View Full Version : Film/developer combo for fine grain & detail ??

Calamity Jane
29-Apr-2004, 10:23
Well, I searched the archives and didn't find anything, so I guess I'll ask.....

Now I know that B&W film/chemistry is very much a Ford/Chevy debate but I haven't done much film photography in the last few years, so I am out of touch. Also, my previous photography was MF and I am moving to 4x5.

My preference in a B&W negative film is for very fine grain with maximum detail. A broad tonal range is nice. Speed isn't important as my preferred subjects don't move very fast ;-) Processing speed isn't important and only a very few select negatives will ever end up on paper.

What film/chemistry combination do you feel will give the maximum detail over a broad tonal range?

I'm in Canada, outside of a minor city, so nothing exotic please :-)

Thanks for your opinions.

Gem Singer
29-Apr-2004, 11:03
Hi Calamity,

Since you don't need the extreme fine grain in your 4X5 negatives that you needed in your smaller format negatives, I suggest Ilford HP-5+ film, developed in Ilford Ilfotec DD-X developer. This combination produces a broad tonal range, with excellent acutance. It is not as fine grained as some of the other combinations, but still quite acceptible. I use it for 16X20 enlargements from 4X5 negatives.

HP-5+ film and DD-X developer should be readily available in your area. You will probably get a different recommendation from each contributor to this forum. Everyone has their own favorite combination. I recommend that whichever film and developer you choose, keep it simple.

Tim Curry
29-Apr-2004, 11:04
Efke 25 or Efke 100 (J&C Photo) and PMK.

29-Apr-2004, 11:16

Ilford Delta100 or Kodak Tmax100 developed in Kodak D76, Ilfosol-S or Ilford Microphen work for me in producing fine grain and broad tone while still being easy to work with. My own preference is Ilford product and process. Living in Canada myself, even common film and chemicals such as these can be frustrating to get. Try ordering online from www.henrys.ca if a local shop can't help you or if it takes them more than a week to get something. Regards,

paul owen
29-Apr-2004, 12:37
Try Ilford Delta 100 with Paterson FX39 or failing FX39, Delta 100 in anything!

Calamity Jane
29-Apr-2004, 13:11
Ok, Delta 100 sounds like a sound choice. Microphen is an old familiar name - might just have some somewhere in the darkroom; don't suppose it has a 10 year shelf life? ;-)

John Cook
29-Apr-2004, 14:29
They are all correct. And Delta 100 is very nice film.

But I think you will find that the enlargement magnification from 4x5 negatives is so much less than from roll film that much of the darkroom magic does not show up in the print. Or is very minimal.

I have done several eye-popping special effects with 35mm over the years. But with sheet film, as long as the shutter opens and closes I always seem to get a superior image.

Much of the claims for high-accutance developers just don't show up in normal size prints from sheet film. I've gone crazy testing FX-1, Rodinal 1:100 etc. etc. etc. An 11x14 print from the fancy stuff looks no different than a print made from film developed in plain old D76.

I would therefore choose a developer for large format based on ease of use, shelf life, etc.

29-Apr-2004, 14:35

According to Ilford's data sheets on powdered developers (Microphen included), they can keep indefinitely if stored unopened in cool and dry conditions between 4-20'C.

29-Apr-2004, 14:36
When it comes to chemicals you can get almost everything in Canada. Film can be more of an issue. OTOH it's not like sheet film is sold in drugstores today so having to mail order is just something I accept.

Between the common stuff [Kodak,Fuji or Ilford] that almost any dealer can order for you or the less common stuff that Canadian places like Eight Elm street carry film isn't that hard to get. It can be expensive at times when compared to US prices but then I've seen some that is cheaper here.

