The Great Azo-Ilford Print Contest

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by Alex Hawley, Sep 5, 2004.

  1. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    A while back, several fellow members were asking if contact prints on AZO paper were really so much better that if printed on a good enlarging paper, such as Ilford MG IV, and if an Azo print was available for comparison. I had been wanting to run such a comparison myself so I decided to do it and send the prints to anyone who wanted to them for comparison.

    I took one of my best negatives and made three sets of two prints, each set having an Azo print and and an Ilford print. The Azo version was printed just like the one posted in the Standard Gallery on grade 2 Azo. The Ilford version was exposed under the enlarger light using a grade 2 multicontrast filter to get the contrast as close as I could to the Azo print.

    Both were printed using Michael A. Smith's Amidol formulas. I added an extra couple shots of bromide to get a slight warm tone. For the Ilford prints, 60 ml of 1% benzotryazinol (BB compound) were added per Michael's formula for enlarging paper.

    All the prints received identical post-development processing which included four minutes in selenium toner, 1:100 dilution.

    All the prints were made from the same negative. It was shot and developed by inspection to the density necessary for Azo printing. Film was J&C Classic 200 developed in ABC Pyro, 1:1:1:7. Exposure was set with shadow values in Zone IV which is a common practice for Azo printing. A standard yellow filter was used to improve contrast and darken the sky.

    The prints have just about made it around to everyone who asked to participate. It was suggested that I start this thread to report the results, so here goes. I will be posting the comments I have received and the participants will add more in the next few days.

    Of course, I'm an Azo addict so I kept my opinions to myself so they wouldn't influence anyone. Here goes.
     
  2. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    Larry Gebhardt's thoughts:

    If I had to pick a favorite it would be the Azo print. I feel this is due to the greater overall contrast of the Azo print. The shadows are darker and consequently there is much more local contrast in the sheet metal texture. I wonder if you could have printed the Ilford at a higher grade and acheived the same result.

    The Azo print also has a nicer color than the Ilford paper. The Ilford in Amidol seems to have taken on a slightly magenta tone which I do not like. The Azo is a color I have never acheived in with other papers and developers. I am not sure I like it more than the Forte in a glycin based developer, but it is very pleasing.
     
  3. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    POCO's thoughts:

    Right out of the envelope the azo jumps out as having more "presence" -- whatever that means. If you compare the borders of the prints, you can't really say the the azo blacks are substantially different, but they definitely jump out at you in the image area in a way they don't on the Ilford. Some of that may be due to a slightly greater contrast in the azo print, but I don't think that really explains it.

    On the contrast question, I was surprised the azo neg printed acceptably on Ilford with #2 filtration. I would have expected it to result in very contrasty print, whereas it's the azo (like I said) that has a bit more snap.

    Altogether, there's definitely better tonal separation throughout the entire scale on the azo.
     
  4. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    Phill Dresser's thoughts:

    I was impressed with the overall tonal range of AZO but did notice that the tonality was different to the MG. The colouration varied tremendously with the MG being more silver and the AZO having a much warmer base (I struggled with this initially finding it almost discoloured but warmed to it after a while. I was very surprised by this colouration as I always thought that AZO was cold. Images I have seen on the web (Michael A Smith etc )had always seemed more silver based.

    AZO seemed to have a more linear tonal representation where the MG was contrastier or had bigger steps between relevant tones.(Am I making sense here)

    I thought that the depth was not comparable between the 2 papers with the AZO easily surpassing the MG, but I think the mid tones are represented very differently where the AZO was much smoother. Highlights are, in my opinion, much better in AZO.

    My dislikes were the single weight of the paper. Why do the make this as a single weight? Maybe the print would feel better if mounted but I had strong reservations about the weight.

    Generally I could see differences in the two papers but the gulf between them was not as big as I was led to believe.

    Was I disappointed with AZO? No way! But I do feel that it might not be a paper for all purposes or styles. (That might be a bit presumptious at this point with my limited experience)
     
  5. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    I think you would Jay. I started contact printing with enlarging paper then bought some Azo and tried the same neg. The differences are small but there none the less.
     
