35mm enlarging - who is passionate about it?

Discussion in 'Enlarging' started by Thomas Bertilsson, May 2, 2011.

  1. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    Lately I have come to really enjoy photography through the craft of printing 35mm black and white negatives, and I'm wondering if there are others out there that would like to carry a conversation specifically about this craft.

    What makes it so interesting to me, is that all we do becomes so magnified; our process really comes under some severe scrutiny, and any mistake we make, and any flaw, is very obviously displayed at large magnification. So it sharpens our skills, and keeps us on our toes.

    At the same time I am absolutely speechless with the quality that can be achieved with the small negatives. Recently I purchased a Leitz Focomat V35 enlarger, and it wasn't until I used this enlarger that would fully realize, and appreciate, the full potential of the 35mm format.
    Print size varies from 6x8" to 13.5x18", with the bulk being 9x12", and I use Pentax KX and Spotmatic cameras to photograph. I use Fuji Neopan Acros, Kodak TMax 400, and Ilford Delta 3200. Acros / TMY developed in Xtol, and D3200 in Rodinal 1+25.

    Discovery: In the past I used a lot of FP4+ and Tri-X film, developed in Pyrocat-HD, Ilfotec DD-X, or Diafine. When I now print those negatives they start to fall apart at about 10x enlargement, or 9x12" print size. The DD-X negatives definitely hold up the very best compared to the other two.
    Comparing prints from the old negatives to prints made from the new films I use, it's like night and day. Acros negatives make for an almost grain free 16x20. TMax 400 makes incredible portraits that are close-up. They are sharp, have beautiful contrast, and grain is far from objectionable. Delta 3200 is the big surprise; its resolving power is higher than FP4+. I actually get sharper prints from D3200, and they have more detail. More grain too, obviously.

    The question that keeps popping into my mind is why I even bother with medium format at the sizes I print, which is up to 16x20 with cropped negatives.
    Don't get me wrong, I'll keep the Hasselblad around, of course. I love it, and my landscapes are square, not rectangular.
    But I'm so fascinated with the quality that can be had from 35mm. Prints that are vivid, sharp, full of life and contrast, even at 16x enlargement. I've never been able to do that before, and it is even more satisfying to see such a print emerge from the print trays than one made from a larger format.

    Anybody else out there that appreciate the 35mm format like I do?
     
  2. brucemuir

    brucemuir Member

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    Im not questioning you just curious.
    What do you think gives you so much better results.
    Is it the enlarging lens? (probably the better emulsions these days also)

    Older school 400 speed films did keep you in line when it came to large prints.
    I'll have to see how the Neo 400 does.
    I've only gone back to 35 recently due to the tonal gradations I can get even with 645.

    How are you liking the tonal representation from your 135 at these larger sizes?
     
  3. BetterSense

    BetterSense Member

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    I definitely get that "why don't I shoot more 35mm" feeling when I print some nice 35mm negatives. It's probably because I don't have any really good quality medium format cameras, whereas I can afford pro-level 35mm equipment. 35mm cameras are so much infinitely more convenient and fast to use as well. To me, photography can be grouped into "tripod photography" and "handheld photography". If the camera is on a tripod, it might as well be large format. If it's being handheld, you might as well just use 35mm. The domain of the medium format camera is in high-volume studio portraiture, which I don't do.
     
  4. ath

    ath Member

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    I'm a 99% 35mm guy. I have a good 645 System but most times 35mm is simply good enough. Especially with modern 100 ASA film (or the TMY-2).
    35mm makes it easier "to be there".
     
  5. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    To Bruce.

    I attribute a lot of the results I'm getting to the enlarger. Even with the same enlarging lens, my prints are better from the Focomat than from my Omega Pro-Lab. They are sharper, less grainy, and always perfectly aligned. The pictures just have better impact. You have to consider the Focomat enlarger as the Rolls Royce enlarger for 35mm, and keep in mind that Leitz (Leica) also make microscopes.

    Tonal renditions are gorgeous. Even at very large magnification, a TMax 100 or Fuji Acros negative will give incredibly smooth gradations, grayscale to grayscale, or really crisp shifts from dark to bright.

    I lack nothing in tonal gradation compared to my Hasselblad negatives, at least not in the sizes I'm printing. You can probably prove mathematically that there are differences between a 35mm negative and a 120 negative, as far as tonal gradations are concerned.
    Often when I show pictures to others, I am commended for the print quality I achieve, and I am extremely critical of the final results. Only the very best results count to me, and yet when I view prints from 120 Hasselblad and 35mm Pentax, side by side, I don't feel like anything is lacking from the 35mm prints.

    It's quite startling, to be honest. Before I got the Focomat, I would have never thought it was possible to make prints of that quality from 35mm. Not even by a long shot.
     
