On re-fixing a mess

When it comes to developing film, I’ve made every mistake possible: dev time too short, dev time too long, too little developer, top of the tank popping off, putting the fixer in before the developer, throwing re-useable developer away after one shot, and so on.

Fortunately the frequency of such mistakes has reduced over time (I hope that statement is not tempting fate) so now I’m getting round to solving the problem of half-a-dozen films which were not fixed properly because the fixer had been re-used to many times.

The images below are from a roll of Tri-X I put through a Yashicamat 124G in 2012, on holiday in Wales. The first mistake was that I thought I had put T-Max 100 in the camera, so the shots metered at ISO 400 were two shots overexposed. The second mistake was when I realised the first mistake, and I reset the meter to 400; it would have been better to shoot the whole roll at 100 and adjust the development time.

So to overcome the exposure problem I decided to stand-develop with Rodinal, diluted 1:100, for one hour, which is a good stand-by method if the exposures have been doubtful. Now Tri-X in Rodinal can give enormous grain in 35mm but in this case, with medium format, the grain isn’t obtrusive – perhaps helped by the absence of sky which is where the grain shows up most.

The problem with the exhausted fixer was not apparent until I’d cut the film up for scanning, and the results weren’t suitable for on-line sharing until I finally got round to re-fixing the film, nearly 4 years later.

The process of refixing is simple enough – just the fixing and washing stages are required – but it is fiddly when the film has already been cut up. It’s a faff to put four or more short strips onto a reel, although at least you don’t have to do it in the dark. The biggest problem is drying the film, because (a) you need more clips than you might have, and (b) there is less spare film at each end for attaching the clips.

Refix 2012-8, Wales, 124G, Tri-x, Rodinal, 004 Refix 2012-8, Wales, 124G, Tri-x, Rodinal, 005 Refix 2012-8, Wales, 124G, Tri-x, Rodinal, 006

So the lessons I take away are:

  • try to change the fixer before it’s exhausted
  • if the problem is apparent immediately, mix some fresh fixer and refix the film BEFORE cutting it up.

One film down, five or so to go.

Waiting for Portra and learning to love Ektar

Like a lot of film photographers I’m waiting for a delivery of Kodak Portra, specifically medium format Portra 400. It’s been very difficult to get hold of, at least in Europe, for about two months now, but seems to be coming back in stock. I’ve ordered 10 rolls from 7dayshop – unlike some other suppliers they haven’t put up their prices to take advantage of the situation. I’m told it’s been dispatched and I’m hopeful it will arrive tomorrow.

Whilst waiting for Portra 400, I’ve been using Kodak Ektar more than I usually do, and have been warming to it. Occasionally in the past my Ektar shots have had some weird colours but that might have just been the vagaries of my home processing.

Here’s a few Ektar shots taken on the Mamiya RZ67 at Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal, a World Heritage Site in North Yorkshire.


2016-3-11, Fountains Abbey, RZ67, Ektar, Fuji chems, 007-Edit



2016-3-11, Fountains Abbey, RZ67, Ektar, Fuji chems, 001

Fo 2016-3-11, Fountains Abbey, RZ67, Ektar, Fuji chems, 005


2016-3-11, Fountains Abbey, RZ67, Ektar, Fuji chems, 015


2016-3-11, Fountains Abbey, RZ67, Ektar, Fuji chems, 016

2016-3-11, Fountains Abbey, RZ67, Ektar, Fuji chems, 017


The shots above were all home developed in the Fuji Hunt C41 kit.

I’ve now almost standardised my colour film choice on Ektar (which has a box speed of ISO100) and the ISO 400 version of Kodak Portra.

Portra 160 is also a perfectly fine film, but I just don’t feel a need for that intermediate speed of 160. If the light is good enough for ISO100, or the subject is stationary,  I’ll use Ektar. If I’m trying to freeze flowers which are being blown about in the wind, or I can’t use a tripod, then Portra 400 fits the bill. It is pretty fine-grained for an ISO400 film so I don’t need to agonise over the slight difference in grain compared to Portra 160.



Single image: Blyth Pier

An old image of Blyth Pier in Northumberland, taken  in 2009 on 35mm Velvia, and newly converted to mono.

