A change of developer
I know this is probably an old chestnut and has been asked a thousand times before, but I am in somewhat of a dilemma.
For a long time now I have developed my films with Ilford LC29 developer. It has always proved very consistent and is very economical (at 1+19 ratios), but is becoming harder to get hold of.
I generally shoot with HP5 of FP4 films, 35mm and 120.
What advice can you give on changing developer? Which do you use and what is the pros and cons?
My regular supplier for everything else lists ID11, Microphen, Perceptol, Ilfosol S, DDX, XTOL and I have obviously also been recommended Rodinal.
I know the answer to this question is up to personal preference and everybody's developer is best for them, but any advice, input and experience would be appreciated.
I think you need some sort of philosophy about how you want your photographs to look, or how you plan to work (low light push, etc.)
My personal thinking is that we give up a lot to do b&w medium and large format film. All b&w films have no color, so are useless for autumn foliage and most foods. Still photography doesn't have the sound and motion of video cameras. Analogue requires hours in a dark sink to achieve basically what digital gives you instantly. (Don't go crazy - I do not, have never, nor will ever own a digital camera.) Finally, large format is slower, heavier and generally more awkward than 35mm.
So why bother?
The answer for me is DETAIL. The b&w film media are capable of capturing vastly more information than digital or color films. The acutance, resolution, sharpness, or any measurement you chose are far greater.
Therefore, why attempt to defeat this single advantage with a mushy, sulfite-laden "fine grain" film developer like Microdol? I instead choose the highest acutance developer I can find, such as Rodinal, Calbe R09, Neofin Blue, Formulary FX-1, Paterson FX-39 or Ethol T.E.C. And I generally choose a very weak dilution.
The film's natural grain pattern is sharper and more visible. But that's okay. I like grain. My digital friends tell me that there is now a special electronic circuit which artificially introduces grain into a video image. So I guess I'm not alone.
Now you know my personal photographic philosophy (and developers to achieve it). How about yours?
My philosophy - I agree wholeheartedly with yours. I have got to admit, and probably the fact that started this dilemma, is that developers like FX-39 are labeled with details like "one shot high definition developer for T Grain films". To somebody that has got used to the same thing for a long time this can appear more experimental than practical for general HP5 from the description.
I would take the view that you have to suck it and see. Try a high acutance developer such as Rodinal and some fine grain developer (forget Perceptol for now, despite what your supplier's list says, it will be some time before Ilford powdered chemicals will be available again - a clone is Moersch EFG from www.retrophotographic.com).
See which you prefer for your style of printing and take it from there: perhaps less diluted Rodinal, perhaps a more diluted ID-11/D-76. ID-11 @ 1+1 is my "standard" developer but I switch to Rodinal when the fancy takes me...
If you use enough film to keep your developer fresh I will recommend Ilfosol-S for FP4+.
Except for that, well... I like FX-2. And a host of others, but then I don't worry much about grain, I just use bigger film.
-- Ole Tjugen, Luddite Elitist
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Graham, for me the appearance of sharpness is much more important than actual sharpness. For me, prints from slow speed films whose grain is difficult to see, appear to my eye that the enlarger was slightly out of focus. Psychologically, if I can't see the grain then the focus must be soft. HP5 and Tri-X therefore look sharper to me than slower films like Delta 100.
Even though FX-39 is not intended for HP5, the resulting grain pattern could be spectacular.
Many years ago I was advised to try Ethol T.E.C. with 35mm Panatomic-X film. The T.E.C. stands for "thin emulsion compensating" and is meant for very slow film (Panatomic was ISO 32).
In art school I shot a nude figure study of a Swedish platinum blonde under flat studio light on white seamless paper background to fulfill a class assignment. I used 35mm Tri-X developed in Ethol T.E.C. and printed a mural 18" by 36".
The grain was a very fine "salt and pepper" pattern which to the eye appeared to be a fine gray skin texture, like a pencil sketch on rough paper. It was absolutely tack sharp - even at that magnification.
My point is that a highly diluted high-acutance developer used with a high-speed small-format film is unconventional, but can be absolutely stunning.
Thanks for everybodys comments and advice so far.
I think that I have come to two conclusions. I am going to purchase a bottle of DDX (the safe standard option) and also a bottle of FX 39. This appeals to me to experiment and compare these for a little while.