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.











Recently in the darkroom: rivers and ruins

I’ve been spending a bit more time than usual in the darkroom recently so I thought I’d share some recent work. My darkroom output was spurred on when Santa gave me an RH Designs Analyser Pro, which helps you find the appropriate exposure and contrast settings and recalculates those settings if you decide to change paper types.

I’ll probably write some more about the Analyser Pro in my next post. These images were from a walk in December 2015 around Baybridge, a hamlet a few miles from Blanchland on the Northumberland/Durham border.

I started shooting with a Yashicamat 124G loaded with expired Ilford FP4+; when that film was finished I changed to a Fujifilm GA645Zi loaded with Kodak TMax 100 rated at ISO200.

All the prints were made on Ilford MGIV RC Warmtone paper.

2016-12-19, Yashicamat, Baybridge, FP4+, MGIVRC, 010

Ilford FP4+ film in a Yashicamat 124G – scan of a darkroom print on Ilford MG IV RC Warmtone paper

The print above was made on 9.5″ * 12″ paper with an 8″ square picture area – it annoys me that square prints always result in some wasted paper. You can’t see the borders because my scanner can’t scan the whole paper so I had to miss the borders off.

The following images below are 5″ * 7″ – I intend to try to print from each roll of film, one image at a larger size and a few smaller supporting images.

2015-12-19, Yashicamat, Baybridge, FP4+, MGIVRC, 003

Ilford FP4+ film in a Yashicamat 124G – scan of a darkroom print on Ilford MG IV RC Warmtone paper


2015-12-19, Yashicamat, Baybridge, FP4+, MGIVRC, 001

Ilford FP4+ film in a Yashicamat 124G – scan of a darkroom print made on Ilford MGIV Warmtone paper

After exploring the local woods and streams I came across a ruined farmhouse called Gibraltar.

2015-12-19, Yashicamat, Gibraltar, FP4+, MGIVRC, 005

View through the window of Gibraltar farmhouse – film and print details as above

2015-12-19, GA645Zi, Gibraltar, FP4+, MGIVRC, 006

Bedroom of Gibraltar farmhouse – Fuji GA645Zi camera; Kodak TMax 100 film, rated at ISO200; scan of a darkroom print on Ilford MGIV Warmtone paper

2015-12-19, GA645Zi, Gibraltar, FP4+, MGIVRC, 009

2015-12-19, GA645Zi, Gibraltar, FP4+, MGIVRC, 011

View from the bedroom window – camera, film, and print details as for the previous image

2015-12-19, Yashicamat, Gibraltar, FP4+, MGIVRC, 004

Yashicamat 124G; Ilford FP4+; printed on Ilford MGIV RC Warmtone

With the second film – the TMax in a Fujifilm GA645Zi – I skipped my usual stage of scanning the negatives and went straight to darkroom output, beginning with a contact print of the whole roll. I think in the past, having the negative scans has tended to act as a disincentive to going into the darkroom – forcing myself to get the output only in the darkroom may help me to practice my darkroom skills.

Unfortunately, of course, I then have to scan the prints to have something to put on the the blog, and the original prints look much better than the scans – but you’ll just have to take me word for it !

A tale of two Agifolds

(Wherein our intrepid blogger reports on two British-made cameras and presents the output of his perambulations in the northern part of England … )

It was the best of cameras; it was the worst of cameras …

I have two models of the Agilux Agifold range of cameras in my collection, a Mark III and a Mark II; I’ve used the Mark III a couple of times and decided recently to run a film through the Mark II to write a comparison article for this blog.

Both cameras are British-made medium format folders with uncoupled rangefinders, from the late 1940s and 1950s.


First I will look at the Mark II – see above  – which came into production in 1949.

You may notice that there doesn’t appear to be a lever or button to open the camera; this is achieved by moving the top component housing the viewfinder and rangefinder to the left, which causes the lens to shoot out like a canon.


The aperture range is f4.5 – f22 and the shutter speeds are B,1s, 1/2s, 1/5s, 1/25s, 1/50s, 1/100s, and 1/150s. The lens is a 90mm “Agilux Anastigmat”.


I think this is the only camera I’ve owned that has both a red window and a green window. According to the manual, the red window is used when the camera is loaded with panchromatic film and the green window is used with orthochromatic film. I would have preferred to close the red window when it was not actually needed to check the film winding, but closing the red window opens the green window, so I chose to leave it open.

You can see here that the camera is in bad shape cosmetically, with the leatherette covering peeling off. Since I was given it for nothing by my father, I can’t complain.


The back removes completely for film loading; for some reason the film transport route is way too tight (probably a misalignment of the pressure plate) which means (a) it’s really, really hard to wind the film advance lever, and (b) the film gets scratched against the vertical rods.

The effects of this can be most easily seen on this unexposed frame (I missed the frame number in the red window resulting in a wasted frame). Without the masking effect of an image we can see horizontal lines, the word “Kodak” (this was TMax film) and a frame number.

2015-12-19, Beamish,Agifold Mk1,  TMax 100 @200,  TMax Dev 6, 15s 24C,  Jobo, 010

Despite these handling difficulties, I did manage to get a few images from one roll of TMax 100 exposed at Beamish Museum on a very dull December day:


I am sure that many of my readers would regard the film-scratching problem as a challenge to be solved, and would if necessary disassemble the camera and reassemble it as good as new. For me however, wiring a plug is the limit of my DIY capabilities, and I have other cameras I can use, so this camera will be categorised as “glad-I-used-it-once-but-not-in-a-hurry-to-use-it-again”.

