Pyro for beginners

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by Snapper, Mar 25, 2004.

  1. Snapper

    Snapper Member

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    Being new to this site, I have seen many mentions of Pyro developer in the forum, but all at a pretty high level. Can someone explain to the uninitiated;

    - what is Pyro?
    - why use it?
    - what is the effect on the print?
    - what films are best used with pyro?
    - how difficult is it to use?
    - where can you buy it in the UK?

    Thanks.
     
  2. noseoil

    noseoil Member

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    "Pyro" is just another type of developer for films. For some, it is just mumbo-jumbo. For others, it is staining developer which is used to try to squeeze as much exposure latitude out of a film as possible.

    There are several types out there now, with differing characteristics. One which has come into favor is called "Pyrocat HD" and was developed by Sandy King. He wanted a staining developer which would maintain film speed. Another type used pyrogallic acid and is also relatively new, PMK pyro. This was created by Gordon Hutchins to try to avoid some of the pitfalls of older Pyro formulas (uncontrollable staining, strange results and inconsistencies). An advantage to staining developers in general is proportional stain, the ability to create a "fog" around certain portions in the image (typically in the highlights) which helps control contrast.

    Since I have not yet used Pyrocat, I'll stick with PMK. There is a print in the "Critique Gallery" posted by Francesco, "1720cc beast," which used PMK for the developer (scroll back a few pages to find it). This print was done in some pretty harsh lighting (full sun in Artizona) and had some very intense specular highlights. The highlights came out well. With PMK there is about 60% of the image from stain, this stain fills in the area around film grain and makes possible the very smooth appearance and lack of apparent grain in the image (using a fine grain film helps also). On the negative side with PMK, film speeds are cut in half and general stain can reduce "micro-contrast," most noticeable in the shadow areas as a murkiness.

    The older style films seem to work best in pyro. I use a lot of Efke film, but FP4, Tri-x, HP-5 and a lot of others work as well. Check some other forums to see what is out there.

    Pyro developers tend to be of the "one shot" variety. You use it and then throw it away as it will be depleted when working. It is very inexpensive to use and small amounts are required for each batch. Use distilled water for mixing pyro, or times can vary wildly with local water quality.

    Don't know about availability in the U.K. but I'm sure someone will be able to help you with the information.
     
  3. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    Pyro is indicative of a chemical formulation utilizing either Pyrogallic acid or Cathecol.

    The reason to use one of these classes of developers is 1. Increased sharpeness due to adjacency effects. 2. Proportional stain...that is stain is greater in high silver density regions of the negative. This increases hightlight tonal separation. 3. Ability to build higher density range (contrast) in the negative. This is important to photographers who work in alt process or Azo.

    While most black and white films will benefit from pyro development, the films that benefit the greatest (due to the ability to expand contrast) from pyro appear to be Tmax 400, FP4+, Efke PL 100.

    It isn't difficult to use. There are important safeguards that are encouraged. Those are the use of a respirator when mixing powders and the use of gloves to eliminate hand contact with the liquid developer.

    I am not certain about the UK. I buy my chemicals from Artcraft and mix the developer from the individual ingredient chemicals. Artcraft and Photographers Formulary both sell kits in which the appropriate chemicals are already formulated.
     
  4. Tom Hoskinson

    Tom Hoskinson Member

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    In addition to the benzene ring compounds Pyrogallol and Catechol (also called Pyrocatechin and Pyrocatechol) there is Hydroquinone, which is a benzene ring compound that is chemically and functionally very similar to Catechol. Sodium or Potassium Sulfites in sufficient concentration in the developing solution will prevent or retard stain formation and tanning with any of these "Pyro" developing agents.

    In my own direct experience, roll and sheet films that work well with staining and tanning (i.e. Pyro) developers include: Ilford Pan F+, Ilford Delta 100 and 400, Ilford HP5, Kodak TMAX 100 and 400, Kodak Tri-X, Fuji Acros, Efke 100 and 400, J&C Classic 200 and 400.

    I prefer Sandy King's Pyrocat-HD formulation which I mix myself "from scratch."
     
  5. Ka

    Ka Member

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    Now here's some information I ALWAYS wanted to know, but was too timid to ask.

    Thank you!!!
     
  6. juan

    juan Subscriber

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  7. sanking

    sanking Member

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    More on Donald's comments re: the reasons for using Pyro.

