insensitive to light. The ISO is around 4. As I mentioned above the Ilford Multigrade is about ISO 100, which is almost 5 stops more sensitive to light. This is the difference between shooting at f11 and f2. Since most lenses that cover 11X14 are f8 or slower you can imagine that the speed of the material is critical. Another important moment was when I realized that I had an oversized scanner. My original thought was to remove the emulsion from the paper and put it onto a clear base, which would have been very difficult. Scanning the images was easy and quick.

One of the ideas I had after I got my first large digital printer was that I could make negatives on tracing paper and make traditional darkroom prints. I did make this work, but didn’t follow it up. The images were fuzzy flat and hard to print. I returned to the idea for this project. While I was exploring the negatives, digital prints from my Canon printer were great, but they don’t have the same impact as a handmade print. I used the printer to make negatives on a clear film from Fixxons. I was then able to use these negatives to make cyanotype prints and silver gelatin prints. I mentioned cyanotypes in the blog post I referred to earlier and in this blog post: http://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=2243, which is from my last show. This post also describes silver gelatin prints. For this show I used multiple coats of cyanotype chemistry on blotter paper. The images have a very dark maximum tone as a result. Because the prints are hand coated each cyanotype print is different, even if made form the same negative. Cyanotype prints do change over time, which is part of the charm. For the silver gelatin prints I used Ilford Multigrade Warm Tone Fiber base paper. Fiber base papers use a barium clay coating called baryta that produces the white tones. I like this much better than resin-coated papers (RC) that use a titanium dioxide to make the whites. In addition when you air dry a glossy fiber based paper the surface looks fabulous. I also toned all the silver gelatin prints with selenium, which makes a more agreeable print color as well as adding to the stability of the final print. There will also be a couple of large color prints as well. While the actual process is done with black and white material, false color does come in during scanning. I’ve manipulated the images to enhance this effect. Since original negatives are so large the prints can be very large as well, which makes for a very powerful print. One more thing about prints, I believe that the price of a print should reflect, at least in part, the amount of actual hand work done by the artist rather than the size of the image.

Rubella #14

Actually shooting with the camera is pretty tricky. Some things are like working with any large format camera, for instance the image is upside down and backwards on the ground glass. Over the years I’ve become used to that. One problem that particularly affects the 11X14 is bellows extension. The closer your lens is to the subject the further it is from the film. I know this seems exactly backwards, but trust me it’s the way it works. What might not be obvious is that as the lens gets further from the film, there is less light on the film. If you are shooting a head and shoulders portrait with a 35mm camera you don’t have any bellows extension; if you’re shooting with 4X5 film you might have a half stop of bellow extension; with the 11X14 camera you’ve lost about 2 stops of light to bellows extension. This means it’s dark on the ground glass when you’re focusing and composing AND you need a lot of light to make the exposure. Most of the time I was using between 5000 and 7000 watt-seconds of strobe power to make the exposure. My lens was generally set between f11 and f16. While this seems like it would give you plenty of depth of field on a digital camera, on the 11X14 it gives you only a matter of millimeters of focus depth. So focus is critical, which makes it very important for the model to stay in place! Another aspect of bellows extension is the way it affects your lens choice. The normal lens, if there is one, for an 11X14 camera is about 450mm, or 18 inches. If you were shooting that same head and shoulders shot, which is close to life size on an 11X14 camera, you’d need about 1000mm (39 inches) of bellows to bring the lens into focus. That makes the camera really difficult to keep stable and to adjust. So you generally end up shooting with shorter lenses which wouldn’t cover the film at infinity, but they do just fine close to the subject. My favorite lenses for this project were a 12 inch red dot Artar from Goerz (f9) and a 14 inch gold dot Dagor (f8) made by Kern for Schneider. Both are classic formulas. The Dagor was originally introduced in the 1890s, and the Artar in the early years of the twentieth century. Both of these are later lenses that benefit from modern coatings. I use the 12 inch Artar for head and shoulders and the 14 inch Dagor for full body shots. I used a few other lenses on occasion including a 48cm Goerz Dogmar (f5.5) and a 270mm Wide Angle G-Claron from Schneider (f6.3), but they just didn’t keep the subject/camera distance in a good range. When I first got the camera I also got a 24 inch Gorez Artar (f11) but it required too much bellows to be useful in the studio.

