Saturday, January 16, 2016

Old frozen film and caffenol.

In my last post, I mentioned how I had sort of a reawakening of my interest in black and white about the same time I started working in color, but color won the day and I gave up the monochrome.

Several things have recently renewed my interest in black and white.  

All the while I've been using the Populist I occasionally built 120 cameras, often just to demonstrate that my cheap homemade paper cameras could produce just as good photographs as expensive, beautifully crafted wood and brass cameras you could buy. Most of the time I just wasn't that impressed by the difference the larger format made, but recently I've gotten intrigued by it. I kinda wanted to try the Compact 120 6x9 again but my inner cheapskate, however, kind of drew the line at the 6x9cm format as just too expensive to be fun.

Before I quit using the black and white, I bought 10 rolls of black and white 120 film.  I still had a roll of T-Max, one of Tri-X and four of Arista 400 in my freezer. I don't think my inner cheapskate would be offended if I used them up in the Compact 120.

Also recently I was reminded of caffenol developer. If you haven't heard of it, it's ingredients are washing soda, vitamin C, and cheap instant coffee.

Making your own chemistry is about as pinholey as it gets, but caffenol also has other advantages. Although the washing soda wouldn't be very good for you if you drank it, everything in caffenol is pretty non-toxic and something that is pretty safe to pour down the sink (I mean, it's washing soda).   Hydroquinone and Metol are some pretty nasty stuff.  In normal home usage quantities it's not all that bad to dump regular developer in the drain, but caffenol is less of an issue. And it smells a lot better.

The really big advantage is it's a one shot developer mixed from powder every time.  Liquid developers oxidize pretty fast, and there's always a warning with powders to mix the whole envelope. Since I only develop a roll of film now and again I hate the idea of not knowing if my developer is still full strength.

So I started with the T-Max since the caffenol.org web site said it was tested pretty well.  I used the standard Delta recipe, since there was a post on the site that said it worked well with T-Max.  I didn't notice until now that the writer said they doubled the amount of vitamin C.

For one of those things that don't sound like they could possible work, it actually developed the film, but with a few problems.

Here are three pictures. I always have trouble just shooting to test, so I went for a bike ride along the old manufacturing district on the Fox River, which seemed pretty appropriate to black and white.

The historical society has kept two fishing shacks preserved.  Manufacturers in Oshkosh paid workers particularly poorly to gain a competitive advantage, which led to a nasty strike in 1898, so the workers depended a lot on fishing in the Fox for food.


I love this side walk.  This used to be the road between Mercury Marine's Engineering Test Lab, still there on the left, and Radford Manufacturing, one of the wood products companies that Oshkosh was built upon, which was torn down sometime in the early nineties.  The streets in the area have been reworked several times since then. The street lights, power poles and fire hydrants were installed at different times, and when they decided to put this sidewalk in, it was cheaper to snake it around everything rather than move them.


This is the site of Morgan Door Company.  This Old House actually did two remote segments there. They moved out to the industrial park about ten years ago, the old factory was torn down, and the site has remained vacant since.  I thought it was funny to have these two piles of gravel there since the city spent years getting a construction materials supplier just across the river to move out of the downtown.


The negatives turned out all right, but the background fogging is pretty bad.  Here's a comparison of an old 35mm negative on the left and the new one on the right. On the caffenol site there are several warnings that you might need a restrainer with faster films, but they're divided between those that say you're OK up to 400, and some saying 400 and over.

I think I'm with the 400 and over crowd.  Luckily, common table salt is one of the options for a restrainer, so I think I'm going to add that next time.

Unfortunately, there's no mention of Tri-X or Arista 400 at all on the Caffenol site, but they do refer to Ilford HP5 and the recommended development times are roughly similar. Anyone have any tips on using caffenol?

Monday, January 11, 2016

The compact 120 6x9

In retrospect, 2007 and 2008 must have been a really schizophrenic years for me photographically. I was hot on the discovery of the Populist and color, but I was still pursuing some black and white.

