What's so great about XTOL?

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by kodachrome64, Oct 23, 2008.

  1. kodachrome64

    kodachrome64 Member

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    OK, I don't want to start a war here, but I've been playing with XTOL for quite some time now and just don't see what all the hype is about. Right now I am not able to print my images so I know I will have to reevaluate when I start doing that, but any negative I have scanned using XTOL has looked flat, lifeless, lacking in sharpness, etc. I really want to like it. According to the datasheet on Kodak developers, it seems like it should be the best all-around developer.


    '[​IMG]


    I guess that just goes to show me that what's on paper doesn't necessarily mean anything in real life. I have tried it straight, 1+1, 1+2, 1+3 and always seem to get the same results. I get great results with D76, HC-110, Rodinal, and TMAX developer. I find TMAX to be far superior for pushing than XTOL. I love Rodinal with Plus-X and Tri-X. I've gotten great results with any other developer without having to do a bunch of tweaking in Photoshop.

    I guess all in all, fine grain is not the most important thing to me. Tri-X in 135 with Rodinal is a bit too grainy, but I like 35mm Plus-X with Rodinal. In 120, both of those films look superb with Rodinal. I get really good results with TMAX even though it is not a highly regarded developer, especially nice with TMY in 120. I know it is "to each his own" but I am so surprised by the consistently poor results I've been getting with XTOL compared with the datasheets. I though it was just the T-Max films perhaps, but I've tried it with Plus-X and Tri-X and it made them look flat, lifeless and solid gray as well. There are no blacks when I use XTOL. It is all one mass of gray.

    Is there anything I am missing? Yes, I know I haven't done highly scientific tests. I haven't examined my negatives with instruments that will give me density measurements. I haven't worked exclusively with XTOL for five years to be able to master it. But I don't think any of those things are required to get good results. I have tried every dilution with every film I use and have not gotten one result I was happy with. Please tell me there is something I am missing.

    Nick
     
  2. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    Well I've been using Xtol since it's release and always get excellent results, but I use it replenished, just as I did previously with ID-11(D76).

    Basically it's an improvement over ID-11/D76 gives slightly better results particularly with T-grain films and is more environmentally friendly. I use Xtol for my commercial work & Pyrocat HD for my personal work.

    If your not getting optimal results then perhaps you should do some test to determine your film speed & dev times.

    Ian
     
  3. Lowell Huff

    Lowell Huff Inactive

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    The fact that I do not manufacture Kodak Xtol not with standing, in our competitive testing, I also have the same opinion. It is a good low contrast, film developer that works in both machine and manual applictions but that is the best that can be said. As a powder product, I feel that it suffers from that mixing issue. I don't see the "HYPE" either.
     
  4. 23mjm

    23mjm Member

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    I hear you--- I tried Xtol to and it was ok nothing special. I did get good results but not any better than DD-X. I stopped using it because I got lazy and didn't want to mix powders.
     
  5. kodachrome64

    kodachrome64 Member

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    That's what I was thinking...I was expecting some pretty orgasmic results in order to go through the trouble of mixing the two powders in 5 L batches!
     
  6. PhotoJim

    PhotoJim Member

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    It is a great developer. My guess is that your EI and/or your development times aren't quite what they should be to fully exploit the developer.

    I must confess that when I use XTOL I use it 1:1 which changes its properties somewhat, but when I use D-76/ID-11 I do the same.

    Perfect? No. One of the best? I think so.
     
  7. Nicholas Lindan

    Nicholas Lindan Advertiser Advertiser

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    You may want to reserve judgment until you print the negatives. Scanners aren't made for B&W silver-grain film and results will always be sub-par. What works best in any particular scanner may not be what will produce the best print in an enlarger.

    B&W with a scanner is best done by shooting color negative film, scanning it and then converting it to black and white with a channel mixer.
     
  8. Chazzy

    Chazzy Member

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    Xtol produces fine grain without losing film speed. To me, that makes it an excellent general-purpose developer. If your negatives are flat, don't blame the developer. Blame your developing times.
     
  9. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    I find XTOL also gives nicer midtones than D-76. Not a huge difference, but the slight difference in tonality makes for better portraits.
     
  10. kodachrome64

    kodachrome64 Member

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    I have tried different times and dilutions. The negatives are fully developed.

    As for the scans, I know they would look different through an enlarger. I don't have that capability now and won't for the foreseeable future. I have plenty of control in the development stage, and negatives developed in any other soup produce great results when scanning. Maybe I have been off on every single time with every dilution and every film I've used with it...I don't know. I doubt it, but I won't say it's not possible.
     
  11. kodachrome64

    kodachrome64 Member

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    That's exactly what I'm trying to avoid. If I were going to do that, I would just shoot digital. Scanning is not the issue, since I love the results I've been getting with other developers.
     
