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  1. #1
    Michel Hardy-Vallée's Avatar
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    A procedure to find good film/developer combinations?

    I've seen a few threads about surveys of favorite developer/film. Many people have found over the years that they like film XYZ a lot with developer ABC when using sheet films, and that a slight dash of QRN into their UKG will give them better accutance on their used rolls of FLGHSKALAOAZRT+. Great.

    I have a tougher question: how can I bootstrap myself into finding a good film/pair? Following someone else's formula is useless unless you know you're doing similar work; it would also lend one to merely replicate results rather than developing (hah!) an adequate method.

    For the moment I have one 35 and one 120 film cameras. I'm happy with my set of lenses (only one on the MF, so it simplifies things), my meter is an accurate handheld Metrastar (so it must be a 30 degrees one), and because I like to photograph in available light, I use Tri-X 400 film in my 35, and FP4+ 125 in my MF. Both films seem to be generic and flexible enough that they can allow for some experimentation, and to train my eye on contrast, definition, etc. I'm trying to do some Zone system, which means essentially that I stop down on dark subjects and open up on lighter ones.

    The first two pics I'm really proud of were on Tri-X 400, 35mm, developed in HC-110 3mins, then left to stand 3 mins in sodium bicarbonate. That's the formula my father uses for his own work, and we just applied it out of the blue on my negs, and it worked out very well.

    So far I've been through the stages of sending the rolls to the drugstore, sending them to an anonymous commercial lab, and now I just found a wonderful small lab with lots of nice people to chat with about my development. Eventually, I want to graduate to processing the film myself, as my lab standardizes only on HC-110 or XTOL for B&W neg.

    So what are the learning stages by which some of you have been to figure out your preferences? What conscious choices did you do to narrow down the range of what you're looking for in terms of film processing?

    Instead of asking for the right answer, I'd like to ask: What are the right questions I should ask myself?

    This is a fairly abstract topic, and I think it might border the epistemological inquiry, but it can always boil down to a few practical tips. I'm doing most of my photo learning by myself for now, so I'm sometimes left to wonder what's the road ahead.

  2. #2

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    Good Afternoon, MHV,

    I sounds as if you're amenable to the usual method: lots of trial and error.

    A lot of people just start with the developers and times recommended by film manufacturers. After a little fine-tuning to account for your individual procedures, it's usually not hard to come up with highly acceptable results for most subjects/purposes. If something more seems necessary, reading about the preferences of others and doing some experimentation are the typical next steps. Try an APUG search for your chosen film and/or various developers; it shouldn't take long to find some combination which suits your needs.

    Konical

  3. #3

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    I guess there are a few different approaches and views to this. You can go for a very scientific approach trying different films and devs and testing each to get the correct speed/dev time, and shooting them side by side to get a direct comparison. This is going to be time consuming and expensive. There is also the risk of spending all you time testing and trying combinations out instead of actually taking photographs.

    Here is what I’ve done:

    1) Stay away from any films with reported problems on the net. It’s not worth the time to risk to sort these out. Don’t try any devs with hassle factor if this frustrates you.

    2) How much do you shoot? If not much devs with short shelf life are out immediately and if you shoot a lot cost is an issue.

    The biggest problem is there are too many variables. This will narrow the choice down right away.


    3) Try film/dev combinations that *should* give you what you are after this way you should be in the ball park. If you don’t like the result, ditch it asap, there is no point wasting time messing around with it any further, there are enough films and devs combos to try already.

    4) As soon as you are really pleased with a film/dev combo stick with it. DON’T keep messing around with others!

    I think with film and devs a lot of people (myself included) always think there is something better, the grass is greener mentality. It’s far better to get a combination that gives good solid (predictable!) results and that way you are free to be artistic without worrying.

    This is probably wildly different to what some of you guys do but for me, time and money is at a premium. If I take the time to take photographs, I need to know I can depend on my film and developer and not have to reshoot!

