A story I heard at this PMA
should reassure all darkroom aficionados and quiet some of the doomsayers.
A high school with a strong photography course decided that digital was
the wave of the future: the wet darkroom was a thing of the past. They
therefore closed the wet darkroom and offered only a digital course. The
students voted with their feet. No one enrolled for the course. At all.
The school reopened the darkroom and the students came back...
Stories like this keep surfacing. The enlarger company that keeps hearing
customers say, "Thank goodness you are still here. I got rid of
all my darkroom equipment to go digital, but my business has fallen off.
I need a new enlarger to set up my darkroom again." And young photographers
buying whole darkrooms so they can do something "real." They
say, "I use a computer all day: I don't want to use it for
my hobbies, too."
So another year has passed, and silver halide is still here, and it is
still important. The last few years have seen a lot of improvements and
introductions in films. Although this trend is continuing, there were
not as many changes to report this year as last. But then, it's
a photokina year so there should be more in September.
The significant introductions at PMA both came from well-established companies
beginning with a K: Konica (the oldest photographic manufacturer extant,
founded in the 1870s) and an upstart called Kodak, founded about a decade
Konica updated their whole Centuria line and introduced a new ISO 1600
film. The updated films, called Centuria Super, include ISO 100, 200,
400, and 800. Changes in the core technology give finer grain, as well
as improved color reproduction and stability. Konica calls the improvements
Super Multi-Coated Crystal (MCC) technology and Ultra-Consistent Crystal
(UCC) technology. A change in the yellow filter dye has made it more efficient
in filtering out blue light. More consistent-sized crystals translate
into finer grain. They also resist heat and natural radiation better,
so the film keeps better. New stabilizers contribute to the stability
of these films.
Kodak has been tweaking their
Royal Gold and Advantix (APS) ISO 200 and 400 films. Both have finer grain
than before: Royal Gold ISO 400 film claims the finest grain in its speed
category. Changes in spectral sensitivity (in what Kodak calls the "short
red") have improved color rendition, particularly flesh tones. These
new changes are even being incorporated into 110 format films. Remember
Other changes from Kodak include new, simplified packaging for black and
white and reversal films. Thanks to chromogenic, which can be processed
by any minilab, black and white photography is a growing interest among
snapshooters and hobbyists. Black and white images have been incorporated
into the new packaging, both to suggest subjects and to stimulate interest
in the "timeless look." Images which suggest applications
for specific films will also be featured on the reversal materials, for
example flower pictures on Elite Chrome 100 packages and landscapes on
The biggest news from Kodak,
at least as far I am concerned, is that their professional black and white
films will now be coated in a new, state of the art coating facility.
Users of Tri-X, Plus-X, and T-Max will see new packaging, new catalog
numbers, and new notch codes on sheet film. Do not be alarmed. Characteristic
curves will not appreciably change. The look of the films will stay the
same. What will change slightly is the development regime. New hardeners
are being used in the films, which will affect diffusion rates and consequently
development times. All of the pertinent information is posted on the web.
A side benefit to the new coating
and new hardeners is that the films will be cleaner and will not attract
dust as readily as the original films, as well as being less susceptible
to reticulation, which has been something of an Achilles' heel with
Tri-X in particular. All films will appear on the market on a stock turnover
basis. By the time you read this, some of the new films should be available;
by late fall, most of the original films should have been replaced. And
new packaging for specialty films, High-Speed Infrared and Technical Pan,
shows Kodak's commitment to these products and quashes the persistent
rumors that they will disappear.
Agfa said, "This has
been a repositioning year for us." There have been some changes
in emphasis, with the company concentrating more on the core business:
silver-halide film, paper, chemistry, and lab equipment. Their foray into
electronics has been discontinued. After the introduction of their Eye-Vision
technology in their consumer films, though, I would have expected to see
this introduced into their professional line-up. Again, photokina perhaps?
Nor were there any new films from Fuji this PMA, but after reporting on
films for quite a few years, I expect this is just temporary. All of the
major film companies are constantly improving and tweaking their emulsions,
and these improvements are generally introduced on a rolling basis with
no particular fanfare.
Tweaking and improving was
the news from Ferrania. More people are using faster films, and, as I
understand it, faster films leave more silver behind in processing. Ferrania
has been looking into this and changing their emulsions to help make silver
recovery more efficient. They, like all their competitors, are constantly
working to improve color rendition.
Sadly for those of us who love silver-halide photography, Ilford was so
concentrated on digital products at this PMA that a newcomer might assume
that they had completely abandoned traditional photography. Other than
a few black and white prints there was nothing to show that Ilford is
anything more than a producer of digital printing media. The tragedy is
that their black and white films--which are among the finest in the
world--are being treated as no more than a cash cow to pay for all
this digital expansion. If they don't pay a bit more attention to
their black and white customers, they may find the cow drying up. Kodak
emphasized their commitment to black and white at PMA: perhaps it is time
for Ilford to do the same. I look forward to photokina.
