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  medium format
  large format

Darkroom equipment

While I started doing serious photography with my 35mm cameras and color slide films, I later switched completely to black and white photography. The logical next step was to set up a darkroom and do the b/w processes myself.


Films and negative processes

35mm films

I haven't done much lately with my 35mm equipment, but I remember the last pictures that I shot on b/w went on Ilford 100 Delta films. This type of film offers a very good sharpness, and the tonality is horrible in this format no matter what you do, so old-style films wouldn't have an advantage here anyway.

Medium format films

I used to shoot a lot on Ilford FP4 plus, and I still have a couple of excellent negatives which are a pleasure to print. I like the tonality of this film, plus the fairly good reaction to push and pull developments necessary to use the Poor man's zone system.

When the Kodak T-Max and Ilford Delta films hit the market, I gave them a try as they promised superior resolution at this format. I've had serious problems to get reasonable prints from the T-Max 100 negatives, but the 100 Delta worked quite well for me. If you're not extremely careful, the highlights easily get out of control, but otherwise I've found this film to be the best compromise between tonality and resolution.

Large format films

At 9x12cm/4x5in, the grain and resolution are much less of a concern compared to the smaller formats. I have to admit that I do most of my large format work on Ilford FP4 plus due to its superior tonality compared to the T-Max and Delta films. The FP4 plus is also somewhat easier to fit into the zone system.

Poor man's zone system

As a matter of fact, roll films do not allow to process negatives individually. Owning exactly two magazines for my Hasselblad, I am limited to two types of development at a time, unless I am willing to rip out half-exposed rolls. Except for this limitation, at least N-1, N, and N+1 developments work quite well with the medium-format films.

Zone system II: the real stuff

Using sheet film in a large format camera allows to process each negative individually. In theory you can tweak the exposure and processing to make each negative printable on grade 2 or 3 papers. While this doesn't always work out as desired, the great majority of negatives is printable on one of these grades.

There's a lot of publications available describing some variants of the zone system, but I personally feel very comfortable with the original description by Ansel Adams in his book "The Negative".



I use two different enlargers. I print 35mm and roll films using a Kaiser System V enlarger. This is a decent condensor enlarger for up to 6x7 cm negatives. I use a Rodenstock Rodagon 2,8/50mm lens and a Rodenstock Rodagon 4,0/80mm for 35mm and roll films, respectively. The enlarger is connected to a real simple timer to control the exposure.

4x5in negatives require a different setup. I've managed to build a horizontal enlarger that accomodates negatives up to 5x7in. It uses a cold light source and accepts large format lenses in regular Linhof/Horseman-type boards. I use my Schneider 9.0/305mm G-Claron as a standard lens. Using a horizontal setup, the extra distance between the lens and the frame is very welcome. I do not use a timer on this enlarger, but use a black cardboard and a metronom to control the exposure.

large format enlarger

The enlarger is shown with a longer bellows extension than you'd use with the G-Claron. The front standard allows shift and cross movements to adjust the image position. The handle right below the front standard drives the focusing gear which in turn moves the rear standard including the light source. The bellows are interchangeable, a shorter one is available for my 150mm lens. The grey box with the power cord sticking out is the cold light. The cold light housing is pressed against the negative holder with an excenter handle which is barely visible in the back. The base was built from birch plywood, the other parts are mainly oak and poplar. The whole enlarger received a rosewood finish in order to reduce glare in the darkroom.


Papers and positive processes

I prefer graded to variable papers, and baryta paper to RC paper. This is a matter of personal taste and does not mean you couldn't achieve satisfying results with other papers. I'm not into testing each new paper that hits the market. Instead I've settled for two papers and try to get the most out of them.

My preferred warm-tone paper is the Fortezo Museum Weight graded paper. I like to develop it with Agfa Neutol WA developer. The paper reacts very well to selenium toning. Depending on the concentration, the temperature, and the toning time, you can get anything from more intense shadows, over a nice warm image tone, to a full brown tone that resembles sepia toning. Negatives developed as N usually print straight on grade 3.

My favourite cold-tone paper is the Oriental Seagull graded paper. Tetenal Eukobrom is a decent developer to go with this paper. Negatives developed as N usually print well on grade 2.

Both papers are developed for 2 to 3 minutes in fresh developer solution. If none of the grades gives the desired results, I resort to a split-bath development in a softer developer like Tetenal Centrabrom S and then the standard developer.

After one minute in the stop bath (I use diluted acetic acid), the papers go to a rapid fixing bath for 2-4 minutes. Then I collect them in a water tank until I'm done with printing for the day.

The collected prints are prewashed in a Salthill archival washer for at least 10 minutes at 20°C or higher. Then they are toned individually in Kodak selenium toner at 1:15 to 1:20 dilutions. The Fortezo paper usually takes between 30 and 90 seconds to achieve a pleasant warm tone. The tone of the Oriental paper is not much changed by the toning procedure, so 60 seconds is just about right. The prints are returned to the washer immediately and washed for another 15 minutes. Then they are incubated individually in Ilford Washaid for 10 minutes with intermittent agitation. The final wash in the archival washer then takes at least another 30 minutes. The papers are dried on mosquito net frames facing down.