I was out chasing fall colors a few weeks ago and discovered I’ve spent so little time with my view camera I’d lost any skill with it I’d acquired. Do I tilt it this way? Is that really in focus? Where’s that shutter lever? Frustrating. I’ll be surprised if any of those pictures come out worth anything.
Fortunately a colleague of mine recently sent a link to a developing tool for 4×5 sheet film that isn’t expensive or difficult to use. You can see it here: https://shop.stearmanpress.com/products/sp-445-compact-4×5-film-processing-system.
What’s great about it is the use is essentially the same as the tank developer I have for 35mm and 120 film. After loading the film you can do all processing with the lights on! Granted, it only does 4 sheets at a time but I’m not looking for a production line, just a way to get more skilled with my view camera.
Since I had a few sheets of exposed B&W in the freezer – waiting to accumulate enough to take to the lab – I tried it out. Shots were from the late winter of 2015 up in Door County, Wisconsin. Here’s the best of the bunch:
Not a remarkable image but it does show the development system works as advertised. The tones are even, no spotting or unusual lines on the negative, no gradient of development across the image. Not bad for less than $100 and ease of use.
What this gives me is the ability to work with my view camera and get quick feedback. I can make a few images, write down the settings and actions I used, then develop the sheets and see how they turned out. It is literally the old fashioned way of learning photography. From this I can be more confident with this camera when the images are truly important.
So what’s the point now that cellphone cameras do such a great job? Doing it this way pleases me. It appeals to my interest in learning a skill that results in uncommon outcomes. Using a view camera makes me more thoughtful about photography, from the initial composition to the final print. With all the possible movements it gives flexibility in how the image will look, more so than digital cameras. And it uses film, which has a look to it that is hard to replicate with digital (in my opinion).
It definitely warms my heart to see people out there who are still working to improve the “old” ways of doing things. One engineer’s frustration has become my tool for education.