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Friday, 19 February 2010


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Three years ago I took my dog to the beach on Christmas morning. When I returned the fire trucks were hosing down the glowing embers. The cats made it out and I lost all of my STUFF. Included was every negative and every print I ever made or had made.
It was a tremendously liberating experience.
I still have my Nikon F3 and it sits on a shelf with other interesting things to look at. That whole "got these great negatives and I gotta print them" was gone from my life forever. Now my favorite shots ar stored on a website. 50,000 - 80,000 unprinted negatives. How do you sleep at night ? I've enjoyed this "I quit" link...fotoziv.

Excellent news!
TOP will be a better place for retaining some connection with film.
Looking forward to your thoughts on using the Mamiya.

Cheers, Robin

Just curious - why set up a wet darkroom, rather than scanning (yourself, or by someone else) your best few hundred photos? You could probably offer prints to TOP readers for less (and more of them), and I would think it would make putting a book together easier.

Go for it Mike ! It sounds like a great and ultimately satisfying project. And it could provide some good anecdotes for TOP. (I'm not that interested in darkroom work - or film - but interested in hearing about "projects"). I'd also keep a close eye on any print offers.

The Mamiya 7 II is a camera I've always coveted. Along with the Nikon FM2 and Hasselblad XPan. Fortunately, I never caved in and even though good deals are tempting, using film on any regular basis has no appeal. (Even if I get sensible and sell my film SLR, I'll always have a couple 70s rangefinders and a Rollei TLR in case I want to shoot a couple rolls for old times sake).


I have to say that "I'm returning" to film. Oh, not in a big way and I will not re-install a darkroom.

I've had this little Olympus Trip 35 camera for the past 5 years, just a few months before I bought my first digital camera and stopped using film.

Your recent post on the Kodak Ektar 100 sheet film made me realize that this could be a good choice in 35mm film. I'll also be looking at a b&w film, maybe the newer ISO 400 TMAX. Have the film developped and low-rez scanned to CD and if I should find something nice then have that frame re-scanned with a Flextight 848 for about $30.00

Bare bones street shooting. Just point, shoot and enjoy.

I would be very interested in seeing your work in prints, and, if not too, too expensive, in purchasing some of them. So, let me be one of the first to encourage you.

By the way, where will you get your medium format processed? I still have some good TLR's and love to use them, but have been paying upwards of $40/roll of 220 to get them processed and scanned.

In most of the reading I've done about medium format film cameras, the Mamiya 7II (and even the Mamiya 6) is still thought to be one of the best, if not the best film camera ever produced in that format. Congrats! I am a little jealous!

re: a portfolio or book "Ironically, the biggest problem I foresee when I contemplate this project is whether I'd have the discipline to stick to the task."

You're humming my tune...

On a similar note I recently bought a copy of Lee Friedlander's "Letters From the People". I really enjoy this book, Friedlander's style, editing and collections are a source of constant fascination. What really struck me though were my thoughts of how difficult it must have been to collect and organize the photos that comprised the book/exhibit. This was not a collection shot over the course of a few months or even a year, rather it seems that he took the photos for this series over a long period of time interspersed with whatever other project he was working on. I get the feeling that he had shot many of these photographs long before the idea of organizing them in such a fashion was even a remote thought. He was just taking pictures of stuff. Did he or an editor spot the series while reviewing endless contact sheets or did he really have this in mind years before the collection was formed/redacted?

I too have boxes and boxes of contact sheets and sleeved negatives (with not nearly enough prints) and in the last 5+ years I have littered my hard drive (and back up drive) with close to 20,000 images sorely in need of merciless editing---and prints.

Thanks (I think) for the reminder to get to work.

Do it, do it, do it.

Mike, this is a brilliant idea. BTW, I'm using Adox MCC for my darkroom now and absolutely love it. Thank you for recommending it.

I have had many medium format cameras and none of those have "taken" either. I have a freezer full of 120 film and a Coolscan 9000 that I only use for 35mm at the moment. I have been toying with the idea of a 7II and a 65mm lens so would be very curious to hear your impressions.

I am very far from wanting to turn my back on film even if most of my photography remains digital.

Good luck with your project!


My old Mamiya 6 was one of my favorite cameras ever, but mostly in my mind.

I think the truth is that along a large number of purely technical axes, a Nikon D200 does better than that camera. And that camera was never all that reliable. And rangefinders are hard to use on tripods, but 120 cameras *can be* hard to use well hand held. So in the end I gave up on the romance of it.

