35mm Camera Scanning

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Here’s a camera scanning rig that I built for “scanning” 35mm black & white negs very quickly with my digital camera.  I picked up an old enlarger for $5.95 at a Goodwill store (different enlarger than I used for my 120 scanning setup) and utilized the neg carrier, bellows, and focusing mechanism to build this. It’s a big old Omega C760, and the bellows/focusing unit is a solidly-built piece of equipment.  Laying on it’s side, it makes a great base for shooting negs.  All I had to do was attach a couple of boards to it – one to hold the camera (with a simple bolt through the board to screw into the camera’s tripod mount), and another to hold the light box (same Logan light box that I use for the 120 setup – it slides in and out of this easily so I can use it for other things) – and build some kind of neg carrier (the tricky part).

My main objective was to create a fast way to slide negs through and shoot quickly without having to carefully line up every frame.  With 120 film the speed is not such an issue, since you’re only shooting 12 frames or so per roll.  Shooting 36 frames on a roll of 35mm film can add up to a lot of time if you have to spend time adjusting for each shot.

So the main thing that makes this work well is the film transport that I built by soldering together small pieces of brass.  The rails are made of 1/8″ L-shapes bars which are paired to make a T track, and they’re spaced apart just enough to allow the film to slide through with a slight snugness.  The pieces are soldered together so that when film is slid through, the image area of the film never comes in contact with any part of the mechanism.

You can see a bit of what it looks like, and how it loads in the video clip below.

A rig like this could be built without the bellows, but the advantage of bellow is that they provide an easy way to adjust the distance between camera and film plane.  Simply turning the bellows focus knob moves the whole film plane unit (including lightbox) nearer or farther from the camera.  This way I can get the negative to nearly fill the frame of the digital camera.  The image is focused via the macro lens on the camera.

It takes just a couple of minutes to attach the camera to the base, slide a piece of film in, and set the focus on the camera (focusing is aided by the camera’s zoom feature and focus peaking).  I focus with the lens wide open, then stop down to f/8 to add a bit more depth of field just in case there’s any bowing of the film.  Exposure is set manually – in most instances I’ve shot at 1/15 sec, ISO 200, f/8.  I set my camera to shoot black & white JPG images at highest resolution.  If I’m shooting a new roll of film that I just developed, I can shoot an entire roll in a few minutes.  Working with film that’s already been cut into short strips takes longer, since you have to load each strip (and when scanning old film I spent a lot more time cleaning dust off each strip than actually shooting it).
The video below shows how it goes.

I was holding my phone in one hand here, so in reality I can go a little faster than this, but you can see that it’s pretty quick.  I sometimes set the camera to a 2-second self-timer delay to make sure there’s no camera movement, but I don’t think it’s really necessary.

I keep the camera set at a distance so that I pick up a little of the border, ensuring that I get the full image, then I usually crop a tiny bit in Lightroom to even out the borders (it’s very convenient that an ASP-C digital sensor is exactly the same proportion as a 35mm frame). Keeping a little of the border visible also makes it easier to align each frame, since you can see a little of each edge on the digital camera’s LCD as you slide the neg through. Being able to capture the entire image, including the natural edge of the 35mm frame, is a big advantage this has over some other scanning methods. I’ve never gotten a commercial scan that included the entire frame – they’re always cropped.

After shooting a roll or two, I move my SD card to my Mac; copy the images; drag the whole batch of images onto a Photoshop action droplet that I previously created to automatically invert all of the images from negatives to positives; then import to Lightroom and make some exposure and contrast adjustments.

That’s it!

Let me know if you have any questions.

Here are some photos of the setup:

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I’m using the Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 lens mounted to a Fuji X-mount adapter, along with a 10mm extension tube to allow closer focusing.

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Above,  you can see the focus-peaking manual-focus assist (set to red) in action.

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Below:  At the ends of the brass L track, I bent the corners out to make film loading easier. Once the film is pushed in a bit though, the track holds the film straight and flat, and nothing ever touches either side of the image portion of the film.

