Friday, April 28, 2017

A Warning To The Curious

Morning varmints - well today I have decided to use the title of my very favourite MR James story and BBC Christmas Ghost Story, simply because I can.  
It sort of works.

I am no doubt sure you've all bought secondhand cameras before, well, here-in lies a tale of woe with regard to that subject so horrendously awful it'll have you wringing your withers and crying into your pint o'meths. 
Oh yes, it's that bad.

But first let me preface:
A couple of weeks back, in a fit of "We're all doomed in a nuclear/end of world/environmental disaster beyond all imagination sort of way" I went mental again and promised to pay myself back or sell a kidney just to make ends meet, and on the sage advice of Bruce who said:

"The 60mm and a 150mm on the Hasselblad would make a nice kit Phil . . ." 

or something like that, I purchased a very nice 1990 150mm CF Sonnar for the Hasselblad. It is in really lovely condition and I am delighted. 
I have to say, you know people go on about things snapping in and out of focus just like that? well, this is the lens for it. It's as clear as day on the VF even with as poor eyesight as mine. 
Anyway, last weekend I decided to test it out on a trip to St Andrews - the photos are shite (that'll save you looking at them) but they showed me the potential of the lens on a tripod (which I wasn't using).
Here they are:

Contact Sheet - TMX 100, EI 50, Pyrocat-HD

Not My Family

Not My Family Either

They're Not Mine Either

Anyway, having made a few cursory test prints on the last of the Fotospeed RC, I was knocked aghast.
Yes, there!! 
Top left corner of all the frames . . . !!!!
The wailing and gnashing of teeth took me into proper, out-of-it territory, and then in a brief moment of lucidty before the walls of madness closed in again, it struck me and the Time Machine got to working again and I remembered a time long, long ago, when yer Sheephouse was all but an egg, and the planets hadn't yet formed, and all was blackness and void and noxious gasses.

Not An Out Of Focus Alien Armada


You see what I mean?
When I did examine them closely I knew exactly what they were.
If you're a Roy (Cropper . . .tsk tsk, Corrie fans) this probably won't affect you, but if, like me, you only ever print full-frame, then this is a very very pertinent thing. 
And you know what, years and years back I'd written an article about it, so here it is:


I know this is stating the obvious, but it only becomes truly obvious when it happens to you and things are spoiled by it. 
Here's a truism - in photography, cleanliness is next to godliness.

There, I'll repeat that, in photography, cleanliness is next to godliness.
There is so much emphasis placed upon lens cleanliness that other areas are totally ignored - for instance how many things have you read that say that you must check inside your camera body for dust and particles?  
Go on, I'm waiting . . .
Thought so. 

This was driven home to me recently after I had spent a week on holiday and taken three rolls of images which I obviously wouldn't be able to repeat again; we'd got home; I developed them, examined them with a loupe and then . . . 
Left hand side, about halfway down the frame, a hair - just one, but enough to make big problems on sky areas.  
Not only was the air blue, but the feeling of having captured something special vanished immediately.  
Disappointment mixed well with my f'ing and blinding - I simply couldn't believe it. Knifing a print is a pain (though curiously therapeutic), but with each negative I print, I aim to not have to do anything. 
The regime I have at the printing stage usually means this is the case - but things like that bleeding hair really got my goat.  
You see it was alright on a lot of the negatives, as there was a lot of grassland and a small line of black wasn't really going to affect the image, but on some of the lovely unrepeatable dawn skies . . .
I still get really annoyed about it.
Anyway, I grabbed Olly (the Rollei [a 1965 T for afficionados]), and there, attached to a seam surrounding the baffle just behind the lens was a tiny, fine, but enormously intrusive hair. 
Suddenly, from a small and not often visited corner of my brain, Dust Donkey brayed at me.
"Thought you'd been thorough eh Sheephouse?"
Well yes actually Mr Donkey, I thought I'd been really thorough - so much so, that in a pre-holiday-fantastic-image-unrepeatable-got-to-have-a-clean-camera type thing, my thoroughness to remove any possible problematic dust from the lens cavity had meant that I had been just too over-zealous and had blower-brushed more than necessary, not noticing that said Rollei seam had depillated one hair from said blower-brush, trapping it for all time on three unrepeatable films.
"Huh", he snorted, "gimme another carrot and I'll tell you what to do."
I dutifully did as I was told.
"Well, yer actual problem there was not us Dust Donkeys, but the dreaded Hairy Marys," he said pointing his hoof at the offending hair, "and those girls will get you every time.  Us Donkeys are easily blown out of the way - all you have to do is turn your camera back upside down, so that your lens is facing skyward, and use your blower brush or yer Rocket Air to move us around - we will invariably fall to the floor - but don't be too rough with your blowy-sweepy actions  as the Marys will attach themselves to parts of your camera that you weren't even aware of - internal body seams an' all that.  When you think you have chased off the herd, turn your camera around, place it lens down (with lens cap in place) on a flat surface, and then use a small torch and a pair of glasses or a small loupe to thoroughly check the interior for any Hairys - if there are any (and Sod's Law states that there probably will be) you can easily remove them with the likes of a speck-grabber, or pair of plastic tweezers.  You don't want any free-floating Marys in there," he said, "they're a bleeding nightmare."
Hmm, thanks donks.
"No probs matey, oh, and don't forget that you don't have to do this with every film, unless you are really really prone to dust - some people are, some aren't. Just watchit, 'at's all I'm saying, capisce?"
And there you have it, the (very sensible, but easily overlooked) law according to Dust Donkey - he's just off to the corner of the field now after having gloatingly stated the entirely obvious.  
Just wish I'd listened to him before I went on holiday.

