Life without a densitometer

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by rootberry, Jan 21, 2005.

  1. rootberry

    rootberry Member

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    Im about a week away from getting my frist 8x10 camera. I plan to start trying out pyrocat-HD and AZO/Amidol. Ive never had a densitometer, but I have looked extensively for a local one that I could gain access to. No luck whatever. After I get started with 8x10, I wont have enough left to buy a densitometer. My question is this: Is it absolutely necessary that I purchase my own. If it is a good idea to buy my own, which brand/model? I would really love to refine my technique and start producing better contact prints than I am now..
     
  2. Mateo

    Mateo Subscriber

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    If you get a cheap step tablet you can contact print is right next to a negative and then visually determine what your densities are. Not a perfect solution but it would work. Allot of people make beautiful contact prints without a densitometer to calibrate their negative developement. Another thing would be see if a local print house would check your negs for you.
     
  3. rootberry

    rootberry Member

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    Thanks Mateo, but I have a question (since i have never tried the step tablet method). Dont i need "calibrated" step tablets? I have looked everywhere for a densitometer, and cant find one anywhere, not even at the local darkrooms.
     
  4. dancqu

    dancqu Member

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    I picked up a Tobias TB+ with ALL the extras and in mint
    minus condition for under $80. Where else, eBay. Dan
     
  5. noseoil

    noseoil Member

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    Rootberry, I've used a step wedge to do testing and have found it helpful in exposure, development, and film speed testing. Stouffer sells a 4x5 test wedge which will give you the information you need. It is calibrated in .15 density step increments (1/2 stop) from zone 0 to zone 10, so readings are done on the paper of your choice. Basic approach is to place the step wedge on top of a sheet of film in a holder, do the exposure, develop to see film speed and contrast, then print the test film on paper for a visual analysis. Since all you are really concerned with is the film's ability to match a paper's tonal scale, it gives you this information in terms you can understand. While the numbers are very useful from sensitometry, the paper is what you print on, not the numbers.

    If you use a little thought and common sense, it will allow you to determine a very accurate plot of development times without a densitometer. Granted this is a less technical approach, but more information is available from one shot this way than with any other approach I know. Just do several shots with varying development times and then compare the results for your N+ and N- times. It takes a bit of practice to interpret results, but it works very well once you can see the relationships involved. A single shot is nearly useless in any analysis system, as it is the series of shots and different development times which give you the trends you need.

    If you decide to buy a machine, remember to get one with a UV channel. Azo responds to UV light, so a conventional machine isn't what you need in this application.

    You have left out one important variable from your posts, which film (s) are you going to use? Some are better suited than others to azo. Start with the 4x5 and tests and your 8x10 will be a pleasure to use. tim
     
  6. Daniel Grenier

    Daniel Grenier Member

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    No. Don`t waste your money. The vast majority of great photographers never had such a beast and they produced fabulous work. Michael A Smith (arguably, the reason why Azo is still available) is very much against such things. And he produces some pretty amazing prints. Read up over on the AZO forum about this and a great many other topics that would certainly be of interest to you.

    Best of luck with your new approach.
     
  7. gainer

    gainer Subscriber

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    I agree that a densitometer is less important than many other aids you cold spend money on. I don't like to brag (if you believe that I have a nice bridge in Brooklyn I could sell you cheap) but I wrote an article in Photo Techniques showing how to get what you need for good prints without a densitometer.

    A step density wedge is a very handy thing to have, and it need not be a calibrated one for this purpose. If you contact print the step wedge on a piece of film, as another of our esteemed posters said, and then contact print the negative on the paper you are going to use, you can tell by the number of steps that show what original scene brightness range will "fit" the paper of your choice with the development you gave the negative of the step wedge. You can convert that information to contrast index if you also contact print the step wedge on the same paper. It is a simple matter of dividing the number of steps you can see in the print of the negative by the number of steps you can see in the print of the step wedge.

