Sunday, August 07, 2016

Graflex Second Test and brief update on Viddy

I realize I'm overdue for an entry here... too much experimenting, projects with the house, and travel and not enough time to sit and analyze.  In short, I did finally resolve the light leak on the Viddy and took it with me on a vacation to California.  I discovered new quirks with the camera, however, and have overall felt more frustration than accomplishment in my shooting with that particular box.  It was certainly fun to build, and I'll do full write up some day when I reach that mythical land of "having time on my hands".  Until that day, however, I have my second test of the Graflex.

I loaded a roll of Ilford HP5 400 speed in the converted Graflex (now nick-named "Clunky" due to the relatively cumbersome shape) back in May and headed out for some photography time.  Unfortunately we drove around for so long that by the time we found a location, the light was fading and my calculations with the meter reading and reciprocity failure gave me a 15 minute exposure... which was all the time I had that evening.  After that outing I shelved Clunky while seeking the resolution to the Viddy Light Leak.  My logic was that the Viddy, made of cardboard, would be lighter and easier to bring on the airplane to California, so that is where my concentration centered.  I'm now prepping for a road trip to the lovely Olympic Peninsula, and after the shady results from the Viddy I'm circling back around to the Clunky Project.

One thing I learned along the Viddy trail, however, was to switch my DSLR to spot metering, so that I could better target my photo subject for a light reading (as opposed to the entire scene) and then in theory I would target the specific area I wanted for "middle grey".  This is one of those steps I've lost over the years of the instant feedback of digital.  My next adventure will be in the forest, and since I have one quite literally out my back door, I decided to burn up the rest of my roll this evening practicing exposure readings on Clunky.

My process is this:  Set my camera to aperture priority, F/5.6, ISO to the film speed.  Get the reading, convert it to the camera's F/stop via pinhole calculator (app on my phone), then calculate the reciprocity failure for the film... this equals the actual exposure.

In my first roll test I'd had my DSLR set to full scene metering, however on my last trip I switched it to center point spot metering instead.  This made my experiment easier to control... for my first example here I was exploring the light and dark textures of the woods.  I metered the fern for middle grey and based my exposure on that reading.

For my second example, I turned the camera slightly to the left and up, the sun became obscured by clouds, and I took a meter of the main moss-covered tree (roughly down the left 1/3d line of the image) to make that middle grey.

Overall I'm very happy with the results... neither of these scans were edited in Photoshop beyond blocking out a couple of dust spots.  No contrast or exposure adjustments at all.  The spots I metered did, indeed, come out middle grey and the surrounding foliage exposed as it appeared.  The focus of this camera is quite nice as well, even with the slight motion from the wind with the fern.  Clunky is going on my road trip for certain!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Viddy Test 2 and Graflex Test 1

Yesterday I carved out a bit of time for myself to run my initial test on the Graflex Pinhole and a second "did I fix the light leak?" test on my Viddy, and "can I get the correct exposure with my pinhole calculator?" test for both.  I wanted some wide open spaces so that I could see just how wide the Graflex would shoot, so I headed to a birding meadow in a nearby park.

The short answer on the Viddy is, no... I did not correct the light leak.

Here you can see the streaks across the negatives, the light was still leaking in one of the chambers that holds the film rolls.

The camera's design should not allow light leaks from the door side anyway, but I had triple taped it just in case and still had the light leak.  After much poking and prodding with my flashlight and a dummy roll of film, I determined that that the only other place for light to leak in would be where the handles hold the rolls.  I realized that when I turn the knob to advance the film, I loosened up the knob, which meant light could get where the knob turns.  In case anyone out there decided to google Viddy light leak, here is what I'm talking about:
The round cardboard on the knob is supposed to sandwich against the camera body, however I pulled the knob while the film was loaded and loosened it up.  The top knob is sandwiched properly, the bottom knob is loos and you can see my finger through the other side.  For anyone out there with a Viddy, make sure the rounds are sandwiched tightly when you load the film!

The light leak did not ruin the entire roll of film, but several images do have streaks across them, and it is difficult to be 100% sure if my exposure calculations were correct, or if they are fogged by the light too much to know.  I can say that my exposures are at least much closer to correct than they were on my first outing, so I'll continue with how I have the calculator set up.

Some examples from the Viddy, second test, all shot on Ilford IP5 400, and using a pinhole exposure calculator plus compensating for reciprocity failure.

35 second exposure, I was hoping to see a bird land on the house during the exposure, but no such luck.

97 second exposure - the wind picked up during my outing so I decided to use it for effect, this is mountain bluet blowing in the breeze on the border of the meadow.

97 second exposure - this is the most properly exposed looking shot on my roll, and the lease fogged, so I believe the calculations I'm using are decently accurate.  The meadow is quite fuzzy due in part to the wind.  Also there were actually several swifts flying through the frame during the exposure, however they were too fast to show up on my film.

