Deep Blacks, LONG Range

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by David Hall, Mar 19, 2003.

  1. David Hall

    David Hall Member

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    I just moved into a new office at work. And today I put my pictures up.

    On the wall are five 5x7 Azo contact prints, surrounded by some 11x14 and 16x20 enlargements. I realized this afternoon that this is the first time I have seen Azo contact prints and enlargements side by side in bright, even light.

    There is a HUGE difference in both the depth of the blacks and the range that the Azo paper is able to hold. A remarkable difference (and I am a brand new Azo printer). So much so that those little 5x7's make every other print on the wall look pasty.

    So with a wide open mind, I ask you...for enlarging...what kind of paper and developer can I use to get deep yet detailed blacks, without losing the highlights, and a nice long range in between? Oh Les...

    dgh
     
  2. Les McLean

    Les McLean Subscriber

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    David,

    I have never seen a print made on Azo paper so I don't know exactly what they are like, perhaps I should get some from Michael Smith for I have read a lot that he has said about the special qualities. I hope that what I am about to say does not offend anyone, it is certainly not intended to. I believe that making prints such as you describe, deep blacks long range, can be made on most GOOD quality papers and are likely to equal those made on Azo. Michael, if you read this I am not rubbishing your views.

    I have been leading workshops on black and white printing in both the UK and to a less degree in the US for many years and have come to the conclusion that most of the problems relating to prints lacking in depth and sparkle is linked to selection of the wrong paper grade and the reluctance to carry out significant manipulation. Many people wish to make only a straight print on grade 2 paper.

    I also think that many photographers are afraid of negative that show higher than normal contrast and believe that they will lose the highlight detail. Many of my prints are made from quite high contrast negatives and on higher paper grades, I often print on grade 4 and 5 and I do hold detail throughout.

    To answer your question David, my personal choices are Ilford Warmtone and Oriental Seagull but I know that papers like Forte and Bergger also produce excellent tonal range. I am in the process of testing a new paper by Fotospeed called Elegance and the first quick prints I have made look excellent. I will report back in a few weeks for I am in the process of moving house and my darkroom will be out of commission for the next couple of weeks. I know you have my book and would point you in the direction of chapter 4 for guidance in using developers. I honestly don't think that there is a magic formula or combination of paper/ developer that will automatically produce the print. Your judgement is, in my opinion, the most important factor. Go into your darkroom and push the materials and yourself beyond where you have previously been, I promise you that your prints will improve.

    I am a great fan of Paul Caponigro whose prints are the best I have ever seen so I will tell you a little story about him that inspired me. He was visiting Fred Picker who was having difficuty in printing an image of water where the water looked wet. Picker asked Caponigro how to make it look wet. Caponigro said don't come out of the darkroom until it does look wet and then he left. Picker was a bit upset at this answer for he wanted the magic formula, until he realised that Caponigro was saying to him keep trying different combinations and techniques until the water looks wet. Picker went back into the darkroom and several hours later made the water wet.
     
  3. RAP

    RAP Member

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    Les,

    Very good reply. That account between Picker and Caponigro is in Fred's "The Fine Print" which goes into detail of the thought process and darkroom techniques used for each image, including paper, developers and additives such as potassium bromide, glycin, sodium carbonate and others. It is comparable to Adams Fifty Prints book.

    Pushing the limits of the paper are essential. I personally now use Oriental Seagull graded paper and use Dektol, Selectol Soft combinations. But develope the paper from 2 to 5 or 6 minutes. One experiment is to just see how deep a black a paper will produce by over exposing, full development, toning, drying, then comparing.

    When printing, even a second in exposure can make a difference. For me, producing a fine print should take at the very least, 4 hours to determin, exposure, proper contrast, burning, dodging, flashing. Then comes the archival procesing, washing. Caponigro insisted on prints that lived, and that takes time and persistence.
     
