What developer for the best mid-tone gradation?

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by Harold33, Feb 19, 2012.

  1. Harold33

    Harold33 Member

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    Using a "classical" film like FP4+, Tri-X, HP5+, what would be your developer of choice to achieve the best mid-tone contrast ?
    The same question could be: what kind of developer would you use today to get the most S-shaped curve? (this is a question about contrast, not about old films).
     
  2. NB23

    NB23 Member

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    My gut tells me XTol...
     
  3. clayne

    clayne Member

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    D-76, XTOL... *not* HC-110
     
  4. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

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    Excellent mid-tone contrast does not require, nor imply an s-shaped curve. The films you listed are all modern, straight line films and will give excellent mid-tone contrast with the vast majority of general purpose developers. The only developers which can be harder to work with for strong midtones would be high acutance formulas. Other than that, virtually any standard solvent developer at stock strength or relatively mild dilutions will work fine. D76/ID11, XTOL, DDX, TMAX etc will all do the job.
     
  5. Harold33

    Harold33 Member

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    That's true. But...

    That's not so true. The perception of contrast is greatly sensitive to the context: if you put a well-illuminated egg on a black or on a white piece of paper, the contrast of his volume will not be the same as if you put it on a grey paper. The straight curve of modern films is thus indirectly responsable for loss of contrast perception in mid-tones (compared with old films). From a physical point of view, there is no difference, but the human eye makes it.

    Given the fact that all these films are very (too much) consistent in their contrast progression (for my taste), I wonder how to make them a little more "flat" or "soft" in the dark and illuminated areas.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 20, 2012
  6. clayne

    clayne Member

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    Easiest way is exposing them at a non-native EI. By far, pulling 1 or 2 stops will have a greater effect then which developer you choose.

    However, if you're looking for mid-tone contrast, are you looking for more or less gradation in the mid-tones at the expense of shadows and highlights, or vice-versa?
     
  7. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    Your question is not so much to do with the developer as it is to do with your technique. Exposure and film development process is largely determining this, and it's time to start practicing with your film.
     
  8. brian steinberger

    brian steinberger Member

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    When I think of midtone separation I think of a close up scene with crazy texture, like an industrial building wall, with old cracking parts that is lit by overcast light and relatively flat to a light meter. That just makes me want to under-exposure and over-develop to bring out all those wonderful midtones!

    I agree with those above who said this is more about technique than a developer. You can make those films FP4 and HP5 bend to whatever you want if you just take some time and play with different EI's, agitation, dilutions, and development times to get what you want from a particular scene. And, you can do it all with one developer. Just pick one and go with. My recommendation, ID-11 (D-76).
     
  9. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

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    I don't agree, but I think I have a somewhat better idea what you're after now. It will indeed have more to do with how you develop the film than which developer, and all the developers I listed will work fine. Testing will be required. The most probably solution might be to underexpose your film a little, and extend development. This will simply reduce the amount of shadow detail, and maximize mid-tone local contrast. It won't blow out the highlights though, unless they fall extremely high on the scale.

    I would also say, before one uses modified development procedures, it can often be useful to first look for a film which inherently has the characteristics you want. So for example, if you want a shorter scale, something like Pan F will generally give you less local contrast in the lowest and highest values than the midtones, because it is a higher contrast film to begin with.

    One thing I'd like to stress is that trying for a more s-shaped curve in the negative won't necessarily give you what you're looking for in any case, because much of the final result has to do with printing. For example you can use a higher contrast paper/filter when printing, to push the shadows down to darker values, keep the highlights white, and maximize local contrast in the midtones. You can do that with virtually any negative, even if it has a long straight line characteristic curve.
     
  10. ChuckP

    ChuckP Subscriber

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    What about pre-exposing the film to try and soften the shadow contrast? Then you could flash the paper when printing to soften the highlight contrast.
     
  11. ath

    ath Member

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    If you want strong s-shaped curves try some Rollei 80S or Superpan 200 (and probably all the other film originally intended for aerial surveillance).
     
  12. Richard S. (rich815)

    Richard S. (rich815) Subscriber

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    I would agree with many above that developer choice is less important than exposure and development technique, and your result will depend even more on how you apply that to the lighting situation you have. As a good starting point I'd throw out there the initial suggestion of pulling back a little at exposure time (i.e., shooting a 400 speed film at 200) and developing for 10-30% less time than standard. At least I've found that to help preserve some nice even tonality.
     
  13. artonpaper

    artonpaper Subscriber

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    What about Rodinol? Great with Tri-X. Several different dilutions, each giving subtle, but different results. I always use at 1:31. I've never liked D-76. Does that make me an atheist in a bible class?
     
  14. clayne

    clayne Member

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    Yes! Heathen!
     
  15. artonpaper

    artonpaper Subscriber

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    I'm doing my part for crowd control in heaven. Your tag line says all, really.
     
  16. nworth

    nworth Subscriber

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    I do agree. That is what makes the question difficult. Real life application is not quite as stark as the example, but the principle is quite important. That means that a lot depends on technique and the kind of pictures you take. A shot with lots of contrasty detail is much different than one with large contrasty blocks or one having slow gradations. Acutance developers, compensating developers, and regular fine-grain developers will produce quite noticeably different negatives of any subject with fine detail or fine contrasts. For most work, the ordinary developers like D-76 or Xtol (or even DK-50) will give excellent results. When there is fine contrast, an acutance developer or a compensating developer may help bring it out, but these can easily be overdone. Some feel that the masking effects of pyro stain (as with PMK) help to give smooth midtones. You just have to experiment until you learn the correspondence between your film, the subject, and the developer. If you shoot roll film, shoot 20 or so rolls and develop them in a few of the more common, general purpose developers; then choose which you like best and stick with it for a while. For sheet film, that is also a good way to start, but you can get fussier depending on the subject.
     
  17. MaximusM3

    MaximusM3 Member

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    Oh yeah, Doug! The honest grain developer, to rule them all! :smile:
     
  18. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    One expands midtone contrast simply by overdevelopment (plus development). Simple enough.
    But then the question becomes the fate of the highlights and deep shadows, and whether or not you can print detail in them if desired. Underexpose/overdevelop and you might get deep shadows with good midtone and highlight expansion. Perception of detail will depend upon edge effect, acutance, subject texture, all kinds of nuances. But an S-curve doesn't necessarily equate to any of this. A long straight line or upswept curve is easier to work with in this respect, or you might
    blow out the highlights.
     
  19. EASmithV

    EASmithV Member

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    why not HC110?
     
  20. GraemeMitchell

    GraemeMitchell Member

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    I wondered about that too. HC-110 may have softer contrast in the toe than a lot of developers, but as far as mid-tone and highlight contrast and micro-contrast I actually can't think of a non-specialized developer that exhibits more of it. That is, w/ the standard off the shelf films.
     
  21. clayne

    clayne Member

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    I originally thought the OP wanted less contrast and more tonality in the mid-tones with generally controlled highlights. Not something I remember hc-110 being strong at.
     
  22. Richard S. (rich815)

    Richard S. (rich815) Subscriber

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    Exposed and developed carefully HC-110 can be wonderful for moderate contrast, good mid-tones and controlled highlights.

    All of these with HC-110:

    This one (Tmax 100) I took in full mid-day sun:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/rich8155/3482482769/

    This one showing how even some fairly deep shadows and mid-tones can be controlled nicely (Plus-X), again on a bright day though mostly in the shade:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/rich8155/5642637484/

    And a people shot (again Plus-X), on a bright day again:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/rich8155/5570952175/
     
  23. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    In this respect HC-110 works best with film with a relatively long straight line like TMY or TMX, or the
    now extinct 200-speed films like Bergger 200, Fomapan (Classic) 200, and Super-XX. TMax RS will give an even straighter line with finer grain. 76 developer tends to give a more upswept curve in these same films. For general shooting I don't use any of these developers but staining pyro formulas
    which protect the highlight far better, esp when a midtone expansion is needed at the same time.
    With TMX and HP5 it's easy to blow out the highlights with significant expansion, though modern VC
    papers are much better at allowing recovery of these than the older papers were. For example, my
    older pre-pyro negs sometimes required unsharp masking to get good highlight detail in "thick" negs,
    but now split print at extreme ease.
     
  24. clayne

    clayne Member

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    I understand that HC-110 can work - but with regards to controlled highlights and emphasis on midtones there are definitely better developers for this - like D-76 or XTOL.

    However it wasn't until later in the thread that it seemed like the OP wanted something else.