Monday, August 19, 2013

Rise Of The (Junkyard) Robots - Part One

Well folks - if you've read enough of these posts you'll know that I am a fan of a certain old camera - my Rolleiflex T - or Olly as he is known. He's a cheaper Rollei with the Tessar lens as opposed to a Planar or Xenar.
He is the camera I chose when I decided I wanted to start making photographs again - I bought him some, Oooo, ten years ago from the now defunct (and sorely missed) MXV Photographic. Olly cost me the not inconsiderable (at that time and even now) sum of £249 and that included a case and a proper scissor strap too.
Prices on T's have wildly fluctuated, and I have often wondered about that - I think a lot of people just see the name Rollei and are then underwhelmed by the results from the lens, but actually, the lens is rather good, you just have to know how to use it properly.
Forget the world of shooting wide open all the time (it just shows that you have little imagination as a photographer)- on the T, the results will be OK, just not stunning.
Mix it up for close-ups with some Rolleinars and you will end up with a photograph as sharp as any you could ever wish to take. Rolleinars are a close-up accessory and come in 3 sizes, ultimately going from face filling frame, to super-close.
When you have played enough with them, take them off and then stop down to the Tessar's optimum aperture of f11 and you have a different beast altogether.
For years I had stopped well down for landscapes and so on, and it was only latterly that I read about the Tessar being designed to work at its best at f11, so I tried it, and bingo! It took me a long time and a lot of film to try this - surely, I thought, stopping right down will give me the maximum DOF and detail . . surely ? ? ? ?
. . . in other words I was too pig-headed and stupid to try anything other.
Well I was wrong.
At f16 and f22 it is a good lens, don't get me wrong, but, simply put, at f11 it is pretty wonderful.
I've scanned a couple of photos made at that aperture for you to look at below; they were made on Ilford Pan F, developed in HC110.
I wonder if you'll agree with me.
Oh and I used a tripod for those too.

Ilford Galerie - Grade 2, Kodak Polymax Developer, Rodenstock Rodagon, DeVere 504
Don't Fence Me In.
I loved the fact that someone had trimmed this derelict garden, but had left the greenhouse.
Hard to tell from the web, but the detail goes on and on - none too tardy for an 'amateur' camera.
Rolleiflex T at optimum aperture f11, Ilford Pan F, Kodak HC 110
Ilford Galerie - Grade 2, Kodak Polymax Developer, Rodenstock Rodagon, DeVere 504, Untoned.

Ilford Galerie - Grade 2, Kodak Polymax Developer, Rodenstock Rodagon, DeVere 504
Primitive Landscape.
I've made a lot of landscapes over the years, but this is my favourite.
There's a strange 'plasticity' to the image which I find quite 'painterly'.
It happens every now and then with the Tessar and I have no idea why, but can you see what I mean?
This was made on a small foray along the Southern Upland Way - wish I had the time to do the full route.
Rolleiflex T at optimum aperture f11, Ilford Pan F, Kodak HC 110
Ilford Galerie - Grade 2, Kodak Polymax Developer, Rodenstock Rodagon, DeVere 504, Untoned.

In a lot of ways, thinking about things recently, I am almost wondering whether the TLR isn't just the most perfect travel camera. It is small and light enough not to be a pain, and yet you'll have a large negative to give you all the enlargementness you could want. Certainly using a slow film like Pan F (as used above) there is all the detail you could want . . the only hindrance being a tripod.
Anyway, wot's the upshot of me writing about Olly the Rollei?
Well, he's gone.
The film advance has decided to return to a state of shiteness (this happened when I first bought the camera) whereby you can wind a film on and in, expose a frame, and another and then the camera locks, the advance refuses to turn. This is quite upsetting - you hate to see an animal in pain and the same is true of cameras.
The problem is, rather like getting my Nikon F2 serviced and refurbished (£180 from Sover Wong - he will return it to a state of newness, but for someone with limited funds like myself, I simply can't even go there) the cost of a Rollei service from someone decent (not a tinkerer) is going to be prohibitive - you see the shutter is a tad slow too, and I'd rather like the taking lens cleaned of a little bit of haze.
I'd estimate at least £120 and probably more, which is getting into the grounds of, why bother.
You can still (just about) get Mamiya TLRs or Rollecords for not a whole lot more, they're newer too.
So I find (found) myself in somewhat of a dip, and then I remembered . . oh yeah . . years back . . that sub-£50 spontaneous purchase . . a 1958 Minolta Autocord . .
Yeah, you remember . . the one you ripped most of the leather off, took the lens apart, cleaned a bit, sorted out the extremely gritty aperture and shutter setting controls, put back together, thought you'd done it wrong and have meant to get sorted ever since . .
Oh yeah . . that camera!
From this dear reader you will imagine me having piles of old cameras just lying around . . I don't, and I hadn't totally forgotten about the Autocord, it is just that Olly was my main MF camera . . . 

