Thursday, May 11, 2017

Using the Stearman Press SP-445 Developing Tank - Part 2

I have used the SP-445 three or four times since my initial post.  Executive summary:  It works.  Well.  If you need to develop 4x5 and don't have an actual/proper darkroom, get it.  If you have a proper darkroom and have an established, well-working workflow, it's not necessary unless you need an alternative to deep tanks.

Longer summary:  The only issue I encountered was loading film into the holders.  The user guide delivered with the tank advise to practice loading with some scrap film.  Did I do that?  As someone with 40 years of experience ... no.  While doing so would have saved some time for the first attempt, I did get the sheets properly loaded.  After some fiddling. 

The "issue" is that the tabs that keep the film properly loaded are "subtle" enough that until you have experience, you aren't aware of them.  Not practicing could result in disaster, but I got on OK.

During processing, when agitating I found the best for me was to hold the tank in one hand, gripping both at the side and over the top.  It's hard to explain without a drawing (my drawing skill is less than limited,) but think of it as gripping at a top corner - I am most comfortable using my left hand, even though I am right handed.  Even thought he lid seats securely, this grip makes me feel the tank and its contents are more secure - the lid can't fall off if you've got it in a firm grip.

That's it.  The system is simple, elegant, it works.  Highly recommended, it has saved me time and effort.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Using the Stearman Press SP-445 Developing Tank

Part 1

Nearly five years ago I moved house.  The new digs are an improvement in pretty much every way.  But there is one exception - I lost the darkroom facility I had crafted in the basement of the former house.  Admittedly it was s very crude setup, and only accomodated loading and processing film - no printing.  Since I was scanning, that was OK, though I don miss printing.

To compensate after the move I joined the Flower City Arts Center, which has truly great darkroom facilities and bargain rental rates.  But I just didn't use the facilities that much; due to work I was only able to go on Saturdays.  So I didn't renew my membership every year.

So I've made do at home by loading 35mm and 120 film onto reels and into tanks in a dark bag.  As my desire to work more with 4x5 sheet film returned and increased, I still didn't have a way to process at home since I only have deep tanks, which require total darkness.  

Faced with renewing my membership at Flower City and not really using the facilities as much as I needed, I decided to research daylight tanks that might work for me.

In the past I had used a Yankee Adjustable Cut Film Tank, which accommodates up to 12 sheets of film.  In fact, I still have one, but damn if I can find the rack that carries the film! The problem this tank that I always experienced, though, was uneven development, particularly at the edges of the negative.  This was caused by the design not allowing proper flow of chemistry during agitation.  Before I adopted deep tanks as my sheet film processing gear, I solved this problem by not placing the lid on the tank and raising and lowering the rack for agitation.  But that means the tank is no longer "daylight" - so I was back to square one.

Another option is the HP CombiPlan tank, a discontinued daylight tank.  I actually have one that was given to me, but the loading guide is missing so even if I wanted to try it, I can't.  Add all the negative reviews of this overly complicated kit, and I quickly discarded this option.

I had heard of the Stearman SP-445 tank, the result of a Kickstarter campaign, but had mostly forgotten about it until a web search turned up links to the website, YouTube videos and reviews.  At $90USD it's not that expensive, though I had to evaluate whether I wanted to take a chance - $90+ is not chump change for me.

After cogitating for a few weeks, I decided to order it from Freestyle Sales, my go to for a lot of photographic needs. 

(Aside:  I can buy Kodak film from Freestyle cheaper than I can here in Rochester - the film is made here, shipped to Freestyle in LA, then back to me.  You'd think Kodak Alaris would promote the use of film here in Rochester with great pricing, where yes, there is a rich reserve of photographers who not only know and used film, but who actually helped design and manufacture the stuff!  But no.   Grumpy mode off.)

Earlier this week the SP-445 arrived, along with a new darkroom thermometer and a Nikkor 75/4.5 SW via Japan.

Six sheets of film had been exposed and were awaiting processing:  2 sheets of Delta 100 shot as EI tests and 4 sheets of FP4+ needing N+2 and N-2 development.  So I was waiting for the weekend to arrive when I could test out this new kit.

