Category Archives: Large format

View Camera Magazine

I was recently contacted by a writer / photographer in the USA asking if I would like to be included in an article in View Camera Magazine. The article is on photographers using unusual film types, such as duplicating film and X-Ray. I have been shooting on X-Ray film since 1988 and have written a number of articles on the subject, but was surprised and flattered to be asked.

The article is called Alternative Films, Extraordinary results. and is in the July/August 2013 issue.

It is also mentioned on the blog, -resources page

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Spürsinn two bath developer

I was recently asked to give my professional opinion of one of a range of developers made by a company called Spürsinn. These are well known in Germany where they are produced, but I had not heard of them. Looking at the accompanying literature for the two bath developer I had been sent, known as HCD-S and HCD-2, I could see that they had done extensive testing. There were development times and detailed dilutions for 38 films and some of those had a long list of possible ratings and dilutions, -for instance there were 22 for Efke 50 alone.

They claim good results rating many of the films at a wide range of ISO settings. HP5 for instance can be rated between 25 and 25600 ISO. They also claim that these developers have excellent edge sharpness, good tonality and low chemical fog at all ratings. AND they have excellent keeping properties.  My first thoughts were that these were amazing and possibly exaggerated claims, so I began my tests hoping to be astounded, -but at the same time prepared for a disappointed thump of reality. These developers couldn’t be as good as they claim, could they? I needed to find out for myself.

I began my tests with the best film in the Ilford stable for sharpness and fine grain: Delta 100 and I shot 35mm because I wanted to use maximum enlargement to evaluate the quality. The first couple of films were very dense and I thought I had done something wrong. I checked my times and dilutions, shot another couple of test films, and after processing found exactly the same results. I contacted Spürsinn and they were extremely helpful, they looked into it and let me know pretty quickly that I had been working to a misprint (which apparently, 500 previous customers had not noticed!), and they supplied me with corrected time/dilutions, which worked better. The test prints from some of these negatives looked very crisp and the mid tones were punchy –what some refer to as micro-contrast and I found that the crisp detail that this developer produced showed one of my lenses to be not as sharp as I had previously thought!

I set about processing a few other films that I had in my darkroom. Next was FP4, this too turned out with punchy tonality, -ideal for low contrast subjects, but perhaps a bit too punchy for scenes of high contrast, or overexposed frames. This punchy quality is great for showing texture in low contrast subjects, like the mid to dark areas of a scene where you have similar shades, for instance: in weathered wood , like this old block.

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Having processed a few films with the HCD-S / HCD-2 combination, I can see that these developers do produce clean shadow areas and enhanced sharpness, but with the enhanced grain that this micro contrast brings. Personally, I think this is a nice quality in 35mm photographs and one of the reasons why I shoot 35mm. In medium format negatives the grain would be much less noticeable and with even greater sharpness, so that is probably where this developer would really come into its own. I don’t know if you can see from this crop of the 35mm image above, but the detail is very good.

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Density and contrast.

I am of the belief that what is considered correct tonality in a monochrome print is not absolute, but varies from region to region. In Eastern Europe for example, there seems to be a preference for higher contrast in their images. I think that this developer is designed for that kind of approach, but for the British photographer who, I think prefers a longer, smoother tonal range, it might be a little harsh. If you are getting negatives which are of a higher contrast than you are used to, the normal technique is to reduce the development time by 20%. If your negatives are still of a higher contrast than you would prefer, try a reduction of 25%. The instructions for the two bath process here, should, if it were a conventional two bath, need adjusting only in the second bath, but the instructions say to alter both. What they recommend is that you alter your dilution (both baths) but keep the time the same. So calculating 20% off a 1-24 dilution gives roughly 1-30.

Reducing the time should bring the density in the highlights down, with very little effect on shadow detail and would produce a negative with the same sharpness, but with a longer tonal range. I put my theory to the ever helpful Michael Weyl at Spursinn and he was interested in the idea, suggesting that he is going to start work on finding different dilutions for ‘British’ tastes soon.

When I printed from the Delta 100, Delta 400 and FP4 negatives I had processed for this test and review, I found the contrast was requiring pre flash and split grade printing to get a full range out of the negative. The FP4 being the most dense. I then calculated a new dilution with a reduction of 18%, keeping all other factors unaltered. The results were much better, but they were still more dense than the sort of negatives I am used to. The next test will be with a greater reduction.

