Over the years I’ve tried a number of one camera – one lens – one film – one developer – one whatever disciplines with mixed results at best. Experimenting is a part of my nature. I can not sustain interest in an activity unless there are new things for me to try. At the same time, I know that changing multiple variables at the same time when experimenting can lead to a lot of dead ends.
It is time to standardize most of my equipment, materials and process, but to leave myself some wiggle room too. I decided not to add any new choices. I already have a wide enough variety of equipment, materials and precesses to choose from. That simplifies things because when removing things from a list it is more important to look at the cons than at the pros. I am not finished with this process. The following is a status report.
Cameras: I can’t focus on the ground glass of a 4×5 view camera – Gone. Medium format cameras are impractical – for me – for photographing our grandchildren’s sports – Gone. I strongly dislike cameras with menus, LCD screens, thumbwheels, etc. This includes both my digital cameras and AF film cameras – Gone. That leaves just my Nikon F and my screw-mount Leicas, and I don’t like the much larger SLR lenses of the Nikon – Gone. The winner is the screw-mount Leica. I have several bodies but they are pretty much interchangeable regarding ergonomics and lens/accessory compatibility.
Lenses: I find a variety of lens focal lengths essential for my kind of photography – 35mm or 50mm for the big picture, 85mm or 135mm for details. At the same time, I’ve never managed to take a picture I like with a lens shorter than 35mm, and I’ve never managed to hold a lens longer than 135mm steady. This should help keep the craziness under control.
Scanner: I have an Epson V700. It does a good job of scanning MF negatives but not so good with 35mm, and now that I am committed to 35mm it will be reserved for scanning prints. I also have the use of a Plustek 7100 35mm scanner but it is painfully slow compared with the 35mm digitizing setup I have settled on that uses a borrowed Fuji X-T20 camera on a Leitz BEOON copy stand. I prefer the results with the BEOON setup too.
Printer: I have two Epson printers. The Workforce 30 makes beautiful black-ink-only pigment prints on 100% cotton resumé paper. Unfortunately, it only prints 8.5 wide and can’t handle the heavier papers that I like. The Epson Stylus Photo R2880 makes beautiful ABW pigment prints up to 13″ wide and on a variety of heavier papers. Unfortunately, the ABW R2880 prints use a lot more ink than the black ink only WF30 prints of the same size, and the R2880 takes up a lot of space in my tiny office. For now I will keep and use both of them. When one of them dies I will have to do a rethink the whole printer picture.
Film: In the past six months I have taken pictures with Tri-X, T-Max 100, HP5 Plus, FP4 Plus, Pan F Plus, Acros 100 and Silvermax 100. I have seen things I like with each of them. I don’t see myself settling down with a single film or even two or three films in the foreseeable future.
Developer: At the same time that I was playing around with seven different films I was using just one developer – Rodinal. It is incredibly economical, it lasts forever, and in my experience it does the best job of making inkjet prints from a scanned negative look like silver gelatin prints made from the same negative. With any of the other film developers I tried I had to fool around with noise reduction and/or sharpening of the files to come close to the same representation of the grain, and even then they don’t really measure up.
Inkjet Paper: This is an easy one. I have one standard paper for contact pages, one standard paper for small (4×6) prints, and one standard paper for larger prints, all described here.
Process: I’ve gradually simplified my bulk film-to-finished print process to what seems, today at least, the bare minimum: (1) I load a 12-exposure strip of film in a Leica FILCA cassette using a Watson 100 or Alden 74 bulk loader. (2) I expose the film with a screw-mount Leica. (3) I develop the film in a single 35mm reel Kindermann tank. (4) I digitize the negatives using a Fuji X-T20 camera and 50/2.8 Schneider Componon S enlarging lens in a Leitz BEOON copy stand to make a JPG and a RAW file of each frame. (5) I use Image Capture to transfer the files from the camera to the Mac. (6) I use Affinity Photo to invert each JPG file and do a quick and dirty correction of the levels. (7) I use ContactPage Pro to generate a contact page of the entire roll from the JPG files. (8) I use Preview to make a black-ink-only print of the contact page with the WF30 printer. (9) I select an image I want to print by looking at the physical contact page in my hand. (10) I use Affinity Photo to develop the corresponding RAW file, invert the image, adjust the levels and do any necessary spot removal and export the image as a JPG file. (11) I use Epson Print Layout to make an ABW print of the final JPG file with the R2880 printer. I have no plan to change this process unless and until some part of it becomes unusable.
Summary: My choice of cameras, scanner, printers, developer, inkjet papers and process is settled. My choice of lenses is open to change, with limits. And my choice of films is wide open. So now I have some cameras to sell and some pictures to take. I’m not sure what this means for the future of this blog.
(The picture above was taken with a 50/2 Summicron with a SOOKY closeup adaptor on Ilford HP5 Plus film.)
2 thoughts on “Choices”
I can really see the learnings and progress you’ve made through this post. I think you’re farther along this journey than me — I’m still dinking around with way too many cameras. But I’m starting to narrow down my gear, my films, my processes, and so on. I look forward to my actual photographs becoming so much better as I finish that work.
That’s the idea of course, minimizing distractions to better concentrate on taking pictures. Or to put it another way, I am running out of excuses.
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