2009 May 22nd, EOS300, Velvia, Blyth, 1-Edit

I did the conversion using Silver Efex Pro 2, part of the Google Nik collection. The software is now available for free download here. I must admit, however, that I didn’t see anything in the Nik Collection that I couldn’t already do in Lightroom, apart from some really cheesy things that I wouldn’t want to do anyway.


Single image: Water shapes

I sometimes try to think of my images as arrangements of shapes rather than of subject matter, and the approach seemed to work with this image.

Taken at Guyzance Weir on the River Coquet in Northumberland, on a Mamiya RZ67 with Kodak T-Max 100 film, and developed in Firstcall B&W film developer.


2016-1, Guyzance, RZ67, TMax 100, Firstcall 5m 40s 22c Jobo, 006-Edit



Equipment: Olympus 35RC

I’ve owned a few cameras in the category of small 35mm fixed-lens rangefinders or scale focus, such as the Olympus XA and XA2, Olympus 35ECR, Olympus Trip, and Konica C35, but I think I’ve now found my favourite camera of this type in the form of the Olympus 35RC.

Canon FTb tests, 35mm f8 1-125s Frame 009

I now have two of these camera; I purchased the first from eBay for £25 and the owner wasn’t sure of how well it worked. In the event it worked pretty good except for the rangefinder being out of alignment. More technically-minded photographers than me would turn to the technical notes and diagrams provided by Rick Oleson to make the necessary adjustment, but I have got by using scale focus instead. That model also had a little sticker over a missing self-timer lever – I didn’t even realise there should be a self-timer until I bought the second model. That’s the self-timer lever above the word “Olympus” in the images above and below.

I only use self-timers on cameras that don’t have a threaded cable release, but the 35RC has one of those.

Canon FTb tests, 70mm f5-6 1-125s Frame 012

35RC no 2 was purchased for £55 but came with a metal lens hood, with a cut off to reduce the degree to which the image through the viewfinder is masked by the lens hood, a matching Olympus PS200 flash, and an orange filter – and an accurate rangefinder. The lens hood itself can cost up to £30 if purchased separately.

Exposure control is either shutter-priority automatic or manual, and both the shutter speed and aperture set are visible in the viewfinder.

The camera uses the Olympus “flashmatic” system which will set the correct aperture, and as the camera has a leaf shutter, any shutter speed can be used for flash.

Canon FTb tests, 70mm f8 1-125s Frame 011

As you can see above the controls are laid out in an obvious way and are limited to what you need – shutter speed, aperture, and focus. The slowest shutter speed is 1/15s which is a bit limiting if you want to shoot landscapes in dark woods, or use 1/8s or 1/4s for just a little motion blur on running water.

The focal length is 42mm and I’ve found this to be a useful choice.  A wider lens might be useful to me sometimes, but an interchangeable lens camera would be much larger, and I now mainly use 35mm cameras as backups to a medium format system, so it’s not really worth making the 35mm system too bulky or heavy.

The 35RC sits inside a small shoulder camera bag next to my Fujifilm GA645Zi, which is battery-dependent. The 35RC can be used without a battery, losing only the metering function, so it makes a good totally-manual backup. The battery is PX625, which means you may have to fiddle about with the ISO setting if you use a modern alternative to compensate for the different voltage.

Canon FTb tests, 70mm f11 1-30s Frame 013

The film loads to the right, the opposite to most cameras, and the short distance across the film gate means you may well get one or two extra shots out of a roll of film.

So here’s the summary:


  • Small
  • Sharp lens
  • Manual and automatic exposure
  • Can be used without a battery, if you can do without metering


  • Some slower shutter speeds would be nice.

And now for some images taken with my two 35RC’s ….

With Agfa Vista 200 film (Camera 1):


With Fuji Pro 800Z film (Camera 1):

With Fomapan 100 film (Camera 1):

With Kodak T-Max 100 (Camera 2):


Foma Retropan 320 – not for me thanks

I’m not normally one for trying out every available film – I generally prefer to stick with a smaller range from the major suppliers, i.e. Kodak, Ilford, and Fuji.

So for black and white film in the slow-medium ISO range I’m happy with any of Kodak TMax 100, Ilford FP4+, or Fuji Acros.

I’ve not yet settled on a preferred list of faster films, i.e. ISO 400 and above; probably because I’m not personally a fan of grain. For the landscape and still life images that form 90% of my photography, I’m looking for fine details where possible.