As for wet darkroom vs. scanning: wet darkroom is pretty painful and messy and dirty work. But nothing is worse than scanning film.

How does Ctein feel about your using the money from HIS print sale? :-)

This will come off as smart-assed, but....

What's the point of shooting film and printing digitally?
Whether it's romance, nostalgia, or better image quality, seems to me you (the impersonal 'you') needs to go all in.

Well, if you can make a few bucks off it, why not?
But I'm with David Zivic on this. I had tens of thousands of negatives from the 60's through the 90's that I piled up and burned last year. Tried to give them away first, of course. To libraries and historical societies, etc. Nobody wanted the expense of housing them or digitizing them. And it had become clear to me several years ago that I would never go back through them, and I certainly didn't want to go into a darkroom again to print them.
It is incredibly liberating. And I've not had a second thought about it. Flicker will have billions of photos in a couple of years. The world doesn't need more. YMMV, of course.

Further, the whole film versus digital 'debate' is tedious. It like arguing acrylic paint versus oil paint (Come to think of it the paint question IS a similar subject of debate somewhere). In the end it's about the image: content, meaning, our reaction to it.

I've recently set up a darkroom in a basement bathroom; used it a few times, and I'll tell you; it is a whole lot more fun doing b&w darkroom work than sitting on my duff in front of a computer. The Darkroom stuff has been stored for years.

(I do the "sit on my duff in front of a computer" all working day, so maybe others in other fields might not see the liberation here)

Scanning? Been using a digital camera with macro lens on an old tripod; works ok; would work absolutely fine if I took the time to set it all up properly. (film in enlarger neg holder, sitting on a diffused light source) May not be exhibition quality, but results are better than than the web deserves.

To the scanning crowd: Have yall seen what 35mm tri-x looks like scanned, compared to a silver print? Anyways, I've found b/w darkroom work to be about as effective as the scanning workflow - by the time I get everything together and make a final 8x10 or 11x14, I must have really liked that image. I edit way more effectively with film than digital - it's so easy to make a few quick adjustments and print, that I never get back to really finalizing the print.

That and the darkroom workflow is comfortable! Some guys hang out in the garage, 'fixing' a car while watching a football game on a black and white set(well, not anymore, but you know what I'm talking about). Me? I have an audiobook, a few trays, and an anti-fatigue mat with far too many negs:)

echoing the previous comment, why not digital printing? I still shoot film with joy and enthusiasm and then scan and print digitally for satisfying results. Much as I loved the hours in my darkroom, I like sitting in front of my computer with a cup of coffee and producing equal (in my eyes) results..

"This was not a collection shot over the course of a few months or even a year, rather it seems that he took the photos for this series over a long period of time interspersed with whatever other project he was working on. I get the feeling that he had shot many of these photographs long before the idea of organizing them in such a fashion was even a remote thought. He was just taking pictures of stuff. Did he or an editor spot the series while reviewing endless contact sheets or did he really have this in mind years before the collection was formed/redacted?"

I believe I've read that he has possible projects in mind and keeps boxes for each project on hand, and just tosses appropriate prints into the appropriate box when he makes them. And yes, he sure is patient in terms of bringing something to fruition.


Good idea.

"echoing the previous comment, why not digital printing?"

Mainly because silver prints are more desired by, and worth more to, museums, galleries, and collectors.


I've been mixing in film shooting with digital over the last 9 months, and it has really helped me on two levels. One, it helps keep me afloat whenever an inspirational rut strikes. Two, it has had me using all manner of cameras and learning lots about exposure and composition.

So far I've been keeping it cheap.

Your post a few months back about the Minolta Autocord piqued my interest, and I now have a Mamiya C330s and a Pentax 6x7 (I seem to always buy in twos :S).

I am new to film (again, after using a Canon Rebel in the 1990s and not taking it very far), but it is a lot more fun than digital. Yes, it ultimately is about the image, but the different form factors, the mix-and-match of film to chemistry, the unpredictability, and the waiting to find out what you got just make it feeling like you are really DOING something. All of the physical activities involved with film combine to make it a much richer experience for me. Thanks for getting my on the path. Good luck with your project.

Way to go, Mike!

Mike, hopefully this photo will end being sold as a print.

