Should I trash the Bronica and buy a Hassy? Sharpness issues abound. Help!

Discussion in 'Medium Format Cameras and Accessories' started by stormbytes, Apr 21, 2006.

  1. stormbytes

    stormbytes Member

    Messages:
    242
    Joined:
    Mar 31, 2005
    Location:
    New England,
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I've spent the last ten or so years honing my photography skills, learning about good composition, negative densities, various developers, the Zone System, and the like. One problem has persisted throughout. Despite my efforts, I just can't seem to get a print (or negative) that is simply "tack sharp". A portrait printed to 8x10 from a 6x6 negative where you can literally make out each and every eyelash.

    Over the years as my skills and process have matured, I've begun to eliminate the usual suspects. I'm shooting a Bronica Sq-a with either an 80mm or 150mm lens. I've shot hand-held as well as on a tripod - when shooting hand-held I've always aimed for a shutter speed number that is just above the focal length of the lens or greater. I've developed both in-Jobo, AND (lately) by hand, using Rodinal 1:50 semi-stand.

    Lately I've even tested Tri-X 320 to ISO 800 with excellent tonality - I thought for sure at at this speed, shooting in diffuse outdoor light, the problem would be solved. Alas.. it has not been.

    My last photo shoot has been the most frustrating. I've shot portraits of my father, again in diffuse outdoor lighting, with Tri-X 320 rated at ISO 800. The shots were all taken hand-held, at F/8 - F/11, 1/125 - 1/250. Surely that should be enough to "freeze" a portrait!? After all, back in the day when I was an assistant to a New York wedding photographer, F/8-8.5 @ 1/250 (albeit with flash) was the configuration of choice! Now I know that flash photography is an entirely different animal. However, depth-of-field is depth-of-field, regardless of the light source.

    The images gotten from the Dad's shoot were "acceptably sharp" and had "adequate" depth of field (this forever relative to their degree of sharpness). However, there were still NOT "tack sharp". To better illustrate what I mean by "tack sharp" allow me to "borrow" an image from a fellow apug'er:

    http://www.apug.org/gallery/showphoto.php?photo=12798&cat=500&ppuser=7447

    THIS, is TACK SHARP.

    Why haven't I been able to get this? I mean, at this point I'm pretty much through blaming myself - technique or lack thereof. I'm certainly shooting at high-enough shutter speeds, and as for DOF, I'm always on the last third of the aperture ring. I know from experience that Jobo-processed negatives are always "mushy" compared to those hand processed in Rodinal. Gone is the Jobo, and I've been shaking the can! I know to use the Pro-series line of Bronica lenses - the "PS" and NOT the "S". What have I left out?

    The only remaining variable, save for the camera/lenses is the film. I've always shot HP5 and now Tri-X. Could it be that the resolving power of the film simply isn't there? I highly doubt this, but in my quest for razor sharp negatives, I'm hell-bent on leaving no stone unturned.

    If it's the camera/lens - please, if you know of anything like this, just say so. It'l be painful, but I won't hesitate for a moment to replace the gear. I'm proud to say that I'm a fully recovered "gear junkie". But nevertheless, tools are tools and I'd be heartbroken if having the wrong tool would leave me treading water for the next ten years!
     
  2. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

    Messages:
    9,281
    Joined:
    Sep 9, 2002
    Location:
    Bergen, Norw
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    You won't gain shatpness by switching camera systems, that's for sure!

    I've used a Bronica ETRS for many years, (Both PE and E lenses) and my main "sharpness problem" has been finding something to focus on when enlarging. I use mostly slower films - 25 to 00 ISO, and the only thing I can use for focus is eyelashes. And the tiny blonde hairs on the back of one model...

    Try a finer-grained film (Ilford FP4+ springs to mind, or PanF+, or even EFKE R25), and develop it in any acutance developer. Try something else than Rodinal too...
     
  3. Marco Gilardetti

    Marco Gilardetti Member

    Messages:
    420
    Joined:
    Jun 7, 2005
    Location:
    Torino, Ital
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    Did you make side by side comparisons to state that this was a happy setting of your lens' diaphragm? Or did you follow the "last third" myth because everyone else was saying so?

    And keep in mind that nothing will be more "in focus" than the point which REALLY IS "in focus" - whatever the DOF table may say.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 21, 2006
  4. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

    Messages:
    9,281
    Joined:
    Sep 9, 2002
    Location:
    Bergen, Norw
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    Good points from Marco here - try a slower film, at f:5.6 or f:8. The lenses are great, but at f:11 and above the lens makes very little differense.

