I'm a film testing moron- wadda ya think?

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by timbo10ca, May 19, 2007.

  1. timbo10ca

    timbo10ca Member

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    I undertook the endeavour of film testing a few months ago when I was only shooting 35mm, because I seemed to be underexposing everything using the film (FP4+) box speed and Ilford's development time for Ilfosol S (6 1/2 min). On the 35 mm frame, I came up with a film speed of ISO 64, but didn't get around to testing development time, as I aquired a view camera.

    So, I've tried doing some 5x7 film (FP4+) testing using an "inspection" approach, as I have no densitometer. Essentially placing a dark cloth on zone 1, making 5 exposures and developing by manufacturer's recommendations (Ilfosol S for 6 1/2 min). Then using a 0.1 ND filter on a piece of developed unexposed film, comparing the 5 pieces to determine film speed. Here lies problem #1. For the life of me, I can't get a piece of film with equal density across it, so my comparisons are invalid. I don't think it's my developing technique, as I've developed a number of actual photos I've taken, and none are uneven. I actually have found tray processing of the film quite easy from the start.

    To find development time, I made 6 exposures of a white wall placed on zone 8 using the "film speed" I determined in step one (I used the closest piece of film I could find in what I was already considering a flawed test- ISO 64). I developed the film and started removing pieces to the stop bath every 30 sec starting at 5 1/2 min. Next is a contact sheet made with half of each piece of film covered for the minimum time to achieve maximum black on the paper. Once dried, I am to inspect each interface on the paper where the film was covered looking for the faintest hint of tone, thus being Zone 8, and that piece of film was developed for the correct time. Here lies problem #2. For the life of me, I can't reliably see a faint trace of tone for *any* of these pieces of film. I can maybe convince myself that I saw a trace on 2 of the samples, so that would indicate a development time of 6 min at 20 deg C.

    I tried some still life's of some flowers, and when I contact printed them, they were way overexposed, overdeveloped or both. I was also reading BTZS at this time, and was considering having the testing done for me. Before doing that though, I wanted to give it another try using HC-110 at 1:31. I had not been happy with Ilfosol's shelf-life. So, I did it again, had the exact same problems, came up with a film speed of ISO 80 (which I don't trust) and a development time of 6 1/2 min (which I also don't trust).

    I'm pretty fed up with this scheme- I am obviously inept at something, because in all these books I've read, the authors make it sound so simple to set up a card and make the exposures, etc. This is very frustrating to me, because it all seems so simple, makes perfect sense to me in theory, and I work in a very methodical fashion. But my results are crap! I'm throwing the Zone System out the window once and for all, along with doing my own testing. I'll let the View Camera store do the testing for me. BTZS makes more sense to me anyway.

    Just out of curiosity, what are other people rating FP4+ at and how long are you developing for in HC-110/ Ilfotec HC, and in Ilfosol S?

    Tim
     
  2. rjas

    rjas Member

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    Why are you bothering to do this, especially if it all frustrates you? Some people love doing this stuff, and some people hate it (you it seems, and I as well). You can test to the moon and back but it's so much easier just shooting and fixing it as you go along. If you are paying attention (writing down your development times and iso)it takes at most 2 or 3 rolls (or sheets in your case) before you've got it down right. I had a couple assignments in school that dealt with curves, testing, plotting d log h log and i dont even remember what else. I've never used those skills since.

    I'm sure someone reading this will laugh to themselves and mutter "amateur" but I don't think a great photograph from b&w negatives can be ruined by 30 seconds too long development or 1/2 stop too much or too little exposure. We're getting into OCD territory when we start worrying about this stuff.
     
  3. Ray Heath

    Ray Heath Member

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    go out and take some real photos, a stop either way is not gonna matter
     
  4. dancqu

    dancqu Member

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    Tim, I'm wondering how are you doing your metering? Dan
     
  5. Maine-iac

    Maine-iac Member

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    Haven't used Ilfosol S, but I used to get development times of around 6 minutes for HC110-B.

    More to the point. After having gone the route you have (I used a spot meter in conjunction with the .1 ND filter to read through the filter/film sandwich on a light box when running the Zone I test.) I have, as of late, more and more found myself using an incident meter, even with my view camera.

    My reasoning was this: with my medium format stuff, I'd been using incident readings just fine and getting very printable negs. If I was in doubt about a particular scene, I listened for the ghost of Ansel Adams whispering in my ear, "Bracket, dummy," and did so. Most all the negs are very printable.

