First Intrepid Outing

The Forth Bridge. It’s where I take any newly aquired photo kit to try out. The Intrepid Camera was no exception.

The Forth Bridge. It’s where I take any newly aquired photo kit to try out. The Intrepid Camera was no exception. Since backing the project at the end of 2014 I’ve acquired a couple of lenses to use with it and in the past few weeks I’ve been preparing dry glass plates to expose in it. Until the camera arrived I really had little idea of how these would all work together.

So my early morning outing to Queensferry was for more than just checking over my new Intrepid. My two large format lenses, a Rodenstock Sironar-N 150mm f/5.6 in a Copal shutter and a Schneider Kreuznach G-Claron 240mm f/9 in a Compur shutter had both been won on eBay auctions since I made my pledge to back the Intrepid project. This would be my first opportunity to check out their operation in situ and the fields of view they offered. My other eBay win that I wanted to check out was one of a job lot of very old and worn plate holders. I had these loaded with glass plates that I have cut, prepared and coated myself with Silverprint SE1 emulsion. Finally, having used Harman Direct Positive paper for years in large format pinhole cameras I was keen to compare a lensed image with one created with the pinhole lensboard supplied with my Intrepid.

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The Intrepid Camera

For a large format camera The Intrepid is very light and compact. Made from birch plywood with anodised aluminium components it weighs just 1155g with folded dimensions of 215 x 180 x 83 mm. It is hand made and available to order from The Intrepid Camera Co. with a choice of red, blue, green or black bellows but be prepared to wait as there will almost certainly be a queue!

Setting up was a quite straightforward process. Of course I’d viewed the very good ‘How to’ videos and tutorials on the Intrepid website so I had the sequence in my mind: Set up the base on a tripod, raise the back, secure the back supports, position and secure the front standard, position and secure the front. Simple. The tripod mounting felt secure but I do have reservations about just how secure. The threaded bush is set behind a securing plate. When I attached my Manfrotto quick-release plate it took barely one and a half turns of the thread to tighten. I’d be more comfortable with at least another full turn.

the deep set tripod bush only took one turn to tighten

Once set up a lens can be attached. Lens and shutter assemblies need to be mounted in a Linhof Technika type lensboard. When looking for lenses I initially found the realationship between lens, shutter and lensboard quite confusing. The lens fits in to a shutter of a particular size and the aperture diameter of the lensboard needs to match the size of shutter and be of the mounting type to fit the camera. Once I got these four variables straight, buying lenses became much easier! Attaching the lens is just a matter of sliding up the top catch, locating the lensboard in the bottom catch and sliding the top catch back down to hold it in place. The front of the camera is adjusted for rise and fall by loosening off a small locating screw then the two larger adjustment knobs. There are notches in the slots to reposition the front centrally. The locating screw only locates to hold the front in place when it is in this ‘home’ position so tilt adjustments rely entirely on the tightness of the larger knobs. The locating screw is short and fairly loose fitting in its thread. I felt it would be easy for it to fall out and be lost when not locating the front in the ‘home’ position.

front locating screw is short and easy to lose when the front is not in its home position

For swing or side movements the front standard is moved. There is a small locating screw which fits into a countersunk thread inserted in the base when the larger central adjustment knob is located in its ‘home’ notch. On my camera I found that the locating screw rubs and jams against the inside of the upright of the front standard. I also found that when it and the adjustment knob are located, the front standard is very slightly out of alignment with the baseboard, giving a swing of about 1º to the right. As the locating screw seems to serve no other purpose than to secure the front standard in the centred ‘home’ position, I opted not to locate it at all but I suspect a greater degree of precision was intended for this part. The front standard can be secured by the adjustment knob alone although it might be better if some sort of friction material was added to the base of the front standard to give some grip.

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At the back of the camera is the focussing screen assembly which can be rotated for landscape or portrait orientation. The Intrepid’s design team were proud of this part when it was first produced and rightly so. It works very well. Rotation is simple, it slots into position and is held firmly by four magnets. The focussing screen on my camera is one which the team designed and made in house and gives a very clear bright image. Focussing is by a ratchet mechanism in the base, controlled by a knob on the right of the base and a corresponding locking knob on the left. It looks like the focus movement will be a bit rough but in fact it all works very smoothly. The focussing screen is held in place by bungee cords that allow the screen to be held open for the insertion of either film or plate holders. I used both and had no problems with either. They slot securely in place but care has to be taken not to accidentally move the camera. The back is fitted with Graflok type fittings which permit replacing the focussing screen with alternative backs such as for Polaroid or Medium Format film.