    1. Adjacency effects -- Adjacency effects result from local developer exhaustion and can be obtained with other high definition developers, Rodinal for example. High definition developers are highly dilute solutions that contain about one gram or less of reducer per liter of working solution. Note that not all Pyro developers are high definition developers. PMK with 1.0 g of reducer per liter at the 1:1:100 dilution, and Pyrocat-HD, with 0.5 gram of reducer per liter, are high definition developers. ABC Pyro and Rollo Pyro, which contain from 4.5 g to 6.0 g, are not high definition developers because they will not normally produce adjacency effects.


    2. Irradiation minimized -- There is yet another reason why Pyro negatives are sharper, and this applies to all Pyro developers, not just high definition ones. With Pyro developers the gelatin is tanned or hardened in the first minute or so of development, and this restricts most of the development action to at and near the surface of the emulsion. This fact minimizes the effects of irradiation, i.e. the scattering of light deep in the emulsion that results from light reflecting off silver grains.

    3. Stain -- The role of stain in a Pyro developer is to mask film grain and boost effective printing contrast. Low-staining Pyro developers, ABC Pyro for example, produce very large grain. Pyrocatechin in non-staining formulas produces smaller grain than Pyrogallol but it too benefits from grain masking in a staining formula. PMK, Pyrocat-HD and Rollo Pyro are all staining formulas. Staining formulas give provide the sharpness inherent in tanning developers with the added benefit of less graininess.

    Sandy
     
  8. gainer

    gainer Subscriber

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    Sandy forgot to mention that the staining developers provide negatives that have much higher contrast for blue and UV sensitive printing materials such as graded silver paper and platinum, palladium and others. The same negative that is high enough in contrast to print on these materials will not be too high to print on VC paper.
     
  9. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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    To put it in non tech blonde speak, it makes your negatives sharper. I use to use D-76 and had fine images, Now that I use a pyro developer, I have images that are very tack sharp.
     
  10. steve simmons

    steve simmons Inactive

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    IMHO the best of the formulae is still the PMK developed by Gordon Hutchings in the early 1980s. The definitive work is called The Book of Pyro also by Hutchings. I have used this formula for 25 years and have never felt a reason to switch. If someone can prove to me there is a better pyro formula please do so.

    The Book of Pyro and the pre-mixed A and B solutions are available from Bostick and Sullivan and The Photographer's Formulary.


    steve simmons
     
  11. Chris Lee

    Chris Lee Member

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    From a UK point of view, where it is not so easy to get hold of "fancy" US devs, their is DiXactol, which is a staining pyro dev. It was developed by Barry Thornton and is available from www.barry-thornton.co.uk as a pre mixed solution (alot quicker and safer!). However he recently died so the shop is currently down, but should be back in a week or so! The site is well worth a vist anyway!!

    I have had mixed results with this dev. I find it great with high contrast situations really restraining the highlights giving great tone in the prints,but with low contrast situations I just cant get enough contrast in the negs. I also had alot of problems with marks along the edges of the negs.

    Does anyone else know where to get other pyro devs on the UK?
    [/url]
     
  12. Francesco

    Francesco Member

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    Within the EC there is Lotus View Camera of Austria. They carry both PMK Pyro and Pyrocat HD in kit form. I order my Pyrocat HD kit (in liquid form packaged in quite attractive plactic bottles) from them and shipping to Sweden from Austria takes as long as anything ordered domestically.
     
  13. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Silverprint sells PMK kits as well as their own Pyro developer.
     
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  15. AlanC

    AlanC Member

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    Retrophotographic sell a pyro developer. Tel.08452 26 26 47. I've not used it so I can't say what it is like.
    I scratch mix Pyrocat H.D from raw chemicals which I got from an industrial chemist in Stoke on Trent - E.J.Payne Ltd. Tel 01782 312534 They are very helpful. I had to lay out a few quid but I've got enough raw ingredients to last me for years. Cheap in the long run! Some of these chemicals have other applications in the darkroom anyway, leading to other long term cost savings.

    Finally,Rayco are a specialist supplier of photographic chemicals. www.rayco-chemicals.co.uk

    Good luck.

    Alan Clark
     
  16. roy

    roy Member

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  17. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    Sandy King's article that Jaun linked to is about the best overview of pyro developers I've seen. I will qualify that by saying I have not read Hutchin's book.

