Sony A7RII

Because travel with a view camera is not always convenient, I purchased a Sony A7RII in February 2017. Like the Sony NEX-7 I purchased for a trip abroad back in 2012, I found the A7RII to have the best image quality available for its size, weight and price.

From a fine-art perspective, the full-frame Sony sensor delivers adequate resolution (42 MP) in a portable package, allowing us to make 16x24 inch prints at 300 dpi with a few pixels to spare. The tonality and dynamic range of the sensor is superb, often just as good as we can get with Large Format sheet film.

Scanning Tips (with EPSON and VueScan Software)

Here is a brief tutorial on Scanning Tips with Epson flatbed scanners but it applies to any scanner we use.

To make a digital image which looks as analog as possible - as smooth as possible - we need to work around some of the default settings provided by the scanning software.

With my consumer-grade Epson flatbed scanners, the green channel is slightly sharper than the red and blue channels. Read Scanning the Green Channel for Optimum Resolution to learn more.

Carbon Pigment Prints: Beauty & Longevity

Carbon pigment prints are made with an inkjet printer, using a graded set of pure carbon pigments instead of colored inks. They look beautiful and unlike ordinary inkjet prints will last as long as the paper holds together. These images are considerably more fade resistant than archival selenium-toned silver prints.

Unlike the color images we can make using OEM inks from Epson, Canon, HP - whose colors fade and drift at varying rates, depending on paper, lighting and storage conditions - carbon pigment prints do not fade or discolor appreciably. I do not produce or sell color prints. I offer only carbon pigment prints printed on 100% rag paper.

The Piezography K7 Carbon ink set consists of 7 graded inks made of carbon pigment. The results far exceed the tonal quality of typical printer inks (3 gray shades) and general-purpose profiles designed for making color photographs. Unlike profiles made with the open-source QTR tool set which are based on only 21 measurements, Piezography profiles are measured and linearized using 256 steps.

The difference is substantial: Piezography profiles are completely linear, with no banding, bumps or gaps in the tonal scale. Subtle tones in the shadows are not compressed to pure black. Highlight tones are not clipped to white. You can test this yourself by printing their target image: it's very impressive. With this approach, your printer will deliver better image fidelity than a typically calibrated monitor (see The K7 Standard and Monitor Display Systems and related articles on the Piezography blog).

I previously used the MIS Eboni inks and relied on the Quadtone RIP documentation and forum. Compared to that approach, Piezography offers the following advantages:

  • Custom profiles available, linearized at 256 steps for your specific printer/paper combination
  • No clogging (not yet anyhow)
  • A variety of ink color options like selenium, neutral, warm, gloss
  • Tools for digital negatives for traditional wet and alternate processes
  • Everything works from end to end: you're not piecing together a collection of untested equipment
  • Superior ink, carts, syringes, packaging, instructional materials
  • Excellent customer support with fast turnaround time and expert advice, web forums, blog, free instructional videos

According to Piezography, their new Ultra HD Matte Black Carbon Ink is "the darkest pure carbon matte black ink that has ever been formulated for use in photo inkjet printers."

I really prefer matte prints: once behind glass, they have the same dynamic range as glossy prints but have no interference from ambient lighting. Their new ink is really dark !

For a target file which contains 256 shades of gray, download MicroGrayTest.zip from the Hutch Color web site.

To see how color inks fade and drift over time, see Aardenburg Imaging, an independent testing service.

Tone Your Images with Photoshop and GIMP

Toned monochrome images often have a greater sense of depth than plain-old black and white. This is especially true of portraits. If you make monochrome prints using standard OEM inks, you can easily give them a "toned" appearance: the blacks are black, the whites are white - but the grays are varying shades of brown, gold, blue, violet, etc.

Many of the great classic photographers toned their monochrome images in the darkroom and thus avoided the harsh and "gritty" quality of pure black and white. They printed with Platinum and Palladium and soaked their Silver prints in baths of Selenium, Gold, etc. Today using digital methods we can render a photograph with any tone we like, choosing the best color for each image.

With this method, every image can receive its own distinct toning with a 16-bit high-fidelity palette of shades. Visit Photoshop Fill Layer for more information and learn how to do this yourself.

Attention GIMP Users: you can do the same thing with the GIMP Colorize tool. Note that the standard distribution of GIMP still works with 8-bit images only. I prefer Photoshop (and 16-bit support is one of the reasons) but GIMP is free.

