Though this may be down to the fact that this camera and I are still in our honeymoon-period, the Rolleiflex continues to amaze me. It is a joy to shoot and it feels great to use when you are around other people. After all you are not putting some black piece of metal in front of your face when you take a shot. Also having been absent from the world of medium format for more then a decade I'm amazed by the technical quality the images have compared to 35mm in terms of their resolution the way the grain looks. There are certainly situations where I prefer 35mm and my Leica is nice little camera to just have on you all the time - but right now the Rolleiflex basically comes with me when I leave the house and only a week of rain and storms has kept me from shooting more.
While the shots shown this far have all been on HP5+ I thought I'd use the opportunity and try something new: I've ordered some rolls of Fomapan 100 and Foma Retropan 320 and I'm really curious how these films will perform.
I used to own a Rolleiflex SLX and when I didn't really grow warm with my Pentacon Six this got me to thinking maybe I should go with a Rollei again. After all that SLX had been a great camera, the 6000series SLR just wasn't for me. Thus I got to thinking about what to do. I like the flexibility that comes with a system like the Hasselblad 500 series but I simply thought them a bit to expensive. I'm sure they are worth every penny but I wasn't sure I'd make to much use of the full system they are offering. This brought me to look at the Rolleiflexes, those can get expensive as well but its a bit easier to get into and also a little more compact to have with you.
The camera I have gotten is the Rolleiflex T and it came with a gorgeous Zeiss Tessar 75mm f3,5 lens, by the serial number is should be from the early sixties. The T was made to be a bit more affordable, however that still meant really high quality in the sixties. It lacks the automatic film-detection of some of the more expensive Rolleiflexes and also comes without a light-meter. Another difference to the "big" models is in its handling: instead to two rotating knobs next to the lenses there is a slider along the taking lens that can be slided up and down and also pressed in to control both values. When it's used while pressed in it changes f-stop and shutter-speed at the same time, keeping the EV constant. I'll get into this in more detail at a later point, suffice to say that after a bit of getting used to it it's really nice because you can control you exposure with one single control-input.
If you want to read more then I can say right now about the different models of Rolleiflexes, rolleigraphy.org has a lot of interesting information.
A first walk with the camera
I used my lunchbreak they day after I got the camera to take a walk, get a feel for the camera and expose a roll of HP5+ so that I'd see if the camera is alright. After my initial impressions had already been very positive the camera really is a joy to use. Because of the way you are holding a TLR (or most medium-format SLRs) and the quite shutter it feels very inconspicous to use, too.
After developing the film the image-quality on this camera is aboslutely great, I had expected nothing less. All images in this post were shot in Ilford HP5+ and developed in Rodinal. While the grain in a film like HP5+ is quite pronounced in 35mm format it looks really pleasant - visible but not too visible - in the 120 image. I am sure that there are visible differences to the models with different lenses and that there are good arguments for chosing one over the other. For me these things come down to be rather subjective, and to that extend I can simply say that I find the images this camera produces very pleasant.
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.