@Robert Landrigan: Yup, and my digital prints (on proper Baryta Fibre Paper, I like the Harmann stuff as it is Ilford Gallerie in a inkjet compatible form) look a whole lot better than the wet prints did. But I'm competent in PS and barely functional in the darkroom, something which is not the case for everyone. Pick the workflow that works for you, not the workflow that works for me (or the one which works for Mike).

I'm still primarily a film shooter, but on the processing side it's digital all the way. Mix of 35mm and 120. I do shoot digital, with a G1 and a Pentax K-x and enjoy it, but theres just something about working with film, especially B&W film, which just floats my boat.

Mike, I asked myself the same question. Then I had to realistically decide whether my work is desired by museums, galleries and collectors. Heh.
I second the Adox paper choice. Used about 50 sheets so far. Pretty nice stuff.

Glad to see the encouragement I (along with others) provided that you get back in a darkroom generally and use MCC 110 with Compard WA specifically was embraced!

It will be interesting to hear whether the Mamiya 7II and 80mm lens "take" in your hands. I have that combination and, even with thin and what I fance as rather sensitive fingers, find it a bit fiddly, especially the hair-trigger shutter release. Also, unlike faster Leica optics, you might find the f/4 maximum aperture too slow for your style of shooting. Time will tell; please keep us updated.

I'll reply in the same spirit as I did for Ctein's announcement; if it give you fun to use this film camera and to use chemical photography, more power to you. It's your business.

But contrary to what the choruses of photo enthusiasts demand, the medium is not the message. (Sorry Marshall.) I strongly believe that the only path to satisfaction and improvement in photography is through just doing it. (Sorry Nike...no allusion to Tiger meant.) With a big camera, with a small camera, with film, with electrons,...quit shopping for bats and just hit the damn ball. (Not directed at you, Mike. Just the collective US.)


I have a Durst M600 enlarger with Schneider 75mm lens (late 1960's vintage), that I would be happy to donate to your project. It will handle up to 2 1/4 x 2 1/4.

I haven't been able to find a home for it and would love to see you "bring it back to life".

Good for you Mike!

I think for b&w photography, film and the darkroom are the only way to go. Actually it should work-out quite well doing color digitally and b&w in the darkroom, at least that's the thought I continue to hold onto.

One of these days I'm gonna get this acoustic guitar out of my lap and take some pictures, but music is so expressive as an art form and I don't even have to leave my chair. There's no way I can express the same emotion through pictures, but photography is a great form of expression in a different way, especially b&w. Anyway, good luck!

Hi Mike:

To me the simplicity of film cameras is appealing. For very few clams I recently bought a Canon EOS 650 as well as an EOS Elan 7ne and am very much enjoying using them.

But regarding your purchase of a medium format camera, I thought you would find interesting this post about the resolving power of 120 T Max 100 shot with a Fuji GSW III using a 65mm f5.6 Fujinon lens.



Congrats on the Mamiya 7II. It's one of those cameras I've always got in the back of my mind. The lenses seem fantastic, and I've seen some very impressive images made with them that couldn't have be made as easily or as naturally with any other camera.

Mike, I'll quote Ruth Bernhard;
"Today is the day, now is the time."

I sometimes buy books that tell me how to do something interesting (I just bought one on making and installing art tile) not because I'm actually going to do it, but because by buying the object -- book, camera, whatever - I'm seizing the *possibility* of doing it.

It can be an expensive psychological crutch -- I once bought a sailboat -- giving the impression of movement while not requiring it.

Just sayin'. 8-)


I've coveted the Mamiya 7 for 15 years. I constantly check ebay, but the prices never seem to drop significantly. Please be sure to share your experiences with us.

it's funny, I just picked up a Mamiya 6 earlier this year for very similar reasons. I picked the 6 over the 7II simply because I prefer the 6x6 negative :-)

I've only run 30 or 40 rolls through it so far, but it has quickly become arguably my favorite camera to work with.

I rented a darkroom to do some printing about three year ago. Made three test prints before throwing up my hands in disgust and walking out. Just didn't have the patience anymore.

Of course, if one had one's own conveniently located darkroom, the tale might well be different... Then again, I've yet to make a digital B&W print...


I will certainly buy a print! It would have to be a silver print though!
Do it, please.

Dear Dennis, et.al.,

Neither Mike nor I have ever simply argued digital vs film. Like you, we find it silly and pointless.

"Compare and contrast," though is not the same thing.

