Use of the dark cloth

Discussion in 'Large Format Cameras and Accessories' started by Mahler_one, Dec 26, 2010.

  1. Mahler_one

    Mahler_one Member

    Messages:
    1,153
    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2002
    I am curious as to how many here keep the dark cloth over their cameras at all times. Indeed, how "necessary" is the continued use of your dark cloth in order to prevent fogging of the film when removing and reinserting the film holders and dark slides? Is the continued use of the dark cloth dependent upon the brand or size of camera that you have ( or perhaps the material that is used to make your camera ), the age of the camera that you use, or even the type of film holders that you are using? Does the presence or absence of a bail back influence your decision? A friend of mine and I are discussing the necessity and advisability of keeping the dark cloth on one's camera at all times. Thanks for your help and the details of your experience.
     
  2. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

    Messages:
    17,942
    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2002
    Location:
    Honolulu, Ha
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    Unless your camera has tested light leaks, which it would be better to fix, I wouldn't leave the dark cloth attached to the camera. There have been some well known photographers, like Morley Baer, who have been known to wrap the darkcloth around the camera to reduce light leaks, because they had old cameras with lots of leaks and pinholes in the bellows, but if the camera is working properly, it shouldn't be necessary. If you're outdoors, it seems to me, the darkcloth is another thing to catch the wind and cause camera movement.

    When I use a traditional darkcloth, I fold it in half and drape it over my shoulders like a cape, and then flip it over my head and the camera back when I need to see the groundglass.

    I also have a BlackJacket, which attaches to the camera, but I take it off to make the exposure.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 26, 2010
  3. pgomena

    pgomena Member

    Messages:
    1,382
    Joined:
    Jun 25, 2003
    Location:
    Portland, Or
    I have formed the habit of always using my dark cloth when a holder is in the camera. There are so many little things that can screw up a LF photo that eliminating a possible problem always is a good idea. Two of my LF cameras are antiques. I am always suspicious of light leaks, whether in the bellows or because an ancient wooden film holder might be a little warped or the light seals less than secure. Using the dark cloth to wrap the whole works is cheap insurance. My modern wooden 4x5 never has had light leak problems, but I'm so in the habit of keeping everything covered that I don't even think about it.

    I have three LF cameras, none have a bail back. It's never been a deal breaker for me. Bail backs are nice, but unnecessary.

    Peter Gomena
     
  4. Hikari

    Hikari Member

    Messages:
    188
    Joined:
    Dec 12, 2010
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    I have never used a dark cloth on location or in the studio in the 26 years I have been shooting with large-format cameras. I have never had an issue with not using one. This is with Speed/Crown Graphics, Sinar Alpina, Fs, and Ps, Calumet somethingorother, Wista and Linhof technical cameras, Toyo 45a, and a Toyo 8x10. Mostly with plastic sheet-film holders, but also wood, Fuji/Kodak readyloads, and the Graphex Rapid. I also shoot with 6x6 and 6x12 roll-film holders. All the folks I know that shoot large format have not had issues either. Nor have I ever received instruction to use a dark cloth for more than simply focusing on the ground glass.
     
  5. pgomena

    pgomena Member

    Messages:
    1,382
    Joined:
    Jun 25, 2003
    Location:
    Portland, Or
    So there you have it: Two different opinions, each with its strong points. I guess it's up to you.

    Peter Gomena
     
  6. Mahler_one

    Mahler_one Member

    Messages:
    1,153
    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2002
    Yes Peter...exactly the spread of opinions that my friend and I have discussed with each other! Obviously there simply is no, "right or wrong".
     
  7. Hikari

    Hikari Member

    Messages:
    188
    Joined:
    Dec 12, 2010
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    I am not sure it is about opinion. Cameras by their nature should be light tight. And consistently light tight. If not, you have a problem. At that point you can fix the problem by repairing/replacing the equipment or by a some temporary fix. To make generalizations from unique circumstances is not very useful. Basically, the only use for a dark cloth is focusing. If you are using it to prevent fogging, you have a problem.

    It is not about "right or wrong." It is about if it is needed. I knew folks who used to shake their Polariods when developing them in the belief that is was important--it isn't. If you want to wrap your camera in a dark cloth, no one will stop you.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 26, 2010
  8. Christopher Walrath

    Christopher Walrath Member

    Messages:
    7,114
    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2005
    Location:
    In a darkroo
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I check my gear periodically to make certain that everything is light tight. Found holes in a lens board that way. But, as a general rule, and as long as it not windy enough to rob me of my gear, I leave the cloth on throughout.
     
  9. nick mulder

    nick mulder Member

    Messages:
    1,203
    Joined:
    May 15, 2005
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    When hanging the darkcloth over the camera I've sometimes weighed down the bellows enough for it to mask the film - big ol' fade to black at the bottom of the image that took me about 5mins to figure out (in retrospect)...
     
