Minolta VC-9 battery grip for the Dynax 9

The Dynax 9 is easily the loveliest late-era professional film camera I have used—all of its functions are so polished and perfect. Exposure is universally spot-on to the extent of being telepathic; autofocus is precise; the huge, clear viewfinder, like an Evian swimming pool, makes people say “ooooh maybe I should try a film camera”; dials and displays have just the right balance between knob-twiddling and “I don’t care just show me the settings”.

The only problems are:

  1. it is pretty heavy. But not really that heavy when it comes down to it. Toughen up. Carrying cameras is cheaper than the gym.

  2. it eats batteries. Well, not too badly I suppose—a pair of CR123s will take it through a holiday easily. But CR123s are expensive, and the battery grip takes 4 x AAs, which are cheap and last longer.

I bought this VC-9 battery grip on eBay from Japan because that seems to be the only place where they are available. I’m not 100% sold on battery grips for SLRs that are pretty large already but, you know, if you’re going to carry a big camera why not go all the way?

The lens on the Dynax 9 in these pictures is the Minolta 50mm f1.4 (with an ugly rubber hood—sorry) which I know looks absurd on a camera this size, particularly when it’s got a battery grip attached, but works wonderfully.

My notes from beginning darkroom printing

I’ve recently started learning to print pictures in an actual darkroom. I was a bit concerned that I wasn’t getting the full potential out of film, that I was missing out somewhere. It’s also nice to spend a few hours in a quiet dark room wholly involved in a creative process, and it is creative – the darkroom is where you do your post processing.

It’s slow, or at least I am. In the last session I spent four hours to print three negatives to a point where I was happy with them. At this stage I’m picking things that will challenge me each time – different films and development and lighting conditions – so that I learn, so this will end up being slower than if I was just printing a series of fairly similar shots.

It’s not very expensive though, even if it’s time consuming. I go to a darkroom in a community arts centre (Chats Palace if you’re interested, I can recommend it) and pay a few pounds an hour. The paper isn’t all that expensive. For learning purposes I bought a box of 100 5×7″ sheets of Ilford Multigrade RC Satin – this is a good quality paper that allows for different contrasts, not exhibition quality fibre paper but then you’d not print for an exhibition at 5×7″ anyway unless you were odd. That cost me about £20. At the moment I may use 3-4 sheets to get a print nailed – you need to use paper to test your exposure settings, and they change with each negative – but once you’ve done that you can make as many prints as you like at the same settings.

The technology of it is not difficult to learn. Objectively speaking it is far simpler than Photoshop. That doesn’t mean that it is easy to make good prints, but it means it is much quicker to get to the stage where it is your artistic ability and experience that is the deciding factor, rather than you not knowing where a menu is.

You do learn how forgiving film is in terms of exposure, but also how important lens and film quality is, because you can push the physical limits of the medium when printing. When scanning I’ve found that, while sharp film and a good lens does make a difference, it doesn’t make that much difference as you’re limited mostly by the scanner. This isn’t the case with printing, and the larger you print (including enlarging for a crop on smaller paper) the more you notice. Though even with my staple grainy Kentmere 400 it’s still not bad. I’ll probably buy more T-Max though.

And finally, it’s not something that is digitisable. You’ve made something that exists in the physical world. You may be able to put it in a scanner but at best looking at it on a screen will not be the same as seeing the original. I’m not quite sure what to do about this but it’s novel. I feel like making a zine or something.

Expired Kodak Tri-X Pan film packaging

Expired Kodak Tri-X Pan film packaging, a set on Flickr.

Before the recent announcement on Kodak and bankruptcy, I had already ordered these two packs of expired Kodak film on eBay – two rolls of 35mm and five of 120, influenced to a great degree by the terrific box that the 120 comes in. The latter film expired in 1972. I look forward to shooting some with the Lubitel 2 that I also ordered, when that arrives.