Friday, January 6, 2017

Using Rolleiflex Cameras to Make Tintypes and Daguerreotypes

  Those who have known me long enough are aware of my passion for Rolleiflex cameras.  Back before I got deeper and deeper into alternative photography I used to shoot my TLRs all the time.  Sadly, ever since I got bitten by the collodion bug of wet plate and then thoroughly chewed by the silver monster of daguerreotypes all my film cameras, including the Rolleis, have been sitting quite idle.   A little while back though I did get a nifty accessory called 'sheet film adapter', which was originally designed for single sheets of 6x9 film or glass.  I used it to make a couple of tintypes a month or so ago and people suggested that I make a writeup about the procedure.  Seeing how I'm concentrating my efforts on perfecting the daguerrean craft I wanted to wait to make the post until I have proper sized plates.  I ordered those from Mike Robinson of Century Darkroom (best plates on the market by the way) and waited patiently for the holidays to be over and mail to come from Canada.  The plates got here late last week and today was the first day with weather fair enough to do this, so here we go.

For those who can't wait here's the final result of today's efforts

  I decided to bring out the whole gang and let them all play together, so here are my babies - Rolleiflex 3.5F Planar, 2.8C Planar, Rolleiwide and Telerollei.  Sitting on bottom left is the sheet film adapter the use of which I'll explain below.

  First off a bit of warning.  Silver nitrate used in wet plate photography is highly corrosive, so be very careful wiping off all excess liquid off the back of your plate before inserting it into the holder.  It might also be a good idea to just pick one holder and dedicate it to wet plate only as it will likely begin to deteriorate after a dozen or so plates.  It'll last longer of course, especially if you keep wiping it between plates and after the shoot, but it might start looking rather rough.  It is DEFINITELY a good idea to take a damp paper towel and after each plate wipe the frame inside the camera where the film usually rests - these holders push the plates right up agains the metal there and some silver is bound to end up on that frame, that's the worst part about this whole procedure.  I have heard of people simply dedicating a camera to wet plate only and letting the silver do it's thing with no worries.  That's not a bad way to go if you're not planning on using that camera for film ever again - then you don't even have to have the sheet film adapter - just stick the plate right into the camera and off you go.  I like my cameras though, so I'm trying to keep them clean.  
  One more note on the holders - originally they are supplied with a thin black metal plate to hold your sheet of 6x9 film flat.   Luckily it can be taken out to fit glass 6x9 negatives, which is exactly what you want to do if you want to fit a piece of aluminum for tintypes or a silver plate for daguerreotypes in there.  Below is a photo of an aluminum plate sitting in one of the holders and the adapter to take that holder installed on the back of a Rollei.  Note that I bent aluminum tape around the two edges which hold it down - that way less corrosion will take place and I can always replace that tape later.

  Now, there were two generations of those adapters - ones for later models and one for earlier models and Rolleicord cameras.   If you're gonna go looking for one to fit your camera take a look at the bottom of your camera and make sure that the locking mechanism looks like the one on the adapter.  I also hear that at least the older adapters fit some of the Rollei knock-offs, so who knows, maybe they would even fit a Yashica.  I wouldn't buy one without trying it first, but you might luck out there... 
  Installing the adapter is pretty easy - there's a little sliding lock on top right corner of your back.  Simply open the back all the way as far as it will go and swing open that little lock - the back will come right out on that side and then you pull the pin out the socket on the other end of the top edge.  Putting the sheet film adapter in is pretty much the same operation done in reverse.  One thing I found is that it fit right onto the C model, while in order to put it onto the F I had to take out the dark slide.
  Cool thing about the back - it has a ground glass just like regular grown-up large format camera!  To use it you have to set the shutter on B and lock it open with a cable release (oh, and take out that dark slide of course).  This allows you for precise framing with no worries about parallax correction and also you can preview depth of field given by any aperture - super nifty!  I was using Rolleinar closeup filters, so that feature came in very handy indeed.
  Here's the setup with Rolleiflex 2.8C shooting a Rolleiwide and the plate that was produced. 
  NOTE:  My silver bath needs cleaning and badly...  And I just need to get back to shooting more wet plate for Pete's sake!  That daguerreotype thing has really taken a toll on my ability to produce a clean tintype, so please accept my apologies...

  Tintypes don't take too long - 5min and you're done.  Daguerreotypes are a lot more labor-intensive...  Polishing that silver plate takes a while, then fuming, then development, then gilding... Sheesh!  However persistence pays off and I was VERY happy with the result.  I think this is my cleanest daguerreotype to date!  There's a few white specs from tiny imperfections on the plate catching the light off my copy stand and also I probably could have developed about 15sec less to avoid some very minor 'frosting' of the shadows...  I also went a little too wide with my flame swings during gilding and so that's where the white edges come from, but otherwise I'm fully satisfied with the image. 
  Here is the shot of a daguerreotype plate loaded into a holder, a photo of Rolleiflex 2.8C shooting a Telerollei and the resulting daguerreotype.