  4. David Hall

    David Hall Member

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    I really hope my question didn't sound either elitist or Michael Smith disciple-like. As I wrote, I never considered the difference until the prints were side by side. It was like the first time I noticed there really is a difference between incandescent light and sunlight. And I seriously wonder if it's not my enlarging technique that is partly or mostly responsible. It may be that I have been so worried about losing detail that I have printed blacks too conservatively.

    I have seen Oriental for sale, but in a different package than I once bought years ago. I have so much Agfa and Ilford that I have not bought it yet. Is it the same? And for those who have used it and Ilford and/or Agfa classic, do you think it would be more of what I am looking for?

    And Les, I'm heading off to Chapter Four right now.

    Thanks again for the input!

    dgh
     
  5. c6h6o3

    c6h6o3 Member

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    The new Oriental paper is definitely not the same as what you bought years ago. I've made contact prints on the old Seagull which, when developed in Dektol, compare favorably to Azo prints developed in amidol. I still have some of this paper and the resurrected Oriental, while excellent, is not as rich. Also good is the Bergger Silver Supreme, which responds to different developers and dilutions of developer in order to alter contrast.

    I'm looking for an enlarging paper which makes the enlargement process easy. Azo has spoiled me in this regard. Constant struggle and the use of sheet after sheet of expensive paper just to get one good work print are a thing of the past for me. Even the most stubbornly difficult negative will produce the print I want with no more than 5 sheets of paper. So, in the end, I'll probably go back to Ilford Multigrade, which so far has enabled me to get the best prints quickly. It also has unique toning properties.
     
  6. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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  7. lee

    lee Member

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    Aggie,
    Hardening fix would be the last fix I would use. You might try resoaking the print in a non-hardening fix before trying to tone Ilford paper. The cold tone papers from Ilford don't seem to respond to selenium like the warmtone papers do. This is just my observance though and I would not try to defend this statement. [​IMG] You might buy some Kodak Rapid Fix and mix your own and leave out the part B. That will make a non-hardening fix that you can carry to school and use for your own use.

    lee\c
     
  8. lee

    lee Member

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    </span><table border='0' align='center' width='95%' cellpadding='3' cellspacing='1'><tr><td>QUOTE (c6h6o3 @ Mar 19 2003, 07:58 AM)</td></tr><tr><td id='QUOTE'> The new Oriental paper is definitely not the same as what you bought years ago. </td></tr></table><span class='postcolor'>
    This is a statement that I have made more than once. I still have some of the old Oriental that I use off and on and this what it looks like to me. The new VC paper is to my eye, a very warm paper. The old vc paper is very cold.

    lee/c
     
  9. Tom Duffy

    Tom Duffy Member

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    David,
    I don't think you are going to find a paper/developer combination to match AZO. On the other hand, it's nice to produce a print larger than 5x7 or 8x10.

    I like two fiber VC papers:
    Bergger Warm Tone (VCCB) and Agfa Multicontrast Classic, with the Bergger being the better of the two. It provides a really deep warm black and great tonal range.

    Are you using pyro for negatives intended for enlargement? While I don't dispute that pryo is best for contacting printing AZO (best combo so far, for me, is BPF in rollo pyro), I've been doing a lot of testing over the last two weeks (rollo pyro, WD2D+, D76 and Rodinal) and am becoming convinced that a "normal" film developer might be best for enlarged prints.

    Change of subject, Michael Smith publishes a "amidol for enlarging paper" formula on his website, with no further info. I wonder what such a combination would look like?
     
  10. fingel

    fingel Member

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    My favorite paper is the Forte Polygrade V. I print at the local Jr. College darkroom so I will guess that they use Dektol. I have noticed a difference in the Polygrade RC vs. the Polygrade Fiber with the fiber looking much better.
    Another very good paper that I use is the Classic Meuseum paper from Fotoimpex. It is tripple weight fiber base graded paper. I have the grade 2, but I swear that I can get just about any grade I want out of the stuff. Both papers tone very well even when using a hardening fixer.
     
  11. David Hall

    David Hall Member

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    Tom,

    You're my hero. I would love to know what you are finding with all your testing.

