Testing, testing...

My first test of the Mui Sui 5x7 pinhole camera and Arista Ortho Litho film.


sonny rosenberg

2/18/20233 min read

Another shot from my neighbor Shaun's back yard.

Recently I had the bright idea of going to an all analog process for my 5x7 cyanotypes. Not because there is anything inherently wrong with digital, but I find the process of creating digital negatives from film scans just seems a little fake to me. Not that it's any more fake than making any digital enlargements from film negatives. I suppose there isn't much to this rationale other than preference.

I have a home made 5x7 pinhole camera (it's pretty darn beat up these days though), but I thought that it might be very nice to have one with interchangeable film backs. It turns out that it's really nice to have those changeable backs. The camera I acquired through ebay is a Mui-Sui 5x7 from Greece with a 65mm focal length and an aperture, from a .2mm pinhole of f/325. The Mui-Sui camera is very nicely constructed of aluminum and wood. It even has a leatherette like material on the wooden frame that holds the film back. I'm quite impressed with it.

In my search for 5x7 sheet films, I found that there wasn't much available in that size and most of what was available was too fast for pinhole use (I prefer not to use ND filters if possible) and was priced fairly astronomically. This is all an experiment for me and I didn't want to have to save up funds to take each 5x7 shot.

Luckily I stumbled across Arista Ortho Litho film, it's not really intended as a photographic film, but I learned that it's a fairly common choice for large format pinhole photographers. It's very slow, I shot it at ISO 3, very contrasty (a plus for me) and dirt cheap. It sounded like it was made for me.

My one quandry was what to develop it in? I didn't have any of the more recommended developers on hand (except for Pyrocat which I prefer not to use indoors because of my pyrocats). I thought dilute Adox FX-39 II might be the ticket. It tends to emphasize tonality over contrast, which I thought might work well with the ortho film. I diluted it at 1:19 a ratio recommended for Rollei RPX-25. Close enough I thought at the time.

I wound up taking a total of 3 exposures yesterday and began to develop them in the FX-39, the initial results were not so good at all. The first expsosure was severely underdeveloped, so much so that it wasn't even worth scanning. I increased development time for the second exposure, but the film base was beginning to fog before the highlights were fully developed. Not what I wanted at all! That shot is the one you see below, it was scannable (obviously) but not dense enough for a good cyanotype IMHO.

I only had one exposure left and I really wanted to get a cyanotype out of it, so at the last minute I switched to Kompostinol. Normally I develop most films for 7 minutes at 86° F with this batch of Kompostinol, but I'd also read that very dilute developers work better for photographs taken with this film. I didn't dilute the developer instead I reduced the temperature to 80° and expected development to be pretty fast, and it was. At 3 minutes it was starting to look pretty good and at 3.5 minutes it was almost over developed. It looks pretty good though, promising at least, for cyanotype negative.

Upon scanning, I realized that the old film holder I was using for the second shot (developed in FX-39) was chock full of light leaks. Honestly, I kind of like the look for this shot. I haven't scanned the last shot yet, but I plan to make some cyanotype exposures with it tonight. Unfortunately I'm out of my prefererd Fabriano Artistico hot press and only have their smooth press at the moment. Still, I have hopes that this may work! In the meantime this is all I got.

The second pinhole exposure with light leaks, developed in FX-39