Alternatives to Azo/Amidol

Discussion in 'Contact Printing' started by Alex Hawley, Feb 26, 2007.

  1. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    I’m writing this as I look at a half-dozen prints. These prints have made over several months in my attempt to settle in on a paper/developer combination that is a good alternative to Azo developed in Amidol. This last eighteen months has been a difficult period for those of us who contact print. With the withdrawal of Kodak from the B&W paper market, we lost Azo which was the only silver chloride contact printing paper on the market (US market). We are left with silver gelatin projection enlargement papers; but in the last year, we’ve also lost Agfa and now Forte, both makers of highly revered papers. Some are lamenting these losses to infinitum. Some are worrying about their artistic vision having to be changed. I say its time to move on.

    Azo was a beautiful paper. Developed in amidol, it became regarded as the gold standard in terms of beauty. I’m thankful to have learned contact printing on it and enjoyed it while it was there. But it’s gone and won’t return (well, maybe not quite; more on this later). If someone does bring a silver chloride contact printing paper to market, it won’t be an exact duplicate of Azo. That’s impossible for several technical reasons. Even Kodak had some large deviations in its characteristics over the years. My belief is there are paper and developer combinations available that will make prints that I like just as well as my Azo/Amidol prints. And it’s necessary that these alternatives be ones that will stay available for the future.

    Perhaps the largest detriment to the Azo/Amidol combination was its cost. Azo was running about $1 USD per sheet while still in production. In recent auctions, it’s been going for $3 USD per sheet. Normal price for Amidol is $50 USD per 100 grams. If you were lucky to get in on the Chinese Amidol deal last year, it went for about $50 per US pound.

    From my Azo experience, I’ve become a great believer in using one particular type of paper and learning how to use it well. With all the losses of suppliers we’ve seen recently, I also want a paper that’s secure in the market; one that’s going to be available for many years. I don’t want to have to change papers again for a long while.

    My thoughts on developers are along the same lines. I want one that’s close to Amidol; one that provides excellent contrast control, with water bath capability, without having to tailor the developer to each individual print. It would also be nice to have a developer that lasts a long time in both stock and mixed form. There was never any problem with exhaustion using Amidol, it had to be mixed right at the start of the developing session and its life was only about twenty-four hours. Twelve to twenty-four keeper prints is about the best I can do in twenty-four hours. Then that high-priced amidol goes down the drain. Hard for this ol’ farmboy to take. I’ve gotten to where I hoard my amidol for the really “good stuff”. Don’t want to do that anymore.

    Looking at the prints I have made, I’m quite convinced they look just as good as the one made from the same negative and printed on Azo/Amidol. They are not exactly the same; they can’t be. But I like them just as well. That’s the important thing. Here are my alternatives.

    Developers:
    First, there’s Pyro Plus Paper Developer, or PPPD, which was developed by APUG member Donald Miller. The active ingredients are phenidone, catechol, and pyrogallol. It’s a very active developer, active enough to use the water bath for contrast control. In its standard formulation, the pyrogallol gives a good Warmtone. It can be made colder or warmer by varying the ratio of pyrogallol and catechol. I like this developer a lot. Everyone I know who has used it likes it. It’s not available on the market so it must be mixed from the raw chemicals. Here’s a link to the latest formulation.

    The downside of PPPD is that it is short-lived like Amidol. Pyrogallol oxidizes fairly rapidly. Extended life can be gained by decreasing the pyrogallol and increasing the catechol; using catechol only, I’ve had it last about a week after mixing.

    Ansco 130: This is an old standby developer, one that I’ve been wanting to try for a long time. It has not been made for a long time so it must be mixed from the dry chemicals. Pre-measured kits are available from the Formulary as PF 130. Tried for the first time yesterday; it rocks! Not quite as active as Amidol, but I could get the water bath to work with it in both 1:1 and 1:2 dilutions. It stayed active in the water bath for 30-45 seconds, which is the same as PPPD and another old favorite, Agfa Neutol (also no longer with us). The tone is neutral. The shelf life in both stock and mixed form is said to be several months, probably as good as it gets for a paper developer. I’m a newly-converted PF 130 fan and it’s now my standard developer.