    Like most B&W afficiandoes, I've made the rounds through the various developers in the vain quest for the "magic bullet". Of course, if I find the magic bullet I may also find the Golden Fleece, neither of which are ever to be found. But overall, I am most satisfied with the pyro developers. I've used a fair bit of ABC, a bit of Pyrocat, and I just tried PMK for the first time. Overall, I would prefer Pyrocat as being the most versatile. It can do well with both roll film and sheet film. One great advantge is it allows the "box rated" film speed to be used. ABC is fine for contact printing, does a bit better than Pyrocat in low contrast situations.

    My one use of PMK makes for an interesting story. The results of this trial are posted in the apug Standard Gallery (railroad locomotive shots). These were high contrast situations, bright clear morning sun, snow on the ground. Film was 35mm Tri-X rated at 200. I originally planned to develop in Rodinal then decided to try the PMK which I had bought a year before. The developing time I picked was really too long and the negatives are extremely dense. Plus, I exposed it with shadows in Zone 4, ala Azo contact printing. I mean, these negs are DENSE. However, everyone who has seen the prints has marvelled at how sharp they are. They are nearly as sharp (remember, 35mm enlarged to 8x10) as an 8x10 contact print.

    PMK is fine for roll film and enlargements. Even Gordon Hutchins has admitted ABC is a better choice for contact printing. Sandy King's Pyrocat is sweeping through the LF community, especially since the minimal agitation techniques have been developed. This has occured in the last few months.
     
  18. John Anders

    John Anders Member

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    Re. Pyro in the uk. Firstly, mention has been made of the late, great Barry Thornton. As well as his DiXactol, he has another non-pyro staining formula which he rated as less exacting, ie more user friendly, called Exactol Lux.
    Secondly, Creative Monochrome (publishers of Mono Magazine) now I think called Arem Publishing, developed their own Pyro mix called CM Pyro, which has gathered a band of devotees. Try www.arempublishing.co.uk
     
  19. roy

    roy Member

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    I think you will find that Creative Monochrome in its re-incarnated state are not involved in the supply of chemicals etc as they were before.
     
  20. Doug Bennett

    Doug Bennett Member

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    I got an email from Sherry at Photographer's Formulary. She said that they regularly ship overseas, have several shipping options based on cost vs. speed, and are happy to quote a freight estimate prior to an order.

    I'm currently using Formulary's WD2D+ pyro/metol developer, and am quite happy with it. John Wimberley's intent with this formula was to provide a pyro developer with a stain color (yellow-ish) that was more conducive to variable contrast printing than the typical green stain of, for example, PMK (although to be fair, some claim that the effect of the green stain on contrast is minimal).

    If you happen to be using WD2D+, my chief bit of advice would be: agitate as per the directions! I'm lazy, and thought that "15 seconds of agitation for every 30 seconds" seemed like a lot of work, compared to the more common 10 seconds per minute. I initially had trouble with low contrast with WD2D+; as it turns out, this is where the contrast was hiding.

    I'm also a big fan of 130 paper developer and TF-4 fixer. Plus, I'm happy to support a small company with an apparent dedication to traditional photography!
     
  21. John Anders

    John Anders Member

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    According to the Jan/Feb 2004 edition of MONO the newly reincarnated Creative Monochrome, now called Arem Direct is still selling chemicals, and particularly its CM Pyro, as a kit for £11.50 and a refill pack for £8.99.
    Try www.aremdirct.co.uk

    Good journey.
     
  22. sanking

    sanking Member

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    When I first saw this message a few days ago I started to respond but did not have the time to give the issue the attention it deserves. First, let me state that Steve’s personal satisfaction with PMK based on 25 years of experience is not surprising. PMK is without question one of the best all around developing formulas available and I used it for almost ten years as my primary developer. But let me begin with two preliminary observations.

    1. I know a photographer who has used D-23 for more than twenty-five years and would not consider changing to another developer. The fact that we are satisfied with our developer and don’t feel a need to change is ample reason to not do so, but it does not mean that a given developer is better than another.

    2. Steve’s statement that in his opinion the best of the formulae is still the PMK developed by Gordon Hutchings in the early 1980s suggests that he has actually compared the current crop of Pyro formulas. At least that is how I understand the issue because I personally would not say that one developer was better than another unless I had some experience with both of them. So, Steve, if you have actually made any objective comparisions of PMK with other Pyro developers please show your criteria, methodology and results.