    It is also a good idea to get a reflection density step tablet that you can put somewhere in a scene you want to photograph for a test. It contains all the reflection densities you can get on paper.
     
  8. photomc

    photomc Member

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    This is a most timely thread for me, since I have Stouffer 4x5 21-step wedge due in next week along with the RZ9 - a reflection Zone step wedge.

    Can anyone point me to a location on the web were I can read a little more detailed description (read step by step) of the process. I understand that you can place the step wedge on some film and make a contact exposure to test your film development process - but how long is the exposure (or is it a bit of trial and error)?

    Sorry, not trying to hijack the thread, but unless I find a densitometry for a really good price, and it would be one with Transmissive and Reflective properties plus UV channel - so the chances of finding one for under $100 is pretty low.

    Thanks,
     
  9. Ronald Moravec

    Ronald Moravec Member

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    Find a full scale test subject that is always available such as my greyboard, grey scale, and a doll with white blouse and black pleated skirt. Photograph with studio strobes.

    Now photograph it so there is sufficient shadow detail and develope so the highlights print the way you need such as contact or diffusion enlarger. Make it come out and it is right. I have now idea what the real densities are nor do I care. This has worked for 45 years for me.

    Don`t waste your money.
     
  10. sanking

    sanking Member

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    There is no right or wrong answer to the question of whether one should or should not get a densitometer. The advice you get will be based on the specific experience of the person answering the question. One obviously does not have to own a densitometer to make good AZO prints, but having one won't damage your ability to make good prints either. I am very interested in sensitometry and feel that understanding this part of photography significant enriches my overall understanding of the materials of the medium. But basically you just need to ignore all of us on this issue and direct your work as you see fit.

    However, much of what the densitometer does for you, especially at the printing stage, can be done with a 21 or 31 step transmission wedge so I would strongly urge you to get one of these guides and learn to use it. You don't need a calibrated one since the small differences between the uncalibrated ones are inconsequential at the printing stage.

    If you do get a densitometer a all you need is one that is able to make measurements in Blue mode, i.e. a regular color densitometer, not one that measures UV light. (This assumes that you will be developing with Pyrocat-HD or some other staining developer). It is true that AZO is sensitive to UV light but the lights that we normally use as a light source for printing with AZO (R-40 floodlights, as recommended by Michael Smith) produce very little radiation in the UV range so it turns out that the greater effective sensitivity is to Blue.

    Sandy
     
  11. Jim Moore

    Jim Moore Member

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    I made this offer to another APUG member and it is open to any and all members.

    If you are doing a BTZS style of film testing and don't have access to a densitometer, I would be happy to take the reading for you. I can do both Visual & UV

    Jim
     
  12. sanking

    sanking Member

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    If you can do Visual and UV you should also be able to do Blue, right? If for some reason you don't have a Blue aperture or channel you can use the Visual mode but measure through a 47B Wratten filter. You just null the densitometer back to Zero while reading through the filter, and then you use it for all of your readings.

    Sandy
     
  13. Jim Moore

    Jim Moore Member

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    Sandy,

    My densitometer is an X-Rite 361T. I don't think it has a blue channel.

    I didn't know about using a 47B filter though. I'll have to pick one up.

    Thanks for the tip.

    Jim
     
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  15. JackRosa

    JackRosa Member

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    Pardon my naive question but what do you need the Blue channel for?
     
  16. sanking

    sanking Member

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    You need to read with the Blue channel if you are working with stained negatives because the Visual channel will not read stain density. If you make the reading with the Blue channel, or with a 47B filter in Visual mode, you will get a much better idea of the effective printing density of the negative when printing with AZO or regular graded silver gelatin papers than with a reading in Visual channel.

    For VC silver gelatin papers, however, the Blue channel reading is usually quite off from effective printing density.

    Stained negatives that are to be used for printing with UV sensitive processes should be read with the UV channel of the densitometer. Unfortunatley, there are not many densitometers out there that can read UV light.

