Darkroom Diary 8/03/2019: Using The Beseler C-6 Large Format Camera For My Wild Horses Photography

August 02, 2019  •  1 Comment

Darkroom Diary - Using The Beseler C-6 Large Format Press Camera For My Wild Horses Photography Yes, you read the title correctly... I am excited to share that I am using the very rare Beseler C-6 4x5 Press Camera to photograph the Wild Horses of Missouri.

I should say, I am "attempting" to work out the technical details of using a 1950's press camera to help me tell the story of these rare and majestic horses.

This camera was made in 1958 for the United States Air Force and I am digging into the history of this camera and will follow up when I know more.  I do know that it is a rare camera and not very many were made in comparison to other press cameras and very few are available for purchase.  It is the cream of the crop when it comes to handheld 4x5 press cameras.  The all-metal exterior and the simplicity of operation made it a great choice for my Wild Horses project and it also opens the door to 4x5 handheld photography that I have never been able to do before.

Wild Horses of Missouri Pano B&W Print From Beseler C-6 4x5 Press Camera The entire reason I wanted to find a solution that would allow me to create 4x5 large format negatives of the wild horses is to allow me to create large silver gelatin prints in the darkroom using my Heiland LED cold light and split-grade controller. Since I am using film, I always have the option of scanning the negatives and making archival pigment ink prints as well. For my lower-priced prints aimed at meeting the needs of the casual art buyer, I scan the film and make pigment ink prints on Hahnemühle Photo Rag Baryta Glossy FineArt Paper, and for my collectors, I make handmade silver gelation limited edition gallery prints.

If you are interested in more technical details on the Beseler C-6 camera, Jo Lommen has a really good article on his website that you will appreciate. 

Beseler C-6 4x5 Large Format Camera

My Actual 1958 Beseler C-6 4x5 Press Camera 

My first outing was a success in my opinion because I was able to use the rangefinder to focus on the horses and I used the focal plane shutter. I practiced at home on the dogs and some stationary subjects and I also verified the accuracy of the rangefinder focusing by confirming it on the ground glass.  I wanted to be able to work with total confidence in the field because things change very quickly and there is no time to second guess your equipment or your process.  

This is important for two reasons.  First, the horses are constantly moving, even when I find them grazing, so focusing on the ground glass would never work.  Secondly, the leaf shutter on the lens is limited when compared to the focal plane shutter speeds.  I can use shutter speeds up to 1/1500 I was able to find the Shawnee Creek herd out in the middle of a recently mowed field, so my job was much easier this time.  Last week the grass and weeds were nearly six feet tall at this exact same location.  

By using the focal plane shutter, I can leave my film holder loaded in the camera with the dark slide out and my finger hovering over the shutter release button.  This is a huge benefit over working off the ground glass.  This also means I can use some of my vintage barrel lenses from the late 19th century at some point in the future.  This camera is also setup to work with a 250mm lens, so I plan to see if I can use my Nikkor 240mm lens after I get comfortable with the standard lens.  

Wild Horses of Missouri by Tim Layton The focal plane shutter has two lightproof curtains that are wound onto rollers.  Jo Lommen has a really nice paragraph on the focal plane shutter that I will include here for you.  "The relative positions of the end of the curtains can be varied to provide rectangular openings of different width for the control of shutter speed. The shutter controls located on the right side of the camera body consist of a shutter winding knob (1), a time setting knob (3) with associated shutter speed dial (2), a selector button (6) and a synchro knob(4). Synchronized speeds marked on the indicator dial are: 1/1000 - 1/500 and 1/250. The unsynchronized speeds are T (Time) - B (bulb) 1/30 - 1/50 and 1/125. The shutter is self capping and that means that the shutter can be wound without fogging the film when the dark slide of the film holder has been removed. In other words, both blinds or curtains travel as one unit together along the film surface not allowing light to reach the film surface."

Being able to leave the dark slide out and wind the shutter without fogging the film is an amazing feature that adds a lot of flexibility for me in the field. 

I used Ilford HP5 B&W film rated at my normal EI 250 and developed in D76 1:1 using my N (normal) development time.  Based on the lighting conditions, I used a focal plane shutter speed of 1/125 at F5.6 for this first test image.  I couldn't be any happier with the results.  

Beseler C-6 4x5 Press Camera

Tim Sr. Working With The Beseler C-6 4x5 Press Camera

Photo by Tim Jr. 

Beseler C-6 4x5 Press Camera

My First Negative Was Sharp!

As you can see from the photo of my first negative above and the print below, the horse that I focused on was very sharp and because I elected to use an aperture of F5.6 on the standard 135mm lens, the other horses and the background progressively got softer as I wanted.   

Wild Horses of Missouri B&W Print Made With The Beseler C-6 4x5 Press Camera

Wild Horses of Missouri Pano B&W Print From Beseler C-6 4x5 Press Camera

My First Print From the Beseler C-6 4x5 Press Camera

I did a quick scan of the Ilford HP5 negative on my Epson V750 scanner at 2000 DPI and edited the image in Photoshop.  I played around with some various compositions and ultimately I liked the 1:3 Pano crop which allowed me to make a new print on my Epson P800 printer. 

I made a 22" panoramic print that you see me holding in the photo above, but I had enough pixels to make a 40" print if I wanted to do that.

I used Hahnemühle Photo Rag Baryta Glossy FineArt Paper for this print and I used the Epson P-800 Advanced B&W mode along with the Sepia toning option. I like the heavy 315 gsm weight of this paper and the feel of the print in my hands.  The 100% cotton paper is critical for the long-term archival performance of the print along with the choice of pigment inks.    

For a first field test, I accomplished everything I had hoped and now I have the confidence to go back in the field this week and wait for the right opportunities and compositions.  I will be able to work with total confidence now and I am really excited to create some negatives that I can print in the darkroom.

I will also be taking my Fuji GX617 panoramic camera out in the field to photograph the wild horses as well, so I will be sharing how all of that works out in a future edition of my Darkroom Diary. I plan to also test some Portra color negative film with the horses before fall colors in a couple of months.

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Robin Jamesom(non-registered)
We also have Eson P-800. Very good printer.
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