The two sheets of Delta are hanging to dry and I can judge my first test drive a success.  Details will in Part 2 soon.  But overall I am pleased.  I made no disastrous mistakes, but I learned enough to improve my technique.

I still plan to build a proper darkroom which will accommodate processing more than four sheets at a time, which is the limit of the 445 - get it?  4 sheets of 4x5 = 445.

Stay tuned for Part 2.

Saturday, April 01, 2017


The video is long, but, I think, worth the investment. Matthieu Ricard was a bit of an influence in my migration to Zen & Buddhism. I was reminded of him again when I read Change Your Mind, Change Your Brain, which was also an influence on me.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Kit

After much consideration and experimentation, I decided on the kit I will take to Paris.  I think.  
Initially I thought I would take the Fuji 18-55 kit zoom - after all, it’s autofocus and has image stabilization.  And it’s optically excellent.  But with practice I got better with manual focus lenses on the X-Pro1.  And I have just never got on with zooms.  Even the very nice manual focus Tokina 70-150 for my OMs has not seen the light of day for over a decade.
So the line up starts with the native, auto-focus Fuji 18/2.  It’s one of Fuji’s older primes and by some reports isn’t as good optically as later lenses, but it certainly is no slouch.  For the kind of work I do, it’s perfect - 28mm equivalent field of view, which I love for street work.  I have a feeling I will use it a lot.
Second is the OM Zuiko 35/2.8.  F2 might be nicer, but I don’t have one and it is larger and heavier than the 35/2.8.  I’ve always loved the rendering of this OM lens.  On the X-Pro1 it will provide a field of view of 53mm on a “full frame” camera/sensor.  If you only have two lenses for travel and street photography, 28 and 50 are the way to go.
I deliberated whether to take a longer lens and finally decided to go with it, so am packing the OM Zuiko 50/1.8.  I have a 50/1.4 which would give me one more stop exposure.  But the 1.8 is so small and light.  The 50/1.4 isn’t THAT much bigger, but it’s enough that the camera would balance quite differently than the 35/2.8 much less the Fuji 18/2.
What?  No film?  Well yes. Of course  I’m taking the Olympus XA.  It’s pocketable yet has rangefinder focusing and a lovely (if quirky to some) 35/2.8 lens.  It’s great at either quick street work or more deliberate shooting.
I had considered taking an OM body thus having use of the Zuikos on a film body as well as the Fuji.  I still may, but have pretty much decided to keep the kit as small and light as possible.  Too many choices does not promote good photography.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Mobile Test

Since I leave for Paris three weeks from today (!) I wanted to try a mobile app to be able to blog.  I am not taking my MacBook - travel light is my mantra!

I will have some access to my son's computer, but I certainly don't want to inconvenience him; and writing and posting from an actual computer draws me into a longer session. While not as convenient, posting from a mobile device may focus my attention along with supporting "real time" blogging.

So I downloaded the free version of Blog Touch for my iPhone.  Along with the iStick to transfer photos from my camera's SD card, I may have a workable suite of tools.

The photo below is just a test of inserting images - let me know if you see anything funky.  And subscribe!

© 2016 Earl Dunbar

"My name is Buddy, please adopt me!"

PS - I've finished this from my laptop.  It turns out the free version of Blog Touch supports what I need for mobile blogging except ... publishing what I've written.  Back to square one.  Maybe I'll just submit to using Tumblr for awhile.

Sunday, March 27, 2016


Buddy is the current foster dog in the house.

Young, full of energy and sweet!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Fuji-Zuiko Marriage

I've resumed practicing using my manual focus Olympus OM Zuiko lenses on the Fuji.  I think I've made progress in understanding camera operations in manual focus meode and that I've gotten better.

I was out for a little while today at Lake Ontario, at the Irondequoit Bay access.  Both of these photos were made using the (legendary) Zuiko 21/2, which works out to a field of view of a 32mm lens on the Fuji APS-C sensor.  It's a nice compromise between 28mm and 35mm field of view.

I converted both of these photos from RAW.  The in-camera JPGs were very good, but I just wanted to gain further experience in editing.  The only changes I made were to work with the curves, light sharpening and resizing.