Or: How I utilised some of my “Stay-at-Home” time during the Covid19 pandemic.

By Ray Goulter. All images copyright of the author.

The Covid19 pandemic has caused an upheaval for all of us that we could not possibly have foreseen early in January 2020. If I had said back then I wanted the World’s airlines to virtually cease operating, everyone to stay at home, many to lose employment, toilet paper to be the basis of gross stupidity panic buying, cruise ships to become huge Petri dishes of the disease, countries to close their borders, one topic to be the major subject of every news broadcast and other TV and wireless programmes for at least 3 months, and so on, I’d have been committed to a lunatic asylum. Something no dictator, terrorist faction or religious fanatical group could hope to do has been achieved by a microscopic little virus emanating from China during their most popular festive season then carried around the World to infect and take hold in every continent, possibly Antarctica being an exception. A big winner, however, is the World’s ecology, especially the atmosphere, with ‘planes being grounded and use of private motor vehicles reduced markedly.

A direct result of the Covid19 pandemic is we’ve been advised by the government to “stay at home”. This makes good sense but what to do with this time is the question many people have asked themselves; so books, board games and jigsaw puzzles have become popular. I, with so many tasks needing to be done in the darkroom as well as jobs around the house, garage and shed, have no problem filling my time anyway, but even so I decided I’d adopt a mental attitude similar to others who would not have expected to be confined to their homes, and use this time to pursue darkroom activities and prepare articles for Camera Clips.


It had been many years since I processed slide film, so I decided it was time to get back into this form of film photography that I always found satisfying.

Total Photographics at Kent Town had given me several boxes of Agfa E-6 chemistry when they were closing down. I suspected it’d been on the shelf for too long and become stale, so I quite rightly had doubts about using it. I was told it came to them from a deceased estate, so who knows how long since it was first purchased?

The best way to check if this chemical was safe to use was do a clip test, where a short section of film is cut from the reel and processed in advance of the rest of the film. I’d exposed a 35mm Fujichrome Sensia 100 ISO film in that marvellous little camera, the Olympus Trip35 (see Camera Clips November 2018).

I had about 5 shots left on the film, so quickly ran these off for the purposes of the clip test then cut the last section from the film. It was just as well I viewed the Agfa E-6 chemistry with suspicion! The film came out almost clear, so the chemicals were definitely beyond usability. I’d purchased Tetenal E-6 chemistry last year through the Internet, so prepared this. The instructions allow for the 500ml stock solutions to be diluted to get 2.5 litres of working solution, enough to process 30 x 35mm (36-frame) films or equivalent. A 35mm 36-frame film is equivalent to one 120 rollfilm (or ½ of 220 rollfilm), one 8”x10” sheet film, or four 4”x5” sheet films. Whilst I had a number of films for processing, I didn’t have 30 films so opted to prepare 1/5th of the concentrate as allowed for in the instructions to give me 500cc of working solution; enough for six 35mm 36-frame films. This was the equivalent volume for the films I had to process: one 35mm film from the Trip35, two 120 rollfilms, and twelve 4”x5” sheet films, all of them reversal of course.

Results were a mixed bag. This wasn’t the fault of the camera, the film or the E-6 processing. Most of the 35mm images were as expected; correctly exposed. The ones that had shortcomings weren’t caused by the Trip35’s automatic exposure not operating correctly but simply from the short latitude of reversal film and the lighting conditions. The variance in lighting from very bright sunshine to dark shadows is simply beyond slide film’s capacity to record detail in both.

The following is an example of a bridge too far. The time was close to the middle of the day: harsh bright sunshine giving very “flat” lighting, so much so the rendition of blue sky is changed. I had used a polarising filter; quite understandable in these lighting conditions. The degree of contrast was beyond the film’s capacity to record detail in both highlights and shadows; over 5 stops. The result is a lack of definition in the shadow of the faces, far too much contrast and an image fill-flash, Photoshop or Lightroom couldn’t save. It’s a very unflattering image.


The next image, by way of comparison, displays good detail and colour throughout.



