The Great Azo-Ilford Print Contest
A while back, several fellow members were asking if contact prints on AZO paper were really so much better that if printed on a good enlarging paper, such as Ilford MG IV, and if an Azo print was available for comparison. I had been wanting to run such a comparison myself so I decided to do it and send the prints to anyone who wanted to them for comparison.
I took one of my best negatives and made three sets of two prints, each set having an Azo print and and an Ilford print. The Azo version was printed just like the one posted in the Standard Gallery on grade 2 Azo. The Ilford version was exposed under the enlarger light using a grade 2 multicontrast filter to get the contrast as close as I could to the Azo print.
Both were printed using Michael A. Smith's Amidol formulas. I added an extra couple shots of bromide to get a slight warm tone. For the Ilford prints, 60 ml of 1% benzotryazinol (BB compound) were added per Michael's formula for enlarging paper.
All the prints received identical post-development processing which included four minutes in selenium toner, 1:100 dilution.
All the prints were made from the same negative. It was shot and developed by inspection to the density necessary for Azo printing. Film was J&C Classic 200 developed in ABC Pyro, 1:1:1:7. Exposure was set with shadow values in Zone IV which is a common practice for Azo printing. A standard yellow filter was used to improve contrast and darken the sky.
The prints have just about made it around to everyone who asked to participate. It was suggested that I start this thread to report the results, so here goes. I will be posting the comments I have received and the participants will add more in the next few days.
Of course, I'm an Azo addict so I kept my opinions to myself so they wouldn't influence anyone. Here goes.
Larry Gebhardt's thoughts:
If I had to pick a favorite it would be the Azo print. I feel this is due to the greater overall contrast of the Azo print. The shadows are darker and consequently there is much more local contrast in the sheet metal texture. I wonder if you could have printed the Ilford at a higher grade and acheived the same result.
The Azo print also has a nicer color than the Ilford paper. The Ilford in Amidol seems to have taken on a slightly magenta tone which I do not like. The Azo is a color I have never acheived in with other papers and developers. I am not sure I like it more than the Forte in a glycin based developer, but it is very pleasing.
Right out of the envelope the azo jumps out as having more "presence" -- whatever that means. If you compare the borders of the prints, you can't really say the the azo blacks are substantially different, but they definitely jump out at you in the image area in a way they don't on the Ilford. Some of that may be due to a slightly greater contrast in the azo print, but I don't think that really explains it.
On the contrast question, I was surprised the azo neg printed acceptably on Ilford with #2 filtration. I would have expected it to result in very contrasty print, whereas it's the azo (like I said) that has a bit more snap.
Altogether, there's definitely better tonal separation throughout the entire scale on the azo.
Phill Dresser's thoughts:
I was impressed with the overall tonal range of AZO but did notice that the tonality was different to the MG. The colouration varied tremendously with the MG being more silver and the AZO having a much warmer base (I struggled with this initially finding it almost discoloured but warmed to it after a while. I was very surprised by this colouration as I always thought that AZO was cold. Images I have seen on the web (Michael A Smith etc )had always seemed more silver based.
AZO seemed to have a more linear tonal representation where the MG was contrastier or had bigger steps between relevant tones.(Am I making sense here)
I thought that the depth was not comparable between the 2 papers with the AZO easily surpassing the MG, but I think the mid tones are represented very differently where the AZO was much smoother. Highlights are, in my opinion, much better in AZO.
My dislikes were the single weight of the paper. Why do the make this as a single weight? Maybe the print would feel better if mounted but I had strong reservations about the weight.
Generally I could see differences in the two papers but the gulf between them was not as big as I was led to believe.
Was I disappointed with AZO? No way! But I do feel that it might not be a paper for all purposes or styles. (That might be a bit presumptious at this point with my limited experience)
I think you would Jay. I started contact printing with enlarging paper then bought some Azo and tried the same neg. The differences are small but there none the less.
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I would think if you shot the same scene twice and exposed and developed each negative for the optimal time for the paper involved, you're results would be a tad different. From what I understand, and whitnes with my own negatives, the ones destined for AZO have a very different tonal range than those made for enlarging paper.
From my own prints, I have got to say the few that I have done on AZO / MS Amidol have been great. Wonderful tonal range, and deep blacks, etc. I also have prints made on enlarging paper that I am equally pleased with. (and plenty with both that I am not pleased with! )
I'm not trying to knock what you did, I just think before everyone jumps the gun, the testing methods need to be addressed a bit.
In this case I believe there is a very good chance that the ABC negative used for the test had about optimal printing density for both AZO #2 and a #2 VC paper. AZO is a graded silver paper that requires a negative with a DR of around 1.5. A regular silver #2 grade paper would need a DR of about 1.05 to print normally, but in order to print with the same contrast on a VC paper with a stained negative you would need to use a higher grade filter, or develop the negative longer for more contrast. Assuming the ABC negative was developed to an optimal density range for AZO the resulting density is probably very close to what you would need to match the contrast on a #2 VC paper.
Originally Posted by bmac
For further understanding of this issue see Frank's message today on printing VC and graded papers with a staining developer. The difference of about two printing grades that he observed with Pyrocat-HD would probably be even greater with one of the pyrogallol based developers than with Pyrocat.
I think Sandy hit it on the head with his technical description. The difference in overall appearance between the two prints is very small. In my judgement, scans of the two would look the same, that's why I didn't post any scans for comparison. I would be quite happy with the Ilford print.
Originally Posted by bmac
This was a simple test meant to show how one negative looks on the two papers. In my own work, I've done just the reverse; taken a 4x5 developed for enlarging and contact printed it on both Azo and enlarging paper; and seen the same results.
This sort of test is a good thing to do for oneself occasionally in general. Last time I was looking for a new enlarging paper, I got a half dozen 25-packs, printed the same neg on each of them, and I keep them in a reference file in case there's something that my main choice of paper doesn't do well that might be solved by trying a different paper for a certain image.
What about a test where two negatives are created, and then printed by two different people. One could be an azo expert, the other an expert at vc or graded enlargements. I think both VC and graded shoud be explored in the test. Maybe that would take 3 negatives. Then the results can be cpompared as to which is the best of the bunch.