Friday, August 23, 2013

Rise Of The (Junkyard) Robots Part Two

I, Herman Sheephouse, being of dodgy mind, and sound body, do hereby declare that from now on, I be known, formally, as Herman Sheephouse.
There, that's that out of the way.
Well folks, last time (and if you haven't read it here, you should as it is pointless carrying on otherwise) I said I could show you how 'junk' photographic equipment could help you produce good results if it was used with care . . . well, that is a far-reaching and pompous statement, however whilst not exactly 'junk' the prints below were produced with things that the photographic trade would prefer you not to use so you can spend your hard-earned pennies on something shiny and new!

The Culprits.

A 1958 Minolta Autocord - it has no leather and a highly scratched lens. In other words a pretty old and 'junky' camera infiltrating, like a tramp at a Prom, the lands of 'mint' and 'minty', where true art can only be produced by the best gear money can buy.
Sorry that makes me sound like I hold my prints with some regard, like they are high art or something.
Well, I do, but they're works of craft produced for me - they aren't being exhibited at the V&A . .
Despite being scruffy and for a long time unloved and rejected by society, the Minolta does however work like a dream, with a film advance smoother than my Rollei and a Seikosha shutter that is really something else.

Old paper - basically fibre-based photographic paper from stock produced prior to 2007.

A lens from a widely laughed at manufacturer's enlarger lens range (Vivitar) which actually compares favourably with a Rodenstock Rodagon and actually could well be one of the sharpest enlarging lenses I own.

Kodak Polymax developer, mixed and stored in a plastic bottle for 3 months and gone brown. Wait a minute - who the hell seriously uses Polymax, and aren't you supposed to use mixed chemicals within a short space of time?

Home-made fixer, cheaply made from Sodium Thiosulphate and Sodium Sulphite. Wot, you can make fixer?

Ancient 'well brown' Rodinal.

The Culprits in detail.

The Camera?

Well, if you check the first part of this article here, you'll see that the lens on the Minolta is in terrible condition - a result of decades of cleaning abuse. It is a great shame really. When I first got the camera, I was a bit appalled by its low contrast, however, there is a trick to getting round old lenses that could possibly be in shite condition.
It is a three-fold method:
Firstly, be careful where you point it (this also applies to hosepipes, guns and the male member).
Direct light sources are just going to emphasise everything, so try and avoid if at all possible.
Secondly, use a lens hood. A Rollei Bayonet 1 lens hood fits the Minolta perfectly, and it works. No hood and you are asking for flare, even in overcast situations.
Thirdly, use a robust (er, OK then . . contrasty) developer and film combo. Pan F and HC110, Tri-X and 1:25 Rodinal are good ones. The denser the negative the better really. Increased negative density results in increased micro-contrast, which in turn makes you photographs look sharper too. It does. Honest.

The Paper?
Kentmere Fineprint VC - Finegrain. It is a fibre-based paper and I believe they no longer make the Finegrain surface.
The story:
Back in 2007 I purchased some Glossy Kentmere Fineprint. It is a very nice paper actually and I would say if you have never thought about Kentmere, give it a go.
Anyway, that was back in the day when it was still manufactured in the Lake District. I had some faults on a couple of sheets, and phoned them up. They said send us some samples of the fault, so I did. They got back to me. A fairly disgruntled employee (who I think had worked there for years) told me Harman had bought the company, were moving production, and that was that . . .
So I contacted Harman and sent them some more examples. They looked at them, kindly agreed with me and sent me a replacement box. However, it was the Finegrain surface, not Gloss. I thought 'Och well, give it a go' and by the time I had decided I didn't really get on with the surface, I'd used about 10 sheets. So I chalked it up to experience, sealed up the box in late 2007 and haven't opened it since.
So that is roughly 6 years out of date for a start. And of course, always assuming that the box I had sent to me was fresh in the first place . . . who knows!
Here's a pic of my two boxes of Kentmere and their production codes:

Paper is supposed to go off isn't it? The perceived wisdom of most photographic paper is that it is good for a couple of years and then starts to exhibit signs of base-fog, necessitating an addition of a 1% solution of benzotriazole which helps to keep some of the mud at bay.
Well, all I can say is that the average exposure time for the prints below was 12 seconds at f16 . . none too tardy I am sure you'll agree.
Not only that, but the blacks are nice and crisp and there's little sign of Cap'n Fog - ol' mud-flaps himself.
That's an extra 90-odd sheets of paper . . smiles all round.
I've no idea what the Mobberly produced Kentmere paper is like - but I did like the old stuff. Kentmere Graded Glossy and Ilford Galerie were my college staples.

