This week on Hackaday, we featured a project that tickled my nostalgia bone, and proved that there are cool opportunities when bringing new tech to old problems. Let me explain.
[Muth] shared a project with us that combines old-school analog photography printing with modern LCD screens. The basic idea is to use a 4K monochrome screen in place of a negative, making a contact print by placing the screen directly on top of photographic paper and exposing it under a uniform light source. Just like the old ways, but with an LCD instead of film.
But what’s the main difference between a screen and film? You can change the image on the LCD at will, of course. So when [Muth] was calibrating out exposures, it dawned on him that he could create a dynamic, animated version of his image and progressively expose different portions of the paper, extending the available dynamic range and providing him the ability to control the slightest nuances of the resulting image contrast.
As an old photo geek, this is the sort of trick that we would pull off manually in the darkroom all the time. “Dodging” would lighten up a section of the image by covering up the projected light with your hand or a special tool for a part of the exposure time. With [Muth]’s procedure, he can dodge the image programmatically on the per-pixel level. We would have killed for this ability back in the day.
The larger story here is that by trying something out of the box, applying a new tool to an old procedure, [Muth] stumbled on new capabilities. As hackers, we’re playing around with the newest tech we can get our hands on all the time. When you are, it might be that you also stumble on new possibilities simply afforded by new tech. Keep your eyes open!
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As the world becomes more and more digital, there are still a few holdouts from the analog world we’ve left behind. Vinyl records are making quite the comeback, and film photography is still hanging on as well. While records and a turntable have a low barrier for entry, photography is a little more involved, especially when developing the film. But with the right kind of equipment you can bridge the gap from digital to analog with a darkroom setup that takes digital photographs and converts them to analog prints.
The project’s creator, [Muth], has been working on this project since he found a 4K monochrome display. These displays are often used in resin 3D printers, but he thought he could put them to use developing photographs. This is much different from traditional darkroom methods, though. The monochrome display is put into contact with photo-sensitive paper, and then exposed to light. Black pixels will block the light while white pixels allow it through, creating a digital-to-analog negative of sorts. With some calibration done to know exactly how long to expose each “pixel” of the paper, the device can create black-and-white analog images from a digital photograph.
[Muth] notes that this method isn’t quite as good as professional print, but we wouldn’t expect it to be. It creates excellent black-and-white prints with a unique method that we think generates striking results. The 4K displays needed to reproduce this method aren’t too hard to find, either, so it’s fairly accessible to those willing to build a small darkroom to experiment. For those willing to go further, take a look at some other darkroom builds we’ve seen in the past.
Chemical-based photography can seem like a dark art at times, but it needn’t be so. [Dan K] developed the Simple Enlarger to help spread the idea that classical photographic darkroom tools are fundamentally quite easy to understand and build.
A photographic enlarger illuminates a negative with light, and focuses this light on a sheet of photographic paper which can then be developed. [Dan’s] enlarger design is intended to be built using materials readily available from any dollar store or stationer’s shop, and can be built in just a few short hours. It’s built to work with a single film format and with a fixed size of photographic paper for simplicity’s sake.
A simple M-mount camera lens is pressed into service for the main optic, with the ex-Soviet part chosen for its easy focusing and cheap price. A small plywood box makes a decent body, and a white phosphor LED provides the light source. The final rig is designed to print 35mm negatives on to standard 8×10 paper.
Years ago, doing your own darkroom work was the only way to really control what your pictures looked like. In those days, coffee was what kept you going while you mixed another batch of noxious chemicals in the dark and fumbled to load a tank reel by feel. But did you know that you can process black and white film with coffee? Not just coffee, of course. [Andrew Shepherd] takes us through the process using what is coyly known as Caffenol-C.