When I was packing up I noticed when folding down the back that one of the allen bolts securing the back to the base plate and around which the back folds, had worked loose. It’s easy to see how this can happen and simple enough to tighten up by hand but perhaps I need to invest in an allen key to keep in my kitbag.

While I’ve listed one or two niggles, they are mostly minor and do not spoil what really is a very good camera. I found it very easy to set up and use. The focussing screen, when used in conjunction with a dark cloth, is bright and clear and the focussing mechanism is smooth and sufficiently precise to more than satisfy my expectations. Film holders were located firmly and securely. As an affordable entry into the world of large format photography The Intrepid succeeds in every respect.

The images

It’s one thing messing about with a piece of hardware but I went out to make pictures too! My go-to place when trying out new kit is Queensferry and the Forth Bridge. As a long-time pinholer I am quite accustomed to setting up a camera without having reference to a viewfinder and together with the familiar location I had no difficulty locating my viewpoint for the images I wanted to take. But for a photographer used to choosing a spot by looking through the viewfinder, a large format camera will prove a challenge and quite awkward if the camera has to be set up and then moved around as the scene is viewed under a dark cloth to find the right viewpoint. Taking time to walk around imagining the scene to be photographed, will pay dividends in time spent setting up the camera!

I intended to make just four exposures, all from the same viewpoint: On Harman Direct Positive paper I wanted one exposure with the Intrepid’s 140mm f/280 pinhole lensboard and a comparitive one with my Sironar-N 150mm lens. Then on the glass plates that I have been preparing over the past few weeks with hand-poured Silverprint SE1 emulsion I wanted to make one exposures with my Sironar-N 150mm lens and one with my G-Claron 240mm lens to give a comparison of the field of view of each lens. I would also have comparitive images of Direct Positive paper and SE1 emulsion taken with the 150mm lens.

For these exposures I rated both the Direct Positive paper and the SE1 emulsion at ISO 3. The light was fairly flat and constant over most of the shoot but brightened a little towards the end. For consistency I should really have adjusted the final exposure by a half stop to account for the changing conditions, but didn’t. Now that I see the images I was probably underexposing by half to one stop anyway!

The Intrepid 5×4 camera, f/280 pinhole, Harman Direct Positive Paper. 2 min 35 sec exposure.
The Intrepid 5×4 camera, Sironar-N 150/5.6 lens in Copal 0 shutter, Harman Direct Positive Paper. 1 sec @ f/22
The Intrepid 5×4 camera, Sironar-N 150/5.6 lens in Copal 0 shutter, hand poured SE-1 emulsion on glass. 1 sec @ f/22
The Intrepid 5×4 camera, G-Claron 240/9 lens in Compur 1 shutter, hand poured SE-1 emulsion on glass. 1 sec @ f/22

Deboxing The Intrepid

It’s arrived! The Intrepid Camera. Time to unpack it and take a first look.

It’s arrived! The Intrepid Camera. Time to unpack it and take a first look.

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It’s only been a first look so no comment yet on how it performs but there are always first impressions and early observations. Let’s not forget that this is a hand crafted and built camera that can be ordered today for just £200 (there’s been a lot of interest in it so expect to join quite a long queue!). For me, the camera is my ‘reward’ for backing to the tune of just £129, The Intrepid Camera Co. and their quest to produce an affordable, lightweight large format camera. So if I wanted to judge this financially, I’ve made a good return on my investment! However, my primary reason for backing the project was my interest in and desire to support, an initiative aimed at promoting accessible traditional photography. And I wanted one of the cameras!

My first impression was the weight. The package weighed in at little over a kilogram. Add a lens or two and the whole thing will weigh less than a full-frame DSLR. Film or plate holders will add a bit but that’s dependant on how many I carry with me on an outing.