I unpacked the Hasselblad, took off and thoroughly examined the film back . . that was clean, so I set the shutter to B and fired it and examined (with torch and glasses) and sure enough, there (just behind the bevel by the internal 'doors') it was.
A small scumble of impossibly fine fluff!
It looked all soft and cute and stuff, but there was no room for it in my herd.
I cleaned it (with my finger tip and a pair of tweezers, not a microfibre cloth as I thought this might introduce more fluff), released the shutter and wound on a few times and each time, new fluff appeared.
Who knows how long this stuff had been waiting to extrude itself from some unlit corner of the interior of my camera!
And eventually I got there and I reckon my camera is now clean.
Here's hoping.
You can't say fairer than that can you.

So what are you waiting for?
Trust me, this is something you really want to check.
Things like this can be sorted before a photographic adventure, but remember, time and light and things happening wait for no man.
The unrepeatable is just that.
You know it makes sense.

TTFN and if you see Dust Donkey, tell him his Mum hasn't heard from him in ages.


  1. Oh, Sheepy...

    As Elizabeth Barrett Browning would have said:
    "How do things snafu? Let me count the ways."

    Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the darkroom, something like this happens. Just goes to show that Mr Murphy is ever vigilant, unceasing in his quest to bring interest and
    opportunities for learning, re-learning or re-re-learning to the hapless, cardboard-trousered boy photographer.

    It's a wonder that we don't all become grizzled, cynical, grumpy old sods? We stand alone, unfazed by the flying kippers of experience which assail the unwary whenever a moment of sunlit, carefree joyfulness threatens to impinge on the otherwise bleak, eternally rainy landscapes of our pathetic, whimpering existences.

    This time, this film, this print, will be the one.

    Even if all that the pursuit of photography shows is that there are more ways in heaven and earth to mess things up than are dreamt of in your philosophy, dear Horatio, we still do it.

    Why? Because we love it.

  2. You're not wrong there old son.
    Take last night f'rinstance. Unrepeatable film, carefully processed. Went into darkroom very very gently a few hours after I'd hung it to dry - large flakes of some white substance already adhered and stuck to film. Was going to re-wash, but thought I'd be ok just gently removing them with a side-swipe this morning . . this morning - set like concrete into the surface. No idea what they are . . .
    Shite. . . .

    Got another to do tonight . . watch this space!

    Thanks for commenting as always - totally appreciated.

  3. Hah - check ye fixer for ye fixer residue and particles.
    Olde fixer, doth precipitate small yellow particles if kept for too long.
    Said particles set like concrete on film.
    Cleanliness is next to godliness . . .

  4. btw Julian - I do love the word SNAFU, not only for its meaning but also for the band from the mid-70's. If you can find it, "All Funked Up" . . . white man soul/funk with a pre-Whtsnke Micky Moody - I had the whole album memorised and sang it to myself on those long hot summer days when I were spraying hillsides with chemicals.

  5. The Universe is against you.
    To defeat all the alien fluff in the Universe, how about one of those little rubber puffer things? I can't help you with the pebble-dashing on the film, but I did know one photographer who said "We process in dilute concrete then wash in distilled water."
    Or mix up some fresh fix, as me ol' pal, me ol' matey, Herman Sheephouse says, even though it's not yet Christmas. You would do well to listen to him more often.
    Even if the fix will have to wait until the Three Wise Men come round with gold, frankincense and ammonium thiosulphate, filtering it back into the bottle might help.

