Topic – Oh no, I’ve trodden in it!

In my teens I spent long hours in a darkroom just to exit in the evenings with very few pictures. It was time-consuming and the results were mediocre at best. When I started with film again, a few years ago, I was firm in my belief that my darkroom days were over. As the computer is the way I look at pictures nowadays, a scanner seemed the best (only?) way to digitize the negatives.

The scanner, a Canon 9000F, with an effective resolution of just short of 2000 dpi successfully scans my negative strips into digital pictures that often does not require much post-processing. Problem solved….

…or so I thought. During Christmas leave I temporarily transformed the basement into a darkroom. A darkroom with the single intent of making some contact prints of a few large format (4″x5″) negatives I have taken during the last year. Shouldn’t have done that. What beautiful results!! I really couldn’t believe what I saw!

While the images look good on screen after scanning, the laser printed result looked definitely worse. I have lived with that. Since most of my film is medium format the work flow of scanning and laser printing gave an acceptable result. 135-film gave decidedly worse result. No problem, stick to medium format (and larger…) and the results are acceptable.

Acceptable results – as I did not really know what potential these negatives had! Not so any longer. The prints were fantastic in comparison to what I have become used to! And this was a first simple try. The contact prints were made on Kentmere Fineprint VC paper and developed with Tetenal Variospeed W (1+9), stop bath was half a decilitre of household acetic acid (12%) in a litre or so of water and the fix bath was Tetenal Superfix Plus (1+9). No complex chemicals or routines.

I am not going to burden the reader with what must be standard darkroom procedures (boring test strips and the like). In retrospect I should have diluted the developer more to keep it slower and be able to stop the development in a more controlled manner. The picture now appeared in an exponential fashion (first very slowly and then much accelerated) so it was difficult to change to stop bath when it was sufficiently developed. But apart from this it was less of a hassle than I remembered.

As the negatives were 4″x5″ so were the prints. What first struck me with the contact prints were how sharp and crisp and detailed they were. With a magnifying glass there were more and more details to study. It is clear that these could be enlarged a great deal and still manage to deliver this sharpness. Wow! On the screen one understands that there are more and more details in a picture only by zooming in, on the print it is evident even from a short glance that there is more, much more, in there.  Double-wow!

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Large format negatives contact printed. My scanner don’t do them justice so here they are presented as snapshots from a Canon S95 camera. The amount of detail (not visible here and not in the 1200 dpi my scanner maxed out at) in the print is surprising.

The second surprise was how the grey scales were taken care of. I never thought the negatives would contain all these minute levels of grey. Literally, I can sit and study just how the whites go into greys and then into black. There is no way the laser printer even can come close to this. It is another dimension altogether!

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As seen above each negative really would benefit from individual treatment…

After seeing the wet results I was immediately baffled. (That “wow” again!). I quickly found some 645 negs and brought out an old Liesegang Rax mod. II enlarger I had lying around. The results almost filled a 24×30 cm paper. Again with surprising detail. There is more in these negs too apparently. Perhaps even my home developed 135-films can take a print without the quality loss I usually expect with my normal digital workflow?

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The text on the GW690II lens rim (Fuji Photo Film Co.) and the Voigtländer Bessa (Landschaft, Gruppe uzw) is popping out in a stunning way. Much better than I have seen in my laser prints!

This revelation puts me in trouble. After stepping into the darkroom there is no going back, at least not if I want the pictures on the wall. Now I want a darkroom, and worse, an enlarger for large format negatives! Neither is realistic unfortunately. I can use a room as a makeshift darkroom, but an LF enlarger is still out of the question. Pity… Hmm, now there is that garden shed… that’s an idea… Future will tell.

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This is a 645 negative enlarged to circa 20×30 cm. On the original print one can easily see how the keyhole is formed and also how the grid paint is matte – not only black! Wow!

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