Whitehall Street Station, 7:45PM, September 25, 2010

Lens: over 50 years old. Camera: over 70. Developer: over 100.

I went to a friend’s bachelor party/dinner this weekend, and knowing everyone would have their iPhones and digicams handy, I decided to be a little different. I wasn’t going to be bringing a bag (I ALWAYS seem to have a bag), so I brought the relatively petite Leica IIIa (my happy accidents camera), mounted with a 50mm collapsible Summicron and loaded with Tri-X. I’m terrible at metering-by-eye in low light, but I didn’t want to bring my Voigtlander VCII shoe-mount light meter and make the camera any bigger.

Before hopping on the subway I found a discussion on flickr about pushing Tri-X to an astonishing 25600 ISO using Rodinal developer and a technique called stand development. That’s over 4 stops more than I push Tri-X using Diafine. I read the discussion on the way to the restaurant and decided I would try an experiment: regardless of the lighting conditions, I would shoot the entire roll with the aperture wide open at f/2, and with a shutter speed of 1/60. I think the Summicron is lovely wide open like that, and 1/60 guarantees I won’t get too much motion in the shot.


Diner in the dark

I find that when I shoot at slow shutter speeds, below about 1/30, I’m often unhappy with the results. Even if it allows me to get a shot in lower light, even if I have my elbows propped on a bar or a wall to lean against, I get too many blurry eyes and faces. So 1/60 it was.

Stand development is a technique in which you literally let the film “stand” in diluted developer for a long period of time with minimal agitation. In my case, I diluted Rodinal 1:70, poured it into the tank, and let it sit for 2 hours. Every half hour I inverted the tank (the minimal agitation). So the tank spent half the time upright, and half the time upside down. I then stopped it with water, fixed and rinsed.

Getting to the best part

If the skin tones come out o.k., we’re in business

How did I choose that dilution and length of development? Well, each film in your tank needs at least 10ml of Rodinal in order to develop properly. So I filled the tank with water, poured that into a graduated cylinder, poured in my 10ml of Rodinal, mixed it, then poured it back into the developing tank and checked the clock. The dilution just happened to work out to 1:70. And the two hours was the longest amount of time I could take before I had to be somewhere else.

Toast in point

See this bread? It’s good bread.

I was happily astonished by the results. The only thing I did to them after scanning the negatives was bring the black levels to the film base level. I didn’t adjust the levels or contrast any further.

These aren’t great photographs, but they work. There’s not much shadow detail, but I do like this look for these shots.

I’m going to have to remember that an unserviced (rangefinder not cleaned in 73 years) Leica III is not a good camera for night photography. It’s nearly impossible to focus, especially given that I wear glasses (the viewfinders are tiny), and with such shallow depth of field when shooting wide open, I ended up with a lot of shots that were unforgivably out of focus.

Overlapping exposures can be cool but often are not

Another happy accident? Or is this getting annoying?

Oh right, the overlapping exposures thing. Sometimes it’s cool, but it’s getting a little old. I have to put this camera in the “needs service” pile.

And another last thing: Arista Premium 400 is a fantastic deal. It looks, feels, develops, tastes, and smells just like Tri-X (because it is). You can buy it at one of my favorite stores, http://www.freestylephoto.biz.