And now onto the Graflex!

Upon arriving home, I headed straight to the laundryroom/darkroom to develop the Graflex roll.  I was absolutely thrilled to see perfect rectangles of nicely exposed negatives, and then I had to wait (im)patiently for the negs to dry before I could scan them.  Overall I think the exposures are pretty close to properly exposed, although they are all a bit dark even with my calculations compensating for reciprocity failure. Many of these exposures were done with just counting in my head rather than using a timer... in future shooting, I suppose I can err on the side of longer exposures.  (Again I shot on Ilford XP5 400)

5 Seconds (or so)  Here are the swift houses in the meadow, again I was hoping for a bird to land on the house while exposing the film.  They landed before and after, but not during.  Pesky buggers.

5 or 14 seconds ? (I missed writing one exposure in my notebook, so I don't know which time goes with which frame)  - I lowered the camera angle to catch the long blades of grass blowing in the wind.

14 seconds - This is the mountain bluet blowing in the breeze.

5 Seconds - Though it is small in the frame, I did manage to photograph a bird with a pinhole camera.

The negatives from the Graflex show little to know signs of light leaks, though the edges of all the negs had little "hairs", which tells me I need to clean the dust out of the roll back before I load the next roll of film.  The exposures are pretty close to perfect, and the clarity is relatively good.  All in all, I call the pinhole conversion project a success, and I'm looking forward to lugging this beast along with me on more outings.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Pinhole Conversion

Over the last month I have attended a couple of shows at a local art gallery... the first was the opening of a pinhole photography show called "Slowing the Selfie", the second was a talk/lecture/informative meeting about pinhole photography in general, and how to create a pinhole camera with a 3D printer.  I've met some friendly and enthusiastic local film photographers through these shows... I can't really describe how nice it is to babble openly about shooting film and have the response be "I totally get it!" smiles instead of "Oh... isn't that nice for you..." wary glances.

For a few years now I've had this idea simmering in the back of my mind to convert my grandfather's Graflex Century Graphic camera into a pinhole camera.  The bellows are light tight, I have a back for it that takes 120 film, and I'd end up with relatively large negatives (2.25" x 3.25").  The lens that came with it still works, so I didn't want to take that apart, and I decided to keep my eyes out for a replacement lensboard.  This project was not always on the forefront of my mind, but every few months I would poke around Ebay, not see what I was looking for, and wander off to a different project instead.  It was my frustration with not finding the lensboard that originally prompted me to buy the Viddy kit to build - that camera also takes 120 film, although the format is square and the negatives are therefore smaller.  After the first pinhole photography show I searched Ebay and found a lensboard that I thought would work, however it turns out it is far too large.  (Anybody need a lensboard for a Speedgraphic?)

I brainstormed a bit with some of the folks at the pinhole talk, and considered maybe using a 3D printer to just make a lensboard, but the edge has a flange that would be too thin for a 3D printer to create. Someone suggested I just cut one out of foam core.  I have plenty of that laying around in my craft room, but the foam core is too thick and also white.  Then I was chatting about options with my husband one evening, and the conversation went like this...

"Foam core is too thick, I need something thinner.  I could use poster board but it would be too flimsy.  Maybe I could make it out of fimo clay?  But that probably wouldn't end up being perfectly flat.  What I need is something about as thick as a photo matboard.
I suppose I could just use some photo matboard."

The funny thing is, I have GOBS of photo matboard scraps stuffed in my craft closet.

The only other thing I was missing was a pinhole.  In theory a pinhole is easy to make, people make them out of foil, beer cans, whatever scrap of tin/brass/etc... one can find.  I understand the concept of making one, but I also know that I wanted one drilled to a precise measurement so that I can make sure the image fills the frame of the negative, and so that I can calculate the exposure properly... and I knew I would be able to do that on my very first try.  Thankfully the inventor who gave the pinhole talk happens to make pinholes in batches, and has extra large ones sitting around his lab, so he was kind enough to pop one in the mail to me.

From there, the conversion was simple:

The Tools: Camera, matboard, opaque tape, pinhole, x-acto knife, pencil, ruler from my sewing gear.
Remove the lensboard, set on matboard trace, and cut out
Place matboard on camera and check to see the sides are light-tight
Cut hole in center of matboard and center the pinhole 
check to make sure the pinhole is centered
Tape pinhole on the backside of lensboard with opaque tape, covering all shiny brass parts
Attach new lensboard to front of camera


I will probably tape the outer edges of the lensboard just to ensure that there is absolutely no chance of light leaks around the sides, but from all my flashlight tests it seems to be really secure.  Now I just need time and a place to run a test roll... perhaps this weekend.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Lo-Fi Comparison - Konstruktor, P-Sharan and Viddy

