Improving my negatives

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by FrankB, Aug 24, 2005.

  1. FrankB

    FrankB Member

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    I'm looking to -

    • Improve the tonal separation of my negs
    • Increase their ease of printing
    • Improve the levels of highlight and shadow detail I can record.
    I'd also like to see a slight decrease in apparent grain, although this is a lesser priority. I'm looking for advice on how to achieve these ends.

    My standard methods are currently as follows -

    • Ilford Delta 100 at 100 ISO
    • Rodinal 1:25 at 20C for 9 mins (Agfa agitation)
    • Ilford Ilfostop 1:19 for 30 secs (rotational agitation)
    • Ilford Rapid Fixer 1:4 for 4 mins (agitating 10 secs per minute)
    • Ilford invert and dump wash pattern for 5, 10, 20, 20 inversions
    • Ilford Ilfotol 1:200 final rinse
    All processing and washing water is jug-filtered (I live in a hard-water area and find this essential). All chemistry is always fresh and one-shot. I shoot 35mm (Nikon F80 and Pentax S1a) and 6x6 (Mamiya C330S).

    I'm broadly happy with the results I'm getting, but know that there's room for improvement. I like the general tonality and acutance (and economy and longevity!) of Rodinal but, in 35mm at least, I do find the grain a little intrusive (personal preference). I really like Delta 100.

    I'm looking at either -

    a) Testing the film speed and dev time, probably following the methods stated in John Blakemore's "Black and White Workshop" as these seem to be pretty objective and straightforward for a muppet like myself to follow. Varying dev for contrast control will be problematical given the formats I shoot (and that the Mamiya TLR doesn't have an interchangeable back) and that my only spotmeter is build into my F80, but establishing a baseline would probably help.

    b) Trying Peter Hogan's Prescysol and other alkaline chemistry. Reading the blurb on this it sounds like it'll do everything bar raise the dead (tight grain, smooth tonality, better film speed, delicate highlights and rich shadows, kills 99% of all known germs... :smile: ). Sales pitches like this tend to put me off but, having met the chap at the last APUG UK Gathering and read Les's review of Prescysol in B&WP UK, I'm starting to think there might be something in it.

    c) Doing something else! Suggestions welcome (as long as they're not physically impossible!)

    I know that there are no absolutes and that two experts will strenuously advocate very different methodologies whilst both producing stunning results. I would however like to hear the views of those more experienced than myself (i.e. pretty much everybody!).

    Thanks in advance,

    Frank
     
  2. argus

    argus Member

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    Hi Frank,

    for smaller grain, try 1+50. A higher dillution decreases grain with Rodinal.

    G
     
  3. Leon

    Leon Member

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    hi frank. Have you tried patterson Aculux 2? I think you might get the effect you're looking for - it is a very nice developer for 35mm. very fine grain but good accutance, very economical too. I find it gives full film speed and excellent tonality and gradation. Give that a go before you spend out on other more expensive concoctions!
     
  4. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

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    Gmorning Frank

    Since the negative only puts you halfway home, how are you printing ?

    The paper and developer are the logical place to begin, because they determine what the negative needs to do ...

    The normal run of papers are capable of far more than our normal working methods let us achieve; simple home made developers are the door opener to better prints.

    Now where did I put the coffee pot...
     
  5. FrankB

    FrankB Member

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    Thanks for the responses so far -

    Argus - I actually tried 1:50 when I did my initial film tests with Rodinal, so I'll dig out those negs and try reprinting them. Thanks.

    Leon - Hmmm... I hadn't considered Patterson chems. I've no idea why! After a quick trawl Aculux 2 does seem to have a very good reputation. How do you find its acutance? I notice from you blog that you acquired some of Peter's brew after Keswick; did you ever get around to testing it?

    DF - For final prints I'm using Ilford MGIV and MGWT in FB Glossy with Ilford chemistry and toning in either selenium, gold or both. Methods-wise I'm starting off with a straight print. If I have problems I usually go to split-grading, sometimes with a flash to DMin if contrast control is a problem.

    I'm really looking to have a negative with as much information as possible at both ends of the contrast range and smooth, well-separated tones in between.
     
  6. Jordan

    Jordan Member

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    You'll probably get a whole bunch of different developer recommendations in this thread. My guess is (as the above poster mentioned) that going to 1+50 with Rodinal will give you finer grain. The speed and dev time tests are good to do -- keep very careful notes and be very consistent with temperature and agitation. Other good books to look at, if you can find them, are the ones by David Vestal -- I can't remember the names -- he offers very straightforward and non-technical advice for film speed and dev time testing.
     
