View Full Version : Pyro and the newbie.

16-Nov-2003, 12:53
I have a lens on the way, I have figured out how to solve the jammed rise and fall on the 2D 5x7, I have 5 light tight film holders and eight that have not been tested, a rock steady tripod, and meter with spot attachment. Now I need the film and the developer. My choice of film will be dictated by developer. Almost ready to go WOOHOO!! I just found the APUG site and there are a lot of the same names there. The photo world is so small, especially the LF photo world.

You folks have been very helpful.

Here is the question, and I e-mailed this question to B&S a few weeks ago and have not gotten an answer.

There seems to be this aura of mystery around pyro, but it seems to be the developer of choice for alternative processes. It also seems to allow the printer to go from say AZO to Pt/Pd, or vice versa as well as other methods. There seem to be a couple of types. How do you know which to use?

Do all films stain green like the bergger example on the B&S website?

People have said it reduces the appearance of grain, is this true or is it perceived? I hate grain that is why i am looking to contact print.

What is the shelf life of the chemicals? I have a toddler running around who puts a lot of demands on my time, and energy and I do not expect to get out and shoot a whole lot and definately not right away. I may get out once a month or less. Should I save up my negs and process them when I have enough to use up a batch of pyro right away, or can I get it and keep it way up high for a while unmixed, and mix it as I need it, in the amounts I need it, then put the left overs way up high?

What is your favorite film to use with pyro, and why? I realize this is a question of taste but my favorite B/W film, delta 100, is not sold in 5x7 so I am in the market. I am just looking for a starting point. I will of course play with all of the films available after I think I have a handle on the processing. I am leaning toward the Bergger BFP(BPF?) 200, but I have always trusted the wisdom of those more experienced than I.

Ken Lee
16-Nov-2003, 13:14
I'm no expert, but I just did a test comparing a number of films, and concluded that Bergger 200 absorbed Pyro stain the most, and performed best in capturing a genuine feeling of light. I do not print to Platinum or Azo, but still have found PyroCat to be a substantial improvement over the developers I have used in the past - even with more modern films that hardly absorb the stain. I have read that classic Bergger and Efke films attempt to reproduce the formulas of decades past, and contain more silver.

Read Sandy King's article, which can be found at http://unblinkingeye.com/Articles/PCat/pcat.html (http://unblinkingeye.com/Articles/PCat/pcat.html" target = "_blank) This will explain that different Pyro developers result in stains of different colors. PyoroCat HD gives a brown stain, for example.

If you call Kevin at Bostick and Sullivan, you will find him to be remarkably helpful and instructive.

N Dhananjay
16-Nov-2003, 13:31
Pyro and catechol based developers (staining and tanning) have a number of special characteristics that make them particularly suitable for alternative processes. The most crucial is probably the contrast added by the stain - the developer byproducts stain and tan the gelatin in direct proportion to the amount of silver that is reduced. The stain is very effective at blocking light, especially light in the UV region that is used for exposure in the alternative processes. You are probably aware that most alternative processes can accomodate a considerably longer range of negative densities, which means that you rnegative needs to be considerably more contrasty. In a normal developer, you would develop for longer to increase the contrast but the longer developing time would increase grain and irradiation effects. The density in a pyro neg comes from silver as well as the stain image. In other words, you would develop the negative for a shorter time to get the same amount of printing density (since the silver image forms only part of the printing density, the stain adds the rest of the printing density). Plus the tanning helps to control irradiation effects and maintain highligt separation and sharpness.

The amount of stain is dependent upon the emulsion characteristics and so some films seem to lend themselves particularly well to pyro. From anecdotal accounts, it looks like old style emulsions seem favored - Bergger is touted as being particularly good, but also FP4, J&C films, Tri-X etc etc. Keeping qualities depend on the exact formulation but in general, the stock solutions are reasonably stable. Pyro oxidizes rapidly in working solution form. And please do keep all chemicals (not just pyro) out of reach of inquisitive toddlers and pets.

The readings on the unblinkingeye.como site and Gordon Hutchings book "The Book of Pyro" will give you chapter and verse on these developers. Cheers, DJ

Bruce Watson
16-Nov-2003, 16:02
I have no experience with Pyro. I keep looking at it, but I haven't done it. The main reason is that Pyro is toxic, especially in powder form (which is what you get when the spill you didn't see dries out). This is something that you might want to really think about with a toddler in the house.

As to the appearance of grain, I'm not a big fan of grain either. I have found through experiment however that I can enlarge my 4x5 Tri-X negatives, developed in XTOL 1:3, to at least 6x without being able to see the grain. At all. I'm talking about a 24x30 print that is "nose sharp" - no grain, excellent sharpness, viewed from about 12 inches. I doubt seriously that you'll see any grain from a contact print, even with a loupe, regardless of your film/developer. Of course, YMMV. And, there are lots of other reasons to contract print. I'm just talking about visible grain.

As to learning more about pyro, and what versions work with what processes, and what films work best with which pyros, I agree with DJ. The best sources seem to be Gordon Hutchings and his book, and the unblinkingyeye.com site.

16-Nov-2003, 16:42
Shelf life: for PMK, about 2 years. I've heard claims of ten years, but I didn't get that much. ABC: 3 months for the A solution in tightly capped, amber glass jars. I mix the B solution, the sulfite, from the powder for each batch of working solution so it's not an issue. The C solution, the carbonate, will last indefinitely.

Stains: Tilex soap scum remover absolutely obliterates stains from both pyro and amidol on contact, even if they have dried.

John Cook
16-Nov-2003, 17:08
I certainly haven’t the chutzpah to poo-poo Pyro. Great and wonderful photographers, far beyond my level of skill, have used and sworn by it.

However, I believe it is accurate to label Large Format as a technical Dummies’ Delight. Almost as long as the shutter opens and closes you will get a great picture. It takes extreme skill to destroy a LF shot. (Step on your own foreskin lately?)

When I was in school, we were forbidden to use anything smaller than 4x5 until we were nearly ready to graduate. 35mm, like old age, is definitely not for weaklings.

I have been pouring over 100-year-old photographs this week (on the web) of my formerly fair city, Springfield, MA. (http://freepages.history.rootsweb.com/%7Edickbolt/Springfield.html)

These are simple, run-of-the-mill commercial quickies of street scenes and horse-drawn fire wagons. And they’re absolutely gorgeous, compared to the miniature-format pap now being published in most popular magazines.

The point of all this is that all contact prints and most enlargements of sheet film developed in common-as-dirt D76 or ID-11 will absolutely take your breath away. Obsessing over exotic potions has diminishing returns.

John Kasaian
16-Nov-2003, 17:30

I don't know beans about pyro, but if you want to give FP-4 a try, thats what Ultrafine from www.photowharehouse.biz is reputed to be. They charge $16.95 for 25 sheets of 5x7. www.freestyle.biz has Arista Pro 125 which behaves like FP-4+ in 5x7 for slightly more. Cheap film is nice to learn on!:-)

Michael Kadillak
16-Nov-2003, 18:05
Best advice I can give you - Keep It Simple.

It sounds to me that you are new to large format and as a result, I would recommend that you leave the pyro alone until you determine the technique you will be using for film development, figure out how to express yourself with your camera and work out all of the "bugs". The Photo Warehouse film mentioned above is a great choice because it is sold in 5x7, is inexpensive and works with a host of conventional developers that do not have anywhere near the toxicity of pyro.

After you get your legs under you, give it a try if you must. The consistent pursuit of the "Silver Bullet" has caused more people to waste valuable energy constantly worrying about what they are missing with another film/paper combination when they should just focus on the image and learn to use a single film and proven developer. Good old D76 never let anyone down. Let your results dictate a change in materials and you will be just fine. Good Luck

16-Nov-2003, 18:17
Michael has given the proper response. I would think D76 straight or 1:1 will give you nice negs to learn with. Next year, start to think about PMK Pyro. I use PMK for nearly everything I do, but I spent years with D76 and Microdol-x and HC-110 before I started with PMK.


Ken Lee
16-Nov-2003, 19:46
I respectfully disagree with the others. As you are already in a Large Format learning phase, it's not much more effort to start with something special. You are probably drawn to large format for the quality, rather than the convenience, so let's presume that some of your early LF images are going to be wonderful. Let's presume that some are going to be "keepers". Don't wait a year.

Speaking of convenience, using PyroCat HD, you only need developer and non-hardening Fixer. There is no acid stop bath (just a water rinse), no Hypo Clearing Agent (because there's no Hypo per se), and thus no endless washing to remove Hypo. Try something like TF-4 Archival Rapid fixer from Photographer's Formulary.

Christian Olivet
16-Nov-2003, 20:40
I agree with Ken. Go for it. Don't be afraid to use the special stuff. PMK is not the best for contacts. It is kind of muddy. ABC would be the best but very expensive, somewhat toxic, does not keep well, and hard to tame. Everybody is talking and giving a try to Pyrocat HD. I have already switched from ABC and find that it gives me the best negatives ever. It is cheap, very easy to use (almost imposible to make a mistake with it), keeps for 6 months, maybe more, and the stain is brown, meaning the negatives will print great in AZO and in Platinum. I have started from scratch two years ago and today I am able to make amazing prints. The Large Format Photography forum as well as Michael Smith's forum are the best learning sources. Forget about grain, in contact prints you will never see it. As far as film, go with an easy film like HP5 plus or Efke 100. I used both and are great. Basically any film will do but are more forgiving than others, and these last to are probably the easiest films with wonderful grey scales. As far as what process, contact printing on AZO is probably one of the easiest to learn and master. You can later use the same negatives to make platinum prints. Beware, platinum can became very expensive, especially in the beginning. I hope this helps!

