I’ll admit that deep down, from the day I decided to buy the Hasselblad, I’d harboured a deep, masochistic desire to do this. During previous evaluations of medium format for my main commercial subjects, it didn’t really fit the bill: too difficult to achieve the degree of magnification required for watches, and digital medium format wouldn’t give me the width I needed for architectural work. It’d also be overkill for food photography in this country, given the current state of affairs*.
*I recently had a large corporate client ask for a portfolio and quote, then turn around and give the job to another photographer who quoted less and said ‘here, copy’. The results were crude because of harsh lighting and repetitively boring subject placement, but I suppose if they can’t tell the difference…perhaps I’m the one who’s got unrealistic expectations?
But hey, on film, for fun and in the spirit of creative experimentation, why not?
Step one: assemble the required rig. You’re looking at a Hasselblad 501C (with custom skin) plus PM5 viewfinder prism, cable release, 21 and 55 extension tubes, and a 4/120 CF T* Makro-Planar, sitting on a Gitzo GT5562 carbon tripod and Manfrotto 410 geared head. What I didn’t show is the PC sync cable between the lens and the slave flash, which in turn triggered two other flashes via SU4 optical trigger – all in manual, of course. And being manual only, you have to do guide number calculations to figure out the right exposure; don’t forget to compensate for the magnification factor, T stop of the lens, and losses due to diffusion through the lightbox. Bottom line, I don’t really miss this bit that much from the days when I used to shoot watches on slide film with a beat up F2.
Aside from the calculations, the rest of the shooting experience wasn’t that different from what I normally do; granted, I had to change out extension tubes more frequently (and be careful to ensure everything was cocked before mounting), but it didn’t feel that much more unwieldy than usual. I have no doubt that the sturdy tripod and geared head helped immensely here. It’s also worth noting that with the mirror locked up, the V-series ‘Blads are actually very low vibration devices; the only part moving during capture is the leaf shutter in the lens, which hardly vibrates at all. There was one annoyance, though – my 501C lacks the gliding mirror that prevents blackouts of the top portion of the frame with longer lenses and/or close up; I had to guess the top 5-10% or so of the frame, so some of the compositions aren’t as perfect as I’d like them to be. If I was to do more of this work, I’d definitely get a later model body with this feature.
I used Delta 100 film, developed in DDX at 1+8 dilution (also an experiment, I normally run DDX at 1+4 and 5:45 for Delta 100), 26C ambient temperature for 10min with 10s of gentle agitation every minute. Perhaps it wasn’t quite enough agitation; the grain is small enough to be non-existent for all intents and purposes, but it does have the odd edge haloes that frequently result from stand or semi-stand development. I think it could probably do with a bit more agitation to avoid areas of exhausted developer. Still I wanted to a) see the effect of longer developing times on grain, and b) see if I could economize on developer – DDX is pricy stuff.
The negatives were ‘scanned’ – digitized – with my usual setup of D800E and macro lens held in a custom stand on top of a lightbox containing a flash (this is why the EXIF data always reads 1/250s f8 with flash). I’m still refining the post-capture conversion process – so far it’s a two-step thing that requires some presets on the negatives in ACR (get exposure right, desaturate) and then an action in PS. Bottom line: if you tried to invert the first image, you’ll find it looks very different from the contact sheet of finished images:
I shot one roll in total – that’s just 12 frames. But it did take the better part of an entire afternoon. Of the 12 images, I’m very happy with six, okay with three, can’t decide between two, and don’t know what I was thinking when I shot one. I make that a keeper rate of 10/12, which is not too bad considering there were manual flash calculations and no bracketing involved. Certainly much, much better than my digital results. Could I have tweaked things in places? Sure, but not to the extent they’d have mattered or been immediately obvious.
Now, if only color developing was as simple as black and white. Enjoy the images! MT
Ilford Delta film is available here from B&H.
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