  Oh, one final note - don't forget to pull that center tab before shooting!!!  I sure did once and came up with a completely out of focus plate...   Here's that pesky little tab - it rotates to unlock and slides inward to drop the plate into the plane of focus and then you pull back on it to bring the plate back into the holder and rotate again to lock it.

  Summarized procedure for working the sheet film adapter is something like this:

• Install the back, focus (you can use the regular viewfinder for this or ground glass)
• Take your holder into the darkroom
• Take out the dark slide
• Pull the tab in the back and rotate it - the part that holds the plate will pop forward
• Load your plate
• Pull the plate back into the holder and lock the rear tab by rotating it again
• Put the dark slide back in place
• Bring it out to the camera
• Take the part with the ground glass out of the back on your camera (there's a little lock - top left)
• Place the holder with plate into the back
• Take out the dark slide
• Pull the tab and rotate it until it goes inward and the plate goes into plane of focus
• Expose
• Pull the plate back and lock the tab by rotating
• Replace the dark slide
• Take out the holder and back to the darkroom you go

  The above procedure might sound like a lot of steps, but once you do it you'll realize that I was probably a lot more longwinded and detailed than need be.  I just like to address every detail possible.
  Well, I hope you enjoyed this my little adventure.  I know I'll be using my Rolleiflex cameras to make a lot more daguerreotypes - 6x6cm format is great and the lenses are sharp as can be.  Don't know how many more times I will do wet plate though - a little silver is always going to be left behind and I hate the idea of ruining one of my babies with it...  Maybe for wet plate I'll try to find a deal on some beater body with which I have not yet had time to form a personal bond.

Anton Orlov

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Effects of Exposure and Development Times on Wet Plate Collodion

   Recently I have been seeing a lot of people having problems identifying the signs of their plates being either overdeveloped or overexposed, so I decided to do the following simple exercise that should make it easier for folks with a discerning eye to see if one of these troubles may be possibly plaguing them at the moment.

  I might have mentioned before that when working with wet plate collodion it is possible to overexpose and underdevelop a plate and still achieve a tolerably good plate.  It is also possible to SLIGHTLY underexpose and overdevelop, but only very slightly so before serious ugliness sets in.
For absolute best results of course there's really nothing like nailing the exposure within 1/4 of a stop and having development run the length of time which you have previously determined to be the best based on your collodion and developer formula.  We all know however that bullseye is sometimes hard to hit, so here's what we can do to fudge it a tad.

  I have always develop by inspection.  I use slow developer and use it cold.  I know that with that I can usually go to about 50sec without any ill affects.  With a perfect exposure I see the highlights start to appear at about 7-8 seconds, mid-tones come in at about 15-20 and then the shadows start building.  Sometimes though I don't nail my exposure (especially with the very first plate of the day) and I see the highlights pop up after only 4-5 seconds.  That's when I know I'll have to stop development early ('pull' is the film term for that).  Sometimes I slightly underexpose and don't see the highlights come up only after 10 seconds - that's when I know I may be in trouble, but I still 'push' development longer just a bit hoping that even at 60-65sec mark the fog of overdevelopment won't show....  I find that if anything it's better to expose a little more and cut development a bit short than ti underexpose and try pushing it.

  When plates are OVEREXPOSED and underdeveloped they still have nice and clear shadows, but the highlights are not as bight and mid-tones are also a bit flatter and muddier.  They aren't all that bad looking.
  When plate are UNDEREXPOESD and overdeveloped it's a different story though.  Just a slight overdevelopment my cause only a barely visible problem, but it will get worse very quickly as you keep pushing development.  There are MANY different types of 'fog' that are possible with wet plate, but the one that comes from overdevelopment is probably the ugliest.  Luckily it's also one that is the easiest to identify.  It looks as if there are tiny golden crystals lodged in the dark areas of your image.  They shimmer slightly in the light.  it tends to happen first in the parts of the plate where the collodion is thickest, so a lot of times, when you just barely overdeveloped, you'll see those crystals outlining the area of your plate where the collodion was first poured on.

  So to demonstrate the theory I made 5 plates today.  I shot in a place right by the darkroom where I shoot a lot, so I know that my ideal exposure there is about 3 seconds (Dallmayer 2B lens did have a Waterhouse stop in and at the given bellows extension the effective aperture was f6.5).  The 5 plates were thus given the following exposure/development times in seconds:

1) 3/50 - normal
2) 6/30 - one stop overexposed and 40% less development
3) 12/20 - two stops overexposed and 60% less development
4) 2/75 - about 2/3 stop underexposed and 50% overdeveloped 
5) 1/115 - about 1.5 stops underexposed and 130% overdeveloped 

  Here are the 5 plates.  Center one is normal #1, top left is #2, bottom left is #3, top right #4, bottom right #5

  Oh, just for reference - here's the setup I shot in color.  As you may know yellow of the brass photographs really dark, but I chose that on purpose so that there would be big empty area where the first signs on overdevelopment would show on plate #4.

