Black and White

I think it is safe to say that my first experience with film development has not been quite a success. I had long been wanting to give this a go, and when Bill and Louis showed us how it’s done live, well that was all the nudging I needed. That and a roll of Ilford Pan F Plus. Going back to shooting on film was quite a bit of fun; I had forgotten how bright the viewfinder on a full-frame camera is, and knowing that shots are not disposable makes each one more deliberate. That, and knowing that film is much more tolerant than digital to exposure variation, meant that I was anticipating a higher-than-average count of good shots.

So when the roll was finished I got in touch with Bill, who was kind enough to walk me through the whole process (and provide all the necessary kit). Once the awkward business of getting the film onto the spool in pitch darkness was over, everything was rather straight forward. I had shot the film at the recommended 50 ISO exposure index, so we opted to develop in Rodinal at 1+50 dilution for 11 minutes with intermittent agitation. Once that was done, a stop bath and fixer completed the actual development process. A thorough rinse later, and I could finally take the film out of the spool. My heart rather missed a beat as I hung the film to dry – it looked basically blank! Not much to do at that point but get back to my duties and wait until the end of the day to catch up with Bill again.

I was worried that I had messed up the picture-taking with some serious under-exposure. But that felt rather impossible, as my Elan II had never failed me before (though it was a few years since I had last used it). Perhaps the meter was gone. But then the shutter speed and aperture looked fairly normal for the kind of shots I was taking. Perhaps the film was too far gone. But no, it would have had to be really old for this kind of output. Perhaps the development was wrong. But then Bill had done this so many times. So at the end of the day I dropped by the darkroom again and tried to troubleshoot things with Bill. We still have no idea what went wrong, but one thing’s for certain: it was a development problem as not even the edge numbers showed up.

St-Martha's-(130135)Still, I wanted to scan the negatives and see what came out in greater detail. I’ll forgo a description of the process for now. I had played with negative scanning before but was never happy with the workflow. I spent the better part of today working this out again, and am finally satisfied. So here’s the first processed shot. This was taken just after sunrise on a very frosty and foggy morning after a 2½ mile walk. Lens used was the 17-40mm f/4L at its wider end. This film was the first time I had a chance to use this lens as a proper ultra-wide, and I must say it takes some getting used to. Processing involved dust and scratch removal as well as the usual exposure and contrast enhancement. I’m rather pleasantly surprised at how much detail survived. Bear in mind this has had the equivalent of about +3¼ stops exposure increase. Sure, the result is grainy, but at least it’s visible. Next time I’ll talk about the scanning and conversion process. Meanwhile, as always, comments welcome.


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