Mitsubishi announced a new
bulk pack of ME-100 color print film--not much use for the casual
shooter, but very useful for high-volume shooting. The bulk pack consists
of 300 rolls of 36-exposure ME-100 films in plain opaque canisters.
Polaroid's new I-Zone films (the one with the tiny 24x36mm pictures)
now have "fortune cookie" messages which fade as the picture
develops. There are 150 different messages with no repeats in any single
package of film.
Other changes from Polaroid were to cameras rather than film, or to camera-film
packages. The 600 series had two modified cameras, one to shoot night
shots and one to shoot double exposures. Although these cameras use the
same 600 series films they allow you to do more with it. The Nightcam
has a tripod socket, cable release, time exposure control switch, automatic
focus, and electronic flash. The Double Exposure has a tripod mount, autofocus,
and electronic flash, but it also has a toggle switch to switch between
double and single exposures, and a mask which fits over half of the lens.
The new Mio camera takes 2x3.5" pack film, a completely new size,
not the same as either Captiva or Joycam. This camera features push button
focusing and automatic flash.
Tura had no new films, but they did report a substantial growth in black
and white sales: a growth so substantial that it surprised even them.
The big news from them is that they have allied themselves with CPAC/Trebla
who will now be producing chemistry for Tura under the Tura name.
CPAC/Trebla are very well-known in the field of lab chemistry, but their
products have not been readily available to those of us who have our own
smaller darkrooms. Now they are producing a black and white kit comprising
separate chemicals for film and prints: the film developer is similar
to D-76. Each chemical will make 5 liters of working solution.
Paterson introduced FX 50, a new film developer which can be used as single
bath or two bath. It contains no metol or hydroquinone, and has a very
long shelf life. The developer is made up of two concentrates, which can
be mixed together with water to make a single, one-shot solution. They
can also be used separately for two-bath development. This developer is
said to combine the fine grain and tonality of Aculux with the definition
of FX 39. Five hundred ml will yield 3.75 liters of working solution to
develop 12 films.
Omega/Satter have become distributors for Lauder chemicals. Lauder is
a small Californian company which specializes in black and white chemistry.
The line-up consists of three film developers, two paper developers, a
stop bath, and two rapid fixers--one with hardener, one without.
Lauder's emphasis, they say, is on purity and precision in all of
their chemistry. Formerly Lauder chemicals were hard to find outside of
California, but now they have national distribution.
BKA (Brandess-Kalt-Aetna) has taken over Edwal products from Falcon Safety
Products. Edwal has been producing chemistry for over half a century and
their line includes film and paper developers, fixers, hypo-eliminators,
toners, and specialty darkroom products. BKA also has exclusive distribution
of Dust-Off and Century Duster Products to the photographic industry.
In recent years both E-6 and
RA-4 printing have become easier and easier, as a result of improvements
first developed for labs. Mono baths were a great improvement over the
old mixed chemicals, and then came Tetenal's dry chemistry in the
form of Photo-tabs and Photo Pearls.
To keep the darkroom fresh there was a new product from Mohr called Nox
Out pellets. These little pellets absorb odors, and the smallest size,
which retails for about $35, is just right for the home darkroom.
One of the interesting things about photo shows is crossover products.
Archival Mist, distributed by Cornerstone Frame products, is a buffer
spray which neutralizes the acids in any paper. This does not give quite
the same effects as an archival, acid-free paper but it is a step in the
right direction. It is not meant to be sprayed directly on photographic
prints, but it can be used on mounting boards, mattes, and photo album
pages. It can also be used on newspaper clippings, drawings, cards, letters,
even stamp collections. It is a non-CFC, non-toxic, non-flammable spray,
which was developed in conjunction with research libraries.
Lacquer-Mat had two new products: Water-Mat Brush Texture and Water-Mat
Aerosol. Both are water-based lacquers. Brush Texture retains the pattern
of application, whether you use a brush, palette knife, or even your fingers.
The new Aerosol is a high-gloss, "Clear Egg Shell" lacquer.
Two new warm-tone papers were introduced this PMA. Paterson introduced
their warm-tone, resin-coated, variable contrast paper. It is coated on
a medium weight paper, and it is only available in a semimatte (pearl)
Oriental also had a new warm-tone paper: variable contrast and fiber based
with a satin finish, too glossy to be called semimatte, but not a high
gloss. There was not a lot of information about the new paper, but if
you are a fan of Oriental papers, you now have another string to your
bow. I am looking forward to trying this paper for lith printing, too.
Bergger's Fine Art Portrait paper (formerly called Silver Supreme)
is now available with cream or white base in sizes up to 20x24. Bergger
also announced that the new Bromoil paper is "on the boat."
