Graphlex Optar 90mm W.A.

I feel I have a curse when it comes to shooting 90mm. Either the lens is not wide enough, the shutters acts up, or other problems abound. Despite having my Schneider Super Angulon 90mm shutter cleaned twice it still sticks at 1/2 and 1 second speeds.

So I purchased a used 90mm  (3.5″) Graplex Optar W.A. f6.8 . I read in several places this lens would cover 4×5 at f16 or smaller aperture. Further reading indicates this lens has about 154mm image circle whereas 4×5 is 153mm if you account for the edges.  My first outing with the new lens worked out ok but I can tell that this lens is soft in the corners and vignettes if the front standard is not perfectly aligned.  This is ok for a central subject and if the photographer likes to burn in the corners anyway.  The lens is tiny and light so a good choice for a backpacking trip. The lens is better suited to 3 1/2 x 4 1/2 or 6×9 cameras.

The Grafex Full Synchromatic shutter is a bit of an oddball too. It has two posts for flash bulbs and 3 different shutter firing mechanisms. The cable release will fire the shutter as expected. If using T or B mode you have a choice of using the tiny cable release, or to fire the shutter with focus/preview release arm and close it with the third. Using the latter method introduces the likelihood of camera shake but may be ok for long exposures. The f-stop spacing at f16, f22, and f32 is so tight I am not sure one could feel confident in using 16 or 22 and could easily be over/under 1/2 stop if bumped. If I keep it, I will make a note to use only at f32.



EV Exposure Chart

Often when I am metering a scene I record the EV values low and high and determine where to place them on the zone system scale. I usually use the average EV function of my meter and place it on f22 or higher as a starting point. Many of my scenes are shot in wooded shady areas early to mid morning so my EV values are rather low for ISO 100 film. Additionally I use a compensating development method for high subject brightness or longer times to expand contrast. Sometimes in the field I need a visual aid to come to the final conclusion of time and f stop.

For example: I was shooting a little stream with some sunlight filtering through which brightened the water but the surrounding rocks and plant life are in deep shade of the canopy. My Average EV was near 8 with some dark details around 6.5 and the brighter sunlit white water  around EV 12 but most tones were between 6.5 and 9.5. If I had my chart in hand I would see that EV8 is 2 seconds at f22. But I also have to consider film reciprocity as well as any filters I may choose to use. In this case I merely had to adjust for reciprocity so I drop to the bottom rows and see I need to expose for 3 seconds instead of 2 seconds. This would put my detailed shadow areas at zone 3 1/2 with the white water falling around zone 9. My developer Pyrocat HD will easily handle the Zone 9 water as well as create the necessary contrasts between mid tones. Darker shadows will likely be black.

If I had chosen to use f 32 instead, my time with reciprocity would be 5 seconds. Ilford publishes a standard reciprocity chart for all their films assuming normal development with normal developers. However since I use a minimal agitation technique I found that using the published times created a more dense negative than usual for longer exposures or when I want to expand contrast. If my meter indicates exposure at 4 seconds, Ilford recommends 8 seconds vs the 5 seconds my adjusted calculated reciprocity failure calls for. That is nearly 2/3rds more light. For short times this did not make much difference in how a negative prints but for longer exposures it could be adding 1 to 2 stops of exposure thus creating a much denser negative.

I can also use this chart when adding colored filters or polarizers. Assume I use an orange filter with an additional 2 stops exposure needed. If the scene reads an average EV12 and I use F22 @ 1/8 seconds without the filter,  I can then move left 2 cells left in the time row of the table and get a time of 1/2 second. Or I can move down 2 cells in the f-stop column and shoot the scene at f11. OR I can move one cell left (time)  and 1 cell down (f-stop) and shoot at f16 and 1/4 second. The Chart is for ISO 100, but if I were using HP5 @ISO 400 then I  would need to adjust the f-stop or time by 2 stops moving Up or Right. Pushing or pulling film works similarly.

IF I realize my measured EV value are mostly bright tones (ie sand or snow) I might have to open up 3 to 5 stops to obtain proper exposure. Again I  start with my average EV  for my chosen f stop, then shift left or down the table cells to increase exposure.  Or up and right to decrease exposure. Each scene requires observation and evaluation of the subject brightness range and tonal values.

This chart is merely a visual aid to help me double check my more complex exposures. 1/2 or 1/3 stops are made usually by moving the f-stop on the shutter to points between values. And since all my lenses shutters are not 100% accurate for time, I can pick the best combination of shutter speed and f stop and make sure it is roughly equivalent. On the rare occasion my meter dies I can use experience with average EV to determine exposure as a best guess.



First shot on the Chamonix 4×5

Details of the Appalachian Trail – Mushrooms in fallen tree.

In a previous post I mentioned shooting with a fellow LF’er at the Byron Reese trail on the AT. This was also my first outing with the Chamonix 4×5 04N2 camera. We had barely begun to walk the trail from the parking lot when I noticed this mushroom growing in a fallen tree. Bryan went to photograph a tiny stream and I walked back to try to capture this log and mushroom. I moved a piece of the broken tree that was blockng the left mushrooms but left it in the image.

It took me a few minutes to setup the camera and compose the image, as I was not used to a fresnel ground glass. I was only a couple of feet away from the tree and very low to the ground. I knew I wanted to to blur the background a bit so I only stopped down to f8 hoping I had enough depth of field in the foreground as the texture in the shadows and log was as important as the mushrooms. The area around the mushroom metered 3.7EV to 6.7EV so I placed an area that metered EV 5 on zone 5 and let the rest of the tones fall naturally. The meter called for 2 seconds at f8 so I had to add 1 second for reciprocity.  I also chose to expand the contrast a bit in development. This is a contact print at grade 2 with no dodging or burning or computer manipulation. The scan is a bit darker than the actual image in the shadows. I am pleased with the results except that I may crop it square to reduce the upper area.