As for mixing film and digital, there can be very good reasons. Digital printing gives one control over the image appearance that simply isn't possible in the darkroom. For example:


The Alcoa building photograph is from a 35-year-old negative. When I made it back in 1972, it printed perfectly. At that time, I was enough of a newbie that I didn't realize how important the combination of negative and print paper were; I thought all that stuff was pretty much interchangeable. Around 1980 I went back to reprint that negative on a different paper (the paper I'd used originally had been discontinued) and the print looked terrible! I just couldn't get the tonality and gradation to come out the way they should. Instead of sparkling, it looked dull. I occasionally tried reprinting the negative after that, but I was never able to make a print that look anywhere as good as the original... or even that I thought was particularly interesting.

This spring it popped into my head that I ought to be able to finally print that negative again the way it should be printed... digitally! With Photoshop, I could construct any kind of characteristic curve shape and gradation qualities that I needed. And, sure enough, it worked! So, after more than a third of a century, I have finally gotten to make lovely prints of that photograph again.

Let's hear it for the computer age!

(As an aside, anyone who's getting lousy results from scanning 35mm black and white film is doing it wrong.)

On the other hand...

Printing in the darkroom, if it still meets your needs and desires, is faster and cheaper than scanning film and making digital prints from it, once you are at all proficient. Once you've nailed how to print a negative, it does not take very much time to print a darkroom print, especially if you're doing a bunch of prints (whether of the same neg or different ones) and so can pipeline the process. Sure, it's slow if you have to take one piece of paper from exposure all the way through post-wash toning while doing nothing else. No experienceded darkroom workers do it that way. And despite the dear cost of darkroom supplies these days, digital print materials are still more costly.

Of course, if one approach or the other doesn't meet your needs or desires, the point is moot. That's why I gave up Ektacolor printing in the darkroom. It was twice as fast and three times cheaper than making digital color prints, but I just didn't like them very much any longer. I wish I did, my wallet and my time took a real hit because of that.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

Dear Dean,

Hey, I'm only sorry that he didn't want to buy all MY film camera gear with his ill-gotten gains!

Re: Mike's 20%-- back when we were planning the first print offering in 2008, Mike requested, if it wasn't too much to ask, for a 10% commission on the proceeds. I took umbrage and informed him that if he insisted on accepting one cent less than 20%, the whole deal was off.

I am nothing if not a shrewd and ruthless negotiator!

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Hello Mike,

Though I've been honing my B&W digital skills for 10 years now and have several very nice (IMHO, of course!) 100% digitally made B&W framed prints hanging in my home, I still find shooting and processing film to be immensely satisfying. Also, hanging on my walls are silver prints by Ansel Adams, John Sexton, Alan Ross, etc, and to my eyes the silver prints look...well...different; in a good way!!

Recently, I took in a showing of a mix of silver prints and digital prints by Ray McSavaney. There was one strategic point in the gallery space where one could stand and see a good representation of both silver and digital prints together. Though nobody tested me, I'm sure I could have identified which was which from across the room. Not putting digital technolgy down here, rather a digital print is different from a silver print and both can exist just fine on their own merits!

Good luck with the Mamiya 7II!! I'd be very interested in hear any comments you'd care to share regarding this camera once you've had a chance to use it a bit.

Way you go Mike! You'll soon be putting my film ribbon back on the site (remember that?) and be a fully paid up member of filmwasters.com (actually, it's free).

P.S. If you feel like replacing that Contax 139 you once had, I have a nice one ready and waiting for a new home.

Why do museums, galleries, and collectors feel silver prints are worth more? I thought digital printing was pretty well accepted by now. Does that mean that anyone thinking of doing Fine Art should forget digital?

I say you scan the negatives, print a larger negative on Transparency film and then do platinum prints from there. I can just see the money rolling in.

To fund the digital M crackbits, I put a couple cameras for sale. After looking at the big negs from the Mamiya 7II again, I changed my mind about it and am keeping it. The tonality is just so smooth.

I started this project with it:

but will probably finish it with the digital M... and maybe the XPan...

I started digital, converting all photos to black & white, but I started using film, in part, to pick up an affordable rangefinder. I had originally intended to use both mediums in tandem, but the first time I saw a scanned---that's right, scanned---image of a Tri-X negative, I never touched digital again.

Some of you have walk-in closets larger than my apartment (despite the minimal space recently gained by my move from Tokyo to New York), and logistical limitations currently hinder a venture into silver print; but I still have the negatives, so maybe one day; it is not a zero sum option.