Favorite Large Format Cameras

Sinar PSinar Yaw-Free Movements I love my second-hand 1970's Sinar P view camera. You can easily locate one on eBay, where there's an abundant supply of used Sinar equipment. That's where I found mine. The Sinar is what all the other view cameras would be... if they could.

Everything is geared. Every adjustment is smooth and silky. There are very few locking mechanisms, since the gears are so well made, they just stay where you leave them. Did I say Made in Switzerland ?

The Sinar has asymmetric or yaw-free movements. It stays in focus when you tilt, swing, rise and shift. With other view cameras, you have to tilt, refocus, then raise or lower the camera - over and over again. With the Sinar, you just focus and dial-in the adjustments until everything is right. It's heavenly !

The Sinar is a modular system camera. If you want to add or replace things, you can. Turn your 4x5 camera into a 5x7 or 8x10 camera ? No problem. Just replace the bellows and the back. Search for a conversion kit, also called format change set, conversion set, etc). The kits are smaller, lighter and cheaper than cameras. Because Sinar is/was the workhorse of choice for so many professionals, there is usually plenty of used equipment to choose from, in excellent condition. Igor's Camera Exchange carries a lot of Sinar equipment and expertise.

Kodak 2D I also have a lovely and ancient 5x7 Kodak 2D, a wooden field camera (left). I found it at an auction and had a new bellows put on. It works fine again. On the left you can see what someone's fully restored 2D looks like. I wish my 2D were as pretty but it works fine just the same. It's the latest in 1920's technology !

The 5x7 Kodak's light weight and folding design makes it great way to carry around. Unlike most folding cameras, the Kodak hybrid design lets you leave a lens on the camera at all times, which makes things easy and fast when setting up.

TachiharaWhen maximum portability is required, I use a 4x5 Tachihara Wooden Field Camera (right). It's very light and folds quite small. With its red bellows and brass fittings, it attracts curiosity and draws onlookers like a magnet. Using a 200mm Nikkor M lens, it's a treat to walk around and shoot a wide variety of subjects. You can save time and economize space by leaving the lens on the camera, reversed.

If you would like to see what some other Large Format cameras look like, have a look at this thread entitled Show Off Your Camera on the Large Format Photography Forum. You may be surprised to see how many people use them - and how many different kinds of Large Format cameras exist.

View Camera Movements

Ordinary cameras have lenses that are mounted straight ahead, so they look straight ahead only. That's fine for many subjects but view cameras let us adjust the plane of focus at the front and rear of the camera. We can focus along a complex plane and make photos that are either impossible or arduous with ordinary cameras.

Click here to see some photos that were made using view camera movements. Some of these adjustments can be created after image capture with editing tools but not all. With focus-stacking, depth of field can be simulated but not necessarily along an oblique plane.

View cameras allow us to explore and combine adjustments creatively, while composing the image: something quite different from repairing mistakes in post-processing.

Some Favorite Large Format Lenses

For a discussion of some favorite lenses for Large Format cameras, click here. We discuss vintage and barrel-mounted designs, portrait lenses, modern lenses for use in the field - as well as macro and process lenses and the Sinar Copal Shutter.

Included are sample image galleries for Rodenstock APO Sironar-S, Rodenstock Macro Sironar, Voigtlander Braunschweig Heliar, Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar, Fujinon A, Fujinon C, Fujinon T, Fujinon SFS, Nikkor M, APO Nikkor and more. You can see that differences between them are often... exaggerated.

We also discuss barrel-mounted lenses, the Sinar Copal Shutter and blur rendition or bokeh - including a 4-way bokeh comparison of vintage and modern designs.

Step-Up Rings

Don't purchase a set of filters for every "odd-ball" size (and carry them into the field). If you get get an inexpensive step-up ring you can save money, space and weight.

Among lenses for large format of recent manufacture, the majority take 67mm filters. 52mm is also a popular size - my favorite size in fact. Almost all my lenses take filters that are either 52mm or 67mm but not all of them... so I fixed that.

Purchasing 49-52mm adaptor for my 150mm Rodenstock and a 55-67mm for my 300mm Fujinon A, I now need only 2 filter kits: 52mm and 67mm filters. You can do the same with your lenses too. You'll need a lens cap for each lens that you convert. They are very affordable and readily available.