In medium format I’m fairly happy with Kodak Tri-X, which can reasonably be pushed to ISO800 or 1600, but I’ve found it too grainy in 35mm for my liking. Yes, I know that Don McCullin took bucketloads of great images on 35mm Tri-X, but the visual requirements for conflict photography are not the same as for landscapes.

So it was, that when I had to buy some fixer in an emergency by mail order, I decided I should add a roll of Fomapan Retro 320 to my basket, in order to get more value out of the minimum shipping charge.

Since the film is available in 35mm and large format, but not 120, and I don’t have a large format camera, I loaded the resulting 35mm roll into my Canon FTb, newly equipped with a new-to-me Tamron Adaptall 28-70mm zoom lens which I had bought for just £19.99  including postage. Of course, trying out a new film type at the same time as a new lens really is not a good idea, since any defects could be due to the lens and/or the film.

The first four images are from Guyzance, a hamlet on the River Coquet in Northumberland.

2016-1-23, Canon FTb, Shibdon Pond, Retropan 320, Rodinal 1+50 13m 20c, 031

This weir was the site of an accident in 1945 when ten young soldiers died on a training exercise, and there have been other more recent tragedies.

2016-1-17, Canon FTb, Guyzance, Retropan 320, Rodinal 1+50 13m 20c, 022

The only developer I had in stock, for which developing times are listed on the Massive Development Chart, was Rodinal, so I dug out the Rodinal and was surprised to find the bottle half full even though it had only been used once; I think the cap doesn’t fit well and some of the liquid had evaporated.

So Rodinal at 1:50 it was. I have to say that the results were the most grainy I have ever experienced from any film, except for the much faster Ilford Delta 3200. Of course, many photographers will say that I used the wrong developer, as Rodinal is not known for fine grain. Foma recommends “Foma Retro Special Developer” for this film, but I don’t find it practical to keep a different developer in stock for a single film type.

2016-1-17, Canon FTb, Guyzance, Retropan 320, Rodinal 1+50 13m 20c, 024

A mill building. To be fair to Retropan, this image does show some promise in the ability to show details across a wide tonal range. Not only does the rear wall hold a lot of detail, but so does the small hole in the rear wall.

2016-1-17, Canon FTb, Guyzance, Retropan 320, Rodinal 1+50 13m 20c, 023

Next two are from Shibdon Pond near Blaydon, in dull weather.

2016-1-23, Canon FTb, Shibdon Pond, Retropan 320, Rodinal 1+50 13m 20c, 040

2016-1-23, Canon FTb, Shibdon Pond, Retropan 320, Rodinal 1+50 13m 20c, 033

If Retropan 320 was available in 120 roll format, I might be willing to try it for longer, and with a more suitable developer – but I shoot so little 35mm these days that it’s not worth the effort. The obvious way to get better quality from 35mm is to switch to a bigger format.

So for the time being my ISO400-ish needs will continue to be met by Kodak Tri-X in medium format. For 35mm, Ilford XP2 Super comes the closest to my needs, but I may just avoid ISO400 in 35mm. For the last few months, I have been shooting Kodak T-Max 100 at ISO 200; this can be developed in TMax Developer for the same time as ISO100 and the results have been good from my Fujifilm GA645Zi. In the next few days I will be developing a roll of 35mm T-Max at 200 so it will be interesting to see how that turns out. The difference between ISO200 and ISO320 is only two-thirds of a stop, after all.


Farewell Holga – pinhole memories

Late in 2015, the demise of the Holga range of “toy” cameras was announced, to a collective weeping from many photographers on the net. Now I have to admit that I’ve never been really into the toy camera aesthetic; although the camera may be relatively cheap compared to other medium format cameras, the purchase and processing costs for 120 film are just as expensive and you could choose to buy an old medium format folder for £25-£30 instead and get the joys of multiple shutter speeds and variable apertures, together with better image quality.

However I do possess one Holga, which is the WPC120 pinhole model. Whereas the average Holga has maybe two apertures and one shutter speed and a very basic lens, the pinhole has one tiny aperture of f/135, no shutter speed except ‘B’, and no lens. It takes 120 film and, using one of two supplied masks, can shoot either 6*9cm or 6*12cm images.


