Somewhere there will be a question no matter how convoluted this post gets. I restarted my obsession with photography less than a dozen years ago and used the local materials, D76 and TMAX. Under the false assumption that I can have it all and do it all, I quickly made the jump from cute little film to MF and from there to LF looking for the tools to create what images I had floating in my head. Of course, I did all this without a mentor who could have held the reigns back and this led to all kinds of experimentation in search for the perfect brew.
Well, as you may have guessed, with TMAX and D76, my first issue was how to control contrast, which led me to older emulsions and yet older chemistries, while at the same time trying to develop an idea of what I am best suited to photograph. Now realizing that the subject and envisioned end product should dictate the materials used, I am faced with deciding which path to follow as far as subjects go - but that is a different thread. Believing that having "standard" combinations that I know very well is a huge benefit, I ponder which of the many worthy candidates gets to be "it."
I am not the spontanious decisive moment kind of guy, I am quite happy to ponder an image for a long time, take a long time setting up and then trip the shutter at my liesure. I don't carry a 35mm camera. In the Jeep I have an OLD TLR for those semi-spontanious shots that I must have when found. For 35mm I like FP4 and TechPan, which can take advantage of the light weight and fast lenses I use in my Contax/Zeiss system. My expectations are that 8x10 will be the limit (unless I WANT grain) and that is fine - but not my primary way to make art. So I have a spilt D-23 that gives me fine grain, decent accutance and some highlight control. TD3 works good for the TechPan and that completes my 35mm chemistry with little desire to change that.
For 4x5, I am considering settling down with PMK and TRI-X. I need the speed (such as it is) to allow for DOF control. Since I have no intention on going over 20x30 and most often stop at 16x20 prints. The grain is not a problem and the results are good although finer grain would be nice. FP4 and PMK is much better for grain but the speed can make the wind and waves a challenge. So these are the two films and one developer for 4x5 I will likely settle with for LF. I am thinking of revisiting Split D23 or even D76 and comparing for the advantage of added film speed and finer grain but am concerned about loss of accutance and highlight control.
MF is the one that leaves me the most confused. I use the split D-23 for my TLR rolls to compensate for guessing on the exposure and am usually surprized at how good the results are. I took some shots recently that are very pleasing to me and the benefits of highlight clamping from DiXactol were good but the grain structure now limits me to 11x14 with 8x10 being optimal. This kind of makes lugging the heavy Rolli SL66 and Zeiss lenses around a waste of time in that for an 8x10, 35mm would be a more practical film format. PMK and TRI-X in MF was so grainy, I would not do that again, DiXactol and TRI-X are acceptable but less fine grain than what I am looking for. FP4 is too slow for too many things I would shoot with a hand held camera or moving subject. So I am now considering abandoning DiXactol altogether and am experimenting with split D23 for all my MF work to see how that changes things. It seems to have all the benefits of the tanning/staining developers but with much finer grain and full film speed. So here are the questions; do most of you settle on certain combinations that meet your specific needs and then stop experimenting? Is this path and logic I am following sound? Any suggestions at MF or LF combinations? Has anyone that has traveled this path come back to TMAX and then which developer? I think that ultimately I want to have no more than three emulsions that I would use for everything (not counting IR or TechPan) Maybe FP4, TRI-X and ?? (I don't care for the paisley grain structure of HP5)
Thanks for all your wisdom and for reading this long winded post. - Frank
I like Tri-X/PMK for medium format, but if you want something finer grained with nice shadow detail and delicate highlights, try Delta 400 Pro at EI 200 in Perceptol.
If the new Delta 400 were available in sheet sizes, I'd very seriously consider using it instead of Tri-X. I use Tri-X in medium format in part because I like having some consistency of tonality across formats.
wow! people can spend days responding to your post. lots of stuff there. I'm aware that I have no more wisdom or experience than you, I don't mean the following to sound like a sage giving advice to a novice... I'll show you my pictures, you'll see I have a lot to be humble about! (I stole that line from Yogi Bear.)