 So here are the plates individually.  I shot all these on a copy stand with Canon 5DII, nothing was done in photoshop to clean them up or change brightness or contrast.


Overexposed by 1 stop - underdeveloped by 40%
Overexposed by 2 stop - underdeveloped by 60%

Underexposed by 2/3 of a stop and 50% more development than normal

Underexposed by 1.5 of a stop and 115% more development than normal

  As you can see the last plate is just terrible.  Crystallization galore! However in the slightly underexposed and only a bit overdeveloped one the crystallization is only really evident in the lower part of the lens barrel.  But under magnification it's there for sure.  That's probably where the edge of my puddle stopped initially when pouring and so the thickest collodion deposit is right there in that crescent-shaped area.  Here's a closeup of that spot.  There's more crystals that you can see in the full plate image, but in real life there are slightly less apparent than in the image below.  Still, best not to let that happen to you!

  Oh, and some of you may wonder about the chemistry I use for this test so here it is.

  Fresh UVP#3 Collodion mixed from A/B stock about 5 days ago (available from - excellent and super fast collodion, but I still can't get rid of those darn lighter areas you see on top of each plate...  very weird, but that's a topic for more experimentation and possibly another future blog entry)

  Developer at about 45-50°F as follows:
  Water 350ml
  Iron Sulfate - 7.5g
  Glacial Acetic Acid - 10ml
  95% Grain Alcohol - 15ml
  I sincerely hope this was at least somewhat helpful to at least some of you.

EDIT:  Someone asked if overdevelopment fog wipes off.  NO WAY - this stuff is deep there.  It really does look totally different from all the other types of fog possible...

EDIT 2:   Here's a good exercise that you may want to do to determine what is the absolute MAXIMUM amount of development time that your developer will allow.  It'll take only an hour or less and it'll be helpful - believe me.
  Coat and sensitize a plate and then develop it for just a little longer than you normally do. Keep careful track of time in developer.  Look for the signs of golden-looking crystals.  Don't see them?  Do another plate for just a little longer.   Do a few plates until you start seeing those crystals.  Again - they usually appear first in the center of the plate where collodion first came in contact with the plate during your pour.
  So say you start seeing then at 25sec (most people use more concentrated developer than I do their usual development times are 15-20sec).  That means you can PUSH development to about say 22-23sec without ill effects.
  Make sure to note the temperature of your developer - hotter developer will work fast, colder will be slower, kinda obvious, but I thought I'd mention that.

Anton Orlov

Saturday, December 24, 2016

1960s Mec-16 SB 16mm Camera Back in Use

  Today I had a little fun with a Mec-16 SB camera, so I thought it'd be good to post a little something about my experience.

  Mec-16 SB was the later model of the original Mec-16.  The first model was great and all, but the SB, which was introduced in 1960, was the very first camera of any format to feature TTL metering. 
  This camera came to me a couple of weeks ago among a large lot of odds and ends I picked up in San Diego.  At first I wasn't too excited about it other than thinking that it's got a pretty nifty design reminiscent of a Minox on steroids.  Obviously the film, which came in proprietary canisters, is no longer being supplied by the company and so I thought I would sell it.  However, when it was brought to my attention that this was the first TTL metering camera and thus is a rather historic piece of equipment I knew it was a keeper and got a bug to shoot it.

  First, wanting to see what it's capable of, I decided to make some prints from a 1960s roll of film that was actually developed back in the day and was included with the haul.  

  I must say that I was rather disappointed though as the prints came out fairly soft.  I knew something wasn't right... I mean I got better looking 8x10s out of my Minox than the 5x7 prints shown below. The real hint that this camera is capable of better images though came when while looking at the negatives thought the grain focuser under enlargement I could not see ANY grain.  I don't know what kind of film it was, but there was not even a hint of grain - everything was uniformly mushy...  I still made these two prints just to have something to go from.

  Next was the task of finding film and loading it up once more.  At first I bought Fuji microfilm, thinking it would probably be the sharpest thing available.  Unfortunately when I went to load it I discovered that microfilm is not perforated and so that didn't work...  Luckily a local camera store happened to have some old Eastman Double-X 16mm movie stock.  I mean OLD, I don't know how old that stuff is or how it was stored, but it's pretty toast - the base is fogged worse than some of the films I've shot from the 50s...   If that 2003 on the box refers to the expiration date than this film was stored terribly... Still, better than nothing for sure!

