After cleaning and adjusting my 1940’s Franka Rolfix folding camera, I took it out for a spin in the alley behind my local Ace Hardware (where I had to stop and buy some household stuff). The camera is about as small and pocketable as you can make a 6x9cm folding camera and a real joy to hold and shoot. The popup optical viewfinder is pretty bright and pleasant to use for framing shots. A camera like this is best suited for scenic shots and not for close ups because of the viewfinder has no parallax correction and lacks any kind of focusing aid—IE. you have to guess your focus distance. The Prontor-S shutter in mine is very crisp and accurate, even though somewhat limited. The Schneider Kreuznach 1:4.5/105mm lens is a fine coated lens—nothing special, but not a bad performer anyway, especially when you take into account the huge negative you get out of the camera.
You only get 8 exposures from a roll of 120 film with this camera, which doesn’t seem like much, but on the other hand, it forces you into giving your shots a lot more thought before pushing the shutter release! Unlike shooting with an iPhone or digital camera in general, other than the cost per shot, there’s also just the labor required for processing the film (especially if like me, you are doing the developing yourself).
While it has really been years since I’ve done traditional darkroom work, I still remember how much I hated getting behind with my negatives. For instance, when shooting 35mm film, just two long 36 exposure rolls sitting in your camera bag could represent many hours of work. Maybe I’m just lazy, but I prefer going into the darkroom and only working up a few good prints. My plan for 120 is to shoot maybe a roll every week or two and then make prints from the best shots only.
Making prints first turns everything I’ve been doing for the last 20 years on its head. With digital or scanned film before that, the internet ports were mainly my “product” and then getting prints to match my virtual images was a secondary challenge. Early on, I explored exotic and experimental archival b&w printing, and after that, while embracing the world of color photography, I gave up home printing altogether for the repeatability (and mediocrity) of using a pro lab. I can’t say I ever hung work in a gallery that I wasn’t proud of, but the prints were still secondary.
The three example shots here are the result of my third attempt to reacquaint myself with working in a darkroom. It’s amazing how much you lose after twenty years of disuse. These are scans of carefully printed contact prints. I am very happy with the feeling and quality. A traditionally printed contact print has a much different—and dare I say, “special” —quality than a digital print.
After making these prints, I showed them to my son and his girlfriend. His girlfriend’s immediate reaction was, “Wow! Look at all the detail!” Kids these days see almost everything on the internet, their phones or maybe digital prints. The tonality and detail in a medium format chemical print is at whole different level (not really captured here!). I was happy to hear her reaction because otherwise I was doubting whether it was real or if it was just me romanticizing the history of film photography.
The reason I’m only posting 3 prints from my first roll of film in this camera here is because the latch on the camera is a little touchy to ensure that it is locked and while out shooting and midway through the roll, the back swung wide open in full sunlight! I won’t let that happen again! I think I was lucky only have lost three exposures.
There was one additional image that I probably could have included, but I somehow didn’t really connect with it, so I left it out. There was only one “bad” shot and that was because it was slightly crooked! Commiting to full-frame contact prints means the shots have to be composed perfectly in the camera!
These were shot on Ilford FP4+ film, but I plan on transitioning to Fomapan because I cannot see the new light grey numbers on the Ilford film through the ruby window.
I’m shooting more film in this camera currently, and have another 120 6×9 roll waiting to be developed that I shot in my Moskva-5.