Digital Photography?

I’m not a bigot toward digital photography. I think it’s wonderful because it’s done so much to open up photography to exceptionally talented people who might not have given it the time of day back when film reigned supreme. But, I have practically zero interest in going out of my way to see it unless it’s the subject matter that interests me.

Film photography, and especially darkroom prints, are another matter. That I will go to see regardless of the subject matter. I will stand back and take in the composition. Unworthy though I may be, I will arrogantly pass judgement on the artistic merit. I will press my nose right up to the glass to see the texture of the grain. And, if the photographer happens to be present, I will go stand close enough to bask in the euphoria of his aura.

Digital isn’t bad. It’s probably what made me really appreciate darkroom photography. Until digital came along, I was like everyone else. Now I’m weird.

Relining the Chromega light mixer

I’ve had my Super Chromega D Dichroic II for over tens years and have never paid much attention to the light mixing chamber that sits above the negative carrier.  I don’t print color, so the change in light color from long term yellowing has never caused me much grief.  Lately, though, I’ve noticed that I am not getting even light distribution across the entire negative area when I print 35mm and it could be even worse with larger negative sizes.

I noticed that the central area of the diffusion screen on the bottom of the mixing chamber has become quite glossy in the center and tests have shown that it reflects the negative.  Well, actually, it reflects the white negative carrier which results in a band of brighter light around the outside edges of he 35mm frame.  I was able to remedy the problem by covering the diffuser with dull finish diffusion material (like the diffusion material used on studio lights) or by covering the top of the negative carrier with black paper.

Nonetheless, the diffuser and lining of the mixing chamber had become yellowed and the shiny spot in the center made me think it needed to be replaced.  Luckily, Omega sells a relining kit that can be purchased through B&H for $98.50.  I ordered it and it came this week.

The mixer is accessible by removing the front door of the Chromega lamp house.

The lining kit includes the foam pieces, diffuser, and instructions.

First, remove the six screws that hold the top on.

You may need to pry the top off using a small screwdriver at the corner.

Save the springy plastic "pressure loop". It will be reused.

Remove the long pins that hold the top foam piece on.

Next remove the tight fitting front and back pieces.

The output diffuser can be removed by pushing up from the bottom.

The old liner is on the left and the new kit is on the right.

I used a razor blade to bevel the upper edge of the top foam piece.

The bevelling of the upper edge eliminates interference with the cover.

Install the long pins to hold the top foam in place.

Replace the pressure loop.

Finally, install the cover and secure it with the six screws. Be careful not to over tighten the screws.

I noticed the new output diffuser has a glossy surface on the bottom and a matt finish on the top, opposite from the old one.  This is problematic because the glossy surface reflects the white edges of the negative carrier resulting in uneven lighting of the negative.  As noted above, the reflection can be eliminated by covering the diffuser with a piece of dull diffusion material or by covering the negative carrier with black paper.  I intend to use the latter option, except I will paint the negative carrier black.  I sometimes use Ilford Variable Contrast filters under the mixing chamber and, since they are glossy, they would present the same issue as the glossy diffuser.  Making the 35mm negative carrier black will reduce the light output, but  that suits me fine since I often find myself having to use neutral density filtration to get long enough exposure times with faster papers such as Adorama RC.

Unfortunately, I neglected to make a color temp reading of the light output before relining the chamber, but the light looks whiter.  I wouldn’t be surprised if my prints showed slightly higher contrast for the same filtration due to the replacement of the old yellowed liner.

If you want to test the light distribution of your enlarger, just make a high contrast print (max magenta filtering or a #5 VC filter) without a negative in the carrier.  Ideally, the print should be a uniform gray tone from corner to corner.  If you see light fall-off toward the corners, you might try using a lens made for a larger format.  For example, I get more even light distribution using my Nikkor 80mm lens than I do with my Nikkor 50mm lens.

Efke IR820: Red vs “Opaque” filters

I’ve been experimenting with infrared films and have just run a test on a batch of Efke 35mm IR820 Aura.  I always test a few frames of Efke IR films because I have had a lot of problems with what I believe are emulsion defects.   The rolls I recently received had a new emulsion number, so I decided to test it before taking it on my upcoming San Francisco photo expedition.

