Thursday, 25 October 2012

Rondinax and Rondix: Daylight Developing Tanks

It is often forgotten that it was — and still is — possible to develop films without having to use a darkroom or changing bag. Most developing tanks sold in the UK had to be loaded in the dark, a process often accompanied by curses as the film jammed or buckled in the reel or chinks of light were spotted around the shutters that were used to cover the windows of a temporary darkroom.

I was given my first developing tank by a great-uncle who had bought it in the 1930s. This Agfa Rondinax 60 was for 120/620 films and I used it for black-and-white films until the 1990s. The Rondinax 60 was a brilliantly designed and constructed but simple daylight tank. No darkroom was necessary. It was also extremely economical to use because the volumes of developer and fixer needed were small. Rondinax 60s, to judge by the prices they reach on eBay, are still a popular purchase for those still using 120 back-and-white film. The only disadvantage was that the spiral had to be rotated continuously (with the recommended short, jerky movements) during developing, rinsing (stop bath) and fixing. However, I see somebody has arranged a motor drive to automate the turning (which I think goes a little too quickly) and a video of it in action is on Youtube:

Instructions for the Rondinax 60 can be found at:

The 35 mm equivalent was the Rondinax 35 U, also marketed by Leica as the Leitz Rondinax 35, particularly in the USA. Both these tanks had black plastic spirals. The film was dragged onto the spiral by a belt of ‘American cloth’ (rubber-coated cloth) along a plastic film guide. The rubber on the cloth perishes with age but the fabric without the rubber continued to work well for me.

The Rondinax 35 had a stablemate, the Rondix 35, which worked without a spiral and again entirely in daylight. Photographs of the tank are are at:

The Rondix is far less well known than the Rondinax but was much cheaper to buy. My grandfather bought one around 1957 and, again, I used it until the late 1990s. In this tank, the end of the film is attached to a small central drum and the film wound into the tank from the cassette until the entire film is tight on the drum and resistance is felt on the winding handle. Then the handle is reversed so that the film turns back on itself to become wound on the drum in the opposite direction. When resistance is felt again, the direction is reversed, and so on until developing and fixing are complete.

The film, therefore, sloshes around in the developer/fixer and is never in contact with another loop of film for more than a few seconds at most. I have made a quick diagram to show the principle.

How the Rondix 35 Developing Tank Works without a spiral

Instructions for the Rondix 35 are at:

The Rondix 35 was clearly not so popular as the Rondinax 35 (and neither as popular as the cheaper, vertical tanks that needed to be loaded in the dark). We wondered then whether people thought the film, not being held on a spiral, would be more likely to get scratched but we never found that to be the case. In fact, the Rondix tank and filtered developer produced some of the cleanest negatives I ever produced.

I had several Agfa Karat cameras which used special cassettes for cut lengths of 35 mm film. The film passed from cassette to cassette as in a roll film camera but without the backing paper. I thought the Rondix could not be used because the end of the film was not held in the cassette. However, I see in the more recent instructions that Agfa Rapid cassettes could be used (again, the film was not held). In this case one is instructed to do so many turns to the left and then so many turns to the right, and so on, in order not to pull the entire film into the tank. I would not liked to have risked losing count.

Only two sizes of Rondinax/Rondix tank were produced: for 120/620 and 35 mm film. The significant omission is, of course, 127 and for that size, a darkroom-loading, vertical, ‘universal’ type of tank was needed. I had a Rolleiflex 4 x 4 in the early to mid-1960s and black-and-white processing had to wait for a visit to the darkroom. I had been spoilt by the Rondinax 60 and the Rondix. Daylight-loading 127 tanks were made by an Austrian firm before the second world war and imported after the war but I never saw one advertised.

I never tried reversal processing in these tanks. There was no transparent spiral in the Rondinax 60 to allow exposure to light. Reversal processing may have been possible in the Rondix if a glass or transparent sheet had been held over the film in place of the lid. Turning the handle (with water in the tank) so that light reached the whole film may have done the trick. Again, I did not risk it. The Polly-Max tank I used for 127 films was used for reversal processing of Ferraniacolor.

Informative websites on the history of these tanks are:

Post second world war copies of the Rondinax 35 (the ‘Essex’ and 60 (the ‘Kent’ were made in a collaboration between Johnsons of Hendon and Neville Brown (NEBRO) in the early 1950s, presumably from designs and patents confiscated by the allies. I have never seen one and the advertisements must have been before my time. By 1955, Agfa was in full flow advertising the Rondinax 35U and the 60 as the advertisement from the BJ Alamanac for 1956 shows (the BJ Almanac for a particular year appeared, as I recall, in the preceding autumn). I think the Rondix 35 appeared the next year.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Canon Powershot SX50: A Zoom War?

The announcement of the new Canon SX50 will be exciting to birders and other wildlife photographers. The zoom extends to the 35 mm equivelent of 1200 mm with image stabilisation of 4.5 stops. This is longer than the Nikon P510 I have (1000 mm).