  Loading the cartridges is both very easy and a little tricky.  The easy part is that there's no spool inside, so all you have to do is slide the correct length of film (about 19in) in there.  The trick is to have the cut on the end that you slide in not going across sprocket holes - otherwise it catches on something once the first inch or so is inserted.  If the end is nice and straight though it seems to go in relatively willingly.  Opening 16mm spool of film, measuring out and cutting off a strip of correct length and then feeding into a canister has to be done in total darkness of course.

  I did actually have the manual that came with it, but of course I forgot it at home...  Well, thank goodness for Butkus!  What!?  You don't know who Butkus is???  For shame!  Mr. Butkus has dedicated countless hours of his life scanning operational manuals for every camera he could find and making them available online in PDF form for free!  He does ask that every once in a while you drop him a buck of two and I do it once or twice a year - I mean the amount of times I found useful info on his site as mind-boggling.  Click here to get redirected to his site.  Drop him a few bucks - the man's a living analog photography saint.

  Today was nice day in San Diego with patches of sunshine interrupted by light drizzle and complete with a very brief but exciting little hail storm, which I totally missed except for the sound of it pounding the AC unit outside the darkroom.  I roamed about the neighborhood and shot off almost all of the 24 frames on random subjects distant and close.  When I got back to the darkroom I still had a few frames left and what's a photographer to do at that point other than to finish the roll with a few selfies? 

  Now, I don't have a dedicated 16mm developing reel (and I'll be looking for one now), but what I do have is a universal roll film developing contraption affectionately known as the Pixie Tray.   It's simply filled up with about 120ml of developer and then, once again in complete darkness, the film is fed under middle bar and agitated manually by pulling the ends up and down.  

  Yes, a real reel would be best, not only because I wouldn't have had to be in the dark for 6min, but this little Pixie is obviously prone to creating little scratches as the film slides along the hard rubber.  In the end I was actually happily surprised as to how few of those scratches I managed to get.  
  By the way, I developed in Rodinal 1:25 for 6min after exposing for ISO100.  This film being so fogged I think next time I'll shoot it at ISO50....
  When the buzzer on a Gralab timer went off (scaring me as usual) the film was simply thrown in a tray full of fixer and after a minute or so the light was turned on and I was rewarded by seeing that indeed some kind of imagery was recorded there.

  Back at the enlarger I was glad to see that indeed this film has some grain to it and the detail was showing.  I think this film isn't the highest resolution one I probably could get my hands on.  It's suggested ISO is actually 200 and there's a 100 speed Adox on the market in Canada.  Maybe I can' find it in US or I'll just splurge on a roll from abroad - after all 100ft of film makes for about 70 Mec-16 rolls.  Also a thing to note - there were two lenses offered with the SB model - an f2 6-element Rodenstock and an f2.8 4-element Enna.  Unfortunately mine has the 2.8 lens, so maybe the Rodenstock would have been slightly sharper...

  So, without further rambling here are the results of today's photo adventure with a 1960 Mec-16 SB.
Yours truly - no filter.

LeStats Lion - UV filter

Wires and Clouds - yellow filter
(not too bad as far as sharpness if you can see the wires, right?)

  Well, I hope you have enjoyed this quick write-up and even if you didn't I still want to wish you a very Happy New Year!

Anton Orlov

Friday, September 30, 2016

Daguerreotype Photography - My New Obsession

  Well, I have not posted here in a WHILE, but that's because I've been waiting for something worthy and I think by now there's something ready.

  Over the past few months, along with shooting a lot of wet plate work of course, I have been delving into the wonderful world of daguerreotype photography.  It has been a rough ride, but persistence is in my nature when it comes to photography, so I pushed on despite many failures.

