Large Format Adventures 4

Sinar 5×4 camera

Before I get started, a bit of an apology. I forgot to update the blog about the Sinar and the Lake District. The cause was it was a failure – the plate I’d bought for mounting my Nikon does not fit a Sinar camera. So, I’ve had to wait for this project to work with the 5×4 view camera.

In the studio

The Project and the Scavenging

My current project finally sees the Sinar F2 5×4 camera in use in the studio. This is an entirely new world to me, but one that appeals.

The project brief is open and to keep the variables down, I was working with studio lighting on still life images.

The first challenge was subject matter. After some initial ramblings, I opted for a ‘found’ route by visiting charity shops and seeing what I could find.

This proved more difficult than I thought. I was thinking of things like coffee sets, interesting objects, bric-a-brac etc. Locally, there was little to inspire in the shops in town. I had an appointment in Chester, so I looked at the much larger range of shops there. There wasn’t much, but what there was, was expensive – £45 for a coffee set for example.

I decided to go with what was in my town. Then for some inexplicable reason, the main local shop was closed for a week… Back to Chester. I decided Chester was just over-priced and I couldn’t afford to be spending four, five, or six lots of £50 for the project.

I opted to head to Shrewsbury, when I detoured and went to another market town – Market Drayton. Not a large town but it had a number of charity shops and there I found both things that would work and sensible prices.

I acquired some Mediterranean style pottery of an olive oil jug and nut dishes, a white nude figurine, and a coffee service dating to around late 1960s.

Digital Tests at Home

Having completed the scavenging task, the next task was to try some experimental digital shoots at home. For the Nikon Z6 I have a Speedlite and a Godox AD200 strobe. To create a studio ‘look’ I had two A1 white foam boards for a white backdrop, and a length of black backdrop paper.

Colour is misleading – obviously the project would be monochrome. What shows up as striking in colour can be bland in monochrome if there’s no tonal differentiation.

Strobe, flash, camera, and black backdrop

From the home experiments, I would say that the black backdrop was much more successful. All of the objects were interesting, so a win there!

Digital Studio Tests

A full day was spent in the studio working on set-up of the Sinar and test shooting layouts in digital using studio setting.

There is a large (4m wide, 2m high) mobile board. That was going to be my background. Objects to be mounted on a table on wheels in front of that, and the Sinar on a large tripod in front. A ‘Redhead’ tungsten studio light was set up with a soft box above and to left from camera’s viewpoint.

There then followed a long series of experiments. The main thing that changed was trying various cloths over the background and on the table. The back options tried included some black taffeta type material, a medium brown cloth, and some white opaque plastic material, which was stiffish and held a texture. On the table, a black cloth was tried, a greenish grey ecru, and a white mount board.

Various compositions were tried as well as lighting arrangements. The learning point here was that for the coffee set, the black background would merge into the subject.

Production Shoot

I think I can safely say that I made just about every rookie error on the day using the Sinar.

5×4 Film holders

Challenge #1 is loading the film holders, which is done in total darkness. After a while I learnt that the secret to this is to adjust the dark slide so that it is only just back from where the film slides into its groove in the holder. That avoids the risk of the film going into the dark slide’s slot…

Challenge #2 make sure that you only pull one sheet of film out of the pack.

Challenge #3 make sure that the access flange is fully down before pushing dark slide in and turning lights on.

I’ll take as read all of the challenges around setting up and focusing the Sinar… I improvised a dark cloth to go over the camera and my head (proper one is on its way in the post).

The big challenge is determining the exposure. Here’s a list of factors I had to allow for:

  • Film was Ilford HP5, ISO 400
  • Reduce to 200 (1 stop) as meter reading is with invercone which exposes for highlights and we need to expose for shadows
  • Reduce to 100 (1 stop) to allow for
    • 0.5 stop for lack of blue light in the Redhead
    • 0.5 stop for bellows extension

So, the meter was set to ISO 100, which took care of all of the above factors. The resulting meter reading was 30s for f/45. Since final image was going to be printed 10×8 I did not need to worry about softening due to diffraction effects. I opted for f/45 to maximise the depth of field. I did my best to focus 1/3 in.

According to the Ilford technical data sheet, any exposure longer than 0.5s requires allowing for reciprocity failure. The adjustment has a formula: the adjusted time is calculated by raising the metered time to a power of 1.31. Using my calculator’s X to the Y function (Xy) this came out at 86s.

I removed the dark slide, cocked the shutter, set a countdown timer on my phone, changed the aperture to f/45 (obviously focusing is done wide-open, which for the 180mm lens is f/5.6), made sure exposure was set to ‘B’, and fired cable release.

After 86s I closed the shutter and inserted the dark slide, removed film holder, turned it over, re-inserted holder and removed the second dark slide. I took a second exposure at 150s – this is to make sure that shadows are dark.

Challenge #4 I’m unsure if this was a film loading error, but after inserting the dark slide and pulling the film holder out, the film was on the outside… This was from the first set of exposures, and I think what’s happened is that the film went into the dark slide’s groove. This is why for the second set I added in only pulling back the dark slide enough to exposure the groove for the film.

Challenge #5 I forgot to stop down from f/5.6 to f/45. I realised immediately, but not much you can do.

Challenge #6 the springs on the ground glass screen holder are strong – they need to be to ensure that the film holder is firmly in place. Unfortunately, they are sufficiently strong that the tripod can be moved… which means a complete re-set…

Back of Sinar: ground glass screen and film holder

Challenge #7 at some point I ended up with a blank image. The only thing I can think is that I perhaps did not cock the shutter….

Into the Darkroom

I have three film holders, so that’s 6 sheets of film. To develop them you need a large Paterson tank and a sheet film spiral. This takes six sheets, three each side held in three sets of notches. Again, this is done in the dark.

Challenge #8 getting the first sheet in is easy, the challenge is the second. There is a tendency for whichever edge you put in second to go into the same notches as the first sheet, which is not good. This happened with one sheet on both sets of 6.

Promicrol developer was used with a 1 to 9 dilution at 20C for 9 minutes. Due to using a large tank, that was 150ml of developer and 1,350ml of water. A stop bath for 30s then fixed for 10 minutes and finally washed for 30 minutes. Before hanging up, the films were dunked in water with some wetting agent added to assist with avoiding water marks.

The good news was that there were some dense looking negatives, so some success anyway. I reloaded the film holders and repeated the entire process for a second set of images.

For the second time around, the learning point about only partially pulling back the dark slide made loading the film holders much easier. The second batch overall was much more straightforward.

In the next post I will cover scanning the images and seeing what I’ve got.    

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