Why are old negs so good?

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by apochromatic, Aug 3, 2008.

  1. apochromatic

    apochromatic Member

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    I've been printing up some 'found-in-the-attic' negs recently, both glass plates and 6x9 film and noticed how the resulting prints seem to 'glow' with tone. When I use a focus finder on modern films it's obvious how wafer thin emulsions have become, since the slightest movement on the enlarger controls will flick it in and out of focus compared to these old ones than seem to have been buttered on. Old emulsions are so thick you can decide if you'd like to focus on the top, middle of bottom of the emulsion. This physical depth must reproduce in the paper emulsion as well giving that 'glow'. Any thoughts?
     
  2. bsdunek

    bsdunek Subscriber

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    My opinion is that the older films used more silver. This seems to give them a 'rich' effect. Because everything is so cost driven today, I think the manufacturers have to figure out how to get buy with the least of everything, especially silver, as it is a very expensive component. The same holds true for papers. I loved the old Kodabromide back in the 50's. I have a hard time getting that kind of print today.
    Just as it seems to an old guy!
     
  3. Fred Aspen

    Fred Aspen Member

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    Uncoated lenses do contribute to that 'glow' as well.

    -Fred
     
  4. Paul Verizzo

    Paul Verizzo Member

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    LOL!

    Ah, the "good" ole days!
     
  5. Jim Noel

    Jim Noel Member

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    One of the more likely causes of the "glow" is total development. As late as the 1930's, possibly later, time/temperature development was not used. Film was developed either by inspection of in a tank for long periods so that all available silver halide was reduced. Negatives from these times would almost always print well.

    The processing room in which I worked in the early 40's continued to use this method. Alll roll film was hung in the developer, D-23, overnight. It did not matter the maker or the speed. In the morning processing was completed and the film contact printed.

    I still have a few negatives from that era and love to print them as well as glass plates because there are no burned out highlights or too dense shadows. Most negatives are what would be considered to day as too dense overall, but the contrast is amazing. Most glass plates I have print better on albumen because they have a much longer scale.
     
  6. Robert Budding

    Robert Budding Member

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    I can blow highlights with modern films if I make a processing mistake. How much silver do you really need? Too dense is too dense.
     
  7. apochromatic

    apochromatic Member

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    Thanks Jim - 'total development' - sounds like the tag line on a Mercedes commercial! If I wanted to reproduce that effect would it be possible with modern materials/chemicals? Presumably negative density was purely down to exposure... I'd like to hear more about this. I read an article about Mortensen in which it is mentioned he put his negatives in the dev and then went off into town for the afternoon!
     
  8. fschifano

    fschifano Member

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    Could it be something as simple as the bad ones got chucked, leaving the good ones to survive? Could it be something as simple as the photographer taking care to make a good negative because film was dear and the number of available exposures few?
     
  9. matt miller

    matt miller Subscriber

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    That's a good point Frank. A few months ago there was an add in the local craig's list asking for someone to print some old negs a guy bought at a yard sale. I answered the add, met with the guy, and brought the negs home to examine. The negatives were made around 1910 or so. Most were underexposed and underdeveloped. There were only a few out of the batch of a hundred or so that I would consider good, easy to print, negatives.
     
  10. Richard Wasserman

    Richard Wasserman Member

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    I don't know, not all the bad ones were disposed of. I recently printed some photos that my father took in 1943 of my mother before they were married. He used some sort of box camera loaded with mystery film, and they were pretty consistently underexposed and the focus often wasn't too good either. I have to say though that even with the technical problems, I contact printed them on Azo and they look very nice. Maybe they received total development which made them printable?

    Richard Wasserman
     
  11. dwross

    dwross Subscriber

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    I'm sure 'silver-rich' and dense had a lot (or even most) to do with it. There is a quality, even in an enlargement on modern commercial paper, that is indescribable and unfortunately doesn't really come across from a jpeg on a computer screen. The attached print and its crop is a flatbed scan of an Ilford Multigrade enlargement of a dry plate glass negative shot with a modern lens, with absolutely no Photoshop manipulations. The plate is so dense I can't get a scan of it.

    My observation and experience is that 'the look' of the old negatives and dry plates was about the materials far more than it was about any particular skill or tricks of the photographer. And, it probably could go without saying that I think more of us new-timers should try our hand at making the old materials.

    d
     

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  12. gainer

    gainer Subscriber

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    Because they're the only ones that get to be old?
     
  13. Jim Noel

    Jim Noel Member

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    I still use this for those negatives which are exposed under very flat conditions. For instance - Death Valley in January, my favorite month to visit, is quite often heavily overcast. During these times the dunes may read as little as one stop difference between highlight and shadow. I develop these in a tray of well used D-23. Normal routine is to place in tray, agitate for 30 seconds, cover the tray with a black one and leave it for an hour. Agitate for another 30 seconds, and repeat the process. After about 3 hours I turn on the green safelight and look at the base of the negative to see if the highlights are present - if not I coninue the routine until they are. This produces beautiful negatives.

    The secret as I know it is well used D-23. It is loaded with silver from previous use and over time some of this apparently replates in the highlight areas to produce additional density there.

    I have never tried this with T-grain films,but I have used it with Tri-X, HP5+ and FP4+.

    As for total development of average scenes, I have not done it in years. If you want to try it I suggest you mix up some D-23, develop several rolls or sheets of old film in it, or use it for your normal development for a time. After about 50 rolls or sheets of 4x5 it should have sufficient silver to work. D-23 keeps for inordinately long times if not contaminated. If you have,as I do, lots of out-dated film just open the package and expose it,then develop it to season your developer.

    When I was learning in the 30's most photographers kept their film developers and replenished as needed to maintain activity. Use of developer in a one-shot method was just too expensive in those depression days. This re-use process provided workers with plenty of well used developer.
    D-23 rarely needed replenishment, but could be with D-25. D-76, and Panthermic 777 and I'm sure many other developers were commonly replenished. These are the ones with which I worked at the time.

    Try it - you may like it.

    Also remember that most lenses of the time were not coated and thus there was more non-image light on the films than with current multi-coated lenses. This would contribute to the "glow", I think. That's why I still prefer lenses from before WWII. The trees in my photographs look like round trees, not flat cut outs pasted on the surface.
     
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  15. eddym

    eddym Member

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    Does that apply to us photographers too??? :wink:
     
  16. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser

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    hi jim

    i worked for a lady portrait photographer who was trained through the mail
    by the new york insitute of photography in the 20s and 30s.
    when i worked for her it was the 1980s :smile:
    she used dk50, "replenished" ... wow!
    it gave the sweetest results!

    those suggestions you mention are the best.

    john
    (replenishes: (café130) caffeinol C +ansco 130 )
     
  17. Robert Budding

    Robert Budding Member

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    My father's old negs are a mixed bag. They were better before the kids arrived - he probably had more time to get the exposures right.
     
  18. bsdunek

    bsdunek Subscriber

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    IMHO, it isn't density, its gradation. More silver seems to allow a wider gradation. Ansel Adams Zone Systems gives ten stops range to films in his era. I find it hard to do that now. I would say 7-8 stops is all I can get from FP4 or HP5, and I consider those good films. I'm no chemist, in fact, I barely made it through chemistry in college, but I think the chemistry of the film, which includes amount of silver, has been compromised. As I say, just IMHO.
     
  19. Igor Savchenko

    Igor Savchenko Member

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    Hello Jim,

    In that lab where you worked in 1940s, how did you re-new your D-23 in that large tank? Did you at some point just add small amount of fresh made developer to the used one, or just made fresh portion for the whole tank? I guess the same amount of D-23 couldn't work for let's say 5 years even with 'total development' technique... Or it did?

    In your today's practice of 'total development' in tray, for how long do you use the same batch? And what's then - a new batch, seasoning it with outdated films, or the same batch with a kind of replenishment?

    Thank you.
     
  20. el wacho

    el wacho Member

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    i heard lucky films give that good ole' time glow!! :wink:
     
  21. mabman

    mabman Member

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    Could it also be that the 6x9's were all (or mostly) Verichrome or Verichrome Pan, which was a double-layered emulsion (and therefore harder to blow out or completely mess up exposure on, from what I've read)?

    It predates my interest in photography, but there is a lot about it written here and elsewhere, and seemed to be the norm for box cameras and sometimes wedding photographers in its day.
     
  22. Paul Verizzo

    Paul Verizzo Member

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    Also Russian Chernobyl-X.
     
  23. Paul Verizzo

    Paul Verizzo Member

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    Don't know about double layers, but it was definitely a more forgiving film than it's cousin PX. My understanding is that it was of lower contrast, thus being able to provide a usable image despite primitive cameras or error.

    I bought a bunch from B&H now about seven years ago with the intent of "getting back into MF," get out the Rollei and play with my Ansco. Never did. Sold it all with a lot of other 120 film before I moved last fall. Sigh.
     
  24. Harry Lime

    Harry Lime Member

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    I think part of it may have to do with the old developers being 'softer' working.
    There are many pieces to this puzzle, but I believe this is an important one.

    For many years I used Ilford DD-X, D76 and some xtol with Tri-X@400. D76 had the most vintage look of the three, with Xtol producing the most modern look. DD-X was in the middle.

    Then about 6 months ago I switched to Barry Thornton's 2-bath for Tri-X@400. Thornton's formula is a variaton on Stoekler's formula, apparently tweaked for thinner modern emulsions.

    Anyhow, I have notiched a few things about the Thornton negs compared to my previous efforts:

    - vastly better tonality.
    - vastly better shadow and highlight detail. I've found it very difficult to blow highlights and shadows have plenty of detail.
    - The consistency from roll to roll is much higher.
    - I shoot with a mix of Leica M and vintage Nikon F glass and even laymen have commented on the vintage look of the recent images I have produced with this developer.
    Even just sitting on the lightbox they look a lot more like some Tri-X negs I have from the 1950's.
     
  25. Rolleijoe

    Rolleijoe Member

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    also there weren't any D*****L cameras to foul everything up, computer programs to fix your mistakes. You had to actually KNOW HOW TO TAKE A PHOTOGRAPH. Seems like these days only the Europeans are carrying on that tradition. Americans seem lazy & demand instant satisfaction/perfection.
     
  26. Paul Verizzo

    Paul Verizzo Member

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    Yeah,

    Those darned new roll film cameras by Eastman really fouled things up! You actually had to know how to do wet plate collodian (???) processing until he came along!

    Come now, Rolleijoe. Time moves technology and society along. With the current state of digital technologies, there is only one reason to use film technologies: we want to. (I'm not talking silver prints v. inkjet, just the image taking and processing.)

    I was digital only for 7 years, but I came back to my first love. :D But every time I use my Minolta A2, I am in awe. Just like when I see a print develop and make an image.

    They are only different, not superior/inferior.