  First a few brief details for those unfamiliar with the history and technical aspects of daguerreotype photography.  
  Daguerreotype was THE first truly successful photographic technique and it is of course named after it's inventor, a Frenchman Louis Daguerre.  He worked it out in mid to late 1830s and on August 19th 1839 disclosed the secret to the world after the French government agreed to purchase it and in return gave him a lifetime stipend.  The whole concept of 'photography' took the world by storm of course and daguerreotype technique became popular very fast.  It remained as the only commercially viable method of making photographic images through 1840s and into early 1850s - at that point it was overtaken by the new wet plate collodion method, which was faster, easier, cheaper and also let multiple images to be printed by allowing one to make negatives on clear glass.  In historic writings one can find the way photographers of the time spoke of daguerreotype images.  Even though the image is somewhat hard to see, due to the highly reflective nature of the plate, a lot of contemporaries write with deep love about little silver plates and sound nostalgic for the uniquely beautiful and almost dimensional look those images possess.  Due to that some daguerrean artists remained true to the craft even into 1880s and 90s.  Very few people practiced daguerreotypes through the 20th century and even today there is probably less than 50 people worldwide who work with the true method on any sort of regular basis.
  Briefly the technique of making a plate can be summarized as follows.  A plate of pure silver is polished to as near mirror surface as possible.  Traditionally copper plates were covered with silver by cold-cladding, today electroplated method is also used.  The plate is then first exposed to fumes of iodine, then bromine and then iodine again.  Side note - originally Daguerre used only fumes of iodine, but within a few years American photographers discovered that bromine fumes made the plates much more sensitive to light and also gave a more pleasing contrast. After fuming the plate is placed in a camera for exposure - exposures of many minutes when only iodine is used turn into seconds or even less when bromine is introduced.  After exposure the development is carried out by placing the plate over fumes of hot mercury (nasty stuff and one of the reasons not too many folks play around with this amazing technique).  The way the mercury acts upon the halides of silver is still somewhat of a mystery (at least to me for sure...), but it draws up those particles exposed to enough light and creates a silver-mercury amalgam, which basically is what makes up the final image.  Next step is to remove the rest of the silver bromides and iodides and that is done with good old sodium thiosulfate (commonly known as Hypo).  The last step is to gild the plate.  Gilding is done with gold chloride and heat and acts upon the image in a few different ways: brightens the highlights giving them a warmer golden tone, deepens the shadows, minimizes oxidation over time thus making the image much more permanent and also physically toughens the surface, before gilding the image is extremely fragile and a light swipe with a soft feather will take it right off the plate.  Finally the plate is sealed in an air-tight enclosure (under glass with a mat to separate the two) to restrict air from coming in contact with it, again to make it last longer without oxidizing. 
  Small note - there is such a thing as Becquerel daguerreotype technique, which differs both in procedure and outcome.  There the plate is only fumed with iodine (light sensitivity of those plates is A LOT less), exposed and then covered with red glass or plastic and placed outdoors.  The action on UV light when passed through the red filter acts to bring out the image (form what I know this part is still completely unexplained by science).  Though safer and easier (and because of that actually most people who make daguerreotype plates today use this method), Becquerel plates lack in tonality and have extremely high contrast with much fewer shades. Both high contrast and extremely long exposures make it almost unsuitable for portraits, scenes too look rather odd...

  I've always been extremely curious about this historically important and visually stunning method of image-production, but my love for daguerreotypes was really sparked in 2012, when, while being on my first cross country trip aboard The Photo Palace Bus, I had the extreme pleasure and luck of meeting Rob McElroy in Buffalo NY.  You can read about that incredible adventure and see some images HERE and then a followup HEREAside from being simply an amazing human being, Rob is one of the very best in the world when it comes to this form of art and I was truly astounded by his work and observing the whole process.  The bug got it's bite and since then I have been dreaming about making my own plates.  Daguerreotype equipment though is extremely expensive - the safety that must be factored into mercury pots and low demand leading to very small number of people producing this stuff all contribute to the cost factor, and that's not even to mention the plates - pure silver isn't cheap...  So my desire to become a daguerreotype artist seemed far off and nearly unattainable.  
  In 2012 though I wasn't even doing wet plate....  Well in 2013 I learned to worked with collodion, got acquainted with the community and lo and behold - one of the folks who was living right in San Diego did both collodion and daguerreotypes!  Race Gentry is now a good friend of mine and we hang out as often as his busy life and school schedule lets us.  He has been kind enough to let me use his equipment to start learning and also shared a wealth of knowledge that he accumulated over the years both from experience and by reading historic literature on the subject.  Right now I'm in the final stages of gathering up all my own equipment, but I know that Race and I will be friends regardless - he's just too much fun to hang out with.

  So, with Race's help I started making becquerel plates last year.   I made some good ones rather quickly as it's not all that complicated of a technique.  Here are couple of my early Becquerel plates.
 4x5in (staining on bottom right from gilding)

24x36mm (35mm format)