    Modern T-grain film, particularly Delta 400 and ACROS are very forgiving and don't respond quite as readily to N+ or N- development as older films anyway, so I'm finding that in at least 75% of cases when I'm shooting 4X5, I simply rate the film one stop lower, e.g. Delta 400 rated at 200, use an incident meter, and develop for the time that seems to give me the greatest number of good, printable (with full range of tones) negs. Since I have a Sekonic 508, I always have the option of the spot meter in those cases where I think I really need it.

    Larry
     
  6. Bob F.

    Bob F. Member

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    You can try the method suggested by the late Barry Thornton. You simply use your contacts to zero in on your EI and development times. Basically, you contact all your negs at the min-time-for-max-black at grade 2. It is then obvious if your shadows are too dark (decrease your EI) or the highlights are blown (reduce your development time) or vise-versa. This rather assumes that you are not using a condenser enlarger, but IIRC, there are ways to compensate for that if you are.

    See www.barrythornton.com - Andy Hollingsworth is keeping the site alive - articles on Personal Dev Time, Personal Film Speed, UnZone etc (in fact read the lot :wink: ).

    Good luck, Bob.
     
  7. gainer

    gainer Subscriber

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    Your first test should be of shutter speeds and f-stops. It seems that the effective film speed you got with one camera doesn't work with the other. Maybe you should try using box speed with the first camera and assume that the effective lower speed was caused by the shutter, not the film.

    There are several ways to check shutter speed. If you have a phonograph turntable you can tape a penlight to its outer edge, photograph it rotating and calculate the effective shutter speed by the angle through which the light moved. You can photograph a TV screen with your favorite show on and find how many scan lines show. Each method has its limitations, but if you find an error at one speed you'll get some idea of what to expect when you try to establish film speed. What I'm really trying to say is that the effective film speed you get for one camera is in fact not likely to apply to all cameras using that film, and may not apply to all shutter speeds.
     
  8. timbo10ca

    timbo10ca Member

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    The first time around I used a cardboard box- it didn't seem to work. That's why I switched the the black cloth (a bedsheet, actually). I pulled it taught and spotmeterd all over it, ensuring even illumination and no shadow thrown by the camera. I put the bellows to infinity focus and set the camera right in front of the sheet to make the exposures. I even took lens coverage into account, and made sure the camera was set at neutral (sounds inuitive, but I was trying to ensure all bases were covered). Obviously I'm making a fundamental error, but can't think of what it might be. The only things I can think of is if the lens is too out of focus, and causing flares or distortions (is this even possible?), and the fact that I cut the film sheets in half before loading the holders to save on film usage. They were definitely loaded properly with no chance for light leakage.

    I think it's time to jump into BTZS with both feet and let them do my testing. I feel the need to do this because my brain and experience level don't allow me the option of fiddling until I get it right. As rjas sais- why am I bothering? Well, it's time for a new, less aggravating approach. If anything, it's been a learning experience. Thanks everyone for your input.
     
  9. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    Tim, I have re-read your testing procedure, and I am horrified, I have absolutely no idea what you're doing!

    I would second the Thornton method just to get you on your feet with good negatives and stop worrying about complicated details.

    After that, if you want, expose a flat sheet at Zones 0 - X and develop all the film for the same time. Contact print, and then you can figure out whether you need to expose more/less and develop more/less.

    You absolutely don't need a densitometer to make useful film tests. A densitometer is for plotting film/paper curves, and critical control. It's a refinement, not an addition, to one's method.
     
  10. gainer

    gainer Subscriber

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    Don't forget to check the camera. The camera is your measuring instrument. You don't know what your measurements mean if you don't know your instrument. This is true for any measurement of any physical system. Even a Leica can be out of calibration. That is why their shutters have adjustment screws.
     
  11. dancqu

    dancqu Member

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    [QUOTES=timbo10ca;469913]
    "Essentially placing a dark cloth on zone 1, making 5 exposures
    and developing by manufacturer's recommendations...
    Then using a 0.1 ND filter on a piece of developed unexposed
    film,comparing the 5 pieces to determine film speed."

    A black bed sheet you say? As target? Then after metering
    a Zone 1 exposure was made at four stops under the indicated
    exposure? Then four more exposures were made adding a stop
    more each ending with Zone 5?

    First of all I've doubts a valid test can be made using a flat
    nearly dead black target. Off hand I'd think good lighting and
    a sensitive meter be required to get a reading of any sort.
    Some specific gray card though is not needed. A Sturdy
    Board, 20x30 inch, does me well using clear blue sky.

    Remember the meter reads Zone 5. For Zone 1 under expose,
    for Zone 8 over expose. A short cut is Zone 1, 2, 5, 7, and 8.

    The View Camera Store has had 4x5, 21 step step tablets on
    on sale off eBay; 0.05, 0.20, 0.35, and on up.

