Fuji Super RX-N X-Ray Film

Holidays are coming and people who have them will make the way back to their ancestral homes. Parents and grandparents and great second what-have-yous-once-removed will be in abundance. Ask these people if they have any old cameras. You’re not looking for 35mm point and shoots, not looking for SLRs, or anything that takes a battery. You want “grand-dads first camera” or “the old Kodak”. Something that folds is good but a hulking box camera works too. They’ll give it to you, just ask.

If you haven’t got that, hit up friends to ask their own on your behalf.

Keep asking till you get a hold of a heavy thing anywhere from the size of a pack of cigarettes to a VHS cassette. On the smaller size you’ll have something taking 127 film, on the larger size something taking 616. Everything here applies to all the sizes in between. Now, they do still make 127 film, and they 120 too. Hell, they make adapters to use 120 where 116 or 616 should go, but we’re being cheap, so it doesn’t matter. This is gonna be cheaper than even the cheapest 35mm film.

So here’s my camera. It’s a Kodak Vest Pocket Autographic and it takes No. A-127 film. I’m going to teach you to shoot cheap as hell x-ray film in it. See, digital x-rays are becoming a thing but most places that take them still use film, so they still make x-ray film and un-like a lot of stuff that’s intended for a professional setting x-ray film is way the hell cheaper than it’s public sector equivalent, cut film. If you can’t find a box of 100 sheets of 5×7 x-ray film online for $20.00 delivered, keep looking. Buy it. I lucked out couple years ago and ordered a box of 100 sheets but the folks in the warehouse messed up the order and sent me a case. The case has 5 boxes of 100 sheets and I’m only halfway through the first box. The rest is in a freezer.

So we got a camera, and some x-ray film. What else are we gonna need? A guillotine cutter, a changing bag (small is fine), a source of red light, and a closet or room you can make dark. Don’t worry you only need that room for a small part. Find a marker and some tape, electrical or other black tape is ideal but failing that you can get by with plain old masking tape and a scrap of tin foil. You’ll also need a developer of your choice HC-110 or Rodinal or Diafine, or Pyro, pretty much any film developer. You can’t go wrong with Diafine or HC-110. And something to do the developing in, trays or a daylight tank that’s big enough (what’s big enough? keep reading), or even just some ziplock bags.


Sacrifice a sheet of your x-film and take it out. Hold it up to the back end of your camera and mark out how big a piece it takes to not-quite-cover the rear of the camera. You want to mark it so that it’s not quite as tall as the cameras narrowest rear dimension and not so long as to hit any curves the camera might have on it’s longest dimension. For a 127 like my Autographic, 2 & 1/4 by 3 & 1/4 is a hair on the small side, but just fine. If you want, make it a bit more like 3 & 1/2 on the long side. Put the rest of the sheet aside for a moment and take off the back of the camera.

If you’re using one of the big folding Brownie’s then you can actually see the rear of the lens and the folded bellows, really the whole area that’ll frame your photo. Lay the sheet you cut down on there and make sure it’s big enough that it won’t fall inside or slide around but small enough the back will still fit over it. Cut the first piece down or use the remnant to make a bigger piece if you need. If you’re using a little 127 Autographic like me, turn the round cover on the back to expose the internals and slide the film inside to make sure it’s going to fit. If you’re camera has a B or T shutter setting you can use that now to see if the focus is accurate.

Take your tape and if it’s black and thick that’s enough, just tape all over the red window on the back of your camera. Tape all around the edges and anything else you think light might leak through. See all of these sorts of camera would normally use paper-backed film so they aren’t terribly light tight to begin with. If your using a thin or normal masking tape you can layer on some aluminium foil to get that light-proof capacity. By now you should know what we’re doing. Take your film template into a windowless closet with your guillotine and chop down some film.

Now go out and shoot. Yup, you’re gonna have to go into your changing bag with the camera everytime you shoot a frame, and that might actually be a good thing. You’ll spend more time considering if the shots worth taking if you gotta burn a couple minutes loading after every frame.

When it comes time to develop you need to pick a side of the film you care about and one you don’t. X-ray film has emulsion on both sides and it’s pretty fragile as far as emulsions go so chances are one is gonna get scratched up. My strategy for this is as follows. The Fuji x-ray film I bought has rounded corners. So when I cut down the 5×7 sheets I keep that rounded corner. Then I adopt the rule, when the rounded corner is in the top right, I’m looking at the emulsion. When I load it emulsion faces the lens, when I develop it (usually in PVC tubes in a daylight tank) the emulsion faces the developer.

The great thing about x-ray film is that it’s all orthochromatic, so you can always develop it under red light if that’s convenient. Try and do at least a few sheets in the developer of your choice to figure out how long to process for. Here’s my recommended jumping off points:

PMK pyro: 12minutes

Diafine: 3 minutes each A & B

HC-110: 6 minutes

When you’re all developed and fixed and washed and dry take a look at your negatives. If one side is really scratched up you might want to bleach off the scratched side of the emulsion. That’s wicked easy. Just tape down your negative on a plain white sheet of paper. Tape all four edges so that the good side of the emulsion is down and sealed off. Then grab a bottle of plain old laundry room bleach and a folded over sheet of paper towel. Lightly soak the towel, pressing it over the open lid of the bottle and doing a quick flip is my preferred method, you want it wet but not dripping, then wipe off the scratched emulsion. When that’s done give the paper a quick rinse under a faucet and then peel everything up so you can hang the now thinner but nicer looking sheets to dry.

