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Sunday, 13 March 2016


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It's extremely tough to beat the Japanese when it comes to quality in engineering. They are hardcore. Doesn't matter what it is: cars, motorcycles, moving coll cartridges, cameras, lenses, enlargers, etc., etc.

You may find this video of a visit by the wonderfully wacky Digital Rev gang to the Fujifilm factory in Sendai, Japan to be a good example: https://youtu.be/8RC9wmRwsoo


Ah, yes, I remember it well. My darkroom(s)were an apartment bathroom for many years. Set up after everyone else was in bed. Trays in the bathtub, enlarger (a Federal, later Omega D2) on the toilet seat and film tank in the sink. Green safelight over the sink. Go until 3-4AM, clean up, put away and then go to sleep until time to get up and go to school or work. Great fun, in retrospect, but limited No color processing and while I got fairly good at it I was nver a Jerry Uelsmann - although I tried, No, I have no grief with the capabilities that digital provides. Now, good or bad, I sometimes manage to create the image I was after when I took the shot.

" With photography, it was the reality in front of the camera that had the upper hand, even though it got translated into photographic terms."
This is one reason why some refused for many years to consider photography as an art. Today that excuse is pretty much history,

I always enjoy hearing how folks got to where they are at. your post are good at that.

I've been taking pictures since I was a child. even then most of them weren't just snapshots. however developing my own output seemed like work and I hate work.

then photoshop showed up and I picked up a good scanner. utter bliss! I could do almost anything my seriously off-kilter head could conceive. I pretty much quit painting and illustrating with traditional media and haven't looked back since.

to me it's like the guy who clings to cane fly rods because that's how it was done not because he prefers the action of the rod. if he really meant it he'd be in the water wrestling fish with his bare hands.

you mention automobiles...solid state ignitions, 300hp inline six-cylinders,cars that start at 30 below ...what's not to love about that. especially giving your old-school father a ride to work because his classic was hibernating.

I enjoy the history of things and it informs my choices but I try not to let the past control my present.

anyway I always found reality to be so...limiting.

As a nit picker I must point out...
It's TaKoma Park. ( The "c" version is in Washington state. )
I live here ( or there).
It's also locally semi famous for being nuclear free. Not exactly sure if that's completely true but we have not had a single recorded nuclear attack yet.
Don't know Paul Kennedy but have seen some of his really nice documentary work on old blues artists.

You are really a wonderful writer.
Warmest regards

I felt the same way when my pair of Canon A-1s (not AE, but A) bodies and my entire kit went to pay for a semester of college.

It's funny, I got into computer work because I'm terrible at dealing with the physical world. 😃

That said, I did put together an Omega 4x5 enlarger back in the day which is still in my basement. I bought it in the mid to late 90s after I took a series of B&W photo classes at the local school and got tired of using their rooms to do printing. Had a horrible pink bathroom converted so I put trays where the bathtub was and made a few dozen decent prints from 35mm and 6x6.

Then the D100 (and really the D70s) showed up and I put it all away and will never go back. The chemicals never agreed with my skin and even though I was a pretty good B&W printer I was never really convinced that it was the only way to get a good print, or even that a good print was what you needed to get, in the end.

A lot of the nostalgia around film (vs. digital) seems to center on this question of how much you can manipulate the digital picture if you want to. You see it said, in my different ways, that the thing that makes film "good" is that it is a more direct connection to whatever you were looking at with the camera.

I guess I never saw it this way because I'm horrible at using Photoshop for anything but darkroom-like manipulations. And, if you take that part of toolchain out of the workflow I don't really see that chemical development, then printing, is really that much more of a direct physical connection to the original image in your mind's eye than photoelectric sensors behind a Bayer array and some software. Of course, I work on software for a living, so it has a more concrete existence to me.

I can get behind your way of putting it though: even if I'm not good at it manipulating the scene with Photoshop is certainly easier on average than manipulating physical pieces of plastic.

I still don't really miss breathing fixer though. At all.