Formulas for Bellows Extension

A 150mm lens needs 150mm of bellows draw - at infinity. As we focus closer, more bellows extension is required and more exposure is required. How much more ? For perfect exposure, we want to know. For a lens of given focal length and bellows with a specific maximum extension, how close can we get to the subject ?

If we want a certain degree of magnification (say 1:3) and we know the focal length of the lens, how much bellows extension do we need ? With a lens of given focal length and a bellows of known maximum extension, how much magnification can we get ? At 1:1 magnification, a 150mm lens requires 300mm of bellows extension. How do we compensate for exposure as bellows extension increases ?

Click here for a page which provides formulas for bellows extension.

Reciprocity Timer app

If you don't care to memorize the formulas for bellows extension and film reciprocity, consider this wonderful application for the iPhone: Reciprocity Timer by Pump Interactive. It really works !

Ultra High Definition At An Affordable Price

Film Size Useable Size Size @ 1600dpi Size @ 2300dpi
4 x 5 3.75 x 4.75 44 MP 90 MP
5 x 7 4.75 x 6.75 78 MP 162 MP
8 x 10 7.75 x 9.75 185 MP 381 MP
Although Epson claims a much higher resolution, their scanners really get somewhere around 1200-1800 dpi of useable data. The contrast they deliver at high resolution is rather low: see this diagram made by Nathan Potter. By the time we reach 1500 dpi, the contrast is already down to 50%. Fifty percent is a typical cutoff point when evaluating usable resolution of camera lenses.

According to this article at filmscanner.info, the EPSON V700 delivers 2300 dpi. They base this number of how many lines we can distinguish when scanning a USAF resolution target. At 2300 dpi, the lines can barely be distinguished. In other words, contrast drops to 0 once we pass 2300 dpi. For this reason, I never exceed the 2400 dpi setting. Beyond that number we are wasting our time and resources.

With 35mm or even Medium Format film (6x6, 6x7, 6x9), a consumer grade Epson flatbed scanner becomes inadequate once we make an enlargement greater than 5-8X. For smaller formats, we really need a dedicated film scanner, a drum-scanner or a high-end flatbed: that's another discussion.

Film Size 8X Enlargement
4 x 5 32 x 40 inches
5 x 7 40 x 56 inches
8 x 10 64 x 80 inches
If we print at 300 dpi, a 2300 dpi scan lets us enlarge by a factor of around 6-8X. Prints are critically sharp: someone can walk right up to the photo, examine it quite closely and there will be detail as fine as the naked eye can detect. (This presumes we're shooting on a tripod, or hand-held at a very high shutter speed.)

Sample Large Format Images

8x10 Here is a family portrait sized at 32x40 inches, made from a 4x5 negative.

Here is a photo I made recently with a 1930's Kodak 2D: the detail available from a 5x7 negative is impressive. An 11x14 print is barely a 2x enlargement !

Of course, 5x7 still falls short of 8x10: here's an 8x10 sample image with detail section - made with an 8x10 wooden field camera. It puts the smaller formats to shame.

The Myth of the 18% Gray Card

There's a very good explanation in Phil Davis' article The Incident System on the web site btzs.org and in his book Beyond the Zone System (pp. 112-113 of the 3rd Edition):

"The origin of the 18% reflectance gray card standard is unclear but it appears likely that it was intended to be used with artificial lighting in the studio and that the original instructions suggested increasing the indicated exposure by 1/2 stop when using the card outdoors. Alternately, it may have originated in the graphic arts, where the luminance range of typical copy subjects is approximately 1.5 in log terms. For subjects of this range, the gray card is in fact, a middle gray because its 18% reflectance is approximately equal to a log value of 0.75.

The normal range of an ordinary photographic subject, however, is generally considered to be 7 stops, or 2.1 in log terms. The middle gray of this range is 1.05, which translates to a reflectance of about 9%. If the geometric center of the normal range is considered to be middle gray (which can be debated) the standard gray card is a full stop too light in value."

In other words, the 18% standard is only appropriate for shooting subjects whose brightness range is 5 stops: black ink on white paper under copy lighting. Kodak's 18% gray card was designed for that. When shooting outdoors, Kodak tells us to increase exposure. Otherwise an the 18% card will give an inappropriate reading.

Unlike black ink on white paper, normal subjects have a 7-stop range. A simple "Zone V" gray card reading with a reflection meter will fail: we will underexpose by 1 stop. Why ? Because the middle of a 7-stop range is 9% gray, not 18%. We should place the 18% card on Zone VI, not V.

