I think plastic reels might be best for starting out. I have recently decided I like steel reels better, but adjustable plastic reels will let you develop different formats without buying too many extra reels. There is plenty of time to buy extra stuff after you get hooked, and it will happen.
When I started, plastic reels required less thinking, and I thought they were easier. It didn't help that our instructor didn't tell us how to load a steel reel, so I tried to slide the film in as if it were a plastic reel that did not ratchet. That did not end well.
After playing with steel reels, I quickly learned they don't require much thinking either. I sacrificed a roll of expired film to practice loading in the light, and after loading about 5 times felt confident to do it for real in a dark bag. Of course, I practiced in the dark bag before using any film I really intended to develop. I don't develop much film, and have used steel and plastic about an equal number of times, but can now load steel faster than plastic.
Regardless of which reel you use, practice in the light and watch closely to how it works. Learn how to feel in order to tell whether the film is properly started on either reel.
Mistakes are the best way to learn, but you don't want to ruin film (unless your experimenting on the film). So, when you can load the reel well, purposely load it wrong and also learn how to feel for this. By only touching the sides of the film, you should be able to tell by how the film is moving into the reel and whether it is seated correctly. If you can reliably do it wrong, on purpose, you're more likely to avoid that specific accident, and will know how to recover from it if it does happen.
Then practice with your eyes closed. Then in the dark or in a dark bag.
I've some steel 110 reels, though haven't developed 110 yet. They are difficult to get used to, so I just take some expired film and practice while watching TV. I've gotten pretty good at it, and will have no reservations when it's time develop my 110 film.
Wow, thanks for all the replies so far, I wish other forums on the net were as helpful (not naming names).
Anyway, some very good ideas so far that I'm definitely going to follow. Just to reply to some specific points:
- My monitor is a Dell U2711 factory-calibrated 27", 2560x1440, almost every review of it says how great it is out of the box, best you can buy if you can't afford an NEC/Eizo. Rest of the PC is set up for ICC-profiled sRGB, including GIMP.
- I've bought a printer, just waiting for it to ship, Epson R3000.
- Unfortunately a real Wet Darkroom is out of the question, unless I can convince my mum to let me steal one of her wine cellars (not likely), or find one to borrow in my small country town called Adelaide. But then there's an unfortunate mould problem down there.
As for my scanning workflow, my general way is this:
- Scan a preview, set Gamma to max (5, lowest contrast, makes blacks easier to see), White-point to max (darkest), then set black point (usually around '1' which sets it just above 'true black' on the colour curve).
- Then set Gamma to min (0, max contrast, makes burnt highlights easiest to see), set the White-point to just below White-clipping level.
- Then set Gamma until it looks good (usually 4-5 on B+W, 1-2 on E6).
This gives me the widest-range between darkest-lightest, I confirm that by looking at the curve once scanned, if it's not I might tweak and re-scan.
Anyway, here's a few shots that illustrate my 'lack of shadow detail' problem:
You can see how i've set the black and white points, and gamma.
You can see that the black-point was just a little bit above 'true zero', this is about perfect because it gives me room to manoeuvre around the low-end.
It's this 'kink' at the low end that I find myself perenially having to do, first the boost to get shadow detail, then the low-bit to get some sort of contrast or everything looks like it was taken in fog.
OK, no artistic merit, just a street snapshot in Melbourne a few weeks ago. But now you can see a lot more detail in the shadows compared to the first shot, especially in the top left by the garage door.
Thing is, it's not the scanner, it scans Slides and colour Negs perfectly. And some films do it more than others, but on multiple cameras. This particular one was FP4 125 on my Bessa L, which has a kind of centre-weighted strip of metering off the shutter curtains. It's happened with my EOS3 which meters perfectly, as does my Mamiya 645AF (although i'm still getting used to the spot-only meter with non-AF lenses on that).
Maybe i'm just expecting too much of film? This particular shot was first on the roll, last on the previous roll was on Velvia 50, exact same shot. On the Velvia, i'm well aware that dynamic range is limited to not much, there's no shadow detail at all on the garage door, and the highlights are blow out on the top right. But the Velvia shot just looks good to me, the B+W doesn't work with all the black imho, so i'm trying to get more tone gradation rather than just get a splodge of black.
Anyway, but that's besides the point, I'm still going to develop my own.
The suggestion of 'pick one and stick to it' is definitely a good idea, so I've gone through the freezer and found:
- In 120, 10 rolls of PanF50, expired 2009, 4 rolls of Neopan 400, exp2008, 4 rolls of Efke KB25, 3 new 1 exp2006, 4 rolls of new P3200.