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It is important to note that this developer, and the others that Spurrsin make, are quite sensitive to dilution and agitation, so once you have established the correct time and dilution for your tastes, good processing technique is important. Working with a quality developer like this requires accuracy in exposure readings, focus and careful control of measurement/dilution/temperature and agitation in processing. Variations in local water hardness can have an effect on outcome, but methods to get around this are explained clearly in the extensive instructions. To reduce the possibility of this happening I would suggest using de-ionised water to make up your developers.

I have not had time to test a lot of films in this developer, but I shall continue to experiment with it. With the huge range of ISO ratings for so many films, there are possibilities for some quite interesting styles of photography. From (I would expect, but I’ve not tested yet) Ilford Pan F rated at 320 ISO for high contrast effects, through to Ilford HP5 rated at 25 ISO for a long, smooth tonal range. I am also interested to see if Ilford Delta 3200 rated at ISO 12800 will produce an exaggerated grain effect. I will be testing these ideas soon and will post my findings here when I have my results.

A friend of mine, Bruce Robbins writes a blog on film based photography which is very informative and has tested the Acurol-N developer from Spur. He can be found at:

Currently, The Spursinn developers can be bought from:

Keyphoto –

MacoDirect – ,

Photoimpex –

and Spurrsin themselves in Europe –


  1. Andrea Ingram

Posted 05/07/2013 at 2:53 pm

Looks like something worth trying I must say

  1. Thomas Binsfeld

Posted 05/03/2014 at 2:42 pm

In the past I have tested several negative developers and always returned to ID-11 which I use since 35 years and know best. (Which is in opinion the most important thing in using negative developers.)

2. Andrew Sanderson

Posted 06/03/2014 at 11:36 pm

Dear Thomas, I think I am beginning to come to the same conclusion. I was trying out some other developers last week (Pyrocat, Microphen, Ilfotec DD-X) and my results were not consistent.

Reciprocity failure

Recently I have been doing a lot of pinhole photography, and due to that I have had to explain to a number of people (unfamiliar with the more technical parts of photography) what reciprocity failure is.

Reciprocity is the relationship between shutter speeds and apertures, which means that as you reduce exposure with a change in, lets say the shutter speed by one stop, then increase the exposure by one stop with the aperture, you will have exactly the same exposure. Each one-stop adjustment of the shutter speed, is equivalent to a one-stop adjustment of the aperture. This holds true throughout the normal use of the camera in most lighting situations.

This linked relationship begins to slip away with exposures longer than one second, and the longer the indicated exposure, the more of a difference there is between the indicated exposure and what is actually needed. Many years ago I included in my book on night photography, a chart for working out the amount of exposure correction you might need in situations where exposures were between 1 second and 17 minutes. I have been referring to this chart for my extended pinhole exposures, and I include a link to a word document here which shows the full chart:

Magazine articles

For a while now, I’ve been meaning to write a post on a series of articles that I’ve had published in Amateur Photographer. Ollie Atwell from the magazine contacted me some time ago and asked me if I’d be interested in describing how and why I had taken some of my pictures. The articles are under the heading of ‘Photo insight’ and so far Ollie has chosen many of my personal favourites. He has very kindly allowed me to reproduce the articles here, so I have added links to the articles on the AP website.

French bed Photo insight Jun 2014 Screen Shot 2014-05-10 at 07.37.43 Screen Shot 2014-05-10 at 07.46.29 Screen Shot 2014-05-10 at 07.51.23Screen Shot 2014-05-10 at 07.49.32


11 February 2012

10 march 2012

14 April 2012

12 May 2012

9 June 2012

30 June 2012

14 July 2012

4 August 2012

25 August 2012

29 September 2012

13 October 2012

17 November 2012

Kirk Toft

It’s not very often that I do a post on another photographer, but recently I had a visit from an old friend who I don’t see often enough, and who’s work I think deserves more attention. Kirk is a photographer who has devoted himself to one process and knows it inside out, he also has a really good eye for a classic composition.

He visited recently to give me a large format camera which he was planning to throw out. I said I’d be happy to give it a good home and have been using it a lot recently, so I’d like to say thanks again Kirk! His generosity is not the reason for this write up though. I genuinely think he deserves more attention. He showed me a selection of his oil transfer prints and they were really gorgeous. I managed to prise one from his grip and I’ll be getting it framed soon.