If like me your first attempt shows a honking big light leak, go ahead and apply more tape.

A few more notes about shooting x-ray film:

This is strictly a sunny daylight film. You don’t want to shoot indoors and this isn’t going to get you very far if your under deep in shade in the woods. The ASA is going to be in the neighborhood of 25, which is actually a feature not a bug. The cameras we’re dealing with here are from a time when 25 or 50 was just about the fastest film going. Couple that with the age of the springs in your shutter and x-ray film is near perfect for these old cameras. There’s generally two sorts of x-ray film, green-sensitive and blue-sensitive. Blue-sensitive will get you more milage in the open on overcast days, and green-sensitive will get you more milage under cover on sunny days. Plan accordingly. Because it’s blind to red light you can pretty much use any red light you have handy as a safelight, a cell phone showing a full screen solid red image, a red bicycle tail-light, a string of red holiday lights, a night-light bulb with a coat of red paint, just about anything. Because it’s so-so-so-sunlight dependant you don’t need a perfectly black room for your darkroom. If you just can’t get the light to stop creeping in under the door, don’t worry, it’s not going to fog, not bad anyway. Note the sky in the positive above, it’s white. X-ray film is blue sensitive and the sky is blue so get ready to have blinding white skies if you choose to have them in your photos. You can’t knock it down with a red filter, because, you know, orthochromatic film. A yellow filter can help a little with the sky, and a green can help you with skin tones, but it’s generally a better bet to just not include any sky in you shots.

Anyway, my post on Arista Ortho-Litho 3.0 has been pretty popular so I figured why not one on the joys of Fuji Super RX-N X-Ray Film? Hope you liked it.

Developing 2¼ x 3¼ in Daylight Tanks

The best format in the whole of photography is 2¼ x 3¼. Call it 2×3, call it 6×8, call it mini, call it 9 frame 120. 2×3 is perfect. Why is it perfect? How could something that sells at just under $1 for a frame of the cheap stuff, or just over $1.50 for Ilford possibly be perfect?

No. 1: Don’t ever buy it as 2×3. Just don’t. Buy you rolls of 120. Buy you 4×5 or if it’s available 5×7 or even 8×10 and cut it down. A roll of 120 cuts down to 9 sheets easy. A 4×5 cuts down to 2 sheets. A 5×7 cuts down to 4 sheets. An 8×10? 9 sheets. Kodak Porta 160 for $1.6 a frame from 8×10, Kodak Ektar 100 at $0.60 a from 120. They don’t make much in 2×3? Cut it; everything medium format or larger cuts to 2×3.

No. 2: Format. Small enough to contact print wallet size, big enough for 8×10 enlargements without bad grain. That, and 2×3 doesn’t mean you need a 4×5 enlarger. Cheap out and throw it in a 35mm enlarger if you don’t mind a serious crop. Drop it into a 6×6 carrier and crop it square in the enlarger. Cut up a bit of card-stock and make your own 2×3 negative carrier; just about every diffusion enlarger and most condenser enlargers that can do 6×6 can stretch to 2×3 if you got the right lens. Store those negatives in a card binder, a playing card, a sport card, about the size of 2×3, no weird negative sleeves to buy.

No. 3: Process it in daylight tanks. That’s right, daylight tanks. No, not an overpriced Jobo Expert drum, not a dis-continued Combiplan, not a BTZS tube. Not some crazy rare cut film holder for a daylight tank either. You don’t need hangers, you don’t need a darkroom, or trays or anything exotic.

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What you got to do is go out and grab $5 worth of 1½ or 1¼ OD PVC pipe at the hardware. Cut that into 3¼ lengths. Load that film into those tubes, curled, emulsion side in and drop them into your daylight tank in a dark bag. 3 to 6 frames fit in a 120 reel 500ml tank, 6 to 12 in a 1 liter tank. Picck up a Nikor extra film length tank, no one has the reels so those are cheap 800ml gets you 6 to 12 frames.

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When you pack it in the tanks remember that you can save a whole lot of trouble buy being smart with your pipe diameters. If you need to squeeze as many frames as you can into a tank, yeah use the 1¼. If you work with cut down sheet film, you might want to stick with 1½ only. Thin films cut down from rolls or real cheap sheets of lith or hard dot are fine in the narrow tubes. Thick slabs of old Kodak Panchromatic XX, not so much. If you’re in a 500ml tank mix and match to your little hearts content.

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Using a 1 liter tank, or a 2 liter monster? It’s better to stick with one size tube ’cause otherwise you’re asking for trouble. The narrow tubes can slip inside the wider and never mind the scratches that’s asking for under development. Slip some rubber bands around the tubes and they won’t slide around in the tank. They won’t shift enough to mention no mater how you agitate. Stack it right and with rubber bands you can use any mix you need.