    And don't believe in DOF tables - what's in focus is critically sharp, the rest is only "acceptably sharp" if you happen to agree with whoever made the tables.

    After doing a direct comparison, I've stopped using the hyperfocal technique for anything.
     
  5. Soeren

    Soeren Member

    Messages:
    2,436
    Joined:
    Nov 5, 2004
    Location:
    Naestved, DK
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I used to have a Bronnie (SQA-i) that now belongs to a friend of mine (Tom A).
    It delivers Tack Sharp Negs from all thats been put through it, also HP5+.
    Can you determine if your negs arent sharp ?
    Are your enlarger, -lens and -technique good ?
    Are your negs contrasty or soft, dense or thin ?
    It could be that the lens you own is a dog. Try another one out if you can. Maybe even another system. Read Barry Thornton's "Edge of Darkness". That man is a sharpness freak and although very basic there is a couple of good points in his Book.
    You could also wisit his site.
    http://www.barrythornton.com

    Cheers, Søren
     
  6. Dan Henderson

    Dan Henderson Member

    Messages:
    1,890
    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2005
    Location:
    Blue Ridge,
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    I would echo Soeren's recommendation to read "Edge of Darkness." I got pretty much nothing to show from a week long trip photographing waterfalls in Michigan's UP last year due to unacceptably soft negs from a Hasselblad system, which launched me on a quest for super sharpness. I worked my way through Thornton's book step by step, examining each and every part of the process of producing a fine print, and changing many things. With a number of changes I am now satisfied with the technical quality of my prints again.
     
  7. avandesande

    avandesande Member

    Messages:
    1,246
    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2002
    Location:
    Tijeras, NM
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Just put it on a tripod and take some images during the middle of the day. This will elimnate your questions about your system.
     
  8. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

    Messages:
    17,940
    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2002
    Location:
    Honolulu, Ha
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    It's the light, not the camera.

    The main reason this shot is so sharp is because it was made in a studio with strobes (probably just one light in a square softbox, camera right--read the catchlight in the eyes). He shot at f:22, for pretty full DOF, but on 6x7 that's not so excessive as to cause a diffraction problem. Strobes take care of all camera shake and subject movement issues, so strobe shots will always have this sharp look unless something else is terribly wrong.
     
  9. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

    Messages:
    3,341
    Joined:
    Jul 16, 2005
    Location:
    Dearborn,Mic
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    What David said.

    Sharpness is just an effect.

    Weston demonstrated the conditions for sharpness long ago:

    1. The light must reveal the detail in the subject
    2. Do not compose in adjacent tones.

    Sharpness is the sensation of seeing fairly large objects in strong contrast to their setting. Look at Weston's pictures: he used lenses which were generally awful by any measurement, and made exposures deeply into the realm of diffraction. All they had going for them was clarity of vision, and simplicity of purpose.

    Miles from a Westonian image, this picture of Appuger Dante Stella was made with a long lens, wide open, on fast film. Only the eyelashes are focussed, yet the tonal contrast sells the image as 'sharp' even if most of it is out of focus.

    Am I responsible for the picture ? Nikon ? Rodinal ? No.

    Dante didn't shave that morning. Thanks, that helped.

    But that 8 foot square window at my back, and the brilliant, low, morning sun, ripping through it, was responsible.
     
  10. stormbytes

    stormbytes Member

    Messages:
    242
    Joined:
    Mar 31, 2005
    Location:
    New England,
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I thought Rodinal was *THE* accutance developer? And as far as the film is concerned, do you feel that Tri-X lacks the resolving power to yeild the sharpness I'm looking for?
     
  11. stormbytes

    stormbytes Member

    Messages:
    242
    Joined:
    Mar 31, 2005
    Location:
    New England,
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I'm not going with any DOF tables. If you look at the photo that I referenced at the top of this thread, you will see that BOTH of the model's eyes are in crisp, sharp focus. So.. DOF or no DOF, it certainly IS possible. All I'm trying to do here is figure out why it's not happening for me.
     
  12. stormbytes

    stormbytes Member

    Messages:
    242
    Joined:
    Mar 31, 2005
    Location:
    New England,
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    ** My negs are "in focus", but not "tack sharp"

    I'm using a Saunders VCCE XLG with a Schneider Componon-S 80mm lens. Should be more then adequate. I'm enlarging to about 8x10.

    Negative density varries from shoot to shoot, but this problem has persisted all throughout - this is years worth of negs we're talking about here.