1958 Minolta Autocord - Special Risqué Export Model.
Eagle-eyed readers (and those who can see around corners) will see it is sans most of its leather.
To the right you will see a mug handle poking out of its back . . .
Of course it doesn't have a mug handle attached - don't be daft.
Oh and don't worry - it isn't a Nuclear Bomb going off  -I couldn't be arsed with colour balance.

I was sure that in my disassembly of the lenses I hadn't set focus properly, but having a tootle around, I discovered that the taking lens is actually very simply set . . it either has a spacer behind it, or it is screwed flat into its mount . .no tinkering. I had reassembled exactly as I found it. Ergo, unless it had always been a taker of out of focus pictures, the focus must be correct . . but I had to find out . . . .
So I dragged him out of the cupboard, marvelled again at how the shutter and film advance are a million times smoother than the Rollei, stuck a roll of TMX 100 in and proceeded to use him over the holidays.
A couple of the results are below.

Lights, Camera, Action!
For some reason my son has taken to dressing like a 1930's film director.
This was at Dunnotar Castle, after an extreme rain shower followed by 80 Degrees of unusual heat.
Man that guano can't half pong!
As you can see the Autocord has imparted a nicely vintage feel to the image.
Kodak TMX 100, Agfa Rodinal 1:25.
Kentmere VC Select Finegrain, Kodak Polymax, home-made Hypo, Untoned

Into The Unknown
Again, a nicely vintage feel from the lens.
Kodak TMX 100, Agfa Rodinal 1:25.
Kentmere VC Select Finegrain, Kodak Polymax, home-made Hypo, Untoned 

Just to see the quality of the lens.
Individual hairs are very apparent on the negative.
The mottled stippling comes from the surface of the paper.
Kentmere Finegrain is a Matt paper, with a slight surface texture.
It is really lovely stuff.

Now you'll be thinking to yourself . . what?
Sub £50?
That is a bargain!
Well there was a reason for its bargain price . . the taking lens had been cleaned for nigh on 40 years by a nefarious collection of ties, hankies, jacket sleeves etc . . in other words it is well sandpapered!
Here are some pictures of it backlit, just to give you a shock.

I know - it looks like fungus, but in reality it is a good ol' example of
that famous lens affliction of old - Tiekerchiefitis

And of course, what do you get with a lens like that?
Yep . . .flare . . lots of it, so a hood is a prerequisite.
My initial results with the camera when I bought it weren't great, but neither were they bad, however I dunno, I just never clicked with it.
But now?
Well, needs must when the Devil drives . . and not only that, I can counteract the low contrast from a flarey lens by using a stronger/more contrasty film and developer combo . . . the things you learn eh?
The TMX 100/Rodinal combo from the above photos was good (and very smooth - I'd also had good results with the now sadly defunct Neopan 400) but nothing prepared me for the next bunch - TRX 400 and Rodinal.
Grain as crisp as a freshly starched and ironed pair of underpants.
Greys like God's hair.
As I get older I find myself drifting away from the zero grain option in pictures, simply because (and with T-grain films especially) it is getting so fcecking hard to focus a negative onto the baseboard!
My eyes aren't what they were . . even with my Peak focuser . . so grain it is . .
I don't mind, just bring it on!
And flare?
Blasted into oblivion! The negatives are so dense that anything flarey just wimps out and runs off to the corner to hide.
Happy days indeed.
Don't you find it surprising that a lens that looks like it is worthy of being nothing more than a paperweight, can actually produce any images at all, let alone the ones I am going to show you next time.
It brings to mind tales of aerial recon. lenses from WW II, where, hit by pieces of flying shrapnel, the offending chips, gouges and missing chunks of glass were simply painted over with a matt black paint, and photography resumed, with little effect on the images.
I have a 150mm Symmar-S which has a decent sized missing crescent of glass on an inner element - I used a Mattel Matt Black model paint on it (it dries matt-ish, not totally flat, but not bad) and it is absolutely fine - a Sharpie would do the trick too.
Anyway, back to the Minolta . . . it was a Saturday afternoon and having been self-scuppered by not getting out early morning with the Wista, I had to take some photos, so thought I'd have a wander down the Hawkhill.
I loaded her (Minnie . . doesn't everyone give their cameras names???) up with TRX 400, and this time took my meter, which I set to EI 320 (which seems to be a nominally accepted EI for Tri-X 400 - though possibly not quite enough for this combo - should be more like EI 200) got my stomping shoes on and went out, mind alert and eyes open.
And now a  brief aside into the fun world of dimensions . . .