I spent about 25 years shooting with a 35mm rangefinder then went on a quick progression (5 yrs) through Mamiya RZ6x7, Canham 5x7, Sinar 8x10 and finally back to Sinar 5x7 as my ideal format. I also went through various film types, especially on the 35mm side, tri-x, tmax, apx 100, hp5, etc.
I've come to the following conclusions:
1. each format has a reason for being, use the right format for the picture. If tri-x medium format is too grainy, maybe it's a large format picture. Ever notice that, in a good people picture, grain is irrelevant?
Medium format is a compromise, you can use tri-x to mimic 35mm or tmax to mimic large format, but the results are never as good as using the right camera.
2. I've gravitated to the faster films in every format I shoot. be it for handholding in the small formats to wind issues in the larger formats.
3. Apparent sharpness is better than actual sharpness. A tgrain film in 35mm doesn't have the apparent sharpness of tri-x or apx in a larger format. apparent sharpness has 2 main components - edge effect and local contrast. (interesting that the 2 films you like (fp4 and tri-x) are strong in that department.) apparent sharpness should be judged by your finished print size. in my case, 5x7 tri-x makes a sharp grainless 11x14 which is my standard print size. If I printed larger, fp4 might be my answer.
4. one or two particular film/developer/paper combinations will look much better to you than anything else. experiment enough to find your favorites and then stick with them. once you make your pick, your technical angst will abate and you can spend your time on the image. My personal FDP combination is Tri-x 320 in pyrocat HD, printed on Bergger VCCB paper.
My life is now simple.
The one recommendation I would make is to try Pryocat with your favorite films. pmk has no advantage over it and your print times will be cut in half. It also works better than any other pryo developer in a rotary processor.
I've read your post three times and feel that that there is more than one issue to deal with. You seem to be obsessed with a dislike of grain. Perhaps the need to eliminate grain is beginning to dominate your thinking rather than the real reason for making photographs. You said in your post that you don't want grain as it's not your primary way to make art, surely art is not about technical matters, it's about vision and a need to express and communicate. The excellent recent debate about vision in another thread is worth reading again.
I went through a similar dilema a few years ago when I downsized from LF to 35mm in order to persue a documentary project that was impossible to do in LF. Grain became the issue when I made the first batch of proof prints for after LF, 35mm prints from Neopan 400 had grain like golf balls, at least it looked like it to me. John Blakemore, a British photographer, helped me put it into perspective by making me think of the project and expressive images. I now happily make 16 x 20 prints from 35mm Tri X developed in my favourite developer. (I'll mention that later) Yes I can see the grain but it does not intrude at all. Please don't take what I've just said as an attack on your thinking or likes and dislikes, I'm just trying to divert your thinking to help you decide direction. It seems to me that you should be thinking about the images floating in your head and not carrying the burden and obsession with too much grain.
Your posts always show that you think very deeply about your photography and clearly, you have carried out many tests to try to arrive at the best film/developer combination. Any combination that I, or anyone else suggests can only form a starting point for you for we are all different. I have to say that I'm usually reluctant to suggest any specific combination in a forum situation for I think that there is a potential for leaving the person who asks the question in a state of total confusion, but perhaps it's time to break my own rule.
I know that you have used some if not all of the staining developers, perhaps hoping that you are able to arrive at a situation where you have only one developer/film combination to do all things. I have read claims that staining developers are just that and I have to disagree. Many years ago, long before staining developers became fashionable, I considered using them and was told by my mentor that I trusted, that they increase grain but that it is masked by the stain. I don't wish to start a flame war with that statement but my experience with some of the staining developers currently available bears it out.
My suggestions re film/developer combinations are to work with Tri X and either ID11 or D76 and use exposure and development to control contrast and highlight detail. My own favourite combination is Tri X and Fotospeed's FD30. I would also consider Ilford Delta 400 in either ID11 or Ilford DDX. I noticed that you use D23 to help compensate for guessing the exposure, surely assessing the light and subject and making the correct exposure and then giving the correct development must be a priority. In fact, any form of guesswork in your exposure may be the reason for evidence of grain in your photographs.