Apparently, the process is not original, but if you’ve ever wanted to do some film developing and don’t want exotic and dangerous chemicals, it might be just the ticket. The ingredients are simple: instant coffee, washing soda, water and –optionally — vitamin C powder. If nothing else, all of this is safe to pour down your drain, something you probably aren’t supposed to do with conventional developers that contain things like formaldehyde and methyl chloroform.
For the vast majority of readers, the act of taking a photograph will mean reaching for a mobile phone, or for a subset of you picking up a digital camera. A very small number of you will still use chemical film for its versatility and resolution, and we’re guessing that more would join those ranks if some of the cost barriers to doing so could be reduced.
It would be near-impossible to reduce the cost of a chemical photograph to the infinitely repeatable click of a digital camera shutter, but at least if the cost of a darkroom is intimidating then [Sroyon Mukherjee] has an interesting post over at 35mmc about how a darkroom for black-and-white printing from negatives can be equipped for less than £100 ($123). It’s a fascinating read even if your photography remains firmly in the digital, because along the way it explains some of the mysteries of the process. Few people had this type of equipment at home even in the days when most of us took our films to the drugstore, so as time passes this knowledge is concentrated among an ever narrower group.
The guide is full of useful hacks. Finding a second-hand enlarger takes an element of patience, but once it has been secured there are a variety of other essential items. The red safe light can be as simple as a mobile phone flashlight with a red filter, but we learn the trick of exposing a sheet of photographic paper with a coin laid on it to check that no white light is sneaking in. One of the main points of the piece is that there is no need for a special room to make a darkroom, and we take a tour of a few photographers’ set-ups in hallways, bathrooms, and basements.
So if you spot an unloved enlarger just waiting for a hacker to pass by, this might inspire you to do something with it. He doesn’t cover the development process, but if you throw caution to the winds you could always try coffee and vitamin C.
In a time when cameras have been reduced to microchips, it’s ironic that the old view camera, with its bellows and black cloth draped over the viewscreen for focusing, endures as an icon for photography. Such technology appears dated and with no application in the modern world, but as [Ben Krasnow] shows us, an old view camera is just the thing when you want to make homemade microchips. (Video, embedded below.)
Granted, the photolithography process [Ben] demonstrates in the video below is quite a bit upstream from the creation of chips. But mastering the process on a larger scale is a step on the way. The idea is to create a high-resolution photograph of a pattern — [Ben] chose both a test pattern and, in a nod to the season, an IRS tax form — that can be used as a mask. The camera he chose is a 4×5 view camera, the kind with lens and film connected by adjustable bellows. He found that modifications were needed to keep the film fixed at the focal plane, so he added a vacuum port to the film pack to suck the film flat. Developing film has always been magical, and watching the latent images appear on the film under the red light of the darkroom really brings us back — we can practically smell the vinegary stop solution.
[Ben] also steps through the rest of the photolithography process — spin coating glass slides with photoresist, making a contact print of the negative under UV light, developing the print, and sputtering it with titanium. It’s a fascinating process, and the fact that [Ben] mentions both garage chip-maker [Sam Zeloof] and [Justin Atkin] from the Thought Emporium means that three of our favorite YouTube mad scientists are collaborating. The possibilities are endless.
The auction said the hardware was in working order, but despite the fact that nobody would ever lie on the Internet, it ended up being in quite poor condition. Many of the gears in the machine were broken, and some were simply missing. The company no longer supports these 1990’s era machines, and the replacement parts available online were predictably expensive. [Austin] determined his best course of action was to try his hand at modeling the necessary gears and having them 3D printed; two things he had no previous experience with.
Luckily for [Austin], many of the gears in the Printo appeared to be identical. That meant he had several intact examples to base his 3D models on, and with some educated guesses, was able to determine what the missing gears would have looked like. Coming from an animation background, he ended up using Cinema 4D to model his replacement parts; which certainly wouldn’t have been our first choice, but there’s something to be said for using what you’re comfortable with. Software selection not withstanding, he was able to produce some valid STLs which he had printed locally in PLA using an online service.