    What is it that makes you think conventional developers work better for enlarging? I do use pryo (PMK) for negatives to be enlarged. And, actually, i use Rollo for negatives to be contacted on Azo because I am only now really getting into ABC in trays.

    dgh
     
  12. Michael A. Smith

    Michael A. Smith Subscriber

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    Les,

    Fine prints can be made on any paper, agreed. But none are quite as fine as those printed on Azo and developed in Amidol. This has been confirmed by hundreds of people. Even Adams in his 50 photographs book says that he made a print on contact printing paper and it was the most beautiful print he ever made (I'm paraphrasing here, but I quoted it correctly in my "Azo Update 2000" article). Said he never could duplicate it with any other paper. Makes me wonder why he didn't "get it" and why he kept making those crappy enlargements. His early contact prints from the 30s and 40s are exceptional. They were all made on contact printing paper.

    Some personal stories:

    When Fred Picker saw Paula's and my prints he looked at them for a very long time--about 10 minutes each. No one before or since has ever looked at our prints so carefully. We were seated way across the room from him. He had set our prints on his viewing easel with his back to us. We thought he would be finished with a stack of them in about 10 minutes, tops. Well over two hours later he was still on the first stack.

    In 1991 I took Paula to meet Paul Caponigro, whom I had not seen in almost 10 years, We listened to him play the piano and I offered to replace a tape recording I had sent him years before. (My equipment was better and I felt I could now send him one with better sound.) He said he didn't want it--pointed to his shelves, which were empty, and said that he was getting rid of everything--paring down, simplifying his life. Sometime later we asked if he would like to see prints. Reluctantly he said, "Okay, but I'm tired--just a few--no more than six." Paula showed him about six and I did the same. (Both of us had over a hundred prints with us.) When I was finished he asked if he could see them again. I showed him the six and asked if he wanted to see more. The answer was no. When Paula showed him six he said, "Let me hold them--and he proceeded to look at most every one she had. Then, to our absolute astonishment, he picked out a couple of prints from each of us and said he wanted to buy them. And he did. It wasn't that Paul Caponigro collects photographs and in any case he was at a point in his life when he was deaccessioning things, not adding to them. (This was shortly before he left New Mexico for Maine.) It was obvious to us that he bought them because not only were they fine, well-seen pictures, which they assuredly were, but for the print quality, which was something he hadn't quite seen before.

    So I'll trust David's assessment of his own prints. We saw enlargements David had made previous to the workshop he took with us. They were excellent prints. Absolutely nothing wrong with them as I recall, and I am not one to give praise where it is not merited. In fact, his prints were so good that I suggested he do a book (what he was photographing lent itself to a book). I never would have even thought of saying that if his prints were in any way not good enough. So if David says that his Azo prints make his prints on enlarging paper pale in comparison I would trust that. Get yourself some Azo and see for yourself.

    To RAP: I have a hard time understanding how it could take 4 hours to make a print. Even back when I used enlarging paper it took at the most half that time (now takes an hour for 5 prints from one new negative, but that's Azo--it is so easy to work with).

    Two stories about great printers: Paula Strand went to a friend's darkroom and asked if he could borrow some paper--he had a particular negative he needed to make one print of. He finally got it on the 150th piece of paper. In the article about Strand in which this story appeared the point was to show how demanding Strand was and what a perfectionist he was. To me, the story showed that Strand did not know what he was doing. 150 sheets of paper for one print!!!!????!!!!

    And it is said the Steiglitx would spend days making a print. Some point as in Strand story is intended to be made. To me I have same response as I did to Strand story.

    I am every bit as much a perfectionist about print quality as anyone. If every square millimeter is not right the print should go in the trash. With Azo it is embarrassingly easy to get it right. Try it. Take one of your negatives and contact print the damn thing on Azo developed in Amidol. See for yourself. And it won't take you anywhere near four hours. That's guaranteed.

    Michael A. Smith
     
  13. c6h6o3

    c6h6o3 Member

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    Please be sure to get your Azo from Michael. If it weren't for the commitment he and Paula have made to Kodak it would already have long since been discontinued.
     
