Liquid v. Powder Developers
I have been using Tmax developer (liquid) for quite a while now but recently I have read various threads on Xtol (Powder) being an excellent fine grain developer.
Are there big differences in general between liquid and powder developers?
You never know how old liquids are when you buy them. Xtol can go bad and it doesn`t turn brown or discolor. Even a clip test will not confirm it is ok.
If you want fine grain, you will be happy with D76. Do not dilute it for use. Put it small one time use bottles to keep air away from it until you use it. Exposure to air causes it to change activity in unpredictable ways. Sealed up it is perfect for 6 months.
Liquid developer concentrates dissolved in the right organic solvents have excellent shelf storage properties. Kodak Tmax and Kodak HC 110 are good examples.
The concentrated developers I mix myself with either Triethanolamine (TEA) or Propylene Glycol as the solvent also have excellent shelf life (indefinitely long).
Most dry photo chemicals have a very long shelf life (when kept dry and in the dark). Glycin appears to be an exception. Glycin apppears to keep best in solution (like Ansco 130).
Everything is analog - even digital :D
Just in keeping qualities
I do not believe that there id a great deal of difference between developers just because they are liquid or powder. If a particular developer were availble both ways I would guess they would perform very similarly.
Unopened cans or packages of developer in powder form I would expect to have a very long shelf life.
Aside from the properties of the developer itself, the major difference, I believe, is in convenience. Personally, I dislike the stirring time required with powdered developers (there always seems to be a few pesky crystals that refuse to dissolve), so I mostly use liquid concentrates. (I admit to a degree of laziness.)
As Phoda (the short, pointy-eared alien photographer whose brother, Yoda, got the movie part) said, "Go with the flow, Luke. Go with the flow."
Seriously, one should probably choose a developer based on its properties, and then put up with any inconvenience that might be involved if it happens to be a powder.
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Many liquids have a long shelf-life in the undiluted state. HC-110 and Rodinal are two that come to mind. A friend gave me and OLD, OLD bottle of each (they are probably decades old; the Rodinal had the rubber stopper in the bottle) and they each work just fine.
Xtol is an outstanding developer, but only if you are willing to prepare it and store it properly. Many people have had problems with it. I have used it almost exclusively for many years now without incident, but I make sure I mix gently at room temperature so that I don't stir air into it and I store it in individual 250ml and 500ml bottles filled to the brim. I have kept it at least a year without problem, but Kodak only recommends 6 months.
Now that I've frightened you, mixing and storing Xtol is very easy to do as long as you follow the directions rather than borrowing methods used to mix other devlopers. It is very versatile and can give you some interesting differences by varying the dilution. My personal choice is to use it full strength for 35mm (I feel the grain reduction outweighs the acutance loss) and 1:1 for sheet film.
I always used liquid developers (mainly Ilfosol-S and T-MAX) until I discovered XTOL... Obviously, you need a little more time to mix a powder developer but, in the case of XTOL, I have to say that, if you follow exactly the instructions, there's absolutely NO problem at all... About quality, I tink XTOL is one of the best developers in the market, because is capable of combine high sharpness, very fine grain and a VERY rich scale of gray tonalities, including brigh whites and dark blacks.
One of the reasons I prefer liquid chemicals not mentioned yet is they are generally safer (all things being equal). Powders can easily become airborne and thus can pose a greater saftey risk compared to their liquid forms.
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