Photo Notes A place to talk about making images.

August 17, 2023

Shooting a Bausch & Lomb Petzval Lens

I’m going to try to explain a project that I’m trying to work on. Unfortunately, for explanation, it’s a complex explanation with many threads; the good news, for me anyway, is that the complexity makes the project more interesting. You see one of my problems, as an image maker, is that I get bored with the simple things. Anyway, I’ve often heard that writing should begin at the beginning.

I

Photography was introduced in 1839. There were two competing methods of capturing an image with a chemical process. One was a direct positive image process called Daguerreotype, this is one of the threads which I hope to come back to. The more interesting process, to me anyway, was introduced by William Henry Fox Talbot. This process called photogenic drawing, involved making a negative, usually with a camera. The negative was dark where the original scene was bright and light where the scene was dark, a reversal of the original tones. Then the negative is put in contact with a second piece of sensitized paper and exposing this second piece of paper through the original paper negative. This produced a positive image, and you could make multiple positive prints. In terms of my project, it’s important to point out that he was using paper to make his negatives. There was no flexible film, which was invented by George Eastman. It would be quite a while before anyone found a process of making a photographically sensitive material that would stick to glass. Fox Talbot did the first book which explained how to do photography and was illustrated with actual photographs. You can see a good reproduction of the book Pencil Of Nature at this link: https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/33447

Very early in the practice of making photographs the martial used to make the negative, exposed in the camera, diverged from the materials used to make prints intended for display. The negative needed to be as light sensitive as possible, it needed to be on a translucent or, preferably, transparent material. The actual look of the negative was less important than the way it recorded information, since no one was really intending to look at negatives. In addition to being as sensitive to light as possible, it was a continuing challenge to make negatives that recorded color in ways that seemed intuitively right. For instance, the sensitive material, usually called emulsion, was unable to record red properly until the early years of the 20th century. Before that red, say red lips, were reproduced as black on prints. This panchromatic film and plate material was important to making negatives, but it made no difference for making prints. In fact, using an emulsion which was only sensitive to blue light made darkroom work much easier since you could work under red or amber light, called safelight. Many different ways of making photographic prints were introduced from the beginning of photography. Early methods included cyanotypes, platinotypes and kallitypes. By the middle of the 20th century the standard print was called a silver gelatin print. I’ll mention little more about working with direct positive materials at the end of this essay. I’ll want to mention are the introduction of color film, particularly Kodachrome, which was a direct positive material.

The positive black and white silver gelatin print was how most people experienced actual photographs for a long time. Of course, people experienced more images that were reproduced in ink, as newspapers, books and so on, but this essay is following photographic print making, rather than photomechanical printing. At the same time this was the dominant mode there were many creative photographers making images in unusual ways. For a long time, people continued to use film that wasn’t red sensitive, called orthochromatic film. In fact, Ilford still produces this sort of film. This made it possible to develop film by inspecting it during processing, rather developing film in total darkness which is necessary with panchromatic film. Kodak used to suggest using orthochromatic film for making portraits of European skin tones that had a reddish “ruddy” hue. I have no first-hand information about this technique. I am not sure when people started using silver gelatin paper in cameras instead of film. It was very popular with pin hole cameras because paper is cheaper than film and much easier to process. Kodak used to make a very thin paper, Ad Type, which was considered to be particularly good for making paper negatives, since it was more transparent that usual paper.

If you are currently making, or interested in making, paper negatives the situation is quite good. In the 1970s photo paper on a vinyl base, rather than paper, was introduced. This stuff is easy and quick to process. It dries flat. It scans very well. It is much cheaper than large film; 25 sheets of 8×10 Ilford HP-5 is over $200 and Ilford Multigrade paper is about $130 for 100 sheets ($8 per exposure vs. $1.30). The paper is sensitive to colors excepting amber and red, more than the original papers were. In addition, current photo paper, such as Ilford Multigrade RC is hugely more sensitive to light than 19th century materials. My tests tell me that the Ilford paper is something like 64 times more sensitive than tintype (an early and popular direct print) material was. Translated into modern film speeds I find that Ilford Multigrade RC can be exposed at ISO 64 with strobe (electronic flash) illumination. With daylight the ISO might be as low as 25.