That’s another thing, what you need. You need to fill the tank. Pack the tubes in there, vertical. Fill it even if you only need to do a couple sheets of C-41. Tubes that fall over, go on there sides, that’s problems; bad agitation and slow draining.

 

Arista Ortho Litho 3.0

Cheap film abounds boys and girls! It’s just not what you might think. Lithographic film isn’t for photography the way film film is. Lith film is photographically used for masking and copy work. If you want to create a mask so you can block out part of a negative that prints too dark you don’t have to cut out a mask with perfect precision–you just print it to lith and use the lith print as a mask. Or maybe you need to dupe some text, snap a shot either directly to lith film or print a negative of the shot to lith film and you’ll get a perfect transparency–clear film base and solid black text, no grey, no mud.

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Arista Orto Litho 3.0 in Dektol 1:30 no agitation 2 minutes

That’s fine if you want to shoot a grey dog on snow and have a negative that’ll print a black dog on nothing–really. Here’s a black box of the stuff on a black background with it’s white label. With no agitation we get a little bit of a tonal range even though this would be a high-contrast frame on any film, let alone a film that is higher than high contrast. If you want a full tonal range you can use a specialty developer, or use a standard developer crazy dilute. Arista’s Ortho Litho 3.0 is orthochromatic in addition to being lithographic so you can processes it under red light (ortho films are blind to red) and develop to inspection in trays.

test target

So lets give a look to a frame of a boring sort of test target, full color low-res scan of the target above, and the same as a scanned negative made with Arista Ortho Litho 3.0 below.

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Arista Ortho Litho 3.0 in Dektol 1:40 2 minutes

So besides the fact that I haven’t got the patience to bother with soft lighting we can still see a whole lot of contrast. We know stand development knocks down the contrast, and we know dilute developers are the best thing for stand. So if I knocked it down to maybe 1:50/1:60 and/or dropped it into the tray and left it for 4 minutes rather than swishing it about for 2 I might have got more grey separation on the dark side. As it is, there’s not a bad amount of tonal separation, if you consider this stuff was made to do white and black only.

There’s only so much one can do without getting a soft-acting developer, or making a other concessions to convenience. The problem is contrast, there’s plenty of silver density and the grains aren’t huge. Film developers are generally pretty slow, maybe 10 minutes as a basic developing time, so it’s going to take them a long time to get any density in the shadows–too long. By the time the shadows separate the highlights are going to be solid. So dilute it right? dilute it and we can do stand development and the developer around the highlight will get exhausted before they can act on all the silver and we’ll get some tonal range. Problem is, if you dilute a film developer too much you’ll end up making it so week it’ll exhaust around the shadows too, way before you’ve been able to get some range out of stand processing.

With Dektol, or any (very active, 1-2 minutes basic dev. time) paper developer, we can overcome the problem of exhausting the developer before the shadows have a chance to separate with a whole lot of dilution. It’s the same reason people like Bruce Barnbaum recommend using very dilute print developers and looooong slow dev. to inspection in the darkroom. Unlike the film developers because the paper has such a high level of activity it’s going to still work fast enough that the tones will separate before we run out of momentum, so the same strategy that gives Bruce amazing tonal range can turn a with film into a something more like normal film. Wicked contrasty normal film, but when you stop taking the pills your standards are sure to drop!

 

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Did I mention 100 sheets of this in 4×5 (2 sheets of cut 2-1/4 x 3-1/4) or 5×7 (4 sheets of cut 2-1/4 x 3-1/4) is about $30.00? So $0.30 a sheet if you use it large format and $0.15 or $0.07 a frame if you cut it down depending on the base size. I’ll put up with all kinds of contrast for that price.

Translations from a Box of Soviet Medium Format film (120)

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Свема

Svema

ЦВЕТНАЯ

Color

ДС-4

DS-4

Негативная для дневнога

Negative for the day (daylight color correction)

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45 гост 18 DIN 50 ASA

45 gost 18 DIN 50 ASA

Врем проявл. [7] мин

Development Time [7] min.

Обработать до [09 85]

Process to [09 85] (Use by September 1985)

Партия No [3019]

Party no [3019]

8 кадров 6 x 9 cm

8 frames 6 x 9 cm

12 кадров 6 x 6 cm

12 frames 6 x 6 cm

16 кадров 6 x 4,5 cm

16 frames 6 x 4.5 cm

Цена 95 коп.

Price 95 cop. (copecks)

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СССР

The USSR (Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics)

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шосткинское проиэводствекное обединение „свема“

Shostkinsky (Shostka) production interconnection (association) “Svema”

ТУ 6-17-622-74

TU 6-17-622-74 (no clue)

вскрывать и обрабатывать в темноте

open and handle in the dark (panchromatic film)

Notes:

The translations above were typed into google translate with the help of this online Cyrillic keyboard. Text as printed on the box appears in bold above, and standard type below. Information that was imprinted on the box appears in brackets and translators notes added for clarity appear in parentheses. I don’t know the Russian language beyond a few bits here and there I picked up when I had a lot of enthusiasm for it after reading Gogol’s Dead Souls, great writer Gogol, you should read his work.