  6. Hi David - I have one of those, but this is something which maybe isn't entirely obvious as it is adhering fluff - the Hairy Marys and Dust Donkey combined - luverly. Worth checking your apertures though.

    As for the fix - new fix made - old fix binned. It was small yellow particles in the concentrate - tried filtering, but no filters, so tried letting it settle, but it was suffused with it. It almost looked like some form of oxidation through the wall of the plastic storage bottle.

  7. Ah, the filtering with no filters technique. That almost always never works! Mostly, though, I limit mesel' to thinking with no brains. The ideas I come up with, if I could only remember them.

    In one of my increasingly rare sentient moments I came to the conclusion that, compared to the cost of film and paper, fresh chemicals are relatively cheap.

  8. Yet again, you ain't half right there old son.
    I wish I could store fixer so that the silver doesn't plate the inside of the bottle - maybe I have been unlucky, but I'm using old PET manufacturers bottles so you think that would be OK and reading around the plating is normal apparently, though strangely for me it is something that only appears to have started happening in recent years.
    I've always avoided glass bottles because they're slippy and fragile. I dislike concertina ones because you can't get a decent tune out of them and they're difficult to clean - any suggestions gratefully received!

    Oh and on reusing manufacturers bottles:
    Ilford - very good
    Kodak - very good
    Old Agfa - excellent
    Moersch - very good
    Fotospeed - sadly very thin - goodchemicals though.
    Tetenal - watch this space
    Adox - ditto

    And filter-free filtering? Hopeless - doesn't work!

  9. Your particles are Sulphur. All the Thio- and all the -Ate has been used up on fixing masterpieces. It is quite a good sign that you are being just a little bit mean with the chemicals.
    The plating on the inside of the bottle is another sign that your fix is getting tired. When you fix, it's supposed to dissolve out all the unused silver compounds and they are supposed to stay in solution until poured over some orchids at your local SSSI. If it can't hang on to the silver ions, the fixer is obviously losing its grip.
    Instead of filtering, you could try making a primitive centrifuge. Put the useless fix into a bottle and tie a long piece of string around the neck. In a secluded place, swing the bottle round and round as fast as possible for as long as possible. When the string breaks, or you fall down through dizziness, the unwanted precipitate will fly magically away.

  10. Thanks David - I really should have looked at Developing by Jacobson and Jacobson, before expounding shouldn't I!
    Last of the Fotospeed (filtered without filters) was used tonight - cleared TMX pretty well.
    I'll use more fresh chemicals more often in the future methinks - strange thing is, never had this with olde Agefix.
    Next up is Tetenal Superfix, with some Ilford as back-up . . and plenty of raw Sodium Thiosulphate in a tub . . .

    That style of centrifuge apparently worked very well with catching grey squirrels (true according to something I heard on Radio 4 once) - ginger nut attached to fishing line, ginger nut placed on grass, squirrels apparently are ginger nut fans, squirrel grasps nut, person tightens fishing line and proceeds to centrifuge squirrel . . . quite why, I have no idea . . .

  11. Centrifuging squirrels is almost certainly an ancient, forgotten Caledonian sport, along with throwing trees and stalking haggi. Because of the invasion of grey squirrels it has been extinct since Hadrian. Hammer-throwing is the modern version, but it lacks the characteristic waft of ginger. I'm unsure of the proper Gaelic word for centrifuge. Perhaps we could consult Auld Sheepie's Compendium of Neglected Utterance, but first we'd have to track him to his lair under his reeking lum.
    I have done lost-wax casting by swinging around the head but that's another matter altogether.
    In Cumbria, I'm told, a valiant band stand firm agains the evil grey beast, but they use shotguns. I suspect that the shotgun is mightier than the ginger biscuit.

    But what, you must inevitably be exclaiming, of a shotgun charged with ginger biscuits? Surely, that must be the ultimate anti-squirrel armament? With one gentle finger-stroke it would simultaneously attract and destroy the alien.
    And with your newly purified Hasselblad, you could be there to record it.

  12. I could indeed and it is a very interesting concept - one wonders what the police would make of it.
    Centrifuging them is sadly not Scots - it was some South London park as far as I remember.
    If it where from up here it would probably be called Fluffy Whirly.

  13. Hmmmm...
    Fluffy-Whirly sounds like a calorie fix from a well-known retailer of comminuted meat patties.

  14. It does, doesn't it, made from the rendered remains of culled grey tree rats . . .


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