 

II

Cassie #14 from Courting Chaos

I am writing this as I begin a second project with paper negatives. The first project, Courting Chaos, began with an 11×14 camera and a desire to experiment with solarizing negative. Much of the inspiration came from Man Ray. You can see a lot of this project by starting with this link: https://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=4397 (some of this project is not “work safe”). Whatever I’m doing now began when a friend sent me a Bausch & Lomb Rapid Portrait lens a couple of months ago. I am very fortunate. The lens is a Petzval design and built in the 1890s, about 135 years ago. For a long time, these sorts of lenses were the big deal portrait lenses. They are incredibly sharp in the center, almost three dimensional. Sharpness degrades quickly at you move out from the center. In addition, they were very fast lenses, especially for large format cameras, so they had almost no depth of field. They create a very compelling portrait. Often people don’t consider that the lens can do a lot more than just a neutral rendition of the subject.

The Bausch & Lomb Rapid Portrait Lens

The Petzval was designed in 1840, just after Daguerre and Fox Talbot introduced methods of making photographs. Cameras existed before photographic materials. They were used as drawing aids. Of course, they had lenses, but, since an image for drawing could be re-focused and shifted, the lenses for these cameras weren’t suitable for making photographs where good focus had to cover most of the photographic plate. The Petzval was the first lens designed by mathematical computation rather than experience and experiment. Joseph Petzval was loaned several mathematicians by Archduke Louis of Austria, commander of artillery. The artillery was one of the few places where there were any people who could do the trigonometric calculations necessary for lens design. In addition to being incredibly sharp in the center of the image, theses lenses also had extremely high light transmission; they were “fast.” Even today this is one of the fastest lenses, for large format cameras, I have ever owned. I have owned a whole lot of lenses.

I should point out that there are some modern lenses, primarily from a company called Lomography, which are inspired by Petzval’s design. Of course, Petzval never made lenses designed to cover the small formats of today’s digital cameras; all of the original lenses were designed for cameras which shot plates that were quite large: a whole plate was 6.5×8.5 inches. Thus, these modern lenses are more inspired by than copies. Petzval lenses were not made for cameras much after 1900, but they were used for projecting images: movies and slides. Because they are fast lenses, and projection lenses are longer than shooting lenses this old formula worked well for this application.

These old lenses are quite prized by modern photographers making portraits with large format cameras. Also, modern photographers who make tintype and other wet plate images, the techniques used between the 1850s and the 1880s, are always looking for Petzval lenses. I am very fortunate to have been given this lens.

 

III

In order for any camera, modern digital or old large format, it needs to accomplish several things. It must focus light, which can be achieved with something as simple as a pinhole or with a complex modern zoom lens. While a pinhole doesn’t have to be in a particular position to achieve good focus, more complex lenses must be positioned quite precisely. A camera must hold the sensitive material in a the right position as well, or the focus will be degraded. A camera must control the amount of light which hits the sensitive material. This is achieved by controlling how much light comes through the lens and by how long the lens is open. The amount of light coming through the lens is controlled by a diaphragm in the middle of the lens. This control is usually measured in “f-stops.” These numbers are often confusing to new photographers. The amount of time the film or sensor is exposed to light is usually controlled by the aptly named “shutter.” When photography was beginning, since the sensitive materials were not very sensitive a lens cap could easily manage the exposure time. Modern cameras will generally have shutter speeds between several seconds and something as short as 1/4000th of a second. A camera must also block any stray light, light which doesn’t come through the lens, from exposing the film.

The Petzval mounted on my 8×10 Toyo. This is a camera from the 1980s

A camera from the 19th century generally had a ground glass back to focus the lens. The plate was in a holder which went the ground glass had been. The camera often had bellows between the film holding section, back standard, and the front standard, where the lens was mounted. Either the front or back, or both, could be moved to achieve correct focus. The diaphragm was most often in the middle of the lens, as a part of the lens. Sometimes a flat brass plate with a hole was used instead of a variable diaphragm. And the photographer might use his or her hat as a shutter. By the end of the 20th century all lenses designed for shooting had, in addition to a diaphragm, a leaf shutter. This shutter usually had speeds from 1 second to about 1/500th of a second. Photographers needed these shutters because, as mentioned, film is at least 50 times more light sensitive than the wet plate materials photographers were using when my Petzval was made. While I might make a 1 hour exposure, it was unusual to make an exposure longer than ¼ of a second.

IV

Perhaps all writing of done so far will make the problem clear to some readers. Certainly a few readers simply haven’t made it this far. The problem is how to actually make a picture with the Bausch Rapid Portrait lens. Often, I’ll read someone’s explanation of how to do a thing and it sounds as though they new exactly how to do a thing before even trying. I wish it was like that for me. First, I have to understand the problem then I begin to work through solutions.