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Seeing this image here you get no sense of how subtle the tonality is and how the ink sits in the fibres of the paper. Oil transfer is a lovely process, -as are many of the alt processes when they are done well. These prints take a long time to make, and Kirk only produces them for a few months each year, when the humidity and temperature in his house are favourable. Each one is a special object.

One Comment

  1. Andrea Ingram

Posted 14/12/2012 at 10:21 am

What a lovely image. And such lovely work on the interweb too.
I have been wrestling somewhat unsuccessfully with this process recently. Coating paper with gelatine – only to have it fall off again. Now resorting to fixed fb paper! How humid should it be to do such things? It’s always damp here next to the sea!
Look forward to an online tutorial!
Greetings for the season.

Making large copy negatives for alt processes

When I need to produce a Gum print or a Cyanotype, I sometimes use large format original negatives. More often than not I use copynegs made from an RC print as this gives me much more control and flexibility.

The first thing I do is make an RC print to the size that I need my final gum print to be, with all the burning in and dodging that the image requires. I then place that face down on a sheet of either; Lith film, Line film, Ortho film, X-ray film or medical Subtraction film (All of these have different properties, ISOs and contrast, so stick to one and understand how to get the best from it. I would suggest using Ilford Ortho film as it is easy to obtain and works really well). This is placed in a contact printing frame or under thick glass and exposed under the enlarger. An exposure is given and the film is developed for around 1 minute in paper developer under red safelight (shorter times give lower contrast, -longer times give more contrast). Stop and fix as usual. A 5 minute wash in running water is adequate for these types of film. Be aware though that x-ray film has a very soft emulsion and is easily damaged.

To begin with, make a few negatives of varying contrast and density, then when you have become more proficient, you will have an idea which kind of negative works best for the process you are using. I prefer to make two negatives when Gum printing, as this gives me better separation in the tones.

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The advantages of this method are that you can make a large negative from any size original, you can get the contrast exactly right for your process and you don’t have to worry about damaging your negative when working with the alt process. I also prefer having a large border around my copy negatives, as this gives a better margin for attaching masking tape when re-aligning for multiple printing.


  1. Clive France

Posted 30/07/2013 at 10:37 am

Thanks for the excellent advice. Before I start, I just want to check that Aristo Ortho Litho film can be developed in normal paper developer. Freestyle suggests “for high contrast negatives, use this film with Arista A&B Lith developer or any standard lith developer.”

  1. sandy

Posted 24/09/2013 at 11:53 am

Dear Clive, I have not used Arista, but I expect it will behave in a similar manner to the others I have experience of. If you are wanting a longer tonal range, Ilford Multigrade, or similar paper developer will give you this if used at half strength. Experiment with different dev times to get the contrast you require.
Regards, Andrew.

A nice discovery

I was looking through a box of old lenses and collected junk earlier this year, with an idea to sell off some bits on Ebay. I had sold some unused brass lenses, enlarging lenses and old cameras, and was about to list a little lens I had found languishing in the bottom of the box. I had acquired it so long ago, that I couldn’t recall where from. When I did a little research to pad out my description it made me reconsider my decision. So before I listed it, I tried it on my 10×8 camera. -Wow! it almost covered the whole negative area, and the corner vignetting was rather interesting. I won’t be selling it now, and I am looking forward to doing more with this lens. It is a Taylor Hobson Cooke Series VIIb 108mm Wide angle Anastigmat. The information online states that it is meant for a 7×5 camera, but I like seeing what it will do at full stretch.

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Winter light

I love the low sun and long shadows that are a feature of winter days. Shadows have been a fascination of mine for many years and will continue to be I expect. Every sunny winter morning the light shines directly into our kitchen and on this occasion I placed a piece of driftwood on the table to explore the distorted and extended shadows.

Long shadows

Process, enlarging and simple lenses

I have been using large format cameras alongside other smaller formats for many years. Large format cameras have traditionally been associated with the master photographers, or with high end commercial work, so when I began, I worried about getting ‘perfect’ negatives like the experts. It took me many years to understand that they could be used in a much more relaxed way too.

I have 5×4, 5×7, and 10×8 cameras which all produce very detailed negatives. I can get high quality images from any of them if I need to, but sometimes I really enjoy using them purely for the fun of working in a different way. I often put unusual materials in the camera, such as X-Ray film, graphic Arts film, or Photographic Paper. These materials do not produce technically high quality negatives, but they do produce exciting and interesting images.

