Learning ONE film w/ ONE developer (my first): a suggestion

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by MatthewDunn, Aug 13, 2013.

  1. MatthewDunn

    MatthewDunn Member

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    Just getting into film and have been wavering on a film/developer combination, but have learned that it is important to stick with ONE film and ONE developer in order to learn what can be done with that combination using your gear. I am thinking about starting with Tri-X and D76. I understand that everyone has a different "look" that they like so I am not really asking about aesthetics, but rather "ease of use"/flexibility. In other words, for my first film, I wouldn't want to start with a film that is particularly finicky about exposure, a developer that is particularly difficult to nail down, etc. This seems like the easiest, most classic combination out there, but if there are other suggestions that would be better for a beginner with a beginner's skill set, I would love to hear them. Again, I am trying to separate the aesthetics of the film/developer combination in an effort to focus the discussion on ease of use.

    Thanks in advance!
     
  2. Rick A

    Rick A Subscriber

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    You picked a classic combo. To truely know how you are doing, you also need to print on one paper to get optimum results.
     
  3. GRHazelton

    GRHazelton Subscriber

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    That combo would be hard to beat. Both the developer and film are "forgiving." I'd suggest using D-76 at 1 to 1 dilution, single use to eliminate the replenishment step, and also to lengthen the development time so that precise timing is less critical. Also you'll find a wealth of user experience going back many years to draw upon. With medium format you hardly need worry about grain.

    I think the main thing is to standardize your procedure as much as possible. This helps eliminate variables, as does the choice of one film and one developer. Go for it!
     
  4. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    I agree with Rick A. You can't really tell how you're doing with your film exposure and film developing until you print the negatives, and in order to actually have a reference to compare to, using the same paper and paper developer becomes equally important.

    You're doing the right thing.
     
  5. Dali

    Dali Subscriber

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    As previously stated, TRI-X / D-76 is a classic couple. But I would go further and consider ONE film + ONE developer + ONE camera. This way you can fine tune the process by also taking into account how the camera exposes (more or less responsive meter + more or less adjusted shutter). I am more and more convinced by this approach and try to reduce any parameter which could influence the negative and the final print.

    Good luck!
     
  6. MatthewDunn

    MatthewDunn Member

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    I only own one film camera (a Mamiya RZ67) and, I'll do you one better, only one lens (a 110mm)... :smile:

    Totally agree and learned that lesson early on. For me, figuring out how a particular lens "sees" is important. Constantly changing lens arounds, messing with zooms, etc. may work for people with more brains than me, but I just found that it confused things for me. I want as few variables as possible during the learning stage so that I can most easily identify the source of errors, how to fix, etc.
     
  7. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    I've never liked D76 as a choice. I agree with your principle, and I think it's a very sensible approach to take. I'd suggest another classic developer as a starting point - Rodinal. Lasts forever (don't believe me? look up Rodinal lifespan here on APUG for plenty of documentation), can be used with different dilutions to achieve different effects, has very high acutance so even when images are grainy, they're sharp. I didn't used to be a Tri-X fan, but I've played around with it a bit lately and now I like it a lot. That said, I started my black-and-white learning curve using Tmax films - used properly, they're capable of outstanding results. Just don't overdevelop them and you'll be FINE. Learning not to overdevelop them is a pretty simple process - keep all the steps in your development process consistent, and pay attention to the timer when the film is in the developer. For good starting points for time and temperature, stick to the Massive Dev Chart's times and temps for any given developer and film. This isn't brain surgery or quantum mechanics - heck, it's easier than assembling IKEA furniture!
     
  8. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

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    I would just add that you are not in any way compromising by using Tri-X/D-76 either. I've seen too many people refer to D-76 as some kind of "beginner" developer to start out with, implying one will eventually need to move on to something more "professional". This is simply untrue. Both Tri-X and D-76, individually and together, can deliver the highest of quality.
     
  9. Oren Grad

    Oren Grad Subscriber

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    TX/D-76 is indeed forgiving, but it's not just "training wheels". I've tried many films and developers over the last 30+ years, but Tri-X / D-76 1+1 is still my standard. At this point it accounts for more than 90% of my roll film use.
     