   The lack of fine tonality and long exposures (25 seconds on the plates you see above) made me become rather bored rather quickly.  Don't know why I took so long after that boredom set in to start pursuing success with real mercury daguerreotypes, but I only really dedicated myself to this task a couple of months ago.  During that time there were periods when I made multiple images a day for a week or two straight and then there were times when discouraged I took breaks only to return with more force later.
   I'm not going to try to make is sound like obtaining a decent-looking plate is the hardest thing in the world.  I'm sure climbing Mt. Everest to the summit, running 100m under 10sec, truly understanding women or making a mentally challenged squirrel be able to teach calculus are all things that are harder.  However daguerreotypes have their challenges and quirks and overcoming (or at least sidestepping) them have proven to be quite a feat for yours truly.
  First there's buffing - that darn plate must be so perfect and so clean and so much like a mirror that sometimes it seemed that I'll never get it...  Then there's fuming - it's done by visual inspection and there's only a small window of particular hues of pink that works best and to top that off the proportion of iodine to bromine that is used in achieving that hue reflects on both speed of the plate and contrast of the final image.  Next there's development - that's relatively straight forward, one just have to find an optimal combination of mercury temperature and development time that doesn't go too long and lets mercury globs to accumulate in the shadow areas (like the ones you see in the below image of a box camera in the center - that one's under-exposed so in vain I tried pushing development, something that you just can't do with daguerreotypes).  OH, and then, after you might have gotten the best results you have seen in your plates you have to gild that thing and THAT is one conniving and malicious step I tell you!  The most perfect plate can go to being absolute garbage right in front of your eyes literally in a span of a few seconds and there's not a single thing you can do to stop that once it starts happening...  To top it all off almost every single practicing daguerreotype image maker I have asked seems to have their own unique workflow that works for them - sometimes steps vary only slightly from one person to another and in other instance it made me wonder if they are even working on the same technique....  All advice was taken with stride and a grain of salt.

  OK - time for some images.  
  All 5 of the good (and in the eyes of some that may be a stretch of the word 'good') images you see below are copied after gilding.
  Here's a an image I did yesterday - I believe it's my best mercury plate so far and I was extremely excited when gilding didn't ruin it completely (some back spots in the sky did show up, but I have a faint hunch about what may have caused that, so let's see if in the next few sessions I can prevent them from occurring again).


  Now let's quickly compare the above plate to just a few of the plates that I deemed worthy of copying with my phone camera during the long and winding road of learning the craft.

  Progress is evident, no?  Here's a few more recent images made after last week I for one reason or another had what seemed like a breakthrough.  This was the first one I made that wasn't awful - as I said above, it's about a full stop or maybe even two underexposed and I tried correcting that by pushing development time past where it should have ended, but in real life now it actually looks not too bad thanks to the amazing Carillo Method of brightening gilded images - this method was discovered very recently by Daniel Carrillo of Portland OR and if it works it does wonders to dull images.  Let me assure you though it doesn't exactly work perfect every time though, at least it hasn't for me...


  Here's is the first portrait I was truly happy with - even the gilding spared it from irregularities.  To top it off this is the first daguerreotype plate that I sold, so thank you very much Robert Matheson!

 2.75x3.25in with vintage mat and preserver

   Oh, and of course here's Fred - the wonderfully patient man of kind temper who resides across the stairs form my darkroom.  In the compilation of failed images above you see how many times he posed  for me and not once was he reluctant to do soHe is a true gentleman and a scholar. It is unfortunate that during gilding the stain on bottom right decided to appear, but otherwise I believe it's a solid plate in all respects.

2.75x3.25in with modern mat

  And here's a still life composition - my little homage to the old-times, the photographers who came before me, the tools they used and the people who passed in front of their lenses. 

3.25x4.25in with vintage mat and preserver

  I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to not only the people mentioned above as being instrumental in shortening my learning curve, but to all those who may or may not read this, but have patiently helped me along the way by providing tips and sharing their methods online.  There are too many of You to mention and I'm not even going to try for the fear of forgetting some of You, but I believe You know who You are - THANK YOU!

 Things I now look forward to include but are not limited to:
• Transforming my portable wet plate dark box to be safe for daguerreotype production and going on location with this technique.
• Generally improving consistency with which my plates turn out to my satisfaction (for now I'm attributing the fact that 5 out of 7 of the last plates I did turning out well to some sort of a fluke wave of luck...)
• Taming the gilding step
• Possibly receiving commissioned work to sustain myself and the pursuit of the above three goals as all three require financial input...

Thanks to my readers as well!

Anton Orlov

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Petzval Lens Sharpness Test - Voigtlander vs. Dallmeyer vs. Scovill Peeless vs. C. C. Harrison vs. Darlot

Petzval Lens Test – C. C. Harrison vs. Dallmeyer 3B vs. Voigtlander vs. Darlot vs. Scovill Peerless

There’s been some online discussions regarding quality of Petzval lenses and it prompted me to do this little test.  Some people were saying that this brand is better than that one based on how many of them were made and how much they were selling back then for (basically that cheaper lenses were worse).  Others were vehemently defending their lenses saying they’ve been happy with images for years.  I’m not in one camp or another, so for the sake of my own knowledge and to confirm or deny my own suspicions about which of my personal lenses are actually sharper than others I devised this little test.
            I would like to say that I’m aware of quite a few factors that make this optical quality test subjective and also of some factors that surely stand true in matters of collecting lenses rather than using them:

  Lenses were hand-made back in the day and thus a piece of glass made on a Monday might have been better than a lens made on Friday because the guy polishing and inspecting it just couldn’t wait to finish up that day and go have a pint of grog at the local pub.

