Orquid "Phoenix"

Orquid "Phoenix"

by ceinmart

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Ive been doing digital photography for quite a long time, I dropped into it right at the start of the "Digital Revolution" back in the mid ninety's, and due to the "free" nature of digital (ie no ongoing costs other than the camera) I have never bothered with film.

However recently I have had a hankering for playing about with film. So have decided to get myself a medium format camera to play about with.

Luckily, currently I can justify the camera as a business expense, so i have my heart set on a Hasselblad.

So, the question is what do I need in order to have a play? My list so far:

  • a Hasselblaster - (2nd hand) + Zeiss Planar lens, maybe 60mm? £500 - £1500 - Which??
  • film - but what?
  • film developing kit - baths, chemicals - what is required?
  • enlarger (colour + B&W)
  • photographic paper

(already have) tripods, studio flashes

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Do you have any other goals than just playing, e.g. some specific genres/results in mind? For just playing, a toy camera (e.g. Holga, Diana) and processing in lab would do. –  Imre Aug 8 '12 at 9:57
    
@Imre: I specifically want to go with medium format - and i want a good quality camera, hence the hasselblad. I like ultra-sharp results, and super fine detail. I do not have a specific genre no... –  Darkcat Studios Aug 8 '12 at 10:49
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Not an answer, but I'd suggest borrowing / buying Ansel Adam's series -- "The Camera", "The Negative" and "The Print". Although he is mostly known as a large format photographer, the books do cover black and white film based photography pretty well and aren't too Zone System oriented. This will give you a good sense of the materials you will need. I'd personally recommend against DIY darkroom color photography in the beginning, the equipment is more expensive and things like temperature control more important. –  David Rouse Aug 8 '12 at 20:02
    
Thanks, i'll look those up - Yes re home colour development, I initially intended to play with B&W anyway - i am going to be using my garage as a darkroom (as its the only totally dark room i have) so yes temperature control could (would) be an issue. –  Darkcat Studios Aug 8 '12 at 21:00
    
You might want to consider the classic Rolleiflex or the similar Mamiya C220/C330 twin lens reflex cameras as entry points to MF. Many great photographers did not go beyond these. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rolleiflex –  Skaperen Aug 9 '12 at 3:05
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3 Answers

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I was never more than a semi-enthusiastic amateur, and while my experience is limited to one darkroom class and a few rolls at home, here's what I learned:

  • Color or B&W: B&W is much easier to deal with than color for home processing. Color processing has more steps and chemicals involved and requires a fairly precise control over processing time and temperature (which is a bit higher than room temperature, like 110 to 120 deg F IIRC), otherwise you get weird color shifts. B&W processing is done at "room temperature" (between 68 and 72 deg F), you just have to mess with one developer, and you have more freedom to manipulate contrast and tones. One the printing side, you can work with B&W paper under a safelight, whereas with color paper you have to work in complete darkness.

  • Film: Kodak Tri-X (400TX) is one of the easier films to start with. It has a relatively wide exposure latitude, and while it's a little on the grainy side for 35mm, it's beautiful in MF and larger formats. Here are some examples I shot some years ago (all 35mm).

  • Developer: For film, I've used Rodinal and Kodak D-76. Both are single-use developers. Rodinal comes as a liquid concentrate; you just dilute it to the necessary working strength (1:25, 1:50, or 1:100, depending on the effects you're going for -- stronger solutions result in higher grain and contrast). The concentrate can keep a long time (I've used some that was stored in a box for several years with decent results), but the working solution goes bad quickly, so you won't want to mix it until you're ready to process. D-76 comes as a powder that must be mixed with water to create the stock solution, from which you create a more dilute working solution. Rodinal gives sharper (although grainier) results than D-76, but both are pretty forgiving.

  • Stop bath and fixer: The stop bath stops development, while the fixer makes the image permanent. Both can be reused, although they will eventually be exhausted. Indicator stop baths will change color when they're no longer useful. You can test fixer by dropping a piece of undeveloped film in it and seeing how long it takes to clear. I think both can be used for both film and paper, although maybe at different concentrations. After fixing, you need to wash the film in clean water for a while, otherwise residual fixer will eventually discolor.

  • Processing equipment: For film, you need a developing tank and reel (stainless steel works best IMO), some graduates, a thermometer, a stopwatch, a changing bag, and some lightproof bottles for storing working chemistry. I only ever did paper in my darkroom class; at home, I just scanned the negatives with a film scanner and printed from the computer.

No advice on enlargers or paper; I only did one darkroom class, and their equipment was much nicer than anything I could justify. One issue with film and paper is storage; you'll need some space to store all your negs and prints (which is part of why I stopped doing it).

The fun thing about B&W film processing is that you can extensively manipulate contrast and tones just by changing the concentration of the developer and changing the amount of time you soak the film. It's a little more hit and miss than tweaking curves in a RAW image, but that's what makes it so much fun.

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Also a good alternative is to use slide film and a good film scanner. That way you can still have some benefits from both worlds (analog film and digital). If i wanted color pictures I would take this route.

But if you want to print pictures your self, then b&w is much easier. If you haven't done anything in darkroom before i would suggest b&w. When printing b&w you can see quite well with the safe light, so you can familiarize with working in dark enviroment (it's a lot darker when printing color photos).

I used to use multigrade papers for b&w printing which need a set of filters to control the paper "grade" (contrast). Some enlarger have those built in and if it doesn't you can mount them under the lens.

This site lists pretty much everything you will need in a darkroom http://www3.telus.net/drkrm/equip.htm.

Developing b&w film is quite straight forward, you need a developing tank and chemicals. http://www.squarefrog.co.uk/techniques/developing-film.html has quite good instruction how to do it and what is needed. Developing color and slide film is much harder in home setting, since you will need to control temperatures etc. very carefully and it requires more steps.

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The good news is that there is a ton of used darkroom equipment that is very very cheap, since most folks don't want to mess with it. I loved working in the darkroom, and miss it. Most of the equipment is the same for medium and 35mm, except the enlarger of course.

Home b+w is a lot easier than color. There used to be a fair number of home color kits but even in the best cases, color is a lot more complex than b+w

Paper choices are nearly uncountable. When I was doing a lot of darkroom stuff, I used polycontrast paper and filters. This let you have only one paper, you vary the filter and get different contrasts. Make sure your enlarger accepts filters between the lamp and the negative carrier, most do.

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