- In 135, 3 rolls of KB100, 2 of KB25, 4 rolls each of new TMax 400, ATP1.1 iso32 exp2011, APX25 exp no idea, plus an unopened 30m reel of Rollei Retro 100.
So I'll stick to the PanF50 in 120 and reel-out the Rollei to play with I think. The TMax 400 I also want to play with, my lab pushes it great to 800 so I want to see if I can match that. But I tend to use that on my EOS 3 in dark-venues, wide-open, spot-metered on a spot-lit face, so I might keep letting the Lab do them because whatever I do and he does, together it works (last thing I need is burnt-highlights there, I can live with black shadows).
Practising in the light is also something I'll do, got heaps of C41 that I paid $1 a roll for that I'll never use. And for some reason a lot of Velvia expired in 1991 that I was going to XP Lomo, I'm sure I can spare one or two.
I've got lots more readinf to do by the looks, thanks for the chemical suggestions, I'll check out prices/shipping/opinions on the ones mentioned (so far I've only ever heard of Rodinal and Xtol before I started researching, good to know more that I can read up on too)
Thanks again, and still more suggestions welcome...
Just a heads up - you may find this thread gets "moderated", because discussion about almost all scanning issues is prohibited on APUG.
That being said, there is a very good chance that the problem is with the scanning, because scanning software adds so many variables to the equation, and because it is extremely difficult to get scanning software to give you a truly "no corrections" file.
The fact that you are happy with the scans from transparency films just tells you that your scanner and software happen to be well set up for transparency film - not black and white negative film.
Show us a photo of your negatives, and we will be able to tell you more.
I don't think you are expecting too much from film. It is a very capable medium, but a different animal from digital photography, and different again from scanning and ink-jet printing. This is especially true of consumer-level technology that does the "thinking" for you. It's "thinking" is engineered to a very generic standard that the creators feel will satisfy the most people for the most usual tasks. When I was last using a darkroom I spent a lot of time learning how to get prints that I was satisfied with. I don't have that kind of patience with scanners/printers, and I work in IT. When I scan, I just settle for something that is sufficient to get the point across.
On a more technical note, (and perhaps forbidden, but I'm just commenting on your post) you may want to calibrate your factory-calibrated monitor. It's a good monitor, but if you are going to scan and print, all devices should be calibrated to the same "standard." Factory-calibrated basically means they chose a standard configuration and made sure all the monitors meet that standard before heading out. It is probably set to look best for movies or games.
You probably won't require that level of accuracy, but it might be a fun way to kill some time when you are bored, and you could eventually equate the experience to wet-printing when you get there (step wedges, color charts, etc.).
As far as wet-printing, if you develop some 120 you can try contact printing it. You could do the same with 35mm, but it would be difficult to appreciate images so tiny.
You would not really need much more in the way of equipment, just a light-tight room, some trays, and a few extra chemicals. Technically, you could use the daylight film tanks to do small paper prints. Getting the exposure right with a bare bulb would be difficult, though, but can be done.
I think the most important part is learning and having fun.
That's a shame and a bit stifling.
Originally Posted by MattKing
Originally Posted by Dr Croubie
Good job on the Monitor purchase! That's an excellent model for people who don't want to completely break the bank. Unfortunately whatever calibration they did at the factory is not what we are referring to. You have to get a small hockey puck thing and place it on the monitor maybe every 1 or two months and run some calibration software. You also have to make some decisions about what your calibration targets are going to be. One thing I see often is monitors are shipped with brightness set pretty high. If you tweak your pictures to look good on those settings they will print too dark. It took me awhile to figure out how to bring the brightness down to a reasonable level. Just adjusting brightness didn't do it. I eventually figured out you must drop the values of the R, G, B channels first to a roughly okay range and then go and tweak the brightness. Then go back and tweak the R, G, and B channels for color temperature/balance. Otherwise I was finding I could drop the brightness all the way to zero and still not meet my luminance target of 80 cd/m2-100 cd/m2. Spyder and Xrite both make tools for calibrating monitors.
Don't leave your enlarger lenses in a humid dark environment. You would be inviting fungus. If you can't do something about the humidity in a cellar or basement then maybe you can get away with removing lenses, negatives, etc from the environment when you aren't working.
You don't necessarily need a dark room. If you find a pro lab that does good developing and scanning then you can use them as a benchmark. To be honest with you I live in the US and I bought some Ilford film and sent it back to England to get processed by Ilford. If you do that and get developing, scans and even some prints you will have a benchmark to work towards. Developing, scans, and a wet print would be better, but a properly developed roll and some good scans are invaluable as well. You've got to isolate errors in your workflow.