  4. #4

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    As you can see from reading and looking on the webb there are literally hundreds of different combintations. If T X and HC 110 worked for you then why tamper with what works?

  5. #5
    chuck94022's Avatar
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    In addition to gobbling up everything I could read on the web, especially at APUG, I picked up "The Film Developing Cookbook" by Angell and Troop.

    That book presents a nice survey of film types and chemistry types. While you don't necessarily have to create your own chemistry, you could from their book. I use it as a starting point for trying to understand various combinations.

    You may not agree with their findings, but it is a starting point for reference.

    Once you pick a film and developer combination you want to try, nothing substitutes for shooting and developing film to see if *you* like the results. Also keep in mind that your results will depend on what you do with the film as well. If you contact print sheet film, especially with an alternate process, you will probably want film with a different characteristic than if you enlarge. And if you use a condenser versus diffused light light in your enlarger, you may want different film/developer for best results.

    You'll get lots of opinion here, but in the end it is what works for you after trial and error.

    But regardless of what you do, start developing the film yourself. Only then do you have the control of your process so that you can really evaluate the result and make choices. As I'm sure you are aware, there are also many choices beyond film/developer. There is choice of dilution, agitation style, post development chemistry (eg, do you go all alkaline with TF-4?) that are interesting and relevant. For black and white, it is so easy to do it yourself it doesn't seem worth the bother to find a local processor. You don't even need a full darkroom - just a large changing bag is sufficient to load film into a Paterson or Jobo inversion drum.

    Good luck!

  6. #6
    Flotsam's Avatar
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    I think that a great starting point is by looking at the APUG galleries and finding images that you like, that are similar to type of photography that you are doing in the formats that you use. Just check the film/dev combination used. If you ask the photographer about his choices, he will probably offer some helpful information. Use the _huge_ base of experience and knowledge available here. It is utterly invaluable (Worth a lot more than $12 )

    After that, there is no way around the tedious personal testing (Lord, how I wish there was )
    That is called grain. It is supposed to be there.
    =Neal W.=

  7. #7
    Thomas Bertilsson's Avatar
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    I think chuck94022 is right on the money.

    I have learnt the hard way that it does not pay off to experiment with different films unless you're already completely familiar with at least one combination film/developer.
    Ask yourself what more you want out of your film/developer, what is it that your current combination is lacking in your final prints, if anything.
    Next advice is to never change more than one factor at a time, if you want to fully understand the impact the use of a different product has on your negs, and ultimately, the final print.
    I would stick with the film / developer you're using now, and work with it until you understand what happens during over/under development, over/under exposure, and how this affects - you got it - the final print, because the final print is all that matters in the end, no matter how it's made.

    Know your materials, it is the only good way.

    Hope that helps,

    - Thom

    Adding a couple of thoughts. I started out using Tmax 100 film for everything. Found it laborious to process because of the dye that needs to be washed out, so tried Agfa APX25 & 100. These are more traditional films without sensitizing dye, and have used at least the APX100 ever since (APX25 is no longer made). I have had a few flirts with Efke, and FP4+ in 35mm and MF (and I've tried various others), but always come back to Agfa, it's the one most predictable, because it's the one I know best. Sheet film is different, mainly because Agfa doesn't make sheet film. For sheet film, I use whatever I can lay my hands on...
    Developer - I've always used Agfa Rodinal. Once again, I've used a few others, but I always come back to Rodinal, simply because it's easy for me to predict the results.
    "Often moments come looking for us". - Robert Frank

    "Make good art!" - Neil Gaiman

    "...the heart and mind are the true lens of the camera". - Yousuf Karsh

  8. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by mhv
    I've seen a few threads about surveys of favorite developer/film. Many people have found over the years that they like film XYZ a lot with developer ABC when using sheet films, and that a slight dash of QRN into their UKG will give them better accutance on their used rolls of FLGHSKALAOAZRT+. Great.

    I have a tougher question: how can I bootstrap myself into finding a good film/pair? Following someone else's formula is useless unless you know you're doing similar work; it would also lend one to merely replicate results rather than developing (hah!) an adequate method.

    For the moment I have one 35 and one 120 film cameras. I'm happy with my set of lenses (only one on the MF, so it simplifies things), my meter is an accurate handheld Metrastar (so it must be a 30 degrees one), and because I like to photograph in available light, I use Tri-X 400 film in my 35, and FP4+ 125 in my MF. Both films seem to be generic and flexible enough that they can allow for some experimentation, and to train my eye on contrast, definition, etc. I'm trying to do some Zone system, which means essentially that I stop down on dark subjects and open up on lighter ones.

    The first two pics I'm really proud of were on Tri-X 400, 35mm, developed in HC-110 3mins, then left to stand 3 mins in sodium bicarbonate. That's the formula my father uses for his own work, and we just applied it out of the blue on my negs, and it worked out very well.

    So far I've been through the stages of sending the rolls to the drugstore, sending them to an anonymous commercial lab, and now I just found a wonderful small lab with lots of nice people to chat with about my development. Eventually, I want to graduate to processing the film myself, as my lab standardizes only on HC-110 or XTOL for B&W neg.

    So what are the learning stages by which some of you have been to figure out your preferences? What conscious choices did you do to narrow down the range of what you're looking for in terms of film processing?

    Instead of asking for the right answer, I'd like to ask: What are the right questions I should ask myself?

    This is a fairly abstract topic, and I think it might border the epistemological inquiry, but it can always boil down to a few practical tips. I'm doing most of my photo learning by myself for now, so I'm sometimes left to wonder what's the road ahead.
    You ask very good questions that deserve an answer and I am not sure that anyone is qualified to answer them for you. So much of what you read about other's experience with a given film/developer combination is based on subjective evaluation. If it is not based on objective evaluation, why would you want to waste your time listening to it.

    Coupled with that you have some people using a given film/developer combination for silver enlarging, others for silver contact printing, and even others that use it for alternative processes. All of this affects how a particular film/developer combination functions.

    Since you list rollfilm cameras as your medium, I doubt that at this level of engagement that you will get very heavily involved with the Zone System, BTZS, objective film and developer testing, all of which would make your evaluation more valid.

    The proper question that you would benefit asking yourself is, "What is it that I want to do, and what will give me the results that please me?" Most film/developer combinations carry the potential of more expressive potential then the photographer using them.

  9. #9

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    DOnald's right. Figure out what you want to do then go from there. I'm too poor to go hopping into bed with every film/developer combination out there. It payed to evaluate what I needed and what it would take to get the look I liked. Since I did this and I get the look I want consistently there is no need to slut around.
    Technological society has succeeded in multiplying the opportunities for pleasure, but it has great difficulty in generating joy. Pope Paul VI

    So, I think the "greats" were true to their visions, once their visions no longer sucked. Ralph Barker 12/2004

  10. #10

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    Well, some advice is good, some not so good. But ya get what ya pay for.

    Me, I am a developer/film junkie. I like processing film. I like seeing what you CAN do with different combinations. So I use PanF with Rodinal in stand development to get a very graphic looking negative in full sunlight, I use Diafine for my handheld sheet films (HP-5 mostly) for speed, my everyday developer is either Rodinal 1+50 for speed or homebrewed 777 because I wanted to experiment with homemade developers and I like it. A lot. For my tripod large format, Classic 200 in 777 because it looks great, APX100 and Efke25/100 in W2D2+ because once you see those negatives, nothing else will do.

    I shoot a lot of formats, have to know a lot of different cameras, and figure out how to expose for a lot of different developers. So, I'll never be the next best thing in photographic history. I will die happy doing it My Way. And if that sin't what photography is about, then what is?

    tim in san jose
    Where ever you are, there you be.

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