Thursday, May 28, 2015

Frankenstein's Hasselblad - Big Boys' Prints

OK - you know me by now - I print on a regular basis.
I've printed tons and tons and it was my ambition once to be a 'Phine-(ph)Art' Printer, so, I do know how to print and I think I can do it well enough.
I've got my own scabby darkroom, and a beautiful DeVere 504 to hand, a selection of lenses and a knowledge of toning and archival processing.
Right, that's that out of the way.
Can I say, that in all my years of printing, I've never had the pleasure of dealing with negatives as fine as those I made last week with Vic. Despite the shortcomings of the knob behind the camera, the lens has made something 'other' of the light to my eyes.
Someone once said a Hasselblad was nothing more than a light-tight box where magic happened, and far be it from me to be all gushing and that (though obviously I can be because this is my little kingdom) . . . I have to agree.
The Hasselblad magic being created by none other than the Zeiss lens - a 60mm CB Distagon.
I do have one other Zeiss lens - it's the 1965 Tessar on my Rollei T and whilst it is a super lens, that has grown with me, it is left behind by the Distagon.
You read about such things, but it really does seem to be critically sharp at pretty much all apertures, which I find amazing - I mean, you've read about such things, but have you ever actually encountered them?
I haven't really, not to a massive extent. The sharpest lenses I own are the old pre-Ai self-compensating Micro-Nikkor, the Kodak 203mm Ektar and the late-model Schneider 90mm Super-Angulon. I'll add that my pre-Ai 50mm f1.4 Nikkor is no slouch either . . . it's just that the Distagon has something else.

OK - this is a shite scan, and impossible to evaluate on screen, however the picture of the staircase (below) - that was shot at f4 - the stair and rust and brick are as sharp as a razor and the whole thing has a pleasing three-dimensionality that I find very satisfying. Although not obvious from the contact, the picture of the drainpipe has tiny cobwebs rendered in prefect clarity - the brickwork is so touchable you'd bark your knuckles on it if you weren't careful! Behind the roundabout, there's a sign on a gate - you can read every word and it is a tiny patch of negative. The puddle was rendered with such atmosphere that I was astonished - really.
Despite the uninspiring nature of the photographs, I was knocked out to say the least.

Now this was the first film I put through Vic, and I haven't followed my own advice and gone and made pictures . . I've sort of done a bit of testing . . however, I'll forgive myself as I was caught up in the excitement of using a nice new camera . . .
Film was HP5, rated at EI 250 ('cos that's how I like it) developed in 1+50 Rodinal at 20 Centigrade for 15 minutes.
Crisp. That's what I'll say . . crisp!

I was SO excited after developing the first film on the Saturday, that I was up and at 'em at 5.30 AM on the Sunday, despite having had a fair helping of Woods Old Navy rum.
My destination?
Wormit! A wonderful little place across the river from Dundee. You can get onto some of the tidal flats of the river Tay there, though, I would say operate cautiously - what looks like firm sand will suck you and your tripod down before you know it - you have to be careful. Anyway, I was, and despite the chill and my runny eyes and nose, was of the mindset, "Well, you've got a professional tool, so go and make the most of it."
My few initial frames were so-so - I was disappointed - the large and ruinous fisherman's hut Ali and I had discovered 20-odd years back was now shut up tight (plus I placed the stonework on Zone VI, which was too much).
Och well, never mind, those beds of seaweed looked interesting.
As can be seen from frames 4 and 5 (second column from left, working up the way) the sun was a big problem and although not too obvious in the viewfinder, it was enough to render the negatives unusable, so I mooched around a bit more, and slowly made my way back to the carpark.
Nice interesting lone rock?
Bad use of DOF
. . . and then . . .
The Groins!
These wonderful remnants of a pier were utterly covered in seaweed. Goodness knows how old they are, but the tides and weather have had their way and rendered them into vestiges of man's attempt to bend nature to his will . . .
. . . and as every caveman knows, the Mother will not be changed.
So taken with them was I, that I was nearly sucked down by quicksand, and before I knew it, had used the final 5 frames.
Gosh that was quick and a wonderful experience.
I sauntered back to the car satisfied, giddy with the light and in awe of my camera.

