First Shots with the Goerz Celor!

The weather here in Alabama is notoriously crap this time of year.  Temps swing crazily from 40s to 70s over night.  The temp, however, is not the problem; it’s the storms.  We get huge storms and a ton of rain this time of year making dragging a big old large format out for some wet plate a tough thing to actually get to do.  Well, as I shouted out in my last post I finally, after what amounts to a three year search, got hold of a Goerz Celor f5.5 #6 for a decent price and in perfect condition.  I have been going nuts to get out and shoot with it.

While enduring the crap weather which has perched upon the weekends with uncanny precision over the past couple weeks, I decided to go ahead and mount a Packard Ideal Shutter, #6, 2 3/4″ to the lens board of the Celor.  It’d give me ultimate flexibility should I decide to shoot film instead of just wet plate.


I’d picked this up some time ago but never felt compelled to install it, until now!  It is in perfect condition!


All it takes is four little screws and your in business.  I ran it out through the bottom of the lens board and used gaffer tape to make it light tight.  Function over form my friends!


Here it is installed with the bulb running through the lens board.  Works like a champ!!

So, today was wonderful.  Well, actually it rained until around 8AM but then stopped and geared up to reveal a most wonderful day.  I was overjoyed and had also made good use of the bad couple weekends to prepare a ton of glass.  That said, something nagged at me.  I had gone to the trouble of installing the shutter but it’d be of no real use with wet plate.  I thought to myself I should shoot some film.  Alas, I had none.  I’d been staring at film for some time and had it in my shopping cart at B&H many many times, just unwilling to pull the trigger because, well, they’re just not giving it away!  Hmmm.  Wait, I actually did have some film.  A big brooding black box of my old nemesis;  Ortho Litho!!   That’d do.  I was up for the challenge.

Let me refresh your memory.  Ortho Litho can produce astounding results!  Unearthly results.  But, it is the single most frustrating film in the world to deal with in just about each and every way.  It’s flimsy making loading a nightmare.  It tends to fall out of the holder into the camera if you pull the dark slide completely out and if it doesn’t fall out, well, the odds are good that you’ll pop it out, also know as crush, scrape and bend it, when you put the dark slide back in.  I’d long since devised a mitigation strategy for that.  I don’t remove the dark slides completely and I’ve carefully marked the slides with silver ink to let me know the max I can pull it out before reaching the top edge of the film.  So, if that’s not bad enough, it has a mind of its own when it comes to exposure.  All kind of crazy things can and do happen.  I have stuck to my ASA 6 approach and it seems to work.  Then, there’s the development side of things.  Well, I’ve covered that in another blog entry and that’s what I’ve stuck with.  Don’t get me wrong, Ortho Litho is very cool film.  In fact, it can be excellent film.  But, like your pet pit bull, it can and will without warning attack!! (no offense intended to the lovely pit bull and their excellent owners)

So, there you have it.  I headed out with my Celor and committed to shooting both Wet Plate and Ortho Litho.  I decided to head down to my very familiar test range;  the waterside cemetery near Guntersville, AL.  I know every single nook and cranny of this cemetery and its surroundings like the bay of my hand.  That’s honestly what makes it such a great test range.

I decided to take essentially the same two shots once each with wet plate and ortho litho.  That said, let me talk about the celor for a second.  What immediately struck me in use was the incredible effects which come from stopping the lens down.  Shooting it wide open, in the viewfinder, everything and i mean everything is very soft.  A few clicks and things start to clear up dramatically and ultimately as you head towards f32 and up, things become very crisp.  What I found i needed to do was focus around f16 and then decide on how I wanted to shoot the photograph.  That said, I still ended up underestimating the characteristics of the lens as you’ll see.

Now, one disclaimer.  For testing out a lens, I did choose two of the most pain-in-the-ass, fraught with challenges, processes you can choose.  Probably not truly ideal for “testing” a new lens.  But oh well.


Shot at f8, you see what I mean when I say it’s soft wider open.  But, I do love it.  The focal point was the Barnard gravestone.  Yes, I underexposed a bit.  Not a great wet plate negative.


Ortho Litho at f8.  I kind of like this look and feel.


Ortho Litho!!  Who knows.  Some weird kind of flare in there.  Shot wide open.  Very soft.


Wet Plate (crummy pour) shot wide open.

What did I discover?  Well, I need to play around with this lens a ton more to even begin to understand it.  But, I really like what I think I’m seeing.  Also, I LOVE Ortho Litho!!  It’s a crazy film, but, how can you not love it.


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