With 5×7 sheet film being expensive, at over £1 a sheet, I have been looking for alternatives. I love the look paper negatives give to some images and so will continue to use paper as “film” for some subjects – particularly those that don’t move …
In searching discussion forums on alternative photographic processes, I came across questions and advice about using x-ray film. Working out at around 10p a sheet this looked almost too good to be true – but it works … and it looks great!
The film is described as being “sensitive to green light” so I wondered if, like photopaper it would render reds as black, but that is not the case. There is quite a good tonal range as the print below shows.
With the sun out and the roads passable, I ventured up onto the top of the Mendip Hills with the Thornton Pickard and some film cartridges loaded with Photopaper as paper-negatives. I also loaded the VW Campervan with the darkroom chemicals, trays and red-light so I could process on site to check exposure. This proved vital as the first set of images – though at maximum aperture of F8 were still underexposed with the shutter operating at 1/30s and the paper’s ISO equivalent of 6.
So I went to the other end of the F scale – 64. this gave an exposure time of 4s – long enough to cover minor discrepancies in my manual timing. These shots were much better exposed, though the paper negatives – having been loaded in the not-so-light-tight van were a bit fogged in places.
I am pleased with the results – here are scans of the contact prints made from the paper negatives. Some images show a curved shadow at the bottom – a problem with the bellows sagging caused this. I lifted the lens mount and this reduced the problem. Really I need to fit new bellows – but as the rest of the camera is a bit worn it wouldn’t make economic sense compared to buying another in better condition.
Well, some success and still some failures(learning opportuntites). Saggy bellows have caused a shadow on the negative and one or two film holders have small gaps – now filled. But the ones that workd I am very pleased with.
The big challenge is metering correctly to set the exposure. I realised that in trying to increase the exposures I had been getting, I had been metering the highlights instead of the midtones.
My Boots branded 100 year old Thornton Pickard camera has a new addition – a mechanical shutter. This allows me to shoot at speeds under 1 second. With these faster speeds I can use 200 ISO sheet film instead of the much slower photo paper.
To measure the speed of this shutter, I fixed it in front of my digital fuji XT20. I set the Fuji on a 5 second exposure on f8 (as wide as the old camera goes). This gave me time after pressing the Fuji shutter to then trigger the old shutter.
I then viewed the histogram of the image taken – which was of course, at the speed of the old shutter.
I then moved the old shutter out of the way and took a few images on the Fuji adjusting the shutter speed until I found a speed that gave me a similar histogram to that obtained with the old shutter. This turned out to be a useful 1/30s.
The speed of the old shutter can be changed – but it is a bit of a fiddle.
In order to access shutter speeds of less than 1s I need a mechanical shutter. I found one on eBay for a bargain price – and it is in good mechanical working order. The challenge was to attach it to the camera as the rubber seal has gone solid.
I first rigged a plastic adapter to put the shutter on the front of the lens. This did work OK, but isn’t very elegant. Next, I looked at putting the shutter between the lens and the camera body. I didn’t want to make too many cuts, or changes to the camera or shutter so fabricated a frame to hold the shutter onto which the lens could be mounted. I only needed to make 3 small screw holes into the lens mounting plate. This has worked well, so will now stain the frame to finish it off. Next step (in the next blog) is to measure/adjust the shutter so I know what speed it is running at.
I now have some 7″x5″ sheet film for the antique Thornton Pickard (Boots) bellows camera. Unfortunately the film/plate holders are slightly less than 7″x5″ so in complete darkness, using masking tape stuck to the bed of the guillotine as guides, I trimmed down the film to fit. What you see here is my third day’s experiments – Day one produced under-exposed images, day two over-exposed and today – just right (mostly). Setting up the still life by the kitchen window, I took light readings off each piece of fruit and the black paper backgroud – yielding recommended exposure times ranging from 4 to 30s at F32. As the 30s was for the black background I went for a 20s exposure and was very happy with the result. I used the same settings for my portrait shot.
Contact prints were made, experimenting with exposure here too. I am exposing using a flashgun held 45cm above the paper. The flashgun has a controllable intensity. – level 4 seems optimum – but doesn’t give quite the contrast I hoped for – I have ordered some filters on ebay to make the flashgun light more magenta as I have read this increases contrast – we’ll find out when they arrive.
One problem was the film/plate holders are old and fragile and some wood splintered off – the pieces that make them light-tight. So I had to make (using some mahogany veneer) replacement pieces.
The other problem I have encountered with these film holders is that the metal plates that sit in the middle separating the two pieces of film have springy pieces in the middle and these scratch the film and they don’t fit too well either. I am replacing these with stiff black paper and we’ll see how they perform.
My Day two efforts were outside – around Glastonbury – Godney. The light was too bright and I had to deal with exposure times of only half a second with this ISO 200 film even on F64. It wasn’t possible to accurately judge taking off and replacing the lens cap in these circumstances – though I did try. I have sourced on Ebay a shutter mechanism that will fit on the front of the lens allowing me to make theses shorter exposure times. Something to play with over Christmas 🙂