P.S. A few years back I did sell a bunch of auxiliary darkroom stuff to a local friend who thought he was going to get into printing. This included an *awesome* grain focuser, which I do sort of miss using. But I would not be using it anyway. I also still have some of my Hewes reels, because they are cool to look at.

Mike, it's TaKoma Park Maryland and TaComa, Washington. I grew near the first one and live near the 2nd one now.

[Thanks Steve. Fixed. --Mike]

The Rodenstock Apo-Rodagon-N 80mm ƒ/4 is one of my favorite lenses of all time. I use it with my Olympus mft/Actus setup. Of course it's necessary to cover the f/stop window with black tape to prevent light leakage. I love my Rodagon 135mm f/5.6, and I am quite fond of the Rodagon WA 60mm f/4. The El-Nikkor 105mm f/5.6 ain't too shabby either.

All of the aforementioned are 39mm screw mount lenses--that's a big plus.

The enlarger lenses are great for macro work, and they are razor sharp and contrasty at infinity. I use these lenses on the Actus with the front standard tilted about a millimeter or two so that the entire field of view snaps into razor sharp focus from up close to infinity at f/8.

Since I don't use the Actus for situations requiring creamy backgrounds, I cannot comment about bokeh.


As I was reading your thoughts on silver crystals vs. pixels it immediately brought to mind the work of Jerry Uelsmann. Although I never developed a taste for his work I really enjoy showing his efforts to my current students to drive home the point that seamless photographic creations were done (in his case exceedingly well) prior to Adobe Photoshop. It's also entertaining for me to show them examples of those pre-photoshop masters-of-illusion, i.e. the Russians and their photo manipulations, crude as they might be. For many students, this all comes as a MAJOR revelation and step by step furthers their ability to place 'photographic manipulation' in a wider historical context.

My first enlarger was an Opemus 66 with a Componon. I eventually graduated to a Beseler 23CII and that was pure luxury at $199.00
(I pay more now for software! Yikes)
I do not, however, miss the long hours I spent producing maybe one good print.
Mixed my Amidol, D-23, etc. SO I guess the price of PhotoShop ain't so bad.
Thanks Mike

Mi dos pesos or Mon deux Euro since I am still in France. Hey! bi lingual!

I started with a dirt-cheap (I was a schoolboy) Chinese enlarger called Seagull. Light leaks all over the place, and not even a straight guide for the head, you *lifted* it up or down and locked it, but it might as well move sideways!
But I got really sharp enlargments after I got a Nikkor 50mm 4.0 enlargement lens. Fantastic lens, which for some reason sold for under fifty dollars.
Later I got a Durst 35. Beautiful machine, comparatively.

You have to "skedaddle" you say ... the only one I ever knew who used that word was my father who would have been 106 years old if he were here today! :)

I too lived on borrowed darkrooms ... I know whereof you speak.

I also have an LPL; mine has a B&W condenser head and a colour head.

What a wonderful piece of equipment is was to use when I did darkroom work. I bought it for amateur use ( it seemed more robust than the Durst enlargers that are more common here in Europe), but it served me very well when I did theatrical photography professionally for a few years.

I must admit I miss analogue photography, but it does not mix well with family life with all those hours that need to be spent in the darkroom. The digital darkroom is far more sociable.

With the chemical darkroom I had to do crazy things to get work out on time. With ballet I would have to shoot a sea of film at the dress rehearsal and then produce enlarged “contacts” for the next morning to be approved and prints chosen for the evening performance, 24 hours of nonstop work with no sleep.

Or with Opera I would photograph the first act, rush home and develop the film and make the press release prints with the film still wet in time to have prints ready for the Journalists at the end of the show.


Happy times.

"I take a nice photo of a rock, meal, or sunset. Then, I apply a filter and press Share. In less than two minutes, anyone in the world can see this image. A moment later, I'll see names next to a heart... Instant gratification! This should be amazing, but it's not - because it circumvents the important part of the creative process. What matters most in any creative endeavor, is the making. That's the magic." -- Eric Karjaluoto ( http://www.erickarjaluoto.com/blog/the-maker-illusion/ )

Interesting that you refer to your life in the past tense.