The camera is constructed from birch plywood with anodised aluminium components and bellows from a composite of ripstop nylon and a lightproof inner. I chose blue bellows but I could have had black, red or green. The wood is lightly varnished and has an unpretentious rough feel to it and smells good too! Overall it feels solid enough for its weight although a little voice in the back of my mind tells me to take care with it and not overtighten the knobs. The knobs securing the front standard felt tight but I suspect they will ease, hopefully not too much, with use.

The thread for the tripod bush is set quite deep behind a securing plate and I had some difficulty securing the quick release plate for the tripod I used for the photographs. My Manfrotto PL14(?) QR plate didn’t fare much better and as I have a spare, I will probably leave it attached to avoid wearing the threads and be particularly careful not to do the lazy thing of carrying the tripod with the camera attached.

Lensboards fit snugly, as does the board-mounted pinhole that came with the camera and both film and the slightly thicker plate holders are held firmly and securely in place. The ground glass screen is good and bright but has no guide marks. I guess I can use a felt-tip pen to make my own if I feel the need. The back containing the ground glass can be removed completely and the camera has Graflok-type fittings that will enable other backs for such as Polaroid or medium format to be fitted instead.

All in all, I’m pretty certain I will have a lot of fun with the Intrepid camera. It is a quite comprehensive bit of kit, an ideal starter camera. Indeed I am looking forward to learning the effects of rise and fall, swing and tilt, bellows extensions and all that goes with large format photography. I hope to blog my adventures and share some of the images I create with it.

Plate pouring perfected

Time will tell if it is in fact perfect but with lessons learned from the first session, my second plate pouring session went very well.

Time will tell if it is in fact perfect but with lessons learned from the first session, my second plate pouring session went very well.

First time round I had poured with my left hand, holding the plate in my right then placing the coated plate into the drying tray laid out below the level of the worktop. I had used a shot glass as my pouring utensil, which itself failed to pour cleanly, and my hand obscured my view of the lip of the glass. My hands got very messy and slippery with spilled emulsion and this transferred to the undersides of the plates which subsequently stuck to the lining of the drying tray. I also wasted a lot of precious emulsion from not having a suitable container in which to collect the excess as it was flowed over the plates.

This time, I laid out my darkroom a little differently to allow for more space and a better workflow. I set up the worktop that I normally only set up when my enlarger is in use. The space it takes up restricts the space I have to move around but the extra bench space it gives allowed me to place in a row on the worktop: the unit with my drying trays, two darkroom trays side-by-side for water bathing and space for measures, thermometer, etc. and a big roll of paper towels for keping my hands clean. In the space below the worktop I placed a bucket for discarded paper towels and gloves. I have also purchased on eBay a plain ceramic invalid feeding cup. Its handle and spout should be far better suited to pouring emulsion than the shot glasses!

The handle and spout of an invalid cup make all the difference to pouring!

The process of liquifying the emulsion was no different from before: simply heat it in its bottle for about twenty minutes by water bathing in a large ceramic mug of hot tap water (about 45ºC) and change the water in the mug regularly to maintain temperature.

Using darkroom trays and smaller flat-bottomed trays I set up two waterbaths, one for the invalid cup containing my emulsion and PhotoFlo mixture and the other for a wide-rimmed ceramic mug in which to catch the overflow from the plates as I poured them. The flat-bottomed trays let the utensils sit without risk of tipping over, as had happened last time with the shot glasses on the channels of the darkroom trays!

I also made a slight change to the proportions of SE1 Emulsion and PhotoFlo. My mixture this time consisted of 30ml SE1 plus 6ml PhotoFlo and with the water baths all maintained at 40ºC-45ºC it flowed well throughout the session. I made two batches, a total of 60ml SE1, and covered twelve 5″x4″ glass plates and twelve 75mmx25mm microscope slides with a little to spare.

My workflow this time was from right to left: Holding the invalid cup in my right hand and the glass plate in my left above the overflow mug, I was able to control the pour while having a good view of the emulsion exiting the spout. With the experience of the first session and the better workflow I felt quite comfortable with the pouring and didn’t experience any difficulties. The excess from each pour was easily caught in the overflow mug and maintained liquidity in the warmth of the water bath to be returned to the pouring cup for re-use. There was almost no waste and my gloved hands remained very much cleaner. All in all a very successful session.

