The Increasing Popularity Of Pyro.

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by Keith Tapscott., Jun 14, 2009.

  1. Keith Tapscott.

    Keith Tapscott. Member

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    I have noticed that pyro developers which use either pyrogallol or catechol are becoming increasingly more available and I have heard mention of a formula which included both in the same developer. On searching, I have found WD2D and WD2D+ by John Wimberley, PMK by Gordon Hutchins, Tannol, Tannol Speed and Finol by Wolfgang Moersch, Rollo-Pyro by Harald Leban, Pyrocat HD and other variants by Sandy King, 510-Pyro and Hypercat by Jay DeFehr and Prescysol and Prescysol EF by Peter Hogan. There are are also other developers designed by Barry Thornton and probably many more out there.
    What is it about these developers that their users like or prefer to commonly available non-staining developers like D76/ID-11 and the many other powder and liquid film developers available?
     
  2. Tom Kershaw

    Tom Kershaw Subscriber

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    Keith,

    I've been using Pyrocat-HD for a few months and find it delivers good film speed, low grain and high sharpness. However the negatives do print differently on graded papers as compared to variable contrast papers. ILFORD Galerie works well.

    This article gives a good overview of staining developers: http://unblinkingeye.com/Articles/PCat/pcat.html

    Tom.
     
  3. jim appleyard

    jim appleyard Member

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    Hi Keith,
    Sometimes putting your observations into words just doesn't go well! I can only desribe a certain "smoothness" in my prints that come from pyro negs. Middle tones seem to get a boost from pyro. Now, some films react well to a staing dev, some not so well. IMHO, always unscientific, the more stain you have, the better the smoothness.

    If you have any APX100 left, try that in Pyrocat HD and you'll see what I mean. Fuji Neopan 400 is another good one for stain. Pan-F does not stain well, but still delivers a good image, but IMHO, no better than D-76.
     
  4. jp80874

    jp80874 Subscriber

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    Edward Weston will be happy to read this.

    John Powers
     
  5. Mahler_one

    Mahler_one Member

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    The debate concerning Pyro is likely to never end. Please take what I post with a "grain of salt". I am hardly an expert, and I have not done exhaustive studies seeking to uncover the merits of various developers. Many on this thread are much more experienced -and talented -than I. Nevertheless, I have read articles from those who say Pyro is a unique developer capable of achieving results in a print that are not realizable with the more mundane developers. I have read ripostes from those who have indeed done very careful, and in -depth, studies in search of objective information to support claims that Pyro produces negatives that have a unique ability to make prints that are not "achievable" ( sic ) from negatives made with other developers ( Howard Bond's exhaustive and careful studies stand out in my mind ). I am not pursuaded that objective studies show that Pyro developed negatives produce unique prints. Furthermore, studies in which prints are independently evaluated by "blinded" observers also fail to show meaningful differences in prints from Pyro developed negatives vs. prints made from negatives developed in more conventional developers. Having said the above, Pyro does have advantages: The developers have a long shelf life, and they harden an emulsion such that developing by inspection and using film with softer emulsions ( some of the Adox and Efke emulsions ) are less likely to be damaged during processing. Pyro developed negatives ( one of the major advantages of Pyro as cited by Mr. Weston and numerous other talented photographers ) can be used for both alternate process ( especially Platinum and likely Azo ) AND more conventional silver printing. However, judging from my own very limited experience, and more important the experience of others more learned and talented, I have concluded that for conventional silver processing one would be hard pressed to show that Pyro developed negatives do indeed possess a quality that renders a print unique. Of course, I respect and honor those who say that their prints made from their Pyro developed negatives have a certain "look" and "undefinable" quality that they cannot obtain from negatives made from D-76, Rodinal, DDx, etc., etc. One of the wonderful things about our photographic exploits is that all of us can find limitless possibilites to mine and explore.

    So, develop your negatives in several different developers, and chose the process that yields the results that meld with your photographic vision. As was said in a different context, "all the rest is noise".

    Ed
     
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  6. sanking

    sanking Member

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    Ed,

    Just a few comments.

