Film Experiments in the Digital Age

July 19, 2014  •  2 Comments

Bossk the ChihuahuaOne of the first images with the Rolleicord V. I very gratefully received a Rolleicord V as a wedding gift in June. I have always been passionate about medium format photography and I couldn't wait to try this beautiful machine. I used my digital camera set at the same ISO as the film as my starting point. I also shot the images in monochrome to get a better feel for the tonal ranges and contrast in the black and white film. My next monsterous challenge was to accumulate the necessary processing supplies. 

Its off the Dodd Camera (Dayton) to get whatever I can to begin the process I studied for years in my youth. I bought a five pack of Kodak TMY 400. It was a good place to begin and I admire the films extreme latitude and speed. 

In being completely digital for the past 10-15 years, this process has been an on-going lesson in patience. I had to order developer...and wait. Order a plastic reel for my 25 year old stainless steel film tank...and wait. 

It was surreal experience. There is no back of the camera post-view. No histogram. No auto-focus. No exposure meter. I had to trust my gut, my focus and go. I made some interesting multi-exposures because I forgot the advance the film. I laughed out loud at myself and hoped for the best as I am still making this mistake.

Once I got everything together, I found my plastic reel did not fit the tank. This was discovered on the steep steps of  my lightless basement AFTER I had spent an hour trying to load the film. I used to be so good at it!!! So I removed the film and put it safe in the tank. Angry and frustrated I actually considered processing it with no reel. As I prepared the bathroom for dip and dunk processing, my new husband, Jerry, came to the rescue. He removed about a half inch of the plastic reel's loading guides so it would fit the old tank. (Im cheap. I refused to buy another reel or tank) Now I had the challenge of loading the film on this altered contraption. Another half hour and I had the tank loaded.

My first development times and temps were rough. I started with D-76 mixed at a 1:1 ratio. I developed the first roll at the recommended temp of 68 degrees at 12 minutes. I got bullet proof negs and I think my thermometer was "off" The negatives were of good quality despite the over development thanks to the forgiving nature of T-max.

My next roll was developed the same way with two minutes less development time. A little better but still large grained and thick as a brick. I cut off MORE time and realized I was also over-exposing the film. My next roll was compensated and processed at 8 minutes. Much better.

My next painful lesson in patience "How do I make positives?" My enlarger has been in my mother's storage for 20+ years along with my timers, safelight and processing trays. Printing was not possible and I wanted them NOW. Of course! I am among the first born of a generation of "Instant Gratification"  I think God has a sense of humor and was probably laughing as I learned the lesson in patience that day. 

I don't have a film scanner and they are painfully out of my price range. What if I photographed the negatives on a lightbox? No lightbox? No problem. My first attempt was taping them to the living room window. Not a good plan. I got every doggy nose print sandwiched ever so grossly with my digital captures. I built a small light table out of two stacks of books, a sheet of 16 by 20 plexi-glass, and white paper. I created a sort of "bridge" with the plexi using the books and the plain white paper 12 inches underneath. I lit the paper with an off camera flash (sb-900) to force diffused light through the negs.  The negatives were then shot at with the smallest aperture possible at 1/200 of a second. A 70mm lens was sufficient since the negs were big and did not require a macro lens. I shot with a Nikon D3 but my Nikon D5000 worked better bc it was lighter. I handheld the camera and simply lined up the edges of the negative to ensure minimal distortion.

The digital files were converted in Photoshop under Image-Adjust-Invert. The exposures were tricky as I copied them bc I was seeing a negative image on the camera back. I found the best conversions were made with a very precisely exposed digital file. It was best a little thin and shadow/highlight details were visible. I have found this exposure of the negatives to be the most critical part of the copy process. Not much luck in post trying to manipulate over or under-exposed digital negatives. I worked them in RAW as neg images, using Curves. Also I removed an color by zeroing Saturation. The exciting part was the Inversion process. From there I made small adjustments in contrast, burned and dodged. I added a sepia tone to some in Lightroom to enhance the mood of the images and preserve the "vintage" feel. 

The following images have had minimal retouching to show the film scratches and other classic film imperfections. I think they add to the old-timey mood. Some scratches in the plexi-glass also show through. The good news about this is that I can take the best negs and purchase high quality scans. Im very pleased with the quality of this crude and almost savage process.  It was inexpensive and very rewarding. 

                                                                                            


Comments

Gordon Cooper(non-registered)
Well, in the Rolleicord II there is an eye-level viewer that sort of is like the one on a digital camera. But entirely optical! You can use an external light meter, take close up reflected light readings and build your own histogram like chart for an image, should you have that much time, even lighting and patience.

I had problems loading a roll of Ultrafine 400 on a metal reel so I used a Kodacraft style plastic corrugated one I had. It somehow flipped sideways in the Nikon steel tank, leading to some slightly uneven development. That has taught me not to mix components randomly. I should have spooled the roll on my ratchet plastic reel and used the plastic tank for consistency sake. Never make the same mistake twice. Learn to make new and more complicated mistakes!
Herman(non-registered)
Wonderful and hilarious story about fighting ones way to the past. Impatience is my second name and nothing is going to stop me to find my own solutions. This is the real spirit! It is a great camera the Rolleicord V, I own one myself and it is my most precious camera I have. So far seen Sarah, great results.
Kind regards,
Herman
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