I take it you're not a Jerry Uelsmann fan, then?

Our trajectories mirror, Mike.

I have a Zone VI 5x7 enlarger with a VC head sitting on a table in the basement, mocking me. . . mocking me, I tell you.

The basement also has a pump of the type used by folks who have their clothes washers installed below grade, specially installed by expensive plumbers. The pump also mocks me, but sometimes gets used in the course of developing film. Like in 2009. Yup . . . I remember the day and the roll of film, which -- when dry -- I promptly took upstairs and scanned. My enlarging lenses were/are Schneider Companon-S's, the timer was engineered by Fred Picker's finest to samba in time to the temperature of the developer and my print washer is a lucite work of art, marketed by that same snake-oil salesman on the idea that the principles of entropy and chemical diffusion did not apply to him and his disciples.

I resolved this year to make only black-and-white pictures and to that end today took a trusty Nikon FM2 along to take portraits of my kids. . . and wound up using a digital camera instead. ;)

Do not regret your sale Mike; rather pity those of us who have held on -- white knuckled -- to our technology past the point of depreciation, past the point of parts availability, past whatever final signpost of rationality there may have been on a straight-line, no-rumble-strip, pedel-to-the-metal Thelma-and-Louise . ..wait.. . . where was I?

Oh. the kicker? Several years ago, a local camera store had a Leica Focomat Ic for sale, and I said to myself, "You know, I always wanted one of those . . ." So now the Zone VI has a little friend. You have to laugh.

Although there are many differences of course, I see quite a few parallels to my photographic history, even to the extent that when I could finally afford a darkroom I ended up buying an LPL enlarger with Rodenstock lens! Regardless of whether I now prefer digital (I do) those formative years with film set the stage for a way of thinking that doesn't seem to occur with the new generation of digital photographers on the whole. "A considered approach" would be the best way I could describe it.

LPL was the only high quality enlarger brand I could afford in Brazil. I'm glad I've bought them, new, at the right time.

Airbrush techniques. That's what was used in the film era to remove something or someone from a photograph. It was rather fast, an hour or two was all a skilled retoucher needed.

Reading this made me go to the basement and pull the towels off my glorious Focomat v35. I worked the knob and moved the head up and down a few times. The action is still as smooth as I remembered. Magnificent old tools. I put the towels back over it and turned out the basement light.

What? Did you ever regret not getting the XL long column version? After all, gearitis is invariant across technological change. Just kidding.

I went through three different enlarger set ups over three decades, all temporary set up/knock down affairs. I'd love to do it again, but know I won't. When I take my rose colored glasses off my memories, I do recall the times that I would emerge out of the darkroom feeling tired. Serious printing is hard work.

When apocalypse came for the wet darkroom, I went crazy on eBay, buying equipment that had been previously unaffordable for pennies on the dollar. Densitometers, compensation timers, doo-dads of every kind. And a Durst modular enlarger I had coveted for years. Its all squirreled away in a friend's basement storage somewhere. I'll never use it, but I'm glad I have that choice stuff.

Materialism at its worst.

It was always the improvised darkrooms that I did my best work in:) I worked in my parents laundry room, my father's custom made attic darkroom(complete with the magical Minolta Beseler 45A), and then off to school - the Maneater darkroom, where in '93 we made quick and dirty prints and shot 'em wet on a process camera, and by '94 we had a Nikon Coolscan and the only prints made were for fun. Then several apartments, and finally, finally, my own darkroom. Yeah. Kids+ darkroom is a hard equation - developing film easy(I have as many spares as I can afford for my inherited Jobo ATL1500), prints...ugh.

My beloved Beseler MX45is still set up, however, original filter tray and all. I've tried cold light heads and VC heads, but old muscle memory wins out every time.

I too had a beautiful enlarger. Two in fact. One was an very old Omega D2, the other was an 8 x 10 horizontal enlarger, which I made myself from an old Century 8 x 10 view camera, attached an 8 x 10 Aristo cold light head to the Century view camera, had some negatives carriers made, attached that whole assembly to a bed I made of oak with a sliding upright holder that held the easel in place, it really did work!