  10. CPorter

    CPorter Member

    Messages:
    1,662
    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2004
    Location:
    West KY
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    While I'm certain that my camera has no light leaks----I'm not equally certain that my holders might not develop a leak, being that some are pretty old---who knows when that might happen. So I have the habit of transferring the holder from it's black plastic bag (I use the bag that 8x10 paper comes in for this) to beneath the dark cloth to insert it into the camera back, so I keep the cloth over the camera until I'm ready to move on.
     
  11. Mahler_one

    Mahler_one Member

    Messages:
    1,153
    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2002
    While one cannot argue at all with your premise about the fact that every part of one's gear should be funtioning properly,there seems to be a sense that one cannot always be completely certain about the holders, the slides, the seal in the light trap, etc. Indeed, on occasion human error might result in a less than perfect light tight seal when the holders are inserted. It is interesting to note that amongst the skilled and well known photographers who have responded there are different ways of proceeding.
     
  12. stevebrot

    stevebrot Member

    Messages:
    113
    Joined:
    Apr 19, 2010
    Location:
    Vancouver US
    Shooter:
    35mm
    My camera has no light leaks, but I often leave the cloth draped when shooting in full sunlight. I have noticed that at least one of my film holders leaks a little when the darkslide is removed.


    Steve
     
  13. mfratt

    mfratt Member

    Messages:
    124
    Joined:
    Nov 22, 2010
    Location:
    Boston, MA
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    One thing I've found with photography, especially with the intricacies of the view camera, developing sheet film, and processing is that theres almost never a right or wrong answer for anything. Everyone has their own way of going about things that works for them.

    I'd say for the darkcloth question, do whatever you're more comfortable with. If it would make your more comfortable and suit your OCD or paranoia (don't mean this as an insult, I'd imagine a lot of us here, myself included, are OCD/paranoid to some extent), then do it.

    Personally, I don't. I find it gets in the way of puling the dark slide and acts as a perfect sail for wind to grab. I'd say as a default, take it off, but if you start to see unexplained light leaks on your film then (a) check your equipment and/or (b) leave the dark cloth on.

    I suppose a good way to test this would be to sacrifice a sheet of film, load it into the camera and pull the dark slide. Either leave it in direct sunlight for ten minutes or so, or spend some time passing a powerful flashlight around every crevasse of the camera and film holder. Develop the film to see if theres anything other than a blank negative.
     
  14. Sponsored Ad
  15. pgomena

    pgomena Member

    Messages:
    1,382
    Joined:
    Jun 25, 2003
    Location:
    Portland, Or
    My whole plate camera was made in 1895 and has its original bellows, which I double-coated with paint-on plastic sealer when I first bought it. Pinholes everywhere. My 5x7 was made about 1906. Its bellows are nearly as good as when they were made, and the entire camera is in amazingly good condition.

    Using either of these old beasts is like taking a Model T Ford out for a spin on the weekend. You're never quite sure when something will loosen up, fall off, split, crack, or leak. It's part of the charm of using an antique. (Film is ruined occasionally, but that's life.) It's kind of like owning a wooden boat. Yes, these are problems. I deal with them in the field and I fix them when I'm home. Wrapping my dark cloth around either camera is just a little bit of insurance.

    I would approach the whole situation differently if I was a working professional, trust me.

    Peter Gomena
     
  16. ic-racer

    ic-racer Member

    Messages:
    7,473
    Joined:
    Feb 25, 2007
    Location:
    Midwest USA
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I don't use a dark cloth with 4x5, I use a fold-out hood. My friend uses a 90degree finder (again without a dark cloth). Fog is a combination of light and time, so I move quickly in bright light and I shade the slot with the darkslide if the sun would shine on it. I keep the film holders in a dark bag.
     
  17. doughowk

    doughowk Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,765
    Joined:
    Feb 11, 2003
    Location:
    Jacksonville
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I'm in the paranoid camp. Question I'd pose is how easy is it to repeat the image if later find an issue with the negative? Cameras and film holders will have possibly imperceptible wear on areas most used - the film holder/camera back interface. Everything from light trapping material to wood/metal back would need vigilant maintenance; but most of us don't have assistants to hand us an inspected camera/holder. How many spend the time to inspect bellows, holders etc. before an outing? A darkcloth draped over the back seems a reasonable insurance against light-leaks. In higher winds I usually hold onto the cloth to keep it from flapping, and wait for a lull.
     
  18. Dan Henderson

    Dan Henderson Member

    Messages:
    1,888
    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2005
    Location:
    Blue Ridge,
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    I'm camped out in paranoia with doughowk. I have only been shooting large format for a little over a year, and noticed that some of my negatives exposed in direct sunlight were light struck. I also noted that different holders would be implicated in the problem, other times not. I surmised that direct sunlight might be getting in through the dark slide slot, and so began keeping the dark cloth in place to shade the holder during exposure, and even trying to shade the holder as much as possible when moving the holder from the bag to the camera.