The waterbath layout. R to L: SE1 Emulsion liquifying in a large mug, invalid cup for pouring the emulsion mixture, wide-rimmed mug to catch the emulsion overflow subsequently returned to the invalid cup. This layout was set up on a worktop in the darkroom with drying trays in a unit further to the left. Being left-handed it suited me well!

I laid strips of wood like rails to support the poured plates in the drying trays. This is to avoid the issue of them sticking to the tray lining. The plates will be left to dry for two or three days before I inspect them and pack them away. I packed them last time after only one day but they were not fully dry which resulted in marks on the surface of the emulsion from the baking paper I used to separate them. I will ensure this batch are fully dry before packing but will still use baking paper to separate them.

Countdown to a new adventure

On 20th October 2014, The Intrepid Camera Co. launched their crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. Their goal was to raise £27,000 …

On 20th October 2014, The Intrepid Camera Co. launched their crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. Their goal was to raise £27,000 to enable them to redesign the tried and tested 4×5 large format camera to produce a modern camera that would be affordable, simple to use, lightweight and compact. Most of all they wanted to produce a great tool that would get new photographers passionate about large format photography.

The photography community worldwide bought in to the dream. By 22nd October 2014, less than forty eight hours from launch, the project had reached its target. Three days later it was £10,000 over target and by the time the Kickstarter ended on 19 Nov pledges had reached a grand total of £63,158.

I chipped in with my pledge of £129 on 30th October 2014. Backer number 367. My pledge wasn’t a purchase order for a camera. I was making some sort of investment in a start-up business devoted to photography, the thing that I’ve enjoyed as a hobby since I was eight years old. The return on my investment, should the business succeed, would be the reward of one of the cameras once developed and in production. First deliveries of rewards to backers was estimated for March 2015.

It has been interesting as a backer to follow the progress updates as they’ve been posted on Kickstarter. From the excitement of making my choice of bellows colour back in January 2015 to the realisation in May 2015 that planned shipping dates would inevitably slip as the niggles, design tweaks and unexpected hurdles large and small cropped up. Max, The Intrepid Camera Co.’s founder and his team have strived for transparency with their backers throughout the project and it has been encouraging to see the team’s response to the challenges and how the camera has been developed as the project progressed.

Throughout the summer and into autumn of 2015 updates were posted on Kickstarter with photographs and videos of components being manufactured and tested. Reports were made on the challenges and problem solving that sometimes required innovative solutions. I had to keep reminding myself that this was a very small team working out of what amounted to a lock-up and, weather permitting to varnish the wooden components, the lane that led to it. The team were scaling up production from one-off prototypes to full-scale production of hundreds of hand-built cameras. Of course the schedule would slip!

It wasn’t until October that a preliminary delivery schedule specifically referring to a range of backer numbers was posted. So now I had a date. I should expect to receive my reward in early December. My level of excitement rose to another level!

Only a month later there was bad news. The computer that controlled the laser cutter and CNC machine crashed and production came to a halt. The computer had to be replaced and by the time production was restarted the preliminary shipping schedule was being re-scheduled outwards, again. As if to compensate for the bad news, feedback and stunning photography was being received from the Arctic where an early Intrepid Camera supplied to photographer and artist Kathy Akey to test on expedition was meeting and surviving the challenges of Arctic exploration. Stirring stuff to keep the anticipation high!

The first batch of cameras was shipped out to backers in time for Christmas 2015 with an expectation of the remainder to follow over the first two months of 2016. I guessed I would see mine sometime in early February 2016.

By mid-January over a hundred Intrepid cameras were out in the hands of the early project backers. Max and the team were getting good positive feedback on the design with suggestions for tweaks and generally all was going well. Some months previously, alongside starting the production run for backers, the website from which cameras would be sold had been launched and now Max gave backers a sneak preview of design work for one of the additional products that he was working on. We were invited to guess what it was from some drawings and I was excited to learn that it was the design for an accessory housing to enable the camera to be used as an enlarger. The perfect accessory for bathroom darkroom warriors like myself! My level of excitement rose to giddy heights in anticipation of the ‘system’ that my camera might become just a part of!