The D2 was probably from the 1940's. I redesigned it, I had a local machine shop make some new parts for it, fitted it with a Aristo cold light head, including a Schneider 135mm enlarging lens.

Like yourself, I moved around a lot darkroom wise. I never really had a "real" darkroom of my own. I often used the newspaper darkroom where I was (and still am) employed. When I lived in a small apartment I used the bathroom and stuck the big D2 in a walking closet. I even had darkroom in a spare office in a nearby apartment building, I also rented space for a bit.

When I moved into a real house, I turned one of the spare bedrooms into a darkroom, covered the window and brought in some plumbing, that was where the big 8 x 10 horizontal lived along with the Omega D2, the bedroom was quite small, about 10 x 10 feet in size, about 4 years later the digital wave hit and I ended up buying this Epson 4000 printer, along with a Microtek i900 scanner ( because it could scan 8 x 10 negs ) I disassembled the homemade 8 x 10 enlarger and stuck my printer and scanner on the table where it once sat.

I ran into a bit of a conundrum though, as I was able to make a darkroom print or a print scanned from my negative printed via ink jet, which was better? each had its own unique character, eventually I ended up turning the darkroom into an office, made myself a nice desk for the scanner and and printer stand for the Epson 4000. Nowadays for the past 12 years I have been scanning my large format negatives, which I then print out via a inkjet printer ( Epson 4800 ). I love using my view camera.

I still have a darkroom but on a much smaller scale, which I'm very happy with. Small and simple. It's now in the laundry room of my house, really just a film developing station, since I don't make optical enlargements and I don't need a lot of space. I have been toying with the idea of making contact prints from my negatives, I recently made myself a very nice contact printing from , the laundry room is the perfect size for me to do this work in, like many things it just finding the time, maybe when I retire!

My "period of transition" was from cut & splice magnetic sound to digital sound editing for motion pictures. The ease with which I could achieve tasks blew me away.

But, of course, why a thing was done was always the key point, not how it was done.

It was a quick learn, too, when you're sat at a computer and told that you have the job if you can figure out the technique in a week.

@ Stephan Scarf

True as far as it goes, but living here and getting the full experience leads to less awe and trust in that. We all wish Fukushima Daiichi, Mitsubishi Industry vehicles, and much more were a bit better engineered. To say the least. Of course, if we get into software engineering, we sorta drop a number of levels. Check any Japan created Raw converters, for example. And good gaw ya don't wanna start on the /airconditioning/heating/hot water systems in my "mansion."

Remember how clocks in cars never worked for long. I bought a 1980 Accord sedan and its clock never failed.

I remember cars rusting after 2-3 years, now they come with 10 year rust warranties.

Amazing what we put up with because someone tells us to.

Last summer I purchased a mint condition Besler 23C III XL enlarger with EL-Nikkor lens at Terrapin Trader in College Park MD for $5. I removed the head and installed Manfrotto 3-way tripod head and now use it as a copy stand. Don't sell, recycle or re-purpose!

My last enlarger was an LPL also. Medium format, not 4x5. Schneider and Rodenstock lenses, large Saunders 4-blade easel, Versalab archival washer...all good stuff. It took me decades to finally afford it and it took almost six years to find someone willing to take it from me for free.

John Camp's comment resonates. Maybe it comes from years in the chemical darkroom with limited manipulation abilities but I love a photograph that looks like a photograph. I love photography because photographs look like reality and reality is not "picture perfect". I love the look of family snapshots with their "mistakes". I love the tilted horizons and lens flare and off colors you see in amateur work. Primitive but honest photography. Just like too many cooks working in the same kitchen, too many fixes can spoil the stew.

Your post makes me very sad. It reminds me we are on the edge of losing a wonderful form and presentation of photography. My father taught high school photography so I grew up around a darkroom and the magic that happens there. I am sad to hear of those who found darkroom work a chore, as it brings me only joy. I bought the 4x5 version of your enlarger in 2013 hoping it will last me a lifetime. I have debates with myself (and my wallet) about buying a second one as a spare because replacing/repairing it far down the road will be difficult. It is a great time for photography as you say but for me I am seeing the discontinuation of film after film, camera after camera, lens after lens.... Sigh.

