View Full Version : Former RAF Photographer seeks some help and advice

Robert McClure
2-Mar-2006, 10:39
A new acquaintance of mine in Scotland would like your input to his below questions. He gave me pernission to post below.

I told him there were, as we spoke, " ... 100 old photography farts like us sitting at their computers just waiting to add their two cents." Younger farts, too!

A la our recent discussions on the importance of welcoming new folks, I think being an RAF photographer is pretty cool!

Andrew writes:

I am not yet active enough to be a LF Photography Forum contributor but
have been following the discussions for some months.

I am based in Scotland and trained as an RAF photographer 40 yrs ago
using 5x4 cameras. Went on to study dye-transfer colour printing in
London for 2 yrs then gave up photography altogether.

Now I'm back at it, writing for a magazine, taking pictures and dusting
off all four of my old film cameras! This time around I'm interested in
contact printing from digital negatives using (perhaps) Kodak T Max &
Efke 100 as a starting point developed in Sandy King's Pyrocat-HD
formula. I would love to have a fully equipped darkroom but my volumes
would never justify all the resources/equipement I'd need to invest in.

Comments, ideas, suggestions much appreciated and thanks in advance!

Best wishes,


Thanks, guys!

Eric Rose
2-Mar-2006, 10:58
Frankly I would skip the digital neg thing and just scan your new negs, do the PS magic to it and output directly to a high quality printer setup for B&W. I've explored both paths and the additional creativity allowed thru the use of various papers in a printer out weight, for me at least, any perceived advantages the digital neg would give.

I have seen prints made using an Epson printer that look exactly like a Pl/Pd contact print. As much as I love my wet darkroom, I have found that the Epson is a valuable tool to add to the warchest.

Ron Marshall
2-Mar-2006, 11:00
There are many good values now in LF enlargers on ebay.

If he wishes to contact print from digital negatives he will need: a scanner, Epson 4990, or wait for reviews of the newest Epson scanner that has just been released; a printer; a computer; and for ease of use Photoshop, or another photo-editor.

Robert McClure
2-Mar-2006, 11:04

What cameras do you have? What sorts of things do you like to photograph nowadays?

Would love to learn about what aerial camera you used. How did you steady?

Just curious!

2-Mar-2006, 11:17
"I would love to have a fully equipped darkroom but my volumes would never justify all the resources/equipement I'd need to invest in."

Considering how cheap darkroom stuff is today that's a pretty low volume.

2-Mar-2006, 11:28
There's been somewhat of a rebirth of dye-transfer technology. I have seen nothing to match its beauty. See Jim Browning's work at http://www.dyetransfer.org/.

Jorge Gasteazoro
2-Mar-2006, 11:32
I have seen prints made using an Epson printer that look exactly like a Pl/Pd contact print.

The you have not seen a pt/pd contact print.

Seems to me the expense of a good digital set up is greater than one for a chemical darkroom, specially if we are talking low volume. A Beseler enlarger, a timer, a few trays and a developing tank can be had for less that the cost of PS CSII alone.

2-Mar-2006, 12:18
"Seems to me the expense of a good digital set up is greater than one for a chemical darkroom, specially if we are talking low volume."

i think it depends. people often have some of the most expensive digital stuff already (like the computer, and maybe even much of the software). also, darkrooms are very inneficient for low volume, sporadic work. i felt like a rockstar when i was printing in my darkroom 3 or 4 times a week. but during dry spells when i'd print once a month or so it was pure tedium ... mixing up fresh chemicals every time, throwing out old ones, spending as much time setting up and cleaning up as i did printing ... and there's also the space consideration. a digital darkroom can be whatever space you already use for your office.

"The you have not seen a pt/pd contact print."

i don't know about that. i don't think the strength of any printing process is its ability to look like another, but i've seen some carbon pigment inkjets that i'd have a very hard time telling from pt/pd contact prints. and i have one of the latter on my wall, and i just saw over a dozen nice looking ones at the museum of modern art last saturday.

Terence Spross
2-Mar-2006, 12:34
The term Digital negative is why Eric Rose assumed you were talking about Platinum Palladium Printing , and I might differ that Epson printer output is exactly like such a print. However, what I am confused about is my concept of digital negatives used in Pl/Pd printing is a inkjet printed negative transparancy used in place of a silver negative. This is how some photographers go from digital camera shots to contact printing to make alternative process prints. But Andrew talks of T-Max and Efke which are of coase camera films and unless I'm missing something I don't know of a digital output that exposes negative film. (except - I know some people conventionally photograph a computer screen but the 1 megapixel resolution is wanting although I suppose for a 4 x 5 inch contact print that would be fine.)

