Coming Back to Shoot 8x10 Wet Plates

January 17, 2024  •  Leave a Comment

IMG_1309Kodak 8D & Voigtländer PetzvalKodak 2D 8x10 & Voigtländer 364mm f/4.7 petzval lens. So, I haven't seriously make photographs since ~2019. I started a new (stressful and all-consuming) job, then COVID hit, then I had to dismantle my darkroom during a move, etc. etc. etc.

I missed photography, but it wasn't until 2023 that I was ready to start photographing again. Unfortunately, more personal drama and another job switch happened.

Now, it's 2024 and I'm back for real.

I'm going to use this blog to document my return to photography and switch away from 35mm to 8x10.

1. Why aren't you shooting 35mm any more?

This is a tough one, since my "best" (or at least my favorite images) over the past few years have all been taken with vintage 35mm gear: My beloved Minolta SRT-101 ($15 at a thrift store) and my cherished Minolta Rokkor 58mm f/1.4 lens ($25 at a thrift store).

I still love my 35mm gear, but I just cannot bring myself to pay $15 per roll of Kodak Porta or Revolog Kolor (when it isn't sold out). I also no longer have a quality film scanner. Most importantly, I can't believe that the manufacturers will continue to manufacture the emulsions I like. My heart was broken by Fujifilm FP-100c, which was discontinued shortly after I started using it almost exclusively to create emulsion lifts, recovered negatives, etc. on my Mamiya RZ67.

I've shot 4x5 extensively in the past, and I had always wanted to learn the wet plate process. I've decided to start over and build an 8x10 system that will allow me to shoot wet plate in a large enough size to be meaningful and use inexpensive paper negatives. I have no intention of shooting E-6 or C41 color on 8x10 because of cost constraints and the fact that I can no longer scan 8x10 negatives without spending $1300 on a new Epson V850 scanner. (My super cheap Epson V19 works perfectly for scanning wet plates and paper negatives!)

2. What is your 8x10 system?

Since I love shooting portraiture and nudes on location, and since I no longer have a large darkroom in my garage, I've purchased a car-portable darkroom. It's snug, but it works really well.

My camera is a ~1920s Kodak 2D 8x10. It's definitely got some miles on it, it's not super stable, and some of the controls are janky. But the price was right and it's nice looking.

My lenses are the really fun part.

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The all-star is a 364mm f/4.7 Voigtlander Petzval lens dated to 1865 or 1866. It weighs almost five pounds, so it's not the most stable on my Kodak 2D camera. I had to upgrade my tripod just for this lens.

I also have a ~1900s-1910s Ross Universal 400mm f/6 petzval lens.

Finally, for wider angles and when I want to shoot something with a shutter, I have an inexpensive but high quality Fujinon-W S 250mm f/6.7.

My Gitzo carbon fiber tripod wasn't up to the task of keeping my camera and lens stable, so I finally bought a Ries wooden tripod. It weighs a ton, was really expensive, and took forever to ship, but it's a beautiful piece of equipment that is up to the task.

3. Where are you new photographs?

I'm working on it. I don't want to use the same shooting locations that I've used in the past, and I recently moved. I'm currently scouting new locations where I live, figuring out how to convert my garage into a studio, and figuring out how to shoot outside of my house in good light with a seamless paper background to fake the look of a good studio.

I have all of the equipment, chemistry, and other supplies ready to shoot wet plate. I'm currently watching videos and waiting for a workshop so that I can learn how to pour plates correctly from someone in person.

In the meantime, I have been shooting paper negatives on Ilford VC RC glossy paper. This has been fun, since it has been a great way to get back into the darkroom using supplies that don't cost an arm and a leg! I shoot my paper at ~ ISO 1, so it's also a great way for me to get used to the longer exposures I'll be working with in wet plate, practice using a lens cap and counting off seconds instead of a shutter, etc. Here are a couple of shots:

I'm happy with this portrait of my beloved. This is an 8 second exposure, and using a head brace kept it reasonably sharp. The exposure I estimated was just about spot on, and further practice will reduce the mild vibrations that are affecting this image. Bonus: The shallow DOF of the Voigtlander petzval hides my messy garage.

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I'm significantly less happy with this photo of an old farm building. This was an 8 second exposure using my 400mm f/6 Ross Universal petzval. It's a boring photograph of a subject that needs a wider angle lens, and my exposure estimate was off -- this should have been a ~16 second exposure. I also overdid the rear tilt. I'm also not seeing the famous petzval bokeh in it. But at least it's sharp!

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Please stay tuned. Hopefully I'll be opening a new "Wet Plate" section of my portfolio. In the meantime, I'll keep writing to document my progress learning a new historic photo technique.


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