The camera itself has some basic challenges. Of course the fact that it’s a working 11X14 camera must be in its favor but… It’s built out of parts from other cameras. It’s built on top of a drawer, like something out of a card catalog. This allows it considerable expansion, but it also means the camera can’t fold into any portable configuration. It weighs a lot, so the tripod needs to be a beast. I’ve used several tripods with it, and now I’m using an 8-foot camera stand. The focus skips out of alignment, which is annoying. The bellows sag. There is a plaque on the camera proclaiming it as the Pernicamera Model Number 0001, built in 1995 to 1997. I’d like to meet the person who built it. I don’t use a shutter with the camera at all. I keep the lens open, but all the illumination, once the paper is loaded, is from safelights. I trigger the strobes with a radio slave to make the exposure. This makes it easier to do multiple exposures and to move the subject between the exposures.

Dana #5

I hope to see you on November 2nd. If you’d like more information about a specific image please let me know.

I hope you’ll also check out my books, use the links below:

One more thing, there are almost 8500 people registered on this blog. Wow! Thanks everyone.

July 16, 2018

Large Format Photography Class

I am teaching Large Format Photography at the Art Institute of Indianapolis this quarter. I will be posting a lot of information from this class, and edited audio versions of the lectures here, on my blog. If you would like to help edit the lectures please let me know! This is my first attempt at a pod cast, and it has some glitches. The information is good, and the presenter is enthusiastic

Here is the link to the first podcast:

I mentioned the quiz that I gave my students in a Facebook post. I was very disappointed by the outcome of the quiz I presented. So the first thing I want to do is go over the questions and answers, and how to get the right answers.

Question 1: You are shooting a waterfall. Your camera is on a tripod. The exposure is ISO 400 f8 and 1/125th of a second. You decide to use a 1/15 of a second to blur the water. You change your ISO to 100, what is your aperture?

The number of stops between 1/125 and 1/15 is 3. The change in the ISO, from 400 to 100 is 1 stop. So you need to change your aperture by 1 stop, that is from f8 to f11. The answer is f11.

Question 2. What stop is 3 stops less light that f5.6

1 stop less light is f8, 2 stops is f11 and three stops is f16. The answer is f16

Your exposure is 1/125th of a second and f4 and ISO 200. You want to use f8 and keep your shutter speed at 1/125 what would you change your ISO setting to?

The difference between f 4 and f8 is 2 stops. So you need to change your ISO by 2 stops. ISO 400 is one stop, 2 Stops is ISO 800. The answer is ISO 800

The standard shutter speeds are

1, ½, ¼, 1/8, 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1,250, 1/500, 1/1000.

Each change lets in less light

The standard apertures are

1.4, 2, 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, 22

Each change lets in less light

The standard ISO numbers are

100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200

Each change INCREASES sensitivity

The difference between any two of these numbers, say f8 and f11 or 1/125 and 1/250 or ISO 100 and ISO 200 is one stop. That is the same amount of light. A one stop aperture change changes the exposure in the same way a one stop change in shutter speed or a one stop change in ISO would. You make decisions primarily based on how you want to affect depth of field or stop action.

There are intermediate numbers, like f1.8 or 1/100 or ISO 125. These are between the full stop numbers. They are generally a ½ or 1/3 stop change from a full aperture number or shutter speed. The eye can recognize a 1/3 stop change.

You should KNOW THESE NUMBERS.

This is a photomicrograph of an Autochrome. Autochromes were the first easy, well sort of easy, way to make color photographs. It shows how red green and blue particles of potato starch are used to record color with a monochrome emulsion. Some of you may be aware that this is how your digital camera records color. Red green and blue are recorded by specific pixels. Digital cameras use a Bayer Filter to record this information rather than the random potato starch grains of an Autochrome, but your digital camera uses a solution from 1907 to take color pictures!

