Dark cloth... your input requested

greenspun.com : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I have read through the previous posts on this subject and most seem related as to whether one should place weights in the corners or edges to hold them down. Well fortunate for me, my wife has generously offered to make a new dark cloth as a present for my camera. In order to offer her constructive suggestions in regards to size (dimensions), shape and closure type I thought I would post the question here. Does anybody wish to make a few helpful suggestions? Perhaps you already own a commercial item such as the Calumet , Zone VI, or perhaps Ebony and would like to comment on your likes and dislikes of these designs.

Kind regards,

-- GreyWolf Phillips (grey_wolf@telusplanet.net), August 14, 2001


I use the Zone VI cloth which is great. It has the weights in the corners, black cloth inside, white outside, and cotton fabric- all important features. I briefly used a Calumet cloth that was black polyester, which made my hair stand on end with static.

-- David Rose (DERose1@msn.com), August 14, 2001.

The only caveat I know of about weights comes from a photographer who got whapped on the noggin a couple of times when the wind whipped his darkcloth around.

-- John Hicks (jbh@magicnet.net), August 14, 2001.

Check out the tube style darkcloths, BTZS makes one, and you could probably fashion your own. they fit snugly around the camera and your head, and keep the ambient light from below out as well. another positive is their better wind performance. I found an old nylon golf bag head cover with elastic around both openings, just the right size, and folds to about the size of a pack of cigarettes. I've also uesd a t-shirt with an elastic cord put through the waist - worked very well. My experience with the "horseblanket" style cloths were not good ones - poor performance in windy conditions, which seems to be just about all the time where I live, and too much light gets in from below.

-- Michael Mahoney (mmahoney@nfld.com), August 14, 2001.

I agree with Michael, a tube style dark cloth (with an elastic draw cord) made for your camera would be my first choice, they block out the light all the way around.

-- Dave (daveanton@home.com), August 14, 2001.

You are so lucky to have your wife to custom make the perfect dark cloth. My wife made one for me as well. I too prefer the elastic style like the BTZS. I will add that mine is white on the outside to keep down the summer heat and also as David mentions above, at least the black liner must be cotton to control static. Make sure to select a black fabric dense enough to block sunlight! With the tube style, there is no need for weights. I have the bottom sewn out about 14 inches: Enough to seal out light from below but still open for ventilation or to avoid fogging the GG.

-- Gary Frsot (gfrost@home.com), August 14, 2001.

I made one with GoreTex type material in black on one side and fleece on the other. Really keeps out the wind and in a pinch I can use it to keep dry in the rain and warm when cool nights & early mornings come around while I am waiting for the light to get right for a photo. Just be aware it is warm in hot weather but can serve as a nice warm wrap when needed as well as a good dark cloth. NO corner weights as I have seen the wind blow them into a ground glass which then turned into a pile of glass shards. Use clips to hold it onto the camera in breezy conditions or sew in velcro tabs.

-- Dan Smith (shooter@brigham.net), August 14, 2001.

With regard to the BTZS type dark cloths, how do you get your arms in there to focus with a loupe?

-- Andy (akkup@mindspring.com), August 15, 2001.

Have your wife sew some elastic into the waistband of a heavy/dark Tee shirt or sweatshirt to fit your camera back. viola! Slip the elastic over your camera back, stick your head through the "head-hole" and arms through the "arm-holes".... Best dark cloth you can get!

-- Matt O. (mojo@moscow.com), August 15, 2001.

Matt, this is a truly good suggestion, which answers Andy's question. In fact, I planned on buying a cloth today, I guess I settle for a T-shirt. Great. Sorry B&H :) Thanks!

-- Marcus Leonard (marcusleonard@yahoo.com), August 15, 2001.

Hi Grey Wolf, I use the horse blanket type at the moment, but removed the weights from the corners! I have stuck velcro on the inside so that once draped over my head/camera I can seal the bottom and sides to prevent it flapping in the wind and allowing light in at the base. The only thing that puts me off the BTZS type is this, how do you manage to load a film holder without having to take the entire contraption off your head/camera?? The cloth also doubles as a blanket for when its nippy!! Regard

-- paul owen (paulowen_2000@yahoo.com), August 15, 2001.

I also use a variation of the Tshirt idea but mine is a very dark navy heavy material sweatshirt. No other mods. I was at Mono lake in the Eastern Sierra with the Deardorff working my way around the loop trail at the Tufa area when a nasty little squal blew in and started snowing on me. Boy was that sweatshirt nice, and any pictures after that were short ones where most of the contemplation was how quick can I make this happen and get back into this sweatshirt before I freeze to death.

-- Jim Galli (jimgalli@sierra.net), August 15, 2001.

If you're going with the horseblanket design, which I do, here is the DEFINITIVE AND AUTHORITATIVE AND FINAL answer on weighting: Go to your neighborhood fabric store. They will probably have these little lead strings that are made to weight the bottoms of curtains and even some dresses. They are, you know, about 3/32 of an inch in diameter "strings" of whatever length. Sew the string into the edges on two opposite sides of the horseblanket. These are the sides that will hang down along the front to back line of your camera. Adds a little weight, of course, but no chance of getting bopped in the face, etc. Makes the blanket behave really nicely.... A couple other advantages to the horseblanket style: (1) It's flexible. You can try various configurations of velcro etc. till you find what you like. The BZTX (?!) style can only be used one way. (2) It drapes very nicely over the whole camera body: You drape one end over a darkslide on top of the front std. to make a dandy lens hood; it masks the bellows re: any possible light leaks (very few bellows are perfectly light tight); and it masks the back re: any little light leaks along film back edges etc. (just move it aside a bit when you remove and replace the darkslide).... -jeff buckels

-- Jeff Buckels (jeffbuck@swcp.com), August 15, 2001.

