Your response is PRECISELY why I started this post some 1804 readers ago. I have been using Oriental VC lately too, and until I put those prints on the wall next to the Azo prints, I thought it was pretty deep and rich and long scaled.
Per Volquartz and the guy (Anthony?) from Fine Art Photo Supply are both really swearing by Polymax in Fine Art's Versa Print developer. I am going to try that, although it's up to a 6 minute development time to get deep blacks, and I am not interested in hovering over the devel tray for six minutes for each test, step, etc. But if the stuff looks better on the wall next to the Azo, I will let you know.
I imagine that you are correct. I am still awaiting two lamps that Aristo is supposed to be sending me for evaluation on Azo. I phoned this morning, since they were supposedly shipped on 3-28-03 and still haven't arrived. It seems that the delivery service parallels the speed of Azo.
How is your darkroom progressing? I imagine that you can almost taste the hypo by now...
David, Yes, please do let us know what your tests indicate. By the way, I think that you mentioned knowing Per Volquartz before. Have you ever attended one of his workshops? The photographs that he has posted on his site seem to be quite good.
With Polymax in VersaPrint you can get deep blacks in 2-1/2 minutes at 1:1:4 dilution. The "4" is the water. Less dilution gets more speed.
Yesterday I contact printed a negative as best as I could match it, and it came out pretty close, on Polymax in VersaPrint, at Grade 3, and on Azo Grade 3, in amidol. The Azo print is colder, with the Polymax showing some warmth, which is obvious with the prints side by side. To me, both tones are lovely. Fine detail is noticably sharper on the Azo print. The Azo print offers more clarity. But the difference with these prints is not startlingly different. They both have desireable qualities.
I seem to be able to print successfully almost any negative on the Polymax. Azo requires, I think, a different set of skills. I can print some negatives easily on Azo. While another negative, which proofs very similar, I find now impossible to print on Azo. I think I just have to learn how. It is the few really nice Azo prints that motivate me to keep trying.
Developer does make a difference (with Azo anyways).
I get that deep black, long range effect you're talking about with Azo & amidol, but not quite with Azo & Dektol or Azo & Neutol WA.
You ought to try enlarging paper with and without an amidol developer and see if that gives you the same look you want.
I have the same response to Azo...some prints are just amazing on azo and actually take relatively few steps to do very well. Others have taken dozens of sheets and still aren't right. And it's the ones that do well that keep me motivated.
I will try Bergger/Dektol the next time I can. Have you tried Bergger with the dektol/selectol combo or split grade printing it? Is there a way that work's best to nail both range and deep blacks?
I have not attended one of Per's workshops, although we did the Michael Smith workshop together at his house. We live one mile apart. He has been very, very kind to me, teaching me things and mounting a stack of prints for me once. And yes, his prints are very good.
I tried the Bergger VC Neutral paper with the same negative. It is a beautiful paper, not as razor sharp as Azo, but the beauty stands out. I believe the paper got sharper as it dried. I had tried it before in a glycin developer, and Neutol Plus, and it was a very cold, blue black. Too much for what I was doing. I tried it in Neutol WA and it came out neutral, lovely, just warmer than the Azo in amidol and Koday Polyconatrast in Versaprint. Wow.