Higher Accutance with Delta-400
I recently submitted a portfolio of 35mm B&W prints enlarged to 8X10 for membership in a gallery. They basically liked my work and accepted me for an associate membership. Not a full one. That I needed to improve my work technically.
One of the technical comments was that my prints didn't give the impression of sharpness that they could. My grain looked "mushy" and lacked accutance. Also that my tones were "muddy". The person I spoke with said the reason was the D-76 1+1 I use with the Delta 400. He suggested I keep the Delta but maybe rate it at around 200-300 and try either, Microdol- X, HC-110 but didn't say which dilution or Rodinol.
After looking at some other prints in the gallery he pointed out I would like to give it a try. Although some had a very salt and pepper look which I though a little too drastic for my taste. Any suggestions as I would like to keep it simple with developers I can readily buy. That's why I originally chose D-76. I asked this question elsewhere and received confusing responses.
"When elephants fight it is the grass that suffers"
IRAQNAM is Bush's legacy
Clearly the person you spoke to doesn't fully understand what acutance is or how developers affect it. Microdol-X, especially, gives up lots of acutance in the process of making the grain finer. HC-110 can be an acutance developer in high dilutions, and Rodinal is generally considered one, but so is diluted D-76 to a lesser extent.
For my photos, I usually use HC-110, either Dilution G (for 120 and sheet film) or Dilution E (just changed to this for 35 mm, because I don't need extra liquid beyond what covers the film); either way, I extend development and reduce agitation to push up the shadows without gaining excess contrast, and I feel I'm getting quite acceptable acutance when I use a sharp lens, tripod, etc.
I've never used APX 400, but HC-110 in high dilutions has been very good to me on TMY 120, Tri-X 35 mm, J&C Pro 100 and Lucky SHD 400 in 120, Fomapan 100 and TXT in 9x12 cm. Get the exposure and development time right, and dilute it as far as you can without needing more liquid than the tank will hold (up to Dilution G, 1:119 from syrup), develop long and gently, and see if that doesn't do the job for you.
If you *really* want to try crisp grain, give Caffenol a run. Folger's Coffee Crystals, Arm & Hammer washing soda, and half an hour at 70-72 F for most ISO 400 films (agitate every minute) -- exact recipe is around in several places. It can occasionally give unevenness and little marks from microbubbles, but when it's good, it's amazingly crisp (but the grain gets pretty obtrusive from 35 mm).
Photography has always fascinated me -- as a child, simply for the magic of capturing an image onto glossy paper with a little box, but as an adult because of the unique juxtaposition of science and art -- the physics of optics, the mechanics of the camera, the chemistry of film and developer, alongside the art in seeing, composing, exposing, processing and printing.
Not sure that it will really improve acutance over D-76 (1+1) (ditto to Donald Qualls' comments), but I really like Delta 400 at EI 200 in Perceptol stock, 12 min. at 68 deg. F, agitating every minute. It should give you smoother gradation and less grain than D-76 (1+1). I haven't tried it in Rodinal, but Rodinal should give you sharper grain.
If you sell some prints, you might consider investing the proceeds toward a larger camera like a Bronica 645RF or Mamiya M7II, if you prefer rangefinders, as I'm guessing you do from your profile.
Ther person advising you is an @rse. ID11/D76 is a supremely good overall dev and at 1+1, considering that delta 400 is not a super fine grained film, will produce fair acutance. His suggestion of using microdol X confirms his lack of real knowledge as acutance would be lower than D76 as microdol is a solvent fine grain dev, NOT in any way an acutance dev.
Yes, we all have preferences, but your use of a legendary std developer and a fine film are absolutely not the issue. He is entitled to his comments about you prints tones, but judging by his complete lack of understanding of devs and accutance, I would doubt everything. My bet is that he thinks all prints should have the look of his and until you produce images like his, he wont like yours!
The only think likely to cause images that look unacceptably soft would be poor focus either at taking or enlarging....or arguably, if a subject benefits from a gritty raw look, the use of a super fine grained film like Tmax100 or acros with a solvent dev like microdol-X.
