The key to great prints is printing skill (assuming the image is great to begin with). Frozen Lake and Cliffs is my favourite Ansel, and I often use it as an example in discussions about perfect chemicals/materials because that negative was pre-zone system, developed in partially exhausted D76, it is grainy, has very thin shadows, and blocked highlights.
This however does not mean discussions about various materials, their characteristics and properties are useless. Granted embarking on endless, aimless testing is often a waste of time, but I also don't think it is fair to go too far in the other direction turn a technical question into a philosophical discussion about how materials don't matter.
Brett Weston didn't care so nobody else should? Bullplop. And as a side note, personally I doubt in practice Brett Weston was quite as laissez-faire as he claimed to be. I don't believe that for a minute.
Randomly trying every developer is silly, but if a photographer first asks himself some basic questions about what he's trying to achieve, the answers to those questions can point in certain directions which might make things a little easier. After all the question wasn't whether D76 is better than HC110. Indeed the differences are small. But it is not quite as hair-splitting to talk about the differences between tanning/staining developers like Pyro and solvent developers like XTOL. Even the workflow is different, as I mentioned in a previous post here. But then people start with that business about how you can't tell what developer was used by looking at a print. That is irrelevant. Maybe if the two prints were side by side one could tell, and prefer one to the other. Maybe not in many cases, but it really depends. OP lists himself as "multi-format", so I would repeat that in the case of small or medium format negatives that are to be enlarged significantly, there are characteristics to consider - grain for example. Make 11x14 prints of a 35mm image from negatives developed in XTOL and PMK (or 510 or ABC etc). Significant difference, grain masking or not. There are also speed differences.
I agree blanket characterizations as "better" or "worse" are the wrong way to approach some of these things. But the differences are sometimes material enough to be relevant, and indeed some materials might actually be better or worse for a particular application (again, why the photographer needs to ask himself a few rational questions about format, enlargements, subject matter etc first).
Sorry if this comes off negative, but technical questions deserve answers, as long as the answers come from relevant experience, test data, and the rational working properties of photographic chemicals/materials.
I like Pyro for strong lighting situations where I can expose for the deep shadows.
I like HC110 for Lith and Solarization Printing.
I like D76 , straight or 1:1 for most applications.
I like super thin negs for grade 5 printing.
I like thick negs for lith printing.
If I had a choice I would like to be able to read a newspaper through the highlights for portraits.
Five stops overexposed negative, make killer lith prints.
They all work , they all have purpose.
Originally Posted by Panoman617
First of all, there are many pyro developers, so more specificity is needed, and "best" is probably not a useful word here, as it is too general, and can be quite subjective.
In my short experience with PMK pyro, it stains more extremely when using films with a traditional grain structure, i.e. not T-Max, Delta, or Acros. So you might say it "does it's thing" more with films like HP5, Tri-X, FP4, Plus-X, etc. This is not to say that it doesn't work with tabular-grained films. It just seems to stain less, thus it masks less.
X-Tol is well known by many and it is available pretty much everywhere. Pyro is not as universally known, and not as commonly available off the shelf.
X-Tol is a pour-back, one-shot, or replenished developer. Every pyro developer I know of is one shot only.
Neither will give you unacceptable grain or sharpness for most things.
Pyro should be used with an alkaline fixer to obtain the most extreme stain. X-Tol can be used with any fixer without any possible drawbacks.
Pyro is a highly concentrated developer, used similarly to HC-110 or Rodinal, while X-Tol is used more like D-76.
Pyro can be useful for alt process printers who also print on silver paper, as the stain works as a spectral highlight mask on the higher tones when printing on VC paper, while it works to boost the contrast on UV-sensitive processes like cyanotype, VDB, and platinum, which need higher contrast negatives than your typical silver print. It is is kind of like having two negatives in one...all through the magic of the spectral sensitivity of the printing material. Of course, different types of pyro produce different colors of stain, so they will do this masking to different degrees with different printing materials
Pyro takes some more care in the lab, as it's ingredients are more toxic. X-Tol is a very safe developer in the grand scheme of things.
Both create good results with pretty much any film, though different. It would be nice if the Photographer's Formulary offered a small 4 or 5 batch sample package of PMK and Pyrocat HD so you could see if you like it or not. It is not for everyone. For general purposes, it is not for me. It requires too much special handling, and I am accustomed to the "snap" in the high tones that I get with more standard developers. I use pyro in certain circumstances only. But some people use it for everything, so that certainly is an option.
"Truth and love are my law and worship. Form and conscience are my manifestation and guide. Nature and peace are my shelter and companions. Order is my attitude. Beauty and perfection are my attack."
- Rob Tyner (1944 - 1991)
Wow! I've never gotten this meany replies from a post on something. Why I am asking. I don't shoot much B&W. I mostly shoot Fuji chromes in my 617. So after going up to photo stock. I thought I'd shoot some. It's ben 20 years for me to shoot any B&W. So I went out and shoot some landscapes with my #29 red filter on my camera. Shot a roll of Neopan, Tmax, Tri-X and Verchome. I don't have darkroom set up at home to do B&W. So I was going to ship it out to get dev. Just did not know how I wanted to get it dev up. Pyro or Xtol.
The late UK author Barry Thorton had something knowledgeable to pass on about Pyro type developers. The book was titled, "The Edge of Darkness".
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Originally Posted by Michael R 1974
Glad you said it. Every time I bring up the importance of printing, somebody gets PO'ed. So you brought it up, not me. More is the pity that photography is now judged at large via the display of a computer screen.
Originally Posted by c6h6o3
For the record, I have foregone the final return to developer staining step for some years now. I use PMK more for its "fine grained" characteristics, not the "grain-masking" staining. There is still more than enough stain for me. I notice no difference in the pre–only and post stained negative's ability to produce a fine print except that the former are easier to print through with my cold light. I currently use it on fine grained 120 films as well (Pan F, Rollei Pan), since it seems to produce mostly better results (fine grain and sharpness) than other common developers.
Originally Posted by Ian Grant
But, all other factors being equal, which they're not, I'd prefer to use Rodinal on everything. I guess I'm more of a reluctant user of PMK.
My next door neighbor, Yong-ran Zhu and I have the same Jobos, the exact water supply, darkrooms which are at the same depth in the same dirt, indentical block walls, many identical lenses, same films and developers, we have stood on the same spot and photographed the same subject, we use the same paper and paper developer and STILL have different times, results and looks to our prints. As Thomas pointed out, it's your entire system including exposure philosophy which will determine the outcome..Evan Clarke
Actually if I recall right, DiXactol's instruction sheet says that film should put back to developer for a short time after fixing.
Originally Posted by mikebarger
Don't remember whether this was when using DiXactol as two bath or single bath...
However, as far as I know, it does not have any practical sense.
Putting the film back into the once used first solution, Solution A, provides the staining that gives pyro the tonal smoothness that many pyro users all looking for.
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Nothing beats a great piece of glass!
I leave the digital work for the urologists and proctologists.
I put my film back into the developer to stain it when souping in PMK pyro is because I'm too cheap to use a separate alkaline solution to to the staining.