The Lens?
I felt I needed a 100 or 105mm lens for enlarging 6x7 negatives, but being financially spread a little too far, I did some research, narrowed down my options and went cheap.
It arrived (£24 including delivery). I'd bought it off eBay and it had been described as mint. One man's mint is another man's paperweight. On cursory examination it certainly looked mint, however when I actually removed it from the polystyrene keeper and took off the rear lens cap, I discovered massive strands of fungus - and when I say massive, I mean it - this was lens fungus but not as we know it Jim.
And it wasn't just inside either . . it was outside too!
Oh chuff, I thought, but carefully, with the aid of some lighter fluid for the metal parts, ROR for the glass (marvellous stuff) and some silica bags to remove moisture and some serious sessions with the good ol' Sun and the lens in a patch of hot sunlight, I have removed the smell of decay (yep - the same smell as the described in the Leica Sniff Test) and have a gem of a lens.
Actually scouting around, the history of the VHE lenses is super interesting.
They were made by Schneider (you can tell - mine has Schneideritis - a curious 'white' spotty stippling of the black around the lens elements - no detriment to pictures though)
This particular example is a 100mm f5.6 - it is a 6 Element lens..
Hmmm, you'll be saying, wot is so interesting about that?
Well around the time of this lenses manufacture, Schneider were also manufacturing a certain renowned Focotar II 100mm f5.6 for Leitz. Yes, hmmm, interesting . . The Focotar's production range dated from 1974 to 1981. The serial number on the Vivitar is SB 330/79 . .so can I assume that is 1979. Certainly their respective barrels bear no resemblance to each other . . but I would love to see a cross-section of a Focotar 2!

Focotar and Vivitar

I have no pics of the Focotar's construction, however here is a scan of the Vivitar's box so you can see the construction of the VHE.

Roadkill Vivitar Box

I also happen to have a El-Nikkor 80mm (the second version with the rubber ribbing on the barrel) which is regarded as one of the better 6 Element MF enlarging lenses and to be honest, the Vivitar knocks it into a cocked hat. I know enlarger lenses vary enormously in batches, so maybe I have been lucky and got a nice example - if anyone cares to comment please feel free.
It was quite a surprise when I made my first prints with it. Strangely it isn't apparent when focusing on the easel, however I think the prints speak for themselves.
Must do a test some day.
Anyway, for cheap lens, ex-fungal, basically could be considered as a piece of 'junk', it performs exceptionally.

Print developer.
Well, Kodak Polymax is the liquid equivalent of Kodak's famous print developer Dektol, described by Sir Ansel of the Adams as 'exceptionally clean working'. And it is. But when it has been mixed, it will obviously (like all other photographic chemicals) start to oxidise and will eventually lose its potency and have to be chucked out. Well, this particular mixing is 3 months old, has been used quite a number of times, is brown (very) but works beautifully! The only other print developer that I have seen beat Polymax for mixed longevity is Wolfgang Moersch's Eco Print, which I actually thing is one of the finest print developer's ever made. It is neutral to cold, but just keeps going and going. It is also exceptionally economical too, and like Wolfgang's other products should be considered State Of The Art.
Yes I know if you are reading this outwith Europe you'll find his stuff difficult to get . . and when you do it is expensive, however, what do you expect. It is a dedicated product range from a very small manufacturer, but a manufacturer who has dedicated his working life to the beauty of silver-based photography. As such I think he deserves to be supported.
If you are in the UK, you can get it all from Silverprint.
But back to Polymax. Try it. I always use a pin to pierce the plastic film at the top of the bottle (after the screw cap comes off) and that sort of reduces it's oxidation process, however it will start to go brown in its unmixed state too, but again, it keeps on going and is reliable.
Home made fix.
Basically I used Lloyd Erlick's Plain Fix recipe - full details here. It is a mildly Alkaline fixer and requires less washing than prints treated in Acid fix. It too imparts a slightly cool/purple-ish tone to a print. This can be semi-neutralised with Selenium. It has decent (but not huge) capacity, and will discolour through use (slightly purply).
On the safe side I reckon I can get around 25 8x10 prints out of it. I use a 2 bath fix regime. Basically two identical fixing baths. Fixing times to be safe are around 3 minutes in each one, though I've found you can usually turn the lights on around 2 minutes, however best to do your own tests should you mix some.
I did this because I have run out of Acid fixer which I often use for speed purposes.
But what I am trying to say is that it is easy to mix your own chemicals and do your own thing.
Cost £6.99 in 2003. Not carefully stored, loads of air space in the 500ml bottle, but works perfectly. I am sure some people would have just chucked it away.

The Prints

I'll preface these with some words about physical vs web viewing.
They look better in the flesh, but you can't all come round to mine . . we haven't enough tea bags and the space in my study is limited . . also, the buses stop at 10.50PM, so web viewing it is.
Web viewing is fraught with difficulty, because your monitor and my monitor aren't the same or even set up the same.
One man's perfect is another man's coal cellar . . so accept the limitations and we can rejoice together . . .
A scanned print isn't anywhere near the physical beauty of a print - no way.
They can digitize our photos and our prints etc etc etc . . .

SHEEPHOUSE: And if this is your army of enthused Amateur Photographers, why does it go?

AMATEUR PHOTOGRAPHER: We didn't come here to fight for them.

SECOND AMATEUR PHOTOGRAPHER: Home, the Digital Establishment are too many.