    First, while I won't question the methods of Howard Bond I think it is fair to comment that he was not a proponent of pyro deveopers, and as in "identity politics" our opinions are influenced by an original position so I don't think he was highly inclined to find an advantage with Pyro. However, even with that Bond did find that the pyro negatives were capable of sharper prints if printed large enough. This does not surprise me because I have carried out tests where I contact printed high resolution targets (225 lines per mm) to compare resolution in several traditional developers (D76, Xtol and HC-110) and several pyro staining developers (Pyrocat-HD, PMK and WD2D+). The pyro staining devlopers consistently delivered about 10-15% more resolution.

    Bond also found and commented on the most fundamental difference between traditional and pyro developers, i.e. the way the stain provides compensation in the highlights of a print when using VC papers. There are perhaps other ways to obtain the same result with VC silver papers but the pyro stain provides a prety simple mechanism of toning down the highlights in scenes of high contrast.

    There are other qualities that I find that are more subjective. For example, the stain in many cases appears to add smoothness without detracting from sharpness.

    However, even if one were to debunk all of my comments the fact still remains that pyro developers are certainly "at least as good" as traditional developrers, they have very long shelf life (as you point out), and are among the least expensive developers on the market. The long shelf life is particulary important to me because I tend to go three of four months between shooting assignments and knowing that I can use a devleoper mixed 9-12 months ago and still get perfect results is important to me. There are of course some traditional developers that have long shelf life, but most of them are propriety formulas that must be purchased pre-mixed and cost a lot more than most of the pyro formulas.

    Sandy King

     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 14, 2009
  7. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    Pyro developers are indeed good developers. I am not in a position to judge if they are superior to any existing non-pyro developer, but here are 3 cautions I have learned.

    1. Pyrogallol and Catechol are two of the most toxic of all developing agents used in B&W.

    2. The "stain" is a dye and as such can both improve and degrade the image. It can introduce a "blur" to the silver grain thereby reducing grain, but due to other effects it can appear to improve sharpness.

    3. The stain is a dye and can fade with time. This is similar to a color film, no different.

    PE
     
  8. jovo

    jovo Membership Council Council

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    My only objection to the pyro wave, is the notion that it's a magic bullet that some seem to embrace as the key to wonderful photographs. It isn't, of course, nor is D76/ID11 or any other chemical. A number of years ago I bought the PMK pyro kit including Hutching's book, but I've never used it. Instead, I've attempted, and usually succeeded in solving the problems that pyro offers solutions to using VC papers, and of course, enlarging, so I've not felt I have missed anything.

    However, I have seen a difference between prints from pyro negs, and others. The ones I've seen seem to have a very faint veil to them which keeps them from being as crisp and contrasty as prints I prefer. (That aspect could just as well be a consequence of the negatives not being printed properly, I don't know.) But, that's just my personal taste, and is certainly not being offered as definitive for anyone but me.
     
  9. sanking

    sanking Member

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    Yes, pyrogallol and catechol are very toxic developing agents, but nearly all of the developing agents are toxic, and hydroquinone, about which one almost never hears any warning, is almost as toxic. The primary danger is in mixing the chemicals so if you mix from scratch I recommend doing that with a hood or outside. Once the reducers are in liquid form the main danger is ingestion. Skin contact should also be avoided, but that is also true for most reducers.

    I agree that the dye stain can fade with time. However, I have seen many 100+ year old pyro developed negatives on glass plates that still retained a lot of the stain.

    From printing pyro stained negatives with UV light sources I know that some of the stain is lost with repeated printing with long exposures. However, the actual density loss is very small, and in any event the negative could be bleached and re-stained again if necessary.

    In my opinion the only major disadvantage of pyro negatives is that the sensitometry is very complicated for VC silver papers. It is primarily for this reason that Phil David and many BTZS type folks have avoided them.


    Sandy King
     
  10. sanking

    sanking Member

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    I agree with you about this and this has been one of my major complaints about the way some people have promoted pyro developers. But the compensation you can get with VC papers in the highlights can be pretty magical. I have been in some pretty heated exchanges with so-called experts who simply totally failed to understand the fundamental difference in using pyro negatives with graded (blue sensitive) and VC (blue and green sensitive) papers.

    Definitely have not seen any kind of veiling in prints that could be attributed to pyro. But I have seen plenty of bad prints that were bad for a variety of reasons.

