Saturday, February 29, 2020

Leap Day, and some notes about the FPP D-96 Developer

I believe that over the course of the past 16 years, this is the first time I have posted on a leap day, Feb. 29.  To underscore the odd day, we got about 2 to 3 inches of snow last night, here in Weaverville, NC.  Since we are "in the mountains," snow isn't foreign here, and it certainly isn't as bad as snow-bound Michigan.  However, I decided to not drive to the Penland School of Crafts open house today, since that really IS in the mountains, and I'm not too sure about the road conditions.  If it were Michigan, it would not be a problem.  So, today, I will catch up on negative scanning and image editing.

Michael Raso and I, and a thumbs up for D-96!

One new thing that I have tried has been the D-96 film developer from FPP.  Michael Raso convinced me to give it a try, especially with b&w emulsions designed for the cinema.  Kodak's D-96 is used extensively to develop cinematic b&w films such as the Eastman 5222, or Double-X.  Of course, it can also be used for other films, such as T-Max 100.  D-96 is used without dilution, and 1 gallon can develop up to 50 rolls of 35mm film.

To date, I have developed four rolls of Eastman 5222 and 1 roll of T-max 100.   For most films, it seems that the times are pretty much the same, which makes it amenable to trying it with other films not listed in the FPP chart.

D-96 Development Times From the FPP site:

FILM             ISO    TEMP    TIME (minutes)
100Tmax          100    68F      7.5 
400Tmax          400    68F      8 
TMZ3200         3200    68F      12.5 
FPP Low ISO BW     6    68F      7 
FPP SONIC BW      25    68F      8 
Ferrania P30      80    68F      9 
X2 (Double-X)    200    68F      7.5 
400 TX           400    68F      8 
Orwo UN54        100    68F      5.5 
Orca B/W Lomo    100    68F      6 
FP4              125    68F      8 
HP5              400    68F      9 
FPP Blue Sensitive 6    68F      7.5 
Polypan F         50    68F      9  

The FPP recommends that you use the developer undiluted and pour the developer back into the container after using.  For more information, see the product listing.  That's how I am using it, and I'll keep track of how many rolls I get before the results start to indicate that it's time to buy another gallon.  As I try other emulsions with D-96, I'll add them to the above list.

D-96 is similar to D-76, but D-76 is best used 1:1 as a one-shot developer, which is how I use it.  D-96 apparently gives a bit less contrast, and it differs from D-76 in the ratios of the components (metol, hydroquinone, sodium sulfite, and borax, but also contains sodium bromide.

Some sample images.  I'm happy with my results, and look forward to seeing how D-96 does with other films!

Eastman 5222,  Nikon FM3a

Eastman 5222, Nikon FM3a

Eastman 5222Nikon FM3a

Eastman 5222Nikon FM3a

T-max 100 (expired) Spotmatic F
T-max 100 (expired) Spotmatic F

Eastman 5222, Canon 7

Eastman 5222, Canon 7

Eastman 5222, Canon 7

Also, see my video here -

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Those were the days...

I recently started scanning in some of my 35mm slides from 1980.  That was my first trip to the Southwestern US.  At the time, I was a graduate student at SUNY-ESF in Syracuse, NY, and was working on a master's degree in entomology.  Roy Norton, a professor in the department asked if I wanted to go on a two-week trip to the Sonoran Desert,  camping out along the way, and collecting insects at many locations (none from the national parks, of course).  It was a great trip in Roy's Ford Pinto station wagon, the back crammed with gear and supplies.  It's the trip where I learned to drive a manual-shift car, and my introduction to a real road trip across the USA.  We hit a lot of traditional destinations - Mesa Verde, Grand Canyon, Great Sand Dunes National Monument, Monument Valley, the Painted Desert, Flagstaff, Tuscon, Organ Pipe Cactus National Park, and Saguaro National Park. Mostly we took secondary roads once we got into Colorado, and I wish that I had kept a journal of that trip.  I did take a borrowed Pentax Spotmatic camera, which was certainly an upgarade over my old Exa Ia SLR.    There were no electronics, we navigated with road maps, and we always carried plenty of water. 

1980 is the year that I think everything started to change.  I wish that I had been thinking as a photographer at the time and shot some of the town that we went through. The funky old towns hadn't yet been ravaged by Walmarts, and the uniformity we see today of chain stores and restaurants along strips had yet to happen.  Sure, we stopped at McDonald's when we were traveling, but we ate on a budget, and I have a memory of stopping somewhere in Arkansas for bread to make sandwiches (PB&J, of course), and all the store had was that awful white Wonder bread.  At the Grand Canyon, we camped at one of the campsites- and I found that the 25-cent shower was certainly a quick one.  That low-alcohol Coors sure tasted pretty good, too.

