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  1. #1

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    Question for the venerable ones, re: B&W materials of today

    I was reading the Photographer's Notes at the back of David Plowden's Vanishing Points, and he is very downbeat comparing the materials available today with those he used to use (Panatomic-X and Oriental Seagull gr. 3):

    "Although Oriental Seagull is still made today the quality is so poor that I consider it unusable. Happily I have nearly five thousand sheets of the old formula paper frozen. When that is gone I shall close the darkroom for good as in my opinion there is no high-quality silver printing paper being made."

    "Sadly, like all conventional photographic material, the quality of Pan-F has also deteriorated to the point where I find it no longer reliable."

    "however, that too [TXP 320] has recently been reformulated and not for the better. In my opinion the best film on the market today is Ilford HP-5, which I have used extensively."

    "I am tired of being frustrated by the ever deteriorating quality of the conventional silver-based film and paper that I have used my entire career."

    So my question to those with 30+ years in the biz is, Is he correct? Do you think today's materials suck compared to what used to be? The guy's got 50 years of experience as a photographer and printer; maybe he's just too tired of it all to make the effort to adapt? Are those of us just getting into analog B&W now doomed to mediocre photos?

    thanks in advance,
    JT

  2. #2

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    he doesn't give any criteria for what he considers good film. PanF+ seems like a traditional film to me, I don't see how anyone could complain about such a nice film.

  3. #3
    climbabout's Avatar
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    today's materials

    I don't know if I'm one of the venerable ones, but I too have fond memories of some of yesterday's materials, Portriga Rapid paper, Super XX film, Panatomic X, etc... I currently have a modest supply of old Portriga that I keep frozen that I am still printing on, however, of course I will continue to print when it's gone. Black and white photography has always been about matching your film and development technique to your paper of choice. We must continue to adapt as old products are no longer available - that's what makes it challenging and fun. Plus there are dozens of alternative printing processes to explore - platinum, palladium, and carbon just to name a few.
    Tim

  4. #4

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    Perhaps Mr. Plowden has asthma....

    ....I hear a lot of sniffing going on.

    Maybe it's he and his techniques that have to change. Seems like there are lots of great photographs being made on allegedly inferior materials.

    Man, I sure wish I still had my DeSoto. Yeah, right.

  5. #5
    Photo Engineer's Avatar
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    If he offered concrete proof then it might be a worth while comment. Otherwise, I would not give it any concern. As stated above, a lot of good pictures are being made on today's products.

    PE

  6. #6
    Andrew Moxom's Avatar
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    I think we've all been down the path of holding onto materials that became classics and are no longer with us as the holy grail to some extent, myself included. Not only did I come to realize personally that it was a waste of time trying to source older and no longer available materials. I no longer desire the pain of searching and always being outbid when I do find it!! I also find it narrow minded that someone can believe that the older materials were a pardon the pun, 'silver bullet' for all things though, and that anything that follows is not capable of standing up to that level of quality of the older materials. The sad fact is that times have changed, and we need to support the photographic vendors that support us. The ones that bailed out, were obviously hurting, had poor management, or a combination of both. We have to get used to the fact that things have changed, and use the materials that are available to us. I would say that although the big names are waning, there are many others that are emerging as viable alternatives...Foma, Adox, Slavich for example. Also, we need to thank Ilford, and Fuji for doing what are doing to support film. This person is not willing to try new things, and does not want to move with the times. It goes to prove that you can't teach an old dog new tricks. :-) I would not read much more into what they are saying. IMHO .02 over with.

  7. #7

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    The quotes read like someone who is not willing to be satisfied by anything. There are lots of pathways to a good print, and good prints from a given negative are not necessarily identical.
    There are certainly some holes in the materials available today, but there is plenty to work with and use to produce excellent results.

  8. #8
    keithwms's Avatar
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    Jerry, I can well imagine that if someone has invested themselves for years in a particular film product, that film must become as a familiar as a child or a spouse. When that product is gone, it is traumatic. While other alternatives exist, nothing is ever quite the same.

    But you must find your own way, and build your own relationships with the products that are available. Above all else, remember that photography is not merely a collection of recipes or magic brews. Nothing "dooms" you to mediocre results but your own doubts.

    Disclaimer: I am certainly not among the venerable ones...
    "Only dead fish follow the stream"

    [APUG Portfolio] [APUG Blog] [Website]

  9. #9
    Alex Hawley's Avatar
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    This has all been debated and discussed to ad naseum many, many times. Perhaps what he is saying about one specific paper is true; I don't know; I have never used Oriental Seagull in any of its iterations. I was at first skeptical about the Tri-X reformulation but I have yet to be able to see any discernible difference in the prints between old and new. It's still a great film IMO. It's hard to see how a conventional silver film can get much better than the current FP4+. The new Tmax 400 is drawing rave reviews from everyone who's reported on it so far.

    What we have seen is a drastic decline in the variety of photographic products available to the user. The blame for that lays strictly on the activists for non-silver photography.
    Semper Fi & God Bless America
    My Photography Blog

  10. #10
    dpurdy's Avatar
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    I am an old timer and have been working in photography since 1975. There have been a few real disappointments. The change in Portriga Rapid and the loss of Agfa 25 sheet film were the worst for me. But I don't see how you can complain about the quality of ACROS or the TMax films and there certainly has never been anything like Delta 3200 in 120. Currently printing on Oriental WT processed in glycin, I am almost as happy as I used to be with Portriga and Amidol.

    I do remember well a time in the mid 80s when I ordered something like 800 sheets of Oriental Seagul glossy VC RC because it was great for commercial use and the large quantity of paper showed up completely different except for the box and name. It was complete crap incapable of a real black.

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