Thursday, December 29, 2016

Effects of Exposure and Development Times on Wet Plate Collodion

   Recently I have been seeing a lot of people having problems identifying the signs of their plates being either overdeveloped or overexposed, so I decided to do the following simple exercise that should make it easier for folks with a discerning eye to see if one of these troubles may be possibly plaguing them at the moment.

  I might have mentioned before that when working with wet plate collodion it is possible to overexpose and underdevelop a plate and still achieve a tolerably good plate.  It is also possible to SLIGHTLY underexpose and overdevelop, but only very slightly so before serious ugliness sets in.
For absolute best results of course there's really nothing like nailing the exposure within 1/4 of a stop and having development run the length of time which you have previously determined to be the best based on your collodion and developer formula.  We all know however that bullseye is sometimes hard to hit, so here's what we can do to fudge it a tad.

  I have always develop by inspection.  I use slow developer and use it cold.  I know that with that I can usually go to about 50sec without any ill affects.  With a perfect exposure I see the highlights start to appear at about 7-8 seconds, mid-tones come in at about 15-20 and then the shadows start building.  Sometimes though I don't nail my exposure (especially with the very first plate of the day) and I see the highlights pop up after only 4-5 seconds.  That's when I know I'll have to stop development early ('pull' is the film term for that).  Sometimes I slightly underexpose and don't see the highlights come up only after 10 seconds - that's when I know I may be in trouble, but I still 'push' development longer just a bit hoping that even at 60-65sec mark the fog of overdevelopment won't show....  I find that if anything it's better to expose a little more and cut development a bit short than ti underexpose and try pushing it.

  When plates are OVEREXPOSED and underdeveloped they still have nice and clear shadows, but the highlights are not as bight and mid-tones are also a bit flatter and muddier.  They aren't all that bad looking.
  When plate are UNDEREXPOESD and overdeveloped it's a different story though.  Just a slight overdevelopment my cause only a barely visible problem, but it will get worse very quickly as you keep pushing development.  There are MANY different types of 'fog' that are possible with wet plate, but the one that comes from overdevelopment is probably the ugliest.  Luckily it's also one that is the easiest to identify.  It looks as if there are tiny golden crystals lodged in the dark areas of your image.  They shimmer slightly in the light.  it tends to happen first in the parts of the plate where the collodion is thickest, so a lot of times, when you just barely overdeveloped, you'll see those crystals outlining the area of your plate where the collodion was first poured on.

  So to demonstrate the theory I made 5 plates today.  I shot in a place right by the darkroom where I shoot a lot, so I know that my ideal exposure there is about 3 seconds (Dallmayer 2B lens did have a Waterhouse stop in and at the given bellows extension the effective aperture was f6.5).  The 5 plates were thus given the following exposure/development times in seconds:

1) 3/50 - normal
2) 6/30 - one stop overexposed and 40% less development
3) 12/20 - two stops overexposed and 60% less development
4) 2/75 - about 2/3 stop underexposed and 50% overdeveloped 
5) 1/115 - about 1.5 stops underexposed and 130% overdeveloped 

  Here are the 5 plates.  Center one is normal #1, top left is #2, bottom left is #3, top right #4, bottom right #5

  Oh, just for reference - here's the setup I shot in color.  As you may know yellow of the brass photographs really dark, but I chose that on purpose so that there would be big empty area where the first signs on overdevelopment would show on plate #4.

 So here are the plates individually.  I shot all these on a copy stand with Canon 5DII, nothing was done in photoshop to clean them up or change brightness or contrast.


Overexposed by 1 stop - underdeveloped by 40%
Overexposed by 2 stop - underdeveloped by 60%

Underexposed by 2/3 of a stop and 50% more development than normal

Underexposed by 1.5 of a stop and 115% more development than normal

  As you can see the last plate is just terrible.  Crystallization galore! However in the slightly underexposed and only a bit overdeveloped one the crystallization is only really evident in the lower part of the lens barrel.  But under magnification it's there for sure.  That's probably where the edge of my puddle stopped initially when pouring and so the thickest collodion deposit is right there in that crescent-shaped area.  Here's a closeup of that spot.  There's more crystals that you can see in the full plate image, but in real life there are slightly less apparent than in the image below.  Still, best not to let that happen to you!

  Oh, and some of you may wonder about the chemistry I use for this test so here it is.

  Fresh UVP#3 Collodion mixed from A/B stock about 5 days ago (available from - excellent and super fast collodion, but I still can't get rid of those darn lighter areas you see on top of each plate...  very weird, but that's a topic for more experimentation and possibly another future blog entry)

  Developer at about 45-50°F as follows:
  Water 350ml
  Iron Sulfate - 7.5g
  Glacial Acetic Acid - 10ml
  95% Grain Alcohol - 15ml
  I sincerely hope this was at least somewhat helpful to at least some of you.

EDIT:  Someone asked if overdevelopment fog wipes off.  NO WAY - this stuff is deep there.  It really does look totally different from all the other types of fog possible...

EDIT 2:   Here's a good exercise that you may want to do to determine what is the absolute MAXIMUM amount of development time that your developer will allow.  It'll take only an hour or less and it'll be helpful - believe me.
  Coat and sensitize a plate and then develop it for just a little longer than you normally do. Keep careful track of time in developer.  Look for the signs of golden-looking crystals.  Don't see them?  Do another plate for just a little longer.   Do a few plates until you start seeing those crystals.  Again - they usually appear first in the center of the plate where collodion first came in contact with the plate during your pour.
  So say you start seeing then at 25sec (most people use more concentrated developer than I do their usual development times are 15-20sec).  That means you can PUSH development to about say 22-23sec without ill effects.
  Make sure to note the temperature of your developer - hotter developer will work fast, colder will be slower, kinda obvious, but I thought I'd mention that.