I brought a slew of gear with me on my last photography outing for multiple reasons.  I wanted to run my first test roll on my Viddy Pinhole, I wanted to further test my Konstruktor for scratches and double exposures, and I wanted to knock the dust off my P-Sharan pinhole and see if I could get my exposures correct.  As I had all these toys with me, I figured I would also do some comparisons between the lo-fi cameras to get some idea on each camera's perspective on the world by shooting the same scenes with the different cameras.  I was not particularly scientific in my methods - I used my tripod for the pinholes, but hand-held the Konstruktor which means the latter was not necessarily shooting from the exact same spot - but this was more of a general experiment for my own reference of "how much of the scene does the camera see". The Viddy shots are generally fogged from a light leak and the P-Sharan shots are generally underexposed which throws the color off, but I'm ignoring those details for this post and just looking at perspective.

To save myself some labels, my Konstruktor had Fuji 400, the P-Sharan had Kodak Ektar 100, and the Viddy had Ilford HP5 400, and the shots were all done in Wallace Falls State Park, within a half mile of the parking lot.  

For a quick refresher... the P-Sharan is the black camera on the left, the red box is a Viddy, and the Konstruktor is in the blue case... but looks like this:

The Konstruktor has a shutter, which made it easy to hand-hold.  For the pinholes I used the high tech technique of balancing the cameras on my tripod.  The P-Sharan is held together with rubberbands (again... high tech here) so I stretched one band over the edge of the tripod head to keep it steady.
The Viddy was large enough to simply balance, however given the softness of the images I think I will try to strap it down to the tripod next time.

On to the comparisons!

 My first stop along the trail was at the first bridge, using the bridge railings to get an idea of "lens" width and perspective.  The Konstruktor shot was hand held, and not centered on the bridge because I though I already had a centered shot on another roll (that shot turned out to be too dark to scan, so this is what I have)  The P-Sharan and Viddy were in the exact same spot on my tripod (which is the set-up shot you see above)




Second stop, the other side of the first bridge looking back.  In this example I had the Konstruktor generally shooting the same scene - the difference being that I held it below my chin for viewing, and had set up the pinholes on the tripod roughly eye-level.  The Viddy ended up being turned slightly right on the tripod so the bridge was not centered.




Shot # 3 - the small falls.  To get to this spot, you take a little spur trail off the main trail through which leads to a boardwalk through a thick bunch of raspberry bushes.  Though the falls are only 20 feet from the main trail, close enough to hear people hiking, the spot is secluded by the raspberry bushes.  I spent a good amount of time here experimenting with exposure lengths, and this is probably the most accurate comparison of the 3 cameras shooting from the same spot.




One last comparison shot, these were taken from the hiking trail looking down at the river, right where the trail leaves the river and begins to climb to the main viewpoint for Wallace Falls.




The basic end conclusion I've drawn is that the Konstruktor is a fairly standard view, the P-Sharan is quite wide, and the Viddy is pretty zoomed in.  This experiment gives me a better idea of how much of a given scene each camera will see.  

Up until now, all my exposures have been "poke-n-hope", looking at the scene and guessing whether the camera will consider it "cloudy" or "partly cloudy", etc...  Unfortunately, as I said earlier, many of my shots were underexposed as a result.  Since this outing I attended a pinhole photography lecture, and having taken what I learned there, and with a little bit of research online, I've managed to find enough information on my two pinhole cameras to utilize one of the many pinhole calculation apps which are available on the web.  The Viddy's pinhole measurement is listed on the description of the camera, and I measured the distance from the pinhole to the film plane to get the focal length, the calculator gives me the f/stop from there. My P-Sharan has the f/stop and focal length printed on the front of the camera.  I was unable to find the pinhole size online because my model of camera is no longer available, but the calculator did the math with the numbers I have and came up with a pinhole size.  The size is incredibly close to what is advertised for the new model of P-Sharan, so assuming they use the same pinhole size, the calculator seems accurate enough.  On future trips I'll be using my DSLR to meter the scene, and plug that into the calculator for each camera to come up with an exposure length.  Even if it is not perfect, it should be far less "poke-n-hope".

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Viddy Pinhole: building and first test

I bought this kit for a pinhole camera last year, and due to an abundance of holiday craft ideas the kit sat leaning against my desk for quite some time.  Then a friend mentioned an upcoming pinhole photography art show, and upon visiting the art show I was inspired to break out this kit and finally put it together.

The camera kit started out as a Kickstarter campaign, and I had originally bought into it only to have that first campaign be cancelled due to copyright issues with the name.  Later the camera was redesigned, renamed, and had a successful Kickstarter, and is now available for purchase straight from the manufacturer in the U.K. (which is where I came across it once again)  Between the delays in creation and the sitting idle in my office, my own camera was many years in the making... though actual assembly took less than an hour.