As for the debate about scanned versus wet print, I've heard too many people, all with 40 or more years of experience in photography, take up antithetical positions.

So I'll reserve judgment until I do a side by side comparison of one of my own photos. For now though, using curves and maybe dodge/burn brush (paintbrush, 50 percent grey) is quick and precise.

Jim Metzger,
Thank you for the kind offer, but I have two Dursts and an LPL (Saunders) standing by!


"(As an aside, anyone who's getting lousy results from scanning 35mm black and white film is doing it wrong.)"

That's my other problem with scanning. I always do it wrong. [g]


"Who knows whether another decade and a half of maturity—and the de facto end of my film photography in 2000—are enough to focus my fundamentally wandering mind?"

So judgmental! (Or judge mental?) I feel the need to defend the genius behind TOP from its proprietor.

As I'm sure you know well, it's sometimes better to accomodate a "fundamentally wandering mind" than to try and fight it. Why not budget some time for such explorations? Isn't redaction in part a process of discovery?

Is it possible that when you glom onto a "lesser" negative you are noticing some unsuspected potential narrative or line of organization there? Or perhaps seeing an opportunity to explore a technical aspect of printing and improve skills or knowledge?

Sometimes a digression is an alternate path; sometimes it's relevant to some other ongoing pursuit. At any rate, please give your "fundamentally wandering mind" a little respect. Apply discipline, set goals, whatever makes you tick; but work with, not against, your natural process.

And maybe you're in a way trying to justify what you feel is an extravagant indulgence. Go ahead and justify, if you need to, but please don't forget to enjoy the extravagant indulgence part!

Oh, come on, Mike. You're still in art school. You'll always be a student. That's why we love you.

Guess you shouldn't have sold all your darkroom equipment a few years ago! ;)

(IIRC, you mentioned that on Luminous Landscape a while back.)

"Why do museums, galleries, and collectors feel silver prints are worth more? I thought digital printing was pretty well accepted by now. Does that mean that anyone thinking of doing Fine Art should forget digital?"

In a word, yes. When last I heard the figures, 90% of photographers were doing digital, but 10% of museum and collector purchases were digital. It might be slowly increasing, but generally speaking digital is not a fine-art medium yet. It'll get there; the museums just lag behind a bit.

If you want to be a fine-art photographer today, *the* hot medium is a 4x5 camera (or an 8x10), an Apo-Sironar-S, and Portra. Why? Because it's easy to tell it's not digital! (Although the prints made from such negs are often inkjets.)


Oh No! You're 'forcing' me to finally get around to developing the film from my M7 (with 65mm). I'm not actually sure whether it is working properly as the multi-exposure switch broke.

As I said in a comment on Ctein's article. I'm not sure whether I've given up film yet. I have a mixed love affair with that M7.

It is meant to bring life back to my Coolscan 9000.



Congrats on the Mamiya 7 II purchase. I have had one for a long time, along with the 65 mm lens. It is a superb kit, even if the lenses are a bit slow.

The 65 is a bit too "wide" for me, and there is usually too much sky in the frame, so I have taken to shooting the camera with the panorama adapter. This way I get to use the incredible Mamiya lenses, and film that doesn't exist in 120 0r 220 formats, such as kodachrome 25 or 64.

My wife doesn't really like me using the Mamiya because we have young kids that like to be carried, and one time I while bending down to pick up one of our kids, the camera slid off of my shoulder and whacked the child in the head.

By the way, I recently came by an Epson R1Ds, that I shoot with a summilux 50/1.4. It is a lot of fun to use; the six megapixels are by far enough for me, but it is wierd trying to see in color after shooting black and white for so many years.

Sorry for the digression. You will love the Mamiya.

Please start with a print of the picture on the cover of your Lulu book Mike. I would buy it even if it's sort of expensive!

You craaaazy kid you.

I got back into film a couple of years ago after buying a scanner to digitize old negatives and slides. Now I shoot maybe 80 percent film. It's just more interesting. So many digital images seem perfect without being beautiful. Or to put it another way: high image quality without a lot of image character. It's a prejudice, no doubt. But it's my prejudice, and I'm stickin' to it.


I gave up digital for the darkroom. But only on the basis of the number of prints I produce. Having said that, a digital camera is on my horizon and I will be done with the wet darkroom. The big problem is determining which format I will print. Inkjet, dyesub, digital book, light jet, etc.