By early March it was clear that for all their best intentions, the time taken to assemble each camera meant the shipping schedule was out of the window. Plans were in place for the team to move to a new workspace and to take on more staff but cameras for the Kickstarter backers were still being produced. Further delay was inevitable while the move took place and things were set up again. However it was clear from the photographs that the new workspace would be far more conducive to efficient production and no doubt be a considerably better place in which to design and develop new product ideas that will ensure continued success for the business.

By Mid-May 2016 there were just two batches to be completed, one big one (including #367!) and a final smaller one. What could go wrong? – Well, there’s a saying that if it can go wrong, it will. And it did. The workshop suffered a flood due to a blocked drain following heavy rain. Then having cleared up, restarted production and given dates for commencement of final shipping, a problem with the ground glass screens was discovered resulting in them having to be re-made.

It is now mid-July 2016 and I have just received my shipping email, six hundred and twenty three days since I backed the project. My reward, an Intrepid Camera of my very own is on it’s way at last and should be here next week. I am Super Excited!

The final batch of cameras for the remaining backers is well underway and the website has been re-opened to take orders for a batch of two hundred new cameras which will be ready for shipment in about eight weeks time. Indeed, such is the interest in this camera that all two hundred have sold out in less than twelve hours.

I’m looking forward to receiving my camera and I intend to blog my adventures with it. Meantime, I congratulate Max and the team at The Intrepid Camera Co. for what they have achieved and for their devotion to photography. My best wishes to them for a long and successful future. Click on the link for their story of the camera’s design, manufacture and early adventures. There is a wealth of informative photographs and videos about what goes into this very special camera.

Pinhole on a plate

It wasn’t the best of days for photography of any sort, far less for attempting pinholes on dry glass plates.

It wasn’t the best of days for photography of any sort, far less for attempting pinholes on dry glass plates. A foreboding dark sky promised poor light and heavy rain showers. Rain was delivered as promised for most of the morning and into the early afternoon.

I was in East Lothian, meeting with a group of friends for a photowalk around Gosford Estate and then on to the shoreline at Longniddry Bents. Packed in my camera bag was the pincam I had made from foamcore for Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day 2014, a box of 5″ x 3 1/2″ dry glass plates that I had poured a couple of weeks ago and a changing bag. For a DIY pincam it is quite sophisticated, being fitted with a sliding shutter and a tripod bush so I also carried a tripod.

Within Gosford Estate we were well sheltered by the trees from the rain but also from what little light there was. Pinhole exposures would have been measured in hours never mind minutes or even seconds! There was just the one opportunity for a photograph, out of the trees and in front of the house. I gave it an exposure of 2 minutes and 20 seconds, metering with the Pinhole Assist iPhone App set for an ISO of 2.5 and assuming an aperture of f/180.

By early afternoon we could see the skies beginning to clear and as the rain eased off we headed to Longniddry Bents. I made only two more exposures, each of 1 minute and 20 seconds and made that do for the day. The plates in the pincam have to be changed between each exposure, a fiddly job involving placing the camera, the box of unexposed plates and a box in which to put the exposed plates all together in the changing bag. To further complicate matters the unexposed plates are separated by baking paper and enclosed in a  black plastic bag within their box. The exposed plates need to be packed similarly in the second box (which I identify by a thick card ‘X’ stuck to it’s lid). And it all has to be done by feel within the changing bag. It’s a time consuming business!

On my return home I set about developing the plates. I decided to use freshly prepared Ilford Multigrade at a dilution of 1+9. I wanted to make a comparison with the development of the 1/16th plates from The Countess that I had developed a few weeks ago in 4-week old, used developer. These had taken around  4 minutes to complete. What a difference fresh developer made. Development was very quick – too quick, with full density coming within 30 seconds and impossible to control.

It was also immediately apparent that the plates were overexposed. I suspect the aperture is actually wider than I had assumed, borne out by the images being softer than I would expect, and I recall fiddling with it some time after the pincam was last used. I’ve likely knackered it!

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The plates were well rinsed in baths of clean water and in Ilford Wash Aid and then left to dry. It took two days for the emulsion to dry fully. The emulsion was coated quite thickly and on each of the three plates it had obviously begun to gel as the excess was being drained off. This has resulted in a thicker coating of emulsion at the bottom of each plate (as I held it when pouring – it is seen as an opaque patch towards the left edge of each developed plate as viewed) that appears to have been too thick for the developer to penetrate. Perhaps with a weaker dilution to allow for longer development time, these areas would have yielded more image.