So, arriving home and pumping myself up with a pot of tea, I leapt into the darkroom, loaded my tank and set to.
My agitation is as per Agfa's original recommendations and it works very well - this works for every film you process in Rodinal!.

A little Sh-Sh-Sheephouse aside: 
Agitation is an important thing with Rodinal - a lot of people seem to think that sloshing developer around all willy-nilly will do a fine job, but such blatant carelessness WILL result in heavier grain - trust me . . . I've done it and published the pamphlet. So, to correctly agitate Rodinal, start off with 1 minute of constant, but very gentle agitation, and then only invert your tank ONCE and GENTLY every 30 seconds till the end of the recommended development time. This came from an old Rodinal pamphlet I have somewhere, except they call inverting 'tilting' - it's the same thing. The timings on the pamphlet are pretty much spot-on even when you over-expose a bit, being a nice balance of minimal base fog and decent contrast.
Here's the pamphlet as a JPG:

Now, being that Rodinal stopped being produced years back, what I am using these days is R09 One Shot - it is marketed as being identical to Rodinal, and regarding development times it is, apart from one thing. On the side of the bottle of R09, the time for HP5 is listed as 8 minutes, at 1+25.
There is no time for 1+50.
Now given that all the other times on my Agfa pamphlet and the side of the bottle ARE IDENTICAL, I am actually wondering whether the R09/HP5 times are a typo?
Whatever, I chose to develop my EI 250 HP5 in 1+50 for 15 minutes at 20 centigrade, and to be honest, I would challenge a fine-grain developer to render scenes as nicely as that combo. You can trust me on this - I've developed a few HP5's at that dilution/timing/temperature and they've all been fine-o!
Back on with the plan

TMAX 100 Sheephouse?

Did I hear you say TMAX 100??

Yes, we did.

Well what about it?

Er, how does it look, what is it like?

It's a great combo.
This TMX 100, died in November 2013 and has been kept in the Sheephouse mortuary for lost films since then (OK . . it's a fridge . . ) so I rated it at EI 50 and processed in R09 1+50, for 15 mins at 20 Centigrade.
Agitation as per usual.

When I inspected the results, there was one word on my lips. WOW. I was knocked out again - this was the look I had been after for years. All those years of trying different formats and arsing around - I had finally got there, which just goes to show that my gut-instinct as a young whipper-snapper back in the 80's had been correct.
When everything was dry, I gathered the two rolls of negatives and made my two contacts and then had to wait out a whole week before I could dedicate an afternoon to printing.

Regular readers will know that I love printing, and that my darkroom is space-challenged to say the least - pics of it here - the maximum print size I can use is 9.5 x 12". There simply isn't the space for trays any larger, which is annoying . . however, I've gotten over it.
These prints I felt deserved to be printed on the largest paper I have - some 10 year old Agfa MCC Fibre-based stuff. It is great paper, but being so ancient has lot at least a Grade or two, so I have to print it on Grade 4 (100 Magenta) to get anything approaching decent, unmuddy results. And it is to this end that I have been using it - pointless keeping to just in case, it'll only get worse.
The prints were developed in Fotospeed developer, stopped in Kodak indicator stop bath, and fixed in Ilfofix and then toned in Kodak selenium.
And at last I can honestly say that I have negatives that do justice to the incredible resolution of the gnarly old Vivitar 100mm VHE lens, which I believe is actually (possibly) a Leitz Focotar II, though I can't confirm this. Whatever, it's a GREAT lens and I was a lucky lad to get it.
Anyway, enough o' me shite - let the prints do the talking . . 
Oh, and can I just say, my scanner cannot handle 9.5 x 12" paper, so my lovely 1" wide borders have been trimmed by the fecking thing . . you'll have to use your imagination . . . 

Dundee Docks - May 2015

Scrapyard - Dundee May 2015

To be honest I could have printed all five frames of the pier, but time ran out.