These articles have some bearing on the subject of this and the next few posts.

Hand Assembling Lenses for the View Camera

Microphotography

Camera Building

And, just a reminder, here is the link to my DIY Page.

I hope you’ll also check out my books, use the links below:

One more thing, there are almost 8500 people registered on this blog. Wow! Thanks everyone.

June 20, 2018

Horseman 970 Medium Format Camera

Filed under: Film Technique,Large Format Photography,Photographic Equipment — John Siskin @ 3:48 pm

I’ve wanted to discuss some vintage cameras for a while. I know that a lot of people are more interested in shooting film again, so I wanted to share some of what I’ve learned about film cameras, especially fun film cameras, over the decades. Of course my idea of fun might be different from yours. Also I’m teaching Large Format Photography at the Art Institute of Indianapolis in a couple of weeks, so these posts will add a little extra information to the class. I’ll be adding a few of more of these discussions about film cameras to this blog over the next months.

I’d like to start with a medium format technical camera, the Horseman Press. The one I have is the 970. The later models have more movements and some even have a single window for the viewfinder and the rangefinder. The extra are very nice improvements, but not important for me, because I’m not using the camera for commercial shooting, only fun.

The camera weighs in at less than 5 pounds, without a roll film back. It collapses to about 6X7X4 inches, so it’s easy to carry with you. You can use a Horseman roll film back, which is probably your best choice, but Graflex roll film backs and even sheet film holders will work as well. You can get the Graflex holders in 6X6cm, 6X7cm and 6X9cm. I’ve included a picture with an old Graflex back. I’m not sure about the sizes of the horseman backs. The build quality is extremely fine; everything on mine works just beautifully.

Here are a few things I really like: first it will shoot with a large variety of view camera lenses, not just the Horseman lenses. Since you can focus on the ground glass you don’t have to have the actual Topcon lenses that were made for the camera. This is also critical if you want to use the camera movements: tilt, swing and so on. Focusing on the ground glass is the only way to utilize camera movements on any camera. The camera has a hood so you can use the ground glass out doors and the hood pops out of the way for critical focus with a magnifier. Topcon made lenses that were designed for this camera. They are really very nice, and designed to work with the camera. If you do use one of those lenses you can actually hand hold the camera using the rangefinder to focus and the viewfinder to compose. I should point out that the shutter release on the Topcon lenses is designed to be easy to use when you’re hand holding the camera. No need for a special trigger grip. The camera has really good ergonomics to go with its build quality.

The camera has front rise and front swing. If you might want more movements you have a couple of choices: first you could get one of the later versions of the camera. Alternatively, you could use the back movements. The camera has a back bellows that can be opened with four knobs on the side of the camera. If you do this you have about an inch of play in any direction, which provides back tilt and back swing. It’s a little more difficult to use these movements than working with a monorail camera, but no monorail camera collapses to something you can carry with one hand. If you want to shoot a vertical orientation on a tripod there is an extra tripod socket on the side of the camera, another nice design item.

While I can mention additional nice features, like the distance scale on the top of the camera, I should mention a couple of problems. The first one is that, if you want to use any Topcon lens with the rangefinder, and who wouldn’t, you need a rangefinder cam and a set of infinity stops. The rangefinder cams are generally available on eBay, but they can be a little pricey. The infinity stops, which keep the lens in the right place for its focal length, are very rare. Both of these things make it a little difficult to use this camera with multiple lenses, which is a shame. An additional issue is that the front bed doesn’t drop so it’s unlikely that you could use this camera with any lens wider than a 65mm. A 65mm isn’t that wide on 6X9cm negative. However you could set up the camera with a 150mm or even a 210mm and shoot portraits and the 65mm might be about right for groups.

I’m putting this camera up for auction on eBay. I would have continued to search for a set of infinity stops, but another great medium format camera fell into my hands. That’s a story for next time. Here’s the eBay link
Or you could contact me at john@siskinphto.com.

I guess I should mention that the camera comes with the Topcor 105mm f3.5 Super lens, which is a nice thing. This lens covers the 6X9cm format, but won’t cover 4X5. Topcon made another version that did cover 4X5, but it’s slower.

I’ve also included a Graflex 6X9cm roll film back, a sheet film holder and 3 extra lens boards in the Auction! What a deal.

I’m setting up a separate auction for a Super Topcor 150 f5.6 lens. It’s on a Horseman lens board, but unfortunately I don’t have the rangefinder cam or the infinity stops for the lens. Check it out at this eBay link!

I hope you’ll also check out my books, use the links below:

One more thing, there are more than 8000 people registered on this blog. Wow! Thanks everyone.

March 23, 2017

New Work With The 11X14 Camera!

Bree 12a v-8 The numbers are only a working title.

Bree 12a v-8
The numbers are only a working title.

I think this is the sixth time I’ve taken the 11X14 camera out for a spin. I’m extremely gratified with the results of this shoot. I worked with a model named Bree Widener and a make up artist Julie Powers; both are excellent. Of course I also worked with my current assistant David Kidwell. Really I don’t think I could manage the camera without his help. As you may imagine the camera is a beast. I’ve written before about the process. You can review the early blog posts if you’d like, at these links: blog-3207 and blog-2871

Bree 7 v-2 There is less process manipulation in this image.

Bree 7 v-2
There is less process manipulation in this image.

I think the business of coming to grips with the ultra large format camera and working out an accessible process is quite interesting. A lot of skull sweat has gone into figuring out this method of shooting the big camera. I’m using 11X14 Ilford Multigrade RC paper in the camera. This gives me an 11X14 negative, but it’s on paper rather than film. This works out well because I have an oversized scanner that enables me to scan the paper negatives. This means that the basic process is analog-digital rather than the strictly analog process you would get with a film negative and direct printing to silver gelatin printing.

Bree 9 v-5 The color is added in post processing. The analog/digital process allows for considerable creative input.

Bree 9 v-5
The color is added in post processing. The analog/digital process allows for considerable creative input.

The process allows me to introduce chaos into the images in ways that I can only do with a wet darkroom process. In fact this method is probably better for creating these chaotic images than working with film or any other method. There are of course many ways of working, both with digital capture and with film, where the goal is to gain control over image making. I would be shocked and dismayed if an architectural or product image I made suddenly displayed totally random results, but that doesn’t mean that I don‘t want chaotic results in some circumstances. Many people are shooting film just to court random results, and they sometimes achieve results so random that it’s hard to see any original intent in the final image. I just can’t go that far, though some of my results have been totally out of control. The primary way that I crate chaos in these images is to re-expose the paper to light as I process it and to process the paper in unusual ways.

Bree 1 v-2 The first test image of the day! Off to a good start.

Bree 1 v-2
The first test image of the day! Off to a good start.

Part of what makes this whole process exciting is that I develop and solarize, the negative while the shoot goes on. The whole studio is lit by a sodium vapor safelight, so we can load, handle and develop the paper while the shoot continues. The people involved in the shoot, make up, talent and assistants are always amazed to see the image develop right in front of them. Often I can finish scanning the first good negative from the shoot and make a print before the shooting day is finished. Of course it takes a while to dry and scan each image, so finishing the post processing may take weeks after the shoot ends.

Bree 5 v-2 This image shows the brush work that is done during processing.

Bree 5 v-2
This image shows the brush work that is done during processing.

Since this is an analog digital process all the control and interpretation that Photoshop offers is available after the scans are made. I do a lot with layers and curves to manage the contrast. In addition there are usually defects, dust and other problems, that have to be fixed. Unless you’ve done print spotting, you have no idea how much easier it is to spot an image in Photoshop than it is on a print. I usually add a slight warm tint to my images, just as I would have done by printing on a warm paper, like Agfa Portriga Rapid, in a darkroom. I may also add false color to the image, if the spirit moves me.