A first test shooting the Petzval. Note that this is the negative

Problem #1
Getting the lens onto a camera. I actually have considerable experience with this one. I use Toyo 6.25×6.25-inch lens boards for large lenses. I’ve done a blog post which describes one way of cutting a large hole for a large lens: https://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=3662. There are other ways to cut lens boards, but this is about the only way I can cut very large holes, such as I need for the Bausch & Lomb lens. This lens did not come with a retaining ring, which is a threaded piece which holds the lens onto the board. When you don’t have the retaining ring, you can find a really good machinist to cut you one. Expensive. An alternative is the hose clamp method I’ve used here. It’s not elegant, but it does work. In addition to the clamp, I used some rubber as a sleeve which makes the lens more secure. I also used Permatex 82180 Ultra Black Maximum Oil Resistance RTV Silicone Gasket Maker. I’ve used this with a number of camera hacks, it’s really good stuff. Keep in mind you really, really don’t want the lens to fall off, really.

The lens held to the board with a hose clamp

Close up of the hose clamp mount

Problem #2
Controlling the exposure time. Since the lens is very fast, about f4 and I’m using modern material this is a heck of a problem. If I was going
to shoot this lens outdoors in full daylight, I’d need a shutter speed of about 1/1000th of a second. I could shut the diaphragm down block most of the light, but this would remove the Petzval effect: extremely sharp center and diffused sides of the frame. I could use a very dark neutral density filter, but this adds another step between focusing and shooting. If your subject moves you picture could be ruined. Still if I could find an 8 stop neutral density filter that was about 5 inches across it might work.

I have not solved the shutter problem. If you are interested in shutter hack, please check out this link: https://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=3695. Unfortunately, I don’t currently have any shutter large enough for this lens. I have found a work around.

Studio set up for testing. Note the ground glass back on the camera

This is the method I’ve used to shoot with this lens without a shutter. I’ve blocked out all the windows in my shooting area. I know that many people prefer what is called a daylight studio, but since I’ve written a couple of books about shooting with strobes (available at Amazon). I have a sodium vapor safelight set up in the studio. This is a relatively bright light that won’t expose modern photo papers, such as Ilford Multigrade. You could use other safelights, but it’s very helpful to have a bright safelight. You will be evaluating the moment to make your picture under just the safelight illumination.
I usually begin a portrait session with 3 lights set up. While I might use more gear as a session goes on, I find if I have a bunch of extra lights out the subject will often want me to explain why I’m not using them. For anyone whose know me for a long time, yes, I am still using Norman LH2000 lights and power packs. These days I’ll have one light with a 5-inch reflector and barn doors, a second with a stove pipe snoot and the third will start as bare bulb. The bare bulb light will be behind the subject to light the background and to give edge light to the subject. In addition, I’ll have a light panel with a silver reflector and a second panel with rip stop nylon. All the lights are strobes, once the modeling lights are turned off, they make no light until triggered. Then they make A LOT of light for about 1/1000th of a second. While I could imagine trying to do this with continuous lights, on some sort of short timer, I think it would be very difficult. Particularly since you can set the amount of light an individual strobe will put out, which would be more difficult with continuous lights. I’ve done several magazine articles about portrait photography which might be helpful. You can see them at this link https://www.siskinphoto.com/magazinearticles.php which includes most of my magazine work. I’ll start with 5 film holders. Each holder has two sides, so I’ll have 10 pieces of Ilford Multigrade or other photo paper loaded. Just like I start with a limited number of lights out, I start with a limited number of exposures. When I had an assistant, I would start with more film loaded.

I do have one continuous white light set up on a foot switch I use this to help focus, frame and direct the shot.

Once I have the shot arranged, I’ll turn off the white light. I have to get the subject to stay still. This is ALWAYS a problem with large format portraiture. People have the expectation that I can somehow correct the exposure even after the film holder is in the back of the camera. It’s not more difficult with this set up, except you have even less depth of field than you might have in a normal large format portrait session.


The greatest advantage of this method of working is that you can develop the images as you go. The first reason you’ll want to do this is that it makes it much easier to evaluate exposure and lighting. Since the processing time on modern paper is about 60 seconds this is almost as fast as Polaroid used to be in my 4×5 camera. Also, this tends to really impress the subject, who has likely never seen a print develop in a tray. The process helps to keep the subject engaged and motivated.

