When you rummage inside your old camera bag and find an unexposed roll of ILFORD Delta 3200 Professional, the urge to try to expose and develop it despite the fact that the expiration date says something like ’12 years before today’, well it comes to you, and how.
…and if in the cellar you also have a bottle of Rodinal that has also been abandoned for some time, well, let’s say that it is almost automatic to bring out the Hasselblad 500 C/M with its Distagon C T* 50mm f/4 lens and load its A12 film magazine with the expired film!
To provide the starting point for this adventure there is also to say that the following day, at the time when we are talking about or around September 2020, I would have to go with the whole extended family (wife, children, brothers-in-law, and grandchildren) on a trip to a locality close to our home, overlooking Lake Como, exactly above the well-known Bellagio: Alpe Giumello canvases. An easy easy walk around the mountain with a panoramic view of the lakes of Lugano and Como. All supported by a favorable weather: cloudy sky at times but particularly marked by clear clouds to provide the texture that is always needed in landscape photography.
In support of the Swedish medium format, the always-trusted Manfrotto tripod of the time bequeathed by a retired photographer colleague. For exposure, the usual external exposure meter for incident and reflected metering (with spot): Sekonic L 508, a milestone in the world of professional photography! But let’s go back to the forced choice of the film. The ILFORD Delta 3200 Professional is actually an ISO 1000 film (remember, right?) Optimized for a push process treatment, it is undoubtedly a ‘buckshot’ film that has virtually nothing to do with the landscape! This aspect is already an additional motivation for me to use it precisely in this area. In short: if you don’t experiment with analogue photography, what’s the taste ?!
The doubt about how to exhibit and how to develop, given that the scan would have been the obligatory and obvious exit of the results just as it is for all the materials on film that I have been shooting for 10 years now (Canon Canoscan 9000F orchestrated by Vuescan 64bit), it is legitimate and it took me for a couple of hours the evening before leaving for our destination. Exposing to EI 3200 certainly would not have made sense: the film, I know, is a 1000 ISO, it is out of date, the development also, the achievable times of the central shutter of the Hasselblad lens that I would have used reach a maximum of 1/500s …
In short: it is better in all cases to go down with the ISO to align with the real possibilities of expired film and shutter today. We also keep in mind that, as my friend Gerardo always told me, the black and white negative should ALWAYS be overexposed. 1 stop more will hardly be a problem, 1 stop less will be in any case. So … I decided to shoot with the Iso index set to 1000 on the light meter, a reference for my (additional and often humoral) pre-shot calculations.
In addition to this, there was also a pinch of preference for highlighting the shadows and development that, to say it now, almost seems cheeky to me! The famous Massive Dev Chart by digitaltruth.com provided the values for processing ILFORD Delta 3200 Professional film, not at EI 1000, not at EI 3200, but at … EI 1600! For what reason? Mainly for a feeling, I would say: looking at the time frame there was that time of 9 minutes net with dilution 1 + 25 and 20 degrees centigrade that looked at me from the opening of the page. And in any case, a pinch of emphasis on the film, due to the fact that it had been there to rest for years, had to be given. Judging by the results obtained, I tell you the truth, in my opinion even if I had used the development times for the EI 1000 or those for the EI 3200 it is not that it would have changed much given the absolutely experimental nature of the adventure in which I embarked. !
Let’s come to what was the shooting experience on the field. I photographed by choice always on tripods, aperture at no less than f/11 and obtaining shutter speeds that were practically always between 1/125s and 1/250s, dropping to 1/60s only in a couple of particularly dark, wooded situations. In this, care must be taken because old-fashioned shutters, if not kept in perfect condition, struggle a little to provide constant and rapid times and to close the aperture to continuously tightened values. In short, the Hasselblad 500 C/M that I used is fine but it needs to be serviced every now and then. Another problem that appeared only after the development is the infiltration of light in the film magazine. In this regard, however, I must say that I went around with the Hasselblad mounted on the tripod holding it under the (little) sun or in any case under the lighting of the sky while walking … At least a light-proof black bag I suggest you put it on if just not you want to take the camera apart after each shot to put it back in your backpack!
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The lens I used is a Distagon 50mm C T* f / 4, extremely sharp and certainly not such as to be an obstacle to the resolution of a film that is not a ISO 25 or 50! On a sunny day I would have perhaps had more problems with the exposure times since the fastest time available on these lenses is 1/500s and it is not worthwhile to move the aperture beyond f/16 anyway. An ND filter can help with this, but it should be of good quality!
In my shots, I have always tried to include the sky and the clouds, giving priority in my exposure not to burn the highlights too much. This behavior, on a hazy but bright day on the ground, is not an insurmountable problem. Generally, I measure the scene with awareness (no black dogs on white snow in short, and no white cats on a pile of coal, to understand) and then I evaluate if it is possible to give the sky a maximum of 2.5 EV of overexposure. I have noticed from experience that, except in enormously contrasted scenes, with these values, in the development of black and white negative films of normal quality, it is possible to maintain good legibility of the shadows on the ground, obviously speaking of the landscape. In street or portrait photography, everything changes. But in the open landscape, this approach generally satisfies me. Also for one more reason: I scan after development. This means that the areas that are particularly dense or particularly washed out on the negative, i.e. the highlights in the first case and the shadows in the second, struggle a little to be reproduced and therefore caution is needed in exposing in a sensible way. However, even more caution is needed in appropriately choosing the situations that have potential in this sense, for the entire chain of obtaining the final shot!
12 shots in all may not seem like a lot to those accustomed to digital or 36 exposure 135 film. In fact, when dealing with slightly more reasoned genres, just like the landscape on medium format tripods, 12 frames are enough. I hardly ever do bracketing and shoot the same scene twice just in case there are moving subjects that I am interested in capturing in particular postures or positions. In all other cases: just-one-shot! The ILFORD Delta 3200 Professional roll, developed according to the above, hanging from the lamp in my bathroom appears extremely varied and the fact that all (!) the frames communicate to me, even from a distance, the same sensation of density, of contrast, of plasticity, of…matter, well this fact makes me think I have worked well, both in the composition of the scenes, both on display in different situations and also in development.
Rodinal in dilution 1 + 25, stopping in acetic acid by eye (1 + 20 I think), fixing 1 + 4 (to do first, I know: I’m lazy!), 10 minutes of rinsing. Then a pass of wetting agent without shaking to avoid foam and finally hung on the bathroom lamp to dry until the next morning. A note: in the summer keeping 20 degrees Celsius for portable toilets is not that easy. I recommend that you inquire first about the possibility that you may develop at 24 degrees during the hottest days.
You can see the shots for yourself, but I think my personal commentary may be of interest. The landscape with high-ISO sensitivity film must rely on characteristics that are obviously not those of sharpness and fine detail. Although, I must admit, the Delta 3200, developed at EI 1000, although it was out of date, proved to be much more ready to return the twigs and small details of the scene than I expected. In any case, it is good to set up the work to enhance the nuances of the scene, any contrast, full and empty, light and dark areas, dense areas rather than ethereal ones. The grain, inevitable, will give the whole a texture, a very particular graphic design which is the beauty of this way of preceding.
In this way, the grain becomes, precisely by choosing the landscape and not generating more detailed and chaotic ones, a sort of unifying brush that provides great coherence to different parts of the same 6×6 cm frame but also between different frames. The fact that a film that has expired for so long and an equally abandoned development have been able to provide appreciable results (I like them very much!), is a sign that, once again, analogue black and white photography has a lot to offer in experimentation and fun even to those who for years they have been operating mainly on digital sensors.
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