Thank you for sharing your concerns and problems Frank, I hope that I have not offended you with some of my observations and comments.
Unlike Tom duffy, I find myself using slower and slower film in all formats.
I am rarely in a hurry, mostly use a tripod with LF, and like to be able to (pretend to) control the DOF without using ND filters.
35mm I hardly ever use. Mostly Ektachrome when I do...
MF I use FP4+ and PanF, occasionally Konica IR 750 and EFKE R25.
LF takes FP4+ and MACO IR 820c. I also use MACO ORT 25 and Agfa APX100 in 9x12cm.
Most of this is developed in Pyrocat-HD. EFKE films give great results with Neofin Blue (Beutler's). If I don't want stain, I will probably use D23 with Borax afterbath ("split") since I must have shot a very high contrast scene to want to avoid the stain.
For many years I used only FP4+ in Ilfosol S, the "figure study" was done with that on 6x4.5. Enlarging to 11x14" I am unable to find grain to focus on...
Thanks all for the good input;
I am not obsessed with grain size. I'M NOT I'M NOT I'M NOT I'M NOT I'M NOT - Well - maybe a little, anyway.
The guessing on exposure is only on my TLR where I am shooting - as found - with no other equipment, 90% I get my exposure right on for my objectives using a zone vi / pentax spot meter.
I am comparing the single bath version of DiXactol, which I have used a lot in the last year with a similar roll of FP4 120 done with D23. The DiXactol negs look very good so maybe I'll just stick with what I am doing - I'll decide when the prints are dry.
I guess I'll stick with FP4 for anything I don't need speed for, which is fairly often. I like the smooth mid tones I get with both PMK and DiXactol and just for fun I did try a roll of TRI X and HP5 at 1600 each to compare that. Maybe the HP5 will be better for pushing and I used D76r (mixed from formula in Film Developers cookbook) for that.
I guess at the end of this thought, the combinations I use are still fairly optimal for what I want to acheive and this whole thing started when I tried to get LF results from a MF camera with LF combinations.
So the real question is, how do I get Pan F 50 or Agfa 25 grain with TRI X speed and range with the highlight separation of Pyro? And don't tell me Photoshop 7! - and ... If I stumble on it, I'll let you all know!
Thanks -- Frank
This a cut and paste from that other website but it's a good one;
I just got the first weekend of a two weekend seminar at the ICP in NYC done. It is in advanced printing. At the end of the first day, the teacher, who is a Magnum printer and well known printer around NYC showed off some "one-off" prints that he ahd done for some famous photographers. He brought out full fram 16x20 prints that were made from 35mm and they were incredible. I ever knew that 35mm could be enlarged to this extent. They were almost all Tri-X at 320 in Microdol, and they were beatiful and sharp. I know that most think Microdol is soft, but I have no doubts that it can produce great prints.
An opinion on grain from a portrait photographer.
I kind of like grain, as I used tri-x for a long time. I shoot 6x6 mostly and enlarge usually to 20x24, using FP-4. I often crop a lot when shooting kids.
I've never had a client say "it's a nice picture but I can see the grain".
The larger the picture is printed the farther back it is viewed. ( You view an 8x10 at about 1-3 feet. An 11x14 at about 3-4 feet. A 16x20 at 6+ feet etc.)
We used to call it "smelling the print". Photographers can easily be identified, because they are the only ones who look at large prints from 6 inches.
You never seem to notice there is a lot of grain present when the photograph is striking and has a lot of emotional impact.
Just an opinion.
"Many years ago, long before staining developers became fashionable, I considered using them and was told by my mentor that I trusted, that they increase grain but that it is masked by the stain. I don't wish to start a flame war with that statement but my experience with some of the staining developers currently available bears it out."
Could you clarify what you mean by this? I read it a couple of times and realized that I really don't understand what you are saying.