Bree 4 v-2

Bree 4 v-2

I tested another piece of the process with these images. I made a new negative on a transparent film with my digital printer. I had always hoped to be able to take these images back into a wet darkroom and make various kinds of prints: silver gelatin and alternative process. I was able to make a couple of Cyanotypes from the new digital negatives. They really look great! My test prints are 8X10 but of course I could make a really enormous negative make enormous prints with it.

Bree 12a-cyanotype Of course the scan of the Cyanotype isn't like seeing the original.

Bree 12a-cyanotype
Of course the scan of the Cyanotype isn’t like seeing the original.

Since the original negatives are 11×14 inches and the scans are 1200dpi the final files are just huge. I could make a print that is about 5 feet tall at 300 dpi without any problems. Psd files are about 600mgs. which can make them a little difficult to deal with in Photoshop.

Bree 5-cyanotype

Bree 5-cyanotype

I’m not offering prints of these images at this time. If you’ve been watching this blog you know that prints of a lot of my images are available through the blog. I really hope you’ll buy some. These images will be available, but I hope to create a show with them first. I will do a few more people shoots before I start working on that. I’m looking for models, of course for figure studies, but I’d also like to work with people with facial tattoos and who knows what else?

I hope you’ll also check out my books, use the links below:

One more thing, there are now almost 6000 people registered on this blog. Wow! Thanks everyone.

February 7, 2017

Wide-Angle Lenses for Large Format Cameras

Filed under: Film Technique,Large Format Photography,Photographic Equipment — John Siskin @ 6:03 pm

So this is a couple of things about wide-angle lenses for large format lenses.

Union Station, Los Angeles #1

Union Station, Los Angeles #1 This shot was made with a 65mm f8 lens. Focus is tricky with this lens

Section 1

I love lenses. I think it is just amazing that a small piece of glass can actually bend light and form an image. My favorite lenses are wide-angle lenses. I’ve got a 14mm that fits my digital camera. It will produce a 115º angle of view on the full frame camera. It’s well corrected especially with the plug in available in Photoshop.

If I were a simple person this would be enough for me. Ah, that that was the case. You see I also love big cameras. No I mean BIG cameras. Once upon a time photographers used big cameras: 8X10 film and larger. Back in those days there was a lens that had a wider angle of view than my 14mm, possible wider than anything made since. The Goerz Hypergon had a 130º angle of view, and there are reports that it could resolve even a larger angle. In addition the lens had no rectilinear distortion, which means that a straight line on the edge of the frame stayed straight. Unless I use the plug-in with my 14mm lens edge lines don’t stay straight. This link goes to a picture of a Hypergon (http://inphoto.blog.hu/2015/12/03/goerz_hypergon)

Not that the Hypergon doesn’t have problems; it has lots of problems. Most Hypergons only had two aperture settings, often f22 and f32, but sometimes 48 and 96. The thing is those last two numbers really meant about the same thing as f22 and f32, they were a special Goerz numbering system. This is just one of the things that makes these lenses so difficult to work with. Consider trying to focus with a lens that is f22, and keep in mind you’re focusing on a ground glass under a black clot. Oh, and don’t forget the image will be upside down and backwards. Anything for a weird life.

My 14mm lens has 14 glass elements. The Hypergon has 2. The glass in the lens is about the size of a marble. Now you may be saying, at least if the lens is that simple it must be cheap. NO. The average Hypergon costs about $3000. Yes, that is three thousand United States Dollars, and a really nice one may go for double that. I think there are a couple of reasons for the high prices. First, I don’t think they made all that many of them. They were made between about 1900 and 1920, so not that many still exist or are for sale. No one, ever, made any lens that did what a Hypergon does: cover a large piece of film with a huge angle of view.