I worked in the basement of a university library and my common path led right past the new books display and I immediately checked out any new photography books.  Sometime in the winter of 2006-2007, they got a biography of André Kertész. I was completely blown away, and slightly obsessively returned to black and white photography. Part of what grabbed me about Kertész' images was the high contrast, yet long grey scale in them. I had been slightly frustrated at times with the limited latitude of paper negatives and knew I had to go to film to get that quality. I bought some 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 inch film holders on ebay and built a simple foam core camera for them. (I even bought a new longer lens for my enlarger, but I never did use that). I lost enthusiasm for that format after I forgot to indicate that a holder was exposed a couple times, destroyed a few in the developer and accidentally exposed a half a box of film. Roll film seemed like the better solution for me. 6x9cm is identical in format to the little sheet film, and then you don't have to carry a bunch of film holders, and I was never likely to go full zone system and customize development for each image.

Like a lot of photographers of modest means, I suspect, I always lusted after professional medium format cameras. The 120 Populist was a pretty good solution, but at that time I wanted a little break from really wide angles, a longer version of the 120 Populist was getting to be a kind of funny sized box, and I wanted something that looked more like a Hasselblad. (I'm still a little on about this–see the Glenmorangie Evil Cube)



This is the second iteration of this camera I constructed.  My objective here was to make as compact a 6x9cm camera as possible with a "normal" perspective, and on the first one was a little too compact. Everything was too tight causing it to have film transport problems and it was really difficult to get open. It was destroyed when I tried to change film in the parking lot at the Farmers' Market and broke it in half.

This one is slightly larger, mainly because it's made of foam core and not matte board, and also has slightly more generous tolerances.

It's actually a pretty standard box camera arrangement. The camera front with the film transport and image plane is one piece which the back slides over to close the camera.

The film reels are toward the front of the camera. I think the two most common problems with 120 film transport is that the reels don't stay parallel to each other and eventually jam. My first solution was to limit the space they were in so they couldn't do this, but in the original version of this camera I destroyed in the parking lot, I went overboard and made them too tight and the film occasionally wouldn't turn at all. The solution was to loosen things up a bit and to put some slight axle in the bottom so it would stay parallel. I used some bits of bamboo skewers through the bottom of the camera, and to make it easier to load the film,  hinged a bit of the bottom which would be held closed when the back was in place.


The winders are 3/8 inch dowels with the end carved to insert into the slot on the film reel. Again, the winders are just held in by friction so I put bits of tape over the ends so they would be really tight. The dowels are inserted through some wine corks to give a bit more leverage to turn the film and two provide a bit of a light trap over the holes. I used two winders so that if the film got sticky, I could loosen the supply reel a bit, and then tighten the take-up side. With this camera that turned out to be unnecessary. The film advances smoothly with just the take-up winder, but it also gives a little security in case you accidentally wind the film a bit too far you can pull it back with the supply winder.

Inside the internal dividers again leave a pretty small slot for  the pinhole, but this time, it's mounted all the way inside. Looks like I didn't get it exactly centered in the slot, but the image isn't blocked and the whole 6x9cm opening gets illuminated.

Another addition based from looking at box cameras are some rollers at the corners made with bamboo skewers with a drinking straw around them. I'm not sure if that's really necessary, but the film transport on this camera is particularly smooth, so it's not hurting either.

It's 90mm from pinhole to film. I finally quit ignoring Lord Raleigh and it's got a .4 Gilder electron microscope aperture installed, therefore f225.

I did get at least one roll of film through the first iteration, and I think achieved some of the results the Kertész book inspired me to.



However, this was in the middle of my infatuation and eventual seduction by color, and only ran some color film through this version of the camera.





As mentioned in other posts, my inner cheapskate couldn't see much improvement over what I was getting out of the 35mm Populist and seemed to me was inhibiting my adventerousness that made the Populist such fun.  More recently with the leisure afforded by retirement, I've gotten intrigued again by the quality of the larger format and have recently exposed some film through this camera, which will be the subject of another post, and may have a few surprises.


