Side-by-side comparison of BW films?

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by Arctic amateur, Jan 25, 2013.

  1. Arctic amateur

    Arctic amateur Member

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    Has anybody done anything similar to this, for BW films?

    http://www.onlandscape.co.uk/2010/12/a-colour-film-comparison/
    http://www.onlandscape.co.uk/2011/02/colour-film-comparison-pt-two/
    http://www.onlandscape.co.uk/2011/06/colour-film-comparison-pt-3/

    I found a thread at http://www.apug.org/forums/forum37/99616-b-w-film-comparisons-samples.html where a similar question was asked, but the replies were mostly along the lines of "just choose one, it doesn't matter. Personally I swear by film X".

    I do realise there are far too many free variables to cover all the possible variations, but it would still be possible to get a meaningful comparison if, say, you shot the same scene, same lightning with several films, developed all films in the same developer according to the manufacturer's instructions and included a calibration target in the shots to compensate for film base color and box speed deviation.

    The reason I'd like to see this is that often when somebody recommends a film, they also post a picture to show a film's capability. To me such photos are meaningless alone. Every BW film will let you produce a picture with black, white, and shades gray, so a single picture normally doesn't tell me anything about the film's tonality or dynamic range. Without another picture of the same scene to compare to, a picture is just a picture.

    Presumably there are enough objective and measurable differences between films that you can't make TriX look identical to TMax look identical to HP5 look identical to KB100 just by wreaking development and printing, but I'd be happy just to see different films in the same process.
     
  2. ahaavie

    ahaavie Member

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    Great link !
     
  3. dorff

    dorff Member

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    While for colour films the development is standardised, it is not so easy for black and white films. The conclusion from a comparison with D76 or Xtol as developer, for instance, may not hold for Rodinal, Diafine, HC-110 or whatever. I think there is a lot of info available for most films, with tonal curves published for various developers etc. If that does not satisfy you, then test your films under the relevant shooting conditions and for the developing process you are likely to be using. There are too many variables to control in a general comparison, and it will be very time consuming and expensive.
     
  4. Arctic amateur

    Arctic amateur Member

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    It'd still be possible to test different films using the same developer and process. I'm not asking for a comprehensive test that covers all variables, but a test that shows how the resulting picture changes when only the film is varied would still be interesting to see. Tonal curves on their own don't tell me much, I'm afraid.
     
  5. darkosaric

    darkosaric Subscriber

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    I don't think so. For example CMS iso 20 will work best with adotech developer, you just can not make any test with different developer on that film - or that developer with different film. Same goes for kodak TP and technidol.

    If you really insist - I would develop them all in Rodinal 1+100 for that test.
     
  6. Arctic amateur

    Arctic amateur Member

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    Thank you for splitting that hair for me, I would never have thought of that.
     
  7. darkosaric

    darkosaric Subscriber

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    :smile:

    But for another side - they say that rodinal leaves grain on film as it is - so developing everything in rodinal would give good grain comparison between films.
     
  8. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Sure, there are measurable differences and testing regimes that could flesh them out and for the one single lone given subject in a very specific lighting setup in a lab situation you could pick your subjective fave. I say subjective because the testing parameters for "best" are always arbitrary. In the same situation it is highly likely that I'd choose a different fave, or have no fave.

    In reality there are so many variables, outside a lab, that you could make a specific negative from many, if not most, B&W films and print each of them so similarly that it would be nearly impossible to tell the difference without a forensics team and a microscope.

    Sure, certain generalizations can be made, for example it can be said that 100ish speed films can technically provide sharper prints that say 400 speed films.

    What that statement leaves out is that nice sharp grain from a faster film, that is visible in the print, can actually make the print from say a 400ish speed film "look" sharper than the "technically superior" 100, even if its just an illusion. Along that same line, the print from the 400 speed film could actually truly have sharper subject matter because there is less motion blur because of subject or camera movement, two stops of shutter speed can make a huge difference.
     
  9. dorff

    dorff Member

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    Black and white films are picked for their character as much as, if not more than, their absolute quality, I think. And in so doing, usually the developer is picked to complement that character, or at least not alter it appreciably. A simple comparison, such as all ISO 400 emulsions, will only tell you half the story, because many photographers use those films pushed. At box speed they behave very similarly (apart from grain), but when pushed significantly, some pull away from the others. Not that your question is not valid. My point is merely that the ways in which black and white films are used, differs quite a bit from colour films. Therefore a comparison will have quite narrow relevance. And since only you know what you want to achieve, it is hard to tell what comparison would give you the information you are looking for.
     
