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.
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.
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.
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.
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.