All in all I’m pleased with the results. Before I expose more of these plates I need to replace the pinhole in the pincam with a more accurately measured aperture. Next development I will use a more dilute developer: Old, used developer can work but consistent results cannot be counted on but if I can determine a satisfactory dilution of fresh developer, I can reproduce that each time.

The one remaining observation to note from this exercise was that the baking paper I had used to separate the coated plates had both absorbed moisture from the gelatin of the emulsion and left faint contact marks across its surface. I may have packed the plates too soon, before they were properly dry. I have unpacked the remaining plates and laid them out (in the dark) to allow them to dry more and will allow more drying time for future plates.

Error and trial

My last blog ended with my newly coated glass plates laid out to dry on the cardboard lined shallow metal trays of my drawer unit …

My last blog ended with my newly coated glass plates laid out to dry on the cardboard lined shallow metal trays of my drawer unit and the front of the unit covered over to ensure it remained light tight.

On the dry plate workshop we’d laid our coated plates on upturned mugs on a shelf unit in a darkroom cupboard where they could safely be left to dry overnight. When we returned to the dried plates they lifted off the mugs with ease.

However my plates were placed wet, with emulsion spill on the undersides, flat onto cardboard. When I went to lift them off for storage they were well stuck! Prising them off tore and lifted bits of cardboard with them. Lesson learned. Next time I need to devise a support to keep the underside of the plates raised off the cardboard (which is still useful for catching and absorbing drips and spills). It all adds to the individuality of each plate and what is stuck to the back surface should not affect too much the image recorded on the front. I should be able to scrape off most of it once the plate is fully processed and dry.

Drawer tray and plate holders. Prising off stuck plates tore the cardboard tray liner.

Most of the plates I stored in light tight boxes, interleaved with baking paper to (hopefully) prevent sticking and damage to the emulsion. I was surprised at how soft and fragile the dried emulsion felt. I did however, load the first four plates I had poured into holders for The Countess, and one of the 5″x3″ plates into my 2014 WPPD pincam, ready for use when the first opportunity arose to try them out.

That first opportunity came about with the happy coincidence of arriving home early from work on a bright evening and a visit from the grandtwins. I set up The Countess in the garden and we took photos. I’d decided that I would make a start by treating the SE1 emulsion as I would Direct Positive paper which I am very familiar with. So, rating the emulsion at ISO 3 I determined an exposure of about 1 second at f/22. We exposed all four plates – at only six years old the twins love getting involved with my cameras and Isla insisted on taking one of me. She did well to hold the shutter open with only a little nudge of the camera for the one second exposure.

After the twins went home I set up the darkroom and developed the plates, one at a time. I used some Ilford Multigrade 1+9 developer at about 20ºC that I’d originally mixed and used about four weeks ago and stored cool and dark. This keeps image contrast in check and gives time to develop by inspection. Each image was fully developed after about four minutes with very gentle agitation. I used Ilfostop and Ilford Rapid Fixer before rinsing very gently in two water baths.

These first four plates each had a different ‘quality’ of emulsion coating. The first two had been poured with SE1 diluted with 25% Photo-Flo, the third with straight SE1 and the fourth with 15% dilution. Visually, under the safelight, the first two were clearly thinner and more patchily covered. The emulsion on both began to lift in the developer and had to be handled extremely gently through the remainder of the process. On plate three the emulsion appeared so much thicker but also with some unevenness and it took twenty seconds longer for the image to appear in the developing tray. On plate four, the emulsion had a good, even coating that stayed the course of the processing without giving rise to any concerns.

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To say I am pleased with these is a massive understatement. The exposures all look to be good so my estimate of ISO 3 for the emulsion seems about right. The images look to be sharp, which is pleasing as I have only used the camera at infinity focus prior to these which were taken at about 1.5 metres.

Once the plates are dry I will contact print them. I would like to make enlargements, perhaps printing on SE1 coated art paper but my enlarger is only good for 35mm. It will be something to save for a trip to the darkrooms of Stills or Photoworks.

Trial and error

I’ve finally reached the stage in my dry glass plate journey of pouring light sensitive emulsion onto my prepared plates.

