I do test strips with times based on the reading from an Ilford EM10 meter. I place the meter reading as the middle time in the test strip.
I use an analyser I built myself using a colour light sensitive chip, a microcontroller and a few other bits and pieces but it's probably easier to buy a commercial unit. It definitely puts you in the ballpark with regards to exposure and contrast settings. Prints still need slight tweaking along with dodging/burning due to subjective interpretation of the image. At most I probably adjust contrast by a quarter of a paper grade (dichro head) or exposure by one third of a stop from those suggested. I still use test strips for fine tuning when necessary.
If you're buying used you might be able to get something pretty advanced for not much money.
Originally Posted by gnashings
The features mine adds to the most basic:
1) It's an enlarger timer.
2) Can read contrast [Both when you're printing and of 35mm negatives. I guess it could be used for larger formats to ]
3) it has memory for 100 different papers.
4) It has a semi automated programming mode. All you need to do is process the paper.
I bought one for $67 US plus shipping. New it's about $1000 from B&H.
Since printing paper varies so much from batch to batch, I can't imagine using a meter for enlarging. For me, a test sheet is the only way to determine how the negative wants to print.
My negatives are consistent enough that I know the proper exposure for my equipment will fall around f 11 to f16 at 12 seconds for 8X10 and 18 seconds for 11X14. I run a test strip from 6 seconds to 24 seconds in 3 second increments to have that exposure well bracketed.
Be aware that the EM10 relies on you altering the aperture to measure the exposure (unless there's another method to using it) which is not what I would want to be doing.
Originally Posted by gnashings
I usually use a Colorstar 2000 in a similar manner to many others have mentioned. It gets you pretty close but I usually do a test strip or print to fine tune. I do find it very useful for getting a new time when changing contrast filter settings. I don't use it to determine an inital contrast, never really worked that out properly.
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Thanks for the input guys - I really appreciate it.
I suppose there is no absolute need for a meter - but for someone with my limited experience a simple unit may be useful as a guideline and then a test strip to fine tune.
I find that for the prints I really like I usually end up doing a print after all my tinkering and then analyzing that to the best of my ability as that gives me the whole print to look at.
I have been thinking of that little Ilford unit for a while, but a friend of mine has been trying to talk me into something more advanced...
I think for now test strips will do, as more experience will probably let me make better use of whatever tools I do end up getting.
I think I've written this a couple of times before, but here goes again:
I use the meter to measure a few "key points" of the image - highlights, midtones, shadows (or zones VII, V and III). From the spread of those I know what contrast grade to use, what exposure to use, and whether I should burn in the highlights or the shadows.
I then make a first print based only on the readings and my interpretations of the readings and the negative.
I process that, dry it, and look at it carefully. Then I go back to the darkroom and make a final print on the same paper.
If I want to make prints of different sizes I adjust the aperture to give exactly the same highlight reading as the first one, and expose and "manipulate" in exactly the same way.
I rarely use test strips with "ordinary" negatives and known papers. Every new batch of paper I print a transmission step wedge with the aperture adjusted to a highlight reading of 85 for 16 seconds. That is my basis for paper evaluation, and it can easily be compared to all other papers I have used. And the leftovers of that sheet gives me enough test strips to last the whole package.
-- Ole Tjugen, Luddite Elitist
My post is probably going to piss off a few people. I think a meter in the fine art darkroom a complete and utter waste of your time.
When I printed commercially , we used meters for some of the reasons given above. Eventually most printers lost track off what apeture and time they were printing because the meters got you so close , good enough was the rule of the day.
Micheal A Smith wrote an article years back on print bracketing , and I think this is still on his site. I have been using this method for over 20 years.
Basically from my perspective , I like to see what an image looks like dark , light and*** so called perfect***.
I use the densitometer in my eyeballs to estimate contrast , and sometimes it is not the contrast that makes the most sense for the negative, Just a contrast as I the printer have decided looks great for this image.
I hate the thought of meters, yes we do use them here when we are printing
But as a fine art , or if you don't like that term, expressive printer, seeing many possibilities of a negative is the way to go. So you waste 2-4 sheets of paper getting a **look** I think this is more fun and as well better.
Don't waste your money on such an device, trust your eyes and decide your next step visually.
I had an Ilford one years ago, I used it for Cibachrome printing but rarely for black and white.
My own method is to use test strips, possibly several over diferent parts of the print to gauge density and or contrast.
Thanks for even more adivce, guys. It may take a wiser man than I to decide which is the right "camp" to join... but I think for now my decision is such:
I mainly print 8x10 (I just dont have anything of mine I like enough to make bigger - someday, though...) - so paper is relatively cheap ( I use RC papers for now I don't think I deserve better ).
Given the volume of my printing and the constraints of my budget, it really comes down to this: spend the money on a meter that will save me maybe 10% on paper costs over a very small overall number... Or spend that moeny on film and shoot, shoot, shoot.
I think for now its the buy more film and paper route for me - it simply forces me to "practice" more, and I know I could sorely use that!
PS I am, of course a gadget addict, as most of us seem to be to some extent... so I don't know how well I will stick to my resolutions, hehehehhe