When I first began taking images I used 35mm gear and printed them using a 35mm enlarger on 8×10 paper. My setup was small enough to fit in an apartment bathroom with the enlarger by the sink and the trays in the bathtub. It wasn’t too difficult to set up due to the dedicated enlarger set at basically the height I needed.
Last spring I ran a roll of 35mm through my VC Bessa R3M to try it out once again since I was thinking of selling it due to non-use. The camera performed fine and I processed the roll in HC-110 instead of my usual Pyrocat HD. There were a couple images of my daughter and four of her friends after a band concert on the steps of one of the universities buildings. Kind of an informal group portrait of the kids that hung out together that semester. I promised my daughter I would print the images for her and her friends as a memento sometime before Christmas.
My current enlarger is a 4×5 enlarger usually set up to enlarge 4×5. So I changed the lens from the normal 135m to a 50mm. I then had to adjust the top and bottom bellows to work with the smaller 35mm frame size. After initial set up and getting focus close by eye I found it much easier to get the sharp focus using the grain focuser. With 4×5 I rarely have any grain so focusing is done on a high contrast area. Then there was the question of cropping. Do I print full width with a 3×2 ratio on 8×10 paper or just crop the image to best fit the 4×5 ratio. I decided on the latter. I then turned the aperture to f16 and attached my filter drawer below the lens as I do with 4×5.
My first couple of test strips were way under exposed. The height difference of the bellows reduces the light output from the light source. So I ended up with times around 60 second to 90 seconds. I actually like that time frame as I have more time to dodge where needed. These images were more contrasty than my Pyrocat 4×5 negatives too so I had to change out my normal grade 2 filter to a grade 1 filter. I finally achieved my desired prints after about 15 sheets. The images were not grainy nor were dust spots any more noticeable than 4×5 negatives.
My main issue is with the need to swap out lenses and reset the enlarger when changing formats. If I had the space I would set up the dedicated 35mm enlarger along side the 4×5. I’m sure those who shoot medium format would also want a suitable enlarger to reduce the need to constantly swap lenses and adjustments. Having two enlargers would also allow a setup for paper flashing.
I also dislike processing roll film since each exposure may contain different subject tonalities or “zones” of contrast. I have typically used HC-110 but I may try Pyrocat next roll to see if I get similar results to my standard 4×5 processing of single sheets. I find the loading of reels to be a chore. I look forward to the LabBox being sold since I think it will make processing easier than using traditional tanks and reels.
This is merely food for thought for those of you contemplating moving up or down in film formats. Your feed back regarding similar experiences or questions are always welcome. If you have any tips for quick setup changes please do add your thoughts in the comments.