Question for the venerable ones, re: B&W materials of today

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by Jerry Thirsty, Mar 2, 2008.

  1. Jerry Thirsty

    Jerry Thirsty Member

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    I was reading the Photographer's Notes at the back of David Plowden's Vanishing Points, and he is very downbeat comparing the materials available today with those he used to use (Panatomic-X and Oriental Seagull gr. 3):

    "Although Oriental Seagull is still made today the quality is so poor that I consider it unusable. Happily I have nearly five thousand sheets of the old formula paper frozen. When that is gone I shall close the darkroom for good as in my opinion there is no high-quality silver printing paper being made."

    "Sadly, like all conventional photographic material, the quality of Pan-F has also deteriorated to the point where I find it no longer reliable."

    "however, that too [TXP 320] has recently been reformulated and not for the better. In my opinion the best film on the market today is Ilford HP-5, which I have used extensively."

    "I am tired of being frustrated by the ever deteriorating quality of the conventional silver-based film and paper that I have used my entire career."

    So my question to those with 30+ years in the biz is, Is he correct? Do you think today's materials suck compared to what used to be? The guy's got 50 years of experience as a photographer and printer; maybe he's just too tired of it all to make the effort to adapt? Are those of us just getting into analog B&W now doomed to mediocre photos?

    thanks in advance,
    JT
     
  2. cotdt

    cotdt Member

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    he doesn't give any criteria for what he considers good film. PanF+ seems like a traditional film to me, I don't see how anyone could complain about such a nice film.
     
  3. climbabout

    climbabout Member

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    today's materials

    I don't know if I'm one of the venerable ones, but I too have fond memories of some of yesterday's materials, Portriga Rapid paper, Super XX film, Panatomic X, etc... I currently have a modest supply of old Portriga that I keep frozen that I am still printing on, however, of course I will continue to print when it's gone. Black and white photography has always been about matching your film and development technique to your paper of choice. We must continue to adapt as old products are no longer available - that's what makes it challenging and fun. Plus there are dozens of alternative printing processes to explore - platinum, palladium, and carbon just to name a few.
    Tim
     
  4. Paul Verizzo

    Paul Verizzo Member

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    Perhaps Mr. Plowden has asthma....

    ....I hear a lot of sniffing going on.

    Maybe it's he and his techniques that have to change. Seems like there are lots of great photographs being made on allegedly inferior materials.

    Man, I sure wish I still had my DeSoto. Yeah, right.
     
  5. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    If he offered concrete proof then it might be a worth while comment. Otherwise, I would not give it any concern. As stated above, a lot of good pictures are being made on today's products.

    PE
     
  6. Andrew Moxom

    Andrew Moxom Subscriber

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    I think we've all been down the path of holding onto materials that became classics and are no longer with us as the holy grail to some extent, myself included. Not only did I come to realize personally that it was a waste of time trying to source older and no longer available materials. I no longer desire the pain of searching and always being outbid when I do find it!! I also find it narrow minded that someone can believe that the older materials were a pardon the pun, 'silver bullet' for all things though, and that anything that follows is not capable of standing up to that level of quality of the older materials. The sad fact is that times have changed, and we need to support the photographic vendors that support us. The ones that bailed out, were obviously hurting, had poor management, or a combination of both. We have to get used to the fact that things have changed, and use the materials that are available to us. I would say that although the big names are waning, there are many others that are emerging as viable alternatives...Foma, Adox, Slavich for example. Also, we need to thank Ilford, and Fuji for doing what are doing to support film. This person is not willing to try new things, and does not want to move with the times. It goes to prove that you can't teach an old dog new tricks. :smile: I would not read much more into what they are saying. IMHO .02 over with.
     
  7. bdial

    bdial Subscriber

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    The quotes read like someone who is not willing to be satisfied by anything. There are lots of pathways to a good print, and good prints from a given negative are not necessarily identical.
    There are certainly some holes in the materials available today, but there is plenty to work with and use to produce excellent results.
     
  8. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    Jerry, I can well imagine that if someone has invested themselves for years in a particular film product, that film must become as a familiar as a child or a spouse. When that product is gone, it is traumatic. While other alternatives exist, nothing is ever quite the same.

    But you must find your own way, and build your own relationships with the products that are available. Above all else, remember that photography is not merely a collection of recipes or magic brews. Nothing "dooms" you to mediocre results but your own doubts.

    Disclaimer: I am certainly not among the venerable ones...
     
  9. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    This has all been debated and discussed to ad naseum many, many times. Perhaps what he is saying about one specific paper is true; I don't know; I have never used Oriental Seagull in any of its iterations. I was at first skeptical about the Tri-X reformulation but I have yet to be able to see any discernible difference in the prints between old and new. It's still a great film IMO. It's hard to see how a conventional silver film can get much better than the current FP4+. The new Tmax 400 is drawing rave reviews from everyone who's reported on it so far.

    What we have seen is a drastic decline in the variety of photographic products available to the user. The blame for that lays strictly on the activists for non-silver photography.
     
  10. dpurdy

    dpurdy Subscriber

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    I am an old timer and have been working in photography since 1975. There have been a few real disappointments. The change in Portriga Rapid and the loss of Agfa 25 sheet film were the worst for me. But I don't see how you can complain about the quality of ACROS or the TMax films and there certainly has never been anything like Delta 3200 in 120. Currently printing on Oriental WT processed in glycin, I am almost as happy as I used to be with Portriga and Amidol.

    I do remember well a time in the mid 80s when I ordered something like 800 sheets of Oriental Seagul glossy VC RC because it was great for commercial use and the large quantity of paper showed up completely different except for the box and name. It was complete crap incapable of a real black.
     
  11. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    Old timer? OMG did you ruin my day! :D

    I've been doing this schtick since about 1950!

    PE
     
  12. CBG

    CBG Member

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    It kills me that some great old materials are gone - mainly since, quality notwithstanding, photographers haven't been using them. But there are some new and amazing materials out there. The Fuji Acros, the Kodak T-Max series of films come to mind immediately. Also some unparalleled optics are available - beyond anything available in the "good old days" - the Super Symmar XL series...

    C
     
  13. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    As another long time film user I'd have to totally disagree, the quality of materials has improved dramatically since I first started in the late 60's.

    All B&W films have improved, most are now streets ahead of their equivalents, B&W papers have improved too, as others have said the only disappointment has been warm-tone papers, which is due to the removal of cadmium by the early 90's, but we've learnt to live with this.

    Ian
     
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  15. Trevor Crone

    Trevor Crone Member

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    The one paper who's passing I really lament is Fotospeed's Legacy, a warm VC emulsion. Other then that I find todays materials excellent.

    I've settled on Ilford's MG/WT and Foamatone MG Classic. I find these products everybit as good as anything I used in the past.

    For roll film I find HP5 and Delta 100+400 superb. For sheet film I think TMX 100 readyloads is the bee's knees.

    Just need to give ourselves time to become familiar with the products out there to get the very best from them.
     
  16. Steve Roberts

    Steve Roberts Member

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    It seems to me that David Plowden must be a "glass half empty" sort of chap.
    Certainly, there are products for which we all mourn the passing and indeed companies (Johnson's of Hendon, May and Baker ..... Kodak - OK, the last one's tongue in cheek!) but there are equally some excellent materials available now that weren't when I first started B/W processing 38 years ago. Without getting into the old fibre/RC discussion, having to leave prints washing for ages, then waiting for them to dry (and curl), squeegeeing them to try to get a half-decent glaze free of bubbles and so on were all time-consuming, laborious processes that I'm pleased not to have to do any more, thanks to fine products such as are produced by Ilford.

    Speaking from the position of someone who hasn't managed to make it on one of the Ilford visits, I would pretty much bet my pension that with today's electronic technology and the company's obvious enthusiasm, quality control and consistency of its products is better now than it's ever been. Mr Plowden seems to be suggesting that Ilford applies different standards to HP5 manufacture than to Pan-F. I rather suspect that Simon Galley would have something to say about that!

    Steve
     
  17. panchro-press

    panchro-press Member

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    Photography has always been a technology dependent art form.
    When platinum papers were no longer commercially available, the great photographer, Frederick Evans, gave up photography. I've read that Paul Strand, even back in the 'Thirties,was constantly railing against the quality of photographic materials.

    I too have lost a number of favourites in my photographic journey which began in about 1961. I miss Super Panchro-Press and Super XX film. I can no longer walk down to my corner camera shop and buy a box of 31/4 X 41/4 film. The camera shop is long gone and 31/4 X 41/4 film has been a catch-as-catch-can proposition for decades. Yet, giving up photography? Sure. The same instant I give up breathing.
     
  18. BradS

    BradS Subscriber

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    I learned to develop and print B&W back in the early 1970's and took a long break from it in the late1980's and early 1990's.

    I'm back at it and every time I develop a roll of film or set up the darkroom to print, I am constantly amazed at how much better the materials are today than they were thirty years ago.
     
  19. herb

    herb Member

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    BW Materials of today

    I loved Royal Pan and Opal G papers. That said,


    What I do today, almost 60 years later, is better work. I still have some of the old stuff, and it is nowhere near as good as what I can do today.