I would guess that the reason that no one else ever made a lens like the Hypergon was that they are an incredible pain to use. First, as mentioned, they can’t be easy to focus. Second there is the problem with the evenness of exposure. The exposure in the center of the frame is at least four times more than the exposure on the edges. The problem is that the distance from the center of the lens to the film, which is the actual focal length, is much shorter than the distance from the center of the lens to the corner of the film. This is called Cosine failure, just to make things more difficult by adding trigonometry to it. You can work out a rough approximation by comparing the distance from the middle of the lens to the center or to the corner and working the problem like a bellows extension correction. The effect is that the center of the image is MUCH brighter than the edges.

Goerz understood this issue, and designed a really weird solution for the problem. The built a sort of fan that moved in front of the lens. At least I think it moved; the various descriptions differ. Then you removed the fan entirely for part of the exposure. There was a squeeze bulb to manipulate the fan. This must have been an unbelievable pain in the ass. I’ll probably write more about modern wide angle lenses for large format later, but for now it’s enough to know that other companies solved the problem by using a variable density filter: darker in the center than on the sides.

 

center filter

This filter compensates for the fact that the edges are darker on the sides of a wide angle shot. It does this by removing light from the center of the shot. this one also controls contrast on black and white film, which is why it’s yellow

Another problem is that the lens is so wide that the parts of many cameras would show up in the shot when you used this lens. So, for instance when I use a 121mm Schneider Super Angulon lens with my 8X10 Toyo field camera the bed of the camera shows up in the shot. Very often photographers used a dedicated camera for theses lenses. This is a little easier than it sounds, since you wouldn’t need to focus the camera, and you might not be able to. The idea would be to build a camera that is set to the hyper focal distance of the lens. The hyper focal distance is the point where the depth of field, from front to back, is maximized with a lens. This actually gives you a better image than if you focus at infinity and stop down, particularly with a wide-angle lens. It’s just one more issue with this lens.

Post Office-Indianapois

You can see the bed of my Toyo 8X10 camera in this shot.

One more annoyance: there is no shutter in the lens. Large format lenses usually have internal shutters, but there isn’t any way to build one into a Hypergon, or at least there wasn’t when the lenses were build I’ve never heard of anybody installing a shutter into a Hypergon. However, since you’re generally using the lens indoors at f22 of f32, your exposure is, likely to be very long anyway. So I guess you can use a lens cap. They made versions of the Hypergons without the fans. These lenses are reported to only cover 110º. Supposedly they have even coverage without needing the fan. I’m not at all sure that I believe this.

The basic design of the lens is called a globe lens, because of the marble like shape of the lens. There were people who built them before the Hypergon, for instance I have a Zentmayer lens that is a two-element globe lens, but it’s not designed to be an extreme wide-angle lens. It seems other early lens manufacturers adopted a four-element design, like the Zeiss f18 Protar or the six-element design of the Schneider f6.8 Angulons. Of course the later designs were generally 6 or 8 element lenses like the Schneider Super Angulons and the Zeiss Biogons. These lenses were faster. These lenses were better corrected for chromatic aberration, but they didn’t cover as much. The Schneider Angulon only covered 84º. A much later Schneider Super Angulon generally covers only 100º. What this means is that you could use a 90mm Hypergon with an 8X10 camera, but a 90mm Super Angulon would only cover the 5X7 format.

Zentmayer Lens

This is an early glob lens by Zentmayer

Now to the good part: my dog got me up at four in the morning the other day. Since I couldn’t get back to sleep I was trolling eBay. I found a Goerz Hypergon for just $200, buy it now! That’s two hundred United States Dollars. And there was much rejoicing! Of course I kept the noise down so as not to wake the wife. I am waiting to receive the lens as I write this. From the pictures I know that this lens is weird even for a Hypergon. The lens does not have the usual inverted cone shape mount. The focal length, 127mm is not mentioned on early Goerz literature. It has only a single diaphragm opening. I’ve been able to find very few references to this particular Hypergon on line. It might have been used for map copying. I did see an auction record of the same lens selling for 1800€ (is that the right sign for Euros?) so I still feel good about buying it.