Some Zone System teachers work around the flaw inherent with use of an 18% gray card, by recommending that "shadows" be placed on Zone IV (instead of Zone III). That works only if our subject contains something we can meter that should be placed on Zone IV: a white birch tree in the shadows ? a black horse in the shadows ?

A Simpler Approach to Metering

In the BTZS approach, two incident readings are taken: one in the shadows, the other in direct light. The shadow reading determines basic exposure and the difference between the two readings tells us the brightness range (contrast) of the scene, from which we determine development (normal, extended or reduced). Based on development, we adjust film speed. Based on film speed, we determine final exposure. Read Beyond The Zone System by Phil Davis.

If we avoid scenes of extreme contrast we can use a simplified version of BTZS incident metering where only one reading is required. If the lighting is not harsh, the second reading becomes optional.

Not every subject has easily recognized tonal values or zones: in this scene for example, we find white objects in the shade and black objects in the light. Sometimes it's a challenge to determine which values belong where. Incident metering solves that problem. We simply measure the light itself: there's no need to identify the zones. When shooting this scene, I relied solely upon a shadow incident meter reading and the exposure was perfect.

To determine basic exposure, Phil Davis recommends an incident meter reading with the meter set at 2X the ISO you ordinarily use: we place the meter in the shade and point it towards the camera. See Beyond The Zone System, 4th Edition, "Metering for the Incident System" pp. 134:

"Notice that these film speeds seem exaggerated; they are, in fact, just double the normal speeds. As explained earlier, this is done deliberately to compensate for the 1-stop overexposure that normally results when the camera settings are based on the low-light incident reading."

For example, I normally rate TMY and HP5+ at 200. When using a spot meter, I set the meter to 200. However, when using this approach to metering I set my incident meter at 400 and make an incident reading in the open shadows. That reading determines exposure. If you can't place the meter in a shadow within the subject, place it in the shadow of your own body and point it towards the camera.

No method is perfect. I have used the Zone System for decades but this approach is often more convenient and effective. Cinematography students are taught that when filming people, we should determine exposure from an incident reading taken in the shadow below the chin... Sound familiar ?

Monitor Calibration for Accurate Viewing and Printing

Bulls Eye Click on the bull's eye at right to view it at full size. Can you see all 50 steps ? If your monitor is calibrated properly, it should appear perfectly smooth along the entire tonal scale. If not, your monitor needs calibration. It's not good enough to discern a step-wedge with only 10 or 20 steps For high fidelity, 256 steps are best but 50 is a good starting point.

Don't be surprised if you can't even distinguish 50 tones - especially at the dark end of the scale - even after profiling your monitor. Consumer grade displays can't reveal the low values because they are optimized for high contrast, brightness and saturated colors, not for optimal rendering.

Newer Apple monitors have high resolution but can't separate the low values even when set to maximum brightness: my older MacBook Air actually does a better job. To see all the tones properly, we may need a professional grade monitor like Eizo or NEC SpectraView. For further discussion, see The K7 Standard and Monitor Display Systems on the Piezography blog. Using Piezography, we can print 256 clearly distinct shades of gray, even if our monitor cannot.

Even if we don't want to purchase a professional grade monitor, it's still a good idea to calibrate our consumer grade monitor with a dedicated calibration tool and software. If you intend to make prints, be sure to choose a tool that lets you adjust the brightness (luminance) of your monitor, to more closely match the properties of your printing paper. If not, you end up wasting time and materials. These tools change frequently. For a current list of recommended monitors and calibration tools, see the Chromix web site.

For a target file which contains 256 shades of gray, download MicroGrayTest.tif from the Hutch Color web site.

Printing Accurate Colors

Atkinson Test Image At right is an image which can tell you if your monitor and printer are reasonably color-calibrated and profiled. Click on it to see it full-sized. You should be able to see all the shades of all the colors. Can you see the purple rocks in the fish bowl ? Is there plenty of detail in the shadows of the sand dunes ?

Now print these images on your printer and see if the final results looks like what you see on your monitor. Ideally, they should match, very closely. If they don't match, then perhaps your monitor is off or your printer needs to be profiled... Probably both !

Believe it or not, you actually need your own custom profile for every combination of printer/paper/ink that you use. The same ink has a unique response to every different kind of paper - and every printer is unique. They are mechanical devices, subject to variation. Just like musical instruments, they need to be tuned up, all the time.