  6. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    This article does explain it extremely well:

    http://www.qpcard.se/BizPart.aspx?tabId=76

    It really digs very deeply into all of the aspects of lens design, film resolution, lens format resolution, depth of field, etc... I think it's an extremely well researched and written article.

    Most people simply doesn't want to believe that 35mm can be an extremely serious contender, even for landscapes, if all aspects of photography is applied properly and with a lot of critical thinking.
     
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  7. puptent

    puptent Member

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    Thomas, thank you for the link, an article that confirms what I've thought for awhile. I've always wondered about the faster shutter speeds, or the greater range of shutter speeds, available in 35mm, and how best to utilize the relationship between film speed and exposure times. When I was young I thought everything had to be shot on tri-X, and if you weren't pushing your film you weren't a photographer (I did A LOT of motorcycle racing work at the time). Now that my subjects seldom move, I find myself attracted to the slower films, and a desire to experiment with Pyro-PMK. I am not making Ansel Adams sized enlargements, 11X14 paper is the largest I've gone in my darkroom, I have had custom labs make Kodachrome enlargements for me a little bigger, and they've been acceptable (and that film was shot 35 yrears ago with an East German camera and lens!). Over the years I've amassed a great deal of Olympus OM gear, and from time to time I find myself thinking about trading in on a 6X7 camera, but just have never been able to pull the trigger. Anyway, as long as quality film is manufactured for 35mm (God, but I miss Kodachrome, and Cibachrome!) I think that for the majority of photographer's out there, the format defininetly has a place. On my wish list is a perspective correcting lens for architectural shots, and then what would I be lacking for what I do? I think what will limit us the most is paper...
     
  8. PVia

    PVia Member

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    Thomas, I agree...and I'd love to try that enlarger sometime ;-)

    I use an Omega D5, and am very happy with 35mm results, but everything that goes before the enlarging stage needs to be carefully looked after. No room for sloppy exposure, dev, etc. When a negative is right, it just sings in 35mm...I love when that happens!

    Also, I recommend to everyone to see some Salgado prints in person if possible...just amazing work both behind the camera and in the darkroom.
     
  9. Rick A

    Rick A Subscriber

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    I'm not just passionate about 35mm, I am passionate for printing any format. I dont have a fondness for any one in particular, they all have their special quirkiness that intrigues me. Its also not about how large you can wring out of small negatives, more about finding the right feel and look. Which paper will accentuate the mood, contrast control for mood, etc.
     
  10. mgb74

    mgb74 Subscriber

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    Very interesting thread. Reinforces just how good lenses of the 70s and 80s are. But much depends on understanding of film, paper and processing - which you've accomplished.

    No doubt the optical path from negative to paper is as critical as the optical path from subject to film. I'm curious about your assessment that "Even with the same enlarging lens, my prints are better from the Focomat than from my Omega Pro-Lab. They are sharper, less grainy, and always perfectly aligned. The pictures just have better impact.".

    I get the "perfectly aligned". But what causes the prints (from the same neg and same lens) to be sharper and less grainy? I could only attribute this to the quality of light reaching the negative. Is this due to the quality of the Focomat (design, construction, materials) and/or the fact that it's 35mm only?

    And, while not doubting your observations, do others (in a blind comparison) see the same level of difference?
     
  11. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

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    Assuming correct alignment, and a given lens, with condenser enlarging, it is possible there could be small variations in perceived acutance depending on the enlarger. The light source, and the degree of collimation could make a print appear more or less sharp - although the differences would likely be slight. Condenser systems fall somewhere between diffusion and point source, but there is variability. However assuming no change in contrast, one would expect perceived sharpness and graininess to be a tradeoff. So I'm puzzled as to why one would observe both increased apparent sharpness and reduced graininess at the same time - unless the increased sharpness actually tends to mask the overall sense of graininess from a visual perspective. That could be the case. These things tend to be pretty subjective.
     
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  12. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    I can only guess why the prints are physically better than from the Omega, but here are some thoughts perhaps worth pondering:
    1. It's a diffusion light source - this is part of the reason for the reduction in grain. One could perhaps argue that any diffusion light source would do the same, and I would have to agree. I really think it boils down to how the enlarger is designed, and how its attributes are applied.
    2. The Leitz is a real work of precision. Any other enlarger is a little rickety here, lose there, has to be aligned every now and then, etc. This thing is so solid, and so sturdy, that every time I adjust the arm I am amazed.
    3. I even don't have to spot my prints as much when I use this enlarger. That is also a big surprise. I think it all boils down to having a highly precise mechanism, that focuses absolutely perfectly on the emulsion, while most of the dust will be on the film base or at least not IN the emulsion.

    I have no proof for the above. But the Leitz just feels much more like a precision tool than the Omega every well. It's kind of like comparing the handling of a Porsche with a freight truck. One handles with precision, the other not so much.

    Either way, if 35mm enlarging appeals to you, if you can manage it, try to find a way to at least try one of these enlargers. It has profoundly changed how I work, and how I think of the 35mm format.
     
  13. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    Believe me when I say that nobody is more surprised and puzzled than I am. But I know what I see in my own prints, and others viewing them say the same thing. I am not sure I'll ever be able to explain it.
     
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  15. ic-racer

    ic-racer Member

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    Since getting into 8x10 I have been doing less and less 16x20 enlargements of 35mm frames. In fact, to maintain that detail I love in my prints, I'm printing almost all my 35mm as 4x6" on an 8x10 sheet of paper. I think they hold up pretty well.

    Looking back at my favorite 16x20 enlargements from hand-held 35mm, some of my best are from Ilford XP-1. It had about the same grain as T-max 100, with a 4-times-faster shutter speed. The combination lead to some great negatives for printing large.

    Nowdays I use any 35mm film I can get my hands on, new, expired, etc.

    In terms of enlargers, I understand all your statements and agree.

    I do use a 4x5 enlarger for 35mm, however, it is a dedicated unit. I use a separate, nearly identical one one for 4x5 and MF.

    The dedicated 35mm enlarger has the 35mm mixing box, a solid lens mount (no turret), the negative stage is carefully shimmed with tape. The mixing box has too much wiggle room and it is precicely held in place with tape. The mixing box, negative carrier and lens all have too much wiggle room to be perfectly centered so I created index marks for the correct orientation. The lens is centerd using the diffraction pattern from the laser. There is a false baseboard with a 4 point screw alignment to make the negative stage (non-adjustable) parallel to the baseboard. The glass 5"x5" carrier is masked to 35mm proportions.
    [​IMG]
     
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  16. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    I love to look at small prints too; they can be such jewels, and I can understand why someone wouldn't want to make prints larger than that.
    One thing I'm running into is problems with print storage once they are done. I only have room for so many portfolio boxes, and the problem gets worse the bigger the prints are.

    What I am completely and utterly surprised by, however, is just how good 35mm can be compared to 4x5 and 120. Then, of course, we can each decide what we wish to do with all of that potential.

    I really hope more people can have this experience, and not just use 35mm because it's a 'convenient' camera that is easy to carry around, but to see it for the absolutely competent system it is for picture making of extremely high quality.
    It takes a fair bit of experimentation to get the most out of the film, I have discovered, and it isn't always straightforward. But once the process is firmly under control, a staggering amount of detail can be had from that tiny little negative, in prints larger than most would think possible.
     
  17. Роберт

    Роберт Member

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    Just load your 35mm camera with a slow speed film. And then you can play with DOF, optimize the film-developer combination. Try for example a real Ultra Fine Grain developer and then you can see how much information a simple 35mm negative can be.

    I am talking about: Kodak Tech Pan or ATP1.1, Efke 25, Pan 25, Pan F+ or any Ortho 25 film.

    One of my favorite combinations: Efke 25 and Beutler A+B.
    Here an example of this film in 35mm: M7+Summarit 2,5/75mm

    [​IMG]
     
  18. jp498

    jp498 Member

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    I have a wide variety of tastes, as does everybody, and 35mm is more useful than ever with the good quality films and developers we have, as you have stated. It's good quality doesn't prevent me to enjoying the other formats though, which also benefit from the advances in film and developer, and can also be printed with good darkroom equipment and lenses.

    I've got some nice 35mm prints and it's a good achievement. They are worth doing. People's taste as far as detail go can vary quite a bit and can also vary tremendously by subject. I am happy with TMY2 35mm printed up to 8x10". Beyond that, I'm wishing for MF or LF. I don't like my 35mm scans though - that's not for this forum. Big film scans nice. I don't do too many big prints, though I print a lot of 6x6 MF stuff at 11x11 which I consider sometimes too big for some subjects in 35mm. I like the square shape too.

    I have Nikon film slr, dslrs, Yashica and Rollei MF TLRs, Graflex 4x5, and B&J 8x10 gear. 8x10 is basically a bigger hammer than necessary for quality overkill, but makes nice negatives for contact printing or scanning. 4x5 makes flawless prints and scans of any size that's practical; It's my preferred size for tripod use. I can also do soft focus with it easily and use lenses from more than a century ago. It's not all about quality, though it excels at that. MF is really nice for people pics. Even in environmental portraits, I can have smooth&sharp non-grainy eyelashes with the subject 4-5 feet away on 120 TMY2 film. MF is not practical for fast moving stuff though, and doesn't have the detail I like for some woods scenes where I want texture and tonality in the bark of a small tree 20-30 feet away. 35mm is nice to burn through for event photography and fast moving kids, and low light where I can use 1.4 or f2 lens or supertelephoto lenses. I stick with tmy2/xtol or pmk. MF or LF would be an unsuitable tool.
     
  19. jmcd

    jmcd Member

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    Over the past twenty years I have used most methods including and between 35mm through 8x10 contact printing. My passion is with 35mm—it gives me energy to do the work. I just love it.

    I mainly print to 6x9 on 8x10-inch paper.

    I print with a Valoy II enlarger, and a Beseler V-XL, which does a good job now that I have aligned it using the Versalab alignment laser. The prints do look different coming from each enlarger, and I suppose the difference is in the condenser.

    Actually, when focusing the image on the Valoy II, a grain focuser is almost redundant, as the snapping into focus is readily visible with the naked eye. And this enlarger is aligned by design.
     
  20. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    May I ask what it is you feel is lacking in your prints beyond 8x10?
     
  21. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    The Valoy is an also a brilliant enlarger, capable of results just as good as the V35. Some even call it superior.

    With the V35, however, I need the grain focuser.

    I'm glad you're enjoying 35mm, and having fun with it!
     
  22. Gerald C Koch

    Gerald C Koch Member

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    I have been pleasantly surprised in the increase in detail in ny 35mm negstives when using an ascorbate developer. These developers do produce significantly finer grain when used for negatives and prints.
     
  23. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    I'm very interested in finding out how many people simply don't try to make 35mm work for larger prints, simply because they don't know what the medium is capable of.

    And I'm interested in encouraging people to use their 35mm cameras for more than low light, quick action, and toddler portraits. Let there be a light bulb moment! :D
    Seriously though, it's been a hell of a good ride for me to have my 35mm boundaries completely re-defined, and I wish for others to have the same revelation.
     
  24. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

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    The 35mm aesthetic and aspect ratio is very important for a whole lot of what I shoot. I love 35mm. I hope it is the last format standing, though I don't know if that will be the case.

    I don't find it a technically demanding format, like you mentioned. If a neg ain't really focused, it ain't really focused in any format. If it has dust, it has dust in any format. All formats are equally a P.I.T.A. to me. At least 35mm takes up less space while being a P.I.T.A.

    I agree that if you try hard, the technical quality can be very good. But usually if I want to try that hard to get a very technically sound pic, I don't shoot 35mm anyhow.

    Most of my prints from any format of film are on 11x14 or 8x10 paper. Those are the sizes that work best for most of what I print, IMO. From 35mm, I usually do 8x12 or 6x9 prints. I occasionally go bigger if the pix will work better, but more often my big prints are color, not b/w. I don't let technical things get in the way if I want to make a big print. I will print from 35mm if I have a pic shot on 35mm that I think will look good big. Like I said, if I wanted to worry about taking my time obsessing and having pin sharp and grainless prints, I wouldn't shoot 35mm. I approach 35mm with a certain amount of abandon, because if I didn't, I would not like using the format nearly as much, nor would I be able to use it for it's best purposes. I do use a meter when I feel like it, and I do use different lenses and, multiple bodies, but that is as far as I take the technical tomfoolery. I almost never use a tripod or cable release, or a spot meter, Zone System, etc. if shooting 35. Once the tripod comes out, I feel that most of the advantage of 35mm goes down the toilet, and I might as well just use my RZ or C220.

    Long live 35mm still film!
     
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  25. waynecrider

    waynecrider Member

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    Timely thread as I am just getting back into printing and 35mm at that. I'm shooting a K1000 (the lenses are amazing) but would love to pickup a KX. My other shooting camera is an A1 with slide film. I've been following Focomat prices for quite awhile now but could never justify the expense; Maybe one day. I got rid of my 4x5 Omega quite awhile back and picked up a Chromega B Dichroic to use instead. About 2-3 years ago I went back to 35mm shooting having gotten tired of the bigger gear bags, especially when flying, and don't miss MF/LF at all. I traded the Hassy for a M3 but want some Leica glass to go with it now so I'm living cheap.

    This weekend I went thru "all" my image files looking for frames to print. Geez I must be a couple thousand pics towards being worth my salt according to Ansel. What crap. Many were FP4+, HP5+ or TX in either Xtol or Diafine. Overall I think I got the best negs out of the few times I used Delta in Xtol. Right now I'm looking for a cheap paper to practice on and a better one for final prints.

    If you want to get up a best 35mm print competition btw I'm in.
     
  26. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    2F / 2F - I think we're on the same page. But it seems you may have a bit more control of the 35mm medium.

    I guess what I mean is that with 35mm everything is magnified quite a bit more. Vibration shows up more, both when the film is in the camera and when it's in the enlarger, alignment issues become more apparent, enlarging lens quality makes a big difference at 16x or above, dust particles are twice as much enlarged, etc
    To me it's that scale that makes it more difficult and time-consuming. A 16x print to make a 16x20 from 35mm is, in my opinion, more difficult to make a great print from, than one from 120, which would be more like 9x or so, half the enlargement factor.