The trip was a great success, and I have a fair number of slides from it.  I scanned a few slides earlier this week, and all of the scans require minutes of removing dust spots.  I shot Ektachrome and Kodachrome, and all of the slides have aged pretty well. Over 40 years, they have been moved around, and at some point in the mid-1980s, I transferred them from the slide boxes to plastic storage sheets in binders.  Now that I have more time, I'll continue to scan the slides in, and I am finding that I did pretty well with most of my shots.  It just takes some time to clean up the images after the scan.

Here are a few... some have not been cleaned up.

Great Sand Dunes National Monument

Great Sand Dunes National Monument

Great Sand Dunes National Monument

Great Sand Dunes National Monument

near Oak Creek Canyon, AZ

The Grand Canyon, of course

Arizona Snow Bowl near Flagstaff

Monument Valley, converted from color slide.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

One Roll Review - Rollei RPX 25

It seems that this is one of the few low-ISO films that I have not tried until now.  The film came on the market in 2014, so it's been available for quite a while. I placed a big order of Rollei and other films that I had yet to try, and B&H quickly shipped them to my door.  Among the films was Rollei RPX 25, which I assumed was a sort of replacement for the old Agfa APX 25, which I definitely liked when I shot with it over a decade ago.  After doing a bit of research, the RPX 25 is a different sort of film, which is made by someone, certainly not Rollei. While the packaging and the Rollei name are licensed by Maco, the film is quite different from the Rollei Ortho 25 Plus, and is not advertised as having extended red sensitivity like the Retro 80s film. 

From the RPX 25 Datasheet (translated by user ashfaque on Rangefinder forum 12/2015):

"Low-sensitivity, high-resolution, panchromatic black and white film, ISO 25/15°
Rollei RPX 25 is a panchromatic B&W film with a nominal sensitivity of ISO 25/15°, which is cast on a modern crystal clear, synthetic carrier.
    This film is characterized by its high resolution at fine grain and high edge sharpness. Rollei RPX 25 behaves perfectly in over- or under-exposure due to its optimum sensitivity reserve of up to 2 stops. Depending on the developer, the film compensates critical lightning situations. The 5µ film - silver-rich-panchromatic sensitized Rollei RPX 25 is poured into a crystal-clear polyester carrier of 100µ. "

Main Features in Brief

  • Low sensitive panchromatic film at ISO 25/15°
  • Resolution Contrast Ratio 1000: 1 = 260 lines / mm
  • RMS granularity (x1000) = 8
  • Exposure range (between 12 and 50 ISO)
  • Good pull-push characteristics
  • Good rendering of tones
  • Very good maximum blackness;
  • Transparent = optimal for scanning and as slide
  • Optimum flatness thanks to anti-curling layer

I shot my roll of RPX 25 while on a trip to Dutchess Co., NY in early February.  I also traveled around the nearby CT/MA/NY area, and when I found myself at Great Falls on the Housatonic River, I knew that a low-ISO film was perfect for what I was seeing.  I loaded my Nikon FM3a with the RPX 25 and had exposures of about 2 sec maximum.  I saw no problem with long vs normal exposure times.  I developed the film in Kodak D-76 1:1 for 8 minutes at 20°C.

some negatives on the light table

In my research about this film, I found that it could have been made by Agfa, and might have been the Agfa Aviphot 80 aerial film. Which apparently, is the same as the Rollei Retro 80s.  I have shot the Retro 80s, and I like it, and it does not appear to me to be the same film.  The Polyester base does lie very flat, which to me, is a plus in scanning.   I know that the Rollei films are all rebranded from other manufacturers, and of course, it's not old-stock Agfa APX 25. What exactly is it?  Does it really matter?  It's documented that the Rollei Retro 80s is the Aviphot 80 film.   I am not buying that RPX 25 is the same film.  I am glad that the RPX 25 is available and from what I have seen thus far, an excellent film for landscapes.  I'll leave the keyboard commandos to their theories about the film's origin.

One may argue that one roll isn't really testing this film.  I shot the film at the box speed, using a camera and a subject that I am familiar with in my shooting style.  Yes, I used a tripod and a cable release.  I feel that my results matched my expectations for a low-ISO panchromatic film.  Of course, I would shoot this film again.   