  7. Dave Miller

    Dave Miller Member

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    I'm using Peter Hogan's Prescysol EF with Delta 100 & 400, and am very happy with the results. Give it a try. The negatives all but print themselves. I'm afraid Rodinal got the elbow!
     
  8. craigclu

    craigclu Subscriber

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    I impulsively bought a batch of Hogan's Prescysol when first introduced. I was just looking at the negatives the other night and it reminded me of how nicely they turned out and how easily printed they were. About that time, I got diverted with some extended experimenting with homebrews, Jay's mixes, Patrick's ideas, Sandy's, etc and never got back to it. It is deserving of a try for folks who are interested. I suspect it's an off-shoot of Barry Thornton's work and the stuff does does work well. About the time I would have ordered more, it was in the cold season in Wisconsin and I've had too many bad experiences shipping liquids when -20º weather hits! If you try it, give the semi-stand method a try.... It seemed the best results were coming from that.
     
  9. P C Headland

    P C Headland Subscriber

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    You've had the 1+50 suggestion, so I'll add the 1+100 suggestion :smile:

    I've not been developing that long, but I've quickly settled on 1+100 as my standard dilution. Gives very good tonal range, sharpness, not much grain (at least with 120) and is pretty easy to scan.

    Paul
     
  10. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

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    Hi Frank

    Ilford liquid developer of some variety ?

    The reason I ask is that the paper developer will determine how much of a scale your paper will handle. Until we know that, talking about the neg is kinda pointless.

    Are you welded to Ilford liquid ? Would you object to mixing up your own ?
     
  11. Kaizen

    Kaizen Member

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    Hi Frank. To gain tonal separations, especially in the shadows you might try lifting the exposure further up the film density characteristic curve. That is, simply expose the film about 1/3 to 1 full stop higher than the box speed.
    This has the affect of moving the low density shadow exposures up away from the curved 'toe' and in to the straight line chacteristic where tones are better separated. An easy way to achieve this with consistency is to set the camera to around ISO 80 for Delta.
    There is no need to be concerned about the highlights becoming overexposed as the film has up to around 18 stops exposure latitude anyway. But to make it easier to print, use N+ and N- development. This will increase and decrease the effective contrast of the neg without really affecting the shadows at all. There is lots of info around about n+ and n- development if you haven't tried it.
    It is a little to get the head around at first, but I found these principles substantially improved my negatives in a relatively short time, and gave considerably more control over the whole exposure/contrast process.

    To reduce grain perhaps try Kodak HC110 or Ilford liquid devlrs if (like me) you become too impatient with the long development times of very dilute Rodinol. Have fun.
     
  12. FrankB

    FrankB Member

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    Many thanks for all the responses. Some great suggestions in there.

    I'm currently veering towards a trial of Paterson Aculux 2 and, if I like it, a full film speed / dev time test of Delta 100 in that soup. I have Delta 100 test negs for both 1:50 and 1:100 which I will revisit and re-evaluate. If Aculux doesn't fit the bill then I'll give Prescysol a try.

    DF - I use Ilford Multigrade liquid developer mixed 1:9. I haven't sworn a lifelong vow of monogamy to that particular paper dev, but I would need a convincing reason to change...
     
  13. gnashings

    gnashings Inactive

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    A little off topic - but as far as the final product is concerned (print), you don't have to get a divorce - try speed dating:smile: a baggy of Dektol to make one quart is about $3.50 CDN - I assume in the US its a little over two bucks. I tend to use it 1:1 and have loved the results. For the price, worth a try and once its gone - its gone! Just mind your times, as it will get alittle funky if yu leave the print in too long I find.
    I wish I had a better scanner - I would love to support the claims that preceed mine - Rodinal 1:50 with Delta 100, IMHO works like a charm!
     
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  15. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Testing for film speed and developing time is certainly a step in the right direction, just so you know what you're working with, even if you aren't in a position to use development to control contrast, and another camera (large format or interchangeable backs) isn't on the agenda.

    Once you do test, you might target your negs for printing on grade 3, rather than grade 2 as is often done. That should give you a thinner neg with finer grain and still plenty of room to increase or decrease contrast at the printing stage through filtration with VC paper, choice of paper grade with graded paper, development time and temperature, and choice of paper developer.
     
