Need Help on Selecting a Densitometer

Discussion in 'Darkroom Equipment' started by timlayton, May 20, 2011.

  1. timlayton

    timlayton Member

    Messages:
    51
    Joined:
    Nov 25, 2010
    Location:
    USA
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I am a black and white photographer and want to calibrate my film and development process. I know that I need to get a densitometer so I can properly EI rate my film but I have no clue what type of densitometer I need. I searched on ebay and was overwhelmed with the range of choices. If anyone can point me in the right direction I would appreciate it.

    Thanks
     
  2. Ken Nadvornick

    Ken Nadvornick Subscriber

    Messages:
    5,045
    Joined:
    Mar 18, 2005
    Location:
    Monroe, WA, USA
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    If you are interested in a new unit of known quality rather than something used, you may wish to take a look at these units available directly from Versalab. I own the TRD 2/02 model and have been very pleased with it. Solid, reliable, and repeatable during my use. And the people at Versalab were wonderful to work with during the purchase.

    Ken
     
  3. timlayton

    timlayton Member

    Messages:
    51
    Joined:
    Nov 25, 2010
    Location:
    USA
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Ken, thanks.. this looks like really good info. I appreciate it.
     
  4. Tony Egan

    Tony Egan Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,189
    Joined:
    Oct 29, 2005
    Location:
    Sydney, Aust
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
  5. RalphLambrecht

    RalphLambrecht Subscriber

    Messages:
    8,211
    Joined:
    Sep 19, 2003
    Location:
    Florida
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
  6. Mike Wilde

    Mike Wilde Member

    Messages:
    2,936
    Joined:
    Aug 10, 2006
    Location:
    Misissauaga
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Prior to a working densitometer being gifted to me (a MacBeth TD504, that so far seems to work just fine), I would (for larger negative sizes) place the neg and a 6x6cm size step wedge on a light table. I would read the neg area on my pentax 1 degree spot meter from the camera bag, and then scan the step wedge unti I came up with the right step that matched the expsoure reading. I made a cardboard mask after I realized the meters' lens flare would throw meter readings off when I was taking readings near the edge of the neg or step wedge.

    It was feasible for 120, easy on 4x5, but hopeless on 35mm.
     
  7. ic-racer

    ic-racer Member

    Messages:
    7,470
    Joined:
    Feb 25, 2007
    Location:
    Midwest USA
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Look for a transmission denstometer. If you don't know much about these, then I agree with the other's suggestions about the Heiland and Versalab units.
     
  8. silveror0

    silveror0 Member

    Messages:
    782
    Joined:
    Dec 3, 2007
    Location:
    Seattle, WA
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    Another vote for the Heiland TRD2 - a remarkable easy-to-use device that, like Ralph, has never been necessary to re-calibrate. I've been using mine in conjunction with a Stouffer 31-step wedge for determining the characteristic curves of expansions/contractions for my chosen film/dev combinations. The 21-step wedge would also work, but I opted to pay the extra $ to get more data points along each curve (just part of my analytical nature).
     
  9. mono

    mono Subscriber

    Messages:
    520
    Joined:
    Jan 14, 2005
    Location:
    Germany
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I too can highly recommend the Heiland densitometers!
     
  10. RalphLambrecht

    RalphLambrecht Subscriber

    Messages:
    8,211
    Joined:
    Sep 19, 2003
    Location:
    Florida
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Just to be clear, the Heiland is a transmission and reflection densitometer.
     
  11. L Gebhardt

    L Gebhardt Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,769
    Joined:
    Jun 27, 2003
    Location:
    NH
    Shooter:
    Large Format
  12. mono

    mono Subscriber

    Messages:
    520
    Joined:
    Jan 14, 2005
    Location:
    Germany
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
  13. Rick Jones

    Rick Jones Member

    Messages:
    116
    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2004
    Location:
    Maryland
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    "I know that I need to get a densitometer so I can properly EI rate my film ". I also thought I needed a densitometer until I read about a method described by Horenstein in his Beyond Basic Photography. Basically it involves sandwiching a Kodak No. 96 ND 0.10 filter and a developed but unexposed frame and comparing that density with frames exposed to Zone I at various EI's. Not very sophisticated but it sure seems to have worked for me.
     