I always use an IR720 filter with Efke IR820, but I decided to try a few shots with a plain old Nikon red #60 (equivalent to the standard #25A).  As expected, the IR effect (usually referred to as the “Wood effect“) essentially disappeared.  The sky came out about as dark as it would with ordinary panchromatic film using a standard red filter.  Since the emulsion of Efke IR film is created from an ordinary panchromatic formula to which IR sensitivity is added, exposing it to light in the visible spectrum easily overwhelms the IR sensitivity.

Efke IR820 Aura with IR720 "opaque" filter

Efke IR820 Aura using ordinary red filter

Shadows are commonly very dark when using red filtration, especially with IR film because the blue part of the sky does very little to fill shadows.  Most shadow fill must come from light reflected from other surfaces (such as the driveway).

Interestingly, the CFL lamp between the garage doors is visible in the second picture, but is dark in the one using the IR filter.  Fluorescent lamps radiate very little IR energy.

Given my recent discussion of cheap no-name filters, I should mention that the 77mm screw-in IR720 filter I use is, in fact, a no-name brand purchased off ebay for $18.  Name brand IR filters can easily cost $100-300.  The no-name brand works great from what I’ve been able to tell, although I admittedly don’t have a name-brand filter to compare it to.  I don’t do enough IR photography to justify the more costly filters.

So how about those cheap ebay filters?

I’m an occasional user of filters to accentuate the sky on my pictures.  Mostly I use red with or without a polarizer, but being the cheapskate that I am, I use square series P Cokin plastic (optical resin) filters with adapters so I can put them on any lens I own.  The problem with Cokin is that they are fragile and a little awkward to use compared with screw-in filters, which are far more secure when you’re hiking through town with your camera dangling on a neck strap.

So, I decided to give those cheap no-name screw-in filters available on ebay from Hong Kong a try, beginning with orange and yellow.  I first ordered from a seller known as Fotocola and not being too happy with what I received, I then ordered from a seller named Citiwide, also disappointing.

Fotocola and Citiwide filters

I paid $7.99 for each of the Fotocola filters and $5.25 for each of the Citiwide filters.  Both were uncoated, but then so are my Cokin filters.  Mechanically, they seemed acceptable, although I didn’t experiment with whether they were easier or harder to get on and off than other name brand screw-in  filters.

One instantly noticeable peculiarity about the Fotocola filters is that they are apparently laminated (two pieces of glass with filter media in between).  You can see multiple reflections on these filters whereas this is not something I’ve seen with any other filter (although Tiffen is reputed to use laminated construction).  The reflection looks the same when viewed from either side.

Fotocola orange on left (note double reflection), Citiwide orange on right

I don’t know how much of an impairment that would be, but it might actually make the filter more scratch resistant.

The next noticeable aspect of these filters is the color.  While the Fotocola filters appeared to be almost what you’d expect for a medium yellow (K2) filter and an orange (G) filter, the Citiwide filters were more pale.  This was confirmed by measuring light transmission through the filters with a light meter.  The Citiwide filters passed less saturated.

Citiwide filters are more pale than Fotocola.

I don’t have an Orange (G or O56) filter from a top name company, but The Cokin yellow (001) filter (equivalent to K2) is a noticeably deeper yellow than the Citiwide filter (even if it’s not obvious from the picture below).  Even the Fotocola looked a little more pale than the Cokin and, indeed, measured slightly less dense with a light meter than the Cokin.

Fotocola (left), Citiwide (right), Cokin (bottom)

Finally, the color of orange Fotocola filter was not uniform over the entire filter.  The following two pictures should illustrate this.

Fotocola orange (on left): left side of filter is slightly lighter

Same picture but with Fotocola filter (on left) rotated so light side is on the right.

To summarize, the cheap filters definitely have a couple problems:

  1. The colors are not really coordinated or cross-referenced with the standard color values we’re familiar with  (K2, 25A, G, O56, X1, etc).  Of course, absolute precision in the color is not as important with black and white filters as it is with color, but the standard filter factors will be slightly inaccurate when used with these filters.
  2. Uniformity can be a problem and, of course, they are not coated (much less multicoated) as are filters from the more respected manufacturers.