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  15. Tom Duffy

    Tom Duffy Member

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    David,
    thanks for your kind remarks. I attended Michael's and Paula's workshop in the summer of 2000. Seeing the prints convinced me that their combination AZO, Amidol, Super XX and ABC pyro produced prints with such a range, beautifully detailed whites, deep blacks and everything in between. One of Michael's 8x20 shots in particular, a black woman in a very white uniform, standing in doorway of her store, really took my breath away. It summed up for me a mastery of materials, technique, art, and a committment to the use of a large format camera as "your real camera for everything" rather just for architecture, rocks and trees.

    In my subsequent work with AZO, I used Weston's amidol formula and BW-65 paper developer from Photographer's Formulary, and never came close to duplicating what I saw at the workshop. Only after actually using Michael's own Amidol formula years later, did I realize that it was the missing piece.

    The problem is, though, that, to me, a 5x7 or even 8x10 contact print is so damn small. 11x14 seems to me to be the minimum print size I'd be happy with.
    5x7 is my primary format which makes a nicely detailed 11x14 print. the format also allows me to print color with a reasonably inexpensive enlarger. Additionally, my spending days are over, I need to work with what I've got, which is fortunately considerable, unfortunately, it doesn't include an 11x14.

    All that said, I started looking for a good film/developer/paper combination for enlargement that would replace pyro. I simply obtain too many uneven negatives with pyro, most obvious in the sky areas and with higher contrast filtration. My enlarger printer times with pyro were also too long. 45 sec at f8. I quickly settled on Bergger Warm Tone (VCCB) paper, to my taste, there is no close second. After Agfa APX in large format was discontinued, Plus-x became my film of choice in 5x7, but it too, is going away.

    My testing is so far in a preliminary stage and I've made several detours. And of course the caveat that what looks good to me, may not look good to anyone else. About 3 weeks ago I bought a box of 5x7 Tri-x made a series of different exposures of a wide contrast scene (white sunlit snow to black iron railing in shadow) to be developed in WD2D+, Rollo Pyro, D76 1:1.

    the results so far:
    WD2D+ was disappointing, it produced a decent negative but requires individual tray development and the supposed advantage, enhanced highlight separation wasn't obvious to me.
    Rollo Pyro in a jobo gave me better results, and much better throughput besides.
    D76 1:1 was the easiest to use and in the jobo produced a fine negative.

    Print evaluation:
    D76 produced a good "Ansel Adams" result. plenty of contrast, good zip, adequate shadow detail and excellent highlight detail. this was the print that most people I showed it to picked as the one to hang on the wall.
    WD2D+ the worst of the bunch, better shadow detail than d76, but inferior highlight detail and an overall lack of zip.
    rollo pyro was between the d76 and WD2D+, a better choice for pyro developent, in my opinion, and works in the jobo.

    looking at the 11x14 prints with a 5x loupe (10x total?) I confirmed that the edge effect attributed to pyro in no myth, both pyro prints were 10 to 20 percent (how do you assign a percentage?) sharper than the d76 neg. Although sharper, the pyro prints also looked grainer than the D76 print. this increased sharpness was noticible to the naked eye when I held the print 9 inches from my face. Interestingly, the D76 print had greater apparent sharpness when viewed from a foot or more away.

    So now, how to get better sharpness than d76 with the longer tonal range of the pyro? A clue came from articles on Ed's Unblinking Eye web site in the articles about Rodinal. In the 35 years I've been developing film I've never used Rodinal. I had the impression that it was a real fetish developer, "for greatest accutance leave your reel in the tank for a week and let coriolis force do the agitation. if you sneeze while it's in the tank, you'll over agitate and ruin everything". Ed's article, indicated that the sharpness of Rodinal wouldn't be adversly impacted by agitation.

