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Factory-Subbed Polyester Film Base

November 29, 2011

Boat Slips, Yaquina Harbor Docks. Image from Baby Graphic negative (high resolution scan, PS 'auto-contrast' and spotting.)

Left: Baby Graphic negative, unretouched.

Glass is wonderful — it has an unbeatable 'cool' factor, it's inexpensive and readily available — now and and almost certainly forever, there's the ease of coating, and it's all but scratch-proof. It helps that 'dry plate' is an identifiable process — no small thing. Just try to explain homemade film! But, for me, all of that has lost out to using smaller cameras for most of my work. I love my Sputnik stereo and my Baby Graphic. And, with the bigger cameras, weight is an issue. I'm not quite ready to be confined to studio and tailgate photography. With the larger formats, weight becomes a real issue. I also love my Whole Plate camera, but I've only carried it and a full load of holders beyond my backyard once. I finally relented on the ideal of perfect cool, and I just had my favorite sheet metal guys make a dozen film adapters to fit the WP glass plate holders.

There is a scratch problem with film. It's not the emulsion. Dry emulsion is pretty durable. Unfortunately, film subbing isn't. Fortunately, it's not an actual problem. Scanned film on its way to digital output can be spotted in Photoshop, but the real joy is contact printing on artisan paper. Dust spots and small scratches almost completely disappear.

Above: Straight inverted scan of the negative and a detail crop — no contrast manipulaton, no spotting. The scratches are clearly visible. Below: Straight scan of an artisan contact print of the original negative. (ClBr emulsion on Arches HP — 'Hot Press', i.e. smooth, but not glossy — watercolor paper.) On the contact print, dust spots and minor scratches are invisible. (Though, this isn't the case when coated on commercial high gloss baryta paper.) As always with scans of artisan paper, the scanning light reflects off the gelatin and creates artifacts that are not visible in real life and obscures highlight details that are.

As far as I know, there are only two sources for subbed PET film — Dupont Teijin Films and 3M. Dupont doesn't sell retail, but for the purposes of emulsion research they were incredibly generous with a large sample of 3.8 mil film. That is the right thickness for roll film and it is the only thickness they carry at this time. I am authorized to share it with anyone who wants to use it — cost of shipping only, but I need some reassurance that it will actually be used. 3M makes both 6.8 and 3.9 mil film and they do sell retail, but with a minimum order.
Email me at "editor at thelightfarm dot com" for more details.

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