New Blackjacket ULF Dark Cloth
I have had a chance to use my new blackjacket dark cloth on my 11x14 camera, and thought it may be helpful to post a few observations. You may not have heard, but Quietworks has now in their product line an ULF hybrid Blackjacket, and their web site can be referenced under the Biz directory.
I waited almost two years for the ULF Blackjacket to come out, as they meticulously tweaked it, and eased it into production. I have to say at the outset that I think I had never previously found a darkcloth that I liked. They were always a series of compromises, which ended up in frustration in the field. The simple 'horse blanket' type would tend to slide off, or be open at the bottom. Even with velcro modifications, they were never light tight, and were a struggle to use. I eventually found that the BTZS elastic tube type dark cloth formed a better seal on the end of the camera, but still had problems with closure, and also light gaps around the flat bed of the camera. I ended up usually using this with a second cloth over it to obtain a better seal (they used to say Morley Baer put so many blankets on his camera, it was like putting his 8X10 to bed!).
The Blackjacket is essentially like a tube with sleeves, and also a top and side slot to insert the film holder without having to remove the darkcloth during an exposure. These openings have flaps to seal them off from light when not using them, or after the film holder is in place. If you think about it, this makes a lot of sense, as the dark cloth can shield the film holder opening from stray light. In intense light situations, like Death Valley, this would almost be a necessity. Fogged film edges will be much less likely from now on.
The quality of the Blackjacket is better than anything I have ever seen; both ends have heavy duty drawstrings to seal the jacket around the camera and your head as tight as you need to go, and quick release slide clip holds it tight. You can also open the jacket at the bottom via a long zipper, and use it virtually like a 'horse blanket', open at the bottom if you wish. This way you do not have to put your hands and arms through the sleeves at all if you do not wish to do so. The zipper and pull tabs are large, and very high quality, so opening and closing is easy and automatic, even without looking.
The first thing I noted on attaching the jacket to my camera was how much darker the space was now between me and the ground glass. The final problem of a gap at the bottom of the wooden Wisner flatbed was even planned for. The carry sack for the Black jacket has velcro that attaches, and is used to create a flap to keep the light out at this juncture. (Or you can just stuff it in the gap).
The only problem I encountered was that I had given Keith the dimensions to make my jacket, and told him my film holder size, etc.. You have to decide how large you want the top and side openings to be. I added one inch to the size of my film holder. This turned out to be an error, and it was a tight squeeze to slide them in, especially on top, where there is a zipper to seal the top opening when not in use. The zipper narrows the opening about an inch. I had to send the jacket back to enlarge the openings, and fortunately decided to make them an additional two inches larger each. This was important; it is very helpful and easier to have extra leeway to find and line up the opening when putting the film holder in place. I recommend making the openings about three inches larger than your film holder outer dimension.
I offered to pay for the modification, and ship the jacket back at my expense. Just to let you know what kind of guy Keith is, he sent me a postage paid return envelope, and did the modifications at no charge.
I like the Blackjacket so much that I ordered a second one; when you find 'really right stuff', it is good to make sure you will always have one.
In terms of photography, I have noticed a few changes in my making a photograph; the area between my eye and the groundglass is now dark enough that you see a 'movie theater' effect; it is dark enough so that nothing else matters, and you enter into a zone of creativity- just me and the image. I have noted that when even a little light creeps in, I tend to lose that zone. Secondly, the edges have been my downfall in composing; an unseen weed or other object creeping into the edge, or an unsharp spot that was not seen. I now realize that it was probably because I was not always seeing the edge of my groundglass that well. Stopping down to dim light levels and rechecking focus is more effective when it is perfectly dark, and almost impossible otherwise. Now I have one less excuse for not seeing what I am photographing.
We in ULF have spent a lot of time and effort focused on the the lenses, cameras, type of ground glass, etc. When you think about it, large format photography really involves two connected dark compartments; the one between the lens and film, but also a second space between the ground glass and your eye. Up until now, the second compartment has been one that has not been given a lot of thought. The Keith and thefolks at Quiet Works have done us all a great service by re-engineering the concept of a dark cloth, which should make us all better photgraphers.