I'm only going to answer one of your questions here.
3) I have visibly grainy negatives, and prints made from them, from FP4+ developed in monobath developer. It seems the fixing action mobilises the silver, so the grains get "replated" faster than they are dissolved. I have since heard of a monobath developer that uses ammonium thiosulfate, which does not increase grain. The "classical" sodium thiosulfate developer does - in my experience.
-- Ole Tjugen, Luddite Elitist
I know that Microdol "softens" the grain structure, but I cannot remember if the softening effect is more obvious with full strength or diluted 1:3.
I have used Microdol 1:3 with Tri-X rated at EI 250 and I like the look it produces.
Jay, I dont know that you will ever see grain in a contact print. That was not my point when I was commenting about Tech Pan. In the shot you mention, I was able to tell so much by a scan because I vividly remember my first Tech Pan print and the disappointment it produced. I was sure I got an awsome negative, yet when I printed it, my first reaction was, well, that does not look that sharp! I went back and took the same pic with tmx and lo and behold the 100 tmx neg produced a far shaper print than TP. Of course, there was some grain, but I was perplexed that the grainier image was sharper.
Years later there was an article in photo techniques that explained why TP, although the finest grain film available, does not produce as sharp prints as any of the more regular films.
Now this is specific for TP, frankly in contact printing I dont think it matters what you use, I can't see any difference between 400 tmx and the PW ultrafine film! If you are not familiar with the peculiar tonality of tmx film I would dare anybody to choose a contact print and tell me which one was made from 400 tmx and which from the ultrafine film.
IMO for contact printing it is more important to look for the film that has a tonality that pleases us, since grain even on Tri X is not visible.
I have some experience with contact printing various films on either extreme. I've used Fuji Acros quite a bit in 8x10 (bought a lot from Badger when it first came out). To my suprise, I found that I liked Tri-x contact printed a lot better; it looked a lot sharper. Amazing when you consider that Acros is about as grainless and high resolving a film as you're likely to find, excepting TP.
That's when I decided that there was a difference between sharpness and apparent sharpness. Most of my Acros was developed in PMK or rollo pyro. Some of the sharpest contact prints I've ever seen were Michael A. Smith's whose film was developed in ABC pyro on Super XX film. The grain is almost visible to the naked eye.
Being a non technical a photographer, I lump it all together in the the word "accutance", which probably only relates to edge sharpness, but to me has elements of "local contrast".
Don't have time to write more today, I'm off to Vermont 'till Sunday with the kids. I look at your questions, and think you're on the right track. All other things considered, I think, in terms of apparent sharpness, a contact print benefits from using a course grained film with good local contrast with a pyro developer for edge effect. ABC pyro is probably the coursest grained developer you can use.
One closing thought, I can't cite a reference, but I read once that maximum sharpness is not obtained with a contact print but with a very slight enlargement, on the magnitude of 1.1 to 1.2 power. Light scatter in the contact vs. collimnated (sp?) light from the enlarging lens.
I know that Microdol "softens" the grain structure, but I cannot remember if the softening effect is more obvious with full strength or diluted 1:3
Using Microdol-x full strength creates the softer effect. 1:3 will sharpen the look of Microdol-x due to edge effects, I believe.
With largeformat it is not as much of a problem as it might seem with the smaller formats ie 35mm.
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I agree that grain is not much of a problem with contact printing.
Originally Posted by lee
As for sharpness, it is a subjective quality that varies according to observer, but the two most important factors that enhance it are, 1) overall CI or negative contrast, and 2) micro-contrast, which results from the increased acutance of edge-effects. The former is determined primarily by overall time of development whereas the latter is determined by developer composition, dilution and method of agitation. The most fundamental mistake made by many photographers in comparing sharpness of developers is that they fail to develop the comparison negatives to the same contrast, in which case the one that is developed to the higher contrast will almost always have greater apparent sharpness.
In some cases, especially with 35mm and roll film formats large grain can also result in greater apparent sharpness. Rodinal, for example, is a developer known for huge grain and very high apparent sharpness. The opposite is true. Microdol-X which gives very minimal grain, gives images that look very soft, as Lee mentions, at least when used straight.
An excellent example of this is the 35mm work of Sebastiao Salgado which, while displaying boulder sized grain, is razor sharp from edge to edge. Without the grain, his images would lose most of their impact, at least to my eyes. His prints are usually 11 x 14. I have no idea what the negatives are developed in.
Originally Posted by sanking
I've heard rumors saying "rodinal", but since Kodak backs him financially (or at least with film), he cannot confirm nor deny this
Originally Posted by c6h6o3
Once again, these are rumors
I have noticed that every Kodak sheet film intended for general photography has times included for Microdol-X straight. I do not know why anyone would want to use it for LF except for softer contrast. Does anyone in APUG use it for LF?
Originally Posted by jdef
Absolutely, and I believe everybody will agree on this. Invisible grain is not a player in the sharpness game!!