It was taken mid-morning on North Terrace before the sunlight got too harsh. It can be seen there is detail evident in the brightest areas as well as the shadows. This image tested the Trip35’s automatic metering, and the camera has come through with flying colours! (Pun intended). Sharpness extends across the entire image.

This next image again demonstrates satisfactory exposure and detail. It was taken on a foggy morning in the Adelaide Hills just down the road from our home. It exhibits good tonal range, good clarity from the inherently sharper imaging medium from which the copy was made, and acceptable detail in the lightest and darkest areas. This last aspect was expected, as the lighting conditions were well within the range of transparency film, with no harsh sunshine causing deep shadows lacking detail.



Just how much ability does digital have to copy from transparency film? To answer this question I used an image from the 35mm film using the Trip35 camera, of old motor advertising signs on brickwork in Pirie Street, as shown in this next image.



This photo was taken in bright early morning sunshine with the Trip35 on a tripod. A polarising filter was used to darken the sky as well as give more detail in the shadow areas. There is good detail in the lighter areas of the image, but all detail has been lost in the blocked-up shadow under the partly demolished brickwork in the LH corner.  This couldn’t be avoided as that shadow area extends well into the building. There is detail faithfully reproduced in the darker area of the top façade in the top RH corner.  I then expanded a section of the old painted “PLUME” sign to see how much detail the digital file captured, and was pleased with the result, as follows.


There is some loss of definition/sharpness shown in this enlarged area of the digital image compared to the original slide, however enough detail remains to show copying slide images direct to the digital camera is sufficiently good for my purposes.

The above are all from Fujichrome Sensia 100 ISO film exposed in the Trip35 camera, but what about rollfilm and large format?

The first image below is of the old wooden bridge over the Clarence River at Tabulam (northern NSW), taken with Kodak Ektachrome. Tabulam is roughly midway between Casino and Tenterfield. I grew up on a farm about 10 miles from town at Bottle Creek, then later we moved to a farm closer to town at Jacksons Flat. This photo, using 120 rollfilm, was taken many years ago using my Rollei 6006. A new bridge is now under construction and the old bridge will hopefully be retained as a tourist attraction. When the wooden bridge at Gundagai was decommissioned, the wooden bridge at Tabulam became the longest trafficable wooden bridge in use in Australia. It was always a single-lane bridge, and according to some locals the only such bridge in the Southern Hemisphere.

Is there better clarity and sharpness of detail in a copy image of a rollfilm slide compared to digital copies of 35mm slides? Some might expect this to be the case because the amount of detail in a rollfilm image is better than the 35mm equivalent, and better again with 4”x5” sheet film and even more so with an 8”x10” transparency.  The amount of detail to be captured in a digital file, however, is limited by the resolving capacity of the camera’s sensor, this being the same for 35mm as for rollfilm and sheet film.

Compare the apparent sharpness of the images from 35mm slides above with the bridge image from rollfilm. There does appear to be better detail in the bridge image compared to the old advertising signs image, but this is simply mind over matter. To put it a different way: there is a huge amount of detail in a large landscape vista. The camera’s sensor screen can only hope to capture as much detail as the sensor allows, so whether it is a huge landscape, a 35mm slide or a 4”x5” sheet or an 8”x10” sheet transparency, the sensor is limited by its own inbuilt pixels. In all these cases you are also limited to the resolving power of the digital screen’s pixels on which you are viewing the images. A 27” computer screen will give better rendition of apparent sharpness compared to the screen of a mobile ‘phone.



Finally an image from a 4”x5” sheet film transparency.



This image of the roundabout at Stirling, when the leaves had turned with the onset of autumn, exhibits plenty of detail, with colours very similar to that of the original sheet film. A polarising filter had also been used for the original 4”x5” transparency.


The results indicate copies with acceptable detail can be had from 35mm, rollfilm, and 4”x5” sheet film. The amount of detail in a 4”x5” sheet of film, by its very size, contains more detail than a rollfilm image and much more detail than a 35mm image. Converting that detail to digital in the Nikon D300 camera doesn’t replicate the same detail differences inherent in the originals, as the amount of detail in the digital image is restricted by the pixel limitation of the camera’s sensor screen.