Right now, I am confounded.


Dear Paul,

My take on this fine art business differs a little from Mike's.

I think the answer to your first question is fairly simple, and it's the same reason that for a long time you couldn't get decent money for photographs, period. Perceived rarity and scarcity. In the bad old days, photographs were dissed because everyone fancied that they could pick up a camera and make great photographs, while very few people believed they could pick up a brush and paint great paintings. Doesn't matter that they were totally wrong. In the art world, perception is everything. I believe what you're seeing today is merely the latest version of that theme: everybody thinks they can make great digital prints, because they can buy a digital camera and a computer printer, while most people don't think they can make great darkroom prints. Still an incorrect assumption, but assumption defines the market.

That does not make digital prints worthless, though. It just means they're priced substantially less. For example, on a square footage basis, Ultrachrome prints of Jim Marshall's photographs go for about 1/5 the price of dye transfers of the same photographs. It has nothing to do with the quality of the prints; in at least a couple of cases, all of us involved are unanimous in agreeing that the digital print is a substantially superior interpretation and rendering of the photograph. But some patrons go all ga-ga at the prospect of owning one of those incredibly exclusive dye transfer prints, and they will shell out bucks accordingly.

Note that we are thousands of dollars for a digital print.

My ratio isn't that extreme, because my dye transfer print prices are relatively low for the market. I'm running more like a 3-4:1 ratio.

On the other hand, digital prints have one advantage in the contemporary fine art market, which is that you can readily make them larger. Most darkroom printers limit themselves to 16" x 20"; a minority go to 20" x 24". By today's fashion, that is a *small* print. The style today is to use large artworks that define a space. Yes, it's a fashion, and yes, fashions change. But it is the aesthetic style today, and that defines contemporary fine art purchases (historical fine art is another matter entirely). Bill Atkinson, a couple of years back, told me that something like two thirds of his sales were for prints that were larger than 24" x 30". It's very, very hard to make a darkroom print bigger than 24" x 30," hardly anyone does it.

If your goal as a fine art photographer is to have your work collected by the traditionally great museums, then it I agree with Mike. Digital is going to be an uphill battle for it. If your goal is to make sales as a fine art photographer, that's another matter.

As a final comment, I would observe that the overwhelming majority of photographer/printers doing dye transfer printing migrated to digital printing pretty quickly (it wasn't like they had much of a choice), and most of them did just fine. Their prices dropped, but they're still getting good money.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

That guy from the US who assembles large groups of naked folk in public (no, not "pubic") places and photographs them is in Sydney at present as a guest of the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. I understand that the venue for willing victims is the Sydney Opera House steps.

The point being (at last) the pix of him (clothed of course) published in the local newspapers show him holding a Mamiya 7 .

It's interesting that an event of this nature, which requires such large scale organisation, might not dictate the use of an instant results digital camera. Even a film stalwart like me might be tempted to use one.

Regards - Ross

I was *this* close to picking up a Mamiya 7 and lens kit about a year ago. I'd realized that my interest in MF was serious and I wanted a camera for the long haul. It seemed like a good fit for the kind of photography I did, and though it did feel a bit awkward to hold and use when I tried it out I figured it's something you get used to over time.

Before shelling out the money I figured I should try out a few other cameras, jsut for fun. I borrowed a worn Pentax 67 with 90mm lens from the store - and it just instantly clicked. On paper it's exactly the wrong camera for me, where a rangefinder should be perfect. But that doesn't matter; I get a smile on my face - and pictures I enjoy - every time I pick it up, heavy and clumsy or not.

In the art world, perception is everything. I believe what you're seeing today is merely the latest version of that theme: everybody thinks they can make great digital prints, because they can buy a digital camera and a computer printer, while most people don't think they can make great darkroom prints.

Oh, how true.

But a bit limited. Today, almost anything is perception. Case in point, translation. Around here, everybody thinks that translating from English is easy. So they give their English material to people who obviously don't know Croatian and even less English. Besides, judging by awful translations to English on the web, happens everywhere.

Hm. Just occured to me that it might be the case with everything that belongs to the category of "medium" and not "art" as such – writing, translating, photography, even design...

The technical difficulty of the medium is proportional to the medium being perceived as art. Everybody speaks a language so anybody can write and translate. Everybody can press the shutter, so anybody can take successful photographs. Everybody has seen design, so anybody can design a logo or a web page or anything like that, non-tangible. Computer does all the work, right?