Printer manufacturers like Epson now make profiles for their own printers/inks/papers freely available for download and tools like Photoshop allow you to print your images with the profile of your choice. These are not as good as getting your own profile but they're a great place to start and you can't beat the price ! It's hard to get things right, even with all the right tools. Without a calibrated workflow, it's almost impossible !

For best results with color printing, get someone like CHROMiX to make profiles for you. If you only print with one paper, you only have to get one profile made when you get a new printer. If you're printing black and white exclusively, use Piezography. If you don't want to have a custom profile made, then at least get one of the profiles from the public domain. Thanks to InkJetArt.com for the test image, which comes from Bill Atkinson.

My Prints are Too Dark My Monitor is Too Bright

Color Wiki Even if your monitor has been recently calibrated and you are printing with a custom profile for your printer/paper/ink, you may still end up struggling to match your prints to what you see on your monitor. Why? Because LCD monitors are much brighter than paper and manufacturers are making monitors brighter with each new generation. When editing photos to be printed, we need to work at the brightness level of paper.

If you have a light meter, you can see for yourself that bright office illumination is such that a white piece of paper, or a white wall, gives an Exposure Value or EV, around 9. Actually, EV 9.3 is around 80 cd/m2, so that's good level for digital printing if your photos will appear in a brightly lit office or gallery. Many homes (and some galleries) are darker than that, more like EV 8, 7, or 6 or lower. We need to lower the brightness of our monitor to match the brightness level of our intended display area.

If you don't have a light meter you can use one of the many phone apps, like Luxi. Be sure to use the value for ISO 100, since that is the standard.

Typical LCD monitors don't do well at these levels: they are designed to be brighter than standard office walls. That's why print imaging specialists don't use consumer grade equipment. Instead they use monitors like Eizo and NEC SpectraView, which are designed to perform at paper brightness.

Here's a superb video presentation from Andrew Rodney: Why Are My Prints Too Dark ?. Here's a nice article on the Shutterbug web site, entitled Are Your Prints Too Dark ? Here's another one, by Pat Herold of CHROMiX. It's called My Printer Is Too Dark on the CHROMiX Color Wiki.

"If you do not set up your system so the white of the paper and the white of the monitor are as close as possible, you will not get a good screen-to-print match." - Pat Herold of CHROMiX
OBAs and Metamerism: Bright Papers and Color Shift

Metamerism In order to make Inkjet photo papers look whiter, manufacturers not only bleach them, they add OBAs: Optical Brightening Agents. Brighteners are commonly added to laundry detergents to make white clothing appear cleaner and brighter. When exposed to daylight (which contains UV light), the OBAs luminesce. They emit blue-white light. The brighter the whites, the deeper the blacks look by comparison. It sounds great, no ?

The problem is that under indoor lighting, they don't luminesce, so your images look dull. With less blue, the same image suddenly looks pink. This effect is known as metamerism, or color shift: your print looks different, depending on where you view it. While harmless for family snapshots, it's unacceptable for Fine Art prints. Traditional Silver-based photographs don't suffer from Metamerism - and neither should a good inkjet print.

To make matters worse, OBAs fade over time. Even if the image looked right under daylight, it starts to look wrong eventually. The print you spent so much effort to make, is slowly replaced, so to speak, with something else.

Not all papers have OBAs: some are made with 100% Cotton Rag, have no OBAs and exhibit no color shift. Two papers I recommend are Epson Hot Press Natural and Premier Smooth Hot Press. Another brand I really like is Canson Infinity Museum Quality 100% Rag papers. Be sure to look for papers which have no OBA's. Canson writes "No Optical Brighteners" right on the front of the box. I like their Rag Photographique: it's very smooth, 100% Rag, has no OBAs and a great color.

To see how different papers and inks fade and change over time, see Aardenburg Imaging. Mark McCormick-Goodhart is a first-rate scientist and a world class expert in the field of image permanence.

Favorite Monochrome Films

Film You will love Kodak TMAX 100, TMAX 400 and Ilford FP4+ and HP5+ films. These films have long straight response curves, which means they give realistic detail throughout the tonal scale. They also have a very linear response to changes in development time, which makes them easy to use in both high and low contrast lighting. If you are familiar with the Zone System, this means that they are easy to "expand" and "contract" with changes in development. Ilford offers their film in a wider variety of sizes than Kodak and at lower prices too.

