Variable vs. Fixed Contrast Paper

Discussion in 'Enlarging' started by gedra, Apr 28, 2009.

  1. gedra

    gedra Member

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    I plan to take up B/W printing after a hiatus of about 25 yrs. and am looking for opinions on which approach people prefer:
    1) Variable contrast paper with a set of filters.
    2) Stocking a few grades of fixed contrast paper.
    I shoot mostly landscapes and portraits with 120 film and do not plan on making very high or very low contrast prints.
    Thank you.
     
  2. Vaughn

    Vaughn Subscriber

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    Variable contrast papers have improved and the selection widened since 25 years ago. So the reasons many of us went with graded papers (Gallerie and Portriga Rapid in my case) are not as strong as back then. For example, warm-toned variable contrast papers did not exist back then.

    Variable contrast papers (if you find one or more that you like the response curve, print color, paper base and surface of) will give you more local control of contrast than we had with just single grade papers. While I have gone with alternative (non-silver) processes these past 15 years or so, I have seen our students put this aspect of variable contrast papers to good use.

    So I think it might be worth your while to experiment with a few different types and find what you like and can express yourself with.

    Vaughn
     
  3. jmcd

    jmcd Member

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    I use graded papers for awhile, then I use variable contrast papers for some time. Both are capable of excellent results. A pack of grade 2 and grade 3 graded papers is quite versatile. With a pack of VC on hand, you can print on a 1 or 4, if need be. Or you can print VC whenever you wish to.

    I prefer to keep both types in my darkroom, and find it cost effective to keep both on hand.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 28, 2009
  4. mcfactor

    mcfactor Member

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    I use ilford multigrade warmtone when i need contrast beyond grades 2 and 3. But still use ilford gallerie for most things. The micro contrast and tones are still unparalleled. Emaks is also very good, i use it for contact prints because it tends to be very slow.
     
  5. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

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    I use variable contrast papers with a color head so that I have a continuous range of contrasts.

    And I can always split contrast!

    Steve
     
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  6. Rick A

    Rick A Subscriber

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    Almost all VC papers print at grade 2 without filters so a set of filters only serve to expand your capabilities. You can focus your efforts on finding a paper you prefer, then have the ability to fine tune the contrast without spending a fortune on several papers.Once you are dialed in on exposing, its easy to adjust for raising or lowering contrast especially since most dont change exposure times until grade 3.5 or 4.
    Rick
     
  7. gedra

    gedra Member

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    Thanks everyone for the valuable responses.
     
  8. MurrayMinchin

    MurrayMinchin Membership Council Council

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    I don't get out much (live at roads end on the north coast of BC) but on one trip happened to see some 'greeting card' reproductions of the B&W photographs of Craig Richards in Calgary. They were so good I tracked him down in Banff and was shocked to find he used VC paper. My memories of the stuff were from 30 years ago in a newspapers darkroom and a bit later at photography school. The stuff was awful, yet his prints were simply beautiful. VC paper has come a long, long way from its pasty beginnings!

    Then there's added bonuses, such as burning in the sky with softer or harder filters than the base exposure...

    Murray
     
  9. edpierce

    edpierce Member

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    If cost is an issue, the vc papers are much cheaper than graded now, and you only need to stock one paper.
     
  10. MurrayMinchin

    MurrayMinchin Membership Council Council

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    Hey, I've been an admirer of your work for quite a while edpierce...welcome aboard APUG :smile:

    Here's Ed's website; http://www.edpiercephoto.com/

    Murray
     
  11. tiberiustibz

    tiberiustibz Member

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    Graded papers are great for 4x5 zone system shooters or people who are careful about exposure and development and can adjust them to achieve proper contrast. For more casual mixed lighting and inconsistent processing, I would stick with VC papers. When you start just stick a 2 filter in there and adjust if necessary rather than starting with no filter.
     
  12. mikebarger

    mikebarger Subscriber

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    Ed

    Great website!

    Mike
     
  13. dancqu

    dancqu Member

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    Also but seldom mentioned is the high level of safe
    lighting allowed by Graded papers. Graded papers
    are blind to GREEN light as well as red. Much
    easier to see about and work in a darkroom
    safe lighted for Graded paper. Dan
     
  14. srs5694

    srs5694 Member

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    I'm not sure that's universally true. I once tried making two prints with my Philips PCS130 enlarger with PCS150 color head on Slavich Bromoportrait 80 paper. As background, the PCS150 uses three light sources, with red, green, and blue dichroic filters for an additive light source that can be controlled by independently dimming the lights. I did the first exposure with green and blue light and the second one with blue light alone. The second exposure was considerably lighter than the first one, although the exposure times were identical. This indicates that either Slavich Bromoportrait has at least some sensitivity to blue light; or that my blue filter has faded and is letting through at least some green light. I never bothered to investigate beyond this, although perhaps I should -- if my enlarger's filters are faded or defective, I might do well to replace them. I suspect that the paper does have at least some green sensitivity, though, since the boxes I've got bear a warning to use it only under a red safelight. Maybe I'll run a similar test with some Kodak graded paper I've got....
     
  15. dancqu

    dancqu Member

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    There may be something to that. Got me to wondering. Years
    gone by there were at least tens of thousands of darkrooms
    world wide and THE paper, Graded. The later fifties saw VC
    gaining popularity; my first use, the later fifties.

    With all those man hours pouring into Graded paper processing,
    easy handling was likely a selling point. Of course well lighted
    darkrooms make for easier and quicker handling.

    Were print paper spectral sensitivities more strictly controlled
    in the past than today? Perhaps Ron can add some comment.

    Take that Slavich for example, the Unibrom specifically.
    The manufacturer says red but I and a few others this
    NG agree that a usual Graded paper safe light will do.
    Same for Emaks.

    So what's the world coming to when the manufacturers
    don't even know the spectral sensitivity of their own
    papers? Kodak for example recommended for some
    time the use of an OC filter for everything, and
    that includes AZO.

    My suggestion, use real world test methods with
    safelights. For ease of working keep safelight levels
    high and paper exposure to a minimum. My darkroom
    is well lighted using Graded papers. The manufacturers
    I hope don't screw up. Dan
     
  16. RJS

    RJS Member

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    I've been trying to make fine prints for well over forty years. Once in a while I even think I succeed. VC papers are, in my opinion, the best papers that have ever been available. One can do things not possible with fixed grade papers. And the range is as good or better than anything 'old timey'. That's my 2 cents.
     
  17. dancqu

    dancqu Member

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    Off hand I can't think of a thing that can be done with
    VC paper that can't be done with the correct Graded
    paper. And I am speaking of the finished print.

    Using VC one may get by with one paper but at
    some sacrifice. Dan
     
  18. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    When Agfa dropped Record rapid I switched to MCC, I can honestly say there's none of my negatives that can't be printed equally as well with a VC paper compared to a graded paper.

    You can use all the same techniques and controls with a VC paper plus a few more too. As 98% of my negatives print around Grades 2-3 VC papers are ideal and give me flexibility & the ability to shift to a higher/lower contrast for the odd negatives that need them. I certainly don't feel I've sacrificed anything/

    The fact that I use the Zone system has no bearing on the chioce of VC or Graded it's totally immaterial.

    Ian
     
  19. Keith Tapscott.

    Keith Tapscott. Member

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    The choice of papers, whether graded, VC, warm, cold or neutral tone is very much a personal matter. I mostly use Ilford Multigrade and sometimes I use Kentmere papers. I am looking forward to trying the three new Kentmere VC papers when they become available.