    It is my understanding that Steve plans to publish an article in View Camera at some time in the future comparing pyrogallol and pyrocatechin developers, perhaps directly comparing PMK and Pyrocat-HD. Let me state right here that since I have used and tested both of these developers extensively I already know what a well-designed comparison test of the PMK and Pyrocat-HD will find. And I am going to reveal some of that information here now. My criteria for comparison are, 1) sharpness and grain, 2) rendition of tonal values, and 3) versatility, and 4) suitability as dual-purpose negatives to print with both silver and Pt/Pd. Some of these criteria may not be important to many readers but they are all important in evaluating the two developers in terms of their overall versatility.

    1. Sharpness and Grain.

    First, let’s start with the points of similarities between PMK and Pyrocat-HD. Both are semi-compensating high definition developers staining developers . When used at the recommended dilutions for silver printing (1:1:100 for Pyrocat-HD, 1:2:100 for PMK) they give negatives that are virtually identical in terms of sharpness and grain.

    I tested sharpness and grain in two way. First, I made two identical exposures of an outdoor scene with a 4X5 camera, and after calculating time of development needed for an equivalent CI, developed one in PMK and another in Pyrocat-HD. Then I made 20X24” prints from the negatives.

    Result: At 5X magnification there was no discernible difference in either sharpness or grain between the two prints.

    So I tested again for higher magnification, using a Fuji 6X9 cm camera with a 90mm Fujinon EBC lens, obviously on a tripod. I made eight exposures on Tmax 100 120 roll film of the Edmund Scientific Company Resolving Power Chart, a reproduction of the USAF 1951 Test Pattern. I made exposures at f/5.6, f/8, f/11 and f/16, then repeated the sequence. In the darkroom I cut the 120 film into two equal lengths and developed one set in PMK and the other in Pyrocat-HD. I dried the negatives and them examined them at 40X magnification with a Bausch and Lomb stereoscopic microscope.

    Result: The resolving power of the 90mm Fujinon EBC lens approached 100 lpm with both PMK and Pyrocat-HD negatives. Clearly the limitation to resolving power was in the optical system and/or film, not in developers.

    Ditto for grain. Virtually no difference between the two negatives.

    Conclusion. At a magnification size of 40X (that would equate to a print size of 90”X 90” from a 6X6 cm negative) there is for all practical purposes no difference in sharpness or grain between PMK and Pyrocat-HD negatives.

    Do we need to say anything more about sharpness and grain?

    2) Rendition of tonal values.
    When developed to the same CI, PMK and Pyrocat-HD give negatives that print the same on graded silver papers, which are sensitive to blue light. With VC papers there are issues. For a complete explanation of these issues see my article on staining developers at http://unblinkingeye.com/Articles/PCat/pcat.html. But the bottom line is that PMK has more of an effective shoulder than Pyrocat-HD, the practical result of which is that in scenes of great contrast range PMK holds highlight detail better than Pyrocat-HD. But, with developers you don’t get something for nothing, and the down side of the shoulder is that with VC papers PMK negatives print the upper mid-tones and highlights with less separation (= less contrast) than Pyrocat-HD negatives. If you don't believe me on this just check the literature because there have been many comments by PMK users about lack of separation or contrast in upper mid-tone separation in certain kinds of lighting.

    Conclusion: The differences in shoulder are developer characteristics, not advantages or disadvantages. When printing with VC papers some scenes would print better with PMK while others would work better with Pyrocat-HD.

    3) Versatility.
    Based on my research and experience there is little question but that Pyrocat-HD is a more versatile developer than PMK. The main reason is that pyrocatechin is more stable in alkaline solutions than pyrogallol and it oxides much less rapidly. The practical consequence of this fact is that Pyrocat-HD works equally well in both tank, tray and rotary (Jobo, BTZS tubes) processing, and with all kinds of agitation, including minimal and semi-stand. This means that you can use Pyrocat-HD with minimal and semi-stand agitation to maximize adjacency effects and apparent sharpness. With PMK you can not use these types of agitation because the rapid oxidation of the developer requires frequent agitation to avoid uneven staining.

    4) Suitability as dual purpose negative for silver printing and printing with Pt/Pd.
    Again, see my article for a fuller explanation of why Pyrocat-HD negatives are more suitable than PMK negatives as dual purpose negatives for printing with both silver and Pt/Pd (and other alternative processes sensitive to UV radiation). This is due to the fact that Pyrocat-HD negatives have a much greater difference between the effective printing density for UV light processes and blue sensitive light processes than PMK. This results from the fact that a much higher percentage of the effective printing density of a Pyrocat-HD negative consists of brown stain, which functions as a much more effective filter to UV light than the green stain of PMK negatives.”

    Consider for example the following density reading of highlight and shadow values of PMK and Pyrocat-HD negatives, bearing in mind that the Blue readings are for silver printing with graded papers, UV for alternative processes.

    Pyrocat-HD
    -----Highlight Reading---Shadow Reading---- DR
    Blue 1.67 -------------- .47 ------------ 1.20
    UV --2.30 --------------.67 ------------1.63

    PMK
    ------Highlight Reading---Shadow Reading---- DR
    Blue 1.61 -------------- .45 ------------1.16
    UV --1.80 ------------- .62 ------------1.18

    Anyone who understand the practicalities of printing with both silver and Pt/Pd will immediately understand the reason why a Pyrocat-HD negative makes a better dual-purpose negative.

    None of the above is in any way intended to convince Steve Simmons to switch to Pyrocat-HD from PMK. Persons who develop in trays and print exclusively with graded silver papers have nothing to gain in switching. For all other conditions there might be reason to reconsider.

    Opinions are one thing. And not always the best things. Which is why I always say, spare me the opinions, just the facts please.


    Sandy King
     
  23. Jorge

    Jorge Inactive

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    As a matter of fact Sandy, I am working on the article as we "speak". I am comparing head to head, Pyrocat HD, PMK and WD2D (old formula) with FP4 for silver printing on Grade 2 paper.

    I will not add anything to Sandy's excellent explanation. I will only add, that using strict impartial experimental controls, so far Pyrocat HD is demonstrating to be the best and most versatile developer of the three. Better and finer grain structure, better tonal rendition and and less b+f when developed to the same CI. Of course, the proof is always in the print and there will be some of those also.
     
  24. sanking

    sanking Member

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    In a previous message I wrote:

    "Result: The resolving power of the 90mm Fujinon EBC lens approached 100 lpm with both PMK and Pyrocat-HD negatives. Clearly the limitation to resolving power was in the optical system and/or film, not in developers."

    Based on a second and very careful observation of the samples I am going to modify the above statement. My conclusion now is that the Pyrocat-HD samples resolved on average about 5 lpm more than the PMK samples.

    I grant that resolving power of this small a magnitude could result from film flatness issues, but it seem unlikely that this factor would have consistently favored the Pyrocat-HD negatives.

    BTW, it is precisely because of film flatness issues that I favor testing for resolution with roll film cameras over large formt cameras. My experience is that the differences in T-dimension of differnt film holders, usually of no practical consequence in real life picture taking situations, provides contradictory results in testing conditions where the tolerances are more demanding.

    Sandy King
     
  25. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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    Sandy, as for the versitility of agitation verses minimal or no agitation and PMK, I have a reference article that was written by our own Patrick Gainer in the Nov/Dec 2002 issue of PHOTO Techniques. PMK seemed acording to his testing proved to do very well with minimal and no agitation.

    I personally have used both developers. I found no discermnable difference. I just prefer using the one I had a large stock of which is PMK. It's like you say, you go with what you know and feel comfortable with.
     
  26. sanking

    sanking Member

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    Hi Aggie,

    Absolutely agree with you. Use what you know and understand best.

    I am familiar with Patrick Gainer's article in Photo Techniques on the use of PMK with stand agitation. And Patrick is certainly very knowledgeable on questions of developers and film developing procedures.

    However, both Gordon Hutchings and John Wimberley, who are responsible for the two best pyrogallol developers in use today, are very specific in their recommendations regarding the importance of frequent agitation cycles with PMK and WD2D. See pages 20 and 21 (1991 edition) of Hutchings' The Book of Pyro about the importance of frequent agitation cycles. And note that Wimberley recommends agitation at thirty second intervals.

    Since both Hutchings and Wimberley insist on the importance of frequent agitation cycles, and given their considerable experience with pyrogallol based developers, my initial inclination is to assume that they know what they are talking about. Granted, I too have experimented and had some limited success with pyrogallol developers using minimal agitation procedures, but I have also seen some uneven staining in other similar experiments.

    But, on anothe subject, really love your photo of the legs. Playful, enigmatic, and awfully well done.


    Sandy