  6. bmac

    bmac Member

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    I would think if you shot the same scene twice and exposed and developed each negative for the optimal time for the paper involved, you're results would be a tad different. From what I understand, and whitnes with my own negatives, the ones destined for AZO have a very different tonal range than those made for enlarging paper.

    From my own prints, I have got to say the few that I have done on AZO / MS Amidol have been great. Wonderful tonal range, and deep blacks, etc. I also have prints made on enlarging paper that I am equally pleased with. (and plenty with both that I am not pleased with! :smile: )

    I'm not trying to knock what you did, I just think before everyone jumps the gun, the testing methods need to be addressed a bit.
     
  7. sanking

    sanking Member

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    In this case I believe there is a very good chance that the ABC negative used for the test had about optimal printing density for both AZO #2 and a #2 VC paper. AZO is a graded silver paper that requires a negative with a DR of around 1.5. A regular silver #2 grade paper would need a DR of about 1.05 to print normally, but in order to print with the same contrast on a VC paper with a stained negative you would need to use a higher grade filter, or develop the negative longer for more contrast. Assuming the ABC negative was developed to an optimal density range for AZO the resulting density is probably very close to what you would need to match the contrast on a #2 VC paper.

    For further understanding of this issue see Frank's message today on printing VC and graded papers with a staining developer. The difference of about two printing grades that he observed with Pyrocat-HD would probably be even greater with one of the pyrogallol based developers than with Pyrocat.

    Sandy
     
  8. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    I think Sandy hit it on the head with his technical description. The difference in overall appearance between the two prints is very small. In my judgement, scans of the two would look the same, that's why I didn't post any scans for comparison. I would be quite happy with the Ilford print.

    This was a simple test meant to show how one negative looks on the two papers. In my own work, I've done just the reverse; taken a 4x5 developed for enlarging and contact printed it on both Azo and enlarging paper; and seen the same results.
     
  9. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    This sort of test is a good thing to do for oneself occasionally in general. Last time I was looking for a new enlarging paper, I got a half dozen 25-packs, printed the same neg on each of them, and I keep them in a reference file in case there's something that my main choice of paper doesn't do well that might be solved by trying a different paper for a certain image.
     
  10. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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    What about a test where two negatives are created, and then printed by two different people. One could be an azo expert, the other an expert at vc or graded enlargements. I think both VC and graded shoud be explored in the test. Maybe that would take 3 negatives. Then the results can be cpompared as to which is the best of the bunch.
     
  11. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    Jay, remember, Azo has a broader range than most enlarging papers so it can handle a wider range of contrast. Sandy knows all the numbers, so I'll leave the quantitative explanation to him. Also, don't forget about using a water bath to reduce print contrast on Azo. It works very well using amidol; works good enough to a lesser degree with neutol. Any of the other developers I've tried tend to mottle in the water bath. Must be something to do with viscosity and solubility coefficients, but I'm sure not gonna try to prove that!
     
  12. mobtown_4x5

    mobtown_4x5 Member

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    I examined both prints and found the differences to be vey subtle. However, that said, there is no doubt that the scale of the Azo is a little longer, allowing the blacks to go a little deeper while retaining the same hightlight pop and separation. Again, pretty subtle though.
    I hope others (who participated) will be recording thier impressions.

    Matt
     
  13. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    An interesting thread. I think that the only way that this comparison would be valid is to subject both papers to testing to determine the exposure scale of each paper. From that exposure scale testing, two identically exposed negatives would need to be developed to the optimum density range to match the respective papers. From this matched combination one could then print the negatives so that the print d min reflection density matched and then finally the prints could be judged in a heads up comparison.

    Done in the way, that I described, it would be an "apples to apples" comparison. I would say that the comparison addressed here was "apples to oranges". Just my two cents worth. I print on Azo by the way.
     