• Glass quality improved through the years and so a Petzval from 1880s should in theory be better than one from 1850s (let’s see about that….)

• Lenses get sharper when stopped down a few stops below wide open, that’s a given.  However these days people like Petzvals for their shallow depth of focus when they are indeed wide open and so I’m choosing to conduct my test with all my lenses devoid of stops.  Lenses in this test are all about f3-3.6 so it should be a fairly fair test in tat regard

• Collectors – they are a different breed of Homo Sapiens.  Nothing is going to convince them that this brand or another is worth less because others are sharper.  This test is geared toward active users of these lenses.

Here are the lenses tested:

Control in front) Fujinon W 210mm f5.6  - this is the sharpest most corrected modern lens I own that is around the same focal length of other lenses in the test.  I’m throwing in this lens as a control to see exactly how sharp I can make my target appear.
Left to right on top:

1) Voigtlander (1865): FL 9.7in, glass diameter 3in, f3.2

2) Dallmeyer 3B (1875): FL 11in, glass diameter 3.325in, f3.3

3) Peerless Tangent dive (1872): FL 12in, glass diameter 3in, f4

4) Peerless Radial drive (~1878): FL 11in, glass diameter 3in, f3.6

5) C.C. Harrison (~1859): FL 10in, glass diameter 3in, f3.3

6) Darlot Full Plate (~1875): FL 10in, glass diameter 3in, f3.3

7) Darlot Extra Full Plate (~1878): FL 13in, glass diameter 3in, f4.6 This one is the odd-bird.  Not  only is it the slowest and longest, but it also has a small crack in the glass smack in the middle of the rearmost element – someone obviously put those elements in wrong and applied too much pressure when screwing the retaining ring back on.  Thankfully they didn’t break the glass completely…  In either case – I wanted to test it because it’s the newest one in my arsenal.

            Above parameters were not taken from each lens’ catalog listing.  Instead I focused each one on infinity (luckily, above the horizon, there were excellent fluffy clouds today!) and measured distance from the ground glass to Waterhouse slot.

            Here’s the shot of the poor rear element of the 13in Darlot with that annoying crack in it…

            I wanted to test the center sharpness of each given lens, not the curvature of focus, bokeh, contrast or other characteristics.  I just wanted to see how sharp my test target will appear under rudimentary magnification and with all things made as equal as possible.

Wet plate collodion technique here for a number of reasons.  First off it’s actually cheaper than film and is a lot more immediate in feedback.  Secondly collodion’s resolution is higher than any film base provides.  With it though come certain uncertainties, which I have tried my best to eliminate or diminish.  The biggest uncertainty being that from my understanding with prolonged development the size of silver crystals increases, thus reducing apparent resolution in my final scans.  I have tried to make my exposures vary as little as possible (while taking into account different speeds of lenses I’m using) and keeping development time consistent and timed via a Gralab timer.

I used an 8x10 Zone VI with a 4x5 reducing back.  As you can see below, while shooting the slightly varied focal lengths lenses I am filling the frame with the test target.  In my mind that is providing us with test of the ‘sweet spot’ of each lens.  The center test is obvious and I’m doing the corner clippings to see how much possible aberration set in there with each lens and how much curvature of field of focus they may have.  Now, some lenses I am testing obviously have a larger field of coverage than other (see lens-by-lens description), so in the ones with a larger image circle we can expect the focus filed to curve less within the test area.  Take that as caution.

I used a ground glass focusing loupe to make each plate appear as sharp as a given lens would allow.

Front and rear standards have been made to be as vertical and parallel as possible by using a bubble-level.  The target is on a wall, which I assume to be of vertical orientation (it’s an old building though, so who really knows, right?).

Final plates have been dried, not varnished, and photographed on a Polaroid MP4 copy stand using Canon 5D Mark II camera with a 100mm macro lens.  Fill 4x5 plates were shot at JPEG-small setting to make them manageable for import.  1:1 macro copies out of the center were shot using RAW setting.  All plates were gives same exposure while re-photographing.  JPEGs of full plates were imported into Photoshop and given an Unsharp Mask filter (100%, 1 pixel). RAW files were imported into Lightroom and sharpened 100%, radius 1, detail 25.  Then they were exported as JPEG at 100%.  Then (back in Lightroom) a tight center crop was made and again exported as 100% JPEG.
I know I'm gonna hear ALL SORTS of feedback on this post.  "Oh, you should have done this" and "Oh, you must have done this wrong".  Honestly - I did my very best to focus and let the camera settle after taking off the cap before exposure.  I used the same plate holder for all plates and plate holder was indeed in all the way on every shot.  If any of my critics would like to present their own test that would be great.  On the other hand that will really make no sense - as I said above, one Dallmeyer may be better than another.  So that eager critic might want to come over to San Diego and do the test on my lenses - I'm completely open to it.