  12. Harry Lime

    Harry Lime Member

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    Just scan your B/W negs as color negs and set the output to 16bit grayscale.
    Works like a charm on the Nikon SCS 5000ED and 9000ED. Also on my previous Minolta scanner.
     
  13. kodachrome64

    kodachrome64 Member

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    Yes, some scanners do fine with B&W. A lot of people say they aren't designed for it, but that's the best some of us can do.
     
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  15. Michael Kadillak

    Michael Kadillak Member

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    Xtol is a fabulous developer as are many others. The issue here is not the developer but the inability to translate the results to hard data - ie a print. When you have the ability to see the results in your prints then make the post.

    Only change developers when you have made a fine print and can ascertain the technical shortcomings of this product. There are enought variables in the process without adding new ones to the mix.

    I have seen a number of people decide to bag a film and/or developer and continue to the latest "recommendation" only to conlude that this combination was as poor as the previous one and the cycle continues. Many times they come back to where they started.

    Focus on making prints and hit the pause button for a while. I think that you will be surprised at what Xtol will do.
     
  16. kodachrome64

    kodachrome64 Member

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    I won't be making prints. For a while. That's just not an option. I understand the results would be different but the end result I am working with right now is the scan. I know it's not the same as a hard print, but it's the best I can do right now.

    Even though it may not be the traditional way, one can see the differences of developers through scanning. I'm not moving from developer to developer to developer; I use the developers I use for their different characteristics and I get fantastic results. XTOL is the only one I've gotten consistently poor results with. People can say it's the scanning and not the developer, but I know I get good results from the other developers. What it looks like on a print is irrelevant to me because I won't be doing any printing. My final product is a scan and then a LightJet RA4 print on Fuji Crystal Archive paper, and I've been getting incredible results with Rodinal and HC-110 especially. I also get great results with TMAX when pushing. Maybe I just don't like XTOL, or maybe XTOL is only good with wet prints.

    I understand many people think you can't tell anything about a developer until you make a print in a darkroom, but it's just not true. Maybe you can see more on a print, but all of us don't have the capability to do them. I will be very happy when I don't have to mess with scanning anymore, but for now it's what I have to do.
     
  17. srs5694

    srs5694 Member

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    First, I wouldn't apply the word "orgasmic" to any developer! Even aside from word choice issues, no developer is a "magic bullet." Although they do produce different results, in my experience issues such as proper exposure, composition, etc., are all more important than the developer used. (Proper exposure and developer choice are related to each other, of course.)

    Second, my preceding comments assume proper use of the developer. From your description, my hunch is that you're underdeveloping your film (low contrast), but I can't be positive of that. I've occasionally gotten poor results from XTOL (or other developers) on a first roll of a given type of film only to get much better results after tweaking the developing time. Some films are extremely sensitive to this manipulation; Foma films can be tricky to get right, for instance. If you're not familiar with film speed/development time testing, check this article (there's a second part, too).

    Third, you may be able to get better results by adjusting your scanner settings. I use VueScan with a Minolta DiMAGE Scan Elite 5400, and I find that it often produces flat results with its stock settings for B&W. I can improve matters by futzing with the "B/W type" setting on the "Color" tab or by scanning as color rather than as B&W. (The latter often produces a color cast unless I'm very careful in setting the film base color or use the "JPEG black/white" option on the "Output" tab.) Overall, I find it's harder to judge the quality of a negative via a scan than via a print, since the scanner and its software does so much to try to get a good scan -- sometimes with good results from a poor negative and sometimes with poor results from a good negative. I know you say that you can't do traditional prints at the moment, but you should realize that your ability to judge your negatives is handicapped by that limitation.

    Fourth, if you consider mixing two powdered parts to be too much effort, then XTOL may not be for you; stick with liquid concentrates. Given the range of developers on the market, I'm sure you can find something to your liking in a liquid concentrate. As I said, XTOL is not a "magic bullet," although it is a perfectly good developer for many purposes.
     
  18. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    I haven't tried Xtol very much, I've gone through maybe two 5-liter kits. I didn't see anything special about it that made it better than anything else, but I used it because it was given to me for free.

    The pro lab I used to work for used a seasoned tank of Xtol, and it was liked for its consistency, ability to push process film with great results, and easily printable negatives.
    Most people that got their film processed there didn't know what the chemistry was and were happy as ducks in a pond with it. The few that knew either loved or disliked it, and the reason for not liking it seemed to always be that they thought the grain looked muddy or not sharp enough, especially at high magnification.
    The photographers using the service were usually professional shooters doing personal work.

    I have to say, from my limited experience, that I don't find Xtol to be either good or bad. They print just as well as my DD-X, Rodinal, or Pyrocat negatives and I don't find it lacks in sharpness enough to be disheartening. I do like Rodinal and Pyrocat in very bright scenes, however. DD-X I use only with Delta 3200.

    So I'm a bit surprised that you're getting the results you're getting. From developer to developer the differences are surely not that large. But if you don't like it, stop using it.