Francis Abad
29-Apr-2004, 14:46
I beg to differ. There are significant differences as well in sheet film-dev combos, probably even more so than roll film-dev combos. In addition, adjusting development procedures also affect apparent sharpness and tonal rendition in sheet film. For example, the same scene exposed similarly on two sheets of the same film, where one is to be developed with very gentle but continuous agitation and the other with minimal agitation will be rendered differently in both negatives. The difference is quite obvious. The minimal agitation negative will experience a gain in apparent sharpness and increased local contrast - hence better tonal representation. Of course the results are also highly dependent on subject matter. In cases where there is plenty of sky area, gentle agitation will deliver much more even tonal rendition. In addition, different films respond differently to different development procedures, developers, developer dilutions, etc. Plus one also has to consider the desired output - i.e. silver enlargements, silver chloride contact prints, alternative processes, etc... The question is what will be your preferred subject matter (choose as many categories as you like) and what will you be your desired output?

My preferred output is AZO contact prints. My preferred film is Efke PL100 developed in Pyrocat HD 2:2:100, gentle agitation or Pyrocat HD 1:1:120, minimal agitation (subject matter dependent). To the naked eye there is no grain AT ALL! Tones everywhere! Highlights are never blocked!

29-Apr-2004, 17:23
No contest: best detail + least grain = Kodak TMax 100. It doesn't make a lot of difference what you develop it in.

Francis Abad
29-Apr-2004, 17:40
The only problem with TMAX 100 is that it is difficult to build overall contrast with it and any aspirations to enhance local contrast should be left behind. This lack of overall and local contrast makes detailed and sharp negatives print flat and lifeless.

Jay DeFehr
29-Apr-2004, 18:59
Tmax/Xtol is the best combination for fine grain and detail by the numbers, save for specialty films like Tech Pan or Gigabit. I don't know what Jason means by his contrast and density statements above, but there have been many,many very fine prints made from Tmax negatives. I doubt that would be the case if it was difficult to build overall contrast (what do you mean by difficult,Jason?) with the film. A quick look at the Tmax/Xtol curves will illustrate that contrast is adjustable over a wide range. If your prints from Tmax negatives are flat and lifeless, the problem is much more likely in the handling than the material. That being said, when I lack the experience to make an informed decision, I follow Mr. Cook's advice. He's never steered me wrong yet.

29-Apr-2004, 19:39
I have to agree 1000% with Jay. You will get no finer detail and grainless prints than with Tmax/Xtol - my second choice would be PlusX/D23 - but that's just my preference ;)

But again, as stated in previous posts, with a 4x5 neg these matters are less critical than in smaller formats.

You can make beautifully crisp prints to 20x30 with the above combos.

JUST DO IT! Then judge for yourself. As they say, YMMV!

Bruce Watson
29-Apr-2004, 21:38
Lots of opinions. Pointless to add mine. Why not do some research and make your own?

Start with The Film Developing Cookbook by Anchell and Troop. It'll tell you how the various developers work. It'll tell you what works well with what. It's a good resource. Basically a distillation of the other major resources, such as Haist.

I should point out one thing though. Most LF shooters come to the realization that they no longer have to concentrate on grain size. A 10x enlargement is virtually "grainless" in any format, any film (even 400 speed films). For 4x5, that's a 40x50 inch print. Just something to think about ;-)

Francis Abad
30-Apr-2004, 01:57
I used to use TMAX 100 8x10 exclusively for many years and thought that it was the bees' knees. Until I found something cheaper and for my procedures superior in terms of building local contrast (Efke PL100). I think that it would be wise to shoot some TMX, FP4 and Efke PL100 and see for yourself which one you like the best. These three pretty much covers the debate concerning which ASA 100ish film is the best all-rounder.

Diane Maher
30-Apr-2004, 09:14
I have tried several films and like FP4+ the best so far. I have recently tried some Tri-X 320 Pro and that seems to work well, but I haven't used it nearly as much as the FP4+. As for developers, the only one I've ever used on LF film is D76, in a 1:1 dilution. However, if you have to keep stock solution on hand for a while, and you are far away from a major city or must do mail order to get chemicals, you may be better off going with a liquid developer.