A local camera shop that deals in a lot of used equipment had a sale a couple years ago: "Make any purchase, get a free enlarger."

I still have my Leitz Focomat Ic and Omega B22. They have set untouched in the basement for 20 years. I'll soon be passing them and the rest of my darkroom equipment to a young photographer who is enamored with film. That feels a lot better than tossing them in a dumpster.

I had to surrender my 1996 Honda Civic with 352,000+ miles on it last June; it would not pass inspection. Rust uber alles. But my Nikons and Nikkormmats soldier on without "dust on the sensors."

Still remember- you were considered "serious" about photography if you owned a B-22 and Tiltall back in the 70's.

I wondered how long it would take you to find out about John Coffer, since he lives just over a few hills from you.

Take a tintype course from him, and it could be a game changer in your photographic life.

John Camp's comment about farm tractors and yours about thousands of hours lost to the darkroom brought back very fond memories. In the mid-70s, I was farm manager for a Quaker boarding school in Iowa. I and my students raised a lot of hogs and corn, but the winters demanded much less of me than the 16-or-more-hour-days of the spring, summer and fall. The school's fine darkroom was my winter home, and if those many hours produced more than one finished print that was OK. Because of the front-end technology and costs of film, chemicals, paper, mechanical cameras--I didn't have dozens of good negatives to play with. I was learning, and if my roll of 36 yielded more than one potential keeper, I was happy. I hadn't wasted the roll.

A few years later, I moved to Southern California, bought a house and decided to turn one of the bedrooms into a darkroom. I spent more hours building it than using it.

But as fondly as I might remember those hours of solitude and creativity, I love the digital revolution; the lightroom, the cameras, the lenses, and the printers. I like taking hundreds shots and editing the best ones at home, on trips, in my office, on a plane, in a hotel room, on a camping trip, in the car, etc.

But I recognize that these days anyone with a good eye and a cell phone can produce a damn good photo. No problem. Technology and convenience are fine, the gear is great, but the photography I like still springs mostly from a good imagination.

The past has nothing new on what is doable today, it's all been done before pretty much. It's a lot more explained and distributed now. And it's also easier in post.

Today we have a extravagance of options and auto solutions. That's a good thing.

I still have the Besler 23c with dicro head that my father and I used back in the day. I went upstairs and dug out the lenses we used too. A El-Nikkor f2.8 50mm, Prinz f4.5 105mm and a Vivitar f4.5 105mm. The el-Nikkor is beautiful with 8 blades but the Vivitar has 16. I also found my Leica adapter for my Fujica ST-801, 901 AZ-1 bodies. Now if I can use it to adapt these lenses for use on mmy Pentax DSLRs, I will be a happy camper. I do not use the enlarger, living on a septic tank, it is not a good thing to live with all that heavy metal in the back yard.

So sad about your LPL enlarger. A while, perhaps five or even seven years ago, when everyone seemed to be ditching their darkrooms I went to an annual photo show and swap meet. I'm not knowledgeable about enlargers but there was an Omega that could go up to 4X5 and with a whole bunch of stuff for it. The table wanted $200 in the morning. All day the price dropped until at about 3 PM it was $20! No takers. At the same time, over against one wall, there was a couple of "free" tables. On one sat an Omega B22 XL, complete, again, no takers. I left with a kind of sick feeling.

I keep a note of quotes about photography that particularly resonate with me and following on from yours and John Camp's and other comments about photographing "reality", these seem worth mulling over:

"A photograph must be more interesting that than the thing photographed" (Gary Winogrand)

"You form the meaningless world into photographs, then form those photographs into a meaningful world." (Paul Graham)

"A pictures’s not the world but a new thing" (Tod Papageorge)

"and my first serious lens was one of the very earliest "zoom" lenses (it was actually a varifocal, meaning it had to be refocused after every change of focal length)"

Neither here nor there, but Roger Cicala states that *all* photographic zooms are varifocal:

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