So what's the difference on paper and the theoretical advantages/disadvantages of the two cameras.

Optical Zoom range: P510 24-1000; SX50 24-1200. Apparent advantage to Canon - but see below; Advantage to Canon for video
Maximum aperture: P510 f3-5.9; SX50 f3.4-6.5. Small advantage to Nikon
Sensor Size: P510 1/2.3 in; SX50 1/2.3 in
Resolution: P510 16.1 MPixels; SX50 12.1 MPixels. See discussion below
Size of output: P510 4608 x 3456; SX50 4000 x 3000 pixels. See discussion below
Stabilisation: P510 4 stops; SX50 4.5 stops. Small advantage to Canon
Output: P510 JPEG; SX50 RAW and JPG. Definite advantage to Canon
Weight: P510 555 g; SX50 595 g. Advantage to Nikon

With fewer pixels on the same size sensor, the Canon HX50 should be better in low light with regard to the control of noise than the Nikon. The e-Photozine review says fine to 3200 ASA. So, with respect to noise and low-light photography, the Canon is at an advantage.

In terms of the maximum zoom, the Canon's apparent advantage for still photography is not so clear cut. If the P510's output is enlarged digitally to effectively reduce the resolution to that of the SX50, then the equivalent focal length that can be reached is 1152 mm (the crude calculation is (4608/4000) x 1000). The advantage of the greater focal length is virtually wiped out. For HD video though, the Canon's longer zoom is a definite advantage.

Today, the Canon HX50 is £412 on; the Nikon P510 is £283. Is the advantage of the 1200 mm equivalent lens for video (which is virtually wiped out for stills when resolution is taken into account), RAW output and probably better performance in low light worth the extra money? A hard decision for a new buyer because the only thing I miss on the P510 is RAW.

Will Nikon respond in the battle to keep the wildlife photographer who does not want to lug an SLR by launching a new version with the same resolution, improved control of noise, RAW output and a lens with a focal length greater than 1000 mm equivalent?

Panasonic seem to be going nowhere in this arms race; their latest 'bridge' (awful term) camera (DMC-FZ200) only extends to 600 mm, way off the pace for bird photographers and recorders, despite Amateur Photographer recommending it, for those who want to try their hand at wildlife photography... (29 September 2012). By contrast, the marketeers within Nikon and Canon do at least appear to know what wildlife folks want.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Ferraniacolor Slides: The Wrong Sort of Water

Conversation on a train:

I have found some old colour slides but they have what look like burst blisters all over them.

Was your father a keen amaateur photographer?

Yes, he processed his own.

And therein lies the problem. The slides were Ferraniacolor, an old reversal colour film that was extremely popular in the 1950s. Processing kits made by Johnsons of Hendon were sold that enabled the production of very good slides on the day of taking. That was a great advantage compared to Kodachrome or Ilford Colour which had to be sent away in the post to a central processor. But there was a problem. The kit worked fine in hard-water areas. Included in the instructions, however, was the statement that in soft-water areas, an additional step should be included: a 2% magnesium sulphate solution bath after the colour development stage. There was no definition of what was considered to be soft water and no magnesium sulphate (epsom salts) was provided. Therefore, our and am sure many first efforts at processing Ferraniacolor ended in tears, for the emulsion blistered and burst in places. Once we realised that the water was not hard enough, epsom salts came out of the cupboard (most houses had a packet as a laxative) and the problem disappeared. Since the additional magnesium sulphate bath made no difference in hard water areas, since the stuff is cheap and since the bath was for only a short time, I could never see why Johnsons did not include it in their kit and standard processing instructions. I am sure they lost many customers disappointed by their first and perhaps subsequent efforts if they did not realise that their water was not hard enough.

It was especially galling to have this problem when we did not live in an area with what would be described as 'soft' drinking water. Modern maps show it to be moderately hard. Nothing like London tap water or the water from artesian wells in Cambridgeshire but nevertheless on the hard side.

We threw away most of the blistered Ferraniacolor transparencies many years ago, keeping only a couple that could not be replaced. Below is the detail from one showing the blistering:

Incidentally, the popularity of processing Ferraniacolor was such that manufacturers began making film transparent processing spirals. The film was left on the spiral when it was exposed to light as part of the reversal process. Photoflood lamps (later ordinary 100 watt light bulbs) were used for the exposure with the film spiral held and turned over in a bowl of water to prevent the film from overheating. I had a Polly-Max tank made by Johnsons and introduced in 1955.

With hindsight, I wish I had just used Kodachrome for 35 mm slides. The transparencies have stored extremely well and produce good scans. Unfortunately, Agfa CT18 became popular and we have lots of CT18 transparencies. They have also stored well but the grain, as somebody said, is like footballs.

Short processing instructions for Ferraniacolor are shown at: