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  1. #1

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    Side-by-side comparison of BW films?

    Has anybody done anything similar to this, for BW films?

    http://www.onlandscape.co.uk/2010/12...lm-comparison/
    http://www.onlandscape.co.uk/2011/02...arison-pt-two/
    http://www.onlandscape.co.uk/2011/06...mparison-pt-3/

    I found a thread at http://www.apug.org/forums/forum37/9...s-samples.html where a similar question was asked, but the replies were mostly along the lines of "just choose one, it doesn't matter. Personally I swear by film X".

    I do realise there are far too many free variables to cover all the possible variations, but it would still be possible to get a meaningful comparison if, say, you shot the same scene, same lightning with several films, developed all films in the same developer according to the manufacturer's instructions and included a calibration target in the shots to compensate for film base color and box speed deviation.

    The reason I'd like to see this is that often when somebody recommends a film, they also post a picture to show a film's capability. To me such photos are meaningless alone. Every BW film will let you produce a picture with black, white, and shades gray, so a single picture normally doesn't tell me anything about the film's tonality or dynamic range. Without another picture of the same scene to compare to, a picture is just a picture.

    Presumably there are enough objective and measurable differences between films that you can't make TriX look identical to TMax look identical to HP5 look identical to KB100 just by wreaking development and printing, but I'd be happy just to see different films in the same process.

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    Great link !

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    While for colour films the development is standardised, it is not so easy for black and white films. The conclusion from a comparison with D76 or Xtol as developer, for instance, may not hold for Rodinal, Diafine, HC-110 or whatever. I think there is a lot of info available for most films, with tonal curves published for various developers etc. If that does not satisfy you, then test your films under the relevant shooting conditions and for the developing process you are likely to be using. There are too many variables to control in a general comparison, and it will be very time consuming and expensive.

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    It'd still be possible to test different films using the same developer and process. I'm not asking for a comprehensive test that covers all variables, but a test that shows how the resulting picture changes when only the film is varied would still be interesting to see. Tonal curves on their own don't tell me much, I'm afraid.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Arctic amateur View Post
    It'd still be possible to test different films using the same developer and process.
    I don't think so. For example CMS iso 20 will work best with adotech developer, you just can not make any test with different developer on that film - or that developer with different film. Same goes for kodak TP and technidol.

    If you really insist - I would develop them all in Rodinal 1+100 for that test.

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    Thank you for splitting that hair for me, I would never have thought of that.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Arctic amateur View Post
    Thank you for splitting that hair for me, I would never have thought of that.


    But for another side - they say that rodinal leaves grain on film as it is - so developing everything in rodinal would give good grain comparison between films.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Arctic amateur View Post
    Presumably there are enough objective and measurable differences between films that you can't make TriX look identical to TMax look identical to HP5 look identical to KB100 just by wreaking development and printing, but I'd be happy just to see different films in the same process.
    Sure, there are measurable differences and testing regimes that could flesh them out and for the one single lone given subject in a very specific lighting setup in a lab situation you could pick your subjective fave. I say subjective because the testing parameters for "best" are always arbitrary. In the same situation it is highly likely that I'd choose a different fave, or have no fave.

    In reality there are so many variables, outside a lab, that you could make a specific negative from many, if not most, B&W films and print each of them so similarly that it would be nearly impossible to tell the difference without a forensics team and a microscope.

    Sure, certain generalizations can be made, for example it can be said that 100ish speed films can technically provide sharper prints that say 400 speed films.

    What that statement leaves out is that nice sharp grain from a faster film, that is visible in the print, can actually make the print from say a 400ish speed film "look" sharper than the "technically superior" 100, even if its just an illusion. Along that same line, the print from the 400 speed film could actually truly have sharper subject matter because there is less motion blur because of subject or camera movement, two stops of shutter speed can make a huge difference.
    Mark Barendt, Beaverton, OR

    "We do not see things the way they are. We see things the way we are." Anaïs Nin

  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by Arctic amateur View Post
    It'd still be possible to test different films using the same developer and process. I'm not asking for a comprehensive test that covers all variables, but a test that shows how the resulting picture changes when only the film is varied would still be interesting to see. Tonal curves on their own don't tell me much, I'm afraid.
    Black and white films are picked for their character as much as, if not more than, their absolute quality, I think. And in so doing, usually the developer is picked to complement that character, or at least not alter it appreciably. A simple comparison, such as all ISO 400 emulsions, will only tell you half the story, because many photographers use those films pushed. At box speed they behave very similarly (apart from grain), but when pushed significantly, some pull away from the others. Not that your question is not valid. My point is merely that the ways in which black and white films are used, differs quite a bit from colour films. Therefore a comparison will have quite narrow relevance. And since only you know what you want to achieve, it is hard to tell what comparison would give you the information you are looking for.

  10. #10

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    I've done some work on this, but not with pictorial examples. I exposed grey cards and step tablets, and developed the films to the same contrast index to evaluate curve shape, speed and graininess (sharpness is very difficult to evaluate objectively). To do this properly in my opinion one must set up experiments to compare series of films in the same speed category, developed in a standard developer. That is the first step. So for example, one might choose to compare TMax 100, Delta 100 and Acros, all developed to the same contrast index in D-76. Or HP5+ and Tri-X in D-76. To compare say FP4+ in D-76 to Adox CMS 20 in Adotech, doesn't tell me very much. The films are entirely different, as are the developers.

    A serious problem with any such attempt at a comprehensive test is that with the exception of a fairly standard developer such as D-76/ID-11 (which most general purpose films have been tested in during product development prior to release), one simply cannot generalize regarding the relative behaviour of films with different developers and processing regimes. Even with D-76, it is difficult to make definite conclusions regarding image characteristics. In a hypothetical comparison between say HP5+ and Tri-X in D-76, one might initially find Tri-X to appear grainier and have lower effective speed than HP5+. Switch to Rodinal, or XTOL, and things could change. Then of course there are staining developers, compensating developers etc. Even changing the dilution and agitation routine with D-76 could reverse the initial conclusions. And what about the flexibility of films relative to eachother? How do they behave when contrast is increased or reduced etc. So many variables. It is difficult to generalize because any test is made under a specific set of conditions.

    Even if one could sort that all out, it is then important following the "lab testing", to conduct blind image evaluation tests. Sometimes you come to a set of conclusions based on densitometry etc, but in actual image evaluation subjective factors come to the surface. Maybe the film that appeared grainier in exposures of uniform density now appears less grainy and subjectively sharper in an actual photograph.

    On and on in goes. In the end only a few basic conclusions can be arrived at.

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