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.
Using the Walker Titan pinhole 5×4.
I have been using the Walker pinhole camera for a few months now, though not exclusively because I’ve been busy with a lot of paper negative stuff. Having shot with it in a few different locations, I have really grown to love it.
When I’ve shot pinhole stuff before, I’ve always enjoyed making the cameras, -and for me this has been an important part of the satisfaction at the end result. I thought at first that using an ‘off the shelf’ camera would be less likely to satisfy and wouldn’t have the quirks of a home made one. I have been surprised to find that this simple plastic box is actually one of my favourite pinhole cameras of all time, -and I’ve been making them since 1978!
Angle of view. I prefer wide and super wide pinhole cameras over ones that mimic a standard lens, mainly because I enjoy the distortions that occur when objects are placed close to the camera. The Walker has an equivalent angle of view to a 70mm lens on a 5×4 camera and considering that 90mm is a pretty wide lens on this format, it would seem that this was in the realm of super wide. It is roughly equivalent to an 18mm lens on a 35mm camera, so that gives you some idea. Previous to using this, I had been using a home made 10×8 pinhole camera which had an angle of view equivalent to an 11mm lens on 35mm. This really did distort and had quite dark vignetting in the corners. Mike seems to have got the angle of view exactly right with this camera, as there is sufficient distortion (yes, I know it’s rectilinear, -no pedantry please), but virtually no vignetting.
Using it is simplicity itself. A standard 5×4 dark slide fits in with a pleasing click and you are ready to expose by removing the tethered plastic cap. With home made pinholes, especially if made from tins or cardboard boxes, there is always the problem of positioning and stability. Unless you go to the trouble of gluing a threaded nut to the base of your tin (no point doing it with cardboard), you are limited to shooting from the ground or any place you can rest it, -this severely limits your compositional options. With a properly made camera you are provided with a tripod bush -two in fact on the Walker Titan, so shooting from a tripod becomes the normal method and opens up all sorts of image making possibilities.
All of the shots I have shown here, were done on Ilford Ortho film. It is great for this kind of thing because long exposures give nicer results (Ortho is 25 ISO -or less, if you want more tonality out of it). I like long exposures for pinhole, because things happen during the exposure which you hadn’t planned for, and provide unexpected and interesting results.
All exposures were all 90 seconds, and during that time people have stood in the scene for a while and then wandered off, leaving a ghost (beach scene) and the boats sitting in the corner of the harbour were bobbing about violently, as the sea was quite rough and have become very indistinct on the pinhole shot.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
First posted 23 January 2012
Firstly, let me apologise for the late update of my blog. I have had much to think about for the last few months and feel like a different person now. Circumstances have forced upon me a new perspective. Consequently, I have been unable to pursue my usual interests in life and work for a number of months.
For many years I have cycled through all kinds of photography and printing methods, trying to increase my skills and abilities in each incrementally. There is so much that one can do in photography and so many styles to follow. I have been fascinated by virtually every aspect of photography that I have seen, and tried my hand at most of them. All of this takes many years, and I have woken up to the fact that I cannot do everything that I want to.
I have found that time is not as abundant as it once was, so I have to let some things drop. I have decided to concentrate more on my paper negative work, my portraiture, my darkroom workshops and if I still have time I’ll do some more gum printing. If anyone comes to me for a workshop I will of course cover whatever subject or style I have knowledge of, but my personal work has to be narrowed down or it will not grow. The paper negative work is going to be my main focus though, so expect some coverage in the photographic press over the next year or so,…
Workshop enquiries; email@example.com
First posted 21 April 2011
Looking at an analogue or digital hand meter for the first time can be very confusing, there are many options and often an overload of information. There are multi metering modes on advanced modern digital types which I find confusing even after using meters for thirty years, so I thought I might write a little about how to simplify matters and ensure consistent results.
Firstly, whatever you point a light meter at is read by the meter as a mid grey. It does this so that the whites are white and the blacks are black and to do that, it puts the exposure in the middle. To make this work, there must either be a range of brightness in the scene, or something which is already a mid grey.
