Invisible frame numbers; Ilford 120 film

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by bowzart, May 8, 2009.

  1. bowzart

    bowzart Member

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    My wife uses a Lubitel tlr which we bought because it was very inexpensive. She wanted to use a zone plate, so when the camera arrived, I took it into the shop, smashed out the lens, and installed the zone plate - most people wouldn't want to do that with a Rolleiflex. Since she is limited to the equivalent of f/64, we looked for a very fast film and found the perfect one: Ilford's delta 3200. We can process it to get a very wonderful grain pattern; sharp grains that produce images that look sort of like mezzotint. I know that some APUG members have seen these; if you haven't, and are interested, some of them are at http://www.pbase.com/janealynn.

    There is just one problem. She can't see the numbers through the red window that the Lubitel, being a very basic camera, uses to indicate the position of the frame. The numbers are printed in a faint gray on the white paper background. The problem is getting worse, because as we age, our eyes aren't getting any better. I just searched APUG, and I found several mentions of this problem, but nobody, to my knowledge, has complained. So I'll be the first.

    This seems to me to be a problem of poor design, which doesn't seem like Ilford, somehow. Here's my reasoning:

    Most "real" cameras have automatic advance from one frame to the next. Only those who use simple, old, or cheap cameras use the numbers on the film backing at all. Everyone who does use them looks at them through a red window. The numbers are there only for the purpose of helping us know where we are on the film. If we can't see them, why have numbers at all?

    In order for them to be most useful, they need to have sufficient contrast. So why not give them the highest possible contrast? The white backing is fine, but the numbers ought either to be very dark black, or fully saturated cyan, if we are at all concerned about visibility. What other concern might there be? Since cyan would require an expensive additional press run, black would be the most cost effective solution. Since the Ilford identification is printed in deep black, it wouldn't take anything to print the numbers that way too. Making the numbers visible would be a great help for everyone who has to look through a red window.

    Unfortunately, we can't count turns of the knob because the diameter of the spool changes with each advance, so the spaces between frames increase incrementally; the last frame is either incomplete, or simply not there. The numbers are important.

    The light gray on the white looks very nice. Doubtless that must have been the reason for it. But who looks at the paper backing? Designers, all too often, neglect function in favor of appearance. Not helpful.

    Or is it just to save on the cost of the ink?
     
  2. Bob F.

    Bob F. Member

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    This has been discussed before. Ilford's reasoning is that it is to stop the numbers appearing on the film... Even though the backing paper is light-tight, the ink soaks into the paper and can cause chemical fogging on the film, hence they keep it as light as practical.

    One option is to replace the red window with a dark green one. This helps because our eyes are more sensitive to green so, for a given level of darkness, the numbers look clearer. Modern film on the other hand is sensitive to all visible wavelengths so the colour of the window is not important (you are probably aware that when these types of camera were first made, most film was not sensitive to red light, or at least was much less so, hence the red window). You could also try using a small LED flashlight/torch on your keyring, 'tho I have had limited success with that myself as reflections off the plastic make it awkward and you really need another hand...
     
  3. Samuel Hotton

    Samuel Hotton Member

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    I have found that using a LED torch with a (RED) bulb works great with Shanghai 100 film. However this film uses black paper backing with white numbers. It MAY work for you with your film.
    Sam H.
     
  4. bowzart

    bowzart Member

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    Well, sorry if I'm dragging a corpse around; I searched and couldn't find much of anything. I don't have the search magic yet, I guess.

    I've got to wonder about that argument. I left the paper backing in my office and don't feel like sacrificing a roll, but as I recall, the paper is white on the one side but is entirely black on the inside surface. I have to wonder what is used to achieve this blackness? Is it some sort of ink? If they can make the entire inside surface black, what's the problem with the number side? There are LOTS of different kinds of ink. Surely there must be an ink that won't soak through.

    I just found a dummy roll of Kodak product, which is (of course) yellow on the outside and black on the inside. The numbers are black against the yellow. They look different than the Kodak id stuff; they seem to lack the clear edge definition. I suspect that means that they are printed with another process or at least another press run, which, either way, would add to the production cost.

    I'm attaching a snap of the spectral sensitivity to light at 2850° Kelvin, a kind of "living room" tungsten. Unfortunately, they don't give us the sensitivity to daylight, but it gives me an idea. There's a dip at about 520nm. This is in the green range, slightly on the yellow side. Our most visible color, I believe (remembering the color of the slide rule I had in high school - designed for greatest visibility) is around 560 - yellow green, the color of the vests sometimes used by highway construction workers. This is a hue to which the film seems to be quite sensitive. Your suggestion of green (not the yellow green) seems like a good bet. I will try it with some green and red plastic I have around here before I modify the camera.

    The light really needs to be INSIDE the window.

    I'm wondering whether I might be able to install some mohair or similar blackout material in there and simply eliminate or reduce the density of the filter over the window. A removable cover could be devised to keep the light out when the film is not being advanced.
     

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  5. ic-racer

    ic-racer Member

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    The red filter is not doing anything (in terms of the 'red-sensitive' portion of the film's spectrum) so try taking it out. If you don't have a little 'flip out' cover, I'd make one. (posted the same time, I see you are already considering this).
     
  6. bowzart

    bowzart Member

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    Simplest possible solution. The filter does cut the quantity of light, but the red color is no better than any other color and worse than some.
     
  7. BetterSense

    BetterSense Member

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    I've never ran into this problem. Fuji, Agfa and Kodak film all have sensible frame numbers, and don't seem to have any trouble. I would be annoyed too if the frame numbers weren't a highly contrasty color.
     
  8. pentaxuser

    pentaxuser Subscriber

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    My experience with Ilford films has been mixed. Most were OK but on one chromogenic XP2+ the numbers were particularly hard to see. Maybe if they have to be printed light then any deviation from that means that "light" becomes nearly invisible.

    I have found two things helped: 1. Winding on very slowly while looking intensely at the red window. There is some advanced notice given in that a grey smudge appears. Then it is time to wind very slowly and use reading glasses if these are normally worn.

    2. Paradoxically doing it all in considerable shade. Bright sunlight probably should be avoided anyway when the red window is exposed but it certainly makes the numbers hard to see.

    Best of luck

    pentaxuser
     
  9. Erik Ehrling

    Erik Ehrling Member

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    I wrote to Ilford about this one or two years ago, and that was exactly their explanation. My solution was to stop shooting Ilford in 120-format and use Kodak BW film instead.

    Best regards,
    Erik Ehrling (Sweden)
     
  10. Chazzy

    Chazzy Member

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    I've had to do the same thing. It makes no sense that Kodak can use legible numbers with no ill effects, while it is impossible for Ilford. Of course, this doesn't help someone who wants to use the Delta film in 120, since no one else has an equivalent product in that format.
     
  11. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    For Kodak TMAX 100, the backing paper is only yellow for a short distance, and then switches over to dark grey numbers on a light grey background.

    I expect that there is very little in the way of operating equipment left that prepares this paper, and I doubt that any of the film companies want to invest large amounts of money in R & D for any modern improvements.

    Matt