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Populist: Variations with the standard pattern

The basic plan of the Populist is pretty easy to modify to different pinhole to film distances by just making the sides longer (Henry Longbow in Texas made one with the pinhole inset into the camera body to make it shorter) and with a bit bigger diagram and a minor change or two, for 120 film. There's no reason you couldn't make a 16mm version if you had some of that laying around that was still light sensitive.

The Stereo Populist

The first variation I made was a stereo camera pretty early in the process. A Japanese company was marketing a plastic snap-together stereo camera that was getting a lot of posts on Flickr and other internet discussion sites, so I sat down one afternoon, and made a version of the Populist. I just cut off the film chamber ends of the diagrams, supply on one side and take-up on the other, glued them side by side on one piece of cardboard, and then completed it pretty much like any other one-and-a-half Populists.


One thing I learned with this camera that has nothing to do with stereo was that brown cardboard cartons, like a lot of beverage twelve packs are made of are not as opaque as cereal boxes that are grey, so it got covered with tape pretty fast.

I had a lot of fun with it. Here are my two favorites. If you can't get stereo to work with crossed-eyes setup, try this link 



In 2013 I got a bug in my ear about a traveling camera project such as I had participated in a couple times earlier in the century. I took this camera and another one that Earl Johnson had acquired as a contribution premium to f295, tarted them up with the latest Populist improvements, packaged them in nice foam-lined presentation boxes (originally containing Crabtree & Evelyn soap) and sent them off to six participants including one in Ireland, one in England and one on Curacao, a Caribbean island.


Only three out of the six ever took photographs with it, one of the cameras was lost in the mail on it's way back to me and the other is just missing in action. The three that did shoot some film with it made some interesting photographs, with the coolest (but not the greatest stereo effect), being this image by Evan Hughes of the oriel window at Lacock Abbey that appears in Talbot's first camera negative.

The Panoramic Populist

A couple years later, a participant on f295 posted about a beautifully crafted camera he had made out of a wooden dominoes' box, which if you think about how those are packaged, was a long narrow rectangle. He made a 35mm camera out of it just using the dimensions of the box to determine the image format (that sounds familiar) which turned out to be 96mm, two and two thirds the width of a normal 35mm camera. Hmmm...could you do that with the Populist?


This time I just glued two patterns side by side with only one film chamber cut off (36+36+24=96). Instead of the extremely long internal divider, I made the film chambers out of separate little boxes, and this time I had the sense to put internal stops on the shutter to keep it from pulling out. Otherwise, follow the master recipe.



96mm is extremely wide for 24mm from the pinhole. Mr. Pinhole says the camera covers 127 degrees, but the usable image area is only 46mm wide at that distance.

But if you find a subject where it's dark in the middle and bright out at the edges, you can fill the whole format.


Although most of the time, it would drop off to black only covering about 72mm.


The 120 Populist

I occasionally got feedback complimenting me for bringing pinhole to the people, and they personally might try it if there was a 120 version, ya know, more appropriate for pinhole. So about the same time I made the stereo version, I made one.  The diagram is at this link.



Other than just enlarging things, the only differences are that the end of the winder has to be whittled to fit into the slot in a 120 film reel, it has a window and a shutter for the film counter, and I just picked the 60mm pinhole to film distance rather than just use the diameter of the 120 film reel (although I have seen people make cameras that wide angle).

It has a couple little enhancements.

It looks like I got a little bit of rubylith to cover the counter window, although that's completely unnecessary if you're half-way careful about only opening the counter shutter out of direct sunlight. 

I placed a small cylinder around the winder hole
because I was concerned about light-tightness and to add a little more friction to keep the winder from falling out.

I also added a stop to the shutter so it didn't pull right out.

For a kind of large piece of thin cardboard, it's quite rigid.  