Lots of people make their own pinhole cameras, but I’ve never got round to doing so, and my DIY skills only just extend to changing a lightbulb. Compared to the most basic level DIY approach, you do get some useful features for the £25 or so I paid:

  • A very useful spirit level
  • Etched guide lines to give you some idea of what will be in the picture (there is no viewfinder)
  • A shutter release with a socket for a standard cable release.
  • A tripod socket


On the down side, and compared with more expensive commercially-available pinholes, it must be said that the build quality of the Holga is pretty awful. The main issue is the probability of the back falling off the camera, and light leaks. To reduce the chances of leaks and falling apart, I usually have the Holga swathed in black duck tape when in use – not pretty but it helps a lot.

You may notice in the picture above, that the area around the pinhole looks scratched. The reason for that is that many users find that, when taking 6*12cm images, there is very serious vignetting at the edges of the image. This can be reduced or eliminated by filing down or sandpapering the lip around the pinhole, as I have done. Some users report that their unmodified 120WPC doesn’t vignette at all – which reminds us that poor quality control means that no two Holgas are the same.


Southwark Cathedral by pinhole

Southwark Cathedral, London – Fuji Acros film developed in Fotospeed FD10 developer.

Allotment view

The Shard viewed from a community garden.

Cathedral chairs by pinhole

Forgotten pinhole


2014-6-28, St Nicholas Cathedral, Holga WPC, Acros, FD10, 7m30s, 23C, 001-Edit

Cathedral Church of St Nicholas, Newcastle upon Tyne – Fuji Acros film developed in Fotospeed FD10 developer. A dark church with an F/133 aperture tends to result in 15 minute exposures.

You can get a surprising amount of detail from a pinhole! Although pinholes can be a bit hit and miss, I find that when the images work well, my WPC120 produces what I consider to be a good quality image by pinhole standards.

2011-11-15, Pattack Falls, Holga WPC, Acros FD10 1+9, 3_ Pattack Falls pinhole


River Pattack, Scotland, Kodak TMax 100 film

Life without a lens

The Sage, Gateshead – a favourite from my first outing with the Holga. TMax 100 developed in Fotospeed FD10.

Pinhole image of the second floor bar at The Sage. On the back wall are mirrors reflecting 55 Degrees North and All Saints Church.

Pinhole image of the second floor bar at The Sage. On the back wall are mirrors reflecting 55 Degrees North and All Saints Church.

Yet AnotherPinhole Panoroma

Pinhole Belsay Hall

Belsay Hall in Northumberland. This was my second attempt, with 8-minute exposure; after the first try the back fell of the camera exposing the film- so I had to load another roll then stand through another 8-minute exposure.


Pinhole infrared at Earsdon churchyard

Alnwick Castle pinhole + infrared

Infrared pinholes are fun when they work well – but if you multiply the low average success rate of infrared times the low average success rate of pinholes, you may go through a whole film to get one that works well.
These were shot on Rollei IR 400 film rated at ISO 6 with a Hoya R72 filter. The Holga doesn’t have a filter thread but I just stick a 52mm filter over the front and hope it doesn’t fall off. The film was semi-stand developed in Rodinal 1:100 for one hour.

Holy Pinhole


The mothballed Alcan alumina depot at North Blyth in Northumberland. Photographed on a Holga WPC pinhole camera loaded wit expired Kodak Portra 160VC film

The mothballed Alcan alumina depot at North Blyth in Northumberland. 

I usually shoot pinholes in black and white but the occasional colour can work well too. Kodak Portra 160VC developed in the Digibase C41 kit.

Hagg Bank Bridge, Wylam

2013-5-14, Holga WPC, Pinhole, Wylam, Portra 400, 001-Edit

Above two shots are Portra 400 developed in the Digibase C41 kit, at Wylam on the River Tyne.

Although I’ve enjoyed using the WPC120 despite the flimsy construction, I’m on the waiting list for an Ondu wooden pinhole camera. I’ve ordered a model which can give 6*12, 6*9, or 6*6cm images. As well as hoping for better construction quality, the 6*6cm option is attractive because I’d like to print some darkroom images in the darkroom but my enlarger only handles negatives up to 6*7cm, so I can’t print the WPC images through the  enlarger.

The ONDU may take some time to arrive, though, so I may get the chance to run another roll through the Holga. One advantage of the Holga I forgot to mention is it’s very light and easy to pack, so I may well carry both the Ondu and the Holga to allow both colour and B&W options.












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