    Sandy King
     
  11. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    Scanability. The stained negs arguably scan better because they permit the use of ICE, which cannot be used with negs developed via the usual b&w process. The pyro developers also protect highlight detail quite well. These two things, in concert, mean that you can get smoother, less noisy detail across the tone scale even from a simple flatbed scanner.
     
  12. gainer

    gainer Subscriber

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    I have concluded, after about 70 years of playing, working, cussing and sometimes even cursing photography, that one becomes hooked, if not hung up, on certain techniques to the point that you think you can see the print coming up in the tray as you click the shutter. It is a big disappointment when you try something new and the outcome is unexpected. It is seldom unexpectedly good the first time, but needs must be learned. The well known among us have their "things", like Bond and unsharp masks. When I was photographing the Norfolk Symphony from my orchestra seat, I thought I had the developer to end all such. Those were the days, my friends!
     
  13. gainer

    gainer Subscriber

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    PS.
    Howard Bond plays the trumpet.
     
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  15. nworth

    nworth Subscriber

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    There are a lot of pyro developers out there. The usual reason for favoring pyro is the stain image, which forms a sort of a mask and enhances printing in ways. Gordon Hutchings discussed many of the shortcomings of traditional pyro formulas in his book "The Book of Pyro." These led to the development of the modern formulas, like PMK, W2D2, Rollo-Pyro, and others. The older formulas are often still useful, however. It should be noted that not all pyro formulas are staining developers. I've had very good results from a non-staining pyro-triethanolamine formula. Pyro is just a good developing agent. Some believe that it is the best one for single agent developers.

    The term pyro is generally taken to mean pyrogallol (1,2,3-trihydroxybenzene). Technically, pyrocatechol (1,2-dihydroxybenzene) is not pyro, but it shares many of the same characteristics. The principal new developer using this agent is Pyrocat-HD. I have used it, and I think it is an excellent developer. It gives a moderate stain, somewhat like pyro but more brownish. There are also many traditional formulas using pyrocatechol that have recently been revived, as well as some other new ones.
     
  16. Mahler_one

    Mahler_one Member

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    Thanks for the very thoughtful and complete reply Sandy. I'll go back and re-read Howard's work again. We agree about the longevity of the Pyro chemicals. You have much more experience regarding the affect of Pyro developed negatives on print highlights, and I appreciate the insights. Would most of us print "large enough" to be able to benefit from the difference in fine details, i.e., would one see a difference in, for example, 8x10 contact prints? Obviously, as I inferred, there are subjective aspects to photography that escape conventional technical analysis and are properly left to the individual who appreciates the differences that one's own techniques convey. One would, however, be justified in asking if such differences are readily apparent to "blinded" observers who are observing prints made to the same DMAX, on the same paper, and viewed under the same conditions. Of course, even if such differences were NOT readily apparent, the artist must use the materials that match the vision. As to cost: Well, again, you have more knowledge than I. I have never figured out the per sheet cost of developing with Formulary purchased Pyrocat ( which I use and like by the way ) vs., for example, DDX. One can save funds by mixing any developer from the individual chemicals in one's own darkroom.

    Once again, thanks for taking the time to respond Sandy.

    Ed
     
  17. mcfactor

    mcfactor Member

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    Has anyone compared the resolution of pyro developers to high-actuance developers like Rodinal or FX-1?
     
  18. pgomena

    pgomena Member

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    mcfactor:

    I've used Pyrocat-HD and TFX-2. Pyrocat gives me smoother looking prints, and TFX-2 is bitingly sharp bordering on gritty. I like both for different reasons. Both give good edge effects and sharpness in semi-stand development.

    Peter Gomena
     
  19. jordanstarr

    jordanstarr Member

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    I've used about 10 different developers in my 10 years on photography and I've settled on pyrocat HD (90% of my work), D-76 (7%) and Rodinal (3%). Some of the best photos I have in my portfolio are with D-76 and blow many Pyrocat-developed negatives out of the water, but more often than not, I favor the Pyrocat HD negs. If you know how to use a few developers and use them well to suit your style and the look you want, the developer in question doesn't matter. I find good photographs depend more on your technique, lighting, subject matter, metering, and equipment than the film developer.