If you took out the word digital I would think Andrew was just looking for advice on getting into a conventional wet darkroom again.

Eric Rose
2-Mar-2006, 12:44
Hey Jorge, I've got one of yours!! Plus one of our Large Format group members prints PL/PD all the time. So yes I have seen the real thing. I'm not knocking their beauty, I'm just saying there are alternatives.

Your prints are gorgeous, but I just don't have the time or the energy to devote to that type of output.

Look forward to seeing you at the APUG Conference in Toronto. And yes I will have the print I promised you at the conference. Really ...

Eric Rose
2-Mar-2006, 12:48
One further thing about enlarger equipment prices etc. I have noticed the used market for enlargers and the related stuff is much higher in the UK than in the colonies. While we over here might find setting up a darkroom fairly cheap these days, such is not the case in England IMHO.

Jorge Gasteazoro
2-Mar-2006, 16:20
but during dry spells when i'd print once a month or so it was pure tedium ... mixing up fresh chemicals every time, throwing out old ones, spending as much time setting up and cleaning up as i did printing

Sorry Paul but your inefficiency does not necessarily mean darkroom work is less efficient. I rarely spill or make a mess, my chemical mixing is design to be a one shot so I dont have to be pouring old stuff (and wasting money) and most of my chemicals are reusable or replenishable, so as you see I dont have the same problems you have.

As to the ink jet prints, I keep hearing this "they just like pt/pd" yet when I see them and place one of mine next to them the difference is clear even to the person doing ink jet, so you will have to excuse me if I dont take your word for it.

Jim Ewins
2-Mar-2006, 17:37
Robert, you might have a go at AZO contact printing. Not much of a darkroom expense. There are many subjects that would be lovely on 5x4 and you may be able to find an old 7x5 or 10x8. See michaelandpaula.com for info on AZO printing.

Andrew McIntyre
3-Mar-2006, 03:58
Well . . . what a hurricane of a response! And my thanks to all of you.

My old film cameras include a pair of much loved Mamiya TLRs with 55/80/105/135/180 lenses and a Nikon FE2 with a selection of lenses going from 20mm - 400mm. In deference to my RAF background I recently re-equipped myself with a vintage MPP 5x4 camera for which I have a single Fuji (f6.3 WS) 150mm lens. To illustrate my magazine articles in a small format magazine I use a DSLR - a Nikon D70 with the standard kit lens plus the other lenses that fit the FE2.

My scanner is a Minolta Dimage Scan Multi Pro which delivers excellent results with its native software though I often use Vuescan as well. To scan 5x4 I'm going to have to get an Epson 4990 or something similar since my old 2450 is getting a bit long in the tooth.

I edit in Photoshop and print mostly to an Epson 2100. (2200 in the US)

From this you will gather I have a leg in both camps. In practice I do most of my work digitally and it's not so much the expense of setting up a darkroom as the space I would need to poach from other rivals in my domestic arena! Also I never was an outstanding printer and find I can produce much better results with my Epson than I ever achieved in a darkroom.

My particular interest so far as this forum is concerned is to produce some top-notch b&w landscape pictures to around 20" x 16" Bearing in mind my background and equipment I think this is where I dust off the MPP and aim for the best quality negatives I can get. My instinct then is to get the best scan possible (maybe drum in some instances) from which to produce a digital negative and perhaps some Azo contact prints. Although I admire the control I get with Photoshop and the Epson 2100 I don't admire inkjet b&w prints when I see them side by side with silver prints. The real imponderable is the quality gettable from digital negatives. I just haven't seen the work of Dan Burkholder close up so I don't know how close he and others are getting to the quality you guys with banquet cameras achieve.

I would love to have your unbiased input on this!



Don Wallace
3-Mar-2006, 07:04
This is an interesting coincidence. I work at the Library and Archives of Canada and I am currently working on a website of photographs taken by Canadian Army/Navy/Air photographers during WWII. We hope to have the website, entitled "Faces of War", up and running by late spring/early summer. In addition to discussing LF photography, I would love to talk to you about your experiences as an RAF photographer. Also, there is one photo of a war photographer with a camera that I cannot identify. I wonder if you can help.

