Tri-X and D76 is an excellent choice and as others have mentioned D76 at 1:1 is good.
“The contemplation of things as they are, without error or confusion, without substitution or imposture, is in itself a nobler thing than a whole harvest of invention”
I am going against your premise and suggest you will get a better feel for your film and developer if you do stick with one developer but work with 2 different films.
Get yourself a slow film and a fast film and use them both. Stick with just those two films and stay with just the one developer. I would suggest for films Tri-X since you seem to like that idea and FP4. Working with 2 films you will be able to see differences between the two which will tell you more of the characteristics of each.
I actually didn't come up with this idea on my own. I went to photography school and that is what they taught us. We started with Tri-x for fast and Pan-X for slow and processed both in D-76 and worked that way for a year. Without experience and starting with just one film is like looking in 2 dimensions. Starting with 2 films and using them together gives you a third dimension and will allow you to notice some individual characteristics.
The choice of a single film and developer combination is not a capricious one. It was advocated by Ansel Adams in his book The Negative. Once one fully understand a particular combination THEN a second combination can be tried. Trying to juggle two films at the same time will only lead to problems.
A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.
~Antoine de Saint-Exupery
I understand the premise. I am saying I disagree with it.
Originally Posted by Gerald C Koch
A beginner will learn more about a film and about tonality and characteristics if he starts with two and contrasts one against another.
Really appreciate all the input and wanted to make two additional points:
1) I hope I have not offended anyone in suggesting that Tri-X/D76 was the "training wheels" or "beginner" solution. Quite the opposite, in fact - I chose it because, based on what I have seen, it is the look that I personally like the most. I can definitely see using that combination for a long time.
2) On using 1 or 2 films - here is my problem. I feel like I am basically having to "re-learn" photography when using film. With digital, ISO is almost irrelevant (although wedding shooters in churches would vigorously disagree) and the immediate feedback of the LCD combined with the overall flexibility of RAW leads to some sloppy technique (or at least it did on my part). As I learn about film and "exposing for the shadows", I find myself having to go back to step one. To date, I have trying to shoot at box speed, spot-meter for the shadows and stop down two stops (or in the alternative, spot-meter the brightest and darkest points of the scene and take a straightline average). I have absolutely no idea what is the "right" way or whether there even is a "right" way, but I would like to get to a point where I can determine a real film speed, punch in a spot-meter reading that reflects what I would like to be middle gray, and then go from there.
My plan at this point (and would love to hear from you guys on this) is to take my RZ and 3 backs with 3 rolls of Tri-X. I will shoot one at box speed, one 2/3rds to a stop over, and one 2/3rds to a stop under (the same 10 subject images, in each instance exposing for middle gray). Develop all for the time recommended for box speed exposure and pick the set of negatives I like the most. Next, shoot another three rolls at the desired film speed (same subjects, exposed for middle gray) and develop one at box speed, one at 30% time more time and one at 30% less time.
Admittedly, this plan seems like a mish-mash of what I have read here and on other sites (I sound so stupid saying "I read it on the Internet") so someone should absolutely feel free to call me an idiot, point me to a book, correct my plan, etc.
As always, all help is appreciated.
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I have a mixed feeling about the premise of one film, one developer concept. For the same token, one camera, one lens concept.
I had a long running issue with a film I picked and a developer I picked. I struggled with the combination until I got good result with them. Some people here might remember my struggle with this combo and what I did for probably more than a year. Then I tried a different combination. Bingo! Without trying, I got what I wanted. Granted, I may have gotten what I wanted form the first combination through trial and errors (and I did) but the ease and spontaneity of getting what I want on a first try with new combination was amazing.
An only thing I learned from this is that not to get trapped in a convention or a firm belief early in an early stage, especially because someone said so or you read about it somewhere. Experiment. Play around. Have fun. Try different things. Then settle down on what works and fine tune.
That said.... I now use Tri-X and Tmax400 with D76 unless I have a reason to do something else. I have Tmax100, Plus-X (yes, I have some!), Delta 3200, and XTOL on stand-by. I use them when I have a reason to deviate from my standard.
I haven't a clue if there is something you can learn from my experience.
Develop, stop, fix.... wait.... where's my film?
To build on my last point (which I had intended to also address your post), my concern is that until I know how to produce a good negative/print using one film, I'm not sure that I would really be looking at an apples to apples comparison that is in any way meaningful. The only way to do it (as I currently see it - please correct me as you see fit) would be to do what I described with both films side by side, such that you were looking at a box of FP4+ underexposed by 2/3rds of a stop and over developed by 30% compared to a box of Tri-X shot/developed in exactly the same manner. That just seems like a LOT of work in the beginning that is possibly more likely to confuse than enlighten. But what am I missing?
I've only been printing again about a year, but I agree with what others said about printing... that's where I've learned the most about developing film. All the changes I've made in exposure and development have had specific aims in terms of printing. I am using mostly 2 films, Tri-X and FP4+, and I like them both very much and have learned a lot about both. Whether that has slowed me down vs. sticking to only one I can't say since that's not what I'm doing, but I'm having a lot of fun and like having a choice. Actually... now that I think about it, it IS slowing me down because my progress with each film is slower than if I only was using one. That's okay though, there are many times I'm just out walking and Tri-X is a lot easier handheld.
Tr-x and D-76 is a good choice and T-max 400 and T-max developer is another good choice.
NedL - it's hard to be unable to find something wonderful to shoot in Sonoma. Keep on telling everyone who will listen that you want to head to Sonoma and Russian River Valley. Napa is for the New Yorkers...
Apologies for derailing my own thread. Back on track...