    - Thomas
     
  19. takef586

    takef586 Member

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    I am also scanning my B&W film, and honestly am a bit disillusioned with Xtol so far. It looks to me less sharp and tonally less appealing than D76, and creates negatives that are "without character". It is a slightly better version of Diafine, but really nothing to write home about. Out of the other developers I have tried so far, Prescysol EF (some say it is Pyrocat HD under a different name) delivers incredible acutance and good tonality and is easy to scan, and FX39 is emerging as a great all purpose developer, particularly with middle speed emulsions. Here are a few examples, all in 35mm:
    Tri-X in Xtol 1+1
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/59177039@N00/2965835043/sizes/l/
    Tri-X in Prescysol EF, same camera, same lens:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/59177039@N00/2586306889/sizes/l/
    Fomapan 200 in FX39, a Makro lens:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/59177039@N00/2884139045/sizes/l/
     
  20. kodachrome64

    kodachrome64 Member

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    Yes, that is exactly how I would describe it. One of the most noticeable things to me is its lack of apparent sharpness.
     
  21. kodachrome64

    kodachrome64 Member

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    Uh....Rodinal! :wink:
     
  22. 23mjm

    23mjm Member

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    Well you know the bottom line here----that's why they make so many developers--so we can all find our orgasmic developer :wink:
     
  23. MikeSeb

    MikeSeb Member

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    I'd have to agree that while Xtol is good, maybe one of the best, and has worked for me, it isn't for everyone and you should use what works for you without apology. But since others have used Xtol in a scanning workflow (ie, me), it can be done with excellent results. That indicates that you have problems either with exposure/development, or with scanning.

    If you really want to make some further effort, and have access to a densitometer, it could help you eliminate film-exposure and -processing variables as the cause of the trouble. I'm not a full-on Zone System acolyte, but the principles are sound and I take from it what I need to get good results. Forgive me if you're already familiar with how to do this.

    Load up a roll of your favorite film and shoot a gray card, evenly lit, for zones I, V, and VIII, as well as a blank frame for filmbase + fog readings. In other words, spot meter just the card and give five stops less, indicated, and three stops more exposure, respectively, than the meter indicates. Process in Xtol (I think 1+1 is optimum mix for sharpness vs. grain, but I shoot a lot of Tmax--doesn't matter, pick a dilution) and process according to Kodak's recommendations.

    For scanning I have found that I like a bit more zone I density than the 0.10 nfbf The Gospel of Ansel calls for; somewhere around .13 to .15 net filmbase+fog looks good for me. This means you have adequate exposure (that is, EI) for your "system" of exposure and development. Development time has little effect on negative densities on the low end, once you've passed some threshold development time very early in the development process.

    For Zone VIII, the Gospel of Ansel calls for 1.15-1.25 for a condenser enlarger, and 1.25-1.35 (net film base + fog) for a diffusion enlarger. I figure that for optimum scanning you don't want highlight regions as dense as you might find with a condenser enlarger, if you are to have any detail there at all, so I'd aim for the lower end of density there; with my scanner, that's about 1.3 or so. Adjust your development times to get densities in these ranges, and you're at least in the ballpark. If you are seeing these density values, or something like them, rest assured the problem isn't your exposure/development, and therefore must be in the scanning.

    My usual procedure, when trying a new film and/or developer, is to sacrifice four frames for just the above testing; I can usually nail things down within 2 or 3 rolls without the tedium of formal zone-system testing. I find I do not need radical adjustments to the scanned images other than setting black and white points, and curve tweaks to get things looking right.

    On the other hand, if you have a developer/film combo that's already working for you, such as good ol' D76, why bother with all this? Just go with it. Xtol ain't so great that it should stress you.
     
  24. Anon Ymous

    Anon Ymous Member

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    Kodachrome64,
    rodinal might be "orgasmic" for you, but it's certainly a matter of taste. Don't get me wrong, I like rodinal, but it's not an all around developer. Some say it's not very good with fast films and it's not good for pushing. I found this photo which is shot with TriX @3200 and developed in Xtol 1+1. Would you be able to do this with rodinal?
     
  25. kodachrome64

    kodachrome64 Member

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    I routinely shoot Tri-X at 1600 and 3200 and develop in Rodinal using stand development. I get wonderful results. They have more grain than that image, but then again, I want the grain. Here is one I shot between 1600 and 3200 (no exposure meter):


    [​IMG]

    Developed in Rodinal 1+100 for 70 minutes with no agitation. Again, I like the look of Rodinal. Maybe that's why I don't like the look of XTOL.
     
  26. spark

    spark Member

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    I'm on my third 5L batch and I like the stuff. Good tones with Neopan 400 and Tri-X/HP5+. Not quite the results on pushing as with D76 but I didn't really experiment that much. Don't forget the room temperature mixing- another plus. Rodinal is still my choice for slower films, though.