Dr Croubie, I am assuming your education is in science and perhaps even medicine. If you want to really start analyzing negatives and scans from negatives you need to treat the process like any other scientific experiment. You have your controls and you have your variables. You want as few variables as possible. You also want to eliminate confounders and have overall good study design. If you can eliminate error in metering, developing, scanning, and viewing on a monitor then you can start changing one variable at a time and analyzing results. And obviously if you had to do this experiment for work or a paper to be published you would want to use only one film and developer to make setting up the experiment manageable and easy to analyze.
You picked a variety of films and a variety of cameras. One way I organize the variety is to build from strengths of each format. When I shoot 35mm I "require" a higher-quality negative, so I tend to shoot "slower" films. [Notable exception - tkamiya encouraged me to experiment with accentuated grain in Tri-X]. Normally I want detail. So I would keep fresh 100 speed film and 400 speed film on hand.
The corollary, for medium format and up, I take advantage of faster films. I shoot them at lower (EI) Exposure Index. I just keep fresh 400 speed film on hand.
I develop my film and do tests too (be happy to help you learn the ropes as you get into it), one main lesson I've learned is to give enough exposure for the shadows - keeping in mind the speed that I get in my processing. One shortcut to good shadows is to choose an arbitrary lower EI just because other people find it works for them. For example through tests and feedback I found 400 TMAX works well for me rated at EI 250.
I don't know any downside to shooting 400 speed film at 250.
It might be a bit stifling, but those that are here want to read about analog photography, not digital - digital content is on every other site and forum on the Internet. This is the one oasis without.
The sister site dpug.org does invite, and indeed encourages, not only full-digital conversation but hybrid workflow discussion too.
I think one reason this site has been so successful is that those who are interested in film don't need to read about 'what laptop should I buy", "what scanner is best" and "how do I configure VueScan".
Feel free to discuss the chemical side of your photography here... and discuss the pixel side of your photography there. (I'm on both as well.)
Well yeah, I didn't want to start a scanner or digital debate, I was more explaining my reasons for wanting to develop my own stuff.
FWIW I think my scanner and technique is fine, I know my photography could improve (whose couldn't?) but I don't think exposure is too far off, I can 'rescue' some waay over/underexposed shots using the equipment that I have, my problem is more that when everything else is ok I still don't get the shadows and contrast that I want. Again, that can be fixed in GIMP, but i'd prefer to get it right on the negs.
Also, the scanner is fixed and I can't buy a new one, as is the printer, monitor, and software.
As i've said, darkroom printing and enlarging is just out of the question, so imho there's no point in seeing if the 'negatives are fine or if it's the scanner' by wet-printing. I need to vary the parts of my workflow that I can, and scanner can't be varied, developing can.
Taking the scientific viewpoint (btw, I'm an engineer, but a lot of that was science through high school and 1-2 years of uni), the scanner is a fixed input, not a variable, so even if scanning isn't optimal there's nothing I can do to change it so I'll change other things (like developing) to vary the output.
So back to the chemicals: I know most about xtol and rodinal so i'll start with them. One thing I don't get with Rodinal is that it's a "large grain" developer, so why would I use it on my finest films like KB25 and PanF50? OK, by using it on 400, 800, 3200, the grain is going to be so huge that the image will look too grainy. But the whole point of the slowest films are to have the finest grains for über detail, so why would I put up with stupidly long exposure times and dragging the tripod out all the time, just to ruin that nice fine grain? Maybe I'm missing the point on it (maybe it's just a question for the dedicated rodinal thread), or is it just the convenience of shelf-life and other minor plusses that outweighs the grain? (hey, if I wanted convenience, I've got a 7D for that. I'm going film because it's more fun). And from what I've heard (correct me if i'm wrong), rodinal doesn't do shadows nicely anyway, so i'll probably just forget about it altogether...
Xtol looks more like something I should be investigating, any others worth at least reading up on? Xtol's already sounding good for the finer grain, shadow details, and having ascorbic acid also fits with the suggestion of kb25 working better with acidic developers. If i'm going to limit myself to PanF50, HP 400, P3200 on 120 and KB25, Tmax100, Tmax400 on 135, should I be investigating Ilford brand chemicals? Which ones would be a good place to start for someone in my position? (I'd love to read up on all of them, but that's something i don't have time for these days).
A quick note:
That kink at the left end probably means your shadows are on the film's toe, and thus have less gradation (contrast), and thus need an extra boost. As Bill Burk suggested, shooting at a lower EI will lift the shadows off the toe where they'll get normal gradation. Also, some films have shorter toes than others and are more suitable for shadow-heavy scenes.
And I recommend XTOL. I've found it to be a terrific developer.