    I own 2 PS-series lenses, same problem. As for another system, I plan on making a stop at B&H Photo and putting a roll through one of their demo floor-model Mamiya 645-AFD to see if there's a difference. Same with their Hassies.

    I'll certainly look into that, thanks for the tip.
     
  13. stormbytes

    stormbytes Member

    Messages:
    242
    Joined:
    Mar 31, 2005
    Location:
    New England,
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    David,

    This certainly occured to me. But shooting at F/11 @ 1/250th I should be able to get pretty damn close to this. I'll try using a higher F-stop, but somehow I'm not convinced the problem isn't in the camera itself.

    I consulted on this matter with Philip Cohen, a personal friend and a well known commercial photographer. He brought to my attention that the problem could very well be mirror slapping - apparently a known ailment of the Bronicas. Seeing as mine is an Sq-a, long discontinued, it is quite possible that the dampner has hardened and the shock is causing the lack of sharpness. I plan on doing a test later this afternoon, shooting newsprintg as well as a live model, comparing frames with and without pre-lock. I will post my results.
     
  14. Sponsored Ad
  15. stormbytes

    stormbytes Member

    Messages:
    242
    Joined:
    Mar 31, 2005
    Location:
    New England,
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Don,

    That's a beautiful portrait, and though generally in focus, I don't know that I'd agree about the eyelashes being tack sharp as in the image referenced in my original post.

    Rodinal's a great developer, and certainly enhances accutance. However, it can only work with the latent image that is already on the exposed film, and somehow I think mine are lacking in this regard. Where? How? that remains to be seen :smile: But I will continue updating this thread as progress is made. Time permitting of course.
     
  16. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

    Messages:
    3,341
    Joined:
    Jul 16, 2005
    Location:
    Dearborn,Mic
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    The film to sharpness ratio has to do with the magnification of the image: how big is the detail you're trying to image relative to the granularity ?

    Tri X is perfectly capable of rendering eyelashes with great clarity ( normal lens, from 2 meters ) at a 4 to 5x enlargement.

    TMY, a 7 to 8x enlargement.

    But only if the light shows them clearly.

    But you DON'T need an acutance developer to make sharp pictures.

    Can you see the focus screen clearly ?

    .
     
  17. r-brian

    r-brian Member

    Messages:
    617
    Joined:
    Feb 25, 2003
    Location:
    Albuquerque,
    I've shot a SQa for ten years and (I think) I don't have a problem. I shoot any film I can get my hands on, developed in what ever I have on hand (right now HC-110 and Rodinal with Diafine thrown in). My negs are acceptably sharp. I shoot the S series lenses, and by the way, PS does not stand for Pro Series, they are just the newer series of lenses.

    Thoughts that come to my mind is whether your focusing screen is out of sync. What you see as in focus on the screen may not be what is getting to the film. Is the screen the original or replacement? Is it seated properly? Did the mirror get knocked out of alignment?

    I'm not a professional or an expert but I'll put my Brony up against a Hassy anyday.

    Brian

    PS, I you're going to trash it, send me a PM. I have a nice trash can I can put it in.
     
  18. Claire Senft

    Claire Senft Member

    Messages:
    3,242
    Joined:
    Dec 7, 2004
    Location:
    Milwaukee, W
    Shooter:
    35mm
    What are you using to focus your enlarger? What are you using for a negative carrier? Do you use the waist level finder with a tripod and mirror up? Some tripods though otherwise very stable can show the results of harmonic virbrations if the shutter/mirror causes such vibrations that are incompatible with a given tripod. A Adams discussed this problem that he had between a very large Gitzo for 8x10 work and his Hasselblad which did not allow him to produce sharp results with this combination.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 21, 2006
  19. Travis Nunn

    Travis Nunn Member

    Messages:
    1,602
    Joined:
    Jul 3, 2005
    Location:
    Henrico, Vir
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Does the SQa have mirror lock-up? That would confirm whether there is a mirror slap problem or not
     
  20. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

    Messages:
    9,436
    Joined:
    May 24, 2005
    Location:
    Washington DC
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Perhaps it would help to diagnose your problem if you could post an image of yours that shows the problem you're having.
    As with your contrast control issue with HP5+, I don't know where the source of your sharpness problem is coming from, as the Bronica system has had an excellent reputation for tack-sharp optics, and has been used quite successfully for many years by many working professionals.
     
  21. JBrunner

    JBrunner Moderator Staff Member Moderator

    Messages:
    7,075
    Joined:
    Dec 14, 2005
    Location:
    Basin and Range Province
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    Yes, is it a DOF issue? Is something in the shot "tack sharp" but not the rest, as much as you like? Or is it an overall softness, which would point to focus, optical, or steadiness issues in either the camera or enlarger? See if you can rule out DOF first.

