You know you’re dealing with something a bit different when forums across the web are overflowing with frustration, debate, despair, pleading and a few incredible results no two of which are ascribed to a like approach. Arista Ortho Litho 3.0 film likely ranks near the top of the pile in terms of “there just aint a clear cut answer out there for how to deal with it” photographic products.
It’s not that there’s nothing that works, because many folks are achieving very interesting and compelling results. Rather, it’s that the “how to” is just so bountiful and ambiguous. For every successful photograph shared there are dozens and dozens of crap results offered up by defeated and frustrated artisans.
I’ve yet to see THE definitive approach to shooting and processing this film anywhere. Do a search for yourself and you’ll soon find yourself off on an incredible journey not long into which your eyes will start to jiggle and you’ll begin to feel light headed as you amass in your mind the seemingly infinite approaches, tips, suggestions etc. Oh, lest you be concerned, yes there is plenty of contradictory information out there as well. Evil comes to mind.
Arista Ortho Litho 3.0 caught my eye a while ago as I was reading through an article discussing the nature of various emulsions from the turn of the 20th century. I believe the version 2.0 was referenced in the article not because it’s that old but as an analogy for something. I likely just filed the reference away. Many moons later I was on Freestylephoto’s site looking for something, can’t remember what, and decided to just take a look through their sheet films. There it was, and there was TONS of it!! I mean TONS of it. You name the format and they got it.
Well, with a new 5×7 camera in hand “Dr. Experimeter” is my middle name. I was surprised at how inexpensive it was. Compared to FP-4 for example, it’s pennies on the dollar! What the heck. I ordered some and didn’t really think more about it.
When it arrived, I was caught off guard as I honestly forgot that I’d ordered it. I stuck it in my film box and just carried on with my day. Well, last night I pulled it out and decided to give it a go. I set up my 5×7 and decided to use my Wollensack Series A f5 5×7 and just shoot a picture of something interesting in my dining room. A clock! My creativity abounds at times.
I love this lens. Yes, I made the lens board. I make all my own lens boards. They work. They’re not pretty. I don’t really care.
Well, it was time to get down to some math. How to expose this film? I sat down at my computer and started to do a little research. It’s then that I fell down a well. There was NO answer; there were a TON of answers. It was at this point that I was overwhelmed by the multitude of approaches to just about every single aspect of using this film and processing this film. I couldn’t believe it. All said and done, I spent probably 2 hours sifting through forums and websites.
In a brief moment of lucid rationality, I ruled out everything which involved something that I did not have. I was taking a damn picture. So esoteric developers or brands I didn’t have were off the table. One compelling piece of advice from “the guy who makes the film” was to use Dektol. I had that. Paper developers were definitely the most common used. Though film vs paper developers definitely served as a topic of debate. A water stop and Kodak Rapid Fix completed the processing story.
Tray development is definitely the way to go. You need to keep a keen eye on the midtones as this film is uber contrasty and there are dozens of examples out there of people who’ve ended up with literally BLACK and WHITE negatives completely devoid of midtones. As for development time, well, that was up in the air and I’d determined to just eyeball it.
Last but not least, how to expose it? The popular opinion around ASA was between 6 and 12. Yes, it’s SLOW. This is a good thing as my lens is a barrel lens without shutter; I’d be using the lens cap, off/on, to control exposure. Plus, I wanted to shoot wide open at f5. For no particular reason at all, I decided that I would dub thee Ortho Litho ISO 6. End of story.
I set up a 500W soft box and silver disc reflector opposite it. It was nighttime after all. I jumped over to probably the coolest exposure calculator you can get, for free, period. It’s my favorite and I use it on my laptop, iPad etc. It’s at endoflow, link below.
Net result was f5 at 2 seconds. SNAP!! To the darkroom!
Here’s what I did and what I think.
DEVELOPMENT: Dektol @ 1+30, @ 68F. This dilution was a compromise. While the formulations ranged across developers and opinions, one thing was clear. It needed to be on the weaker side of life. I arrived that this the same way I arrived at everything else. I absorbed a billion opinions, stories, etc… and 1 to 29 Dektol surfaced. I rounded up to ease the strain on my feeble mind. I developed and inspected, under safelight, in a tray. It was really tough to tell to be quite honest, but I had a few reference points in my composition and I was patient and hopeful.
What works? I think that giving the negative time in the developer is key. I also think that intermittent agitation is the way to go. Maybe rock the tray for the first 30 secs and then every 30 seconds thereafter. To me! It really seemed thrive when sitting still and not so much under agitation. A stand development approach might prove fruitful.
STOP: was water, tap water, and it comes out of the cold side mid 60s. Around 3 minutes here. I agitated constantly.
FIXER: was Kodak Rapid Fix. I fixed until the negative cleared. This ended up being for around 4 minutes. I agitated constantly.
So, the results! Well, this is my first ever and only, to date, photo using this film. After drying I scanned it straight (I don’t make any adjustments via my scanner anyway).
And….drum roll…….here you go.
A point of interest, the votive candle holders on top of the clock are red. Notice how they’ve come out black in the photo. That’s the orthochromatic nature of the film I believe.
What do I think? Well, I kind of like it. It definitely has a look and vibe to it that I think would make for an interesting portrait. I’m half tempted to take it out into the swamps and give it a go. You’ll note the scratches. This stuff is FLIMSY. It’s got to be the flimsiest film I’ve ever encountered. I’m sure I scratched it loading and unloading it from the film carrier.
I’m quite satisfied with the result in light of the amount of “winging it” that went into the entire approach. It’s a nice baseline from which I can now work.
Do I recommend it? Heck yeah. It’s what makes photography an art and fun! Rolling the dice, experimenting, uncertainty and having to think through things and figure them out is why I love photography. It’s the antithesis of just snapping a pic. This picture is all me for better or worse.