  10. Michael R 1974

    Michael R 1974 Subscriber

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    I've done some work on this, but not with pictorial examples. I exposed grey cards and step tablets, and developed the films to the same contrast index to evaluate curve shape, speed and graininess (sharpness is very difficult to evaluate objectively). To do this properly in my opinion one must set up experiments to compare series of films in the same speed category, developed in a standard developer. That is the first step. So for example, one might choose to compare TMax 100, Delta 100 and Acros, all developed to the same contrast index in D-76. Or HP5+ and Tri-X in D-76. To compare say FP4+ in D-76 to Adox CMS 20 in Adotech, doesn't tell me very much. The films are entirely different, as are the developers.

    A serious problem with any such attempt at a comprehensive test is that with the exception of a fairly standard developer such as D-76/ID-11 (which most general purpose films have been tested in during product development prior to release), one simply cannot generalize regarding the relative behaviour of films with different developers and processing regimes. Even with D-76, it is difficult to make definite conclusions regarding image characteristics. In a hypothetical comparison between say HP5+ and Tri-X in D-76, one might initially find Tri-X to appear grainier and have lower effective speed than HP5+. Switch to Rodinal, or XTOL, and things could change. Then of course there are staining developers, compensating developers etc. Even changing the dilution and agitation routine with D-76 could reverse the initial conclusions. And what about the flexibility of films relative to eachother? How do they behave when contrast is increased or reduced etc. So many variables. It is difficult to generalize because any test is made under a specific set of conditions.

    Even if one could sort that all out, it is then important following the "lab testing", to conduct blind image evaluation tests. Sometimes you come to a set of conclusions based on densitometry etc, but in actual image evaluation subjective factors come to the surface. Maybe the film that appeared grainier in exposures of uniform density now appears less grainy and subjectively sharper in an actual photograph.

    On and on in goes. In the end only a few basic conclusions can be arrived at.
     
  11. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Early on I wanted Delta 100 to be my medium speed film, I wanted the newest and best tech blah, blah, blah.

    Over and over and over though, even with un refrigerated abused films, FP4 consistently makes better prints for me. As much as I try to understand why, it eludes me. In the end it doesn't matter why, it just "is" for me.
     
  12. bdial

    bdial Subscriber

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    Bruce Barlow did it with papers and paper developers. It turned into a pretty massive undertaking (I think he has posted about it in here). I've seen the resulting prints, and overall the differences are really subtle. In most cases it's a difference in feeling vs. something you can actually point to. Once you get past grain differences, the result for film would be similar, and probably more so.

    I don't want to say such a test with B&W film isn't feasible, but it would be a huge challenge, and I don't think the result would yield much useful information except for the tester.

    What is feasible, is to take two or three films of interest to you, shoot subjects that you like to shoot, process them the same, make some sample prints and see what you like. Then, take that film make some more shots and tweak the process and look at some more prints. If nothing else, once you've gone through that, you will have learned enough that a massive head to head test probably isn't necessary.
     
  13. Michael R 1974

    Michael R 1974 Subscriber

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    The most impressive attempt I've seen was by Richard Henry, and he presented his data, which is practically unheard of in photographic "testing" outside the manufacturers' laboratories. He even equiped himself with a microdensitometer, exposure devices built to ISO specs etc. However the purpose was not necessarily to compare materials. It was to evaluate the unsubstantiated claims made by noted photographers in their books, magazine articles etc, and the various other myths that pervade the subject of photographic materials and processing.

    The most interesting part of the work concerned printing (papers, print development etc). Although the data is for outdated materials no longer available, the great value of the book is it teaches us to question what we've been told and what we've read.

    What drove Henry (a retired clinical chemist) to undertake these experiments was his observation that photographic materials and processing are unique subjects in the sense that totally unqualified experts write about technical things. And they are often taken as gospel. Further, they make statements without any evidence or supporting data, without citing sources, in many cases without even a reasonable basis for the statements. This would be preposterous in any other field. Yet in photography this is how it goes. So Henry set about testing some of the more common accepted wisdom, truths etc.
     