If it is a usable lens for large format work then the lens should cover 11X14 inch film and maybe 16X20 inch film. That is one whole hell of a lot of film. Now, as you may know, I have an 11X14 inch camera. The thing is that there is no way I could get the standards close enough together to shoot with this lens. I could make a box that would fit the back from the 11X14 inch camera, so that is probably the best way forward. It’s good that I have a couple of 11X14 inch film holders, because the damn holders usually cot a couple of hundred bucks. If I mount the lens on a Speed Graphic lens board then I can at least start testing the lens with the 8X10 camera. It’s probably going to take a bout a year to start getting good images with this lens. More if I lose my mind and start trying to work out a way to shoot 16X20.

Section 2

I just received the Hypergon. This lens is extremely strange, even for a Hypergon. First Hypergons were built by Goerz Berlin in the very early part of the twentieth century, say between 1900 and 1920. The serial number on this lens matches lens made American Goerz after 1950. Hypergons weren’t coated. This lens seems to be coated. Apparently these were made for a map-making function, but it’s hard to tell. Very few Hypergons like this are shown on the web. So this lens is a very rare rarity. I don’t know how big an area the lens will cover, but by eye it does seem to have a LOT of coverage. So the next step is to mount the lens, but that’s not going to be easy. As you might be able to tell from the picture the lens has no mounting threads. I’ll probably need to work with a machinist to put the lens onto a Speed Graphic board. I have a special board to mount Speed Graphic boards on my Toyo cameras and onto my 11X14 camera. I’ll probably mount the lens off center so I can create some rise movement if I build a dedicated 11X14 camera for the lens.

127mm Hypergon

My new Hypergon! It’s less than an inch across.

There is going to be a learning curve with this lens. I can’t be sure about the coverage until I can mount it on a camera. Then I’ll need to figure out how to manage the cosine failure. The more coverage the lens has, the bigger this problem will be. As I mentioned above most Hypergons were built with a fan. This lens didn’t have a fan. I don’t think that I can reverse engineer a fan for the lens. I could do something with a center filter. Maybe I could even build a mount for a center filter. Surplus Shed has center filters for Metrogon lenses for just $4, cheap. There is a picture of the Metrogon filter above. Center sharp filters for Schneider Super Angulons generally cost a couple of hundred dollars used, which makes the Metrogon filters look cheap. One detail about the Metrogon filters is that they are also yellow filters, but yellow filters are very useful with black and white film.

There’s another way to manage the cosine failure. I could just dodge the exposure in front of the camera, the way I would dodge a print in the darkroom. I’ll bet the learning curve on that sill will be pretty steep.

If the lens does cover 11X14 film I still can’t use it with my 11X14 camera. There is no way to get the lens anywhere close to five inches form the film on the camera. Also the camera isn’t really good for location work. So IF it covers I’ll need to build a camera, well really just a box. See the focus will need to be set at the hyper focal distance for the lens. Since the lens has a small stop and will be very difficult to view the plan is to build a camera with fixed focus. At 11X14 the lens probably won’t have any extra coverage, so I won’t need movements. If there is coverage, and that would be nice, I can build in a way to shift the lens board.

When I get everything built I’ll probably keep using Ilford Multigrade Paper instead of film. I’ve been using this so far with the 11X14 in the studio, and it’s worked quite well. I’ve done some blog posts about working with the current 11X14 cameras that discuss using the paper. The ISO is about 100. Of course the processing is fast and easy. I’ve got a large scanner so I can take the negatives into digital after they’re processed.

Frankly I won’t be surprised if it takes the better part of a year to make good images with my new lens.

Section 3

I thought I should add details about the evolution of wide angle lenses, just to give some context.