    Tektol: Two new developers from Silver Grain are Tektol Standard and Tektol Neutral. The standard form is a warm tone; the neutral is a neutral tone. They are very similar to PF 130. Different chemistry, but the results are nearly the same. Advantage is that they come in liquid concentrate form so there is no dry chemical mixing necessary. Good stuff that merits a try.

    Papers
    I still believe that graded papers have a slight edge over variable contrast (VC) papers. That assertion is probably infinitely debatable, but lets don’t go there right now. Plus, after Azo, I still like varying contrast between grades using the water bath and developer dilution. It just seems to achieve a finer degree of control than swapping filters in the enlarger.

    Nuance: Very good paper, but I just couldn’t get it to look like I wanted it to. Just didn’t quite have the look I want. Other people are very happy with it. It’s made in Croatia and reportedly unaffected by the Forte closure. It’s becoming more widely available.

    Kentmere Bromide: Excellent all around I think. Relatively neutral toned, I like the look of it. Available in grades 2, 3, and 4.

    Kentmere Kentona: Excellent, with a slightly warm tone. One grade only which seems to be Grade 3.

    Slavich Unibrom: New on the market from Freestyle, made in Russia; grades 2, 3,and 4. For Azo lovers, all grades and sizes are available in single weight, and double weight too.

    Kentona and Slavich seem very close in characteristics. Paper speed is about the same with Slavich being just slightly slower. They are both very responsive to selenium toning. Slavich tones fairly rapidly. I found that both papers became quite red-toned while wet and in the toner, but after drying, the tone reverts back considerably.

    I only tested the Slavich in grade 3, and with one negative. But don’t discount it for one minute. I think it may have real possibilities.

    A Silver Chloride Paper: Silver chloride contact printing paper is not quite extinct yet. If you want to coat your own paper, it can still be done. Ron Mowrey, known here on APUG as Photo Engineer, has developed a home-brew silver chloride emulsion that can be made in the home and hand coated on just about any base you want to coat it on. It works and works well. Here’s a thread I previously wrote about it.

    In the bottom line, I'm liking the prints I made with the materials described above, as much as the Azo/Amidol print of the same negative, and comparing them all side-by-side. As the old saying goes, your mileage may vary. Azo is gone just like high octane ethyl gasoline. It was fun while it lasted but now its time to move ahead. Find a combination you like. Maybe its one of the above, maybe not. But the important thing I believe, is to find a combination that works for you and keep photographing.
     
  2. DeanC

    DeanC Member

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    Alex,
    This is a nice overview.

    I did some quick BTZS tests with Kentmere Bromide last year and couldn't tell the difference between the grades 3 and 4 curves. Was it just me/my paper batch or are these two really the same?

    Dean
     
  3. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    Thanks Dean.

    I've gone though a 25 sheet package of Grade 4 and believe its more contrasty than grade 3 is. I can't tell why you got the results you did.
     
  4. Will S

    Will S Member

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    Umm, are you purposefully leaving out the silver chloride emulsion that Michael A Smith and Paula Chamlee are developing? Or did that project die? Last I heard it was still in a testing phase.

    Thanks,

    Will
     
  5. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    Its not on the street yet Will. I have no knowledge of its progress other than what Michael has posted here and on other forums. Its a very daring and hence risky move on their part to do it. Even if it doesn't succeed, they should be commended for trying to do it. But, I can't print on something that I can't lay my hands on.
     
  6. doughowk

    doughowk Subscriber

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    I'm curious about marketing - those who have in past marketed their AZO contact prints as distinctly different & in the tradition of Weston, do you now tell the consumer/collector that there are enlarging papers available that are just as good? Or is there a real difference that would make holding out for Lodima (or coating your own) a better choice?
     
  7. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    The first two Lodima coatings were reported by Michael Smith as being failures. See his posts on his own web page. Coating #3 was reportedly made, and has not been reported on.

    PE
     
  8. jgjbowen

    jgjbowen Member

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    Thanks Alex,

    I saw where Richard Boutwell was on the forum a short bit ago. I didn't know he was here, but I ventured into his gallery here and discovered that he has a print on Kentona posted in the APUG gallery. If MAS assistant likes Kentona, then it is probably worth checking out.

    Thanks for posting your results,

    John
     
  9. Robert Hall

    Robert Hall Subscriber

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    I wonder if Michael would sacrifice the paper deal if it was a good coating but couldn't be done on a single weight?
     
  10. jgjbowen

    jgjbowen Member

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    Robert,

    I'm pretty sure I've read a post of Michael's where he states that single weignt was preferred, but if it was necessary to coat on a heavier paper to bring it to market, then so be it.
     
  11. erikg

    erikg Member

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    How about a gelatine-chloride printing out paper? Or is that too far from the look you are after? P.O.P. has a lot of the qualities of Azo, long tonal scale, sharpness etc. I have used it in the past, and I'm thinking about doing so again as my current choice, Forte in Ansco 130 will soon cease being an option.
     
  12. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    Erik, I've never had any experience with a POP paper. Wouldn't even know where to find one. Is it available? What would it take to make it work?
     
  13. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    That's a good question Doug. I've given some thought to it but haven't committed anything to paper until now. Obviously, one can't market prints as being Azo prints when they are not. My idea is just to drop reference to Azo all together, with just a brief explanation that Azo is gone and life is continuing without it. Think I need to change my auction site name too. :rolleyes:
     
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  15. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    That may be necessary. From what I have learned, its harder to produce single weight than it is double weight. That sounds counter-intuitive, but its not. The double weight paper stands up to the processing much better than single weight. The coating machines can go faster too. From what I found out about the process, its just not viable for a US, UK, or Japanese company to make single weight unless they are willing to do it at a loss. Fat chance. I'm really surprised that Slavich is doing it, but, the Russian economy is hungry for business. If they can make it, and make a profit, power to them.
     
  16. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    Alex,

    Thanks for putting your thoughts and your impressions based in your experience out for us to draw from. I agree that I have seen some really fine prints from Azo...but then I have also seen some very good prints on other papers or printed with other processes.

    I think that the marketing hype surrounding Azo was part of the cult appeal of the paper. It was certainly good...but as you said it is time to move on.

    The paper does not the photograph make.
     
  17. User Removed

    User Removed Guest

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    As someone that has been selling "AZO prints" for several years now, I can tell you that when I was first selling prints on Ebay for super low prices, a lot of people were buying just to see what an AZO print looks like and its image characteristics. Now, printing on AZO is just part of the process of my image making and I'm selling to more serious photography collectors. Luckily, I have enough AZO to last until Lodima paper becomes available.

    When Lodima paper becomes available, I think it will sound quite funny calling them "Lodima prints", so the term "Silver Chloride print" is more appropriate. Actually, that is what "AZO prints" should be called now. When Lodima paper becomes available, I'm planning on purchasing a good quantity to last me for many years to come, just in case it does not stay in production for along time, but I'm not expecting that. As long as Lodima paper is in production, I will continue to purchase it has necessary to keep my supply on hand to a decent size.

    If Lodima paper were to not become available, I would simply find another paper available. Preferable single weight and graded.

    In today’s world, it's the final image that is most important, and not really all about the process. Of course the process plays an important roll in creating the final image, but it's the artists vision that people are more interested in seeing rather than a brand of paper.

    Best,

    Ryan McIntosh
    www.RyanMcIntosh.net
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 26, 2007
  18. Shawn Dougherty

    Shawn Dougherty Member

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    Great post Alex, thank you. I printed on Azo and still would if I had a stock of it or if it were still available, it is not. I wish Michael and Paula all the success in the world creating a replacement though I'm not going to stop printing and wait for Lodima paper to come to fruition.

    I've found a paper and developer combo that I like and plan on sticking with it unless I find something I like better. The day I base the quality of my work primarily on my media is the day I've failed as a creative photographer. Shawn
     
  19. erikg

    erikg Member

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    Yes, it is available in the US here: http://www.albumenworks.com/

    Not albumen, that is just their name. Like Azo this is also a silver chloride paper, just much slower.

    I think it is also available at Retro-Photographic as well.

    It needs a UV light source (like old mr.sun) and one usually tones with gold, fixes in plain hypo, although there are other routines. UV lamps are the most consistant, but nothing beats taking a snooze in the sun while your prints are exposing. You use a splitback contact frame so you can check on the progress.
     
  20. colivet

    colivet Member

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    POP can make pretty amazing prints but they look reddish and are unstable without toning and you definetly need a much longer scale negative for it to really work well. I heard you can use platinum toner and get a pretty close to neutral tone.

    I also want to make a comment about AZO. Even if other papers come pretty close in look/quality, you can't beat it for ease of printing on it. It is just so easy it can make a beginner look like he's got it.
     
  21. Scott Peters

    Scott Peters Member

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    Alex, appreciate the post. Please keep us informed on the progress with the Slavich paper. I have found the Kentmere bromide to work well and was closer to the azo print than kentmere (which was warmer in look, not necessarily worse - actually I like some prints warmer...). I will be testing emaks / nuance some more as well (too early to judge...).

    It would be helpful if you would post your developer findings along with the paper (i.e. what you felt to be the best match).

    I hope M & P come through soon. I do like the ease of getting really nice prints with the chloride paper.
     
  22. George Losse

    George Losse Member

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    Alex,

    Great post.

    Only question I have is why two variables? paper and developer.
    Did you try any of these papers with Amidol?

    Take care,
     
  23. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    Thanks George. I haven't used Amidol with Kentona or Slavich; others have I believe. I have used it on the other papers mentioned including the hand-coated stuff. All with the same negative, and over several month's time.

    I have no doubt nor dispute on Amidol's capabilities. My goal is to arrive at developer/paper combination that gives equal results to my eyes, in order to get away from the limitations, and now huge expense, of the availability of developer and paper. I don't feel like I'm compromising anything. As others have said, the Amidol/Azo combination is very easy to use. But I don't think it takes much more effort to use these alternatives. Its just getting back to basics and using them effectively.
     
  24. Michael A. Smith

    Michael A. Smith Subscriber

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    Due to the crush of other things I have not been able to participate here as I could in the past. But someone drew my attention to this thread.

    The quest for a replacement paper for Azo is continuing. Paula and I will be testing paper in April when we return from a trip we are on. So far the replacement paper has not been right. We expect that eventually the paper will be the same as or superior to Azo.

    Regarding a comment in this thread about the "marketing hype" surrounding Azo, a quick summary of my activity regarding Azo.

    In 1996 I wrote an article about Azo for View Camera magazine. A number of photographers, who had not previously been familiar with Azo started printing on it. Some years later, Azo was going to be discontinued. Kodak told me that "someone had to step up to the plate and stock it" in order to keep it in production. They offered me and Paula a limited distributorship. We turned them down and asked Freestyle to stock the paper. They did stock it, but before a year was out called us and asked us to buy all of their remaining inventory--the business had been sold to a new owner and they were dumping Azo. Wanting to save the paper, we immediately called Kodak and eventually became limited dealers of this paper. We never marketed it. The only thing we ever did was post its availability on our web site and from time to time write about the results we had achieved with it. We never advertised it. I go on record here objecting to the slur about "marketing hype." We could have gotten paper for ourselves and not sold any to anyone else. We became dealers to others not for financial gain (there was no profit in selling Azo--if our time is counted at even $5/hour we lost money), but so others could use this wonderful paper.

    Paula and I will not cease in our attempts to have a repalcement paper made.
     
  25. Jim Fitzgerald

    Jim Fitzgerald Member

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    Michael, I for one appreciate all of the work you have put into getting a replacement paper made. When i got into my photography again after a long layoff I did some reading about the wet process printing. I have not done a lot of printing in the past. I only started developing and printing my B&W in the last 3 years. The information from your site was of great help to me. You made the process simple. Azo could be used in almost daylight! You can see and work in a light darkroom! My Azo/Amidol prints were very good to my eye. My best prints to date were made with this combo. Simplicity in printing is a great advantage to me. I hope to one day become an acomplished printer and if the Lodima Fine Art paper will give me the results I get with my Azo, I only had the new grade 2, I will support you and Paula 100%. The ease of using a paper like Lodima in printing will allow me more time to expose negatives. I will continue to explore other papers but can't wait for the Lodima. I am sure it wil be the best.

    Jim
     
  26. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    Speaking only for myself, I have never felt there was any marketing hype around Azo. There was and is certainly enthusiasm; enthusiasm from people who used it and discussed it. That type of enthusiasm is no different than what is seen for say Rodinal or G-Claron lenses. The fact that this enthusiasm stimulates interest is again, no different from many other things, both photographic and non-photographic.