Kodak Tri-X (Mis) Adventures: Tales of Discovery and Woe  

As regular readers know, I have taken a fancy to rangefinder Minoltas. That new itch has been scratched by three recent rangefinder buys: 7sII, Super A, and basic Minolta A. The 7sII (my second) was bought cheaply for parts, although the seller said only the meter did not work. The Super A and the Minolta A were purchased “as-is” with no returns (I asked many questions before buying), so they required a few shots to see how well they worked. Not wanting to use up any of my 12-exposure rolls, I opted to use a 24-exposure roll of Tri-X (five or six frames with each camera). Unfortunately, a snag arose in my testing plan from a completely unexpected source. To paraphrase Burns, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

My main studio workspace is a table that abuts east-facing windows. The table never receives direct sunlight, but there is plenty of reflected light every afternoon from my neighbor’s gray wood siding. Preparing to test the cameras, I took a roll of Tri-X from the fridge and placed it, still in its translucent canister, on the table. As it happened, a week passed before I could do any testing.

I decided to test the 7sII first, not wanting to dismantle it without being sure it was a parts camera. The Super A was next because it was the most intriguing of the three. Since the developing tank only holds two spools, I saved the Minolta A for last as it has problems I knew about before buying it—the rangefinder needs alignment, and the film advance lever is loose. I’ll tighten the lever before testing it.

Changing film mid-roll proved to be easy enough. I put the camera in a darkroom bag, cranked a frame past the last exposure, and cut the film. Then, I put the exposed film in a black plastic canister and taped over the top so I wouldn’t forgetfully open it. Outside the darkroom bag, I cut a new film leader and loaded the Super A with the remaining film.

I like the super A–it is on the heavy side but feels well-balanced. Every function operated properly, and the viewfinder was nice and bright. I tried all the shutter speeds, and all worked well. (I used PocketLightMeter to determine exposure.) Feeling quite pleased with myself for having what seemed to be a fully-functioning Super A, I developed the film. Uh-oh…

7sII shots–notice the diagonal defect through the first frame and the next two as well. The diagonal defect in final frame is even worse.
Normal frame 7sII, followed by frame with light defect. Also, notice the fogging along there entire bottom length of the negative.
Frame from Super A. Lens is sharp, but the negative show defects and increased grain when looked at closely.

The negatives from both cameras were badly fogged. The terminal part of the 7sII negative was completely black, but oddly the first few shots were completely fine. Looking at the Super A negative, the first two shots were lightly fogged, the remaining five had what appeared to be significant light leaks, and from shot #8 on, the negative was black!!! I was shocked. How could both cameras have such bad light leaks??? Naturally, I examined both cameras very, very closely—there were no defects that could explain the negatives.

I spent the next day looking at examples of negatives with light leaks, and my negatives looked different from anything I found. The affected areas of the negatives showed no discernible pattern. Why would the Super A negative have two frames with light fogging, five with prominent blotches, and the rest turn out absolutely black? For that matter, why would the end of the 7sII negative be black at all? I had opened the camera in a darkroom bag.  After searching online for another day, I came across this post from the Film Photography Project that perfectly explained my results.

The Tri-X had been bathed in light for a week as it sat on the table. It never occurred to me that, inside a canister and unfurled, light exposure would be a problem. That naiveté led to my getting only three usable shots.

All was not lost, however. Even fogged, the negatives indicate that the lenses, apertures, and shutter speeds are fine for both the Super A and 7sII. I discovered the 7sII meter did not work because of a corroded battery compartment—I think I can fix it. Even so, the 7sII works fine in manual mode. Considering what I paid for it, I’m counting this as a major bargain! And, it even looks nice. I’m going to swap the part I bought it for, and fix the meter wiring, and will then have two fully-working 7sII cameras!

A final piece of good news… I had stopped using Tri-X altogether because, no matter what drying tricks I tried, it always came out too curled to be used without pressing it in a book for weeks. Frustrated, I put it in the back of the fridge until deciding to use it up testing old cameras. Well, these recent negatives came out as curled as ever. But since many of the frames were unusable, I decided to see if rolling up the negative with the emulsion side facing out would make it easier to scan. After re-rolling, I left the negatives in their plastic film canisters for a couple of hours. Result?—no curl. Scanning was a breeze. From now on, when I use Tri-X, I will wear gloves and re-roll the negatives with the emulsion-side out. Starting from the last frame, I will re-roll it so that the film leader, which has no images, will be the final, outside-facing layer. That way, the film leader portion acts as a protective barrier around the entire roll. I may even start using Fuji again.

All’s well that ends well!

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