Pretty much all wide-angle lenses for full frame digital cameras are retro focus designs. This design allows the lens to be placed further from the film. This is essential for a SLR design camera because the camera requires space for the mirror. There were older designs for range finder cameras, but I don’t think they were better than current designs. For what it’s worth most, but not all, wide-angle lenses for medium format cameras were also retro focus designs. A notable exception would be the 38mm Zeiss Biogon that was permanently mounted to the Hasselblad SWC camera. Of course this camera didn’t have a mirror.

Zeiss made a wide-angle Protar for large format cameras, probably about the same time that Goerz was amking the Hypergon. These didn’t have as much coverage as the Hypergon, but they were a little faster. It takes a Hypergon to make f18 look fast. There are other Protars from Zeiss; the f18 ones were the only really wide angle versions. The Protars were four element lenses

165mm Angulon

This is my 165mm Angulon. It wasn’t originally coated, but i got coating put on. It’s pretty good!

Schneider introduced the Angulon lenses around 1930. These were six element lenses, and quite well corrected. The aperture on these lenses is f6.8, which is so much faster than a Protar of a Hypergon! You can actually frame and focus an Angulon on the ground glass, hard to do with the other lenses. I have a 165 Angulon. The overall sharpness is adequate. It will just cover 8X10, in fact you have to be careful or you’ll lose the corners. As with most of the early Angulon lenses mine wasn’t coated or mounted in a shutter. I had the lens coated, which improved it’s performance. Mine is mounted in front of a Packard shutter. Frankly it isn’t pretty, but it does work pretty well.

Schneider went on to develop the Super Angulon lenses, which were the standard wide-angle when I stated doing large format work. Frankly they are fabulous. Even my older f8 Super Angulon lenses are quite great. They generally came in an f8 version, which was a 6-element design and an f5.6 version, which was an 8-element design. I own several of the f8 lenses and I think they are great. Predictably, since I told you I really like wide angle lenses, my favorite is the 65mm for 4X5 and the 121 for the 8X10 format. If you shoot 8X10 you should really take a look at the 121mm or the later 120mm Super Angulon. Strangely enough they are very reasonably priced, often about 20% of what a 165mm Super Angulon costs. Of course you need to be careful with a lens that wide. If I shoot a vertical with my 8X10 Toyo field camera the baseboard shows up in the picture! You can see that earlier in this post.

65mm f8 Super Angulon for the 4X5

65mm f8 Super Angulon for the 4X5

90mm f8 Super Angulon

90mm f8 Super Angulon. I use this on a 4X5 but it will cover 5X7

121mm f8 Super Angulon

My 121mm f8 Super Angulon. This just barely covers 8X10!

Section 4

I’ve mentioned the hyper focal distance on a lens above. This is extremely important when working with large format wide-angle lenses. Here’s the thing, if you focus a wide lens, say a 65mm f8 Super Angulon, at infinity and then stop the lens down, you’ll get a lousy image. Since we often shoot large cameras at small stops this can be quite a problem. While this happens with a lot of large format lenses the problem is particularly bad with wide-angle lenses. In the old days photographers used to do a trick called back focus. They would set up the shot, focus the lens and then focus the lens back a couple of millimeters. Other photographers would check the focus after stopping down the lens, which is tricky, but it does work. If you focus on the Hyper Focal point for the lens, which is the point where you have maximum depth of field for the aperture and lens you’re using that will also work very well. For instance, if you’re shooting a 65mm lens on a 4X5 camera at f22 the Hyper Focal distance is just 4 feet! At that distance you’re in focus from 2 feet to infinity. If you focus at this distance and stop down a shot at infinity will be sharp. If you focus at infinity and stop down the shot won’t be sharp. It took me a while, and quite a few bad negatives, to figure this out. I thought the lens was defective, but it was the photographer that was defective. The Kodak Professional Photoguide gives calculator wheels that will enable you to find out the hyper focal length for your lenses. This is really important.
One more thing I wanted to mention: I offer several workshops at my studio in Indianapolis. I hope you’ll check out the workshops at http://www.siskinphoto.com/workshop.php.

I hope you’ll also check out my books, use the links below:

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