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  1. #1

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    Why are old negs so good?

    I've been printing up some 'found-in-the-attic' negs recently, both glass plates and 6x9 film and noticed how the resulting prints seem to 'glow' with tone. When I use a focus finder on modern films it's obvious how wafer thin emulsions have become, since the slightest movement on the enlarger controls will flick it in and out of focus compared to these old ones than seem to have been buttered on. Old emulsions are so thick you can decide if you'd like to focus on the top, middle of bottom of the emulsion. This physical depth must reproduce in the paper emulsion as well giving that 'glow'. Any thoughts?

  2. #2
    bsdunek's Avatar
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    My opinion is that the older films used more silver. This seems to give them a 'rich' effect. Because everything is so cost driven today, I think the manufacturers have to figure out how to get buy with the least of everything, especially silver, as it is a very expensive component. The same holds true for papers. I loved the old Kodabromide back in the 50's. I have a hard time getting that kind of print today.
    Just as it seems to an old guy!
    Bruce

    Moma don't take my Kodachrome away!
    Oops, Kodak just did!
    For all practical purposes, they've taken Kodak away.


    BruceCSdunekPhotography.zenfolio.com

  3. #3

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    Uncoated lenses do contribute to that 'glow' as well.

    -Fred

  4. #4

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    LOL!

    Quote Originally Posted by Fred Aspen View Post
    Uncoated lenses do contribute to that 'glow' as well.

    -Fred
    Ah, the "good" ole days!

  5. #5
    Jim Noel's Avatar
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    One of the more likely causes of the "glow" is total development. As late as the 1930's, possibly later, time/temperature development was not used. Film was developed either by inspection of in a tank for long periods so that all available silver halide was reduced. Negatives from these times would almost always print well.

    The processing room in which I worked in the early 40's continued to use this method. Alll roll film was hung in the developer, D-23, overnight. It did not matter the maker or the speed. In the morning processing was completed and the film contact printed.

    I still have a few negatives from that era and love to print them as well as glass plates because there are no burned out highlights or too dense shadows. Most negatives are what would be considered to day as too dense overall, but the contrast is amazing. Most glass plates I have print better on albumen because they have a much longer scale.
    [FONT=Comic Sans MS]Films NOT Dead - Just getting fixed![/FONT]

  6. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by bsdunek View Post
    My opinion is that the older films used more silver. This seems to give them a 'rich' effect. Because everything is so cost driven today, I think the manufacturers have to figure out how to get buy with the least of everything, especially silver, as it is a very expensive component. The same holds true for papers. I loved the old Kodabromide back in the 50's. I have a hard time getting that kind of print today.
    Just as it seems to an old guy!
    I can blow highlights with modern films if I make a processing mistake. How much silver do you really need? Too dense is too dense.

  7. #7

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    Thanks Jim - 'total development' - sounds like the tag line on a Mercedes commercial! If I wanted to reproduce that effect would it be possible with modern materials/chemicals? Presumably negative density was purely down to exposure... I'd like to hear more about this. I read an article about Mortensen in which it is mentioned he put his negatives in the dev and then went off into town for the afternoon!

  8. #8

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    Could it be something as simple as the bad ones got chucked, leaving the good ones to survive? Could it be something as simple as the photographer taking care to make a good negative because film was dear and the number of available exposures few?
    Frank Schifano

  9. #9

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    That's a good point Frank. A few months ago there was an add in the local craig's list asking for someone to print some old negs a guy bought at a yard sale. I answered the add, met with the guy, and brought the negs home to examine. The negatives were made around 1910 or so. Most were underexposed and underdeveloped. There were only a few out of the batch of a hundred or so that I would consider good, easy to print, negatives.

  10. #10

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    I don't know, not all the bad ones were disposed of. I recently printed some photos that my father took in 1943 of my mother before they were married. He used some sort of box camera loaded with mystery film, and they were pretty consistently underexposed and the focus often wasn't too good either. I have to say though that even with the technical problems, I contact printed them on Azo and they look very nice. Maybe they received total development which made them printable?

    Richard Wasserman

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