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  15. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser

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    hi Arctic amateur ...

    there is a dilemma ...

    i think the problem that will happen is that it isn't only the developer and the film
    BUT the exposure in the camera AND the way the person is developing the film.

    there is no "one size fits all " scenario when it comes to film.
    i have made my tmx look like tri x, and provia look like an autochrome, just by the way
    i exposed the film.

    good luck !

    john
     
  16. Noble

    Noble Member

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    Well I think that there is a lot of validity to testing films in the developers that are commonly used to develop them. No one in their right mind would develop Adox CMS 20 in D-76. So what's the point of even conducting such a test? Adox CMS 20 is a bad example because we all know if money was no object we would all develop every single roll in Adotech II. So for that emulsion there is no ambiguity.

    That doesn't sound that unusual. Have you ever heard US politicians talk about just about anything?

    Maybe... maybe not. I'm sure the differences are less than some would like to believe. Having said that I've seen some side by side tests that were revealing. I would do something like ISO 100 and lower films in Rodinal. And other films perhaps in the manufacturer's recommended soup and then compare. At any rate I would try and soup stuff in developers that are commonly used with that film. Or maybe one test with the commonly used developer and one with the manufacturer's recommended developer. To be honest with you there really aren't that many emulsions and developers. I would just use the top two or three at each speed. This would be a useful experiment for a photography magazine to carry out. I would purchase photography magazines if they had useful articles like this versus a bunch of repetitive gear articles.
     
  17. Arctic amateur

    Arctic amateur Member

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    Thank you for all your replies, and I'd like to apologise for my sarcastic reply to darkosaric. It looks rather ruder now than I intended when I wrote it, regrettably. I'm sorry.

    If I may try to qualify my question a bit - I'm not interested in which films are objectively and measurably better than other films, I know that such a question is mostly meaningless. These quotes touch upon the question I'm trying to ask:

    What I'm interested in is the character, or "feeling", of films. I don't have any specific scene in mind and I'm not searching for a suitable film for a purpose, I want to see what this elusive "character" is simply out of curiosity. If different films have different character, there must be a difference, if subtle, in the final image. Is it the spectral sensitivity? Contrast? Latitude? I can read about differences and kind of understand descriptions of a film's properties, but it's so much easier to understand with two pictures side by side.

    Of course many other things can change the final result, which is why I was trying to say "don't change anything except the film". Difficult, certainly. Perhaps sending the films to a pro lab would make it easier to ensure consistent development?
     
  18. Michael R 1974

    Michael R 1974 Subscriber

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    I'm referring to technical/scientific fields and literature.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 25, 2013
  19. Michael R 1974

    Michael R 1974 Subscriber

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    The character is determined primarily by the inherent properties of the emulsion layer(s). The shape of the characteristic curve and spectral sensitivity determine tone reproduction. The image structure characteristics are determined by the type, shape and size of the silver halide grains, the various dyes added (sensitvity, acutance, anti-halation), turbidity etc. Depending on the mix of all these things, different developers can have different effects.

    So, to do what you are trying to do, you would develop all the films to the same contrast (measured either by CI or other gradient methods) in a developer such as D-76 either at stock strength or 1+1 dilution. To be accurate about contrast you'd need to generate characteristic curves.

    The curves for the films under these processing conditions would also be important (in my opinion) because they can help explain why you're seeing what you're seeing in the side by side tests with actual photographs - at least in terms of tone reproduction. Of course, only general conclusions can be drawn, especially since a characteristic curve can be generated in so many different ways.

    Start there, I guess. There are still many variables at work even when shooting the scene. So the conclusions you come to might only apply to your camera etc.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 25, 2013
  20. dpurdy

    dpurdy Subscriber

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    I am big on side by side comparisons and do a lot of them. However I do them with very specific goals. I think you are right in that side by side comparisons will show you something you otherwise can't see. For instance I know I want to use Acros, so first I do density tests with the developers I am interested in so that I can get the development exactly as I would use it. I already know the developers I want to consider. Then I set or find a situation and shoot a couple of rolls that I can cut in the dark and develop in the different developers. Then I make prints and mark them on the back in pencil. After they are dry and I don't know which are which I study them until I see differences. Then I look at the back and reveal what they are and then I study them again.
    It is useful to me to do this because I have very limited variables. If you wanted to compare a few films then it would be useful to already know what developer you want to use.
    For instance I knew I wanted to use Beutlers developer for a project and I needed to use a 400 speed film. So I got several 400 speed films and figured out the correct exposure and development times for all and then did a side by side comparison on several situations/subjects. I was able to learn which had the most acceptable grain and which had the best highlight detail and which had the higher or lower mid range tones.
    The problem most people are pointing out here is that there are too many variables with several films and several developers. I agree with that.
     