By 1955 the Mark II was succeeded by the Agifold Mark III, which was, in my opinion, much more capable and pleasant to use.


I spotted this camera for sale on a stall at Tynemouth Market, and was pleased to acquire it for a very reasonable £15. I was attracted by the “art deco” styling on the nameplate and rangefinder section, and everything seemed to work.

Compared to the Mark II, the shutter speeds are expanded  to go up to 1/350s, with the aperture range staying the same. The Mark III is much lighter than the Mark II and seems less industrial and more of a consumer object. The lens has changed to a 75mm model, and a sliding cover has been added for the red window.


Both cameras have something called an “extinction meter” – I thought this was a misprint at first, but that is the correct name. To estimate the required exposure, you look through a window and ascertain how many vertical bars you can easily make out – the more light is available, the more bars will show up. Then you transfer that reading to the very fiddly dials on the right hand side of the top plate, and eventually come up with the required exposure at about the time any non-stationary subject has moved out of view !

I did plan to test out this mechanism to see how it compared with an external meter, but I abandoned this plan when I read this sentence in the manual:

“Do not expect to get an accurate reading until you have been in the same intensity of light for about five minutes or so, to allow the eye to make a natural adjustment to the surrounding light”.

I’m all for the concept of “slow photography” but this would be taking slowness too far ! Both cameras also have an uncoupled rangefinder, which doesn’t seem too accurate. Whilst I’m sure they are capable of calibration, I prefer to guess for scale focussing, or I could use my external “Watameter” rangefinder, which is easy for the user to calibrate.

Here are a few images taken on TMax 400 film on this camera, around Northumberland and York.

I’ve put the Mark III Agifold into the category of “Happy-to-use-it-occasionally-when-I-fancy-a-change”.




Cartier-Bresson in Moscow

There’s an interesting Radio 4 radio programme available on-line at the moment, called “Cartier-Bresson in Moscow.” You can find it here –

I’m not convinced that radio is really the best medium for consideration of a visual art, but it might help to look at some of the photographs that the programme refers to, here –

The programme includes a short recording of HCB speaking including the phrase “use as little equipment as possible” … great advice but not a piece of guidance popular with the gear-obsessed photographic press.

My thanks are due to Andrea Ingram who highlighted the existence of this programme, on the site. Andrea blogs at Boxes and Bellows.


Another trip to Bothal

I’ve blogged about the Northumbrian village of Bothal before and I couldn’t resist another visit this Autumn so I thought I’d share a few images. I took the Mamiya RZ67 and finished off a roll of Portra 400 that was half-used, shot a roll of Fuji Velvia 50, then loaded a roll of Ektar which is still in the camera.

Here are a few Velvia images, concentrating on the lovely acer tree which grows around the war memorial, outside a church, and is usually at it’s best around Remembrance Day. It was a very wet day but that only made the leaves glow with even more colour.

2015-11-7, RZ67, Bothal, Velvia 50,  chems, 002-Edit 2015-11-7, RZ67, Bothal, Velvia 50,  chems, 001 2015-11-7, RZ67, Bothal, Velvia 50,  chems, 003 2015-11-7, RZ67, Bothal, Velvia 50,  chems, 004 2015-11-7, RZ67, Bothal, Velvia 50,  chems, 010

I don’t shoot much slide film nowadays as I prefer the wider dynamic range of negative film, and also because I have to pay for it to be processed commercially. Although I have processed slide film at home, that requires maintaining a different set of chemicals alongside those I need for colour negatives, and the chemicals would go off before I get the chance to use them up.

However there’s no doubt that Velvia and Provia both look great in the right circumstances. I have two or three rolls left in the freezer which will get used sometime.


Remembering half-frame : the Olympus EE series

In recent years Olympus have revived the name “PEN” for their mirrorless four-thirds digital cameras, but from 1955-1981 the name referred to a series of half-frame 35mm camera. Half-frame means that two images are taken in the space normally used for one 35mm image; the resulting negatives were 18mm wide * 24mm high and all the half-frame cameras I’ve seen provided a vertical format image.

Two of these cameras have come through my hands before being sold on; an EE2 which took the colour images below and an EE3 which was used for the black and white film. They were very basic cameras, with a selenium cell meter around the lens, programmed auto exposure, and fixed focus.

I can’t find an image of my PEN cameras before I sold them, so here’s one from Wikipedia:


By Hiyotada (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Having twice the number of images on a roll of film can be seen as a bonus or drawback; a bonus if you want to get the most return on the money you spend on film purchase and processing, and a drawback if, like me, it takes you a long time to work through a 24 or 36 exposure film, never mind 48 or 72 images. I think that the roll of colour film took from 2010 to 2012 to finish ! Of course, the smaller negative size does place severe constraints on image quality and most of the images below have had a fair bit of processing in Lightroom to get them to this point.


Ultimately the death-knell of half-frame was sounded by full-frame 35mm cameras which were barely any larger in external dimensions but offered negatives of twice the size. These days I’m mostly shooting medium format, and my favourite 35mm back-up is an Olympus 35RC (or even two of them) which offer far more manual control and image quality without any decrease in carrying ability.

I don’t suppose I’ll be shooting any more half-frame but it’s been fun looking back over these images.



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