I am literally typing this while my first testprints are still drying on the wall, so some of my impressions may well be subject to change. I’ve picked up this wonderful beast of an enlarger (at least as far as 35mm goes) yesterday after some frustrations with my “old” enlarger: a Durst F30. To be clear: the F30 is a perfectly fine enlarger that I’d picket up for very little money and it does exactly what it says on the tin: It’s a simple and compact 35mm enlarger. Sadly, the focussing mechanism on mine was damaged.
At first glance
The Focomat is – compared to my last enlarger – huge, heavy and built as sturdily as every piece of Leica equipment I’ve used so far. Every mechanical movement on the device is about as smooth as anything I’ve ever used, except in one single point (and there I guess I’ll just have to clean up a little) I haven’t found a single point where I’d feel some strange resistance like I often get when focussing old lenses. This may of course be a testament to the last owner as much as to the device itself.
Working with the Focomat
Having only used this enlarger for a day I can sum up the experience of using it as being stunning. Where before I was struggling to not move anything when putting the paper in position (especially to not loose focus) I can now confidently work on my prints and focus on other things like dogging or burning. The only thing missing right now is a fully working easel, mine is lacking an arm and so I have to use a piece of cardboard to frame the image on that side. I’ll keep an eye open for another easel but in the meantime working with this enlarger is already a great joy.
Mind you I'll have to start working on my scanning. Somehow I feel my scanns feel less great then the prints.
Since I began to develop my own film years ago, I’ve always used Rodinal as my developer. When I originally learned how to do it, I was recommended this developer and the virtues of getting reproducible results where praised, so I stuck with Rodinal.
Rodinal is a wonderful developer for several reasons: for example, it’s virtually indestructible (you can store it for ages and it still works) and it is wonderfully flexible. You can throw it at basically anything you want and get a workable result. Also Rodinal is simply one of the grat workhorses of film photography, having been around for more then a century by now. However, it of course also has drawbacks like being known to exaggerate grain. This does not have to be a drawback whenever you want to see grain. Lately though I’ve come to distinguish a little more between images where I want more grain and those where I want less of it.
Grain you said? sure thing ... (HP5+ pushed to EI 800)
One way to deal with this is of course to modify my film choice, and that is something I want to mix it up anyways: last year has been almost exclusively HP5+ and Tri-X for me, this year there will be a lot of FP4+. But I also want to get some experience in film-development by working with different developers, so right now I’m taking a hard look at Ilford ID-11 since I’m very happy with the way their paper developer (Ilford PQ Universal) is working out for me. This will be both an exercise in getting out of my comfort zone and extending that very zone to include more experimentation.
Since getting my own darkroom ready for use is what has pushed me to finally give a separate page to my photography stuff (Ok, right now it’s just a copy of my main website that’ll hold this kind of content) I thought it only fitting to open with some thoughts on that very topic.
I have developed my own film for quite some years now, starting back in university maybe 6-8 years ago. Back then this was mainly because having back and white film developed in my town had become difficult and expansive, I had to do it in Bonn where I went to university but whenever I wasn’t there for a while to pick up my film that was not that practical. Also, it was way more expensive then developing your own film, sadly that also held back the amount of film I shot in those years as it had done before already. Fast forward a few years and I’ve given digital photography a more serious try than I had back in the day, decided it wasn’t really for me (there are occasions when I’ll use my Fujifilm digital camera but since I’m not doing this professionally there is no pressure to work digitally) and instead I firmly committed to analogue photography. That included scanning my negatives and eventually the intention to print them as well. To cut this short, let’s just say I set out to look for an inkjet printer and came back with a stack of darkroom equipment.
Currently my darkroom is really on the improvised side: I have the option to easily darken my bathroom and then I can roll in my enlarger and work in there. It’s not ideal put for now it’ll have to suffice. Nevertheless, I can say that it is every bit as magical as everyone says it is. From my first attempts at using a simple Durst F30 enlarger with some fixed grade Iford papers and developing the images in trays set on the floor I can say that the magic is there. So, from here on I want to use this space to share some of those experiences. There is already a pleasant amount of good resources on working in the darkroom and film photography out there, so I’ll also supplement the resources page to make some of the less widely known sites out there a little easier to find.