Update: I revisited this site a few weeks later. The left mushrooms had fallen off and the mushroom on the right had grown so large it no longer created a good composition.

Technical: Chamonix 04N2, 135mm Schneider lens, Ilford FP4 4×5, f8 @ 3 seconds. Developed in Pyrocat HD 3:2:500 for 32.5 minutes using minimal agitation. Contact print on Ilford MGFB classic using grade 2 filter.

Ikeda Anba vs Chamonix 04N2 4×5

When I began my adventure into large format photography  I started with a big heavy Calumet metal C400 4×5 and learned quickly I did not want to travel very far with it. For a brief time I was able to use a Shen Hao 4×5 wood field camera which I really liked. My first wooden field camera purchase was an Ikeda Anba which is very small and light for hiking. I really like this camera but it has some shortcomings. Recently I purchased the Chamonix 04N2 4×5 wood field camera for some of the features missing in the Ikeda Anba. Below is a comparison of my two woodies and one may be up for sale soon.

The Anba folds up into a tiny block while the Chamonix is a good bit thicker.  When opened the difference in height between the Anba and Chamonix is noticeable. the area below the rear standard has more space due to the focus mechanism. Notice the Chamonix comes standard with a Fresnel ground glass, the Anba has an after market satin snow. The Fresnel is brighter but harder for me to focus on. The Anba has traditional spring clamp which are tight, while the Chamonix is much less springy. Both rotate.

The next notable difference is the knobs.  The Anba’s front knobs are tiny and difficult to work with in gloved hands. The Chamonix knobs are much larger and knurled for easier grip. The Anba has separate knobs for front rise/fall, front tilt, and for forward or backward extension plus a knob to lock it all down. The guides on the Anba’s standards have positive stops for vertical. The Chamonix has fewer knobs and some control multiple functions like Rise/fall and tilt or Swing and Shift. The rear standard does not have a positive stop which slides out for vertical under the base and one can use the built in levels.

The front standards both require use of the Technica style lens boards. The Anba has a sliding bar to lock the board in vs the Chamonix uses two teeth which rotate in to hold the board. The front standard of the Chamonix has more movements than the Anba. You can also see the base is made of wood on the Anba vs carbon fiber for the Chamonix.

When extending the camera the Anba will max out around 295MM, while Chamonix has a max bellows of 395MM and more if using an extension board. The Anba is more suited to wide angle, however the Chamonix does allow for a wider lens if you move the rear standard forward. The abba standard can also be moved forward using the middle knob and pressure. Min bellows on Anba is 65MM racked all the way in, 52mm on the Chamonix. I recommend a 72mm or 75mm wide angle for the Anba if you want movements.

Focusing the Anba requires using either the front base knob or rear base knob and they do lock down once focused. The Chamonix has a geared screw which does not lock down but is tight enough it stays in place (so far).

Folding the cameras requires a bit of work on both. The Abba front standard must be loosed so it drops behind the metal arms. The Chamonix front standard must be removed from the focusing rail then pushed into the back. The back then folds down over the front standard. On the Abba the lens board holder must be in the down position too.

I like both of these cameras for different reasons. The Abba is perfectly capable for 95% of the shots I want to take. Its small form factor makes it easy to pack and leaves room in the bag for extra holders. Its knobs do tighten down well and make the camera sturdy. The Anba’s design flaws are tiny knobs, short bellows, and minimal movements.

The Chamonix has the larger knobs but the multi-functionality makes setting up the camera a bit fidgety. Lacking the positive stops also leads to some potential errors as the front and rear may not be aligned. But I do like the longer universal bellows on the Chamonix and will get used to moving the rear standard forward for wider angle lenses since I tend to shoot a lot with my 65mm.

If you have any questions feel free to ask in the comment section below. You can find more information about Chamonix cameras on their website. For Anba search the Large Format Forums or other websites. A similar camera to the Anba is the Nagaoka field camera and its instructions and specs are very similar.

My Tiny Darkroom

My first darkroom was a temporary setup in my apartment bathroom with a sheet of plywood over the sink and trays in the tub. It was cramped and kept me bent over so would get backaches.

Fast forward 20 years and I took a class at an arts center about 20 miles from home which was a proper space with all the bells and whistoles. It was a bit far to drive often so I started looking at my garage closet as a new spot to do my printing. I got rid of as much junk as I could and basically carved out a 6×6 room for the darkroom area. It also contains the water heater so is only usable on one wall.

click for larger images

The enlarger I started with was fairly compact so I could get away with about 30 inches for the enlarger and the rest for a dry sink. I inherited a larger 4×5 enlarger and it takes up more visual space and sticks out of the workbench area by about 6 inches so I have to work from the side.

Storage above and below holds most trays, tanks, chemistry, paper, and other stuff. Washing and drying is usually done inside the house or outside if warm enough. I have a plywood top I can put on the sink if I need a dry work space. Inside the sink I can arrange trays large enough to process 8×10 easily or stack them for 11×14. For bigger I have to set up trays in the adjoining garage. I am thinking I may see out a slot processor for larger work in the future.

Maintaining temperature in the space is easy in winter with a small space heater except for very cold days. Summertime I resort to using ice filled bags to cool down chemistry. I would like to add the luxury of running water one day with a proper drain. I have padded the floor with rubber matting for comfort and warmth.

It is a minimal design with just the items I need. I do have storage shelves outside the room for empty bottles and things I do not need in the darkroom. I keep my paper and some supplies in the house until I need them.