  10. John Wiegerink

    John Wiegerink Member

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    It sounds like you're on the right track and have some photographic experience to boot. Tri-x is what I started out with, but HC110 Dil. B was the developer then. Most of the people who ask me for a good starter film and developer comb don't get Tri-X and D-76 for an answer. I always suggest Fuji Acros to them as a good starter film since it works in just about any developer known to man, has almost no reciprocity problems, is sharp as a tack, pretty good in the mid-tone area and grain is "NO" problem. Of course I always recommend a tripod too, but that's just me. I have had excellent results with Xtol 1:3, Rodinal, Pyrocat-HD, FX37, Beutler high acutance 1+1+8. The best "look" I have gotten has been with Perceptol 1:3, but Perceptol 1:3 does very well with many films and I personally like the longer developing times. If it were me getting my feet wet I'd pick Acros 100 and Xtol straight - 1:1 - 1:2 or 1:3. With your negative size you won't have to worry much about grain so Tri-X would be fine too. I've never been to excited with D-76, but that's just me and I'd go the Xtol route myself. Maybe you should write down all the available films and developers in your local, tape it to the wall and throw a dart until you hit a film and do it again until you hit a developer. Might be surprised with the results? JohnW
     
  11. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    Tri-X and D76 is an excellent choice and as others have mentioned D76 at 1:1 is good.
     
  12. dpurdy

    dpurdy Member

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    I am going against your premise and suggest you will get a better feel for your film and developer if you do stick with one developer but work with 2 different films.
    Get yourself a slow film and a fast film and use them both. Stick with just those two films and stay with just the one developer. I would suggest for films Tri-X since you seem to like that idea and FP4. Working with 2 films you will be able to see differences between the two which will tell you more of the characteristics of each.
    I actually didn't come up with this idea on my own. I went to photography school and that is what they taught us. We started with Tri-x for fast and Pan-X for slow and processed both in D-76 and worked that way for a year. Without experience and starting with just one film is like looking in 2 dimensions. Starting with 2 films and using them together gives you a third dimension and will allow you to notice some individual characteristics.

    Dennis
     
  13. Gerald C Koch

    Gerald C Koch Member

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    The choice of a single film and developer combination is not a capricious one. It was advocated by Ansel Adams in his book The Negative. Once one fully understand a particular combination THEN a second combination can be tried. Trying to juggle two films at the same time will only lead to problems.
     
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  15. dpurdy

    dpurdy Member

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    I understand the premise. I am saying I disagree with it.

    A beginner will learn more about a film and about tonality and characteristics if he starts with two and contrasts one against another.

    Dennis
     
  16. MatthewDunn

    MatthewDunn Member

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    Really appreciate all the input and wanted to make two additional points:

    1) I hope I have not offended anyone in suggesting that Tri-X/D76 was the "training wheels" or "beginner" solution. Quite the opposite, in fact - I chose it because, based on what I have seen, it is the look that I personally like the most. I can definitely see using that combination for a long time.

    2) On using 1 or 2 films - here is my problem. I feel like I am basically having to "re-learn" photography when using film. With digital, ISO is almost irrelevant (although wedding shooters in churches would vigorously disagree) and the immediate feedback of the LCD combined with the overall flexibility of RAW leads to some sloppy technique (or at least it did on my part). As I learn about film and "exposing for the shadows", I find myself having to go back to step one. To date, I have trying to shoot at box speed, spot-meter for the shadows and stop down two stops (or in the alternative, spot-meter the brightest and darkest points of the scene and take a straightline average). I have absolutely no idea what is the "right" way or whether there even is a "right" way, but I would like to get to a point where I can determine a real film speed, punch in a spot-meter reading that reflects what I would like to be middle gray, and then go from there.

    My plan at this point (and would love to hear from you guys on this) is to take my RZ and 3 backs with 3 rolls of Tri-X. I will shoot one at box speed, one 2/3rds to a stop over, and one 2/3rds to a stop under (the same 10 subject images, in each instance exposing for middle gray). Develop all for the time recommended for box speed exposure and pick the set of negatives I like the most. Next, shoot another three rolls at the desired film speed (same subjects, exposed for middle gray) and develop one at box speed, one at 30% time more time and one at 30% less time.

    Admittedly, this plan seems like a mish-mash of what I have read here and on other sites (I sound so stupid saying "I read it on the Internet") so someone should absolutely feel free to call me an idiot, point me to a book, correct my plan, etc.

    As always, all help is appreciated.
     
  17. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    I have a mixed feeling about the premise of one film, one developer concept. For the same token, one camera, one lens concept.

    I had a long running issue with a film I picked and a developer I picked. I struggled with the combination until I got good result with them. Some people here might remember my struggle with this combo and what I did for probably more than a year. Then I tried a different combination. Bingo! Without trying, I got what I wanted. Granted, I may have gotten what I wanted form the first combination through trial and errors (and I did) but the ease and spontaneity of getting what I want on a first try with new combination was amazing.