  16. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

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    Hi Frank

    Thanks for the info.

    The reason I wondered about your paper/developer combination is that your paper's performance defines the negative's requirment. Your developer, in my experience, while making a good looking print demands a lower density highlight than does, for instance, a home brew developer like 120.

    With Delta 100, you'll get MUCH better results with Rodinal 1+50, and using an agitation of 5 seconds per five minutes. Delta wants desperately to build highlights in Rodinal, and you have to starve them to allow the shadows to build density. I'd predict you can make a visible improvement, but there are much better combinations you can use.

    With Rodinal, FP4 is MUCH more suited to the 'fat' negative you want. ALSO: Plus-X, TM100, and -for what it's worth- APX 100.

    With Delta 100, XTOL 1+2 gives you exactly what you want right out of the gate, and will be virtually grainless.

    Aculux 2, although I don't have specific data from testing, I think will be closer to what you want than Rodinal ( fuller shadows ) but still have highlights that will press the range of your paper/developer. XTOL will be much better.

    I think the remaining options would be ID-11/D-76, and the Ilford liquid developers. The D-76 results ought to be in your general direction, but shouldn't be an improvement over XTOL. Based on other folks' work, I suggest DD-X. But I haven't looked at it myself.

    ( oh, by way of explanation, last winter I had a bout with the flu and to keep from going absolutely crazy I did film testing.... )

    good luck,

    don
     
  17. seadrive

    seadrive Member

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    Start with the film speed and development time tests. Until you've done that, everything else is pretty much a guess. You need a firm foundation under you.

    Also, keep in mind that there's only so much improvement you can get, given the size of a 35mm negative. If you really want better negs, you have to move up in film size.

    Then you get to do the tests all over again! :smile:
     
  18. FrankB

    FrankB Member

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    Many thanks, Don. Great work (and I'm glad I didn't have to do it! :wink: )

    My test lineup is now looking like this (timings (initial only) from digitaltruth) -

    Rodinal 1:25 9 mins Agfa agitation (control)
    Rodinal 1:50 14 mins agitation 5 secs every 5 mins
    Aculux 2 1:9 8 mins (dunno about agitation, 10 secs each minute?)
    XTOL 1:2 13 mins (again dunno about agitation, 10 secs each minute?)

    I'll shoot a couple of rolls of 120 on a (hopefully) typical landscape at meter, +1, +2, -1 and split each roll in half. That should give me a rough idea of which combination I prefer.

    Seadrive - I take your point and actually agree with you. However, the alternative as I see it is a full test of every combination, which is a very time-consuming project. With my luck by the time I'd finished my chosen materials would be discontinued! The above will hopefully give me an idea which I can then refine with a proper test of the front-running combination.

    Next question - I'm disinclined to support Kodak with their policy of moving away from traditional photography. I would rather support a company that intends to remain within the traditional arena. (Please don't let this point draw the thread off track. Yes, I'm probably being foolish and unreasonable. But I'm happy that way, so leave me be! :smile: )

    Does any other company manufacture an equivalent to XTOL (or Dektol, come to think of it!)?
     
  19. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

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    hi seadrive.

    Ahem. Does APUG really mean "big negative snob" ?

    Oh, c'mon.

    " THRRRPPTT ".

    : ]
     
  20. srs5694

    srs5694 Member

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    That may depend on what you mean by "equivalent." I'm unaware of any chemical near-clones to XTOL, as there are for, say, D-76 (Ilford ID-11 to name just one example). Paterson FX-50 is probably the closest in this respect; it's a phenidone/ascorbic acid ("PC") developer, just as XTOL is, but I don't know how similar the two are in operation. There are lots of mix-it-yourself PC developers. This newsgroup post has the XTOL formula, based on Kodak's patent filings. (This means you shouldn't mix it yourself for commercial work, but it's OK for hobbyist use, if I understand correctly.) One ingredient (diethylenediaminepentacetic acid, pentasodium salt) is apparently very hard to locate. According to this thread, you can substitute an EDTA salt (search for "EDTA" to find the comment). Note that I've not tried mixing my own XTOL clone "from scratch," so I can't promise this would work. I have mixed other PC developers, though, most notably Gainer's PC-Glycol and one of Suzuki's PC paper developers.