Any and all light meters do this, and this is why when shooting in snow the hurried metering method often gives grey and underexposed areas where white should be the predominant tone. Another common mistake amongst beginners is to take shots looking up at trees or buildings without thinking of how bright the sky is. This causes the meter to read far too much brightness in the scene and the subjects end up as silhouettes against a grey sky. Even when a hand meter is used, false readings can arise from simple mistakes, such as having your shadow over the meter.
So let’s look at the different ways of metering; Reflected, Incident, Spot and Average.
Reflected is simply pointing a meter at something and seeing how bright it is, how much light is reflected from it. The problem though, is that if you point it at something rather dark, you will get an overexposed shot and pointing it at something light will give an underexposed shot.
Incident is a method which reads how much light is falling ON THE METER. This avoids the problems above. When using a hand meter, taking an incident reading will produce an excellent negative 99% of the time (it’s not much good with backlit subjects).
An incident reading is when a white plastic cone is fitted over the light cell allowing the meter to read light falling on the meter, rather than light reflected off the subject. The important thing is that the meter should be pointed towards the camera from the position of the subject, not pointed at the light source. If you are unable to stand in the position of the subject then simply point the meter in the same direction, but from a manageable position. As long as the direction of the light is the same where you take the reading and in the scene, the exposure will be the same.
One of the most reliable methods is spot metering. Not for taking a number of readings to average out the exposure as some meters permit you to do, as this can often lead to an incorrect reading (Because the important brightness is always two stops up from deep shadow, not half way between deep shadow and bright white). Finding the all important deep shadow tone, ( Zone III ) takes practice. If you can identify this tone in a scene and read it, you then underexpose that reading by two stops, which gives you zone V – which is two zones along. This may seem confusing, as the explanation is more complicated than the doing.
A simpler method is to set the spot meter to a film speed two stops higher than you are actually using, take a reading from deep shadow, set the camera accordingly and shoot. The film rating is not actually changed, so no alteration of dev time is necessary.
Because the meter is set two stops higher, it reads the shadows brighter than they are, the meter then suggests a faster shutter speed/smaller aperture. Shooting at this exposure causes the deep shadows to be two stops underexposed (from mid grey) which is exactly where you want them.
The explanation as I say often seems complicated, but in practice it is quite easy. give all methods a go and see which works best for you.
First posted 4 February 2011
Just before Christmas, I wrote and self published a book on the paper negative process. This technique is something I’ve worked with since the late seventies and one which I am particularly fond of. For those of you unfamiliar with it, in it’s simplest form it is just using photographic paper in the camera instead of film. The reduced ISO, paper texture and Orthochromatic response give a look totally unlike film and not easily faked digitally. In fact, there would be no point trying to fake it, as most of the pleasure comes from the slight unpredictability of the process.
Occasionally this is frustrating, but the flipside is when beautiful surprises occur and provide you with amazing images.
The book was self published on Blurb.com using the Booksmart software. Previous books done this way had all been purely images. This time I had to marry up text with image and attempt page layouts.
That in itself is not too difficult, the Booksmart software gives templates for drag and drop simplicity. However, I hadn’t bargained for how totally bloody frustrating the software could be!
It allowed me to drop sections of text in, but as soon as I tried to change a word or add a new bit, the font size would jump from 8 to 16 and the line below would drop down two spaces. Each time I tried to rectify the problem things just got worse! Whole pages of text would jump across to the previous page and lay themselves over a full page image! Aaaarrrggh!
I battled on and just got the book out in time for a few Christmas sales, only to find that there were one or two typing mistakes and the colour cast of some scanned prints had given a very green look to a few images. Also, the font size was a little too large when seen in hard copy, something that is difficult to judge on screen.
I set about producing a second edition immediately and came up against all the previous problems. Hopefully, this version is a little tidier.
The second edition of the book is now available and I apologise to anyone who bought and was disappointed by the style of the first. The information is still sound, take consolation in the fact that you have a very rare book -only six copies sold I believe.
The new book can be seen here;