Last winter I built myself a 4×5 camera, mostly from plywood and aluminium. I bought a Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 4.5/150 for it on eBay, which was made in 1939 but already has an anti-reflex coating.

My go-to film is Foma Bohemia’s Fomapan 100 Classic and I have shot about 100 sheets of it. I usually develop it in ILFORD ID-11, but because I love slide film I wanted to try something different: I have come up with my own reversal process using print developer and sepia toner (although I am probably not the first one to do this). After testing and adjusting the processing times with 35mm film I found the effective film speed of Fomapan 100 Classic to be EI 125/22° and the sepia transparencies really looked great.

Equipped with this new “look” and the relatively new to me camera I then set out to document every flower in my parents garden. Now, taking pictures of flowers is sometimes looked down on as it is considered a too easy subject, but I think it was quite a useful exercise for me. I am not new to manual cameras, but on a large format camera there are some aspects I had to learn to use. So these pictures helped me a great lot to practice the specific order of steps to take a picture.

Furthermore I had to use swing and tilt to get multiple blossoms and leaves into focus, and I had to focus very carefully due to the short distance to the subject. The pretty dim light in the shadowy garden meant I had to use exposure times of 1/5s to 1/10s, which meant I needed to wait some time next to the camera for the wind to take a break, as the flowers would swing in the slightest breeze. To not make the exposure times even longer I tried to stop down the lens as little as possible, mostly about one stop, but the Tessar is quite sharp even wide open.

I developed the pictures in a Stearman Press SP-445 tank using the following processing solutions: ILFORD Multigrade 1+5 as the first developer, Fomatoner Sepia toner as the second “developer”, Fomatoner Sepia bleach and ILFORD Rapid Fixer. The process is as follows (all times at 20°C):

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  • 10min in ILFORD Multigrade 1+5
  • Wash
  • 15min in Fomatoner Sepia toner
  • Wash
  • 15min in Fomatoner Sepia bleach
  • Wash
  • Fix as usual
  • Wash

I try to save water by using the ILFORD washing method and using the last load of water of each wash cycle as the first for the next one, but this process definitely uses considerably more water than a usual negative development.

I digitised the pictures with a Pentax K-x and a Pentax-M 4/100 macro lens taking 12 pictures of each film, which I stitched together with Microsoft ICE. Finally I did some dust removal using GIMP.

Taking these pictures gave me more routine in using my 4×5 camera and I have to say that I like the images very much. The chocolaty tones remind me of pictures taken in the late 19th century and when looked at on a light-table the transparencies look even better than the digital images.

~ Laurent

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8 Comments

 

  1. Laurent, this sounds intriguing. Do you re-use the developer or is it one shot? Sorry if I’m stupid but I nver worked with paper devs.
    Thanks in advance, stay safe and best regards,
    Martin

    1. Usually I don’t reuse the developer, because I don’t know how much the developing times will change and it might lose strength due to oxidation, which happens faster with diluted than with stock developer. I have reused the developer once to develop one 135 film directly after developing four sheets of 4×5. With the same processing times I saw no notable difference to using the fresh developer. That means 80ml (=480ml 1+5) Multigrade developer should be enough for at least 2 135/120 films or about 7 4×5.

  2. Thank you for sharing this article, which I enjoyed very much. Would it be possible for you to go into more detail about your homemade 4×5 camera? I am wondering it this is a doable project for me. Thank you!