SHEEPHOUSE: I see a whole army of my country men, here, in defiance of tyranny. What will you do without freedom? Will you fight?

AMATEUR PHOTOGRAPHER: Against that? No, we will run, and we will live.

SHEEPHOUSE: Aye, fight and you may die, run, and you'll live... at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willing to trade all of that from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take away our silver-based passion, but they'll never take our freeeeedom!

And on that note, here they are.

Print 1: Kentmere Fineprint VC Finegrain, Grade 2, Kodak Polymax, plain Fix, Untoned
Print 2: Kentmere Fineprint VC Finegrain, Grade 3, Kodak Polymax, plain Fix, Untoned
Print 3: Kentmere Fineprint VC Finegrain, Grade 4, Kodak Polymax, plain Fix, Untoned

Hunt The Sections
All taken from the above prints - as you can see the texture of the paper has scanned quite well.
Considering the film combo is Tri-X and Rodinal, the grain is pretty incredible.
I love the tones too.

Self Portrait In Dirt #2
Kentmere Fineprint VC Finegrain, Grade 2, Kodak Polymax, plain Fix, Untoned

Again, paper surface has come up well.

Nice Wall
Print 1: Kentmere Fineprint VC Finegrain, Grade 3, Kodak Polymax, plain Fix, Untoned

This is from the bit below the diagonal slashes in the centre white bit

Oh yeah, and they were all taken hand-held, which I suppose tells you the versatility of a TLR in low-light situations. You can brace them pretty well, and the leaf shutters are just perfect.
And that's about it folks - I am chuffed with all these prints, and it just goes to show that with a bit of conscientious application you can please yourself with results that are pretty alright, for really not very much money at all. 
I suppose the term 'junk' was a bit inflamatory, but what I am trying to say is that where there's a will, there's a way. 
Photography is one of the most stupidly expensive hobbies around, but you can produce results with a bit of creative thought and the use of stuff that your more 'advanced' hobbyists wouldn't even sniff at.
The Minolta is a prime example of this - check out the lens 

and tell me you would have given it a chance had you seen it in a dealers . . .
Thanks Minnie - can't wait to take you out for a wander again.
Anyway, enuff zee snuff.
Next time a tale of derring-do, camera lugging and a failed experiment. 
The odds were stacked with me, and I managed to kiss the dice goodbye! 
Take care, God Bless and thanks once again for reading.


  1. A great post, Phil, and a lesson to us all. The prints look great on my iPad so they must be pretty amazing in the flesh.They make a very nice set. I'm curious why you chose to use the materials and chemicals you did. Was is to prove a point or had you run out of fresh stuff as sometimes happens?

    1. Hi Bruce - thanks for reading and the great comments - they are very much appreciated!
      I was beginning to think no one was reading this - I've only had 6 views of it since posting it, whereas Part One is around 35 views . .
      Anyway . . here goes . . a delve into me brain . .
      1 Part Curmudgeonly Olde Git
      1 Part lack of chemicals (now sorted)
      2 Parts surprise at how nice some old prints I'd made on Finegrain looked (I had dismissed them when originally made.
      1 Part to sort of prove the point that if you are motivated enough you can (almost) make do with anything you have lying around . . I suppose that'll be Nigel Slater's influence:

      "You know, when you get to the end of the week and you happen to have 1 fresh Scuba Diver, 2 Gallons of Diesel and an Albatross in your fridge and you aren't quite sure what to do, but you know you want to make it something special?"

      Hope that sort of explains things!

  2. Phil,

    I wouldn't bother about reader numbers. Blog readers are fickle creatures: as soon as you stop blogging they just disappear like sna' aff a dyke. Me and Omar love reading your posts so we'd love it if you keep going.

    The amazing part of your post was the length of time you'd kept the made-up print dev! You must just about have been able to stand the print on edge in that soup. I'd be really interested to know what one of the prints would come out like using fresh materials. Would it be any different? Would it be as good? Maybe you've hit upon a better way of getting an old-school look in your prints without having to spend a fortune on weird lenses.

    One of these days we're going to bump into each other wandering around the disused buildings on the uni campus.

  3. Thanks Bruce - I do try an expel any excess air-space from my plastic bottles when using chemicals (if I remember) . . but yeah - I've been economising like this for years. Fresh chemicals generally give you a tad more contrast. With the old stuff (I used it yesterday) the image starts to appear in around 45 seconds and comes to full development after about 180 seconds. This is quite consistent for me.
    Yes as for the Uni - had no idea you were lurking around there . . it could be a 'Ah, a passionate photographer, I presume?' moment!

  4. We'd probably be the only two geeks wielding TLRs...
    I tend to go there if I drop Cath off in town for shopping. It's nice and near hand so I can spend an hour snapping away before going back to pick her up. I hate shopping - unless there's a camera involved.

  5. It could happen you know! Are the shops open at 6AM though . . .
    I like shopping with a camera . . you should get yourself a Trip . . honest, just a point and shoot film camera with a decent lens but as discreet/old fashioned as you like. Great fun too.