  21. Michael R 1974

    Michael R 1974 Subscriber

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    How did you come to the conclusion you needed a Beutler developer before choosing the film?
     
  22. Ambar

    Ambar Member

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    Interesting you should post this!
    I've been considering such a test for the past month and I'm now trying to attain all the necessary tools for such..
    The idea behind this has been to test the statement, Exposure controls density, but development controls density and contrast. I'm not try to test the veracity of this, but the quality and extent of manipulation possible.
    Yes I am very well aware about the variations in emulsion and developer combos but in reality I'm not interested in discovering a universal theory of everything photographic. Just the developer/film combo I'm interested in.
    Films I like PanF+ and HP5/Tri-X (decided eventually to stick with HP5). Developer available to me that works nicely with both? Rodinal (Adonal to be more specific).

    Let the games Begin..
    The general parameters behind this is set, I will construct a standard and controlled scene (which will include a target). The target area's lighting will be metered as zero at full box speed, then extensive bracketing will take place.
    The idea is.. Photograph a control scene at several different exposure indexes. Say for example, -4,-3,-2,-1,0,+1,+2.
    Repeat this several times and develop each strip for different a different amount of time. Say for example. -60%,-30%,-15%,0 (manufacturers suggestion), +15%,+30%,+60%.

    I am quite aware that there is some waste involved with this. As a scene that is seriously under exposed and under develop will produce little to no results. But the idea is to produce a scientific test, or as scientific as possible. So temperature, agitation, general processing routine, scanning (of course), and all other variables be standardized.

    Hopefully once I'm done, I'll have a menu of options indicating the exact look I want for a given developer/film combo.
    What I do need help with is, how much of each.
    I decided quite easily that I should vary the exposure in one stop increments, for simple ease of application afterwards. I wanted to maintain waste to a minimal and my idea would be to have 6 exposures per development strip. HP5 rated at 3200 (-3), 1600 (-2), 800 (-1), 400 (0), 200 (+1), 100 (+2), for example. PanF+ rated at 400 (-3), 200 (-2), 100 (-1), 50 (0), 25 (+1), 12 (+2). (even though PanF+ rated at 400 sounds really silly)
    But, how much should I vary ("bracket") development time?? Standard for 0 (iso 400 and 50) and how much plus or less? I've heard figures like 15% for each stop but sometimes that doesn't look right.. Maybe it's not a linear function? I would rather it be a constant between both films but I'm open for whatever works!

    Any help will be VERY welcome! Thoughts, comments or criticisms as well!
     
  23. dpurdy

    dpurdy Subscriber

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    I have a lot of experience with developers and films because I am old and have spent my whole life working with photography and darkrooms. I became a big fan of beutlers back in the day when you could still get Agfa 25 in 4x5. I still find it hard to beat beutlers with fine grain film. Not just for sharpness but for the mid tone density. I switched to Pryocat HD a couple of years ago to see if I could work the same negs in silver or platinum. I have a hard time putting my finger on what the "feel" of pyro is. I am still not sure I like it. I know that I get really clean unmottled film but the quality of the prints is inconsistent for me in that sometimes it is great and sometimes it seems flat and I don't know why. I am thinking of doing this old side by side testing with pyro and beutlers with my sheet films (fp4 and tmax 400) and my 120 acros. Just to see if I can get a better grip on the pyro. The other thing is that I have done these tests a lot of times and it is always surprising, once printed, just how little difference there usually is.
    Dennis
     
  24. mfohl

    mfohl Subscriber

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    So Mr. Purdy, where can I find Beutler developer? The only sources I find are Photographers' Formulary and maybe Freestyle. Is that right?

    Thanks in advance.

    -- Mark
     
  25. dpurdy

    dpurdy Subscriber

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    You only need Sodium Carbonate, Metol, Sodium Sulfite and Potassium iodide. (and a scale) The chemicals are available lots of places but Photo Formulary has them.
    I have used Sodium Carbonate from the grocery store as Arm and Hammer laundry additive or from the art store as soda ash dye fixative.

    You mix stock of part A and part B and use them 1-1-8 (or 10)
    You can find the formula with google.

    Dennis
     
  26. destroya

    destroya Subscriber

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    i did a very NON- scientific experiment kinda like what you asked. I used DXO Fimpack and just switched to every film and looked at the difference. It really told me nothing but it was fun.:D