Although the Bromoil paper has been promised at other shows, there have
been some problems getting it to the American market. By the time you
get this the paper should be readily available.
Even though my assignment was conventional photographic papers, I could
not help but notice the new papers for digital output. Marshall's
Oils introduced "Ink-Credible" Art Film, a transparent medium
which can be printed with a scanned image (line drawings, clip art, or
photograph), and then be stamped, embossed, or handcolored. The press
release suggests using peel and stick adhesive to adhere the film on various
There was also a proliferation of fine art digital printing papers that
were hard to ignore, especially after handcoloring Marshall's Ink
Jet Canvas. Which of these will receive handcoloring media? I am researching
this. I am told that some papers merely need to cure for a couple of days,
while others need a fixative spray. If my research is fruitful I will
do an article about them in a few months.
Some of the digital fine art papers which looked promising were the Watercolor
and Arches papers from Bergger; Dot Works fine art papers, Tetenal Canvas
and Aquarell; WorldWin fine art papers; Hahnemuhle creative papers; and
StoneHinge Adamant paper from Stone Editions. StoneHinge paper has the
added feature of an optional integral hinge for binding prints into albums.
They sell a system which includes papers, cover sets, translucent interleaves,
and archival storage boxes.
As well as the new film for handcoloring, Marshall's had a new handcoloring
tool, two ended with a fine brush at one end for detailing and a bigger
brush at the other for blending.
Worth mentioning is a web site described as "dedicated to the art
of handcoloring" at www.handcolor.com. You can purchase both handcoloring
supplies and handcolored prints. Features include a discussion forum,
gallery, workshop listings, contests, and a professional's directory.
A new enlarger from Tiffen, the Saunders/LPL VC6700, looks like an excellent
choice for school or college use. The variable contrast head has dichroic
filtration for Grades 0-5 and improved technology to maintain constant
exposure time when you change contrast. The construction of the chassis
is robust. The height adjustment is a squeeze lock, much faster than a
knob wind. The enlarger comes factory aligned and should need no adjustment--which
is just as well, as no adjustment is provided. It can be used for formats
up to 6x7cm (21/4x23/4"), although I suspect that the 6x7cm mask
is not the full 56x72mm of my Linhof 6x7 back. The light source is compatible
with other Saunders 6000 series enlargers and can be bought separately.
A new variable contrast light source from Beseler comes in three different
external colors, so you can update your Beseler enlarger and add a bit
of color to your darkroom at the same time. The head is designed to fit
the Printmaker and 67 series enlargers, although one could probably adapt
it to fit other chassis. The additive filter system (Grades 0-5), and
a "computer designed speed control device" (neutral density
filter?) should provide constant exposure times as you change grades.
An internal transformer means you can plug in directly to standard power
outlets. This is aimed at the younger market and should be ideal for schools
The Daylab Copy Boy is an interesting device for anyone who wants to do
Polaroid image or emulsion transfers from prints. It is basically a little
copier which copies any print directly onto Polaroid materials. It will
be available in May.
The Fujimoto CP32 from Jobo is a dry-to-wet paper processor with an optional
dryer for dry to dry. This new unit is an update of the CP31 with a number
of changes and improvements. All baths plus dryer temperature are controlled
from the control panel on the main body. With the CP31, temperature of
only the first bath was controllable and the dryer had a separate control.
An optional feature is a connector which will allow you to connect the
new CP32 processor to an existing CP31 Wash Dry. More details are available
There were a number of new rotary trimmers this year. Bogen introduced
a 17" Carl trimmer with interchangeable blades. Tiffen added a trimmer
to their line of Kodak Gear with features such as a registration notch
so you can see where the cut will be. Kaiser's (from HP Marketing)
offering was the "hobby cut 1" with interchangeable cutting
heads and markings in inches, centimeters, and A sizes, plus angle cuts.
The interchangeable heads include deckle, perforation, and zigzag cuts.
New to PMA were Susis who had a whole range of German-made trimmers from
7" up to 39". Susis are distributed by Ramco.
A new sink from Texas Sink (from Climax) also attracted my attention.
It has an insert which in effect gives you a small sink inside the bigger
sink and still allows free drainage.
Dot Line showed a new digital thermometer (DL 0559) with a 27" probe
which looked very useful and robust. The thermometer range is 58-302ÞF
with an accuracy of 0.1ÞF. It has an LCD read-out and runs on a
PX79 (D389) battery.
There are usually a few new cleaning products and this year is no exception.
As mentioned earlier Falcon Safety's Dust-Off will be distributed
by BKA. The same company will also be distributing Kinetronics. New products
include an optical quality chamois and a set including a microfiber cloth
with Precision Lens Cleaning Solution. The new distribution should make
Kinetronics products easier to find in your neighborhood camera store.