    So far, I've only developed some medium format APX 100 and Fuji Acros in Rodinal. My plan is to print these negs this weekend and see how they look. I'll also expose some 5x7 tri-x to develop in Rodinal.

    for very generous exposure (high contrast scene) of APX 100 and Acros (EI 32) I've got much shorter times in Rodinal then I've seen published. With 5 min presoak and developed in a jobo, I got times of 9 min at 68 for APX and 7 min at 68 for Acros. Rodinal was mixed at 1:50 if I did the math right (10ml Rodinal to 500 ml of water).

    I'll get back to you after the weekend with further results, but I'm of the opinion that for enlargements, pyro is not essential. You can devote more of your time to printing if you use a conventional developer in a jobo.
     
  16. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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  17. Eric Rose

    Eric Rose Subscriber

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    Tom thanks for the analysis! After a break from doing my own development I was just going to get back into it. HC110 and D-76 were my developers of choice back when I was doing lots of it. I was thinking of trying pyro, but like any tool I don't think from what I've read that it should be used for all situations. Each developer has it's pluses and minuses but the more tools in the chest the better you can solve problems.

    I will be very interested in hearing about your Rodinal tests.

    Eric
     
  18. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    </span><table border='0' align='center' width='95%' cellpadding='3' cellspacing='1'><tr><td>QUOTE (Tom Duffy @ Mar 20 2003, 08:19 AM)</td></tr><tr><td id='QUOTE'>
    ...for very generous exposure (high contrast scene) of APX 100 and Acros (EI 32) I've got much shorter times in Rodinal then I've seen published. With 5 min presoak and developed in a jobo, I got times of 9 min at 68 for APX and 7 min at 68 for Acros. Rodinal was mixed at 1:50 if I did the math right (10ml Rodinal to 500 ml of water).
    </td></tr></table><span class='postcolor'>
    Son of a gun!!

    APX in Rodinal 1:50 for 9 minutes @ 20deg. C in a JOBO ("P" rotation) is what I arrived at after much testing!!!

    The only difference I have is with pre-wetting. I don't, after reading a few articles advising against it.
     
  19. David Hall

    David Hall Member

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    Tom,

    We may have been separated at birth.

    I experimented with Rodinal once and found it to be unbelievably sharp but very grainy. I have a 11x16 print on Agfa Portriga from a 6x9 negative developed in Rodinal 1:50 that is grainer than most 8x10 enlargements from 35mm negs. I guess I gave up the experiment after that. I never tried Rodinal in a jobo.

    Other than that, here's where I am:

    1) I used Xtol and ID11 for years, and then tried PMK for both rolls and sheets. I found that the PMK DOES give better highlight separations and the edge effects are noticeable. I found that I get more grainless rollfilm enlargements with PMK compared to Xtol or ID11. I assumed this was the stain masking the grain, as we've all heard about. Also, for me, PMK is easier to use because I get it in liquids and it's so temperature tolerant. I previously found myself stirring forever to get those last few grains of developer to dissolve because I always feared some hydroquinone or metol chunk would land on the cheek of a person's portrait as it developed.

    2) I saw ABC negatives for the first time in Michael's workshop. Compared to a PMK negative there was a pretty significant difference. More detail in both highs and lows. Sharper. But MUCH grainier. I can see how you wouldn't want to enlarge an ABC negative and I wouldn't even consider doing a roll in ABC if I was going to make an enlargement of any significant magnification.

    3) Azo. After hearing all the lore on this and P.N, I went to the LA County Museum Of Art to see some of Michael's prints, to get an idea of whether to spend the money on the paper, and to get a sense of what I was shooting for. And without commenting on content and composition, I was blown away by the prints technically. The level of detail apparent in both blacks and highlights, and the range in between. Just the DEPTH of the blacks, which is what my friend Per Volquartz comments on every time he sees my Azo prints.

