Cleared the bowel problem, working on the consonants...
My guess is that the question is about ordinary film with ordinary processing (OK - Zone System processing). The answer is still confusing. The absolute dynamic range is usually huge. Many films show noticeable density changes over 14 stops. However, that range is highly non-linear. It is compressed at both the top and the bottom. The linear part of the range (straight line portion of the curve) is generally about 7 stops (128X), but it varies from film to film. You can look up the curve for an individual film to see how it responds. Because of the way film speed is measured, you don't have much room to play at the bottom (toe) end. Most modern films also have a fairly short, gentle toe. At the top end (high exposure), most films will show at least some difference in density in what would be Zones X-XI or even Xi-XII. It isn't much, but it can be very useful. Some films may go all the way to Zone XIV before they reach a real DMax, although you will have a hard time seeing it. (The difference between Zone I and Zone XIV is 8192X.) Older style films have more modest ranges than the modern emulsions.
I suspect that there may be a misunderstanding on the part of the questioner. It seems he wants to know if a c-41 B+W film can produce the sort of results adams achieved. The answer is that possibly it could. But you must understand that a fine black and white print with a full range of tones from deep black to pure white is not a simple function of what dynamic range a film has. It is a combination of the subjects dynamic range plus the films dynamic range plus the film development plus the papers dynamic range plus the printing filtration used (if any) plus the paper developer plus your interpretation of negative when printing.
using your c-41 film with its standard development at a lab introduces a constant (maybe variable) to only one part of the equation but a very important part of the equation. Since that part will be out of your control you must be extremely careful to select subjects with the correct dynamic range to fit that constant and use the printing parts of the equation to fine tune the results.
That basically means you must shoot when the lighting levels and contrast between shadows and highlights are optimum for your film otherwise you will lose something at one or other end of the scale which you could control to a certain extent if you were doing your own film development.
 And Also your subject selection and whether your subject lends itself to producing stunning printed image[/edit]
Last edited by rob champagne; 11-30-2007 at 12:29 PM. Click to view previous post history.
While I think it could be possible to achieve the aims the OP seeks with 35mm chromogenic stock, I do think it would be a pretty hard wall to beat ones head against. It would be seriously easier to just shoot LF B&W. If he is considering it as some kind of technical challenge, I would be very interested in regular updates to the quest.
As Rob said, much more is in play than the characteristics of the film, and I would add to his list the most important thing, and that is the part that escapes magic bullet chasers everywhere:
You can mimic every bit of the materials and equipment somebody you admire uses, and it won't get you anywhere. St Ansels images came from his heart and head, and the same hammer and chisel in other hands won't reproduce it, nor will a quest for a magic bullet.
However, if you want to understand AA's approach, and procedure, he was kind enough to leave behind a staggering amount of instruction, in regard to how he worked. You will notice that the underlying premise of all of it presupposes control, and indeed much of it is specifically devoted to teaching how to control the process. Starting out with a stock that puts processing out of your control pretty much stops your journey at the beginning, and because chromogenic film is designed to forgive exposure errors, you won't be learning as much about exposure, either.
Ansel's process for exposure and printing is a little cryptic at times, but pretty easy to follow in the end. It is a skill set well worth learning, and can help you succeed in your own vision. If Ansel had used chromogenic film, I'm sure we would have his take on it. He did, in later years shoot a fair amount of smaller format film, and his opinions on what worked and didn't work are documented.
In his words, "You don't take a photograph, you make it"
Hope this helps,
Last edited by JBrunner; 11-30-2007 at 12:36 PM. Click to view previous post history.
Tri-X certainly has the range to attain the results Adams did - and more. Many have used this film with zone system processing, as Adams described, to obtain fantastic results. Most other modern films are almost as good used that way, although some seem to change contrast somewhat less in response to development changes. The film data sheets are your best guide here. You can get somewhat more range out of traditional films by using compensating developers or special low contrast developers like POTA. Some films do better with these than others, and the curve distortions and local effects they produce may not be to your liking.
The chromogenic films pose different problems. The linear dynamic range of these films is huge - at least 10 stops. That is more than enough to deal with just about any subject. The problem comes in printing these films. Zone system development controls are not used in processing the film. (Has anyone done any experimenting here?) The negatives are dye images. The Ilford product prints well on ordinary paper, usually requiring only a little more contrast than silver negatives. But you do need to adjust the contrast in printing to match the scene, rather than using zone controls. If you pre-visualize in the Adams fashion, you need to take the printing process into account as it applies to this film, which means changing your thinking some. The Kodak chromogenic product produces a very low contrast dye image that must be printed either digitally or on color paper. Once again, you must take the printing process into account when making the exposure. My experience with these product is limited but good. They are capable of outstanding images. But I think it will take some disciplined experimenting to hone a technique for them equivalent to the zone system. It's certainly possible, but I don't have the dedication for it.
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It is worth mentioning that most B&W and Color films are built to cover the same dynamic range. The major difference is that Color is developed in a fixed developer for a fixed time, but people like to experiment with the development of B&W and therefore this similarity is often masked.