About the time I was returning a pathetic synthetic "cloth" to B&H the Sept./Oct. 2000 View Camera arrived with Gordon Hutchings' article "How to Make a Darkcloth," pp. 64-66, which I highly recommend. Fortunately my wife and companion shooter Marilyn is an excellent seamstress and we were able to put together a DC following Hutchings' suggestions.

We needed a big cloth for our 8x10 field, but the bolts at our neighborhood fabric store measured only 60", so we decided to sew two pieces together, which was necessary anyway since we couldn't find the broadcloth recommended by Hutchings. Black 100% knit cotton is not completely opaque, but it is nice and stretchy. Marilyn sewed 3 and 1/2 sides together, then turned it inside out; the final portion of the fourth side she sewed all the way through on a sewing machine ("whipping it together" she calls it). The final product is 7 by 5 feet; we use it sideways. The extra length allows adequate room for pulling and replacing the dark slide under cover. We looked for the chain bead that Jeff mentioned and couldn't find it, but the sheer weight of the cloth holds it down under most conditions; if it were any windier, photography with a big camera wouldn't be possible anyway.

When folded, the cloth goes into our soft carrying bag on the side opposite the GG, offering some protection.

This may be a horseblanket, Grey Wolf, but it gets the job done, although admittedly I am still dealing at this early stage with some so far undiagnosed light leaks. Good shooting, Nick.

-- Nick Jones (nfjones@pitt.edu), August 15, 2001.

I also like the BTZS darkcloth. If you make a custom one I would suggest that you use a breathable material. The BTZS tube uses a waterproof nylon non breathable material which is very bothersome in cold weather as condensation stays inside the bag and covers your groundglass. Otherwise the design is great with a velcro closing for hand and loupe operation.

-- Georges Pelpel (gpelpel@home.com), August 15, 2001.

TheBTZS cloths are useful,BUT IMHO the opening that fits about the camera is too snug. It is a hassle if you move from behind to the front to the film bag, etc. So I would recommend a cloth shaped similarly to that one but with a drawstring, not elastic. I cut the elastic cord out of my BTZS, this after ordering a 5x7 cloth to fit a smallish 4x5 field camera.Velcro works also, though the drawstring works better in a tube like the BTZS For bellows extension, having a cloth tape measure sewn into one side assists you in determining exposure increases when bellows draw is long. As for material. though costly, black ultrasuede, with a white nylon,cotton, etc--white, free of snags and not fleecy, makes for a very durable and very blackout darkcloth. I had one made that will outlast me. Bob

-- Bob Moulton (bobmargaretm@home.com), August 16, 2001.

"With regard to the BTZS type dark cloths, how do you get your arms in there to focus with a loupe?

-- Andy (akkup@mindspring.com), August 15, 2001. "

I hang the loupe around my neck from it's lanyarn and keep it inside the BTZS "tube." I then grasp the loupe through the cloth.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (evphoto@heartstone.com), August 16, 2001.

So far we have missed the real questions as to what a true darkcloth is. 1. What did Ansel use? 2. What did Fox-talbot use?

-- Dan Smith (shooter@brigham.net), August 16, 2001.

" We solved this with a homemade version (when the rubberised darkcloth prooved too hot for desert shooting): two layers of black sateen topped with one layer of white, the peices sewn together so that no stitches pierced all three layers. The whole thing was two yards square, large enough to clip onto the back of the camera and anchor around the photographer in high wind. I threatened to wear it as a cape should we find oursleves in a fine dining situation while on the road. White cloths based on this model have since become standard for hot weather work" Charis Wilson as she set out with Edward Weston on his Guggenheim Fellowship trip ( where Weston also shot with St. Ansel in Yosemite).

-- Tim Atherton (tim@KairosPhoto.com), August 17, 2001.

In regards as to how to put the film holder with the BTZS dark cloth is easy, the cloth has a velcro strip running along the entire lenght of the cloth, once you have focused you rip the cloth open and drape it over the camera, it protects the exposure against pinhole leaks and you dont have to fight with it in windy situations, unlike the horse blanket. My only complaint is the same as everybody elses, I dont understand why they chose a waterproof material, in winter you get condenstation in the gg, in summer is about 200 degrees inside the cloth.....but is definetly better than the horse blanket, I used to have a zone VI, now I use it as a reflector.....

-- Jorge Gasteazoro (jorgegm@worldnet.att.net), August 17, 2001.

It seems that the general consensus of opinion is that the BTZS tube is the best design, spoiled only by the choice of material. Is it worth any of our friends across the pond lobbying Darkroom Innovations (on behalf of us living outside the US)with a view to offering one in a breathable material. Although in the UK, I would happily send an email to them. What is the likely chance of this happening? Regards Paul

-- paul owen (paulowen_2000@yahoo.com), August 17, 2001.

Paul - I think BTZS will already customize a cloth for you - you may want to check with them directly - if not, it's a pretty obvious pattern they use - a capable seamstress should be able to come up with the same thing in a different material.

-- Michael Mahoney (mmahoney@nfld.com), August 17, 2001.

I have the BTZS tube and a more conventional silver/black cloth made by Harrison (the film changing tent company). The Harrison model has velcro at one end so you can wrap it around the camera. My preference is for the Harrison because I found the velcro zipper on the long axis of the BTZS tube annoying. Personal preference I suppose. Darkroom Innovations sells the BTZS. Badger Graphics carries the Harrsion.

-- Mark Audas (maudas@home.com), August 18, 2001.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