Sianr F1
5 frames with...

5 Frames with a Sinar F1 in the local park – By Alasdair Mackintosh

October 16, 2022

A few weeks ago I went to the San Jose Museum of Art, which is showing an exhibition of Brett Weston’s prints. (It runs until January 2023, and if you are in the area I highly recommend it.) As always, I found that seeing the work of great photographers was equal parts inspiration (“I must go out and make more photographs”) and dejection (“but they will never be this good”).

But we will never improve without practice. And, as Brett’s father, Edward Weston, once observed: “I should be able to look down at my feet and see something to photograph.” So one evening I took my SInar F1 and 3 film-holders loaded with FP4+ down to the local park to see what I could find.

Large format cameras offer the promise of outstanding quality and unparalleled flexibility. They also offer countless opportunities for getting things wrong, and the fact that I got 5 almost usable frames out of 6 sheets is, by my standards, excellent work. I loaded six (and only six) sheets, and each one was loaded correctly, with the emulsion side facing the lens and with a minimum of dust on the film. Nothing was exposed twice, or not exposed at all. The only failure was when I inserted the film holder, pulled out the dark slide, reached for the cable release, and then realised that I had forgotten to close the shutter after composing the image, giving me an absurdly overexposed negative.

The Sinar F1 is a monorail camera, primarily designed for studio work. Bulky rather than heavy, it can, with some effort, be packed flat enough to fit in a backpack, or be carried awkwardly by the central rail. It does offer a full range of movements, however, plus a built-in calculator for estimating the correct tilts and swings for getting the correct plane of focus.

As I set it up, I realised those movements would be useful. There are several redwoods in the park, and I decided to photograph their partly-exposed roots. By tilting the front standard forwards, I was able to adjust the plane of focus so that everything on the ground in front of me was sharp.

Tree Roots, Indirect lighting

Sinar F1, Schneider Simmar-S 180/5.6,  with front tilt to adjust plane of focus. Taken towards sunset, in indirect lighting. I think the tonality has been captured quite well, and the structure of the roots is well defined.

It was getting towards sunset, and for the most part the trees were out of direct light, creating a relatively flat, low-contrast scene. Because of this I decided I would increase development slightly to compensate.

Tree Roots, Indirect lighting

Taken under similar lighting conditions to the previous image.

I made a couple of exposures of the first tree, and then moved on to the second one, whose roots were capturing the final rays of the setting sun.

Tree Roots, Side lighting

This time the rays of the setting sun were hitting the base of the tree. Although the shadows provide strong relief, I feel they do so at the expense of tonality.

 

Tree base with small shoots

Small shoots around the base of a tree. The contrast between the new shoots and the old needles looked interesting, but I find the image lacks structure.

The final tree had its most interesting root structure on the shadow side, so I set up the camera there and made one final exposure.

Tree roots with light flare

The sun was behind the tree, and some flare (?) seems to have gotten into the lens. I corrected it slightly in a photo editor, but it’s not really printable.

I’m most pleased with the first two images. I made a fairly straight darkroom print, with some burning in of the corners, on grade 3.5 paper, and the range of tones has come out well. The second two are less successful – the light in them is too contrasty, and although it brings out the shapes of the roots well, it does so at the expense of tonality.

The final image, made with the sun behind the tree, has a bright mark coming down from the top-right corner. Lens flare? Some internal reflection in the camera? I was able to tidy up the scanned image slightly, but a darkroom print would be exceptionally difficult to correct. Still, two reasonable images out of six frames is not bad going.

I developed the film in Eco Pro diluted 1:1 for 11.5 minutes at 20°C, instead of the normal 10 minutes. (And yes, a more dedicated Zone-system practitioner would have developed the second two sheets for N-1 development instead.) Scanned on an Epson V700, or printed on an Omega D2 enlarger.

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8 Comments

  • Reply
    John Fontana
    October 16, 2022 at 10:12 am

    An excellent and honest self appraisal of your images. I often find myself deliberately going out in low contrast conditions since I find the tonal range more compressed but more subtle, and textures more satisfyingly reproduced.

    • Reply
      Alasdair Mackintosh
      October 17, 2022 at 1:42 am

      Thanks for the comments.

      I enjoy shooting in the Sant Cruz mountains, and the forests on the western side of those hills, but it’s often in quite strong light. That can make for some powerful images, but sometimes it’s the contrast that dominates the shot, and it becomes hard to capture the full dynamic range,

      I should take your advice and look for more low-contrast scenes too 😉

  • Reply
    Michael J
    October 16, 2022 at 12:39 pm

    Wow! My favourite is the one with more of the lovely texture of the tree trunk, which you fear is at the expense of the overall tonality. The amount of just raw visual info you can get on a 4×4 inch bit of film is just crazy.

    I hear you when you speak of the amount of ways in which you can really mess up large format- well done on 5/6 and for your bravery on showing them to anyone else, let alone the 35mmc readership. I speak as one who has spent the last year and a half trying to get things I really like out of the web of parameters…

    • Reply
      Alasdair Mackintosh
      October 18, 2022 at 4:12 am

      Well, I’m glad you liked one of them, even if it was the wrong one 😉

      I know what you mean; different images have different qualities. In fact, I even find that’s true when I’m printing: I can create two different prints from the same negative, and find good qualities in each. Look at the blacks in this one! But that one has more shadow detail. Hmm…

      I see you understand the many ways in which LF can go wrong. I was taking a still life scene last week, and made the first exposure OK, but on the second on I left the shutter open while I opened the darkslide. I was using a 1-second exposure though, so I closed the darkslide as soon as I realised, and developed it anyway. It came out overexposed, but not disastrously so. There is some motion blur, but it gives an interesting soft-focus effect. I might try and print both images and see how they compare 😉

  • Reply
    brian m cox
    October 16, 2022 at 7:41 pm

    I once had the dream of getting into large format. That was in the early 2000’s when film was dominant and somewhat affordable. I also had a lot more free time in those days. I now have a family a “career job” and numerous other things that require my time and attention. Needless to say my dream of getting into large format have withered and died. Though it hasn’t worked out for me it makes me so happy that others can and I can read about your experiences. Please keep sharing!

    • Reply
      Alasdair Mackintosh
      October 17, 2022 at 1:38 am

      The good news is that LF cameras are still reasonably affordable, especially monorail/studio cameras. These aren’t as portable as field cameras, but with a bit of determination you can still take them with you. And the fact that companies like Intrepid are making new budget models is also encouraging. It’s true that the cost per frame is still fairly high, but on the other hand you don’t shoot too many frames at once.

      Don’t despair – the hope may be dormant, but it isn’t dead yet, One day the time will be right 😉

  • Reply
    Karen McBride
    October 18, 2022 at 2:06 am

    Your final picture is stunning, even with the lens flare (maybe it’s lens flair:).
    Well done.

    • Reply
      Alasdair Mackintosh
      October 18, 2022 at 6:08 am

      And every flare from flair sometime declines 🙂

      Thanks. Unfortunately it’s a lot more prominent on the negative. The version you see here was fixed up in Capture One, but a darkroom print would be infeasible I think. Still, it’s a lesson learned, and I can always find that tree again;-)

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