Tabular grain films like Kodak TMax and Ilford Delta have grain that is flat, or tabular - rather than round. The result is a cost savings for the manufacturer, because a thinner layer of Silver is required. Tabular films require more sensitizing dye and thus require longer washing times to remove the dye. Traditional films like Tri-X, Ilford FP4+ and HP5+ need less washing, because there is less dye to remove.

Very Simple Film Developer: D-23

The D-23 developer formula has only 2 ingredients but produces clean negatives with fine grain, excellent tonal separation and good film speed. It's so simple, you can mix it fresh every time. There's no need for a stock solution - nothing to expire on the shelf and surprise you. Click here for additional photographs and more information about D-23 .

It's very similar to D-76 but contains no Hydroquinone (and no Borax). As a result, it works a bit more slowly, with less danger of "runaway" high values.

Ansel Adam's classic image "Winter Sunrise from Lone Pine, 1944" was developed in D-23. Click here to read more about his lovely photograph.

D-23 is a one-bath developer. It is not the same as Divided D-23 which is a 2-bath formula. Divided D-23 is also known as DD-23. Are you looking for Divided D-23 ? See this article.

Odorless Stop Bath: Citric Acid

You can make your own Odorless Stop Bath using Citric Acid. The Kodak SB-8 formula calls for 15 grams per liter, or 1/2 oz per quart. Or you can also use plain water for stop bath if you like. Using an acid stop bath, development is stopped instantaneously. Using water, it is stopped also, just not as abruptly. I use a weak solution of Citric Acid: 1 teaspoon per liter. Citric Acid is very cheap, harmless and... odorless. In the USA, a good source for materials is Artcraft Chemicals.

Favorite Fixer: Alkaline

Ingredient Stock Working
Ammonium Thiosulfite 800 ml 160 ml
Sodium Sulfite 60 g 12 g
Sodium Metaborate 5 g 1 g
Water to make 1 liter 1 liter
You can mix your own Fixer, using the traditional T-3 Alkaline Fixer formula. It has only 3 ingredients! Alkaline fixers require much less time to remove via washing and do not require a washing aid. They have much less odor too !

(If you use a Hypo-based fixer, you can easily make your own washing aid: just use a teaspoon of Sodium Sulfite per liter of water and toss it when you are done.)

According to Anchell and Troop, in The Film Developing Cookbook, Alkaline Fixers have the following advantages over more traditional Acidic formulas:

  1. Less danger of over-fixing
  2. Shorter washing times
  3. More archival
  4. Greater capacity
  5. More stable
  6. Can be formulated to have low odor.

The T-3 Alkaline Fixer formula is intended to be diluted 1+4. Instead of making stock, you can making a working solution by dividing the amounts by 5.

It's fun - and far less expensive - to mix your own chemistry. Many of the classic formulas are available in books and on-line at sites like Jack's Photographic and Chemistry Site. In the USA, a good source for materials is Artcraft Chemicals.

Removing Magenta Stain from Kodak TMAX Films

Kodak adds a magenta sensitizing dye to its TMAX films. Depending on your water and other factors, that dye can be hard to remove with ordinary fixing and washing. Do not prolong the time in the fixer: that will not remove the stain. Instead, rinse your negatives briefly in water after fixing, then soak them in a 10% solution of Sodium Sulfite for around 10 minutes (1 teaspoon per liter of water). Then rinse and wash normally.

Sodium Sulfite is the active ingredient in Film and Paper Washing Aid: if you use an acid fixer, you will need that anyway. If you use an alkaline fixer a washing aid is not required but a soak in Sodium Sulfite will remove the magenta stain if necessary. In the USA, a good source for materials is Artcraft Chemicals.

Affordable Equipment for Film Development and Washing

Dish Rack Film Washer Storage Container Developing Trays Some people purchase expensive custom equipment to wash their film. Nowadays, you can construct your own washer out of inexpensive and widely available materials.

A Dish Rack Film Washer costs only a few dollars. Your film just soaks, in a bunch of standing water. There is no need for a fancy syphon or drain system: Just let the film soak and replace the water now and then. Save the water and let diffusion do the work for you. You can use a similar technique to wash roll film too.

Photo trays are great for developing prints but you can do things better - and cheaper - with items available almost anywhere. Plastic Food Containers are more affordable, use less chemistry, prevent scratches and require less room. Once you try them, you will wonder why you ever used traditional "Photo Trays".

