In Search of Improved Prints
About a year ago I began using Thornton's DiXactol single bath developer, with the recommended partial stand agitation routine (agitate first minute, then 2 rotations every 2 minutes for duration. This is a catechol based, staining and tanning developer, now produced by Photographer's Formulary.
I was (and still am) happy with the results, but always searching for ways to make better prints, I recently acquired an X-Rite 810 densitometer. I did the usual Zone System testing procedure, first deciding that IE 100 was the appropriate personal speed for FP4 in 120 format.
Here are my test results from the densitometer (which I purchased a new calibration strip and calibrated), using the blue channel as recommended by others here due to the staining aspect of the DiXactol:
I.E. 100, 11:00 partial stand development (recommended time)
Zone I .16 (net density above fb+f)
Zone VIII: 1.15 (net density above fb+f)
Density range: .99
Thinking the Zone I exposure seemed a little too dense, I went back to the box speed of 125 and tested another few frames on rolls shot along with other subjects, with the following results:
I.E. 125 (box speed,) 13:00 partial stand development
Zone I: .12
Zone V: .67
Zone VIII: 1.18
Density range 1.05
Now for my questions and request for expertise here:
Do these numbers make sense?
Should reducing exposure by 1/3 stop have only decreased Zone I exposure by .04?
Should I increase IE to 160 and try again, or leave it at 125?
Shouldn't increasing development by about 20% have increased the Zone VIII density by more than .03?
Isn't the net density way too low for cold light printing?
As a final comment, I split grade print with an old, uncorrected cold light, so I can't really tell if my negs are too flat as I could with white light and standard VC filter printing. I can make good prints with snappy contrast, I just wonder how much better they might be with a better density range.
Any thoughts, wisdom, advice, or other words appreciated.
I can't really comment on the densitometer thing since I don't really believe in them. Too many people try to find the magic bullet by analyzing everything. I would just suggest to you that the magic in a print is not in the blacks or whites it is in the midtones. How you treat your midtones makes all the difference in the world. This is just my opinion, but I do print by feel and don't spent any time analyzing anything with instruments, after all this is an artform, not a science. I leave the science part to others that have the energy for that sort of thing.
I hope this suggestion helps.