    An only thing I learned from this is that not to get trapped in a convention or a firm belief early in an early stage, especially because someone said so or you read about it somewhere. Experiment. Play around. Have fun. Try different things. Then settle down on what works and fine tune.

    That said.... I now use Tri-X and Tmax400 with D76 unless I have a reason to do something else. I have Tmax100, Plus-X (yes, I have some!), Delta 3200, and XTOL on stand-by. I use them when I have a reason to deviate from my standard.

    I haven't a clue if there is something you can learn from my experience.
     
  18. MatthewDunn

    MatthewDunn Member

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    Dennis:

    To build on my last point (which I had intended to also address your post), my concern is that until I know how to produce a good negative/print using one film, I'm not sure that I would really be looking at an apples to apples comparison that is in any way meaningful. The only way to do it (as I currently see it - please correct me as you see fit) would be to do what I described with both films side by side, such that you were looking at a box of FP4+ underexposed by 2/3rds of a stop and over developed by 30% compared to a box of Tri-X shot/developed in exactly the same manner. That just seems like a LOT of work in the beginning that is possibly more likely to confuse than enlighten. But what am I missing?

    -Matt
     
  19. NedL

    NedL Subscriber

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    I've only been printing again about a year, but I agree with what others said about printing... that's where I've learned the most about developing film. All the changes I've made in exposure and development have had specific aims in terms of printing. I am using mostly 2 films, Tri-X and FP4+, and I like them both very much and have learned a lot about both. Whether that has slowed me down vs. sticking to only one I can't say since that's not what I'm doing, but I'm having a lot of fun and like having a choice. Actually... now that I think about it, it IS slowing me down because my progress with each film is slower than if I only was using one. That's okay though, there are many times I'm just out walking and Tri-X is a lot easier handheld.
     
  20. Jeff Kubach

    Jeff Kubach Member

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    Tr-x and D-76 is a good choice and T-max 400 and T-max developer is another good choice.

    Jeff
     
  21. MatthewDunn

    MatthewDunn Member

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    NedL - it's hard to be unable to find something wonderful to shoot in Sonoma. Keep on telling everyone who will listen that you want to head to Sonoma and Russian River Valley. Napa is for the New Yorkers... :wink:

    Apologies for derailing my own thread. Back on track...
     
  22. PtJudeRI

    PtJudeRI Member

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    For my black and white, I have been, 90% anyhow, a Tri-x and sprint user (think generic D76). Great combo, and you will get great results. Lately I have added polypan F to the film mix, but I'm still with sprint. Go with your idea here, it will serve you well. Down the road, if you choose to broaden your horizon, I would expand films before developers, but that's me.
     
  23. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    About five years ago I was using mostly Tri-X as my main film, using Pyrocat developer. I liked that combination a lot, and then I read up on Ilford FP4+ and out of the blue somebody gave me five rolls of 120 to play with. After I adjusted film exposure and development so that both films were developed to similar contrast, it struck me how similar the two films are in terms of tonality and sharpness. Tri-X is, of course, grainier, but both of them yielded very beautiful prints, and looking back at those prints, at moderate print size I have to look up which print is from what type of film, because I can't really tell them apart.

    The important piece here is, though, that both films were developed to similar overall contrast. It isn't until you do precisely that, that you can compare two films anyway. Then, of course, when you start to push the limits of what the film is capable of, FP4 will record a little bit longer range of tones, but will also react to developing changes more readily, so that while you can lean on the film a little bit more at the time of exposure, you have to be a bit more careful developing it.

    Anyway, one film, two films - whatever. Just as long as we are consistent with what we do, and we closely study what happens when we use our materials in different lighting situations, and compensate adequately, the reward is going to be fantastic prints. The best thing of it all is that the results will be more because of what we know about the film(s) we use, and the satisfaction we can take from that is tremendous.
     
  24. Richard S. (rich815)

    Richard S. (rich815) Subscriber

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    Well said Thomas. One thing I've discovered after many years of casual experimentation with many types of b&w films and developers is that practically all are capable of terrific results.
     
  25. Petzvalsum

    Petzvalsum Member

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    The point made about taking one's work as far as wet-printing is wise. I find that a gorgeous, contrasty negative can make it devilishly difficult to control print contrast. Usually, a somewhat flat negative (plenty of exposure, moderate to modest development) is vastly easier for me to print.
     
  26. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    That depends on how experienced you are as a printer. Then there's the trade off between 'easy to print' and what yields the very best results. Often I have found, by experimenting with negative contrast, that I get my best prints from 'bold' negatives, with lots of contrast, and then I use a soft working developer. But they are not the easiest negs to print, by far.
    I learn every day. :smile: