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Thursday, 17 August 2023


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I skim read through this and all it did was remind me how glad I am that those days are done for me. The infinite variables that can get in the way of producing the print that you see in your mind's eye could (and did) lead to much frustration. I have stacks of "almost right" prints, each leading to another trial and error attempt to burn or dodge or add some contrast filter, or, or, or...

And then, come up with a perfect print, but just try to replicate it exactly again with the variable of developer strength based on depletion from use. So much wasted paper.

I don't understand masochism, so I'm glad that digital is here.

Interesting …

That’s what I loved, particularly with 5:4, with 35mm it FP4..

I have always loved D76 too. Then I used a lot of xtol… before settling on staining developers particularly for scanning.

I didn’t experiment much with papers. Could only really afford to keep using what I was using. Ilford RC.

In the end I scanned and printed. The control in the digital darkroom always felt superior to me.

I liked the contrast. Always loved Ilford films. I tried others but always came home to my favourites.

Watch out, here it comes: in my view, there's not much in the way of a good reason to use B&W film unless you're going to make enlarger prints on paper. Yes, that might be an unfair statement toward some good workers. But it's my opinion for myself.

Hybrid photographers like myself would disagree.

I would not waste my time with 35mm film, but then you regard the smaller format, which I have never found a place for it. In the beginning, before I went to school for commercial photography, I did shoot only 35mm, but once I became a student, that all changed to 4x5 and medium format. I could see the difference immediately between smaller and larger film formats—the same with a hybrid workflow for black and white.

This is all a matter of taste, what one's vision physically and conceptually (previsualization) may be, and how competent we are with our chosen tools. And just because someone has great tools never equates to them producing quality work consistently.

I went to school with rich kids that had all the gear but either had no brains or talent for the subject or were too lazy or lacked the love for the art and craft, as many disappeared during the first semester and were absent on critique days.

We have to work at being good at photography, and that never stops. If you love it, you are married to it. It is very similar to playing a musical instrument; either you are married to it and devoted, or you feel guilty knowing you suck because you lost your dedication to it.

There are no shortcuts, IMO, to being productive in the arts; no matter what gear or workflow one may use, the end result will always reflect the level of dedication and passion one pours into their craft.

Another rabbithole you could visit, or at least briefly dismiss, is the scanner. They don't seem to sell them any more. Little home printers do produce reasonable high resolution copies, but I haven't tried my HP Envy for this since my Epson V500 died after about 10 years of occasional service. I hope there will be comments from the more committed, who speak rabbit.

Hell yes, I’ll order a copy of “Classic 35mm Photography”.

For scanning negatives, developing the film in Kodak d-23 works quite well. It's easy to mix, and is used one time only.

Interesting about the scanning of B&W negatives and the film curve/paper curve. I don't think I've ever thought about that before. I guess I somehow instinctively avoided that problem and ended up making the best B&W prints I ever made. I used to use Fuji Velvia film for my B&W work. I used a Fuji 690 (the Texas Leica), scanned the film with an Epson Flatbed, used Photoshop to do the B&W conversion, then printed with an Epson 1200 using Cone Edition's B&W inkset. This was back about 20 years ago. That ink was amazing, slightly warm, slightly platinum. It made the most beautiful prints. I've never done better. Guess it's a good thing I didn't shoot with negative film as I probably never would have achieved those results.

Mike, thousands of readers are waiting for you to drop the other shoe:

“That's why scanned B&W negatives look so unbearable if the operator doesn't know what he or she is doing—they're just getting one curve, the film curve, not the other curve that the film curve was designed to work against.”

How? How does one get that other curve when scanning a negative?

Ideally? Let's see, when I left off, I was starting to mess around with Fuji ACROS, which impressed the heck out of me, I'd be happy to continue that experiment. For developer, I'm very curious about the new all-in-one developer+fixers so I would start there.