    As for Dektol, my understanding is that it's basically a tweaked version of D-72, which is a widely published formula from many years ago. I don't know offhand who makes D-72/Dektol clones, but I'd be surprised if some paper developers (particularly house brand type stuff) weren't Dektol clones. Photographer's Formulary sells something it calls "TD-30 Improved Dektol." I don't know just how much "improvement" went into this, though -- it could be "improved" enough that it doesn't do what you'd want it to do.
     
  21. fhovie

    fhovie Subscriber

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    Life is too short to try to do everything with little negatives - If you want to enlarge and you want good tonality and accutance and separation - enlarge less. If you need bigger than 5x7 prints, get the best glass you can with the largest negative you can wield. My minimums are 6x6cm and Zeiss glass. My best is 8x10 negs contact with AZO paper and Amidol. I use 35mm when the 6x6 camera is too big or too slow to use (almost never). That is the only time I use 35mm. I use 6x6 when I cannot set up for a static shot with 4x5. It is not a snob thing - it is a - life is too short to waste time with little negatives that do not contain enough information to make a great print thing. With all the pros dumping their Hassys for digigizmos - everyone can now own good glass and decent negative size at a fraction of the cost of even a few years ago.

    Also - know your developers - and - mix your own. Or at least get a developer that matches your format. For 35mm - there is MicrodolX, D-23 or Xtol. These developers are optimized to reduce grain size for better enlargements of cute little negatives. It will cost you though - less accutance. XTOL is better for that comprimise. You can mix your own - it is called MYTOL and it is posted here somewhere - I use it when I use fast film and want to make large prints - It keeps pretty good accutance and doesn't enlarge the grain. When you shoot larger formats, then bring out the miricle soups - Pyrocat - PMK- Rodinal etc - They work best for larger formats. Especially Pyrocat. Fine grain - good accutance - wonderful for MF & LF. BTW - there is nothing scary about mixing your own developer - Just get a good scale - take precautions and follow the directions. I mix everything from scratch now and my consistancy is better and my costs are way down - (So I can buy better lenses)

    Lastly, get a densitometer. As printers are dumping their darkrooms for PCs, Densitometers can be had on e-bay for $100. Then you can match your density range to your paper. For Scene Brightness Ranges of 5, I use FP4 and develop for a density range of 1.25 (which is what my paper can print based on printing a step wedge) - For SBR of 9, I use TRI-X. - Whatever I do - the process has been tested and I know what I will get when I develop my film ... I will get a negative that has the density ranges to print well on the grade 2 paper I use.

    With all this mastery of technique that leaves all the energy spent on capturing a compelling image - which is what it takes to make something worth printing in the first place.
     
  22. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

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    ... Life is too short to try to do everything with little negatives ...


    So... Digital AND 35 are unacceptable here ?

    Perhaps it would be a gesture of good sportsmanship to pretend we each shoot 35, or 120, or 11x17, because we have determined it is the best thing for our own work.
     
  23. m_liddell

    m_liddell Member

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    Increase their ease of printing

    Do some testing as you suggested that way you almost know exactly how a scene will be rendered contrast-wise. This with N+ or N- development will achieve this.

    Improve the levels of highlight and shadow detail I can record.

    Easy answer is to use pyro devs. I’m still staggered at how much highlight detail pyrocat can capture. Other ideas may be semi-stand development or cutting you dev time.

    I'd also like to see a slight decrease in apparent grain

    Don’t use rodinal :wink: Rate the film at half the box speed. Then knock 20% off the manufacturers dev time for this speed. If you have done testing you can be more exact with this!
     
  24. FrankB

    FrankB Member

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    Please don't let's turn this thread into a debate about the merits (or otherwise) of various formats. I'm constrained to 35mm and 6x6 and won't be moving anytime soon. For my purposes such debates are meaningless.

    I'm interested in ways of improving what I can get out of what I'm working with as detailed in my initial post. Thank you for the suggestions so far. Any further suggestions along those lines are most welcome.
     
  25. Paul Howell

    Paul Howell Member

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    I don't work much with Tubular type films, but when I last tested both Delta and TMAX I found that I got real improvement when I used a developer designed for Tubular type grain or HC110. You might try Rodinal Special as well.
     
  26. Paul Howell

    Paul Howell Member

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    I just check my notes, I good good results with Delta and Spur HRX, I have on my test list to try HRX with Delta or TMAX 3200.