Woooooooah, man, did he just say dimensions?

Yep, I certainly did Space Cadet, so hand me my Cormthruster and make sure the Space FogBluggy has its stabilisers fitted . .it could be a bumpy ride!

I have been thinking lately about photographic satisfaction.
You know what I mean:

There's a lovely scene.
I'll take a photo.

It often doesn't end up how you wanted it at all.
So I thought, well that's because you are trying to stuff a lovely 3-Dimensional scene, into a 2-Dimensional object (the print).

Below is an official communication I received from the NAOTLRP (National Association Of Twin Lens Reflex Photographers). I was a bit surprised when I opened the envelope, not least because there was a thrupenny stamp on it. Anyway, after I recovered, I thought it best to pass it on in the interests of all things photographic.
It reads a bit weird, so you are best to speak it aloud (preferably to someone else) in your finest 1947 BBC English accent. It makes perfect sense then.

I say chap.
We've got some bad news.
Corners have to be cut, departments shaved, budgets adjusted, bits snipped off, weight lost . . etc etc . .
So why not make today a happy-chappy sort of day, grab a nice handful of Capstans, adjust your tie properly and head off out and photograph something proper.
You know, something for all intents and purposes Two Dimensional, like an interesting wall.
See what you can do.
That's a good fellow.

Runciter Barking (President)

Quite a strange thing to receive don't you think - I do wonder why I was singled out, but there y'go.
Anyway, this rule of flat-earthness is of course a well-known get-out-of-jail technique that has been used by pretty much everyone from the dawn of photography - name the photographer and I will almost guarantee that somewhere in their pantheon, there's a picture of a poster or graffiti or something very flat . . It is seemingly simple, and I always thought something of a cop-out, however I have now come to rethink that actually it is a valid bit of your self-expression (but maybe that's only 'cos I've just taken some photos of something similar).
Anyway, the other thing to remember about photographing flat surfaces is that really for the photo to work you pretty much have to get your film plane parallel with the flat surface (hence all the talk about converging verticals and all that stuff).
This is a strangely obvious thing which it has taken me a loooooong time to understand properly and it probably explains why the majority of my LF photographs are so terrible.
Your film plane equates to a picture frame if you think about it.
It is what your film (and ultimately, barring any darkroom trickery, your print) is positioned against (in a manner of speaking) no matter what you are photographing.
I think if one thinks about the film planes' position when making a photograph, it can help you get an idea of the final image. I certainly did that with the following photographs and it made me more careful and choosy. Obviously I have subconsciously been doing the same thing for a long time in that I like my verticals vertical etc etc, but I'd never thought in terms of film plane positioning before (at least not consciously and conscientiously whilst photographing). And I had certainly never made photographs with a thought in terms of the 2-Dimensional world that is The Print, and how this cross-dimensional challenge might work.
On the other hand, am I reading too much into it?
Isn't a photo, just a photo, just a photo?
I'll leave that for others to discuss - meanwhile Sigismund and his Treens are attacking and I need to defend my borders . .
Zooom, Whoooosh, Blat, Blat.

So where does all this get us?
Well, here's the Contact Sheet.