    "I can't get a piece of film with equal density across it, ..."

    Fields of gray. Maybe not so unusual. Dan
     
  12. timbo10ca

    timbo10ca Member

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    Michel- I think it must lose something in my condensed translation- it's Bruce Barlow's method from Circle of the Sun (which is a variation of Steve Simmons' method- the original one I tried with 35mm).

    Dan- For film speed, I spot metered the cloth and placed on zone 1 for ISO 64, 80, 100,125 and 250 and developed all for the same amount of time (Kodak sais 8 min in dilution B of HC-110)

    Tim
     
  13. timbo10ca

    timbo10ca Member

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    Thanks Bob- I'm going to use my estimate of ISO 80 for 6 1/2 min and fine-tune it using this method.
    Tim
     
  14. dynachrome

    dynachrome Member

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    If you are using in-date FP4+ and are exposing and developing properly then getting the box speed of 125 should not be a problem. A few developers like Microdol-X and Perceptol, when used full strength, will cause a speed loss of about one stop. I would say that FP4+ probably gives nice results in more different developers than any general purpose b&w film. The people at Ilford have tested FP4+ a lot more than you are likely and if they say its speed is 125 IO believe them. There may be times when pushing or pulling is employed to obtain special effects or change the contrast of the final image but in most shooting situations and with most developers 125 is the right speed. Partick Gainer is right. Make sure your equipment is working properly first.
     
  15. Paul Howell

    Paul Howell Member

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    Already mentioned you need to check the shutter on your view camera. But even so I use 35mm, MF and 4X5 with 4 different lens and shutters. Even my 35mm and MF cameras vary by 1 to 3 stops. You need to test each camera for your personal film speed for each camera. BTZS, ZS, or any other approach can work as long as you use the same procedure and keep track of your findings.
     
  16. fhovie

    fhovie Subscriber

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    At some point - you trust a camera and a light meter - they may not be correct - but they are your system so you calibrate to your system. I have a Hassy that is likely close on shutter speeds. I have a light meter that is also probably close. My other cameras and light meters will need to also be close - they are likely within one stop and all I shoot is B&W so close is likely ok for the most part.

    I find a wall and meter it. That is zone 5. I set up my hassy and calculate frames - If zone 5 is F16 at 100th - F32 at 100th is zone 3 - F45 at 250th is zone 1 - F2.8 at 100th is zone 10 - F8 at 100th is zone 7. I put the wall out of focus and shoot a frame at each zone. I shoot several rolls of several kinds of film. Then I develop and look at the zones - I want to see a difference between zone 1 and base fog. (.1 density over base plus fog) This will tell me the actual film speed in that developer. Zone 3 needs some detail in it. Zone 8 should not be past 1.5 density. - The developer/time that gets me these results is a winner - I am now calibrated. These values will be close for all formats. I keep a running log and make small adjustments as I shoot sheets or rolls.

    If my zone 1 is good and zone 10 is at 1.7 density (too high) - I know to reduce the development time by 30% or so. If my first detectable zone is zone 2 or 3, I reduce my film speed - shoot at a smaller ASA - one stop or more. Exposre has the big impact on zone 1 and development time determines zone 10.


    Of course all this needs to be calibrated for your media - grade 2 enlarging paper usually needs a spread of 1.25 density from white to black, grade 3 paper is about 1.0 density and azo is more like 1.5 to 1.7 density. Alternative processes are sometimes over 2.0.

    You also need to consider your source contrast. Many landscapes have 7 to 10 stops in them (spot meter) and should be developed -major adjustment- (and exposed - minor adjustment-) to reveal all the important stops. For landscapes I use TRI-X at 200 and develop it in pcat-p 1:1:100 for 9 minutes and get 10 stops from DR .1 to DR 1.35 which print perfectly on grade 2 paper. For indoor shots where there are only 3 to 5 stops of contrast I can shoot TRI-X at 1600 and develop it in XTOL 1:3 for 20 minutes and will get 5 stops from .4 to 1.5 which will work well on grade 2 or 3. For low contrast landscapes (the bulk of my work) I use FP4+ LF and shoot it at ASA 80 - develop it in pcat-p 1:1:150 for 54 minutes with aggitations every 11 minutes - I get 5 zones spread from .25 to 1.5 with extra sharpness and some highlight compensation. This is my main choice for the bulk of my work - even portraits!

    You can experiment to find what works best or you can get scientific. I got my Densitometer on e-bay for $100 and it opened the world up to me. Compare the $1/quality improvement of this to my last LF lens $1300 for a Schneider 47mm XL and it is a bargain! You can get a step wedge and eyeball your negs and get a pretty good idea where the densities are. You can print your step wedge and see your paper lattitude and get the same thing done for less than $50 as well.