None of the devs he mentions are acutance devs with the possible exception of Rodinal (big sharp grain, but not the acutance of pyro devs, acutol, Beutler etc)
Sound likes he wanted to sound knowledgeable.....Yes ccertain combos suit certain subjects and it is impossible to somment on the 'muddiness' of the prints, but this guy has no credibility full stop. Are these images for display or sale and what is this chaps role?
Maybe as mentioned he isn't as knowledgeable as he appeared. I would like to stick with the D-76 however. But I am a little confused. To get maximum acutance from this developer and Delta-400 do I use it as a stock solution or should I dilute it more to 1+2?
Possibly the grain doesn't show up in my prints enough due to poor focusing in the enlarger. I'm using a Micro Sight focuser and open up the enlarging lens (El-Nikkor 50/2.8) 2 stops when focusing. Is there a focus shift when closing down? When I focus all the way stopped down to f8, where I usually expose the paper I find it harder to focus due to the increased DOF.
"When elephants fight it is the grass that suffers"
IRAQNAM is Bush's legacy
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1+1 will give greater acutance over 1+0, but I really think this is unlikely to be the issue as the difference in terms of the overall impression of the print will be very slight. The only thing in my opinion perhaps is to work on your printing generally if you agree that your images are a bit muddy and there is not good tonal seperation. If you get that cracked, just tell them you used HC110 as they recommended. How the hell will they know the difference between HC110 and D76 1+1 based on looking at the prrints? They wont. Other variables existing within your own processes (esp light source) will be more significant.
on a 10x8 you ought to be able to see subtle grain on a 10x8 of 35mm delta 400 in D76. If you cannot see any hint of grain I wouls suspect a problem somewhere.
Are you sure your focus finder is adjusted properly thus giving a sharp image on paper.
It should be fairly obvious if your prints are in focus of 35mm as the grain is visible in most print sizes.
Last edited by Tom Stanworth; 06-05-2005 at 10:07 AM. Click to view previous post history.
If you dilute D-76 to 1+3, you'll reduce the solvent effect and you should improve acutance (with the caveat that the gallery folks don't know what they're talking about and may really mean something else like contrast). Download the data sheet from the Ilford website to get starting times for D-76 (1+3). You can use the same time as for ID-11 as a starting point.
Delta-400 will not give Tri-X like grain whatever you do to it. It does start to show grain at an 8x enlargement - but possibly it is on the cusp with your prints. I only use a little in 35mm - mostly 120.
The 'muddy' comment could mean your printing is not making best use of the paper range (or the respondent was one of the 'must have full black and clear white' camp). Delta's tonal rendering is different from conventional grain films. At E.I. 200 I have never needed to use a filter to get good tone in blue skies, for example.
The best way to get acutance, even without a notable acutance developer is to avoid over agitation. One inversion per minute at most. Dilution increases will bring in some compensation for highlights and shadows, but compress the mid-tones more - one way to 'muddy' tones.
With a 2.8 enlarging lens you should be able to focus without the magnifier - in fact I doubt that you will see the grain with Delta, I usually focus the image - and you can test for focus shift by making two exposures on the sheet. Half the sheet at f2.8 for time T, and the other half for f8 and 4 T seconds. Do you have to adjust the enlarger in any way if you are using contrast filters?
Without seeing the negatives and the prints this is all really speculation, of course.
I feel, therefore I photograph.
To be fair, there are reports from respectable sources that at 1:2 and over, Microdol-X (and Perceptol) become acutance developers, as the sodium sulfite concentration drops too much for the dissolving action to take place. I have not tried this (yet).
Originally Posted by Tom Stanworth
Another high acutance developer for tabular films you could try is TFX-2. Again, no experience.
 Barry Thornton, "Edge of Darkness".
Delta 400 in Rodinal 1+50, printed on a condenser (I always use a grain magnifier - but it usuallyonly serves to confirm what I already saw) - POPPING sharp grain! Of course, for a Delta film - you want grain, go TriX as suggested, or my favorite FP4+ (fine grain, but very much there, subtle, yet full of character) or the HP films. Stay away from t-grains to please grain junkies.
This person sounds like he could use to spend some time on a forum such as this - I learn SO much every time I visit! And looks like he could stand to close his mouth and open his ears...
Then again, it is the "hand that feeds" - so work to order, please him. Him wants grain, get him grain. Unless artistic integrity is at stake (translation: this does not pay the bills )