All of the light sensitive materials mentioned above are rather slow, that is to say, they need much more light to produce an image. This is actually an advantage, as it means that I can do without a shutter to control the light.  I simply expose by uncovering the lens for a period of time. This can be as little as a second, or much longer, -sometimes minutes.


Choosing lenses without the need for a  shutter opens up all sorts of possibilities. A high quality lens without a shutter is known as a Process Lens. These can be found on Ebay much more cheaply than the type with shutters built in.

I have used process lenses, enlarger lenses, photocopier lenses and also simple optics such as a magnifying glass. All produce something unique and I find this really exciting.

If you are shooting on slow, or unusual materials and not too concerned about having a really sharp, well corrected lens, then you have an enormous range to choose from.

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Process lenses.

For the uninitiated, a general description of a process lens is; A lens without a shutter which gives a flat field of focus. These lenses have been made for copying and reproduction and are made for a particular application. Using them in a way that they were not designed for gives interesting results.

They were designed to be flat field and were optimised for 1-1 reproduction (which makes them great for close up work). These lenses were used in the graphic arts industry for making printing plates and many of these lenses will give excellent quality if stopped down. Some are fixed at one aperture, so are only any use in low light or with very slow emulsions.

Enlarger lenses.

Similar to a process lens, in that they are flat field, but with the advantage of having a variable aperture.

Basically, they are process lenses mounted in reverse. Any enlarger lens can be used on a 5×4 camera, but most will give only a small image on the film unless they are over 150mm focal length (5×4 camera). Some interesting results can be obtained using a lens which is too small, the most obvious being a totally circular image in the centre of the film.

Photocopier lenses.

Again, these are process lenses, but they do not have a controllable aperture. They must be used wide open, this limits the situations in which they can be used.

Projector lenses.

These are amongst my favourites, they are usually very bright lenses and give really lovely out of focus areas. In the picture above you can see an 89mm f1.9 Rosslyte projector lens attached to an Olympus OM10.

Magnifying glass.

An uncorrected (very soft focus), very fast lens with no aperture. The amount of light coming into the camera is often too much even for these slow emulsions. A makeshift aperture could be fashioned out of black card which would reduce the light and also give a clearer, sharper image, though this would still be soft in comparison with proper optics.

Using Process, enlarging and simple lenses on a camera will give your images a different look from those taken using conventional optics. I am grouping these all together because I use all of them at various times to produce some of the work I am interested in. Each type has different characteristics, methods of use and drawbacks. Sometimes those characteristics and drawbacks cause problems out in the field, but they also are capable of beautiful results and that’s why I still think they are worth the effort.

Obtaining these types of lenses is easy. Process lenses appear on Ebay regularly and do not generally cost much, -certainly nowhere near the original cost that they would have been when in proper use. Enlarging lenses usually go for less than £25.00. Camera fairs and antique / junk fairs occasionally have something of interest, -I found a 240mm f4.5 photocopier lens a few months ago which will cover 10×8. It only cost me £4.00.

Anything you can get hold of is going to give you something different than the ‘normal’ optics that are supposed to be used on these cameras. Try it, see what sort of shot suits your unusual lens. Some things will be unsatisfactory, but other shots will be magical.

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  1. Richard

Posted 16/10/2012 at 12:37 pm

I agree that these lenses are great to play with, especially on 4×5 and 10×8. Glad I found these pages and I wish you the best.

I don’t quite agree with your definition of “process lens” however. Process lenses are usually optimised for 1:1 (as you say) but are optimised for low distortions, not flat field. Obviously low distortion is what you want when copying a map, for example. Most are not flat field but get very close to flat field when stopped down. The Apo Ronar, for example, is an excellent process lens that is often used pictorially (I have a couple), but is not adequately flat until stopped to about f/22. Enlarger lenses are however (at least supposed to be) flat field and are often better in terms of contrast, though perhaps not as sharp.

  1. sandy

Posted 16/10/2012 at 9:09 pm

Dear Richard, thank you for your clarification. i didn’t want to get into a big discussion about the finer details of what is and and what is not flat field, or process, I just wanted to inspire a few photographers who might not have considered these lenses for large format use.


Paper negatives in Kent

Last month I visited an artist friend in Deal, Kent and took along the Kodak Specialist 5×7, shooting paper negatives on some of my remaining stock of Kentona paper. I had a really nice time. We went to see a painter called Jo Aylward and stayed in the house of another artist called Ruby.

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