Sometimes things seem destined to go wrong. Last week I decided to try out my new black XD11. It came in a lot, and the owner said it had been stored unused for 15 years. Usually, I would insist on proof the camera worked. But this XD11 was black and said to be cosmetically pristine, AND the lot contained two lenses in their original boxes— a 24-50mm with original hood and an MD Rokkor-X 50mm 1.4. Normally, when a new lot arrives, I immediately test the camera with a roll of film and check the lenses for the usual issues. When I checked the lenses in this lot, they looked as if they had never been used—they were optically and cosmetically mint. At that point, it really didn’t matter if the camera worked—the price was so low and the items so far beyond my expectations that there was no way I was going to return the lot. However, I did put in batteries, and the meter seemed to respond appropriately.
Well, last Friday, I popped in a roll of Kodak UltraMax and went shooting. The first few shots required -2 exposure adjustment. Unfortunately, when trying to move the EC lever, I accidentally pressed the button for the ISO dial release. I then shot 16 more frames before realizing I had changed the ISO from 400 to 1600! I finished the last two frames at the correct ISO.
Next, knowing that I had ruined most of the first roll, I decided to try again with a roll of Kodacolor Gold 200. After shooting most of that roll, I became suspicious of the meter. At first, it seemed fine, but then the readings became erratic. When I checked the meter against my other cameras, it was off by as much as three stops, but not consistently.
I decided to quit at this point and develop the rolls to see what I had, so I grabbed my CineStill 2-step color bath. CineStill is easy to use, and these would be my 14th and 15th rolls, so I had a familiar workflow. After the negatives dried, I noticed they looked thin. Knowing that I had underexposed most of the UltraMax roll, I wasn’t surprised. However, when I scanned the film, there were many spots on most of the scanned images. I checked the blix, and it was full of sediment. It was then I realized I had been using the same solution for the last year!
Now, bordering on absolute discouragement, I decided to seek out the reason for the debris. Looking at the negatives, I found the usual occasional hair and dust. However, what really threw me were large collections of what looked like clear acrylic beads on many of the frames. After a lot of googling, the most likely explanation was dried Photo-Flo bubbles. I then recalled that there were a lot of bubbles on the negatives when I hung them up because, rushing, I had used too much and didn’t rinse it off. I discovered that Photo-Flo should be used at a 1:200 dilution, and yes, it says so right on the bottle. I also learned that Photo-Flo should never be added to the developing tanks, which I had been doing. Looking back, I realized I had never seen Photo-Flo used properly.
To summarize, I set out to take a few pictures with my new black XD11, then shot most of the roll using the wrong ISO. Moving to a new roll, I found the meter was wonky, then discovered my development chemicals were old and full of sediment. Finally, I was mis-using Photo-Flo. Taken together, I believe this series of incidents put me into the bonus round. As I am writing this, I realize I have been reusing those same SR44 batteries for a year—so, definitely in the bonus round.
I promised I would keep you informed of all the steps of my photography journey—good and bad—and I’m keeping that promise. Here are a few of my mistakes —in color!
Before loading another camera, I am going to wash my chemistry containers and mix a new batch. Then, I will toss the old batteries, mix a 1:200 dilution of Photo-Flo and keep it in a dedicated container. Finally, I will not be seduced by elegant black cameras—I will test them with film before shooting anything meaningful, like any other camera. This pledge is necessary because I recently got a pristine black SR-T 101 and an XE-7 that look as if they have never been touched–they are calling to me siren-like.
I made every possible mistake with this XD11 and two Kodak rolls. At least, I got a story out of this experience. One day, this will be a funny tale told over a beer—but not anytime soon…