It sounds like you have overdeveloped the negative resulting in too much contrast on the negative. I looked up the development info for this film (EDU Ultra aka Foma 200, right?) and it says 5-6 minutes in undiluted (which I presume is what you used) D76. So you gave it the upper range of that. Having too much contrast in the negative doesn't preclude detail in both highlights and shadows. The thing is, and this was part of the very basis of creating the zone system, even old films could record a much wider range of brightness than papers, so a method was created to try to match what you get on the negative with what the paper can handle (not counting dodging and burning, local bleaching etc.) Most people find that the Foma films are best developed for 15-20% less than the instructions, and exposed a bit more generously, but Thomas uses more of it than I do and I've only used the 400.
So if your negative is a bit too contrasty, it sounds like you are trying to compensate for that by printing with a print contrast that preserves detail in both highlights and shadows - you've expanded the negative and compensating by compressing the print. This may get you detail in both highlights and shadows but it also reduces something that is sometimes called "local contrast" or "mid tone separation" or some such term. Changing the contrast doesn't only affect how dark the shadows print and how light the highlights print, it also affects how much difference prints between very closely spaced tones. Say you have a fairly smooth skin tone with a very slight shadow on one side so, in zone terms, it varies from Zone VI (where you placed the face) to VI-1/4. More contrast in the print will expand this to show, say, low zone VI to low zone VII. It will make this light shadow more apparent but it will also make the deeper shadows darker and the highlights brighter, possibly to where they don't show detail (without dodging the shadows and/or burning the highlights.) The result of all this is you lose separation between closely spaced tones when you try to compensate for a contrasty negative by printing on a flat paper. On the other hand, the overdevelopment also expands the "local contrast" some but not as much as printing on a soft paper contracts it because the film development disproportionately affects the highlights - the brighter the highlight, the more extending development increases it.
I must point out this is just conjecture based on what you're saying about your development time and how the shadows and highlights look when you print for the best overall tonality you can get.
My suggestion, if you have a chance to shoot a test, is to reduce your development time by about 15% and try again, maybe with just a couple of shots - since you're using sheet film that's pretty easy. That would give you close enough to 5 minutes instead of the 6 you first used. Gentle agitation every 30 seconds should be fine, though agitation certainly affects contrast. If reducing the development time helps the problem but doesn't fix it, you need to reduce it some more. Most people don't like to go below 5 minutes or so in a regular inversion tank (tank you manually turn upside down to agitate) and I agree with this if you fill the tank after loading the film. In that case, if you need to reduce the time more, you can dilute D76 1+1 with water. I prefer this anyway - it will give you slightly worse grain with slightly more sharpness, and in 4x5 you'll never notice the difference. It will also give you a longer development time so you can reduce it more without risking uneven development.
In the meantime, if I'm correct about the negatives you've already shot, they can probably be printed fine, but will require dodging and/or burning (or contrast masking and that's an advanced technique.)
The other interesting thing here though is that you like the tones on the RC paper better. Is it RC glossy? I too dislike the look of RC glossy as too shiny and "plasticy" but it can often produce some of the darkest blacks around. I prefer pearl/semi-matte/whatever a manufacturer calls it in RC paper. The relevant question here is this: can you produce a print from these negatives on your RC paper that you like in terms of tonality (leaving aside things like whether the surface is too shiny and how it feels like plastic.)
EDIT: Somehow I read 6 minutes but you said 6.5. That just adds to my suspicion the negatives are over developed and contrasty and you're getting muddy prints because you're compensating by using a too-soft filter to try to contain the highlights. For a printing test, try printing test prints to get the midtones looking right and let the highlights and shadows do what they may. The print may not look good but if you can get those midtones looking good that will tell you something about the problem. I'd still try going to a 5 minute developing time. That's a bit more than 20% less than your 6.5 and is also at the lower end of the manufacturer's spec.
It also occurred to me you said you were agitating every 30 seconds but this is 4x5. What method or kind of tank are you using for your film development?
Last edited by Roger Cole; 09-13-2012 at 04:06 PM. Click to view previous post history.