At some point between the Kickstarter and the general selling, the instructions were no longer printed out and included with the kit.  My kit came with a card instructing me to go to a URL to find the build instructions - hence the little laptop.

I assembled the camera a couple days before a planned outing to a local hiking trail with the plan to test it out for the first time on my outing.  As I gathered my supplies the next day, however, I discovered that I had not written down the exposure guide.  After searching out the box contents and the website instructions, I figured out that it was because the kit did not include an exposure guide.  From the previous product descriptions and the instructions on the website, it seems that the kit used to include an exposure guide, but not anymore.  The company created an app for the iPhone for the exposure guide, which is free to download.  This is wonderful for those who own Apple products, however I have no iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch.  I wrote to the company via their contact form on the website as well as their Facebook page to inquire as to where non iPhone users could find their exposure guide, however to date I have not yet received a response.  I spent a good amount of time searching the web for any reference to the guide (perhaps an image or another user who had it, even screen shots of the app) however I was only able to find one non-iPhone customer in the UK who referenced finding the exposure guide on the company's website.  This brought me back to the website where I read every page but was unable to find it.  It seems that either they removed it or the UK version of the site is different than what we see in the US.  The build instructions do state that you can download the app or "use the exposure guide below" however there is no exposure guide below, anywhere.  Add to that, there is no link to the build instructions on their main site, so the URL needs to be manually typed in, which added together makes their site feel a little disjointed.  (My reaction to it is probably my old .com QA resurfacing)
I don't mean to discourage anyone from purchasing the kit, as it is a fun kit to put together and shoot with, I'm just offering my experience so that other potential customers are not caught off guard.

Having received no response from the company, my husband suggested I borrow his iPad.  I didn't want to be responsible for such an expensive item in the field (this is why I don't OWN Apple products myself!) so I used it long enough to create my own exposure guide in a simple excel spreadsheet, which I loaded onto my driod phone, and printed out, and attached to the back of my camera.

I find having to borrow an iPad in order to use a pinhole camera to be silly.

My "upgrade" to the back of the camera.  Why could they not just print this on the card along with the URL for the build instructions?

The front view.

Shooting involves lining up the shot, pulling the tab to open the shutter, count your exposure, and close the shutter.  The shutter itself is rather sticky, and I don't trust my ability to hold the camera still, so to minimize camera shake I covered the "lens" with a piece of black cardboard. There is no mechanism for attaching the camera to a tripod, so instead I balanced the camera on top of my tripod for each shot. So my shooting steps were...

Cover lens with black cardboard
pull shutter open
hold cardboard over lens while setting camera on tripod and aiming at subject
remove cardboard
count exposure
replace cardboard over lens
pick up camera
slide shutter closed
advance film
record exposure time in notebook

While the cardboard ring "lens" is otherwise nonfunctional, it worked perfectly for my method of shutter release.

Some people who passed me on the trail were intrigued by my cardboard gear... most people gave me the "what is that crazy lady doing" look that I'm far more familiar with.

I exposed one roll of Ilford HP5 400 speed, which gave me 12 shots to work with, and upon arriving home I eagerly developed the first roll of film.

That looks like a consistent light leak!

I am not unfamiliar with annoying light leaks, but at least this one was consistent.  By holding up the developed film to the interior of the camera, I was able to spot the light leak source almost immediately.

In spite of the light leak, I scanned each negative, made a digital contact sheet, and recorded the exposures by hand, just like the old darkroom days.

I've actually ended up with a few usable images, although it seems that pretty much every frame was at least a little fogged.  As shooting progresses towards the end of the roll, the film becomes progressively difficult to advance... hence my last frame is horribly fogged due to me standing in the sunshine trying to crank the film forward with brute force.

This scan shows the edges of the image frame... the very edges are a bit soft due to the edges of the film box being made of cardboard.  If you enlarge the image you can see that the left side has a distinct line along the edge of the image, and then the image continues a bit beyond the line like a reflection.  The interior of this side of the camera is held together by a slightly shiny black tape that has just a hint of a white edge to it, so I wonder if that is the cause, or if the light leak has something to do with it.

All my shots seem slightly underexposed, so I either need to adjust my guide or get a better idea of what they mean by "direct sun" "partial cloud" and "cloudy".  They are all a bit soft as well, which might be due to camera shake or fogging, or could be that the pinhole is not the optimum size for the focal distance.  These are my two (fully edited) favorite images for the composition, though both are mildly fogged.

On my next outing with this camera, I will be sealing it up with more tape and finding a way to attach it more securely to my tripod in order to avoid camera shake, and we'll see what comes of that.

Stay tuned for my next photography nerd post, where we'll explore the results of shooting the same scenes with multiple different home made cameras.