    I am more interested in images and art than in science and testing - but the knowledge gained from a LITTLE testing makes a huge difference in my results.
     
  17. CPorter

    CPorter Member

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    Tim,

    I have found that the empirical method of film testing (without a densitometer) works best when focusing on a textured target rather than using infinity. I used a veneered piece of plywood with window screen attached very flatly and then both spray painted over to closely match the tone of the gray card. The inspection method can work, and I have found that I have better judgement when I give my eye something to focus on rather than just looking at a print tone alone from a blurred negative image. With the empirical method your inspection is easier when juding a textured surface, at least it was for me.

    Chuck
     
  18. timbo10ca

    timbo10ca Member

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    Thanks Chuck- I'll try something like that if I go through this again. I'm tired of it, but I'm also stubborn as a mule. It bothers me that I'm having trouble with something that seems so inherently simple. :rolleyes:

    Tim
     
  19. craigclu

    craigclu Subscriber

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    I have and use densitometers but a habit I've found handy that is simple and intuitive is to use a Kodak gray card with a Stouffer RZ9 strip glued to the edge as a target. On roll films, I shoot a frame with this target and interpret the tone separations. It is very easy to decide if I've under/overdeveloped and/or under/overexposed from a quick glance at the negative. Partly from having the densitometers to confirm what I'm looking at I suppose but it is quite easy to develop an eye for what's happening by looking at the low and high zones on this arrangement.
     

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  20. BBarlow690

    BBarlow690 Member

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    Just fer the record, Mr. Simmons and I are both ripping off Fred Picker's tried-and-true method, as first set forth in Picker's "The Zone VI Workshop" and refined over time. "Freddie's dead..."

    Whatever improvement my kit has is probably its inclusion of a .1 ND filter that one places over blank film and compares to test exposures, rather than using a densitometer or sending film off to pay for someone to read it. Quick, easy and infinitely repeatable, should anyone desire to flagellate themselves with testing.

    I followed it testing Tri-X, PF4, HP5 and Bergger films several years ago, and got my fill of testing. Useful but not as enjoyable as making pictures. That's why Kodak and Ilford have to stay in business. I don't want to test anymore. If they went away I'd probably have to go di-di-di-digi-...
     
  21. timbo10ca

    timbo10ca Member

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    Bruce- it's a good kit you have. I think the trouble in this case is with the operater.

    I don't know how many books I've read, but the first 3 were AA's. All these different methods make perfect sense to me. I just can't figure out why I'm not coming up with results that I feel I can rely on. I am quite exacting in my process to the point that I find inherent flaws at each step that I'm not happy with.

    First of all, I've tried setting up a target outside under an overcast sky, indoors using window light, outside under direct light, etc etc. I am *always* finding that when I spot meter over the target, I am getting a range of readings, that can be off by 1/2 and EV unit. The sun might be behind clouds, but it still has a direction! I guess the solution to this is to go outside, around the side of my house where the "sun" is hidden by the house. I can't seem to figure out why the heck my negs have uneven tone over them- this must be why.

    Second of all, I have alot of trouble judging a "hint" of tone or density, or the difference from full black to off-black. I guess that's where the texture part of your scheme fits in. It sounds like it might work for me.

    I just recently bought a Zonemaster enlarging meter, which has a densitometer function on it. I don't imagine that it's as accurate as an actual densitometer though, so I don't know if I'd want to use it for film testing (maybe as a back-up).

    I had another thread that went for quite a long time in January regarding film rating, which turned into a ZS vs BTZS debate. I've read BTZS, and I like the premise, but it's way too much testing for me (hence I'd send film off), but my problem with it is that it doesn't take personal equipment into account (shutter function being the big one). I like how it quantifies a different EI for different lighting conditions and gives you a specific development time. The ZS does something similar, but requires some degree of estimation. I just could not wrap my head around Thorton's "box speed for overcast, 2/3 box speed for bright overcast, and 1/2 boxspeed for bright sun, then develop normal, N-25% and N-33% accordingly" the idea make sense, but it's wayyyyyyyy too subjective! Maybe I'll end up falling back to it anyway- who knows. I am desperately trying to figure out what my film/developer system should be so I can just worry about making the picture. I feel my learning curve has really stalled, because I recognize that my negatives are vastly inferior to what I want them to be.

    I went out and made some photos yesterday (mixed sun and clouds) and since it's raining, I will once again try some still-life flower stuff (bellows extension, reciprocity, and all!) today. I've made double exposures as a back-up. Wish me luck!