I should also mentioned that by "straight, grade 2 print," I mean there was no deviation from my proper proof (minimum time for maximum black) for that film and paper combination. That's just a baseline proof. I can certainly understand why many don't want to spend an hour souping film but there's nothing wrong with the result.
I have used strictly FP 4 and HP 5 and Pyrocat HD for nearly 10 years with Extreme Reduced Agitation development and can speak to almost any environmental conditions which can be photographed.
I have and will continue to say, the process, as near a magic bullet as you could hope for is much more about the creative manipulation of scene contrast than any sharpness gain, perceived or otherwise.
If there is interest I can share what my HP 5 development times are.
Steve, please share those times.
A point that's not being made so leading to misconceptions it the format/negative size. Stand and semi-stand development can work well with larger formats and you do get better adjacency effect which means prints appear sharper. But with smaller formats it can look awful.
I use Pyrocat HD with HP5 and at the recommended 1+1+100 dilution with inversion agitation and I get the benefits of good edge effects and micro-contrast which are inherent with this type of developer containing Pyrocatechin or Pyrogallol anyway, due to the tanning effects of the developer.
In making the choice of taking the edges effects to greater extremes has to be balance with the intended uses of the negatives, for instance a 35mm negative which is going to be enlarged will give images where the edge effects look like unwanted artefacts, there may be cases where they contribute to an overall graphic effect. When the extreme acutance developers were available (Definol, Acutol-S, Hyfin, Kodak HDD etc) there were so striking grapgic usually quite high contrast images made using 35mm films - these developers weren't as fine grained as Pyrocat either.
Where this technique comes into it's element is Large format where there's little enlargement and particularly contact prints. I'm refering to the edge effects thouh here.
I'm assuming you mean contrast when you say environmental conditions and my experience is that Pyrocat can copes particularly well with extremes of contrast giving negatives that are remarkably eay to print. That's shooting in the extreme high contrast midday sun in Turkey &n Greece though to the dull overcast low contrast light we often endure in the UK.
Two interesting article on Pyro developers by the same author one in the late 30's and the second "Modern uses of Pyro developers" just after WWII extol the virtues of these developers which had by then largely gone out of favour, he talkings about a more modern dilute approach.
In thinking why is a staining developer like Pyrocat so valuable we need to realise the developed negative has two components a silver image and a dye stain im age. We don't develop the silver image to as a high a Dmax as with a conventional developer and the stain image is more akin to a Chromogenic film like XP2. The benefits of XP2 is a long tonal scale and the ability to shoot at various speeds with the same development time.
So when we shoot in a low contrast situation and develop im Pyrocat (or any other Pyro staing develop) we predominantly use the silver component in printing or scanning, in a high contrast situation the stained component becomes far more important in the highlights and mid-tones the staining & tanning becomes greater and the result is no blown out highlights. Of course this is going on at a local level as well.
I use Pyrocat HD and 2+2+100 and continuous agitation to process my 10x8 negatives and I still get excellent edge effects and micro contrasts so concluded some years ago it's the attributes of the developer rather than agitation or dilution.
I'm not disagreeing that you can't increase this slightly with your extreme dilution minimum agitation technique
Thanks for your insight, I would concur with you on all points where I have experience. I must admit, when this process first made itself predictable for me I was using it strictly for ULF film, which required much a higher contrast index than that of film to be enlarged. To your point, I was very skeptical that if I were to D my 5x7 film for enlargement I was concerned that the image would look "fractured" as one prominent LF photog told me when he saw one of the first ULF images from a Semi-Stand regime.
That has not turned out to be the case, in part I believe due to the much lower contrast which I D my 5x7 film too. I shoot for a 1.10 density above film base plus fog for reasons I'll share below. In fact these lower indexed negs in some cases actually appear to have an even more subtle transition of tone than some of the ++ Developed negs which are contact printed onto Azo. I cannot speak to the edge effects which this technique would impart on 120 roll or even 35mm film, so it comes as no surprise whatsoever Ian of your observations.
Michael, when I first had success with this process I shared my technique with Sandy King as I felt somewhat indebted to Sandy for explaining the possibilities of the technique if it were ever to become predictable. Sandy subsequently did much testing and coined the terminology as follows, STAND Development is one initial agitation with no intermittent agitation before being removed to stop / fix. SEMI-STAND is considered to be only one intermittent agitation after the initial agitation. Extreme Minimal Agitation is considered to be any number of agitations of 2 or more. In my technique I use 2 intermittent agitations which read like this, 2M 12 x 3(20) Which means, 2 minute initial agitation followed by a Stand period of 12M followed by a 20 second agitation followed by a Stand period of 12 minutes followed by a 20 second agitation followed by the last 12 minute Stand before removing to stop / fix. Therefore, 12x3 = 36 + 2M initial agitation + 38 minutes total time in Developer. It is not so important you do things exactly as I do, rather you do them consistently whatever your methodology becomes. I will say this, the initial agitation is a bit more aggressive than the more gentle intermittent agitations. Also, one of the biggest mistakes I made early in the trials was to use a stirring action to agitate, this lead to increased film edge density. I now used an inversion method with no signs of increased edge density, another technique early in the trials which yielded positive results and cured many friends inconsistent results was to use a plunger type action similar to a washing machine's agitation.
Yes I do use many different dilution and agitation regimes, I do not ever change temperatures but do change many other components of the D process. My Reduced Agitation method of developing film has become very intuitive for me, it is not the greatest way to share my experiences but nevertheless very predictable for me.
I have found when bold statements are made that seems to bring out what I like to call Forum Voyeurs, I have little time or motivation to debate issues I know to be absolute. That said, I have often referred to this technique as a near Magic Bullet because, film speed is maximized, highlight contrast is compressed all the while mid tone contrast, easily the most difficult area of the negative to control is exaggerated.
As long as bold statements are being thrown around, I do believe I can make a suitable / printable negative in any lighting condition which will yield a full range of tones no matter how extreme the contrast is in either direction. That however, does not guarantee a fine print because as we all should know the single most important factor in the success of a photograph is the quality of light and how we choose to exploit it.
Generally speaking, film developed to a lower density will be sharper than film which has to be plus developed to expand contrast. I target my negs to fall on the low side of a Multi Contrast paper so that the negative mid tones fall on the straight line of the paper I use.
A topic for another discussion, the main difference for me between my ISO tested FP 4 and HP 5 is speed, 160 ISO and 400 ISO respectively. Clearly, the two films have decidedly different contrast curves, I believe those traits are diminished when developed using a Reduced Agitation form of processing.
Thanks for sharing the details of your process. I must admit to having long been a skeptic when it comes to extreme minimal agitation and/or semi-stand techniques for managing extreme contrast, particularly with tanning/staining developers, but I'm trying to keep a more open mind these days. Also appreciate the work Sandy King has done over the years. He's one of the few people who provided some objective data to support his assertions when he wrote articles for magazines, etc.