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Thread: Azo--Why do it?

  1. #1

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    This post is the result of my own experience and is being offered up for those who may be considering a change of materials.

    I have been contact printing on Azo (8X10 and 12X20) for a couple of years now. No doubt about it the Azo prints appeared to be very nice. Azo is acknowledged by many as being the "epitome" of silver papers today. My comparative benchmark to those Azo prints were enlarged prints from 4X5 negatives on my Saunders 4550 XLG VCCE enlarger. This enlarger manufacturer is favored by John Sexton, Bruce Barnbaum and others. I enlarged on Seagull VCFB. Again considered by many to be a good paper.

    About 3 months ago I had the opportunity to purchase three Durst 138S condenser enlargers. (I can almost hear the gnashing of teeth at this point.)

    The addition of these condenser enlargers into my operation has totally changed my view of things. When I begain using them I immediately noticed enhanced print sharpness, better tonal representation, and better local contrast then what I had produced before.

    Not totally unreasonable many would say since this may be due to the change of enlargers. But I will go on to say that this is true when compared to my Azo contact prints too. I next approached individuals with varying degrees of photographic experience in a blind print evaluation. The prints that invariably were the most highly favored where the condensor enlarged prints on JandC Polywarmtone Classic and Oriental Seagull fiber graded paper. The most common comments were that the enlarged prints had greater depth and presence; that they exhibited more of a "glow' then the Azo prints and the diffusion enlarged prints.

    So what is the purpose of this account? It is to simply indicate that one should find their own way. Determine their own best equipment and materials. The recommendations of Ansel Adams and others is based in their application of certain materials. There are alternatives to those materials and sometimes the acknowledged "epitomes" turn out to be something else.

  2. #2
    fhovie's Avatar
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    Azo black is like no other black. In camera ULF negatives create a unique sharpness. The tonal scale of AZO is far greater than any other paper. Amidol is assumed of course. I have used a condenser head for the last 5 years and I will never look back to the diffusion head for monochrome.
    My photos are always without all that distracting color ...

  3. #3
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    Are you, uh, saying that there is no magic solution other than seeing and work, hard work?
    juan

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    Don,
    I think I see where you are coming from, in that it mirrors some of my experience, and some of my evaluation of printing approaches. I certainly identify with your "journey" in terms of examining how you want your work to look. There are certainly lots of variations!

    Technically, AZO has brighter whites, blacker blacks and a longer gray scale than anything else I've seen. For many scenes, its rendition is (IMO) the finest available in a silver paper. For other scenes, another paper might be preferable.

    Esthectically, You can develop/print anywhere from a long gray scale with just a touch of pure black and white (I'm thinking John Sexton's Tmax work here) to a intense black and white with no in between (Bill Brandt). Either one is a valid expression and neither is more correct than the other.

    A guy on the Leica forum on photo.net asked one of the rarely astute questions on that forum for which he never received an adequate answer. He rated his tri-x at 400 and was told by his professional lab that if he rated his film at 650, as many notable photojournalists do, his work would have more impact. What did people think of this approach? The point is, is that it depends what you want. do you want a longer gray scale with better shadow detail or do you want "impact".

    AZO, to me, has a bold, yet subtle tonal range. (I sound like I'm giving a wine review!). Nothing better for getting your zones from the real world on paper. Enlarging paper has more impact yet less separated shadows and highlights (which might be better for both portraits and pumping up a low contrast scene.)

    I think you summed up the purpose of your posting in the first sentence, "for those who might be considering a change of materials."

    Personal aesthetic (other than having something to say) is the toughest part of this. I hate when I print a negative a few different ways and at the end of it, all I can say is that I like certain aspects of each of the print treatments better.

    For myself, I'm moving back the other way, (having enlarged 5x7 for years)... I've mounted the 8x10 standard on my monorail and will restrict myself to a 300mm lens, and plan to print exclusively on AZO for about a year. Maybe we can swap some prints along the way...

    Take care,
    Tom

  5. #5

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    I owned an 8x10 enlarger for many years (condenser head). I loved it! I used to use Kodak Polymax Fine Art and Oriental Seagull Graded. I sold it because I had to move flats and there was no space and time to justify having it tag along. I started with AZO because it needed no space and time at all to use, a space for the contact frame and some place to stack the trays. What I realise is that the way I took pictures, my way of seeing or my vision if you like, matched the materials I was using (AZO and Efke and Pyrocat). Even my old Tmax negatives printed better as AZO contact prints instead of enlargements (which is what I originally intended for them). The simplicity of having a minimum of materials to master suits my temperament. I imagine others' way of seeing will be similar to mine and other different. We have to find our own way, matching our way of seeing to the materials we believe to be the best expression of our tastes. I am always happy to hear successful ventures into non-AZO printing. This can only be good for analog photography in the long-run.
    Francesco

  6. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by fhovie
    Azo black is like no other black. In camera ULF negatives create a unique sharpness. The tonal scale of AZO is far greater than any other paper. Amidol is assumed of course. I have used a condenser head for the last 5 years and I will never look back to the diffusion head for monochrome.
    Frank brought up an interesting point. I measured the Dmax and Dmin of three papers this afternoon. The results are as follows.



    Seagull Fiber grade two ---------Dmin---.08-----Dmax------2.04
    Azo grade two--------------------Dmin---.08-----Dmax------2.05
    JandC Polywarmtone Classic----D min---.06 ----Dmax------2.12

    Of these three papers Oriental and Azo have very nearly the same Dmin and Dmax reflective densities.

    JandC Polywarmtone Classic is a winner on both ends of the spectrum. Lighter whites and deeper blacks. Granted this is a warmtone paper but I have been told that it will render neutral in Amidol.

    I honestly was surprised by the reflective density comparison of these three papers. I fully expected Azo to blow the other two away. That was not the case.

    Obviously this not take into account the slope of the curve of any of these papers. Azo's curve is less inclined then either of the other two papers...hence the need for a higher density range on an Azo negative.

  7. #7
    fhovie's Avatar
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    Of these three papers Oriental and Azo have very nearly the same Dmin and Dmax reflective densities.


    There are things that look one way and measure another. I bought some AZO and made some contact prints from some of my 4x5 megs and developed them in Amidol. It changed my whole perspective. I was getting very good resluts with PMK and now Pyrocat and a condenser enlarger and Forte or Ilford premium fiber papers. When I saw the sharpness, scale and color of the AZO in Amidol, I bought a 8x10 camera and have a whole new world opened up to me. I still do a lot of 4x5 - it is so much more backpackable and I will not be getting an 8x10 enlarger - so for big prints, I'll shoot the smaller sheets but I am amazed at how much more I can do with the addition of 8x10 for contact printing on AZO (and Kalitype) with Amidol.
    My photos are always without all that distracting color ...



 

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