    I use Pyrocat because I can mix it from raw chemicals and save a lot of money. Ontop of that, pyro lends better to my style of photography and the images I create. The combination of the two is what is most important to me.

    ...just my two cents.
     
  20. olehjalmar

    olehjalmar Member

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    This makes me wonder about staining developers without pyro. The advantage would be a less toxic developer. Any published formulas for a staining, non-pyro developer? While trying out a dilute low-contrast metol-carbonate-sulfite developer, I noted a significant stain in one instance, likely due to metol with very little sulfite, so it should be possible.
     
  21. John Bond

    John Bond Member

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    I think pyro negatives are easier to print with repect to overexposure and large subject to brightness range. The highlights do not block even with several stops of overexposure. There is less of a demand to adjust development time for a large subject brightness range. So the advantage may simply be that is more forgiving.
     
  22. sanking

    sanking Member

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    You could substitute hydroquinone in the Pyrocat-HD formula. My recollection is that Pat Gainer has actually done it, and so have I. Catechol and hydroquinone work at about the same pH so it would not require a lot of balancing to make it work well.

    Would it be worth it? Not for me at this point in time since I am very confident that catechol can be used with complete safety in the darkroom.
    But others may feel differently.

    Sandy King
     
  23. gainer

    gainer Subscriber

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    I guess stranger things have happened, but why is hydroquinone be any less poisonous than catechol? Both have the same empirical formula and differ only in the placement of an OH. The hydroquinone does produce a stain, but of a less versatile color than catechol's. I wouldn't want to sprinkle either one on my salad.

    The presence of a visible stain does not always signify a photogrphically valuable stain. The stain has to be proportional to the silver in the image to work its "magic", or you just have the same effect as if you had used a colored gel. There are times when the major part of the stain from one of Sandy's Pyrocat's is so hidden to the eye by the silver image that only printing on both graded and VC papers will show its true extent. Unless you want to bleach away the silver part.
     
  24. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    Toxicity depends on a number of factors Patrick. Just as D-sugars and L-sugars differ in activity within the human body, but have the same formula should clue you in to this. Metabolic routes used by otherwise "identical" organic chemicals can cause havoc if used incorrectly.

    In fact, the LD of Pyro in Rabbits is much lower than the LD of HQ in Mice even though in humans Pyro is considered odds on to be far more toxic than HQ. In fact, the toxicity of "tanning" developing agents or "staining" developing agents weighed in the exit of Kodak from the Dye Transfer product line from what I understand, but I may be off on this.

    There are many other routes to staining developers and tanning developers that involve less toxic routes.

    The big difference to my eye in printing pyro negatives with stain is the problem using Azo type papers and the use of UV or visible light. Sandy has alluded to that above. Once you work it out and develop an eye for your negatives things are ok, but before that insight arises, the evaluation of the negatives and printing them is somewhat of a chore if you print conventional negatives a lot.

    PE
     
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  25. Tom Kershaw

    Tom Kershaw Subscriber

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    PE,

    How would you relate toxicity to potential for exposure? I mixed up my Pyrocat-HD once back at the beginning of February this year, and will probably have enough developer to last until February next year, so the number of times I'm exposed to Pyrocatechol in dry form is comparatively rather minimal; whereas I might mix up Hydroquinone containing print developers several times a month. In addition, in operational terms I'm only working with a few ml of the developer at a time, wearing gloves, goggles, lab coat etc.

    Tom.
     
  26. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    Tom;

    I would not hazard a guess. I had to correct my data above to reflect accurate results. Pyro in tests is LESS toxic to some animals than HQ but is shown to be MORE toxic to humans from what I have read. So, any guess I make would be very off the wall just as anyone else here is.

    The considered opinion is that Pyro compounds are more toxic than HQ. I have no more data to back that up than anyone else has to the contrary except the information used by some to say that Pyro is "BAD". Who knows. Use your own judgment and be as safe as possble.

    I don't use it, but I have printed from many many Pyro negatives. I find them difficult to print from due to the colored image at the blue end of the spectrum. They offset Azo and MG papers both. To my eye they are difficult to evaluate without a proper filter.

    PE