A few questions/comments about RA-4
I appreciate that there have been numerous posts recently about RA-4 printing and apologize if this one seems to be an exercise in beating a dead horse. Your comments/suggestions would be very helpful. Thanks in advance.
I have just finished my first box of 8x10 Fuji Crystal Archive type C glossy paper and am not completely satisfied with the results. I was hoping to get as close as possible to the print equivalent of Velvia 100 film. I process in trays at room temperature using Kodak chemicals and a Saunders dichroic enlarger and the negatives were shot with a Hasselblad. I have no trouble with the process -- the outcome is always very reproducible and very robust against things like developing time and age of the chemicals (I got about 50 prints over 6 months with the last chemical batch and couldn't detect much change in the results).
First, is there any way to reduce the contrast in the print? Searching the archives, I didn't see any easy way to do this and the usual approach in BW printing of reducing the development time doesn't work (as I confirmed). The contrast with Ektar negatives is very high (less so with Fuji 160s negatives).
Second, I photographed a USAF resolution test chart (Ektar 100) and printed it. The resolution of the print was much, much lower than that of the negative. I am very careful in using a grain focuser and tested for errors in the enlarger focus by bracketing the focus and found none. I had heard (from the Ctein book "Post Exposure") that RA-4 paper should have 60+ lpm resolution and my results are very far from this (no better than about 20 lpm or less). The prints have a slightly unfocused appearance. I am using an El Nikor 4 element 80 mm lens.
Finally, has anyone experienced problems from breathing the chemical fumes? I have an exhaust fan (the darkroom is a converted bathroom and has no windows) and also wear a mask (a cheap one from home Depot) with which I usually can't detect any chemical smell (it is strong with the mask off). The mask might be losing its protection recently -- two days ago, I did detect chemical smells and was coughing after the ~2 hour darkroom session.