I find that a two-bath developer workflow gives me enough flexibility to handle my disparate negatives with just 2 grades of paper. Many of my negs are high contrast and benefit from Moersch Separol Soft. But some benefit from a brief dip in Separol HE, while others I may just use the HE. For papers I use Emaks & Kentmere Bromide ( as well as Lodima & Fomalux for contact printing).
Some thoughts on the subject.
First, there is a characteristic of many VC papers to merge mid-tones at one point in the curve when used at low-medium contrast.
See here: http://www.google.at/url?sa=t&source...P-KK3oxSdSie6g
This alone is enough for me to use graded paper as much as I can, especially for low and medium contrast grades. I print primarily on graded paper and keep VC around for some prints that need it (e.g., if I need a lot of contrast or to split-contrast print).
Ctein noted that some VC papers have a sharpness problem caused by the near ultra-violet part of the image focusing at a slightly different plane than the green part. This seems to be an issue with enlarging lenses and, as far as I know, most modern, quality enlarging lenses focus the UV and visual parts of the spectrum at the same plane. Nevertheless, when I read that, I was happy I didn't have to test my enlarging lenses...
On to what Vlad mentioned: With stained negatives, especially those developed in pyrogallol (less so with pyrocat negs - See Sandy Kings articles on UnblinkingEye.com), the stain increases contrast and separation on graded (blue-sensitive) papers, but acts as a progressive "soft-filter" on VC papers. This means that a pyro neg will print significantly differently on graded paper than on VC. There is no implicit advantage in either one, rather another option for getting a great print. If I need a lot of highlight separation in my print from a PMK neg, you bet I'll be using graded paper. If, on the other hand, I want to soften the highlights and keep shadow separation, I might try the print on VC paper.
Since I am dialed in with graded papers from pyro negs, I don't really want to switch. I tend to keep some VC around, but use it only rarely
Fortunately, there are a lot of good graded papers still available. I prefer white, not warm paper bases and papers that tone to just a hint of eggplant in selenium.
The aforementioned Slavich is one of my favorites. Lately I have been loving the look and surface and depth of image I get from Adox Nuance papers - really beautiful, and nice subtle tone changes in very dilute selenium toner.
I use Oriental G papers as well, but like them less since the reformulation since they do not tone as well as the old papers did.
The Foma graded papers are also very good; a bit warmer base, but still very clean. Gallerie is nice, but I haven't used it lately.
There are others as well. A look at the Freestyle website will give you an idea. Other dealers have some others. Graded paper is far from dead.
However, dealing with intermediate contrast is more difficult with graded papers (you need to split-develop, etc. instead of just changing the settings on the dichro head...) and there is no possibility at all for split-grade printing. And, one needs to keep a rather larger stock of paper on hand, at least two grades and usually a couple of different brands where with VC you could get by with just a couple boxes.
So, I'm not going to tell you that graded paper is better than VC ... it's just different. For me, especially due to the possible mid-tone mergers and the way VC responds to pyro negs, I'm going to stick with graded papers. Mostly because that's what I've tailored my negatives for, and I'm getting good results.
Ian, I'm not talking about overall contrast. Of course, if you develop your Pyrocat negatives to the same CI as your Rodinal ones, you'll print them all with the same VC filter.
One advantage of graded papers lies in the way they handle stained negatives. The stain increases contrast on graded papers, but lowers it on VC papers.
I've not noticed that in practice, my Pryocat HD negative print on the same MG settings as similar negatives processed in Rodinal and Xtol.
I was talking about something else. Most papers have a toe and a shoulder. The toe means that contrast in the highlights is lower than in the midtones, and that's regardless of the contrast filter (or paper grade) used.
The stain filters blue light, and its density is proportional to silver density, which means that on a paper that's mostly sensitive to blue and much less to other colors it increases local contrast slightly. Because the stain is denser in the highlights, its effect is to counteract the paper's toe to some extent.
On VC papers the stain favours green over blue light, so local contrast in the highlights is lowered. Not only doesn't the stain counteract the toe, but it actually adds to it.
The effect is subtle, and only noticeable with certain subjects. Most negatives, be they stained or not, would probably print exactly the same on both kinds of papers. But when you happen to have an image with difficult highlights, where you struggle to retain fine detail in the highlights while at the same time keeping them as white as possible without blowing them out, then you might be able to do it a bit easier on graded paper. A good printer could probably get the same result on VC paper, but it would take more time and work.
Originally Posted by Vlad Soare
I see no reason why this should be the case.
Ralph, I've stated the reasoning above.
The brown/green/orange stain blocks blue light to some extent, and its density is proportional to silver density. The more silver there is in the negative, the more blue light is blocked in addition to that blocked by the silver itself. This, on a paper sensitive only (or mostly) to blue, increases the contrast. The effect is stronger in the highlights, where it's most needed (because the stain is denser there). On a VC paper the stain, by blocking blue light, acts as a sort of variable yellow filter, decreasing the contrast in proportion to its density. More stain equals less blue light, which on VC paper means less contrast.
Last edited by Vlad Soare; 03-08-2011 at 12:22 PM. Click to view previous post history.
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That's the theory Vlad but not borne out in practice, well in my experience anyway.
What you get with a a stained negative and VC/MG papers are negatives that are wonderfully easy to print, rich highlights, less prone to being burnt out.
Now I use Pyrocat HD in the harsh sunlight in the Summer here in Turkey and the dim dull dank days in the UK, it gives me great negs easy to print in all lighting conditions.
I've been printing well over 40 years and VC/MG papers will do all I need, with superb results, I've used alongside graded papers and there were no disadvantages, but a lot of benefits.
If I put a set of images in front of you there's no way you'd be able to tell whether the print was on Graded paper or VC/MG even of stained negatives.
I have doubts. The trouble is one could not compare a before and after negative to prove the point.
I make photos im my laboratory since nearly 40 years and rarely learn something totally new. Your text "the workings of variable contrast papers" gave me new and deep insight in the virtues and drawbacks from this papers. I understand now my observation that harder grades gives best results. Fortunately my subject requires rather high contrast.
Originally Posted by Doremus Scudder
Get a true dedicated B&W head like the Ilford 500H exposure system. I have one, and recently had to print a negative at grade 5 on Ilford Multigrade IV FB. I made some test strips at grade 4 1/2 and 5, and there was a clear difference. The final print at grade 5 blew me away, it saved the day on a to soft developed negative.
Originally Posted by pentaxpete
"The nineteenth century began by believing that what was reasonable was true, and it wound up by believing that what it saw a photograph of, was true.
" - William M. Ivins Jr.
"I don't know, maybe we should disinvent color, and we could just shoot Black & White.
" - David Burnett in 1978
"Analog is chemistry + physics, digital is physics + math, which ones did you like most?
I am with Vlad on this one. With the caveat it is only clearly apparent with strongly stained Pyrocat-HD negatives.
Originally Posted by Vlad Soare
I shoot a lot of EFKE 4*5 IR film, and the density of the highlights are unpredictable, they can end up massively over exposed and dense. The inherent stain prints the highlights nicely softer on Ilford MG VC paper. But sometimes it's too soft, and you cannot get punch in the image, also not by switching to a grade 4 or 5 (after all the highlight stain stays the same and thus the softer gradation there). Printing that same negative on fixed grade brings snap back (but sometimes there is too much density you cannot print decent highlights....)
I have seen this effect many times, ranging from subtle to clearly apparent.