The above is purely hypothetical, of course, because film is damn expensive these days and I'd have a hard time justifying the cost. Realistically? I'd use whatever is stashed in boxes in my storage space, which would be a pretty mixed bag, but I believe the most abundant materials there are Tri-X, HP5 and Rodinal.

I still develop film infrequently, and happily throw away liquid developer that's expired and buy new, rather than ever deal with powdered developer ever ever ever ever ever again, that stuff is for the birds.

TMax Developer and DD-X are both really good, and dead simple. They just work. Same with Fixer, never never mixing fixer from powder again.

I’ve never worked in a wet darkroom in my life. I appreciate the feeling of craftsmanship it must evoke and I actually enjoy watching occasional contemporary process videos on the subject.*

But it offers zero practical photographic value today, especially to a color-only practitioner like me. I’m happy watching others work with these processes of yore while I eat lunch. It’s a wonderfully relaxing, engaging distraction!

* Ilford has a particularly nice YouTube channel of short, well-produced videos that I’m sure many readers would enjoy: https://www.youtube.com/@Ilfordphoto/featured

You rightly point out that the conversion of the tonal values in the black and white negative is only the first half of the representation of the tonal values, which is subsequently supplemented and completed by the characteristic curve of the enlargement paper in the course of the enlargement process on paper.
In the case of a mere digital reproduction of a black and white negative with the linear digital curve of the sensor and subsequent tonal value inversion into the positive, this second and technologically intended tonal value change would be missing.
This is absolutely correct, but I would like to point out that it can be assumed that the user will almost always change this digital reproduction of the negative to his liking after the tonal value has been reversed to positive, which is functionally the same as the choice of the optimally fitting enlargement paper at that time.
And this digital tone value adjustment at the stage of the positive is much more individual than the choice of the suitable enlarging paper, because it is much more differentiatedly applicable to the different tone values.

Your point that with variable contrast paper a change in gradation affects predominantly the darker to mid tonal ranges and much less in the so important lighter tonal ranges is equally correct and my understanding is that this is not a sensible intention of the paper manufacturer but a technical shortcoming of this photochemical process.
After I discovered this mostly unfavorable tonal value situation in enlargements, I compared the gradation curves of the variable contrast papers and the fixed-gradation papers and was able to confirm this by measurement. When I enlarged negatives on both variable contrast paper and fixed-gradation paper, in almost all cases the result with fixed-gradation paper was clearly the better one. From then on, I used only the fixed-graded papers.
Nowadays I create the different positive gradations by means of software, - intuitively in the context of the image adjustment according to my taste.

For some daft reason, recently I brought myself a Leica MA I nearly got the M11 Monochrom, instead I choose a film camera. Now am going though the process of working out the film and developer combo I want to use. Right now I am experimenting with Rollei Retro 400s film as I like a few examples i have seen of it online of it. I used to be a Tri-X Rodinal/D76 user and I don’t want to go there again. So I am now working out which developer that I want to use. My options that I am going to try are Adox FX39, Xtol, and most definitely not Rodinal as I have outgrown that stage of my life. I will now add to that list TMax dev, and I might try a few other. I might if I move, even get to set up a darkroom again one day. For now, I will have to use someone else’s darkroom or find a way to scan the negs, I would rather make 8x10 or 9x12 prints, as I would be able to scan these nicely on my flatbed scanner.
For me, film feels different and I can’t quite put my finger on it, digital is great and for me if I am working digitally then I am working in color and yet for me film needs to be in black & white. I am not sure if this is cost or in reality a control thing. Digital photography in colour has so much more control over the process than film photography ever had, and I know as I used to print my own colour images for my published work.
I think, I went with a film camera because of the rise in AI image making as I wanted something that felt real again, and the craft of photography has never been easy or cheap.

I am seriously considering getting back into film.

1) CineStill BwXX or Ilford FP4 Plus.
2) Diafine
3) Nikon ES-2 film scanning adapter
4) back to my usual post processing.

no paper. I don't have the space here to set up, much less the money for, and enlarger.