Mike Troxell
16-Nov-2003, 21:26
"I agree with Ken. Go for it. Don't be afraid to use the special stuff. "

And I agree with Ken and Christian. Use the best from the start and you won't have to relearn everything later. People talk about the difficulty of working with pyro but (aside from being a bit more careful) the most difficult thing with working with pyrocat instead of store bought developers is that you have to mix the chemicals yourself. Just wear a respirator while mixing the chemicals and wear chemical resistant gloves (nitrile, Lowes and Home Depot carry them) while developing.

Mike Troxell
16-Nov-2003, 21:32
"Almost as long as the shutter opens and closes you will get a great picture. It takes extreme skill to destroy a LF shot."

You might be suprised :) I used to work as a computer consultant. In the Information Technologies field we always had a saying, "An idiot with a faster computer is a faster idiot" I guess the parallel saying for photography would be, "a poor photographer with a LF camera will be able to make larger poor photographs"

Michael Kadillak
16-Nov-2003, 21:44
I have started from scratch two years ago and today I am able to make amazing prints.

You made my point in recommending a more conservative approach. Two years is a considerable amount of experience to garner if you do a fair amount of shooting.

I cannot tell you how many expensive cameras I have seen for sale because the individual that purchased them had high expectations and for one reason or another decided to pack it in. If real results were "easy", we would be running out of walls to hang all of this success on. The reality is that large format in fact does take years to master and it also mandates a discipline that is not inherently in everyone that thinks that they are the second coming of Weston, Adams etc.

I am all for a positive attitude, but a dose of realism is also good medicine. I remember reading an article in View Camera a few years ago that after his military service, John Wemberly (a master photographer that developed W2D2) spent nearly three years learning photography and the view camera and another two years after that fine tuning pyro to his needs. My point is that most folks new to large format have a tall mountain to climb in the knowledge arena and it just takes time to injest it all. It is not good or bad, it is what it is. Encourage them? Absolutely. But we must be carefull that we do not unintentionally build their expectations to far from reality while affording them considerable latitude to make mistakes, learn and stay with the program.

Jay DeFehr
17-Nov-2003, 01:54
Mark, If I can do it, ANYONE cand do it, and I do for the reasons stated by Mr. Cook. My formula for success would be 1)big negative 2)develop by inspection in a staining developer 3)contact print. Of course the other part of Mr. Cooks post is aslo true; if you decide you want to shoot a smaller format and enlarge, you'll still have a lot to learn, but you will have a basis for comparison and likely, impossibly high standards. Good luck.

Ben Calwell
17-Nov-2003, 06:15
I use PMK for 5x7 contact prints and have had beautiful results.

Brian Ellis
17-Nov-2003, 07:07
I tested PMK extensively several years ago by making duplicate negatives of the same scenes, developing one set in PMK and the other in my normal developer D 76 1-1 (the testing was actually more elaborate than that summary but that's it in a nutshell), then printing both sets of negatives. The goal was to see if the special qualities claimed for PMK could be observed in a print. I found that I could always make identical prints from both sets of negatives. In other words, while the PMK negatives looked cool they didn't make prints that were any different in any observable way from "normal" prints. That was with VC paper (Kodak Polymax Fine Art) and Ilford HP5+ film. Whether results would be different with a different paper or film I don't know, the testing took probably fifty or more hours from beginning to end over the course of a month or so and I didn't have enough interest to do it all over again with different materials. Some have suggested that while PMK doesn't do anything special with VC paper, it does with graded paper. However, I wasn't about to give up the great advantages of VC paper (mainly the ability to print different parts of the print at different contrasts) just to use PMK.

Before you follow anyone's advice to use PMK ask them what kind of testing they have done to determine that it has some special qualities that show up in their prints. If they can demonstrate to your satisfaction that they have actually done some real testing, as opposed to simply using PMK and then making prints that they like, then by all means give it a try. Otherwise don't bother.

Note a few qualifications here. (1) I'm not talking about using PMK for alternative processes. It may be very good for that, I didn't try it for the only two alt processes I've done, gum and Van Dyke brown. (2) I'm talking only about PMK, I didn't try other forms of pyro (though a friend tested Rollo Pyro in a Jobo processor with results the same as mine, i.e. no noticeable advantage). Michael Smith has posted here before saying that while PMK doesn't do anything special, he thinks his pyro formula does, which may very well be true, I didn't try his or any formula other than PMK. (3) I and a couple friends who were also testing at the same time made a total of about twenty negatives, 10 different scenes, two negatives per scene. While we tried to vary the scenes from low to high contrast, there may be some particular type of situation that we missed and that would have revealed the special qualities of PMK had we not missed it (I don't think so but anything is possible I guess). (4) Last, and most important, this is all just my opinion and others can and do differ, though I will say that mine is at least based on some roughly scientific testing.

17-Nov-2003, 08:04
I am not a newbie to anything lower than 5x7. I have shot 4x5 for five years 2 1/4 for longer, and 35mm many many more before that. I've worked in a darkroom as a student and then some fool paid me to print, where I used all manner of developers. If they paid enough I would probably still be there. I prefer the ilford developers over the kodak for 35mm and MF. For LF I seem to get the most consistant results with them as wellbut when developing for long periods to get the density necessary for alt processes, I would also have to deal with the grainyness, and what looked like halos. I just figured, since I was beginning a new format for the sole purpose of testing alternate processes I should investigate a developer that appears to compliment these processes, and did not need such a long development time that would cause those pitfalls I mentioned. At least that is what I am hoping.

Jay DeFehr
17-Nov-2003, 09:05
Here's an interesting article that deals with your specific questions. Good luck.


Ken Lee
17-Nov-2003, 10:13
Mark -

Since you are no beginner, then it sounds like no big deal for you to try a few sheets and a few mililiters for yourself.

I just did this, and drew my own conclusions. I have one nice sample image at http://www.kenleegallery.com/sixfilms.jpg (http://www.kenleegallery.com/sixfilms.jpg" target="_blank), which I made with my own scanner-based workflow. All images were given a moderate amoung of the "unsharp mask" filter in Photoshop to bring out whatever grain might be there. These images are from small sections of the negative, and represent a substantial degree of enlargement. (If you need to know exactly how much, I can figure it out later.. but it's at least 10x).

I admit, this is not a perfectly scientific approach, and does not include every permutation I have tried...but it shows a number of films developed in different developers, scanned identically. The best grain seems to be the FP4+ in Pyrocat, while the best "feeling of light" seems to be the Bergger in Pyrocat.

I still intend to test Ilford Delta 100 in Pyrocat versus DD-X. If you're interested, I can post the results.

Ed Pierce
17-Nov-2003, 10:41
I've been trying PMK with Bergger 4x5 for about 8 months, by loading one side of each holder with Bergger and the other with my standard Tri-X, which gets developed in HC110, and making identical shots on the two films, then proofing them together. Both are developed to print normally on grade 2 Seagull. Both combinations contact print / proper proof equally well. The BFP/PMK combo does have slightly smaller grain, and the midtones are about a half zone lighter than with the TXP/HC110.

Neither combination has any problems with grain up to 11x14. Prints made of identical scenes do look different in a way that's hard to describe. The Tri-X prints look more 'real'; the BFP/PMK prints have kind of a daydream quality to them. The difference is subtle.

Personally I find the PMK harder to work with than HC110. In my experience, PMK negs are more prone to pinholes, fingerprints, scratches and uneven development. I think my technique is part of the problem; I like to develop at least 12 sheets at once in a tray, and I think that's too many for PMK. Maybe also Tri-X is tougher than Bergger, I don't know. Eventually I'll try the other two combinations too.

My recommendation is Tri-X in HC110. Tri-X is fast, has great gradation, responds well to contrast control, and is easily available. HC110 is very easy to use, relatively safe, and keeps well. If you do a speed test and good development time tests, this is an excellent combination in my humble opinion.

tim o'brien
17-Nov-2003, 15:42
There is always a compromise...

W2D2+ on Classic200... Easy to use, safe when handled correctly, no more complicated than using D76 except you make a prebath up. On Agfapan 100, amazing results, but alas, no more Agfapan Sheetfilm, no postbath like with PMK. Water stop and TF-4 for a fixer.

As John said, almost bulletproof. No blown out highlights, great shadow detail, your biggest problem will be printing the incredable range of tones each negative gives you.

Handling is always crucial, if you tray process, always use gloves, always flush well with water, always clean up every piece of equipment used. The developer lasts forever (it seems) in opened containers.

tim in san jose

18-Nov-2003, 08:13
Thanks folks. I will be giving pyro a try when I get a few negs from the 5x7 to play with.