Thread 1

Direct positive photography was a very important part of commercial photography. Both of the early color photographic processes, Lumierre Autochrome and Kodak Kodachrome, were direct positive processes. The film you shot in the camera was put through several chemical baths and the product was positive color transparency or slide. This was particularly important for commercial color work because transparencies were easier to make color separations from for ink printing. Of course, Polaroid was a direct positive process as well and so were all those Super-8 movies. It was possible to use direct positive color paper, which was used for making color prints from transparencies and slides in the camera. Basically, the process was as described above but there was no safelight. So, in the moment you were making the shot, you were in the dark. This was interesting. Processing color paper is somewhat more difficult than processing black and white paper, but it wasn’t beyond what an amateur could do. Unfortunately, I can’t find anyone supplying direct positive color paper anymore. So it goes.

This shot was made by shooting Cibachrome print material in the camera. I did this shot more than 30 years ago. The print still looks fresh

A few links: Siskinphoto.Home

Introduction Page

Monument Valley

Taos Pueblo

Night Sky

Flowers

Monastery Road

Petroglyphs

Rock

Ice and Snow

Tsankawi

I did a large show when I was still in Indianapolis called Courting Chaos. The link will take you to the pages which describe the work and its evolution. These images are, well, chaotic and many of them are nudes. I hope you’ll find it interesting.

Links to my books, still available at Amazon!

April 24, 2021

Photographic Seeing and Interpretation

 

Apache Mountain Spirit Dancer at Museum Hill Santa Fe, by Craig Dan Goseyan

I made this picture Wednesday on Museum Hill in Santa Fe. The subject is a sculpture titled Apache Mountain Spirit Dancer, and it was made by Craig Dan Goseyan. It’s a very impressive piece. One of the things I hope this image captures is the effect created by the very large size of the work. Regardless of how I interpret the piece, and all photography of 3 dimensional objects, is interpretation, the effect of seeing a photograph is not the same as seeing the thing itself. If you see a photograph of the Grand Canyon, you haven’t seen the Grand Canyon. I think most people who have ever tried to photograph the Grand Canyon have discovered how photographs do not convey the effect of seeing the canyon.

I wanted to mention this because I have a related problem with sharing my images on computer screens. The effect of seeing the image on screens is not the same as seeing a print. First, as in the image of this sculpture, you do not have actual scale of the work. This sculpture must be close to 20 feet tall. If you’re looking at the image on a phone, you simply have no idea, and you also miss texture and much more. I’ve made many big prints over the years, some over 6 feet tall. In fact, one of the reasons I shoot large format film is that I can make big prints. The original size of the digital file of this image is 4 foot 6 inches tall at 300dpi. Actually, I could make an even bigger scan of this negative. If I were to make a traditional darkroom print of this shot, I could make it 9 feet tall, which would help convey the size of the sculpture. Of course, it would be an incredibly difficult thing to make such a print. A few old friends may remember that I once made an enlarger to make such huge prints. Another aspect of my interpretation of this sculpture is that I shot it in black and white. Any black and white image is certainly an interpretation of the original, since most of us see in color. Cole Weston was quoted as saying to his brother Brett “I see in color, don’t you?” I choose to shoot in black and white much of the time because I’m more interested in the shape and feel of my subjects and I want to push the viewers’ eye to see that way. That doesn’t mean I don’t use color; this image like most of my black and white images is subtly toned, which I hope affects the mood of the image. Of course, a print would allow me more control over the tone of an image because it wouldn’t be dependent on how you set up your monitor.

Often, I feel that sharing my images as small digital files is like listening to Tales From the Topographic Oceans done by the band Yes in 1973 on the original speaker of a 1967 Chrysler.  The sound that you hear are related to what the band recorded, but perhaps not closely related. Another disappointing aspect of sharing images this way is that the images from digital phones, and every other image making device out there, are the same size and on the same monitor as images that I crafted with large cameras and processed, painstakingly, in my darkroom.

When I began doing photograph, in the very early seventies, much of what we were taught was actually print making. In those days we were taught to print on silver chloride and silver bromide papers. In more recent times I’ve also learned to make Vandyke and cyanotype prints, both of which involve hand coating paper. I could scan and share these prints but you would lose just about every aspect of the prints which makes them special. Except for the cyanotypes which are a strong blue color. In addition to these types of prints I’ve also made type C prints and Cibachromes, both of which are color prints as well as a couple of platinum prints which are black and white. Print making is an art and craft which was once an integral part of photography; you could not learn to be a photographer without learning to be a print maker. Even when I started doing photography, by which time commercial color printing for amateur photographers was ubiquitous, photo classes always taught printmaking as part of the course. I was talking to another photographer, a guy who is really serious about it. He’s really into wet plate work, tin types and ambrotypes, but he has never actually seen a platinum print or a Vandyke print or an albumen print. These are all beautiful ways of presenting and interpreting a photographic image. One of the reasons that I like to shoot black and white film, rather than make wet plate negatives, is that I can print them in all these different ways. Truth be told, you can also convert your digital images into black and white negatives and print them out onto transparent media. You can make all these print types with these digital negatives. For a variety of reasons, I’ve made digital negatives of film images before printing them, this method works very well.

