As much as I enjoy working in the digital world, I could not help but long to once again create photographs with film and large format cameras. What a joy the large ground glass is compared to the tiny viewfinder! And having camera movements; swings, tilts and shifts make the greatest of DSLRs seem like a point and shoot. I am just beginning my return to large format photography. I currently have both 4x5 and a 5x7 view cameras.
I don't have access to a print enlarger, nor do I feel inclined to acquire one. My negative printing interest resides in contact printing the large format negatives. Returning to the traditional film processing has been quite enjoyable.
Cameras: I use a Zone VI 4x5 and a Wilderness Field 5x7.
Since I am contact printing, the 5x7 film size feels right though its aspect ratio is longer than the standard which is 4x5.
Lenses: Currently I use the following large format camera lenses:
Schneider Super Angulon 90mm f8
Schneider Super Angulon 120mm f8
Fujinon–CMW 210mm f5.6
Fujinon–W 250mm f6.3
Fujinon-W 360mm f6.3
My Large Format Film Workflow
Film Choice: My current sheet film choice is Ilford HP5. It is cheaper and more readily available than Kodak Tri-x Pro. Both films hold the capability to produce wonderful negatives. I believe Ilford is more dedicated to film these days than Kodak.
I believe it is best to keep one's process as simple and repeatable as possible. For this reason I have selected one film and use it exclusively. Photography is about capturing the image, not spending countless hours perfecting multiple processes.
Film Handling: Dust is the nemesis of sheet film. In an attempt to eradicate dust from my process I clean the film holders by using compressed air. Prior to use, I store my film in a refrigerator.
Exposure: The true ISO speed of any film is derived by the relationship of actual shutter speed, the given exposure from the exposure meter, development time, and the characteristic of each emulsion batch. To obtain the correct ISO one needs a densitometer. I no longer have access to one. Traditionally all things given being equal, though in reality they are not, many people have test results that place the ISO of Ilford's HP5 at 200. This is where I place the ISO.
I use a Zone VI modified Pentax 1˚ Spot meter for outdoor photography. Exposure is calculated by placing the brightest value in the scene (excluding the sun or lights)on Zone VIII. Indoors I use a Minolta Flash Meter III. It is an incident meter and I accept the exposure given for the amount of light illuminating 18% gray.
Chemical Mixing: I always use distilled water for mixing chemicals. I do this for two reasons. It allows for powered chemistry to dissolve more easily, though all my chemistry comes in liquid form these days. The second reason is that I do not have the ability to filter the water where I have my darkroom. It is amazing what one can find floating in their water that is just waiting to embed itself into the film.
Processing Method: Currently I prefer to use film hangers in a tank over tray development. I recently read where Edward Weston chose the tedious method to tray process each negative individually. If I ever notice issues in the processing with the film hangers due to agitation issues, or if I ultimately use a pyro developer I will switch to tray development of the film one sheet at a time. I tray developed 4x5 sheet film in the past, but have been concerned with handling multiple sheets of 5x7 film. The JOBO processor or BTZS style development tubes require constant agitation.
Zone VI Compensating Timer: This particular timer will adjust the develop time automatically for any deviation from the standard 68 degrees helping to ensure proper development time resulting in consistent processing. The time adjusts real time to compensate for any change during development. I love this timer!
Chemistry and Processing: I use Photographer's Formulary FA-1027 Film Developer. I prefer a non-continuous agitation processes. Initial agitation for 30 seconds with subsequent 5 second agitations once every 30 seconds. I process both 4x5 and 5x7 film in film hangers. Next I dunk the film in either Ilford Ilfostop or Kodak Indicator Stop Bath for 30 seconds. I fix using Photographer's Formulary's TF-5 Archival Fixfor twice the clearing time. The developer is the most important chemical in the process and consistency of process paramount to consistency of results.
Washing: I wash the film for for 5 minutes, and end with a dunk in Kodak Photo Flo then hang up to dry. I never squeegee the film.
Traditional Printing: Any prints made from from these negatives will be made without the use of an enlarger. These negatives will be contact prints on LODIMA FINE ART™ Silver Chloride Paper a replacement for Kodak Azo, and on Ilfobrom Galerie FB. The developer I use for the Lodima and Ilfobrom is Photographer's Formulary's Lomida Paper Developer, similar to the Amidol print developer Edward and Brett Weston used. I use Ilford Ilfostop or Kodak Indicator Stop Bath and then Photographer's Formulary's TF-4 Rapid Archival Fixer. Prints are washed in the typical archival manner to include selenium toning. I have been using Kodak Rapid Selenium Toner.
I have done some platinum printing on handmade platinum papers created by using Bostick & Sullivan's Traditional Platinum and Palladium Printing Kit. Platinum printing is affected by numerous environmental conditions and I find it rather difficult and frustrating to use.
Digital Printing: I have yet to decide if I will digitally print from film negatives. I do scan my negatives for placing on Facebook or this website.
Simplicity and consistency are the two keys to the photographic process. There are an infinite number of film, paper, chemical, and processing combinations. The key for any photographer is to create their personal workflow as quickly as possible and stick with it until the absolutely must change it. No photographer ever created a great photograph while spending countless hours conducting tests in their darkroom.