Wormit, May 2015

Wormit, May 2015

Wormit And Tay Bridge, May 2015

And that, as they say, is that. Please let me know if you think I am deluded in my impression of my new camera - I don't think so, but one never can tell.
TTFN - and remember They Boil Them For Twenty Of Their Minutes, Then They Smash Them All To Bits!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

V for Victor (Frankenstein's Hasselblad)

OK folks - 'scuse the rather strange title - I was going to call it "Channeling Fay Godwin", but decided against it . . and why? Well I rather like the above . . oh . .  and I've also bought a Hasselblad.
I know, you're weeping and clutching your heads and saying:
'No Sheephouse! Not another fecking camera . . . '
Well folks I make no excuses.
However I will switch on the Corm-Thrusters and whisk you back in time . . .
Back . . . Back . . . to A Time!
A Time when the Iron Lady ruled the country and your humble, lonesome writer stumbled out of the Art College doors with a degree in his hand and the words "Shit - I've got to make a living!" being spat from his ugly gob.
A Time when your hero would stand and stare at Zenza Bronicas in Jessops window, thinking, if only I had one of them, things would be different.
A Time when the word Hasselblad was whispered into his ear at night by the ghosts of those old photographic legends, desparate to see another lover of silver-based photography take to the international stage.
But sadly, the truth will wring your withers, for, rather than being asked to print exhibition folios for all sorts of well-known photographers (such was my ambition), rather than striding the hills of his chosen country photographing light and land (I could truly see myself doing it) and being poorer than a church rat, your hapless Sheephouse blundered deeply into the mire that is unrewarding but paid employment, and with that, his ambitions and love of the monochrome print were carefully filed away, until a chance conversation with his brother and the love and encouragement from his wife Ali brought the young photographer back out of his cave and into the light of day again, dusting him down and setting him on a path that has led to (amongst other things) this blog.
It's all about film.
It's all about printing.
It's all about the print as a physical, tangible, exquisite reflection of the briefest of moments of light captured for posterity.

I'll not bar any holds - I have too many cameras now - even medium format ones:
Rolleiflex T (broken - possibly repairable)
Minolta Autocord (working, knackered and seen better days)
Koni Omega Rapid 100 (perfect, fully serviced, working condition, but never gelled with)

So why on earth do I need another one?
 Well, like I say, it's that young photographer's fault, because I always wanted one, but never had the money, and then never had the inclination. Now, however, with my fervour for making the most of the light whilst I still can see something I want one.
Or shall I say I wanted one.
Real bad.
It was like that itch inside your plaster-cast when you were 14.
It had to be scratched, but like all good things it took time to get to it.
Time and saving.
Och, all right, and a little pauchling here and there.
No excuses - I've been a saver all my life, but sometimes you have to weigh in the old calculations and realise that (in my case) you're not getting any younger and are you really prepared to wait another year to save up for it, when even now the prices on these things are clmbing.
So pauchling it was and a chunk saved by me and now a payback to the fund I borrowed it from.
But is it worth it?
Hell yes!
It's exciting. This is the second most large amount of money I have ever spent on myself (not including the car and the mortgage). The largest was a custom built Paul Reed Smith Custom 24 guitar back in 1990. It has proved to be a fine instrument and also a fine investment having approximately tripled its value in that short 25 years.
But enough of my spending - you want to know about the 'Blad or the Hassy . . or in my case, VICTOR for that is the cameras new name, or me being me, just plain VIC.
Well I studied and studied and I sort of knew what I wanted - a nice 503CXi or 503CW. The 501CMs (the last incarnation of the Classic 500 Series) were way out of my league. I felt that a newer body would be the way to go and then maybe economise and get a slightly old C series lens.
This went arse over tit when I found a nice, boxed 500CM body on ebay with a 'make an offer' price. It had been regularly serviced and was last checked over by Hasselblad UK in March of this year. It was sounding good and didn't look hammered, so I made an offer, which was accepted. On speaking to the vendor I got the history of VIC. The vendor bought a 500CM in 1980, and then VIC from Robert White's in 1985 (£550 for the body alone!) and then, when they came out, a 503CX.
VIC remained as a second back-up body but stopped being regularly used in about 2004.
The vendor is a professional, so it was important to him to keep his gear in tip-top shape, and that's what he did. He's now moved over completely to digital so the old gear is going, hence my offer of £320 was accepted. The camera is in nice condition. yes it has been used, but it is smooth.
I am delighted.