At this point, film is simply a sensor you replace every 36 exposures with one that might have a different sensitivity or perhaps be able to see color ;) Once you get the images from the "memory" card (yeah, the metaphor is getting stretched thin) the rest of the process is the same as with digital.

Re your first asterisk, the process was recorded...https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FFIk9f1b7Is

So … why don’t you self publish that book as an electronic version now?

[It wasn't a book, just a proposal. --Mike]

Or, photograph the prints on a copy stand with a great digital camera (which presumably you have...). Scanners are...feisty. I have a good one. But I'm about to copy a bunch of family pix and I'm going the photograph route. Easier and quicker, gives a raw file, I know how my camera works.

Also, good to see HP5 gettin' some love. Great stuff.

RC papers came a long way since the ones I used in the early 1970s when I was teaching myself to print in the darkroom. I always went for fiber after learning on RC. My favorites were Agfa Portriga Rapid and Brovira and Kodak Medalist and Kodabromide. Prints just looked better on those papers.

The newspaper where I worked bought a Kodak Royal Print processor and many of us worried about how the prints would look and last. No need to worry. I still have some great looking prints done on Kodak Kodabrome RC papers in that Royal Print processor. Some of those prints are pushing 40 years old today.

I sense Mike has a budding renewal of interest in film photography. Believe me, it's likely to be a disappointing dream. I too decided to delve into film again after not shooting it since 2008 when I "went digital". I jumped into it whole hog, bought a Nikon F4, F100 and N8008s at unbelievably low prices, bought a selection of films--Tri-X, HP5, FP4, some Rollei and Cinestill examples. Bought the chemicals--including the Rollei branded Rodinal stuff. Made sure I still had my old stainless reels and tanks, bottles and beakers. I even went out and shot a half dozen rolls.

Those rolls are still sitting on the shelf. I looked at them for weeks and could not force myself to get interested in mixing chemicals and going through the processing routine. I dreaded the whole thing and eventually decided to give it up. The cameras will now be for display purposes and the remaining film will go in the freezer in case someone locally comes along and wants to try it out. I'll just look at the bottles of chemicals to remind myself how much of a damn fool I was.

Film, developers, RC v fibers base papers. Uh uh, been there done that. From 35 mm and 120 to view cameras and sheet film, from 1958 to 2005, from my Baby Brownie in 1946 to my Wisner 8x10 years later. Now in old age it's a couple of Pany m 4/3s, and I'm content to sit at the keyboard looking at a computer monitor while pushing sliders around, and getting better results with far less effort and no darkroom chemicals and cleanup.

Several questions/comments:

* Why HP5 Plus and not TRI-X/400TX?

* The Kodak photo chemicals brand, including TMAX developer, was sold to Sino Promise three years ago. Sino Promise has now shut down the business. Continued availability of TMAX developer is uncertain, perhaps even doubtful. If you liked the results in D-76, Ilford's ID-11 would be a good substitute.

* Today's Ilford papers (other than Cooltone) are stubbornly warm in almost every developer. I'd recommend using Ilford's Multigrade RC Portfolio rather than Warmtone RC. Portfolio's extra base thickness makes it a pleasure to handle while exposing, processing and even after dry.

I'd be appreciative if you (Mike) would write about what we digital capture folks have as options for high quality BW prints. I personally don't do much volume, so getting a dedicated photo printer isn't in my future due to cost and space reasons. But I wish I knew how/where to get good prints.


D-76 and ID-11 are excellent developers. But, my local brick and mortar store doesn't consistently carry them. ... I discovered Pyro 510 recently and haven't looked back. After many many decades of being a D-76/ID-11 devotee. Back in the day when I was an analog printer, I preferred Ilford RC to Kodak and others. My Ilford RC prints from the 80s and 90s still look great today.

My favorite paper of all time: Agfa Brovira. I have prints nearly 50-years old that look fantastic.

5"x4" Tri-x (TXP320) at 200 ISO. HC-110 dilution B. ND filter on my Canon R8 so I can match exposures and f stops. Eyepiece LCD and histogram for the Zone system.

Scan with a digital camera and macro lens. Used a scanner for years. Not as good.

Epson P7000 printer, Epson ABW, Hahnemuhle 308 GSM Photo Rag. Billed my selenium tones FB darkroom prints years ago.

Not sure there's much point shooting 35mm personally. Most people can't tell my full frame digital from 35mm Tri-X, although it has taken a few years to get there ;)

I hadn't realized that T-MAX concentrate was good for two years. Not as eternal as the discontinued waterless version of HC-110, but still quite generous. I used to stretch out bottles of Ilford DD-X for a year.

This is copied from the Adoxfacebook page

Because of the significant supply problems in the market for Kodak branded D-76 developer customers have asked us to offer the D-76 developer recipe made by ADOX.
Your wish was our command 🙂:
The Kodak “Developer-76” recipe is a photography legend next to Rodinal, gaining almost universal recognition as the go-to developer for photojournalistic work during the WWII and post war era.
D-76 is a universal, easy-to-use developer with a multitude of applications with the most different films and contrast situations, always delivering fine grain and great speed-utilisation.
ADOX took the classical formula and, while keeping all the important original properties and developing times, brought it up to modern standards. The new ADOX D-76 has significantly lower dissolving temperatures, as well as the Captura® technology for dust-free mixing. Additionally, all the borates were removed and replaced with a non-toxic biodegradable buffer. The ADOX D-76 powder developer is made in Germany, with both research and post-production quality control carried out on site. The product is available in 1l and 5l packs.
The ADOX D-76 developer can be used exactly like the Kodak D-76, with the already-published D-76 times, dilutions and factors.
ADOX D-76 is available at our global distribution partner FOTOIMPEX:

I'm not sure about your argument for not scanning negatives, Mike. It might be true if scanning simply involved a straight inversion from negative to positive, but proper scanning using appropriate specialist software like SilverFast or Vuescan Pro can easily take that into account (and does); in effect it's a mathematical transformation to apply the appropriate compensating curve. It doesn't feel like that, specially when it comes out right.

I always enjoy when you post an article on film photography Mike. Especially hearing about your past film and printing processes. Good stuff!

I've had a major life change and have lost access to my little home darkroom, so it looks like I finally have to 'go digital'. But, I still am hooked on B&W film and printing. I have yet to see a digital print which has the blacks and range of tones of a silver gelatin FB print. I had also been shooting colour film, but the pro lab I used in Toronto stopped processing film completely. And I no longer have access to the Flextight scanner at the co-op to which I belonged. It produced very nice scans (but it seemed to be always breaking down). However, if you can't even process the film, then you might as well shoot digital files right!

But getting over B&W film, is going to be tough. I was shooting medium format with Fuji Acros and processing with Pyrocat developer, and getting very nice sharp negs with excellent range of tones. I had also just started shooting 4x5 landscapes and still life.

As for RC paper - I have a good friend who printed a show in RC for a client back in the mid 1990s. I was kinda shocked actually as he had been printing FB for years and years. The print he gave to me started to 'bronze' within 5 years (it was likely not fixed long enough). He needed to print the show quickly and RC is quick and easy. I never used RC except for contact sheets.

I guess for now, I'll shoot colour digital and try and find a good print lab. But B&W film is still calling. I know that part of it is nostalgia, but I do also love being in the darkroom.

I would shoot HP5 at 800 ISO developed at DR5.USA (slide), for less grain, scanned and printed at Digital Silver Imaging and printed on fibre paper.
A more modern method in my opinion.

With you on scanning b&w prints! I needed to produce a little booklet of folders for a funeral on a couple hours notice but the most important historical pics were little 1 and 2 inch contact prints from the 1920s and 1930s - I assume box brownie or similar - they mostly looked way over exposed to my eye. I didn’t have access to a photo scanner, so I just scanned them at 600x600 resolution on my Konica Minolta business printer straight to my email. There was a B&W photo on photo paper setting, so I chose that. When I opened the scans in Lightroom, I couldn’t believe my eyes - the low res scans had enough resolution to comfortably view them or print 4 x 6 inches or much larger than I needed for a little booklet - but more importantly, the washed our highlight was easily recoverable. I just couldn’t see it on the tiny prints. I up-ressed a couple as an experiment using genuine fractals - and with a couple of minutes of cleaning and tidying produced quite acceptable A4 size prints. I’m going to redo the lot on a proper flatbed scanner, and carefully digitally process just to see what I can get from them. But I’m thoroughly convinced that a high quality scan of an 8x10 print could produce absolutely stunning images. Project for another day…

If you use Ilford films then DD-X developer is the obvious goto and it is the best all round dev for them, if you don't want to use ID11/D76. I changed to the Delta films before I gave up film altogether. Delta 400 is superior to HP5 but admittedly it needs more careful exposure and development.
I still have a darkroom and intend to show my grandchildren the process before I break it down.
Forget scanners. Build a simple rig and use your digital camera. Much quicker and the results are better than with most scanners

Mike, you have so much experience using film. Why don't you use it today? Your knowledge would set your work apart. A billion photographers take digital; there is no novelty or uniqueness left. The hard work needed for film is exactly what would make your efforts stand out.

Interesting post - as I am putting my darkroom back together (Omega 2DV) after being mothballed. I shoot 6x7 (color & b&w) & 4x5 & 5x7 (HP5, FP4 & experimenting with Foma).
Been thinking of scanning my prints to see the difference with what my hybrid workflow does. I used the print & scan before getting a flatbed scanner...been wondering how the outputs compare. My Epson scans are good but wondering if the print & scan avenue will yield a better look.
I have gone to liquid for chemistry also - DDX is great with HP5 use a variety of fixers but plan on using Photographers' Formulary TF-4 going forward. (I use water + vinegar for stop).
Love the look I get with medium format film - it looks better to my eyes compared to my 5D - especially for portraits. Plan to use Ilford FB warm tone - not sure which dev...Ethol LPD or one of the Ilford options...will need to experiment

I'm always interested in your thoughts about film and processing. I've been playing with film again in a serious way for about 12 years. My advice for starting off would be different:

A: Ilford Delta 400. Scanning tends to emphasize grain, and HP5+ in 35mm format is just too grainy (for me).
B: Ilford ID-11 1:1. Avoids the Kodak supply chain issues and is fairly economical. One-shot use avoids replenishment issues. Shipping powders less of an issue across borders too.
C and D: I would scan or rephotograph the negative on a copy stand arrangement. Your advice to scan an RC print I think would be problematic (glossy paper on a scanner platen could generate Newton's rings). Also, I don't find your curve argument convincing. As long as the negative is not blown out, you can reproduce or even do better than any paper curve in digital post. Setting up a darkroom printing arrangement just to make work prints for scanning seems like a lot of work (for a newbie) if fine art printing is not their intention.

Finally, I would suggest a serious newbie consider jumping straight to a medium format camera. The larger negative scans so much better; grain and scanner sharpness are much less of an issue. A V600 scanner would be fine for most people at medium format sizes; not so much for 35mm, where rephotographing with a good digital camera and macro lens can do much better.

Lines A to D describe the reasons why I don't buy inkjet prints and the like. Or, at least, I don't pay the amount they ask.
They do not require in-depth knowledge of the art of truly photographic printing. Just press PRINT.

[I can't bear to hear this Hélcio! Digital printing is much more that "pressing print." It might be that easy when done poorly, but it's actually more difficult than darkroom printing when done at the highest level. It's only once you've gotten the first print exactly right—at the end of a long and exacting chain that takes knowledge and expertise at every step—that you can make another one by "pressing print." --Mike]

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