Contact Sheet

The keen eyed amongst you will notice that the film rebates are not printed to paper black, and that is for the reasons that:
A./ I buggered up the print, and
B./ you have to balance contact prints when your aren't being totally consistent, also web-viewing isn't the best for these things, hence it is lighter than it should be.
All rectifiable in the darkroom though as you will see below.
The images which struck me most were 4 to 9 inclusive . . that central portion.
Yes there are two of my own style of self-portrait in there . . .sometimes when you are wandering around looking down onto a TLR focus screen, you are struck by something, and that was the case with those two, however the others were conscious efforts.
The only problem I found with these, was the Minolta's lack of parallax compensation . . so it was down to my own style of compensation: basically when you are in very close, compose your image, and then lift the camera a few centimetres . . it sort of works actually - it is a bit trial and error, but these things are.
You don't have a parallax problem with Rolleis though - clever and expensive design and all that . . .
But no Rollei, and as I said before Needs must  . . .
Oh, and I used the Rolleinars on frames 4, 5, 6 and 10.
The Tri-X was developed in 1:25 Rodinal at 20° C for 11 minutes. it always amazes me that people don't put their agitation sequences into the equation when they write down what their development times were - agitation can make or break a roll ,and it is quite an organic thing, not the slosh around that most people think it is. My sequence for this was gentle (as always) for the first 30 seconds, then a 10 second sequence every minute and a half, so:
0 (start the 30 second sequence at 0)
then 10 seconds at:
1 minute 30 seconds,
3 minutes,
4 minutes 30 seconds,
6 minutes,
7 minutes 30 seconds,
and then at 9 minutes I gave another 30 second agitation sequence and let the tank stand until 11 minutes.
It could have actually done with slightly more agitation, but I will save that for next time!
And on that (hopefully) tantalising note I am gong to call it a day for the noo.
In the next post, I am going to put on my Mr.Pompous Trousers and round this off by showing you how equipment that could easily be regarded as junk, can actually be employed (with some judicious thought and care) to produce work you can (possibly) be proud of.
Be sure to check out Part Two - loads of people have read this one, but hardly anyone the next one - most perplexing!
There, you can have a break now - bet that feels better already doesn't it!
Take care, God Bless and thanks for reading.


  1. I'm sorry for the troubles of Olly. It's a shame that their repair is so expensive as they do deserve to be fixed.

    You seem to be very happy with HC110, which is one of the big shot developers I have never tried. Your posts create an urge, that becomes more difficult to resist every day. Is it a good developer? :-)


  2. Hi Omar - nice to hear from you!
    Yes, Olly will be an expensive repair - I am sure I will get there . .maybe I should have a Get Olly Repaired link on the side of the blog!
    HC110 is a very good and exceptionally long lasting developer. When I got the bottle (1 Litre version) originally I decanted it into several smaller containers and these are still going strong - that's about 3 or 4 years now . . . it is very economical. There are a number of good dilutions too.
    I think it looks best of all with Pan F and especially FP4.
    These things being said I am finding myself loving the look of Rodinal - this is even older than the HC110. nothing fancy done about storage, just in my darkroom.
    Any questions about dilutions please feel free to ask.

  3. Phil, do you have any experience with HC110 and some of the faster films, like Trix or Tmax400 in 35mm? How do they compare to D76 / ID11? Any recommended dilutions? Thanks!

  4. Hi Omar - you see at the right side of the Blog, there's a 'Search This Blog' box - just type in HC 110 and all references will come up.
    As a start I would use Dilution B and then try things from there. The Covington Innovations HC 110 page is a good place to start.
    The one thing I would say is that make sure you are getting the correct syrup. This now comes in 1 litre bottles and last time I checked was made in France. At one time you could get 500ml bottles, but these were not the syrup. It is the syrup that keeps.
    It is a piece of cake to mix from syrup, however I would recommend using a syringe to get exact quantities. I also wouldn't bother mixing a stock solution, just make a working solution direct from the syrup. Kodak professional publication J24 gives a lot of dilutions and good advice too. I know initially it seems like a lot of money to pay for a bottle of developer, but to be honest, considering the number of films I have developed with it, the cost is almost inconsequential!
    If you still need some info and stuff, just bung me an email and I'll go through my note books . . but be prepared to have a couple of gallons of coffee!

  5. That's an interesting contact sheet, Phil. Looking forward to seeing the prints. I've always tended to shy away from textured photo paper but the Kentmere VC Select surface looks really nice. Are the blacks and contrast still the same when compared to FB glossy?

    I got my Rollei fixed by Brian Mickelboro (Tel. 01279 755 862). He used to work with Rollei but is "retired" now and did a good job of fixing/servicing mine. I doubt he'd be much cheaper but you can only ask I suppose.

  6. Hi Bruce - thanks for the comments.
    I hated Finegrain when I first got it, but now think it is rather FAB.
    It has a nice silvery-ness to it and the stipple is fine. It is a FB paper, but I don't think they make it anymore , , ,
    Speed I would say exactly the same as the FB Glossy - in other words bloody fast!
    As for VC Select - I will report - I got a 25 pack recently.
    Brian - yes I have heard his name a number of times - was he expensive?