Infra-Red Monocular: Seeing in the Darkroom

ATN Viper Once you start using something like this ATN Viper Night Vision Monocular, you will have a wonderful time developing, loading and unloading black and white film in the dark. You can see everything, without fogging the film. If you're cramped into a small space, there's no chance of knocking things over.

You can perform Development by Inspection (DBI), not in the old fashioned way (where you get only a brief peek under a dim green bulb) but throughout the entire process: development, stop bath, fix, etc. You can do tray development with ease, with far fewer scratches and with greater confidence that things are turning out right. This tool pays for itself - the first time you use it !

Important Note: As development proceeds, the film looks darker and darker. If you examine only the emulsion side, you will get the erroneous impression that development has proceeded too far, too quickly. To determine development, do not judge the emulsion side. Examine the shiny side of the film. Be sure to practice before risking any important work and use your darkroom timer too.

There are many kinds of Infra Red Night Vision viewing devices and this one is simple and affordable. If you can't see the ATN Viper on the Optics Plus web site, try this eBay search.

How to Avoid Fingerprints on Sheet and Roll Film

If you handle film, make sure to keep your finger tips clean. It's easy and affordable to clean them with a bit of Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol on a clean cloth or paper towel. Clean your fingertips before loading sheet film. Clean them before unloading and developing. Clean them before hanging film to try. Clean them before scanning film. You'll be glad you did !

Affordable Scanner for Large Format

Epson V750 You can scan your negatives with an affordable flatbed scanner like the Epson V750 and the Epson drivers which ship with the scanner. A 4x5 inch negative, scanned at 2400 dpi (samples per inch), gives a 115 megapixel image. A 5x7 inch negative, scanned at the same resolution, gives a 200 megapixel file. Is that enough ?

At such high resolution, image fidelity is very good and the tones are... rich ! Tiny JPG files, viewed on the monitor, just can't convey the feeling. An 11x14 image made from one of these negatives is truly lovely.

You Don't Need a Super Computer

Turbo

A 4x5 image, scanned in 48-bit Color at 2400 dpi, gives you a 660 MB file... and that's before you make any adjustments ! If you work with large image files - but don't have a super computer with tons of RAM - here's a great video tutorial from On Landscape called Turbocharge Your Photoshop. It shows you how to work with a small copy of your image. You perform all corrections as adjustment layers on the small "guide file" version of your image.

The "guide file" can be as small as you like - a tiny fraction of the original size - and your humble machine will have no problem with it. When you are done, you magically transfer the adjustment layers to the original. With this technique, an older machine with less RAM can easily be used for working on scans of 4x5, 5x7 and 8x10 negatives and a newer machine can work on large file much more quickly and easily.

Avoid Sharpening Artifacts: Sharpen the Mid-Tones Only

After sharpening an image, strange artifacts often appear at the high and low ends of the tonal scale. These artifacts can make our images look artificial, contrived and ugly. Here's a simple method for Photoshop that works well for monochrome as well as color: sharpen the middle tones only.

  1. Flatten the image. Duplicate the layer.
    Windows: ctrl+j   Mac: command + j
  2. Select the Layer Style of layer 1.
  3. Adjust the sliders to remove the low and high end of the tonal scale. The result is that only the middle of the tonal scale has been selected.
  4. Sharpen the new layer to taste.
  5. Do not merge the layers before saving. Save the file as a PSD or TIF file with layers intact. You can change or even discard the sharpening layer any time you like, depending on the size of your print.

Some images automatically look sharper than others: because of visual cues, they convey an impression of sharpness. See Two Barns: One Sharp, One Not for more explanation.

Favorite Backup Software for Mac

Carbon Copy Cloner

Carbon Copy Cloner lets you schedule tasks to back up your files - from one disk to another - as many disks as you like, as often as you like. Back up all your files, or copy only what has changed. Move a copy of your digital files to a backup disk. Back up your OS X system files to another disk. Copy your large Photoshop files to another disk. I schedule these tasks to run in the middle of the night, while I'm sleeping. It's much better than Apple's TimeMachine. It's shareware: you send a voluntary donation if you like it.

Favorite Tripod and Heads

Bogen 3021 BN Pro Bogen 3275 410 This tripod is neither the largest, smallest, heaviest or lightest - but the Bogen 3021 BN Pro is an affordable all-around solution. It's built strong enough and light enough. It's not made of carbon fiber but unless you are a trekker... who cares !