@Ctein, "As an aside, anyone who's getting lousy results from scanning 35mm black and white film is doing it wrong."

It is said that at least in the low end, it is quite difficult actually to get good result from silver due to the latest use cold LCD light for scanner. I got a Nikon 35mm one and found it quite hard. It is so much easier to just print it out in dark room and scan the print with my Canon flatbed scanner instead.

What scanner, software and basic technique you are using that get this right.

After years of occassionally using the kitchen as a 'darkroom', handy for snacks but a chore to set up and dismantle each time, I have set up my own bespoke darkroom in our fine Victorian t&g pine lined loft for a reasonable amount of money and DIY -the most expense was for a plumber so I could sleep easy. After endless trials of techniques for b&w film scanning I am now almost happy with it - scan negs as slides for best scanner performance and range then inverting and duotone curves - I was becoming increasingly frustrated at the amount of tweaking to scans aswell as cleaning despite anti-stat and film cleaner. Whereas the luxury of a permanent darkroom has enabled me to produce something that is more satisfying as a hands on craft and with little effort, for example,to produce proofs to see the potential for a print.
Now I am spoilt, I can fulfil my love of 35mm B&W from developing to printing in my own space and produce super prints from my A900 which I use increasingly as I did Medium Format.
For me scanning is frustratingly slow (why is the technology like that ?) and whilst I will still keep that capability the wet print still holds its magic.
At 45 I have realised this has been a hole in my contentment as a photographer since leaving a walk in darkroom 20 years ago. I'm very lucky.
I hope you too get this dual satisfaction Mike.

Mark Walker


I am so glad to read of your decision to set up a darkroom in your basement and get cracking with your negatives. And get back to shooting some film. It'll be good for your soul to get back to your roots, rediscover the pleasures of a simple process and exercise those finely-honed skills of yours. When back in January you hinted that you had made a New Year's resolution, I'd hoped that this would be it.

Excellent choice on the Mamiya 7II and 80mm; the viewfinder is superb and I laughed when I first experienced that quiet and low-vibration in-lens shutter. The 80mm is a copy of the symmetrical Schneider Symmar.

Best wishes for the new adventure.

Rod S.

PS. To the several people above who said they've always wanted a Mamiya 7 or 7II, gosh, they're not that expensive, either new out of Hong Kong or second-hand, with the excellent resale value helping if you decide it's not for you, as Mike said. Just defer that next digital purchase!

Book would be best for me. I use all wall space to display my stuff (& my wife's too); so prints would go languishing in some box. I seem to collect photo books (over 300 and counting) since they act as inspiration (and a reminder of yet how far I have to go on this journey).

The Mamiya 7ii and the tonality of its negatives are what keep my film cameras around. It's just a lovely, lovely camera.

Interesting comment about the hot medium being a view camera and Portra film. Not that I care about what's hot, but I loved--and I mean LOVED--making C-prints from big negs. Sadly, thanks to digital, it is for all practical purposes impossible for me to get the chemistry I need for C41 and RA-4 color, at least in rural Canada. With C-print there is this moment when you get the colour dialed in just right and subtle hues become distinct and clear. It takes a lot of printing before one starts to recognize this. Though digital colour can be very good, I've never warmed up to the process, which seems quite sterile in comparison.

I am quite anxious to see your work. The work is the thing, whether it is digital or film! I think that you really have to follow these creative impulses. You never know where they might lead you.

On a side note, did you major in photography while in art school?

And I really enjoy the articles on this site.
Keep up the good work!

I just love it when folks try to do something old. Good on yer..Mike.

As for me I'm over the digital/film debate. Sorry, I just don't want to call what I've done all these years "analog." Gelatin Silver.....who knew.

I use both film and electrons, but I find I take special pleasure in trying to remember details like closing the aperture before pulling the dark slide when using my 4x5 l. I made some pretty good prints with a 40 year old 35mm negative the other night and want to take another shot at it tonight. I like that I'm not even tempted to scan the print to tweak it.

I don't stay up until 3AM printing like I did as a young man, but an evening in the darkroom is never wasted. I find that after a day of multi-tasking with computers, cell phones and kids in crisis, the pleasure of a focused activity like working with film and paper is just what I need.

"did you major in photography while in art school?"