There are many very fine digital printers on the market and some very lovely papers designed for them. I certainly do not want to take anything away from the current Epson and Canon high end printers. I can’t think of any reason why I would want to make a color print using an enlarger and a darkroom. The simple fact is that these are better prints. Not only is the color spectacular, but the long-term stability of digital prints, if you do it right, is at least as good as prints made from color negatives using type C papers. The fact is that you can purchase one of these printers for much less than a 4×5 color enlarger would have cost you in 1980, in actual not corrected for inflation dollars, is fabulous. While people often mention the cost of paper and ink for these printers, you should have seen what paper and chemicals cost for color darkroom printing. I really like the Canon Pro 100 printer I use these days and I would certainly consider buying another printer from either Canon or Epson. These are terrific tools for color printing. They will also make a fine black and white print. But… the digitally printed black and white image is different from a darkroom print. The dyes or pigments used for the prints are different, and look different, from the silver halides used in traditional black and white prints. The digital prints will also look different, sometimes very different, from the various hand coated prints: Vandyke, cyanotype, platinum and so on. Still it’s no reason not to try and make black and white prints with an ink jet printer, and it might lead to hand made printing.

One more thing about digital printing: it’s really easy to make a bunch of prints. Thousands… So, I’ll sell a digital print for $75, but I won’t sell any darkroom print for less than $300, and some prints would be much more expensive. If you see any prints that you’re interested in on my site, or that I’ve posted, please contact me about buying a print!

In addition to buying images from me, PLEASE buy some photo books. I was looking around my office today and I have over 375 photo books, just in my office. You can look at the images of other photographers on line, and that will improve your seeing, but books allow the photographer to have greater control over the size color and presentation of the images. I believe that spending time with images, especially images the maker cared about, is the best way to improve your own image making.

I thought it might be good to close this post with another image of a sculpture. By way of contrast with the first image in this post, this piece is 3 inches high. It’s a monochromatic piece of work. So, I added color and built a background for the piece in this shot. Also, if you’re interested, I made this image BEFORE Photoshop. The shot was done on a single piece of film using light, multiple exposure and props, old school!

Check out my books at Amazon. I’m not sure the links will work, but you can search for me at Amazon. A digital print of Apache Mountain Spirit Dancer is available for $75 which includes shipping the U.S.A. Such a deal. Please e-mail me at john@siskinphoto.com to order this or another print. Thanks for your attention!

Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographers

https://amzn.to/3tH5Dp9

Photographing Architecture: Lighting, Composition, Post production and Marketing Techniques

https://amzn.to/3c8nLlU

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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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.

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:

June 8, 2016

Roberts Park Church #6

Roberts Park Church #6

Roberts Park Church #6

Another stair case form Roberts Park Church. I already mentioned that I like pictures of staircases. I did a shoot a Roberts Park Church a few weeks ago. I was there with the 8X10 camera. Used Ilford HP-5 in case anybody is checking. This was the last shot of the day. I know it was taken with the 8.25 inch Gold Barrel Dagor, you can see the lens. Sweet lens. Shot between f32 and f45. There is an inherent composition in a staircase. A good one combines form, function and a sense of time.

set-up #6

I actually remembered to shoot a set-up shot with the phone. I should do this more often. You can see that the shift is used, pretty much all the shift on the camera. Of course this is because I’m only shooting one side of the holder. You can’t really see that the lens is tilted down, which allows the depth of field to follow the bannister. You can see the top of the Ries Tripod, great tripod. My Leica bag with all the accessories, and thither holders is in the background. Oh, the camera is the Toyo 810M. I think I got the camera back in about 1985? Lot of great stories with that camera and these accessories.

I’ve shot a lot of staircases on commercial jobs. I even did work for a client in Los Angeles that specialized in making custom staircases. You can check out a few of the shots: http://www.siskinphoto.com/architecture1q.php, http://www.siskinphoto.com/architecture1s.php and http://www.siskinphoto.com/architecture1u.php.

If you’d like print of this image, I’d like to send you one. The image will be about 14 inches tall and mounted on cotton rag board (the good stuff). If you use the PayPal link below I’ll even include shipping in the U.S. I appreciate your support.


Also don’t forget my workshops: http://www.siskinphoto.com/workshop.php.

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


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