I like the Manfrotto 3275 410 tripod head, which is rated for holding cameras up to 11 pounds. It lets you make geared fine adjustments in 3 directions, independently. It's small, light and strong. It's a treat to make adjustments this way: there is no drift. I use it with my wooden field cameras which are light in weight.

Manfrotto 229For heavier equipment, I use a Manfrotto 229 tripod head. It's rated up to 16 pounds and has no problem holding a Sinar P with 5x7 back, extension rails etc.

Here's a cold-weather tip: wrap some pipe insulation around the legs and hold it down with some inexpensive duct tape. This will keep your hands warm when you carry the tripod. Pipe insulation is very inexpensive but you will find this very helpful in winter time. It also helps if you want to carry the tripod on your shoulders: it's soft on the body.

Leveling Base - What a Relief!

Manfrotto 438 Manfrotto 438A leveling tripod base like the Manfrotto 438 sits just below the tripod head (see yellow arrow). You get a level platform without having to adjust the legs of your tripod. This piece of equipment doesn't weigh very much but makes life much easier - especially when shooting in the field, where the ground is rarely level.

On the right you can see the leveling base in action. The tripod itself is not level - as the red line shows - but the tripod head is level, because we have adjusted the leveling base beneath it.

With such an arrangement, we can pan the head horizontally (or move the 3 gears of the 410 head in any direction we like) and we don't have to correct anything. To adjust the leveling base, just loosen the lever and use the bubble level. It's much faster than changing the length of the tripod legs. If you've tried to work with a tripod that isn't level, you'll appreciate this improvement.

To see a nice Youtube video about the Manfrotto 438, click here.

Carry Your Gear on a Budget

GearSome photographers buy expensive cases and packs to carry their gear. I prefer a canvas bag and a beverage cooler. The Sinar P folds down small enough to go into the bag, upside down. The Sinar is built like a tank. The only thing it needs, is a carrying strap and that's what the bag is for. Everything else goes into the cooler, which has a nice sturdy strap to go over your shoulder.

The beverage cooler keeps the equipment cool in summer and warm in winter... How does it know ? Even more importantly, it looks like a beverage cooler, to anyone who might see it in the car. Some people like to flaunt the name of their camera, as a status symbol. I prefer the safety of my gear looking like nothing more than a case of soft-drinks.

Note the pipe insulation on the tripod legs, held on with duct tape. Pipe insulation is very light in terms of additional weight but vital when shooting in cold weather: it can keep your hands from freezing when you carry the tripod !

iPhone Shutter Speed App

Try this affordable and helpful Shutter Speed app for the iPhone. It listens to your mechanical shutter and measures the actual speed. It may not be as accurate as the (now discontinued) Calumet Shutter Tester mentioned below but it's accurate enough. If you want to purchase an add-on light sensor, it will give you very accurate results.

I tested my old #4 Alphax Shutter with this app. The shutter is very close to its old-fashioned speeds of 1/2, 1/5, 1/10 etc. That's good to know !

Calumet Shutter Tester Brochure

Thanks to Boston-based Architectural Photographer Peter Lewitt, you can see the manual for the Fidelity Calumet Digital Shutter Tester, which is no longer offered by Calumet Photo. The Shutter Tester allows you to test the shutters on a variety of cameras and lenses. Even though it is no longer sold, you can click here to read the manual. Perhaps you can purchase one on the used market.

If you like to control the visual quality of your photos and you acquire equipment from others, it's nice to know how close it is to the correct speed.

Polarizer + Yellow Filter for a Natural-Looking Scene

Corn FieldWhen shooting in black and white, it's common wisdom to use a red or orange filter to darken the sky and clear the haze. For certain subjects this works very nicely but red and orange filters not only remove blue light from the sky: they also darken the blue light in shadows and the green light in vegetation.

To avoid ink-black shadows and unnaturally dark vegetation, we can use a polarizer - and a weaker filter if required. Rotating a polarizer, we can control the amount of darkening in the sky according to taste, while maintaining a normal balance of colors in the rest of the scene. If we need even more richness in the sky and clouds, we can reach for a medium yellow or light orange filter and place it on top of the polarizer. That's how this image was made (on 8x10 film). Note the tones in the grass and the trees: the yellow filter has actually enhanced the details in the vegetation, not darkened them.

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