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  1. #1

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    Life without a densitometer

    Im about a week away from getting my frist 8x10 camera. I plan to start trying out pyrocat-HD and AZO/Amidol. Ive never had a densitometer, but I have looked extensively for a local one that I could gain access to. No luck whatever. After I get started with 8x10, I wont have enough left to buy a densitometer. My question is this: Is it absolutely necessary that I purchase my own. If it is a good idea to buy my own, which brand/model? I would really love to refine my technique and start producing better contact prints than I am now..

  2. #2
    Mateo's Avatar
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    If you get a cheap step tablet you can contact print is right next to a negative and then visually determine what your densities are. Not a perfect solution but it would work. Allot of people make beautiful contact prints without a densitometer to calibrate their negative developement. Another thing would be see if a local print house would check your negs for you.
    "If I only had a brain"-Some badly dressed guy made of straw in some movie I think I saw

  3. #3

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    Thanks Mateo, but I have a question (since i have never tried the step tablet method). Dont i need "calibrated" step tablets? I have looked everywhere for a densitometer, and cant find one anywhere, not even at the local darkrooms.

  4. #4

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    I picked up a Tobias TB+ with ALL the extras and in mint
    minus condition for under $80. Where else, eBay. Dan

  5. #5
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    Rootberry, I've used a step wedge to do testing and have found it helpful in exposure, development, and film speed testing. Stouffer sells a 4x5 test wedge which will give you the information you need. It is calibrated in .15 density step increments (1/2 stop) from zone 0 to zone 10, so readings are done on the paper of your choice. Basic approach is to place the step wedge on top of a sheet of film in a holder, do the exposure, develop to see film speed and contrast, then print the test film on paper for a visual analysis. Since all you are really concerned with is the film's ability to match a paper's tonal scale, it gives you this information in terms you can understand. While the numbers are very useful from sensitometry, the paper is what you print on, not the numbers.

    If you use a little thought and common sense, it will allow you to determine a very accurate plot of development times without a densitometer. Granted this is a less technical approach, but more information is available from one shot this way than with any other approach I know. Just do several shots with varying development times and then compare the results for your N+ and N- times. It takes a bit of practice to interpret results, but it works very well once you can see the relationships involved. A single shot is nearly useless in any analysis system, as it is the series of shots and different development times which give you the trends you need.

    If you decide to buy a machine, remember to get one with a UV channel. Azo responds to UV light, so a conventional machine isn't what you need in this application.

    You have left out one important variable from your posts, which film (s) are you going to use? Some are better suited than others to azo. Start with the 4x5 and tests and your 8x10 will be a pleasure to use. tim

  6. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by rootberry
    ..... is (it) a good idea to buy my own (densitometer)....

    No. Don`t waste your money. The vast majority of great photographers never had such a beast and they produced fabulous work. Michael A Smith (arguably, the reason why Azo is still available) is very much against such things. And he produces some pretty amazing prints. Read up over on the AZO forum about this and a great many other topics that would certainly be of interest to you.

    Best of luck with your new approach.

  7. #7
    gainer's Avatar
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    I agree that a densitometer is less important than many other aids you cold spend money on. I don't like to brag (if you believe that I have a nice bridge in Brooklyn I could sell you cheap) but I wrote an article in Photo Techniques showing how to get what you need for good prints without a densitometer.

    A step density wedge is a very handy thing to have, and it need not be a calibrated one for this purpose. If you contact print the step wedge on a piece of film, as another of our esteemed posters said, and then contact print the negative on the paper you are going to use, you can tell by the number of steps that show what original scene brightness range will "fit" the paper of your choice with the development you gave the negative of the step wedge. You can convert that information to contrast index if you also contact print the step wedge on the same paper. It is a simple matter of dividing the number of steps you can see in the print of the negative by the number of steps you can see in the print of the step wedge.

    It is also a good idea to get a reflection density step tablet that you can put somewhere in a scene you want to photograph for a test. It contains all the reflection densities you can get on paper.
    Gadget Gainer

  8. #8

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    This is a most timely thread for me, since I have Stouffer 4x5 21-step wedge due in next week along with the RZ9 - a reflection Zone step wedge.

    Can anyone point me to a location on the web were I can read a little more detailed description (read step by step) of the process. I understand that you can place the step wedge on some film and make a contact exposure to test your film development process - but how long is the exposure (or is it a bit of trial and error)?

    Sorry, not trying to hijack the thread, but unless I find a densitometry for a really good price, and it would be one with Transmissive and Reflective properties plus UV channel - so the chances of finding one for under $100 is pretty low.

    Thanks,
    Mike C

    Rambles

  9. #9

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    Find a full scale test subject that is always available such as my greyboard, grey scale, and a doll with white blouse and black pleated skirt. Photograph with studio strobes.

    Now photograph it so there is sufficient shadow detail and develope so the highlights print the way you need such as contact or diffusion enlarger. Make it come out and it is right. I have now idea what the real densities are nor do I care. This has worked for 45 years for me.

    Don`t waste your money.

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by rootberry
    Im about a week away from getting my frist 8x10 camera. I plan to start trying out pyrocat-HD and AZO/Amidol. Ive never had a densitometer, but I have looked extensively for a local one that I could gain access to. No luck whatever. After I get started with 8x10, I wont have enough left to buy a densitometer. My question is this: Is it absolutely necessary that I purchase my own. If it is a good idea to buy my own, which brand/model? I would really love to refine my technique and start producing better contact prints than I am now..
    There is no right or wrong answer to the question of whether one should or should not get a densitometer. The advice you get will be based on the specific experience of the person answering the question. One obviously does not have to own a densitometer to make good AZO prints, but having one won't damage your ability to make good prints either. I am very interested in sensitometry and feel that understanding this part of photography significant enriches my overall understanding of the materials of the medium. But basically you just need to ignore all of us on this issue and direct your work as you see fit.

    However, much of what the densitometer does for you, especially at the printing stage, can be done with a 21 or 31 step transmission wedge so I would strongly urge you to get one of these guides and learn to use it. You don't need a calibrated one since the small differences between the uncalibrated ones are inconsequential at the printing stage.

    If you do get a densitometer a all you need is one that is able to make measurements in Blue mode, i.e. a regular color densitometer, not one that measures UV light. (This assumes that you will be developing with Pyrocat-HD or some other staining developer). It is true that AZO is sensitive to UV light but the lights that we normally use as a light source for printing with AZO (R-40 floodlights, as recommended by Michael Smith) produce very little radiation in the UV range so it turns out that the greater effective sensitivity is to Blue.

    Sandy

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