One bit of caution - since the film is on a PET base, light-piping can occur, so keep the film in the black canister, and load in dim light. 

All images shot with a Nikon 35-105 zoom Nikkor, unless otherwise specified.

on the way home, along I-26 N of Asheville, 50mm f/1.4 nikkor

on the way home, along I-26 N of Asheville, 50mm f/1.4 nikkor

Friday, February 07, 2020

Documenting My Trips

As with just about everyone I know, I carry a cell phone with me at all times.  My iPhone XR is an indispensable tool that helps me document my photography trips.  Yes, the camera in the iPhone does an incredibly good job with making photos.  That's where most of my images on Instragram come from.  Although I try and keep a detailed notebook when I travel, I usually go over my notes in the evening and enter them into the notebook.  Instead of writing everything down while shooting, I take reference shots with my phone (some of which I post online), which of course, has the coordinates attached to the image information.  I use Google Maps quite a bit to see where I was, and then I'm able to do more research after the fact.  I am on a trip to NY State right now, and while the purpose is to visit family, it's also a good opportunity to do more photography of an area I rarely get to these days. 

Just yesterday, I went on a short drive near Amenia, NY towards Sharon, CT.  I used Google Maps to label my stops and then later, when I was home, I could write up my notes and include the precise location  of each stop.  I have been photographing some old cemeteries which are lacking in signage, so retracing my route on Google Maps has helped me research the sites and figure out the exact name of the cemetery.  In addition, if a place is visible on street view, it's often very helpful to be more positive of the exact place visited.

I also do the reverse if I am scouting out an area for potential places to photograph.  Having that information ahead of time has been quite helpful.  Sometimes it turns out that a potential site isn't as good as I thought, or there may be structures or obstacles nearby that make me change my mind about the access.

I suppose that I could also have voice notes (turned to text of course), if I wanted to be even more concise while traveling, showing how amazing these little computers/entertainment centers/phones/cameras have become.   It's an interesting marriage of digital and analog tools that make my photography trips richer with having so much information at my fingertips.

Here is an iPhone photo of one of the cemeteries near Sharon, CT.  The oldest graves date from the 1780s.  Many of these burial grounds are surrounded by beautiful dry-laid stone walls that are so widespread in New England. 

Saturday, February 01, 2020

The Pentax Spotmatic F - still going strong.

My Spotmatic F and a selection of lovely Takumar lenses
I have used/owned many Pentax SLRs over the past 40+ years.  I used a borrowed Pentax Spotmatic F  from 1978 to 1980 to document my work on sand wasps in graduate school. Later, in 1983, I purchased a K-mount Pentax MG at a Service Merchandise in Ann Arbor, MI.  Similar to the Pentax ME, it got me through nearly 20 years of half-assed photography, until I started on my venture to be a real photographer in 2000.  Since then, I have had many Pentax SLRs come and go, and while I am mostly a dedicated Nikon user, I have a soft spot for the Spotmatic.  In terms of quality, features, and ergonomics, the last M42-mount camera from Pentax, the Spotmatic F, is the camera that I have kept for the past few years, and will keep as a user.  I don't shoot with it that often, but lately, I have been using it more in jaunts around town.  I believe it's a far better camera than the K1000, which has received so much adoration, and yet, lacks significant features.  While the K-mount makes it easier and quicker to change lenses, it's not a big deal to work with screw-mount cameras. 

While the Spotmatic F appeared in 1973 and offered full-aperture metering with the matching lenses, it was certainly behind the curve compared to Nikon and Minolta.  Any M-42 lens can be used, but unless it has the additional tab for the open-aperture metering, one has to switch the metering button upward and use stop-down metering on the camera. 

Despite those drawbacks, I find using the Spotmatic F to be very easy and comfortable in the hands.  I recently took a series of photos around Beaver Lake as well as downtown Asheville, and the results were excellent.  I have a nice series of lenses. Besides the 50mm 1.4, I have the 28mm/3.5, 35mm /3.5, and 135mm/2.5, which is a wonderful lens.  All are in excellent condition, and make for a nice kit.  In addition, I have other M-42 lenses, such as the Helios 44 from a Zenit 12XP.

If you are interested in trying any of the old M-42 SLRs, you can't wrong with the Spotmatic F.  While there are a plethora of M-42 SLR bodies out there by Ricoh, Chinon, Praktica, Mamiya, Zenit, etc., none of them have the finish and feel of a Spotmatic. 

Pentax Spotmatic Resouces:

A few recent images...
Fomapan 400:

Ilford Ortho Plus 80: