Somewhere there will be a question no matter how convoluted this post gets. I restarted my obsession with photography less than a dozen years ago and used the local materials, D76 and TMAX. Under the false assumption that I can have it all and do it all, I quickly made the jump from cute little film to MF and from there to LF looking for the tools to create what images I had floating in my head. Of course, I did all this without a mentor who could have held the reigns back and this led to all kinds of experimentation in search for the perfect brew.
Well, as you may have guessed, with TMAX and D76, my first issue was how to control contrast, which led me to older emulsions and yet older chemistries, while at the same time trying to develop an idea of what I am best suited to photograph. Now realizing that the subject and envisioned end product should dictate the materials used, I am faced with deciding which path to follow as far as subjects go - but that is a different thread. Believing that having "standard" combinations that I know very well is a huge benefit, I ponder which of the many worthy candidates gets to be "it."
I am not the spontanious decisive moment kind of guy, I am quite happy to ponder an image for a long time, take a long time setting up and then trip the shutter at my liesure. I don't carry a 35mm camera. In the Jeep I have an OLD TLR for those semi-spontanious shots that I must have when found. For 35mm I like FP4 and TechPan, which can take advantage of the light weight and fast lenses I use in my Contax/Zeiss system. My expectations are that 8x10 will be the limit (unless I WANT grain) and that is fine - but not my primary way to make art. So I have a spilt D-23 that gives me fine grain, decent accutance and some highlight control. TD3 works good for the TechPan and that completes my 35mm chemistry with little desire to change that.
For 4x5, I am considering settling down with PMK and TRI-X. I need the speed (such as it is) to allow for DOF control. Since I have no intention on going over 20x30 and most often stop at 16x20 prints. The grain is not a problem and the results are good although finer grain would be nice. FP4 and PMK is much better for grain but the speed can make the wind and waves a challenge. So these are the two films and one developer for 4x5 I will likely settle with for LF. I am thinking of revisiting Split D23 or even D76 and comparing for the advantage of added film speed and finer grain but am concerned about loss of accutance and highlight control.
MF is the one that leaves me the most confused. I use the split D-23 for my TLR rolls to compensate for guessing on the exposure and am usually surprized at how good the results are. I took some shots recently that are very pleasing to me and the benefits of highlight clamping from DiXactol were good but the grain structure now limits me to 11x14 with 8x10 being optimal. This kind of makes lugging the heavy Rolli SL66 and Zeiss lenses around a waste of time in that for an 8x10, 35mm would be a more practical film format. PMK and TRI-X in MF was so grainy, I would not do that again, DiXactol and TRI-X are acceptable but less fine grain than what I am looking for. FP4 is too slow for too many things I would shoot with a hand held camera or moving subject. So I am now considering abandoning DiXactol altogether and am experimenting with split D23 for all my MF work to see how that changes things. It seems to have all the benefits of the tanning/staining developers but with much finer grain and full film speed. So here are the questions; do most of you settle on certain combinations that meet your specific needs and then stop experimenting? Is this path and logic I am following sound? Any suggestions at MF or LF combinations? Has anyone that has traveled this path come back to TMAX and then which developer? I think that ultimately I want to have no more than three emulsions that I would use for everything (not counting IR or TechPan) Maybe FP4, TRI-X and ?? (I don't care for the paisley grain structure of HP5)
Thanks for all your wisdom and for reading this long winded post. - Frank