  14. bmac

    bmac Member

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    I agree.
     
  15. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    Everyone seems to thinking we were doing a "test" to determine the "best", so maybe I should explain the purpose better. Several guys were wondering if there was big difference between an Azo print and one made on good MG paper, such as Ilford MG IV. The persons asking the question had not seen an Azo print before. I volunteered to make the prints for comparison. Since the one I chose to print was one that I had already printed on Azo, I tried to mak the Ilford print as good as I could and as close to the Azo print as I could.

    There was no more objective to this than what I said above. The primary purpose was to let some guys see an Azo print side-by-side to a VC print. I tried to keep everything as objective as I could and allow the participants to form their own opinions.

    There just ain't no "best of the best" in photography.
     
  16. mobtown_4x5

    mobtown_4x5 Member

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    Sorry Alex, you were right. PM's would have been best for this.
     
  17. L Gebhardt

    L Gebhardt Subscriber

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    My purpose for requesting the chance to see an Azo print was simply that I had not at that time seen one. It was very informative to also see a regular print from the same negative as well. Since the prints went out I have also received two Azo prints from another member. All three have shown Azo to be a very atractive material, enough so that I will try some soon.

    As far as which is best, well in the case of Alex's two images I feel the Azo print was better. Other negatives could be better on the Ilford paper. It was informative enough to me that I now want to do my own tests. Thanks again Alex.

    Larry
     
  18. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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    the misinterpretation may be in the titling of the thread. When it is labled a contest, you assume one verses the other.
     
  19. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    Sorry Aggie. I'll take the hit. My bad.
     
  20. VoidoidRamone

    VoidoidRamone Subscriber

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    Okay... this is a little off the subject of this post, but I thought it loosely fit. Correct me if I'm wrong, this is a "test" (or whatever it's called) on whether there is a difference between contact printing on AZO (contact paper) or MGIV (enlarging paper). My question is, can one print quality enlargements on AZO? What will they look like? Why couldn't one? etc.. Basically what separates a contact printing paper from an enlarging paper? Thanks for the help, as I am somehwhat new to this. -Grant
     
  21. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    Grant,
    Your question is not really off-topic; yes, enlargemnts may be made on Azo but are not real practical without a special light source. Azo's speed is extremely slow. Enlargements made from a coventional enlarger light source take several minutes to expose. The last time I tried it, I exposed for 5 minutes and got just a faint image.

    There is a light source available now that works in the UV frequencies making Azo enlargements a practical reality. I think it sells for about $2500 and fits Beseler and Omega 4x5 enlargers. For more info, go to the Azo Forum at michaelandpaula.com.

    For contact printing on Azo, most people use an incandescent light bulb, somewhere between 60 and 300 watts.
     
  22. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    Grant, You ask a valid question...For those of us who have had exposure to the characteristics of Azo, already know that Azo is a contact printing paper only. The only caveat to that statement is with the enlarging light source which is nearly $1,900 from what I understand. So to answer your question, under normal conditions it would be impossible to enlarge onto Azo.
     
  23. VoidoidRamone

    VoidoidRamone Subscriber

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    So... in theory if I had a lot of time on my hands (and money) I could enlarge on Azo. Would the image look better (since it is a 'better' contact printing paper)? Also, if I were making 10 min enlargements, would the reciprocity "kill me"? This is something that I think would be interesting to try. That UV lightsource also sounds nice, unfortunately I don't have $2500 laying around, oh well. -Grant
     
  24. VoidoidRamone

    VoidoidRamone Subscriber

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    Donald posted before I got mine out... thanks for the help. -Grant
     
  25. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    Quite true. Before this new light source became available, some people (very well-heeled) were enlarging on Azo with very large, powerful, and expensive enlargers. Your images would look better because of Azo's longer scale. Kodak, despite its digital executive suit, was interested in the development of the new light source because it means a potential large increase in Azo sales.

    Don't know about the reciprocity. Haven't ever went there.

    Neither do I. But if I did, I would get one.