Anyway, welcome! It is a fun group.

phil sweeney
3-Mar-2006, 07:16
Most of my work is with in-camera negatives on AZO.
I suggest forgetting about digital negatives for AZO or other silver gelation papers. The sharpest digital negative for AZO is going to be an imagesetter negative. I have explored most of the linescreen methods. Did not care for halftones. For stochastic methods: I ultimately settled on rastus. It allowed me to produce the sharpest prints with the least noticeable evidence of the linescreen. The problem is it does not work well with an image that has a significant area of similiar tone (e.g., a large sky area). Yes you will be able to see the the linesceen by eye. So it works well with some images but not all.

However, the imagesetter negative does work well with all images when done on art paper via some alt process. I still am using the imagesetter negative versus an inkjet printer because of cost. Since the obstacle of curve construction is behind me I'll be able to print a lot of imagesetter negatives for the cost of a printer. I would have no other use for a printer. And I do not do many digital negatives. BTW: Though expensive the COT-320 paper is very alt process friendly.

You may want to explore what many folks are doing with the PDN and inkjets. PDN apparently will get you through curve construction. Check out APUG's gray area etc. The size limitation is the printer output size and OHP transparency size.

Robert McClure
3-Mar-2006, 09:13

Good to hear more about what you do and with what equipment you do it. I notice the majority of responses seem from folks who have their heads screwed on properly. Ha, ha!

If/when you receive a response from someone who forgot to take his medication, you may just want to ignore it.

Best regards and welcome, mate! (Do the Scots use "mate" like the English, or do you have your own term?)

Wish we could all just meet down the street one evening for a pint together, eh?

Andrew McIntyre
3-Mar-2006, 11:13
I would love to be able to say I was a war time photographer but my spell with the RAF was pretty tame. I trained at the RAF School of Photography in 1960 at Wellesbourne Mountford (a stone's throw away from Shakespeare's birthplace at Stratford on Avon) Spent a year on a missile base in Lincoln and then thirty months in the Middle East (Cyprus and Aden.) After that I was stationed at Ruislip near London where we published aircrew data sheets.

Ground photographers used mainly Rollieflexes & MPP (5x4) cameras. Aerial work involved 'fans' of cameras typically with a focal length of 36" mounted in an aircraft's bomb bay. Film width was around 10" and the images created were square - after each exposure the film was wound on automatically and then pressed into contact against a glass plate by a pressure pad. By overlapping the exposures as the aircraft flew on, a series of stereoscopic "pairs" were produced that gave a very exagerated 3D image. Useful for measuring the height of molehills - or missile emplacements in Cuba!

These camera were modelled on the RAF's F52s which were pretty standard during the war. There were also special cameras used for taking oblique pictures that used 70mm cine film, plus GGSRs. The latter were "Gyroscopic Gun Sight Recorders" used to check the effects of gunfire on enemy aircraft in the good old days when the enemy was visible!

The most impressive part of my relatively short photographic career was working for an ex-Kodak lecturer who ran a dye-transfer colour print lab in London. Each individual image involved handling a minimum of 3 x 4 (=12) pieces of film. Each colour-separated image had its own individual highlight mask and unsharp mast before being exposed to the matrix films used to transfer dye to paper. I have never seen any process before or since that approached the incredible quality achieved. And interestingly I was assured that the Kodak dyes were of archival quality, though nowadays dyes get a bad press and everyone says pigments are the only truly archival inks to use. To my eye though even the finest dye-tranfer colour-print lacks that indefinable "something" that gives b&w such beauty and impact.

My re-entry to photography took place when Photoshop v3.0 appeared in my office, about 35 years after I left the London lab (and my career as a cameraman). What's interesting about recent developments is that they're all based on the old principles so it turns out I'm not that much out of date after all.

Many thanks for your input Phil. I am pretty well up to speed with Dan Burkholder's work but I haven't as yet investigated Mark Nelson's approach which sounds like more of the same but perhaps in greater depth. The proof of the pudding though is - what do these guy's prints look like? There is some reference on the web to using Forte Polywarmtone papers with digital negatives printed to the white-based Pictorico film but I get the impression that digital negatives and AZO are a really difficult combination.

In answer to your question, Robert "mate" is ubiquitous on this side of the pond and is standard throughout our armed forces. However as a man of Scot's ancestry you should use "a bhalaich", Gaelic for "my lad"!


To avoid spam I'll give my email address here as andrew at backwoodsman-stoves dot co dot uk