review

Learning how to make Darkroom Prints

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As I've become more involved with film photography over recent years I've come to appreciate and value working with a tengible substance - a film negative. I find the challenge of working with a physical substance requires a different thought process and approach than working on digital there's the lack of an immediate opportunity to see if you got 'it' so you need to be more careful about your lighting and compostion but also I can't just hit delete and start again like I can with digital not only does this slow my creative process down it makes me much more intentional when I do (eventually) press the shutter button.

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So if you're such a big fan of actual factual 'things' then why the flipping heck don't you print more of your work I hear you cry! great question!! I am the first to admit that I don't print enough of my photographic work - film or digital! In fact I hardly print any of it! In this digital age the vast majority of photographs I've shot in either format are just floating around on the web somewhere or hidden away on hard drives or filed away in actual files in the case of negatives - probably never to see the light of day! Worse than that, in the case of my digital files - if I wait too long they might NEVER see the light of day.

Have you tried extracting files off a zip drive lately? what about a floppy disk?remember them? Where is technology going to be in 5 or 10 years time? Who knows what kind of electronic storage devices we'll all be using in the future and even if I can access them, data routinely gets corrupted and is lost for all time. But a 35mm negative is here with us in the real world! A different proposition entirely! My interest in film photography as tangible 'thing' is a combination of the challenge of working with a finitie, physical substance and there are literally physical limits to how far I can push this physical 'thing' to achieve my creative intentions (this is a good erm 'thing' - note to self, stop saying thing now)

OK so we get it, negatives are physical things (aaargh) and this is interesting to you, but then you just scan them into the computer so....what's that all about? Exactly my point!! A film negative is a finished article in waiting - it's a halfway point a pre-photograph, these days most people digitise their negatives to complete them but then we're back in the realm of electronic ephemera again, originally the negative was a halfway point on it's journey to becoming a photographic print and I want some of my film negatives to finally reach that destination!

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I've been wanting to learn how to make proper darkroom prints of my work for aaaages and a recent BIG birthday presented the perfect opportunity to do so (thanks mom)! I found a course being run by Dave Butcher a master printer who worked for Ilford and was trained by them in darkroom printing techniques, Dave is also a professional photographer too and his work is A-mazing! You can check out Dave's work here http://www.davebutcher.co.uk and also the oodles of resources and guides on darkroom printing he has created too by visiting http://www.darkroomdave.com if you are so inclined then I can heartily recommend Dave's Darkroom workshop, it was an awesome experience! I would like to say a huge thank you to Dave and his wife Jan for making feel so welcome during the course, it was fantastic and I cannot recommend it enough! :)

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I won't try to explain the finder details of how to use a darkroom becasue a: there are a few steps involved and b: there are load of resources out there that explain the basic steps including Dave's websites linked above - suffice it to say that I spent the day at Dave's house being shown how to use all of the darkroom kit and process invovled to create black and white prints of my negatives - I took a selection of some of my fav images and I was away!! The process itself is remarkably straight forward although there is a significant amount of kit and caboodle required to enable all this - Dave is a fantastic teacher and it was great to be able to learn from someone with such a depth of knowledge on the subject, of course I am only scratching the surface and just at the beginning of this journey, what I discovered is that with the right kit, some knowledge and a bit of practice you can make decent prints and be happy - but then spend an entire lifetime learning how to make GREAT prints!!

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I was over the moon to leave my first day in the darkroom with these prints to show for it! the detail, sharpness and tone of images that until now I had only viewed on a screen blew me away - I chose a selection of travel, street and architectural images along with a couple of shots of my little boy (had to be done) it was difficult to choose a small selection! but what now? surely you need a load of kit and space to set this kind of thing up right? well - yes, but not as much as you'd think and fortunately I was very lucky to have been given a complete set of darkroom equipment a few years ago which has been patiently waiting in the loft for just this very occasion!!

So here it is! my very own darkroom enlarger which i got along with a box full of bits and bobs that actually make sense to me now I've been on the course - before which I was really not sure what I was looking at TBH!

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So there we have it - a thouroughly enjoyable experience! I am intrigued at how different our experience of photographic prints is to viewing images digitally on a screen - ever been round to someones house and they get the family photo album out? how does that compare to viewing some images on a screen? no value judgements here (ok well maybe some) but it's just different isn't it? our emotional response is different it's a tactile, tangible physical experience - we respond, relate and react differently to it as a medium - and this is fascinating to me, why haven't I been printing my photos more you ask, well that's about to change - big time!

Nikon FE Review

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I have been on the look out to join the Nikon film camera gang for ages - it's a proper gang with hats and handshakes and everything - and now I have! Welcome the Nikon FE!! Is this another case of Gear Acquistion Syndrome you ask? yes, probably! Does this camera do anything special that my other 35mm SLR's don't? no. not really? do I love it anyway? Damn straight I do!! here's why!

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So upon handling the camera the first thing you notice is the build quality it's really well put together, feels solid and the mechanical components feel smooth and sounds great (the all important shutter 'schtick' noise is present and correct) but obviously you'd expect that since back in the day Nikon were undisputed purveyors of quality cameras.

In fact (at least initially anyway) the only fly in the ointment is the lens - or should i say the action of the lens, coming from a line up of OM and Pentax cameras I have to say that at first glance the basic Nikkor 50mm 1.8 lens didn't pass muster with me in terms of the focus ring which manages to feel loose and notchy all at the same time and makes fine focussing a bit of a faff to be honest.... I've gotten more used to it having shot a few rolls of film with it now so perhaps it just takes a bit of getting used to, the flip side of this is that now all my OM and Pentax lenses feel a bit stiff! (will the madness never end)?!!! :P

I'll have to see how I go with this lens though it is more likley is that my copy has seen one too many turns and is literally a bit worse for wear - it's ok to use but it doesn't exactly scream 'quality' when you're using it, and achieving fine focus is a bit of a chore twisting the focus ring back and forth so I'm now actively on the look out for it's posher older brother the 50mm 1.4

A juicy red apple is nice, but not every apple is red..... super sharp shooter Nikkor 50mm 1.8

A juicy red apple is nice, but not every apple is red..... super sharp shooter Nikkor 50mm 1.8

You cannot argue with the quality of the optics on the 50mm 1.8 thought - seriously very good! The next couple of images were taken on a short walk around my village - the people's republic of Slawit, shot on Lomography 400 Colour film, unfortunately some of the frames have what appears to be a light leak across one side with a band of blue ish light affecting the image, bit of a pain really, or maybe that'sa special 'Lomo' feature for the film!! I'll change the light seals and see if there's an improvement - otherwise I like the Lomo 400 film it's a cheap alternative colour film, in fact I'm going to be shooting a LOT more colour film as I've been totally focussing on Black and White for ages and feel like a change. The weird thing is that I don't think it's the camera as the roll of HP5 i shot doesn't have any of these issues - ah the joys of shooting 40 year old cameras I guess, comes with the territory!

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Focus ring faffing aside shooting with the FE is otherwise great, the controls are well placed (although at the risk of offending my new Nikon gang mates) I still prefer the OM2n layout - being able to control aperture and shutter with one hand whilst not taking your eye away from the viewfinder is a dream! again - it's probably just my technique having grown accustomed to the Olympus 'way'

These next three images were shot on Kodak Portra 400 with my recently added Series E 100mm 2,8 lens and I have to say that I love this combination! the lens was very cheap for how well it performs and of course Portra 400 is a fantastic film to play with, I took it for a spin around Huddersfield town centre and also grabbed a portrait of my friend Marco too.

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My Nikon FE is in great condition - it's clearly been used over the years with a bit of brassing and the odd dent/scrape here and there but in my experience that's a good sign! Mechanically the FE is smooth as silk and runs really well, whenever I've bought cosmetically 'mint' cameras they can often have internal issues as the reason they are 'mint' is they've sat in uncle nobheads cupboard since 1972 and never had a roll of film put through them, it's usually much better to have a camera that has been used as intended although it may have picked up a bit of battle damage along the way.

I bought mine from West Yorkshire Cameras - a big thank you to Howard and Hattie for being super helpful and for running such an awesome shop, if you're ever in Leeds I highly recommend a visit!

The following black and white images were a good test of the Nikkor 50mm 1.8 focussing whilst trying to get my little boy to sit still for half a second (an impossible task)! I shot HP5 rated at 800 and developed semi stand in Rodinal and I'm really happy with how they came out, the 50mm 1.8 lens really is very sharp and contrasty so I can forgive it's wobbly focussing!

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So in short I flippin love this camera, it's very well put together, the lenses are sharp and contrasty just the way I like! I'm now on the look out for some more of the legendary Nikon glass to put in front of the FE so watch this space as the next few blogs are likley to be all about those!

In the meantime if you've enjoyed today's blog post why not subscribe to the blog and get updates on new posts - see you next time! :)

Pentax Spotmatic F Review

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I'm gonna get a bit of camera geekery out of the way and walk you through the controls and features of the Spotmatic F and then we'll get in to the more important business of sharing some images taken with it.

The controls are well laid out - there's a shutter control dial (pictured below left) which incorporates ISO setting and next to that is the film advance lever which is well positioned and ergonomically curved with a smooth action and quick return so it's easy to rattle off a few shots in quick succession, on the opposite side of the camera is the film rewind lever and a helpful dial which you can set with details of the film loaded (B&W, Colour, Tungsten number of frames on the loaded film) this is just visual guide in case you forget what film you've loaded it doesn't control any settings in the camera.

The thing that sets the 'F' model apart from other cameras of it's age is that it also includes the ability to use 'open aperture metering' when used with Pentax own branded lenses (which are in themselves legendary) this means that it can be used as an Aperture Priority camera thanks to the the built in light meter - what's that? Yawnsville Arizona you say??! how VERY dare you! I'll have you know that this was ground breaking stuff back in the day!! ;)

On mine the meter is slightly out of whack by a couple of stops so I usually use my iphone light meter app to double check exposure and then just correct it whilst im shooting. If you wanted to use non brand M42 mount lenses on this camera you can do but without the open aperture function - in the second image from the right (above) you can see on the side of the lens mount a switch which you can use to activate the stop down metering function.

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Looking through the viewfinder the classic simplicity continues - you get an elector mechanical needle read out on the right hand side which tells you if you are under/over exposing the scene and a focus screen with a circular etched centre to allow you to visually check focus and that's it! nothing else to clutter the view and get in the way of your eye and the subject - lovely!

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They just don't make em like this anymore....it's as silky smooth to operate as the day it was made (although obviously I have no way of double checking that unless i can literally go back in time - maybe it was even silkier and smoother back then). The design is simple with classically understated clean lines which I like very much but it's the superb construction, fine handling and top notch build quality that really sets it apart from the crowd.

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I picked mine up for a measly £30 on evilbay which included the amazing Pentax SMC 55mm 1.8 lens and is therefore a complete bargain!! the low price was due to the very visible dent on the prism viewfinder casing but it doesn't affect the use of the camera so whilst it would be nice to have a mint copy I don't want to pay £100 for one! it is otherwise in mint condition though and mechanically excellent with a very satisfying 'schtick' shutter sound.

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t's so nice to use that in the first couple of weeks of owning it I burned my way through 8 rolls of film which is something i haven't done before with any of my film cameras (and probably won't again as it's a very dear doo) but the Spotmatic F is such an enjoyable camera to use that it kind of makes you want to shoot more and more!

It's a little heavier than my OM2n and whilst it's only a bit of a difference after a day lugging it round you do notice so on long hauls I would probably go with the Olympus if only for it being so light - the reason that the Pentax is heavier is becuase it hails from a time when no expense was spared on the internal moving parts of the camera which are therefore predominantley brass as opposed to the plastic of the slightly later OM2n so whilst it adds weight it also adds to the smooth handling and feeling of quality.

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The lenses are totally amazing also - i was dimmly aware prior to purchasing the camera that the 'Takumar' range of lenses were very highly regarded by the internet (which in real terms means basically nowt most of the time) but I am very happy to report that it is indeed true! these are very very very good lenses - so much so that I very very very quickly added a 135mm 3.5 lens and a 35mm 3.5 AND most i just the other day added the almost legendary 50mm 1.4 lens to my collection. So yeah I could probably pontificate on the pentax's perfect performance inperpetuity - but leaving my alliterative allusions aside...I won't - I'll save the lenses their own mini reviews for a future date as I'd like to get them involved in some digital action with the old SONY NEX3n as well.

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So in summary then I flipping well LOVE this camera it is quite firmly on my list of cameras that I would never part with, it's a very well made and very simple camera with no bells and whistles, it just does what you need it to do without getting in the way which is what all the best cameras should do, if you have the chance to try one or even better own one then I heartily recommend you do it! 

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All of these images were shot on a visit to Brighton earlier this year on the Pentax Spotmatic F (of course) on Fomapan 200 and Ilford FP4 film (except for the one below which is Fuji Acros 100) and using either a Chinon 35mm 2.8 or an SMC Pentax 55mm 1.8 lens.

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