Saturday, December 24, 2016

1960s Mec-16 SB 16mm Camera Back in Use

  Today I had a little fun with a Mec-16 SB camera, so I thought it'd be good to post a little something about my experience.

  Mec-16 SB was the later model of the original Mec-16.  The first model was great and all, but the SB, which was introduced in 1960, was the very first camera of any format to feature TTL metering. 
  This camera came to me a couple of weeks ago among a large lot of odds and ends I picked up in San Diego.  At first I wasn't too excited about it other than thinking that it's got a pretty nifty design reminiscent of a Minox on steroids.  Obviously the film, which came in proprietary canisters, is no longer being supplied by the company and so I thought I would sell it.  However, when it was brought to my attention that this was the first TTL metering camera and thus is a rather historic piece of equipment I knew it was a keeper and got a bug to shoot it.

  First, wanting to see what it's capable of, I decided to make some prints from a 1960s roll of film that was actually developed back in the day and was included with the haul.  

  I must say that I was rather disappointed though as the prints came out fairly soft.  I knew something wasn't right... I mean I got better looking 8x10s out of my Minox than the 5x7 prints shown below. The real hint that this camera is capable of better images though came when while looking at the negatives thought the grain focuser under enlargement I could not see ANY grain.  I don't know what kind of film it was, but there was not even a hint of grain - everything was uniformly mushy...  I still made these two prints just to have something to go from.

  Next was the task of finding film and loading it up once more.  At first I bought Fuji microfilm, thinking it would probably be the sharpest thing available.  Unfortunately when I went to load it I discovered that microfilm is not perforated and so that didn't work...  Luckily a local camera store happened to have some old Eastman Double-X 16mm movie stock.  I mean OLD, I don't know how old that stuff is or how it was stored, but it's pretty toast - the base is fogged worse than some of the films I've shot from the 50s...   If that 2003 on the box refers to the expiration date than this film was stored terribly... Still, better than nothing for sure!

  Loading the cartridges is both very easy and a little tricky.  The easy part is that there's no spool inside, so all you have to do is slide the correct length of film (about 19in) in there.  The trick is to have the cut on the end that you slide in not going across sprocket holes - otherwise it catches on something once the first inch or so is inserted.  If the end is nice and straight though it seems to go in relatively willingly.  Opening 16mm spool of film, measuring out and cutting off a strip of correct length and then feeding into a canister has to be done in total darkness of course.

  I did actually have the manual that came with it, but of course I forgot it at home...  Well, thank goodness for Butkus!  What!?  You don't know who Butkus is???  For shame!  Mr. Butkus has dedicated countless hours of his life scanning operational manuals for every camera he could find and making them available online in PDF form for free!  He does ask that every once in a while you drop him a buck of two and I do it once or twice a year - I mean the amount of times I found useful info on his site as mind-boggling.  Click here to get redirected to his site.  Drop him a few bucks - the man's a living analog photography saint.

  Today was nice day in San Diego with patches of sunshine interrupted by light drizzle and complete with a very brief but exciting little hail storm, which I totally missed except for the sound of it pounding the AC unit outside the darkroom.  I roamed about the neighborhood and shot off almost all of the 24 frames on random subjects distant and close.  When I got back to the darkroom I still had a few frames left and what's a photographer to do at that point other than to finish the roll with a few selfies? 

  Now, I don't have a dedicated 16mm developing reel (and I'll be looking for one now), but what I do have is a universal roll film developing contraption affectionately known as the Pixie Tray.   It's simply filled up with about 120ml of developer and then, once again in complete darkness, the film is fed under middle bar and agitated manually by pulling the ends up and down.  

  Yes, a real reel would be best, not only because I wouldn't have had to be in the dark for 6min, but this little Pixie is obviously prone to creating little scratches as the film slides along the hard rubber.  In the end I was actually happily surprised as to how few of those scratches I managed to get.  
  By the way, I developed in Rodinal 1:25 for 6min after exposing for ISO100.  This film being so fogged I think next time I'll shoot it at ISO50....
  When the buzzer on a Gralab timer went off (scaring me as usual) the film was simply thrown in a tray full of fixer and after a minute or so the light was turned on and I was rewarded by seeing that indeed some kind of imagery was recorded there.

  Back at the enlarger I was glad to see that indeed this film has some grain to it and the detail was showing.  I think this film isn't the highest resolution one I probably could get my hands on.  It's suggested ISO is actually 200 and there's a 100 speed Adox on the market in Canada.  Maybe I can' find it in US or I'll just splurge on a roll from abroad - after all 100ft of film makes for about 70 Mec-16 rolls.  Also a thing to note - there were two lenses offered with the SB model - an f2 6-element Rodenstock and an f2.8 4-element Enna.  Unfortunately mine has the 2.8 lens, so maybe the Rodenstock would have been slightly sharper...

  So, without further rambling here are the results of today's photo adventure with a 1960 Mec-16 SB.
Yours truly - no filter.

LeStats Lion - UV filter

Wires and Clouds - yellow filter
(not too bad as far as sharpness if you can see the wires, right?)

  Well, I hope you have enjoyed this quick write-up and even if you didn't I still want to wish you a very Happy New Year!