    It does take some getting used to the different materials, but it beats digital all to pieces, IMHO.
     
  20. wildbill

    wildbill Member

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    Oh, i remember konica 750, plus-x, velvia, 400ultra color, maco aura, forte polygrade.
    I've been doing this for almost 10 years!
     
  21. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    Ian;

    Interestingly enough, all of the formulas I know of that used Cadmium used it for contrast control. All of the formulas I know that required warm tones used Cupric salts, Mercury salts or Lead salts and some used ammonium salts. Also, in addition to the above salts, most warm tone papers used a different addition method such as Azo warm tone. So, it is interesting that everyone seems to link Cd salts to warm tone when I have never seen it done so in acutal practice.

    Cadmium was replaced by a set of non-toxic organic chemicals in the 60s and yet EK still produced a line of warm tone papers.

    I have also found that some warm tone papers were exactly that. The emulsion was the same as a cold tone product, but the paper used for coating support had been lightly tinted with a brownish pigment or dye.

    PE
     
  22. pentaxuser

    pentaxuser Subscriber

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    Will all those going on the Ilford visit this year please tell Mr Galley that none of his paper come up to scratch, then applaud when near the lines running HP5+ and then threaten to throw the said Mr Galley into the useless FP4 emulsion unless he restores it to its former glory. You could make the visit into a kind of "crazy gang" film. Sounds absurd? Well have a look at the shots of the 2006 visit and note how closely we actually ressembled the old 1940s crazy gang when in our whitecoats. In fact some of us might have been in the 1940s crazy gang. Nearly old enough if possibly not quite funny enough.

    Sorry I can't seem to locate all the smilies for insertion, otherwise there'd be a mile of them in response to this "gloom and doom" merchant being quoted by the OP.

    pentaxuser
     
  23. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    Ron, you may be right when it comes to Kodak products, but certainly Agfa and other European manufacturers used Cadmium in their warm tone papers.

    When Agfa reformulated Record Rapid (Portriga) to meet the new zero Cadmium regulations it changed very significantly in image colour and warmth. There's been a lot written about the differences, and warm-tone papers from other manufacturers changed as well around the same period.

    Yes warm-tone papers are now made without Cadmium but they lack the flexibility and can no longer produce a good range of colours purely by development compared to what the older papers were capable of.

    Ian
     
  24. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    Ian;

    My formulas for Agfa Portriga have Cadmium Iodide, but the amount goes down as contrast goes down, which agrees with other formulas I have seen regarding contrast control. In fact, the formulas use a colorant (toner) solution added before coating which is what some Kodak formulas called for, and this is merely a brown pigment in water. This goes back at Kodak way before the 40s and so seems to have been used independantly by both companies. In fact, one grade of Portriga is really Brovira + other chemistry IIRC.

    The problem is that the RC papers cannot absorb the toner properly, so I suspect that a warm tone can be achieved on FB simply by absorbing the pigment or dye more efficiently. But even FB papers are 'harder' than older FB papers. I am struck by the hard calendaring that they have. It is hard to distinguish a modern FB paper sheet from RC, and hard to tell front from back. In the past, this was easy.

    PE
     
  25. Jerry Thirsty

    Jerry Thirsty Member

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    Sorry to take so long to get back to this thread. Thanks for all the comments. Up until recently I had merely dabbled in the darkroom, but I decided to see what fiber-based was all about. So I bought packs of just about every VC FB (and a couple of graded) paper I could find, and have been trying them out. I'm not trying to do scientific comparisons with step wedges or densitometer yet, I'm just printing old negs and seeing what things look like. I've seen quite a few posts slagging on Oriental, about how it's so much worse now than it used to be, but my first impression was that the Seagull seemed right in line with all the others. So, not having any frame of reference on older materials, when I saw Mr. Plowdens' comments I started to wonder whether the fact that the Seagull seemed okay was simply because he was right, and everything I was comparing it too was also junk. Thanks for setting me straight on that.

    FWIW, my favorite paper of the ones I tried was Agfa MCC 111, which of course was discontinued immediately after I discovered it. The Fomabrom Variant III is very close but seems harder to work with. I also settled on Polygrade V for a more neutral/cold tone, and of course that got axed as well. Lately I've been using Kentmere Fineprint and like it, which with my luck means that Harman will be pulling the plug on it very soon:rolleyes:. I've decided that I simply won't pick any more papers until I use up my leftover Agfa and Polygrade, then see who's still standing.

    Thanks again,
    JT
     
  26. sepiareverb

    sepiareverb Member

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    Well the current Seagull is certainly a different animal than the old 'blue box' Seagull. The Seagull Warmtone is a fine new paper though.