I’ve finally reached the stage in my dry glass plate journey of pouring light sensitive emulsion onto my prepared plates.

Apart from cutting, cleaning and subbing the glass over the past few weeks, I’ve been gathering together the bits and pieces I would need to have around me in the darkroom: Emulsion, wetting agent, trays and containers for water-bathing to maintain temperature of the emulsion, a container to pour the emulsion from, storage of the coated plates while the emulsion sets and a means of storing the finished plates until they are to be loaded into a camera.

  • Emulsion: The emulsion I’ve chosen to use is Silverprint’s SE1. It is supplied in solid form and has to be liquified by heating before use. I found that the water from my hot water tap, about 45ºC, was sufficient to liquify the SE1. It took about fifteen minutes with the bottle water-bathed in a large ceramic mug and the hot water changed every few minutes to maintain temperature.
  • Wetting Agent: I used Kodak Photo-Flo as a wetting agent to dilute the emulsion and to aid flow of the emulsion over the plates. I initially mixed my SE1 with approximately 25% Photo-Flo but this was too runny. Using SE1 without Photo-Flo was near impossible. I eventually settled on about 15%, or roughly 5ml Photo-Flo to 35ml SE1. This allowed the emulsion to be poured at a steady pace and to flow easily to the corners of the plate without too much spillage. (Yes, spillage was expected and spillage is what I got!)
  • Pouring Utensil: When I was shown how to pour emulsion a few months ago in the workshop at Street Level Photoworks, we used ceramic invalid feeding cups. I tried to short-cut the need for such ‘specialist’ equipment: I used a 50ml shot glass. My logic was that glass is inert so would not contaminate the emulsion, shot glasses have a heavy base and so would sit well in a water bath and as they are designed for the pouring of liquid they would be ideal for my purpose. I was wrong! The emulsion did not pour easily and as it spilled onto the edges of the glass the glass became slippery and difficult to hold. I did eventually master a ‘get-by’ technique but not before I’d wasted about 60ml of my 240ml bottle of SE1 to more spillage! A ceramic invalid cup (which of course has a handle and a spout) is now on its way from eBay!
  • Dark Storage: I’m pleased with my solution to laying out the coated plates and keeping them in the dark until they are dry: A table-top sized metal filing unit with five shallow drawers which I lined with cardboard on which to lay out the plates. I’ve draped the dark cloth made for my view camera over the drawer fronts to provide a light-seal that allows the unit to be moved to a more convenient location while the plates dry (when not in use for photographic purposes my darkroom serves as an en-suite shower room!).
  • Packaging: I will have four sizes of plates to store while they await use in a camera. The larger plates (5″x4″ and 5″x3″) will be stored in used photo-paper boxes but for the smaller plates I have made boxes to measure along the lines of simple pinhole cameras that I make regularly. Each plate will be separated from the next by a piece of baking paper and each package of plates will be enclosed in an opaque plastic bag before storage in its box. For each size plate I will also have a second box that will enable storage of exposed plates when reloading plate holders or cameras in the field.

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For this session I only coated the plates to use in my Countess 1/16 plate Camera and the 5″x3″ plates that I will use in my 2014 Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day pincam. I’ve used about half of my SE1 emulsion so far, about half of which was lost to spillage.

The small plates presented the most difficulty. Their weight and size made them difficult to support and maneouvre by supporting them by fingers on their underside. Inevitably I found myself holding them by the edges and this both disrupted the flow of emulsion across the upper surface and led to contamination of the underside as the emulsion ran down my (gloved) fingers. In this regard, the larger, heavier plates were much easier to work with. It was also difficult to see the emulsion pouring from the shot glass, due to the size of the glass and the fingers holding it obscuring what was happening. This should be resolved in future by the use of an invalid feeding cup which has both a handle and a spout! In future I will also ensure an ample supply of paper towels for keeping gloved fingers clean and dry as well as for mopping up the inevitable drips and spillages.

With lessons learned and what will hopefully be a better pouring utensil on the way I expect to have sufficient emulsion left to coat my remaining prepared plates. The 5″x4″ plates will be used in my Intrepid field camera the arrival of which is imminent, and the little 75mm x 25mm microscope slides will be used either in a custom built pincam or loaded in a 35mm camera.