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!


  1. Beautiful, faultless prints, Phil. So pleased that your considerable investment has paid off. Fortune favours the bold! The prints have that inner glow as if the light is shining from within them. That's a very hard thing to achieve. I know because I'm still trying to get it!

  2. Thank you Bruce - that means a lot actually.
    I'm not sure whether the glow is partly because of ancient paper/high grade or whether the lens has managed to convey some of the light from the place - I personally think that has a large part to play in it. The printing is actually very straight-forward - just a bog standard exposure in increments of 4 seconds - no burning or dodging, then standard develop/stop/fix and toning.
    It really tweaks my knobs, the whole mythical printer/magician thing where a guy in a cape scoops up your negatives and disappears into a darkened room, muttering things about split-grades and densitometry.
    Yes you can have a aptitude for it, but at the end of the day anyone with a good eye can print well if they do it enough.
    Practice, practice, practice - it's a craft skill like knitting or woodwork - it isn't some magical ritual.
    The finest printer I ever met (Joe McKenzie) very much emphasised that anyone could do it, and if you did it enough, you could do it very well.
    I'll sit back and wait for the comments!

  3. These are cracking images, I love the pier / groynes, beautiful shots, and proof positive about the qualities of said system.My favourite is the first of the pier shots, stunning.

    Every time I shoot a roll of film with the Blad it never ceases to put a smile on my face, that gorgeous viewfinder, the thunk of the shutter, it takes image making to another level. The zeiss lenses are so sharp and they do imbue a unique quality to the shot, so Phil for what it's worth you keep shooting with that camera it is a jewel.

  4. Hi Shooter - many thanks for the comments, and firstly can I say thanks for reminding me that I've mispelled Groyne!
    The camera aha yes, you're right and I know what you mean about the sound of the shutter - I was out at around 6.30AM yesterday morning in the chucking rain and I felt totally confident in what I was taking, which is a nice feeling. My only caveat for the system is the ease with which you can muck up the focus - I don't know whether it is the nature of the lenses, but the bits that are sharp are SO critically sharp, that the bits that just miss DOF appear to be quite out of focus . . or maybe it's just operator error. Actually it will be that - I need to take more care . .
    Thanks again
    Uncle P



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