Yes, I have a BFA in Photography from the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C., now called the Corcoran College of Art + Design. It's a museum school connected to the Corcoran Gallery. It's just across the street from the Old Executive Office Building which is next to the White House.


Dear Dennis,

I didn't say making good digital prints from black-and-white film was easy. Neither, for that matter is making good black-and-white prints in the darkroom. As anyone who is starting out in the craft can tell you. It takes lots and lots of darkroom work before you get really good at it. Even though your end goal may be the same -- a print that does justice to the negative -- digital printing is an entirely different craft. Many experienced darkroom printers trying to move into the realm of digital don't think about that, and they quickly get frustrated by the initially-poor results they're getting. They think the problem is inherent in the craft; they don't realize that they are noobs all over again.

I'm sure there are scanners that produce very mediocre results. Probably even most of them, the same way most enlarging lenses produce really mediocre results (we just know enough to avoid those). Unfortunately for this conversation, I pretty early-on found a scanner that worked well for me, which meant I never tried most of the scanners out there. What I'm using is a Minolta Dimage Scan Multi-PRO film scanner, because it will do everything up to 6 cm x 9 cm negatives at up to 4800 ppi, and the majority of my personal work is medium format. It's an excellent scanner for both 35mm and medium format, and they are available used, but I think they still go for near two grand.

I can't tell you what, if anything, is really good amongst scanners that do only 35mm and smaller. Possibly there is nothing out there. It may be similar to the situation with enlargers; there were very few good, professional-grade 35mm enlargers made; most folks doing serious printing bought a medium format or 4 x 5 enlarger, even if they never printed that big, because that's where you could get the quality.

I'm using the software that came with the scanner and have been sufficiently happy with it that I didn't investigate anything else. I'm told that Silverfast is much better, and one of these days I need to get them to send me an evaluation copy. I may end up kicking myself for not having gotten a copy 10 years ago (wouldn't be the first time that's happened).

The first thing to know about scanning film is you need to do it at the highest pixel pitch your scanner will support. The real resolution of the scanner will be somewhat less than that, but the thing you care about here is that a scanned film "grain" can never be smaller than one pixel in size. Scanning at lower resolutions just gets you big, mushy grain instead of small, sharp grain, like using a lousy enlarging lens. By my standards, even 4800 ppi isn't quite enough; I prefer to have 8000 ppi, but it's good enough, especially since the Minolta scanner is very sharp (resolving 80-85 line pair per millimeter out of a theoretical 96).

The second thing is that you need to scan in 16-bit per channel mode and, if your scanner allows it, do multi-sampling per pixel. 8X is a good sample rate. (Makes the scans go VERY slowly... but it's not like you have to babysit it while it does it.) You want to get the maximum amount of information out of the d-max areas of your negative, because they're going to print as highlights, and our vision is extremely sensitive to tonal separation and quality in the highlights. That requires collecting all the data you can.

The third thing is to find which scanning mode in your scanner can capture the maximum density range. A good scanner will offer three flavors of scan: black-and-white negative, color negative, and color slide, with two variations on that, "16-bit" and "16 bit linear" (or raw, in some scanner parlance). You would think logic would be able to tell you which combination of settings would work the best. It doesn't seem to. Pull out a really difficult black-and-white negative, the kind that you'd need a Grade 1 paper to print in the darkroom, and scan it with all six combinations. See which scan catches the longest density range in a black-and-white negative. Those are the settings you should use for all your negatives. It may very well turn out to be something weird like "color slide, 16 bit." Like I said, don't try to apply logic to the problem, just run the comparisons.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Slightly off-topic and somewhat late to this thread .... However, A late, long bad night run in the darkroom is still better than a good day at the office ...."

Make that a digital office :-)

@Ctein: thanks for the answer.

I have spent now 5 years on different kinds of affordable scanners and patient/test is run out. Recently tried CoolScan but only later know that it is not much good for black and white. I would try the minolta when that option come up. For 8x10, still cannot afford the very high end scanner for my black and white. May go for the V700 (after looking at it for the last 3+ years).

It is a hard job to do half-digital. Pure digital and pure film is easier.

It never struck me how absurd creating photographs in the dark was until I was able to create them in the light with the full use of my eyes. The zone system was very handy, but the intrinsic ability of my eyes and mind to assess an image seems infinity more powerful. Photographers are the only visual artists who think working blind or with limited vision is a good thing. ;)

For those who are unaware many labs now offer prints from files on traditional BW silver gelatin paper.

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