It should be noted that in all copies above I used the sharpening tool. Whilst this tool enhances apparent detail, it can’t introduce more detail than that contained in the original transparency image. Too much sharpening destroys some of the detail in the digital file and doesn’t give better sharpness in the image. It should be used judiciously.

The technique:

It’s absolutely essential the camera and transparency film to be copied are free from any vibration during exposure. I set the D300 onto the stem of a 35mm enlarger, using an extension to extend the camera further over the baseboard. A lightbox was placed on the baseboard of the enlarger. A spirit level was used to check both the baseboard and camera were horizontal and parallel to each other. A soft cable release was used to eliminate any vibration caused by triggering the shutter, and to further eliminate vibration the camera’s mirror-up function was also used. This creates a double triggering process; the first pressing of the cable release locks the mirror up, then, following a short wait of a second or two for any vibration to stop, the cable release is again pressed to take the image. I’ve seen no evidence of camera shake in any of my copy images using this technique.

Use the best micro (macro) lens at your disposal. My 55mm Micro-Nikkor lens was used to make the copies; this lens being perfect for the task. I used a Nikon PK-13 (25mm) extension tube to enable full frame copying of the 35mm image format, but this isn’t necessary for rollfilm or 4”x5” film images because of their larger dimensions.

It’s also necessary to eliminate ambient light falling on the slide film as this causes reflections off the slide film and slight fogging of the recorded image, thus the room lights need to be turned off. I housed the slide in an enlarger slide holder to eliminate any lighting from the light box passing the edges of the slide, then used two right-angle Kodak masks and magazines (or books) to cover any other light from the light box. This meant only the light passing through the slide film would register in the camera. My darkroom was the ideal location for copying the slides to the digital camera.

Use a relatively small aperture. It’s important the film plane is as flat as possible, and a small aperture extends the depth of critical focus. There are devices that can be bought from the Internet that grip the sides of the film tightly to ensure flatness, but thus far I’ve had no problems with film curving.

The camera’s White Balance can be set initially on automatic. If adjustment of the white balance is needed, then use the camera’s Kelvin adjustment for fine-tuning. I’ve had to make a number of fine adjustments as different types of transparency film exhibit different colour characteristics when copying.

One further important factor is the light from the light box. There’s a light box available through the Internet that is LED based to provide proper daylight “white” light – about 5,500 Kelvin. I use a daylight-balanced fluoro-based lightbox that has provided good results but a lightbox giving absolute daylight white light would be beneficial and should reduce the number of times the camera’s Kelvin settings need to be used for fine-tuning the results.


The copying of the sharpest photographic imaging medium – transparency / reversal film – has been adequately transferred to digital files using the technique of copying direct from the slide image to the digital camera instead of scanning. I’d read a number of articles on this technique on YouTube and saw it as a cost-effective means of transferring important transparency images from 35mm, rollfilm, and 4”x5” large format films. According to the information from some YouTube instructions, the results from photographing slide film direct to the digital camera gives better results than slide scanning. This may or may not be so, and only comparisons between the same transparency image using both methods of copying would provide an answer. It may still be academic. My concern was whether the digital images would exhibit enough of the slide films’ sharpness and faithfully reproduce colour and tonal range. Whilst it isn’t as good as the original slide film, there is enough detail and correct colour, in my opinion, to give satisfactory results in digital files. This means I can take photos with slide film and copy them to digital images for Club competitions and the like. It’s the best of both worlds: a physical film image and the convenience of digital for displaying at club level. Any computer crash means I still have the original film images.

According to YouTube information, monochrome and colour negatives can also be copied direct to the digital camera, and software (Photoshop? Lightroom?) or add-ons can then be used to convert them to positive images.

I expect a “full-frame” 35mm digital camera would resolve the detail from the slide film better than the ½ frame of the D300. One of those highly-expensive data backs for the likes of rollfilm and 4”x5” camera backs would be even better. Even so, I’m happy with my current results using the NikonD300.