    You could try shooting a high detail static subject with a wide lens at a smallish stop, and fast shutter, on a tripod, using mirror lock up, for big DOF with maximum steadiness, and examine the resulting print for overall sharpness. If its still mushy, you can probably rule out DOF.
     
  22. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

    Messages:
    17,940
    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2002
    Location:
    Honolulu, Ha
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    Strobes will give you a smaller f-stop and will eliminate any mirror slap/shutter vibration issue. The longest studio strobe exposures are on the order of 1/350 sec., and that's only if you're using a LOT of power. More typical exposures are going to be on the order of 1/750 sec or shorter with studio strobes, so you won't need to think about MLU or anything. Rent or borrow some studio time, use your Bronica, and you'll see the difference.

    Here's an example--Bronica S2a (much older than yours), kind of dirty 21cm/4.5 Heliar (threads are stuck, so I've never been able to clean it properly) at f:22, Norman strobes--

    [​IMG]

    Detail attached. A modern lens like even the 60's 200mm Nikkor would have been sharper, but the sharpness effect comes mainly from using Hollywood style lighting with strobes (and I was using the Heliar so it wouldn't be too clinical, but it's still pretty sharp).

    Also the suggestion about groundglass and back registration is a good one, if you find that you are having consistent focus problems. You can test by setting up a tape measure, marking the focus point with a flag or what have you, shooting wide open, and verifying that the image on film is in focus where it should be.
     

    Attached Files:

    • dtl.jpg
      dtl.jpg
      File size:
      46.1 KB
      Views:
      82
  23. Gary Holliday

    Gary Holliday Member

    Messages:
    826
    Joined:
    Apr 12, 2006
    Location:
    Belfast, UK
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    I don't believe simply buying a Hasselblad over a Bronica will solve your problem. There are no differences between the two that anyone can notice. However owning the Hasselblad myself, it is a sexier camera and is clearly better than a Bronica! :smile:

    I don't think you should be focusing on eyelashes. Mine are almost a centimetre long and curl. If you look at how far away someone's eyelashes are away from the eye and from a side on position, you will notice. Always focus on the eyes. Your viewer will look at the eyes in a photograph or when you are talking to someone. Use the little white square reflection in the eye to focus on. It's contrasty in there and is easy to focus on.

    Once you have focusing mastered, I would seriously look at your mirror. Medium format mirrors are huge and will vibrate, so lock your mirror and shoot after you subject has blinked. You don't need to be looking at the viewfinder to do this. Maybe a service will help if you camera is old.

    After that, check your enlarger and make sure it is set up correctly and you are focusing at the paper height using a properly set up focus finder. Use a decent aperture f8 whatever on your enlarger. Condenser enlargers are super sharp.

    Sharpness is also a perception. Anything very contrasty will look sharper. Unsharp masking used to "sharpen" an image in Photoshop is actually an optical illusion. It just increases the edge sharpness of each pixel and gives the perception of sharpness.

    Good luck on your quest.

    Edit: also....after buying the hasselblad, my portraits were far too sharp, I had to buy a softar to calm things down...damn high quality lenses :wink:
     
  24. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

    Messages:
    6,242
    Joined:
    Dec 21, 2002
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    I own Bronica equipment.

    Excellent points of consideration have already been offered. There is one thing that consistantly remains the same and has not been addressed. That is the enlarger. The sharpest negative in the world will look like crap on a print if the enlarger is not aligned. Beyond that even if the enlarger is aligned what about the enlarging lens? Is it a good lens used at it's optimal aperture?

    If you want sharpness from an enlarger, a condenser enlarger will give greater apparent sharpness and greater local contrast then a diffusion enlarger. I know because I own and use both types. In saying this I am simply reporting the facts and don't want to get into a pissing match over someones injured sensibilities.
     
  25. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

    Messages:
    6,242
    Joined:
    Dec 21, 2002
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    Gary,

    Sorry we must have been typing at the same time..you beat me to the draw this time...drat!!!!
     
  26. rbarker

    rbarker Member

    Messages:
    2,222
    Joined:
    Oct 31, 2004
    Location:
    Rio Rancho,
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    A couple of other points you might check are the film path and focusing screen position. Irregularities on the rollers can place the film outside the intended focal plane. Similarly, a mis-installed or mal-aligned focus screen would shift the plane of sharp focus.