Argraph had two new cleaning cloths called BanDust. Both are microfiber
cloths. One has antistatic fibers, the other doesn't. The idea is
that you can wipe away smudges and fingerprints with the plain cloth,
and wipe away dust and lint with the antistatic cloth.
Although Chem-Kwik from Seneca-tec is not new, I heard of a new application.
If you spill developer on your lab coat or other clothing, wet the spot
and spray it with Chem-Kwik before putting it through the washing machine.
Any time you use Chem-Kwik, for best results, wet the area to be cleaned
first. It is apparently quite effective for cleaning up the bottom of
cast-iron frying pans, too, though it should not be used on aluminum!
Filmguard Corporation had three new cleaning products: Pro-Cleaner for
films and negatives, Pro-Pads (cleaning pads safe for emulsions, scanners,
lenses, and CDs), and Pro-Duster (a compressed air duster).
I seldom report on silver recovery systems and recycling systems as they
are mostly aimed at big, commercial labs. One caught my eye, mostly because
of its unique design. It is about 3 ft high, a soft silvery-bronze color
with a computer screen on the top. The beta test results proved it to
be cost-saving, too. The problem is that such a handsome unit deserves
a better name than Photochemical Recycling Systems. Even though such a
thing is well outside my budget, what interested me was that the company
manufacturing it has talked to at least one state government about setting
up recycling centers where small labs or individuals could take their
chemistry for recycling.
BKA/Visual Pursuits had a new range of 22 magnifiers which includes hands-free
magnifiers, dual-power magnifiers, loupes, magnifying rulers and keychains.
All lenses are made of acrylic so they are knock-resistant and easy to
clean. Carson had a new magnifier which can be used handheld or hands
free. It has a battery operated light. The battery case forms the handle,
which slots into a footed stand. A goose neck between the magnifier and
the battery case makes positioning easy. Also new from Carson is the Connectables,
which I hope to test. A choice of three magnifiers clip onto tweezers,
pens (SpotPens?), nail clippers, eyebrow pencils, pliers, or even medical
Digital photography has had an influence on storage systems this year.
Print File has CD pages which fit into a three-ring binder and take four
CDs, two on each side. Beseler introduced their new 5000 series Ink Jet
Page Protectors in sizes from 4x5" up to 20x24". Film -guard's
Digital Output sleeving is available in a variety of sizes from 31/2x5"
to 13x19", including A4 and A3. For large format negative storage,
Climax had polysine sleeves. This is an alternative to glassine, which
looked and felt very good. It has the added benefit of being waterproof.
Keepsafe Archival Storage System (distributed by Leeco Industries) is
aimed at the snapshooter, but appealed to me because I use the enprints
from my chromogenic and color print films as refs when I am printing.
I have been looking for a neat, protective, and efficient storage system,
and I think I have now found it. The system consists of plastic sleeves
which can hold 72 4x6 prints. These then go into a case holding 12 sleeves
(864 pictures). Sleeves are also available for 2x7" negatives, 4x7"
prints, 4x7" APS cartridges, and 4x12" panoramic prints.
More conventional storage was shown by Lineco, who are hoping to pick
up wider retail distribution. They sell archival storage boxes, acid-free
tissue paper, and archival document cases. These are much needed products
which are quite hard to find.
Those things which don't fit into any other category are always
fun to find. Un-du is invaluable for removing photographs from old magnetic
photo albums: it now has a new, bigger size remover tool and a kit which
includes a Photocare Solution (for removing fingerprints and smudges),
a microfiber cloth, a Photosponge, and a Deluxe Remover tool in a storage
case. Un-du advertise themselves as "The Scrapper's Solution."
Protective gloves are important in the darkroom. BaseLine had Nitrile
gloves which are stronger and more chemical-resistant than latex. Trim
USA has a new pneumatic blade pusher for their framing machine, allowing
the machine to be aligned to the right or to the left. If you aren't
familiar with them, they sell ultra-thin framing materials, and the machine
for cutting them.
Xyron seem to have new laminators and sticker makers every year. They
have now been picked up for distribution by BKA. The laminators are simple
to use and require no heat. One of my favorite finds of the show was the
Cable Clamp. This is a reusable plastic clamp to organize wires and cables,
in my case, in the darkroom. It is not new, just new to PMA, but the response
Finally, a thought which occurred to me while walking around the show
is that many retail camera stores have become frightened of carrying small
items that you need in the darkroom. It is hard to get latex gloves (especially
in small sizes), finger stalls (small condom-like protectors for your
fingers), cleaners, or even archival storage bags for larger negatives.
If you are having trouble, check with the big lab supply companies. I
talked to BaseLine, Loon Photographic, Crown Photo Systems, Mini Lab Supply
Store, and Liberty Photo Products at the show, and all are quite happy
to take small orders paid by credit card.