I keep having very flat / underdeveloped plus grainy negatives despite the fact that I think I have everything under control. Something must be wrong with my development process and I'd like to discover what it is because I'm getting pretty frustrated. I will appreciate very much the help of experienced people.
Films used: mostly Ilford HP5, FP4, PAN 100, Delta 400
Developers: ID 11 1:1, or Microphen 1:1, or Perceptol 1:0
Fixer: Ilford Rapid Fixer
Temperature: 20 (if 1-2 degrees more or less I adjust the development time according to Ilford's conversion table)
Thermometer: 2 to crosscheck :-)
Water: tap water (I haven't tried distilled water yet to test the result)
Agitation: 4x at the beginning, then 1x every 30 seconds
Camera exposure: I guess it's correct because if I do slides (which I don't develop myself) they are correctly exposed. So I assume that my negatives are exposed correctly and then ruined during the development process.
If you find anything wrong with the above procedure or if you have any ideas what else it can be, please let me know. Many thanks!
I would get one more thermometer. I have 3 or 4 and I had an issue such as this and turns out the thermometers red high. I got a digital one at a store that sells kitchen supplies. My negs now come out just fine now.
As Lee said, it may well be a temperature problem, however, there are other things you could try if you are confident your thermometer is OK:
1. Bracket your exposures very generously on a test roll or two and see how things fare on those at + 1/2, +1 stop, +1.5 etc or so. You may well know, but it can be advantageous to slightly overexpose (same as rating your film slower ie an ISO 100 film at ISO 64 or so) to ensure you have good shadow detail - many people do this, often accompanied by a slight reduction in development compared to the manufacturers time (-15% or so). As you have flat negs, however, try overexposing but do not reduce development. If you bracket when using slide film, which do you generally prefer, those at no compensation or those at + 1/3 or + 1/2? If you are choosing 'overexposed' ones them your camera may have tendecy towards slight underexposure. This might give more trouble with B&W where shadow detail is key. This compounded with rating film at manufacturers speed could, possibly, be leaving you a good stop or so underexposed. If you find, for example, that your negs are best at +1 stop, rate that film in future at ISO 50, instead of 100, or 200 instead of 400 etc.
3. You could have a water quality problem, but this is unlikely to cause big probs with regular developers.
4.Developer fresh and diluted correctly?
5. If none of this helps to put acceptable contrast into your negs, try boldly increasing your development time (+25% to start with) and fine tune from there. Without wanting to generalise too much, if you have good shadow detail, but flat highlights, you are underdeveloping but correctly exposing (or reasonably close). If you have poor shadow detail, you are underexposing.
Experiment until it works for you. Do not assume that if you develop for 10 mins and the manufacturer says 8, that it is wrong. If it prints right, it is right (for you). Differencess between your times, etc can occur for various reasons; one person may develop their film for far longer at apparrently the same ISO, same temp, same agitations that another person and get similar results!
Remember that more than one problem could be present ie you could be underexposing by a stop and underdeveloping by a fair %. This would result in poor to zero shadow detail and very flat highlights.
Also remember to change only one thing at a time to ensure you know which change is having the effect.
As a last resort, try sending film to a lab used to dealing with B&W and of good reputation and see what the results are like....
Let us know what the problem was when you find out!!!
Nothing seems out of the ordinary in your developing procedure on the face of it, so I would consider possible exposure issues.
Are you adjusting the film speed for the developer you are using? If you haven't already done so, go to the Ilford website and download the technical data sheets for these films, and note the recommended speed and developing time for each combination, and note that these are only starting numbers that you may need to adjust for your own system.
Also, be sure you've got good negatives at the normal speed before you try push or pull processing.
Here are two combinations that work for me with Delta 400 Pro (120--35mm may be slightly different)--
EI 200, Perceptol stock, 20 deg C., 12 min, agitate for the first ten seconds then 4 inversions per minute thereafter. Should produce fine grain for a 400-speed film, delicate highlights and rich shadows.
EI 400, D-76 or ID-11 (1+1), 20 deg. C., 14 min., agitate as above. Grainier than above, but still a nice tonality with a little more speed.
If you are comparing grain in slides to grain in B&W film - yeh - they are grainy - all the silver grain gets bleached out in color. One way to tell if your film is underdeveloped is to look at the printing on the edges (roll film only) - if they are dark and crisp and your images are weak - you have an exposure problem. If the lettering is weak - you are underdeveloping (unless you are compensating for contrast - I rate most of my film slower and develop 1 stop less to keep my contrast correct for #2 paper in a condenser enlarger.)
You didn't mention which film format that you are using so I will assume that you are using 35 mm. If you are exposing the film at the mfg rated speed and developing at the recommended times in the developer then I would recommend trying this. Cut your film speed in half (over expose by one stop). Cut your development time down by 15% from the recommended time. Target your negatives to print on grade three paper. The reduction in development time will reduce your grain problems. 35 mm needs all the help it can get with grain. Try to shoot one roll at this recommendation and development. If this doesn't help then I would be very surprised.
I concur with Dave that it is an exposure issue. Yu need to determine a working exposure index for each film and developer combo. The easiest way is to find a scene with a normal range of contrast, or make a test scene with clothing, objects that replicate full range of tones. Bracket a series of exposures in 1/2 stops 3 stops each side of factory ASA. Devlop the roll with your current procedures.
After making a contact print of the roll, you should find one exposure that gives you an exceptable print with good contrast. If so, then expose two more rolls (or partial rolls) of the same subjects and process one for 20% more time and the other for 20% less. This will give you some idea of the lattitude of the film/developer combo for expansiion or contracton of contrast through development. If you want to get more precise as to what the limits of the comb is, work in 10% increments up 30% both sides of normal.
Some will argue that this is to simplistic of a method and that there are more precise ways of determining EI and matching film/dev combos to a particular paper. This method will give you a pretty good idea of the direction you need to go with a minimum of time and materials.
But you need to determine your own EI and developer time for each film and developer you use. Once you determine that, the more you shoot and process, smaller adjustments for particular subjects or lighting situations become second nature.
Thank you all for your advice. There's so much new, helpful information in your messages for me that I'm going to print them out and study and step-by-step do all the suggested tests.
I'm very very pleased that I've found such a great community here.
Hi Kate, I had the same problem in college. This was due to using chemistry in the lab that students had mixed up incorrectly. I found when I did my own mixing accurately and with distilled water my results were great. Not sure if your in a course using supplied chemistry or not though. Also load your film for processing in a good changing bag and in your darkroom, I never feel safe enough loading the film and am paranoid of fogging...
The combination of flat+grainy to me doesn't looks like underdeveloped - it looks like overexposed.
So, as said above, bracket exposures to check.