  14. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

    Messages:
    6,542
    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2010
    Location:
    Montreal, Canada
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I'll add a vote for the Heiland product. I bought one a few years back from Versalab and it has been great. I check it with the calibration strips every so often but as others have said it has not budged. Very solid, and it does both transmission (for negatives) and reflection (for prints) for a reasonable price compared to buying a new X-rite for example. It is a breeze to use also.
     
  15. RalphLambrecht

    RalphLambrecht Subscriber

    Messages:
    8,211
    Joined:
    Sep 19, 2003
    Location:
    Florida
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Nobody needs a densitometer to make better photographs, but to the technical inclined it can be a great aid in learning what to do different to get better negatives and prints.

    A cheap and flexible way to do some simple densitometry without expensive equipment is using step tablets, such as the ones made by Stouffer, for comparative analysis.
     
  16. Ken Nadvornick

    Ken Nadvornick Subscriber

    Messages:
    5,045
    Joined:
    Mar 18, 2005
    Location:
    Monroe, WA, USA
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I agree. The key, I think, is to remember that a densitometer - like your camera - is just a tool. A means to the end, not the end in itself. It all depends on how you make use of it to achieve your goals.

    In my case I've used mine to objectively get me into the ballpark with a film's exposure and processing variables. Once I have that objective baseline in hand, final adjustments are then made subjectively using my eyes and judgement.

    But a more valuable use of the tool for me is ongoing process control after I've settled on a calibration. Every so often when I'm out with the camera I will look for examples of lighter and darker continuous tone objects. Whiteish fences in sun, blackish walls in shade. That sort of thing. I then set the lens to infinity, move close to fill the frame, and make quick highlight (development time) and shadow (film speed) test exposures.

    It usually only takes a minute or two and a couple of frames. If necessary I could do the same for expansion and contraction tests, but I rarely do. I'm usually just looking for a quick sanity check.

    After development all it takes is a quick check under the densitometer to confirm that the calibration is still valid. Reasonably close density numbers are perfectly acceptable, as I'm not running an analytical lab - just a home darkroom.

    Ken
     
  17. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

    Messages:
    4,984
    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2010
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    Hi timlayton,

    A Stouffer step wedge (and Ralph would recommend 31-steps) can be all you need to get started.

    Add ANY meter that you can use as a "comparator", and you can create a densitometer precise to one "step". Mike Wilde explains how you can meter your negative and then find the step on the scale that meters about the same. I used to do exactly that.

    I was able to get densities of my 35mm negatives by customizing a negative carrier for my enlarger. I cut a small window and sliding slot in my negative carrier to hold the Stouffer scale. I used an Omega CS-10 comparator at the easel to cross-reference significant points of the negative to the Stouffer scale.

    This is only precise as your Stouffer scale, for example a 21-step scale is only precise to .15 density.

    These are the working steps:
    1. Place negative in enlarger and turn it on.
    2. Null the comparator on thinnest part of neg.
    2. Pull out negative carrier to reveal the first Stouffer scale step.
    3. Slide Stouffer scale until comparator indicates null.
    4. Note the Stouffer step showing in the window. The corresponding density of the step number is your d-Min.
    5. Push in carrier, find darkest spot of interest on the neg and null the comparator.
    6. Pull out carrier and null again to find the d-Max Stouffer step.

    An advertiser here offers an enlarging meter that I believe works essentially the same but can read densities more directly and precisely.

    Not long ago I took a chance on a used TR-524, Transmission and Reflection densitometer. I got it working with little effort, but it was a low-risk purchase for me because I have work experience using and maintaining graphic arts prepress equipment.
     
  18. RalphLambrecht

    RalphLambrecht Subscriber

    Messages:
    8,211
    Joined:
    Sep 19, 2003
    Location:
    Florida
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I agree with Bill, but looking at the first post again, I think the OP already made up his mind to get a densitometer. Many things can be used to avoid this purchase (step tablets, modified spotmeters and some enlarger meters for example), but nothing beats the real thing.

    I have used Agfa, XRite and Heiland. The Agfa was great, but it had problems with measuring inkjet prints due to its 'color blindness'. XRite is very popular and easily available used, but mine needed frequent calibration, and XRite charges a lot of money for factory calibrations. The Heiland served me well, it requires little or no calibration, and Heiland even made me a custom units, because I wanted a special function to read absolute reflection densities.