VIC and his nest (non-matching)

Nice and clean


Very Tidy

As for the lens - well this was a thorny dilemma.
I knew now I could afford a lightly better lens so set myself on something from the CF range. These were introduced in the 1980's and featured a few changes (like moving from Synchro Compur to Prontor shutters).
I decided that having made oodles of square photographs with a standard 75mm lens on my Rollei T, something new was needed so opted to move into the world of Wide Angle MF, hence my choice of the venerable 50mm Distagon (non-FLE version).
This lens tends to get disparaged, however how can one deny these two photographs, both made with one.

So, some bidding and winning on eBay and the lens arrived - my goodness it was beautiful and big and heavy and virtually as new.



Ooh, that's luverly innit?


However as soon as I opened the mint Hasselblad bubble I knew something was up - indeed my nose told me so. The Leica Sniff Test never lies. This lens was pristine, but it had fungus - shite - I got my torch and had a butchers and there it was on the rear element.



Haze and fungus and an internal smear!
Was I annoyed - too bloody right and let this be a caution to all of you purchasing lenses off the internet. It might look mint and beautiful, but unless you can get a guarantee that it has been inspected internally, I would approach with caution!
I am becoming something of a fungal expert these days, so I will repeat again - sniff yer purchases - it's amazing what it will show. Yes, with older gear there will be some smell, but fungus is noticeably smellier - you can't miss it.
Anyway, the vendor was hugely apologetic - indeed he was very decent about it . . so, lens returned . . where did that leave me?
Well, in search of a new lens of course!
TBH the 50 Distagon felt really heavy, so that sort of gelled my thinking and I thought, well how about just using a 60mm Distagon for the moment. it's equivalent to a 35mm lens on a 35mm camera. The Distagon isn't as heavy in the 60mm form and is slightly less large . . .
The only problem I found was that the 60mm Distagons out there were expensive or hammered. I couldn't afford a newer CFi version, so it would have to be a CF. Given that these could be dating from the 1980's and would maybe have seen who knows what sort of life, I was a bit flumoxed. Then I read about CB lenses - a short-lived line (from 1997 to 2001) that never took off. According to the Zeiss literature, optically the 60mm was the same as the older CF and the newer CFi except it lacked full automation with an electronic camera. It still had improved baffelling, improved lens mount, smoother focus, identical glass, identical coating and was assembled in Germany on the same production line that produced the now famed Super Achromat! And yet, the line was regarded as 'cheap' and 'prosumer' - probably named as such by people who didn't compare the two Zeiss sheets for the CB and CF - both attached. 
Anyway, I looked around, and found one. £449 from Mifsuds! That was awful cheap considering Teamwork were selling one for over £700. So I badgered them, hauranged them, wanted desparately to know the condition, but was assured that they were super-picky in their grading so E++ could be relied on. Suitably calmed, I ordered it. And they were right.
It's still a heavy lens, but there is nothing cheap about it at all - the world looks beautiful through it, the focus is incredibly smooth, and everything works well from the DOF preview slider, through to the EV link (why do people complain about Hasselblad EV links on lenses? - using EV is about the easiest way of using a camera). The front of the lens is a 'stay black' material (carbon fibre?) which means it stays black when using filters, and the shutter has a really nice even buzz to it.
So that was another problem out of the way - what next? Ah yeah . . film backs!
I had initially thought I would go down the 645 route and chose a A16 back (16 frames on one roll of 120), however all the ones I saw were dog-eared and battered . . . so hunting around again, I came across a nice 'later' back (with the dark slide holder) non-matching body and insert with a 6 month guarantee at Ffordes, so I got that (£125) and whilst I was there, a nice condition UV Filter (£15) a Tripod Quick Coupler (£20) .. oh and a Bubble Level (£29 - always wanted one, even without a Hasselblad - they're so cute and useful). 
So suitably armed and checked and everything seemed to be OK, working together as it should.
Next step was to go and take some photographs . . 
Aha . . but I'm not going to let you off that easily - you thought I'd put it all in here didn't you! 
Well, nope - next time you'll see them, because, truth be told, this is current stuff and I haven't been out with the camera yet (well I have now, but nothing printed).
Anyway . . here he is. VIC - Frankenstein's Hasselblad.

TTFN - nuts, whole hazelnuts, Sheephouse takes them and he covers them with chocolate!

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Il Buono, Il Matto e Il Cattivo - Parte 1.3



Morning folks - fed up of the election yet? 
Remember a vote for Sheephouse is a vote for fair dealings and honesty, so I urge you to go and put your X in the correct box - we're fielding candidates all over the country - YOU KNOW IT MAKES SENSE.

Well, here we reach the happy conclusion of something started a while back - you can read about part 1 here . . . and part 2 here . . .
I'll let you get on with that if you haven't read them already, and for the brave and exhausted souls who have . . . on with the show! 

OK, so I'd been weathered off and decided that I simply must take some pictures, so I found a nice riverbank and did something I haven't ever done with a 5x4 camera - 
I parked myself
Wot's that Sheephouse? Parked?
Yeah, parked - dumped my rucksack, unpacked it, set up camera on tripod, attached LowePro bumbag to my bum and over the next two hours wandered up and down the riverbank taking pictures leaving rucksack where it was and packing/unpacking nothing apart from at the start and at the end. I made 8 photographs - this would normally have taken approximately 3 total hours of time were I having to pack up and move on every time, so essentially I shaved around an hour off of valuable time. 
Light waits for no man and I was alternating between astonishing, bright sunshine, heavy cloud and deep freezing shadows. The river was running fit to bust. The air was filled with clouds of water droplets all diamondy and wonderful in the sunshine. The noise was incredible and my soul flew. 
It was a pleasure which I can hardly describe
How wonderful not to have to think about packing up and moving on! Never done it before, but I will from now on. I dug deep into the landscape and felt that having the freedom to just wander about paid out in spades. If you are a LF photographer, please consider using this approach:

study your maps
pick a spot that looks good
and then have fun

It made all the difference to me.
Anyway . . . 
Right, well what have we here Sheephouse?
It's prints M'am innit.
Oh really?
Yes M'am . . . proper prints, made on proper paper and developed in proper chemicals. The paper, if you don't mind me telling you M'am, is some ancient Agfa Multicontrast Classic (or MCC if you like) - it's at least 10 years old and has lost about a Grade of sensitivity, however it doesn't appear to be fogging. The paper developer was Fotospeed - it is excellent and very fast, and then they were archivally fixed and toned in Kodak Selenium.
Really young man . . . that's jolly interesting.
Yes M'am, I agree

So, here they are as promised at the start of this lengthy process - film was the last of my well expired TMX 400 (when it cost £50 for 50 sheets) and some of my well-expired TXP 320 (when it cost £50 for 50 sheets). All were developed in 1:25 Rodinal at 21 Centigrade. Some of the negatives were sorely underexposed (because I'd knocked my meter and hadn't noticed) and I had to try and enhance the upper Zones by Selenium toning the negative - this works quite well actually.
The lenses were a 1980's Schneider 150mm Symmar-S and a late production Schneider 90mm Super Angulon. I like them both - they are superb lenses.
Camera was the Wista DX which is a superb companion and my tripod was the Gitzo Series 2 Reporter - it is ancient but operates as new - testimony to great engineering and build.

So, kick back, dip your bagel in your coffee and tell me what you think.

OK - the eagle-eyed will notice that is only 5 contacts . . well the other 3 were impossible to get looking right so I haven't included them, I have however printed one of them!
So now for the projection prints. All printed on my DeVere 504 through an ancient 150mm Rodagon.

This was actually bleached and then toned - unfortunately it was a bleach too far and it has given it this lith look. That being said a number of people have said they really liked it . . so there.

I like the tonality of this one - it did need a little bleaching, but I was careful and then toned in Selenium

This is a little section from the above - you can see how well the Super Angulon has rendered the water.

And finally . . . this is my favourite - it reminds me of John Blakemore.
It's hardly original, but I find it pleasing.
The thing that attracted my eye first was the reflection of the tree at the bottom of the frame.
Bleached selectively along the water's white and then Selenium toned.

And that folks is that - was it worth the wait? 
Only you can decide. 
LF takes a huge amount of effort, and sometimes I am not sure it is worth the effort, however with that last print, I can say to myself (as I wash up on the beach of emptied and dying LF photographers, spent before their time on the river of photography) 
"Yes . . . at least I think so."

TTFN - poiple pills - yum yum yum.