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Below is a view looking inside the bellows at the negative.  The wood piece at the bottom is a spacer that holds the brass neg carrier at the proper height to line up with the center of the lens, and the areas above and to the sides of the neg are filled in with black matboard to minimize any extra light coming in.  That circular opening is where the enlarger lens board would have originally been attached.

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I’ve considered modifying the camera mount so that I could have the option of turning the camera sideways, moving the neg closer to the camera, and shooting three overlapping images of one neg to stitch together in Photoshop for a higher-resolution ‘scan’.  But for now, the 16MP (4896 x 3264) images are plenty for me.

Another idea I have is to use the dichroic lamp housing that came with the enlarger as my light source.  This would allow me to adjust the color output of the light to possibly compensate for the orange mask of color negative film.  Not sure about that, but might have to give it a try.

Below are some images from a roll of film I developed a few nights ago. Those black borders are the actual frame edges captured in-camera.  HCB would be proud.

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Here’s a close-up of the leaf in the image above to show the detailScreen Shot 2017-04-19 at 8.08.44 PM

These were shot in my Yashica Electro 35 on Arista EDU 100 film, and developed in Arista Premium Liquid Developer.

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Into the Darkroom

We finally moved to the second part of my son’s photography project – printing photos the old-fashioned way. We’re lucky to have a large laundry room with some kitchen counters (we had a temporary kitchen down there while remodeling our kitchen a few years ago), so it makes a great darkroom.  There were only a couple of small windows to black out with plastic garbage bags and duct tape.  There were a couple of ceiling light fixtures in which we could replace the bulbs with my old safelights.  There were even two separate sections of counter so we could have a dry area for the enlarger and a wet area for the trays, which was very near the laundry sink.  In the sink we rigged up a makeshift print washer by simply setting a very large developing tray on top of the sink, running water into it and letting it run over into the sink.

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We started out by making contact prints of his two rolls of film one evening. I had some very old photo paper left from the last time I worked in the darkroom, probably 15 years ago or more. Turns out that unexposed photo paper doesn’t last forever!  The pack of 8×10 Kodak RC paper came out really dark with hardly any contrast, as if it had been fogged. I had a pack of Illford 5×7 paper that fared better, so we were able to piece together contact prints of all of the negs using several sheets of that. I ordered a new pack of Illford 8×10 gloss RC paper and we looked at the contact prints for a few days while waiting for that to arrive.

He settled on a couple of images that he wanted to enlarge, and we got to work. I had forgotten most of what I used to know about chemicals and the timing of developer, stop bath, fixer, washing, etc, so we had to do some research, but it all went pretty smoothly.  We spent a few hours in there to get good prints of two images, but they turned out great. The negs seemed a little low on contrast, so we used a fairly high polycontrast filter to boost the contrast of the images.

The first photo we printed was a close-up of a moss-covered tree with a blurred background of a small stream, shot in the Cascade mountains. We did a test strip to figure out the exposure time, and he decided he liked a pretty dark exposure.  That print went pretty quickly and we had a nice final print in just a couple tries.  I helped him set up the enlarger and focus, then he exposed the print, and I ran the timer while he worked the print through the developing, stop bath, and fixer trays, and into the wash tray.

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The second one took a little longer to get the way we wanted it. It is an image of Pike Place market, with sky at the top and the market below. He liked the high-contrast look we got using the polycontrast filter in the enlarger, but it resulted in a washed-out sky when we got the exposure correct on the lower part of the image.  This gave me a great opportunity to teach him about dodging and burning.  We burned in the sky by exposing it for a few extra seconds while I dodged the bottom part of the image, and the building canopy at the right edge.  A few tries and we had a very nice print.

He entered both photos in the 4H art competition at our county fair, and took home a purple ribbon for the Pike Place photo. Being in 4H is what prompted him to do this project in the first place — he thought it’d be a fun project to enter at the fair. Since he won a purple ribbon, he gets to exhibit it at the Minnesota State Fair at the end of the summer!

Aside: Even though the 4H building isn’t one of the most visited parts of the Minnesota State Fair, the fair itself is pretty huge — last year’s total attendance over the twelve days of the fair was 1,824,830 people!  Yes, 1.8 million people.  It’s a big fair.  So I think it’s a pretty big deal that he gets to show a photo there.

