Last Saturday I made a BIG mistake: I made some test strips, brought them to the full light, liked them, and made several (ahhh, 6!!) prints(20x30 cm). To my great dissappointment all of them lacked any contrast, looked grey and "muddy". No life, no brilliance.
Then I printed the same image on Fomaspeed RC normal contrast paper and suddenly the contrast was there and the picture was very lively.
I am trying to analyze what happened. The "inputs" are:
Safelight - the same as always (brownish-red)
Paper - Ilford MG Xpress
Filter - Ilford, #3
Developer - Ilford MG, freshly mixed
Stop-bath - water with a splash of vinegar
Fixer - Ilford Rapid Fixer, freshly mixed
Washing - tap water
Based on the different results from two different brands of paper I might assume that it was the paper. But I can't believe that Ilford would sell such a bad batch and I was so unlucky to get it.
Is there anything else in the setup which might've caused the problem?
Thanks for your opinions.
Did you do your test strips and the final prints on the same paper?
Yes, I did. And I waited until they were dry to see the real tonality.
Strange the test strips should be fine, but the rest of the paper not be. How big were the test strips that you made? Did they cover a signigant portion of the scene you were printing?
No, I tested only the most significant parts of the picture (faces). I know that I misevaluated the test strips, and I could've saved a lot of paper if I didn't.
But it doesn't answer my question about what could've been wrong with the paper. Because I expect that if I use filter #3 with an MG paper, I should get a normal contrast. The negative had a normal contrast, so did the final print on a different brand paper.
Try making bigger test strips. Ones that only show a particular area and not the range of tones with a larger test strip will not give you a good evaluation. try taking a 8x10 sheet of paper and cutting it into 4ths the ong way. 2x10 Put those at an angle across the scene you are printing. This will give you more of an indication of what is happening. better to burn a sheet of 8x10 than to waste printing 6 that won't be correct.
Bravo Aggie! And I thought I was the only person in the world who used quarter sheets for initial enlarger tests. The difference between the "look" of a small section of a print versus the whole thing can be quite deceptive, definitely.
Also, check the 1st full print before making extras as you might want to make changes (burning, dodging) since your test strip only covers part of the image. If you're judgeing your exposure based on the test strip increments, the final exposure can be different from the multiple 'shots' of light the test strip receives. I never used to see this with my Durst enlarger but I've been using a LPL thats powered by a transformer and I definetly have this effect. I do an extra (small section) test print at a time slightly less than the test print indicates to double check the exposure. Sometimes I'll do this on a full sheet of paper to check for dodging and burning requirements.
If you've still got some of the Ilford left, you could process some without exposure and preferably in the dark to make sure it's not off.
I make a "test strip" using a 8x10 sheet of paper. The first strip is 2-3 seconds less than I think the exposure should be, the second is what I expect the correct exposure to be based on previous test and past experience, and the third is 2-3 second more than I expect the correct exposure to be. This way I see the whole 8x10 print, I see the correct exposure (hopefully) and I see what areas of the print would look like at more and less time than what I think the correct exposure would be. I've never been able to evaluate a full print from a small section (test strip).
I use a Stopclock timer to give me a base exposure and nine others and make a work print using the exposure I judge most appropriate. You can always do this on a smaller piece of paper and re-size to get the print size you need.