            Here are the images of the middle section:


3)Peerless Tangent

4)Peerless Radial

5)C. C. Harrison

6)Darlot 10in

7)Darlot 13in

8) Fujinon 210W

            Here are 1:1 center images:

1) Voigtlander

2) Dallmeyer

3) Peerless Tangent

4) Peerless Radial

5) C. C. Harrison

6) Darlot 10in

7) Darlot 13in

8) Fujinon 210W

            Here are crops from 1:1 center images:

1) Voigtlander

2) Dallmeyer

3) Peerless Tangent

4) Peerless Radial

5) C. C. Harrison

6) Darlot 10in

7) Darlot 13in

8) Fujinon 210W

            And it seems that the winner in the center-sharpness category is the 10in Darlot!  It seemed to even outperfrom the Fujinon control lens.  Followinc closely in second place and matching the Fujinon is the Dallmeyer 3B.  I was honestly expecting the Harrison to come out on top, but it actually seems like it’s in the 4th place behind the 13in Darlot (the one with a crack in the glass!).

            I don’t know what this proves to anyone.  My conclusion is that my little Darlot is just as good as any other Petzval and I love it even more now.  It was actually my very first brass lens – this beauty was rescued literally from a dumpster by my college friend who heard that a photographer passed away and “all grandpa’s junk went to the dump”.  I’ll continue shooting them all because they all have a different bokeh, a test of which may or may not come in the future.  One thing is certain though – not all Voigtlanders are as sharp as others and not all Darlots are bad either like some people would have you believe based on their original cost and the mass-produced factor.

EDIT - 5-28-2016 

  So I thought that something must have been awry there in the original test - it seemed very odd that a Darlot would outperform a Harrison...  Some people pointed out that chemical focus may have been involved (this is when blue end of the spectrum is focused by a lens behind the plane of visual focus - I don't think that's the case with these lenses as I have never had images come out softer than they looked on the ground glass..., still, possible), others noted that at such close distance from lens to target any slight movement of the focus plane can throw off the results by a lot, someone else suggested that  I could have saved myself a lot of time and effort by doing the test digitally.  Armed with these suggections I decided to redo the test.
  This time I strapped my friend's Sony A7r to a 4x5 reducing back on my Kodak 2D in a following crude yet efficient manner.

  Using the nifty little 'focus assist' feature I focused on the right side of the electrical post you see in my crops.  The camera was set to ISO 50 and all exposure times were the same (I think about 1/200sec), which actually lets you see rather clearly how much (or how slightly) one lens is brighter than another.  Resolution was at finest JPEG setting. I also used a self-timer on 2sec setting, so after I pressed the button the camera had time to settle.  It was rather windless today, so I don't THINK camera shake was an issue.  COULD it have been an issue with a couple of themTotally possible!
  After shooting I exported the files into Photoshop, cropped to the point where the focus was and gave them all 100% unsharp mask filter at 1pixel.
  Since I could not move closer to the subject the pole did appear slightly bigger in the frame with longer lenses, so more pixels were devoted to it, but differences were pretty minor except with the last Darlot.   Also I did add a lens that I just received in the mail a couple days ago and was able to mount today - a 16in Wollensak Vitax.  It's also a Petzval design and of a wonderful f3.8 speed, really stoked to have this lens.

  With this method the test took about 15min instead of the previous  2 hours or so. Yes, digital IS faster than wet plate, go figure....

  One thing I totally missed - I forgot my control lens at home, so maybe some day I'll once again use that A7r and just shoot with a 210 Fujinon.  

  Here's the full frame as seen by the Sony through the Voigtlander.

  And here are the crops.
 1.  Voigtlander
2. Dallmeyer 3B

3.  Scovill Peerless Tangent Drive 

4. Scovill Peerless Radial Drive

5. C. C. Harrison

6. Darlot 10in

7. Darlot 13in

8. Wollensak Vitax 16in

  This time, as I suspected - Harrison seems to take the cake (take a look at the detail in the High Voltage sign).  Followed closely by Dallmeyer and Peerless Radial (which was made by R. Morrison who worked closely with Harrison himself, so no surprise there).  The 13in Darlot also looks great (and remember, that's the one with a crack in the rear glass).  Surprisingly my favorite 10in Darlot looks like dreck - I'm gonna write it off to camera shake, I mean c'mon - take a look at the first test results!
  As suggested to me online after I posted the first results - unless a given Petzval lens has been severely messed with throughout the ages - they are ALL GOOD.  What this test proves to me personally is that there's really not THAT much of a difference in sharpness between a coveted Dallmeyer 3B and a good Darlot.  
  Anyway, I feel rather tested-out and will now concentrate on more fun things to do. 

Anton Orlov