Of these four filters, I will probably only use the Fotocola yellow filter because it seems comparable to the Cokin in color.  If you don’t use filters very often, paying upwards of $50 for one might not be too appealing.  I wanted to get 77mm filter which I could then adapt to all my lenses.  Oddly, I was able to find new Nikon #60 (red) filters readily available for $10, while their yellow (Y48) filter is $75 and their orange (O56) is $30.  I believe all are now out of production, which might be a factor.

In an upcoming post I will talk about low-priced UV filters from a company called JYC which look just like Hoya’s well regarded Pro1-D filters right down to the “Pro1-D” label.

Anatomy of a picture

Since I print my pictures in a traditional wet darkroom, one of the reasons for starting this blog was to talk about printing techniques using my pictures as examples.  I will call those posts “Anatomy of a Picture” so they can easily be sorted out from other subjects.  This is my first entry on that topic.

The first picture below is a scan of a straight full frame print from a recent picture I shot within a couple miles of my house.  The picture was made with a Nikon F100 and I’m pretty certain the lens was a Nikkor 80-200 f2.8 zoom.  The film was Ilford Delta 400 exposed at EI 400 and developed in Kodak Xtol 1:1 at 72.5F for 10 minutes.

By “straight print” I simply mean no dodging or burning was done.  Essentially, this print is the starting point from which I determine what can be done to improve the visual impact of the image.  The most obvious distraction is the bright foreground which was in direct sunlight.  Since the foreground is out of focus, I definitely didn’t want it to be the center of attention.

Original straight print of full frame

To improve the picture I decided to crop out much of the foreground and recompose using the rule of thirds.   To further subdue the foreground, I decided to darken it by burning it in.  And finally, I decided to do what I refer to in my notes as an “oval edge burn”, which is basically nothing more than using an oval shaped dodging tool to burn in the edges of of the image so as to draw the eye more toward the center of interest.  Usually, this is quite subtle.  In fact, it can easily be mistaken for light fall-off common with wide angle lenses (although this is not a wide angle shot).

Anyway, to summarize the process of this print, I exposed this print three times under the enlarger.  The first was an over all exposure of 45 seconds at f8 with 25 units of magenta filtering which equates to contrast grade 3 on Adorama multigrade RC paper.  For the second exposure I used a large circular dodging tool to give 25 seconds of additional exposure to the bottom quarter of the picture.  For the third and final exposure, I used the oval shaped dodging tool to burn in all four sides of the print for 15 seconds.

Final print after cropping and burning.

Not a spectacular image, but definitely an improvement over the original composition.  In the words of Ansel Adams:

The negative is the score, the print is the performance.

Is artistic photography being relegated to history?

If you’re a photographer, you’re probably hearing about more and more instances of fellow photographers being subjected to questioning with regard to their photographic activities in public places. Before 9/11 this was practically unheard of, but photography is now seen as suspicious by law enforcement as well as private security organizations.  At the top of the DHS’s “Seven Signs of Terrorism” is surveillance which includes photography.

There is no doubt that, to law enforcement, the terrorist threat easily trumps your right to take pictures.  Long Beach, California is a case in point:

Police Chief Jim McDonnell has confirmed that detaining photographers for taking pictures “with no apparent esthetic value” is within Long Beach Police Department  policy.

If that weren’t enough, taking pictures of kids on a playground given today’s sex crime hysteria easily raises suspicions that you could be a child predator.  After all, why else would you be taking pictures of other people’s children?  Their paranoia also trumps your rights as a photographer.

Carlos Miller runs a website dedicated to reporting on incidents where photography is routinely and illegally suppressed.  With cell phones now commonly being capable of high quality still and video images, photography in the public space is certainly becoming more common, but it is also being perceived as a threat.  It could be that setting up a tripod and meticulously composing that perfect night time oil refinery picture will soon be activity that only happened back in the good ol’ days.

My Place

To start things rolling here, I just decided to post a few pictures of my frame shop and darkroom.  I was just using up the remaining frames on a roll of film that I shot as part of a lens testing project and this turned out to be the subject of those extra frames.

The pictures below are all taken with a Nikon F100 through a Sigma 14mm f3.5 lens on TMY2 at EI 400, developed in Xtol 1:1, and printed on Adorama 8×10 RC glossy paper.

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Frame Shop

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Darkroom -- dry side

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Darkroom - wet side on left, dry side on right