I think the print turned out great:

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It was a lot of fun, and now that I have some fresh paper and chemicals, I should get back in there and print a few of my own negs. A true silver-gelatin print is a beautiful thing!


Passing along the love of film photography

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My 13-year-old son just successfully developed his first two rolls of film.  It has probably been close to 15 years since I developed my own film, so I had to do some research to refresh my memory on the whole process.  I ordered chemicals from Freestyle Photo (Arista developer, stop bath, fixer, wetting agent, Kodak hypo clear).  Once we mixed up chemicals, the process was so easy that I’m now excited to shoot some film and develop more.

He had shot the two rolls of Tmax on a recent vacation using my old Pentax K1000, after he told me he wanted to learn how to shoot film, develop and make prints.  This K1000 was my first ‘real’ camera, a gift from my parents when I was a little older than he is now.  I used it through high school, college and for many years after college until getting my first DSLR.  It made the process even more meaningful to me by having him use that camera.

I taught him how to spool the film onto the metal developing reels, but I spooled these ones for him (inside a changing bag).  That’s something that takes practice to get good at, and I didn’t want to risk these first rolls of film.  Next time he can try spooling his own.  I have one of those plastic spools that you rotate and it pulls the film onto the spool, but I don’t like the tank with that one, so I used the old stainless steel tank and spools.  There’s kind of an art to spooling film on those metal reels, but once you get the hang of it, they work great.

His negs are now dried and hanging in the laundry room.  It looks like he nailed the exposures very well, and has some good negatives to work with.

Our next step is to light-proof the laundry room and set up the enlarger to teach him how to print.  It will be interesting to see how much patience he has for the printing process – and how much patience I have after being in the ‘digital darkroom’ for so many years.

I’m thankful that he wants to learn how to do this.


A brief affair with a Leica M6

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Earlier this winter I had the pleasure of handling a Leica M6, and actually using it for a few days. Thank you, Chris!

Like many amateur photographers, I’ve often lusted after Leicas but figure I’ll never actually spend the money to own one.  After carrying this one around a little, I can see why people are willing to spend big bucks on these.  They are simply beautifully designed and built pieces of machinery.  It feels wonderful to hold.  A Leica in your hands seems to build confidence.  The solid feel, the weight, the smooth focusing lens, the precise feel of everything, the simplicity of it, all come together to make it feel like this is what a camera is supposed to be.  I can see why — according to Canon’s own website — when Leica first released the M3, Canon gave up on making rangefinders to focus on SLRs:

It was reported that Canon’s engineers who saw the “Leica M3” for the first time were greatly shocked by the level of perfection in the camera as represented by the brightness and visibility of its viewfinder, as well as by the accuracy of its rangefinder. In spite of the fact that their improved model “IV Sb2” had received good acceptance from its users, Canon engineers realized that, with the debut of the “Leica M3,” the camera world was about to experience great change. This heralded the era of great changes in cameras, leading the company to seek new directions.

Since it was difficult to imitate the “Leica M3” introduced in 1954 in terms of its bright viewfinder and accurate rangefinder, many camera manufacturers, including Canon, were forced to shift their development goals to the camera that would lead the world’s market in the future. What Japanese camera manufacturers, including Canon, decided was to concentrate on the single lens reflex (SLR) camera with system capabilities, which could be developed using Japan’s own technology. This SLR camera was to become the new camera, which would be accepted by the world, capable of overcoming the previous limitations of the rangefinder cameras including the use of telephoto lenses.

There you have it — Canon admits that it was the superior Leica that drove them out of the rangefinder business (though up until the M3, the Canon rangefinders were keeping pace with Leica).

I think maybe what I liked best about this camera was carrying it around.  Sounds odd maybe, but the weight and size of it, combined with a really nice strap that Chris has on the camera, makes it just feel right tucked snugly against my side, with the strap slung over my opposite shoulder.

Shooting it was a little difficult for me because of the lens that was on it (35mm f/2 Summicron).  The framelines for the 35mm lens are a little wide in the rangefinder for someone wearing glasses, so I had a hard time framing up shots.  I’d have to shift my eye around to see the framelines.  With a 50mm lens, the framelines would work great for me, but anything wider is tough to view while wearing glasses — at least it was for me.

I didn’t have much time to actually use it while I had it, but I managed to take a couple of walks with it and shot some random stuff just to try it out.  The results below aren’t anything too special, partly because I was just shooting some stuff quickly to try the camera out, and partly because the film somehow got fogged.  I don’t know if something went wrong with developing (at Dwayne’s Photo, so I doubt they did anything wrong), or something happened in shipping, or what.  I’ll never know, but the negs are pretty low in contrast because of the fogging, so I had to adjust them a lot in Lightroom to make anything look decent. This resulted in some super grainy images because the contrast had to be punched up so much.

I also didn’t nail focus on all of my shots, which surprised me, because I thought I was right on.  One of the huge advantages Leicas have over other rangefinders is the bright rangefinder spot that makes focusing quick and easy, so I don’t know how I messed that up, but some of my shots were not focused properly.

Overall I really loved using it, and I felt like I could just keep carrying it around forever.  I still doubt that I’ll ever own one, but you never know.  I guess I can picture myself one day downsizing my arsenal of old cameras to a very small selection of really good useable, practical cameras, and a nice Leica could certainly fit into that small collection.

Though it was a brief affair, I will look back fondly on my days spent with her.

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all shot on Kodak Tmax 400
Developed and scanned at Dwayne’s


Night Tripping with the Olympus Trip 35

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The Olympus Trip 35 is an automatic exposure camera, but has manual aperture settings that are meant to be used with a flash. If you set the camera on a manual aperture setting instead of the automatic “A” setting, the shutter speed is locked in at 1/40 sec. This means you can use it as a manual exposure camera if you don’t mind only having one shutter speed.

“Night Tripping” is the practice of using a Trip 35 at night with high speed film such as ISO 400 or higher, and setting the aperture wide open at f/2.8. This provides a pretty good exposure for night-time street shots.

These were shot on Kodak Tri-X 400 film. Developed and scanned by Dwayne’s Photo.

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note that normally this camera won’t let let you fire it if the exposure is too low. In the ‘A’ (automatic) setting, a red thingy pops up in the viewfinder if you try to shoot and it’s underexposed, and it won’t fire the shutter.  But when it’s set to an aperture setting, the light-meter is completely ignored and it will fire at 1/40sec regardless of how dark it is.

Also – my negs were pretty thin (underexposed), so this probably would have been better with ISO 800 or higher film.

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Rollei 35 first shots

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I had a chance to borrow a Rollei 35 from my friend George last fall, and I carried it with me a little bit on a trip to Minnesota’s ‘north shore’ along Lake Superior.  It’s a fun little camera that’s beautifully built, a little bit quirky, and has great optics packed into it’s tiny body.

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rollei-35-camera-8I’ve long wanted to use one of these little cameras, and when I first picked it up, it felt as finely built as I had expected. This camera is truly pocketable at about the size of a typical modern point-and-shoot digital mini camera.  As a matter of fact, it’s smaller than my Lumix point-and-shoot, though the body is a little thicker.  I believe this holds claim to being the world’s smallest 35mm camera, and there’s some clever German engineering built into it to make it so small.  When you hold it in your hand, it’s kind of hard to imagine that a 35mm film cartridge will fit in it. The back slides off the camera to reveal a kind of puzzling interior. What’s rollei-35-camera-9puzzling (the first time you open it, at least) is that you can’t see the lens opening – where the heck are you supposed to put the film?  There’s a unique hinged pressure plate that you swing down to load the film, then close it back over the film before sliding the rear door back on. It’s those little touches that make the camera really unique and allowed them to keep it so small. Every piece of the camera seems to have been engineered with an eye toward minimizing the size.  And it worked well.

The little 40mm Zeiss lens retracts into the body for very compact carrying, and slides smoothly out and locks in place with a slight twist. That sliding and twisting motion and how the lens subtly locks into place speaks to how the whole camera feels in your hands — a feeling of fine design and craftsmanship. It feels solid, smooth, finely finished. It has a heft for it’s small size that tells you there’s not much plastic in this camera.

With no rangefinder (that would have taken up way too much space), you’re stuck ‘zone-focusing’, or ‘guess-focusing’. Guess at the distance and set the dial on the rim of the lens. Shutter speed and Aperture are set on the two front dials, as is film speed (yes, there’s a light meter – a simple match-needle meter found on the top of the camera body). I found setting aperture and shutter speed a bit tedious on these dials, but I suppose you’d get used to it.

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And some more photos taken with it…

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Can you spot the ruffed grouse in the photo above? Strangely, he let us walk right up a few feet from him after I snapped this photo, and he just slowly sauntered off into the woods. Usually they’ll flush if you get close to them and stop.

These last two shots are along the Pigeon River, which separates Minnesota from Canada here. So the other side of that river is Ontario. We had fun with our son throwing rocks into Canada. This was an important transportation route for the fur traders up to the 19th century. The North West Company had a post at Grand Portage near the mouth of this river on Lake Superior until 1801, where there’s now a recreated fort and a nice museum. I was intrigued to learn recently that the US/Canada border follows this route, and the many rivers and lakes that make up the jagged northern border of Minnesota, because of the importance of the route for the voyageurs working for fur trading companies in both countries. The route was so important that fur traders from both countries needed to share the route, thus the national border was set up following the main travel path of the voyageurs.

Follow-up Comments about the Rollei 35:  While I love the Rollei 35’s look and feel, I’m not enamored with actually using it. I only shot one roll of film with it, so this opinion is not based on extensive use, but I found it a bit tedious and finicky to actually use. The tiny size is great for carrying in a pocket, but detracts from it’s usability in my opinion. I love holding it and marveling at the beautiful fit and finish, the high-quality machined parts, the overall feeling of a fine quality instrument. It’s a beautiful little camera, and an engineering marvel. But actual useability feels like it suffers from the small size. For a compact camera, I’d rather slip my Trip 35 in a jacket pocket — it’s not as small, but is easier to use, though it lacks manual exposure settings.  But if I’m going to be setting exposure manually, I’d also like to be able to focus through the viewfinder, so I’d rather carry a small rangefinder camera. In the pre-digital camera days, I probably would have been more impressed with it’s small size and would  have liked it more, but today the small size isn’t enough to make me love it. The fact that I shot just one roll of film, and it’s been sitting on a shelf for several months seems to confirm these feelings.


Hollywood Theater

The Hollywood Theater opened it’s doors on Johnson Street in NE Minneapolis in 1935, and has been closed since 1987. It’s in rough shape, but has recently been re-opened on a limited basis for some theatrical performances. And the local arts television show MN Original recently filmed a nice performance by local musician Mason Jennings in the theater, in which the theater’s beautifully decrepit interior plays a starring role.

It was designated a local historic landmark in 1990 and the city of Minneapolis has owned it since 1993. There have been many redevelopment plans discussed over the years, but nothing has happened so far. It would be an amazing space if it were renovated and re-opened as a live-performance theater.

Another feature of the part of NE Minneapolis I call home is the resident flock of wild turkeys that roam the streets, sidewalks and yards. They’re frequently seen outside the local coffee shop and corner restaurant, or sitting on the small strip of grass next to the craft store, in front of the funeral home, or even sitting on the park benches lining the sidewalk.  They’re quite used to the people and cars around, and take their sweet time crossing the street. They’ve become symbols of our little corner of NE Minneapolis. As I was taking the Hollywood Theater photos above, they wandered by, so I had to snap a shot of them in the street.

The second photo of the theater was taken with my Super Ricohflex on Portra 400 film, and the rest were shot on my Retina IIIc, also on Portra 400. The third photo — the straight-on shot — was cropped square from the 35mm frame because I liked the composition better, and straightened a bit in Lightroom. The first image, taken with the Retina, was adjusted in Lightroom — I added some Recovery to darken the sky that was a bit washed out, and a little fill light to brighten up the darker areas under the overhang. It gives it a little bit of an HDR look, I think, but hopefully not too much — I tried not to over-do it.  I’m always amazed at how much detail can be pulled out of the highlights and shadows on a good scan of a negative.