    Sandy
     
  17. Kirk Keyes

    Kirk Keyes Member

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    It's really not that the Visual channel will not read the stain density, it most certainly will. Stain density even extends into the infrared and it can be measured there with the right kind of equipment.

    The real reason is that your blue channel better matchs the spectral sensitivity of your photographic paper and therefore the blue channel is more appropriate.

    Kirk - www.keyesphoto.com
     
  18. sanking

    sanking Member

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    That is of course true, and in fact my later sentence in which I suggest that you can use a 47B filter in Visual mode to read the stain contradicts my own statement.

    But just for the record, does anyone know if UV cut-off filters are available in gelatin or some other form of thin plastic? I would speculate that it might be possible to take readings for UV sensitive processes in Visual mode with some densitometers using such a filter, in the same way that it is possible to use the 47B in Visual mode to take readings for Blue sensitive processes. However, to this point the only UV filters I have been able to find are glass.

    Sandy
     
  19. Zan

    Zan Member

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    wow, thanks for all the great replys. Im sorry I didnt mention what film I will be using, but I havent quite decided yet. Im leaning towards Efke 100 from JandC. I will definately get right on a step wedge. I would like more instruction on the best way to use them properly tho ( I sometimes have a tendency to do rather dumb things), so if anyone knows a website with step-by-step details that would be great. Thanks again for all the help!
     
  20. mikeb_z5

    mikeb_z5 Member

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    Where does one purchase these step tablets? I saw a kodak #1 & #2 on calumets site but it's not clear which is the transmision or reflection. Are kodak and stouffer the same?
     
  21. Jim Moore

    Jim Moore Member

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  22. sanking

    sanking Member

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  23. Bob Carnie

    Bob Carnie Subscriber

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    I have a densitometor at my lab , it is invaluable for keeping chemistry lines in proper plot,
    Though I have to admit that I do not use it as I have a technician working with me that is a braniac when it comes to sensitometry.
    My strong skill is evaluating negatives visually and making adjustments accordingly when processing film.
    Kodak use to have a book on evaluating a negative over a sheet of finley printed page, looking at the type through the shadow area and the highlight. You should barely be able to read the type in the highlights. The longer you look at negatives and make prints the better your skills in evaluating will become.
    To run some of our computer equipment a densitomater is mandatory as it reads the 21 step wedge and corrects the lazers to fire off the correct exposures for printing on various medias.
    As Sandy points out it is a bit of a necessity if you want to further explore the ** possibilitys ** of film and paper and how one can affect them with exposure and development techniques.
    As others point out it is not necessary to make good film and prints. For sure August Sanders and Josef Sudek did not have a densitometer and I think they did pretty well without.
    I think the decision would be right when you feel you absolutely need one to improve your work, and not before.
     
  24. BarrieB

    BarrieB Member

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    [QUOTE SNIP >>>>> SNIP.....There is no right or wrong answer to the question of whether one should or should not get a densitometer.......

    However, much of what the densitometer does for you, especially at the printing stage, can be done with a 21 or 31 step transmission wedge so I would strongly urge you to get one of these guides and learn to use it. You don't need a calibrated one since the small differences between the uncalibrated ones are inconsequential at the printing stage.

    Without messing-up this thread can / would someone explain how one uses a ' 21 step ' transmission wedge. Am I correct , it is placed in neg. carrier or over a sheet of paper as a test for 'Contrast / Exposure'
    Barrie B. or am I way off the mark???

    Sandy[/QUOTE]
     
  25. dancqu

    dancqu Member

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    Why the big deal? You may have already seen my
    post this thread. I like the Tobias TB+. I got it from
    eBay for under $80. Shop around? Dan
     
  26. Nick Zentena

    Nick Zentena Member

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    If you include shipping I think my 4x5 transmission from Stouffers cost me more then my colour densitometer did. I wouldn't suggest anybody rush out to buy one but the things are almost being given away. Even my colour analyzer has one built in and those things aren't selling for big bucks either.