    So I bough the Azo and tried it in Neutol. Nope. Bromophen. Nope. Something from Zonal Pro. Nope. Clayton. Dektol. No way. I had been skittish about mixing Amidol at the kitchen sink, so I tried everything else first. Finally, I tried Amidol. Interestingly, I could not and STILL cannot get it to work with the grade 2 Azo paper. It comes out muddy and blue and untoneable. But on the grade 3 paper, it was like magic. And easy, just like I had heard. It is those first grade 3 Azo prints...practically the first time I used the stuff...that are right over there on the wall making the enlargements pale by comparison.

    Like you, Tom, I wish everything could be a cool contact print but in the real world it just isn't going to happen. I like to photograph people and I like to photograph my small children, and I travel all the time and find that I just can't lug the 8x10 everywhere I go.

    So that's why now that I see the huge difference between what I have enlarged and what I have printed on Azo I want to re-think everything about enlarging. My technique, my vision, my chemistry, my paper, everything. I have a new standard.

    And, like you, I saw that Smith print of the woman in the doorway in New Orleans and was stopped cold in my tracks. Her dress was brilliant white yet you could see the detail of the fabric. And the store behind her was dark yet you could see everything in it. And her face did not look burned or dodged or too dark or too light. And the highlights on her wrinkles and in the whites of her eyes popped.

    dgh

    One More Thing...

    Take this for what it's worth. It is my experience in photography that there is very little significant difference between materials and tools, that most of the differences are nuances. You can't tell a Rodenstock from a Schneider just by looking at a print. You can't usually tell HP5 from TXP just by looking at normal print. Even pyro versus non-pyro is more of a nuance thing: highlight detail that maybe you wouldn't notice wasn't there if you never saw the pyro print.

    But in my (limited) experience I can tell Azo from any other paper I have seen, my own work or that of others. THAT is why I am approaching enlarging as a re-tool exercise, not just a fine tuning exercise. And as I said earlier, I hope I am not sounding elitist here. My own methods and limited vision are the first thing I am rethinking.

    dgh
     
  20. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    David, I really enjoyed the visual pictures that you painted in your post. I agree that there is much more of a difference in Azo-Amidol compared to any other material that I have used then there is between any other combination in the silver arena. Thanks again.
     
  21. Michael A. Smith

    Michael A. Smith Subscriber

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    You all should know that there will be a light source coming soon (the patent has been applied for) that will enable one to enlarge on Azo. The light will not be hot, exposure times will be relatively short, and the whole thing will be reasonably priced. So then your only question will be about which film to use and how to develop it. if I were enlarging, I would probably use D-76 to develop the film. Why make it difficult if it is not significantly better.
     
  22. glbeas

    glbeas Member

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    </span><table border='0' align='center' width='95%' cellpadding='3' cellspacing='1'><tr><td>QUOTE (Michael A. Smith @ Mar 20 2003, 06:07 PM)</td></tr><tr><td id='QUOTE'> You all should know that there will be a light source coming soon (the patent has been applied for) that will enable one to enlarge on Azo. The light will not be hot, exposure times will be relatively short, and the whole thing will be reasonably priced. So then your only question will be about which film to use and how to develop it. if I were enlarging, I would probably use D-76 to develop the film. Why make it difficult if it is not significantly better. </td></tr></table><span class='postcolor'>
    will this be using the visible blue end or the uv spectrum to expose Azo? If it's uv would there be any problems with focus shift like you have with infrared?
     
  23. chrisl

    chrisl Member

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    Interesting thread guys. I've never seen an Amidol print yet myself, but would indeed love to see one. Having just bought a 'measly little 4x5", I'm not thinking contact prints at this size. But it does give me food for thought at what I want to be my own 'standard' to be in the end. Indeed, that's why I love looking at other's works: To see what's possible and to always aim to improve the final print.
     
  24. David Hall

    David Hall Member

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    If it were a limited number of people, I would be happy to make a bunch of 4x5 Azo prints and send them to those of you who are curious. As long as you promise to not criticize the content too much.

    dgh
     
  25. Nige

    Nige Subscriber

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    David, I'd like take you up on that offer...
     
  26. Nige

    Nige Subscriber

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    double posting altered to stop making me look like a raving lunitic and wanting two pics [​IMG]