    I have since suspected that not completely inserting the holder into the camera was a more likely culprit, but by now I have developed the habit of keeping the dark cloth in place during exposure. And for me at least, habits are very important to making successful large format exposures.

    I should also mention that I have never gotten along well with a traditional dark cloth, instead using a black XXL T-shirt. The neck stretches perfectly over the back of my Tech III and stays in place until I pull it off. It is easy to slip the holder into the camera with the T-shirt in place and drape it over the back during exposure. It is dark enough to let me see the ground glass well, but lighter to carry, less weighty on my head and shoulders, and cooler to use in hot weather. The fact that it is lighter and lets air circulate through seems to make it less likely to cause wind-induced camera shake.
     
  19. Mahler_one

    Mahler_one Member

    Messages:
    1,153
    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2002
    Sounds like a reasonable approach Doug.

    Dan...what a great suggestion. I think I will start to look for one of those large black tees!
     
  20. Martin Aislabie

    Martin Aislabie Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,416
    Joined:
    Nov 17, 2007
    Location:
    Stratford-up
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    I find a darkcloth to act like a huge sail, which can cause the my whole LF kit inc tripod to topple to the ground in only a moderate wind

    Therefore I am in the definately "Take it off" camp

    I will also use the darkcloth was a wind break if required

    Martin
     
  21. Maris

    Maris Member

    Messages:
    882
    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2006
    Location:
    Noosa, Australia
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I'll use the dark cloth if the sun is shining directly into the dark slide slot from the side. If the sun is shining from the top I try to put the camera back on upside down so the dark slide slot is facing the ground when the slide is out. The only time I've had a camera blow over was a classic "dark cloth equals sail" incident. You need to be several paces away in order to provoke this.
     
  22. MarkL

    MarkL Subscriber

    Messages:
    539
    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2006
    Location:
    Norwich, NY
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    I'd like to get me one of those. Do you know of one that can be attached to a wooden field camera?
     
  23. Jose LS Gil

    Jose LS Gil Member

    Messages:
    147
    Joined:
    Aug 19, 2010
    Location:
    Southern Cal
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I never use a dark focusing cloth while shooting night shots or in a dark studio.
    If the cloth causes your camera to topple over with a light wind, I would suggest investing in a larger tripod.
    One of my focusing cloths has a white side to help me and the camera keep cool on hot sunny days. One other focusing cloth has a rubber (vulcanized) coating, good for damp days.
    You can probably get away with a dark t-shirt, but it will not be as dark. Many photogs just use a dark coat draped over their head while focusing. There is no written rule as for what you should use. What works great at one place, might not be as comfortable at the next site. The whole point is to be as comfortable shooting as possible, so you can concentrate on getting a great photo and not spend time fussing with the equipment.
    If your film holders have light leaks, either fix them or replace them. Why ruin the great-once-in-a-lifetime-photo, due to a bad film holder?
    Thats just IMHO.


    Jose
     
  24. mfratt

    mfratt Member

    Messages:
    124
    Joined:
    Nov 22, 2010
    Location:
    Boston, MA
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I've never used a folding focusing hood, but I'd really like to give one a shot. I find that securing my dark cloth on the camera and preventing it from sailing in the wind is quite a hassle in some circimstances. Though, in an ideal situation, I really enjoy being under the darkcloth and feel it definitely has its place over the focusing hoods
     
  25. Jose LS Gil

    Jose LS Gil Member

    Messages:
    147
    Joined:
    Aug 19, 2010
    Location:
    Southern Cal
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    The foldout focusing hood are usually found on Speed and Crown Graphic cameras. They do a good job too. My old Graphic View also had a metal hood, but it clipped in and one of the clips broke off. These are very fragile compared to the Speed and Crown Graphic's hood.

    Mfratt, if your focusing cloth is falling off or flapping around. You can add weight to the corners of the cloth by adding large washers (sew them in a corner). Also, you can put some velcro on one side of the cloth. You can then wrap the cloth around your camera and secure it with the velcro. Try using clothe line pins, when you wrap the cloth around the camera, but they tend to come off easily. Better yet, use the small plastic clamps to hold the focusing cloth around your camera.
    Some have velcro added to the camera's rear standard and attach the focusing cloth that way. But then you will have one side of velcro stuck on the camera's rear standard
     
  26. mfratt

    mfratt Member

    Messages:
    124
    Joined:
    Nov 22, 2010
    Location:
    Boston, MA
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    My dark cloth actually came with velcro on one side, but its still not much use when its blowing over my head! I'll have to try sewing some weights into the corners, especially since I'm one who like to be out in rather nasty (as most "normal" people would consider it) weather.