I must say I would really like to understand why my negatives (Efke PL100) exposed and developed for more than my metering would suggest prints better on AZO than those that I give no extra adjustment (these ones dont print as well or as easily).
Originally Posted by Francesco
You ask a valid question. I will do my utmost to provide what I think to be true to answer your question.
According to the tests that I did on Azo paper which have been verified by my experience in exposing and printing film to the density range that the paper will support, the paper really does not care what the general density of the negative is. I would offer this example to illustrate the invalidity of the general density argument. If we had a scene in which there were three zones of luminance and we exposed the lowest zone at a Zone V placement and gave normal development, we would find that our negative would exhibit an overall dense appearance but it would lack density range (contrast). This negative certainly would take longer to print but the print would appear flat. We would have a print that exhibit tonal values of I to IV or we could also print it to exhibit V to VIII The only effect of this increased overall density would be longer printing times.
The paper does have the ability to represent a given density range. If the negative is exposed so that the shadow densities are placed higher (off the toe of the film curve) then better print shadow tonal separation occurs. However if that is the case and the negative is developed to the density range for the full potential of Azo paper then the highlights will go onto the shoulder of the film with most films.
I could imagine a scenario in which one placed the shadow values at a Zone IV luminance (for instance) and the low densities would be .65-.75 (for instance). The negative then would appear to be very dense if we developed the negative to a high value density of 2.05. In fact it would look to be almost bullet proof. However our density range in this case would be 1.30 to 1.40 instead of the 1.60 that the paper will hold. The negative would print easily and it may give a nice print. It would however fail to reach the potential of the paper. Either the shadow values or the highlights or both would be compromised. Certainly there may be images that can not or should not have the absolute dmax or dmin that this paper will exhibit. But there are others in which scintillating high lights or deep black shadows are important. It depends a great deal on the image, the photographer, and his vision.
This is exactly the paradox for me - how to avoid making the print look flat with shadows being bumped up the Zone. Using Grade 3 does not really help. Maybe it is in the developing times or the developer used. In any case, why shouldnt my so called "thinner" negatives not print better on AZO? They look great on the lightbox although not as dense as those that I add extra exposure and devt. They certainly have nicer contrast.
I would guess from your assessment that your difficulty is "muddy or inadequately separated shadows. However there are several other conditions and considerations. If you have a thinner negative with greater contrast then the possible problems that may exist fall into certain areas as I see them. The basic conditions all originate with the camera negative since the paper is a fixed known and we must work within it's parameters. The possible failures that originate with the camera negative are either the negative is under or over exposed and it is either under or over developed.
Originally Posted by Francesco
Taken from the standpoint of the appearance on the print these would appear as follows.
1. The print exhibits a tonal scale that exceeds the papers ability. This would be blown out highlights or shadows lacking in any detail. The negative shows adequate shadow detail.
2. Shadows values that are too deep and depressed. With the shadows exhibiting inadequate tonal separation. Negative shows inadequate or no shadow detail.
3. Highlight tonal values that are compressed. With inadequate highlight separation. Negative shows adequate shadow detail and highlight blocking.
4. The print exhibits inadequate contrast. Either the shadows are weak or the highlights are gray. Negative shows detail throughout.
The remedy for these conditions are as I see them:
1. Decrease negative development time in the future. For this negative use water bath or other means of compensating development.
2. Rate the film lower or place the shadows higher in the film exposure. Both effectively accomplish the same thing since we are giving more exposure. This will place the shadow values further up the characteristic curve.
3. Decrease negative development. Decrease film exposure if the shadow densities are high.
4. Increase negative development. Print on higher grade paper.
Apart from that is the issue of developer choice. Michael Smith's Amidol formula works. It has been proven in my experience. Other choices may not and probably will not give the same results.
There may be other conditions and considerations that do not come to mind at this time. However this should give a general course of action.
It is indeed a mystery. I have never owned a densitometer. I do not know what the theoritical ideal scale of anything should be--negatives, paper, you name in. All I know is what to do to make the prints look the best (for my taste). It seems that many others, doing the same thing as I do, more or less as I do, are getting what they also think of as their best results.
There is a problem, however, for carrying what I do, too far. I use the long discontinued Super XX film, which has a far longer scale than any other film. So I'd be a bit careful. On the other hand, when I do print other's negatives in our workshops and occasionally when I invite someone to send me one, the best prints (let's for the sake of argument assume they really are the best prints and that it is not just my taste at work here), are invariably those from the densest negatives.
I believe the Ansel Adams "perfect negative" syndrome that mandates what densities negatives should have (Zone VI should be 1.10 or whatever), is the cause of a lot of "West Coast" style printing--contrasty, rather than long and smooth (and remember his recommendations were for prints made on enlarging paper). Not everyone wants to print that way.
How one makes prints is a function of one's way of being in the world. It is not an abstraction whereby there are certain desired densities to be achieved. So my recommendation is to throw away the densitometers and look at the prints. How they look is all that counts. It doesn't matter what the negatives look like according to the "authorities."
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From what I can gather, the only thing that a fuller exposure would accomplish is to move the shadow densities off the toe of the films characteristic curve. This would provide better shadow separation but this must by the nature of the materials come at a cost of compressed overall tonal scale or compressed highlight densities with most films.
Originally Posted by jdef
I'm glad ya'll are having this discussion. Nothing for me to contribute from my 2 weeks of Azo experience, so I'll set back, read, and learn.
Certainly with SXX, a dense negative should give good shadow detail, since the shadows will be well off the toe, and there's plenty of scale at the top of the curve to keep good highlight detail, as long as you're not trying to increase contrast through extended development, say, two zones beyond normal. Other films may just max out in the highlights before you get that far.
I wonder, though, if another factor may be at work having to do with Azo's reciprocity characteristics or something of that nature. A denser neg might just make it easier to get to Azo's ideal exposure time, whatever that may be.
The other factor that may be at play here is the characteristic curve of Azo. I read the reflection densities of my test which indicated the negative density range that Azo would accomodate but I did not plot curves for the paper. I could do that since I have all of the data. The thing that may be occuring is that the curve of the film could be interfacing with the curve of the paper in such a way that an unattractive compression may be occuring. I could certainly see that possibility with the shadows lying on the toe of the film's curve and then falling on the shoulder of the paper. That would be a recipe for flat shadows.
Originally Posted by David A. Goldfarb
It does not take long to find your own groove when it comes to contact printing on AZO. More or less density, more or less contrast, try them all with AZO is what I have done. I even switch bulbs (I use a 60w and a 200w) mid printing just to see differences if any. Rather than denisty or contrast I look for detail instead. If there is plenty of it then it will work! Check the negative on a lightbox and see if it has all the information that translates how you felt when the photograph was taken. If I like the negative then I will like it on AZO.