I only shot two rolls at the most to make sure everything works.  Using larger film, of course,  does have aesthetic benefits which I didn't appreciate at the time, but for a 6x9cm format it's 3 times more costly to operate and I just didn't get the additional thrill out of it. I was having too much fun with the standard Populist. (I am currently playing with 120 film again)




One funny thing.  This camera is made out of a Kellog's Corn Flakes box which is probably the only one of those I've ever bought.

The Stereo 120

I mentioned that I've been playing with 120 occasionally and was getting intrigued by the quality of the images with the larger format and while the Stereo Populist was off on it's voyage,  I decided to build a stereo version of the 120. I was also thinking that stereograms as we're used to seeing them, are done on 6x6cm negatives.  


Again, it's a simple matter of cutting the ends off two regular patterns and gluing them together to create side by side chambers. Also by this time, I just included all the little improvements right from the start. Unlike the Stereo Populist which at 24mm is pretty wide for stereo, the 6cm distance to the pinhole was more in line with commercial 120 lensed stereo cameras which I found ranging from 45 to 75mm focal lengths. Here's the open back (with The Populist for scale) showing the two chambers. Looks like I added a little stiffening to that middle divider.

Again, these examples are set up for crossed-eyes viewing, so if you need to try again, here's that link to a lesson.



Normally I do a lot of burning and dodging to compensate for vignetting on the 24mm populist and blown out highlights on 35mm.  A revelation with these was that I used the scans directly as I got them from the camera store.

Next up are a few variations without using a printed pattern, and one sort of.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Mosquito Hill in December

It's not every year we get to Mosquito Hill in December. It doesn't take much snow for most of the paths to get tricky to impossible to traverse. There is cross country and snow shoeing, but we never seem to get properly set up for those.

This year, of course, has been unusually warm, so we made it up three times.

Winter is a bit of a challenge for the color photographer, but the moss tries to take up the slack.  I don't want to put anything in anybody's brain, but I can't help but see sort of a Disney cartoon face in the front of this rock.


To give you a sense of place, if I were also taking the greening of the hill switchback picture, the bottom of the tripod and my feet would be in the background of that image.


It was extremely foggy on the drive up and I was really looking forward to photographing at Mosquito Hill in it, but it cleared a bit as we approached New London. From the top of the hill, you could kind of see the northern limits of the fog.


In the early part of the month, we had several days below freezing.  The duckweed frozen into the oxbow was still green.


 The fog made it a little dark, but it was so still you could get long enough exposures to do close ups of the seed pods in the meadow.


Two weeks later, it was all about the high water.  I can almost understand what's going on in Missouri. It's pretty typical of these lowlands to be under water for most of the spring, but in winter they're usually quite dry. The Wolf isn't flooding anything but a few riverside cabins, but it's plenty high to join with the oxbow and come up about as far in the lowland forest as I've ever seen it.


The bridges to the platforms were just barely out of the water.


These platforms are hinged to the bridge to rise and fall with the level of the oxbow.  Usually at this time of year they're going downhill with the platform sitting right on the bottom, which is often dry. This is about as high as they go.


It slopes up pretty quickly to the meadow, but there was water about two steps behind me.


Just after Christmas, we went up with Andy and Kristin. The switchback was even more colorless and without a source of fresh leaves, the paths of the hikers get traced by a slightly greyer line.


The sun shown for a bit, but we got there pretty late and the sun doesn't hang around that long on December 27. The extreme low angle really highlights the layers. It's tough to imagine this being the bottom of some PreCambrian sea, but then, that was long before North America was a specific continent.


The sun was setting while we were still coming down the hill, so that's going to be it for a while.


The next day about a foot of snow in high winds (it was officially declared a blizzard by the weather service) covered most of central and northern Wisconsin. Probably lots of interesting drifts if you can get to them.

Happy New Year and have a great Perihelion celebration tomorrow afternoon.

All with the Populist. .15mm pinhole 24mm from 24x36mm frame.