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Thread: Film, Paper, Developers for reliably getting started in analog photography

  1. #1

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    Film, Paper, Developers for reliably getting started in analog photography

    Dear Large Format Folks:

    What is a good combination of film, paper and developers (?toner?) for silver paper prints with as little grain as possible, as smooth a tonal rendition as possible, over as wide a tonal range as possible? For comparison sake let's say I'd like to be able enlarge 35mm negs to 11x14 and not see/be distracted by grain. OK at least 8x10.

    I've come to realize I need to get one set of "normal" materials under my control before I get too much further into Xray, Ortho-Litho, alt-printing, etc. I know that UV based contact printing usually requires different negs from silver gelatin, I'll deal with that later.

    The printing paper must be Resin Coated Multi-grade. For my time and experience level right now, graded, fiber base paper is too much trouble.

    The film must have a reliable speed rating on the box and reciprocity data readily available and real data on developer times and times adjusted for different temperatures (my basement darkroom can be very different ambient temperatures summer and winter for example).

    It'd be nice if the film was available for all the cameras I own or am building: 35mm, 4x5 and 8x10 (under construction).

    The film and paper must be currently manufactured, readily available, preferably from a variety of vendors. Ditto for developers for film and paper.

    Since I sometimes go more than a month w/o darkroom time I lean towards developers that are concentrates used one shot and have a LONG shelf life so I don't have to measure powders, but if I have to measure powders, that's o.k., if I get reliable results and have the temp/time/reciprocity data to get control.

    I know mixing your own can hold costs down. There are lots of chemical recipes floating around the internet and in Anchell's darkroom cookbooks, many contradictory ones, plus, chemical companies understandably consider the recipes trade secrets and don't publish them. I'm not afraid of mixing my own chemicals, I have a balance and volume measuring tools and used to be a chemist. I'd rather not be trying to figure out what recipe goes with what data set (I ran into this with Rodinal, big time). I want a reliable, works together set of data and chemicals and film and paper so I can predict what the heck will happen when I expose the film, develop it and print it. I'd rather have bullet proof processing than chase magic bullets at this point. Toward this end, I'm tempted to get film/developer and paper/developer that are made for each other i.e. Tmax film and developer.

    Other Equipment: I have built a set of plexiglass tanks to hold a single 8x10 film hanger, volume's a little less than a liter for each tank, I also have porcelain over steel trays in 8x10 and a couple bigger and smaller trays. There's a 35mm enlarger with 50mm lens and base big enough to print 11x14. I've got split back contact printing frames in a couple sizes that I built. The main working camera is a busch pressman D in 4x5 with a 135mm lens f4.7 wide open often used at f22 or so. Shutter is reasonably accurate as far as I can tell (by ear and iPhone app) at least in the middle of the range. The tripod I have is barely adequate for it---it was purchased initially for plein air painting purposes. I also develop 35mm film at home, too, in plastic daylight tank. I might consider a 4x5 or 5x7 enlarger someday. Or the 8x10 under construction might be pressed into service as an enlarger with suitable lenses and an ?LED array? as a light source.

    I think I'm eventually heading to alt printing, likely Carbon for its wide scale/tonal range and permanence at a manageable cost (no precious metals). My best cyanotype prints so far are from digital generated negatives which were a LOT easier to make than I've been able to do with a hodgepodge of tylenol/rodinal, ortho-litho and Xray films. the home built UV exposure unit based on bug zapper fluorescent tubes hooked to a graylab timer helps a lot too. Even Arista Edu 100 in home brew Rodinal has given better results than some of the weird stuff. I also know I need to (re)test my ancient safelights and film holders, especially recently acquired 8x10 holders, they are old wooden ones. These may also reveal sources of frustration/fog. And, I know that non-panchromatic films (Xray, Ortholitho) have different film speeds with different colors of light/times of day out of doors. I'll deal with that later, too.

    Thanks in advance for any help.

  2. #2
    Jac@stafford.net's Avatar
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    Re: Film, Paper, Developers for reliably getting started in analog photography

    For comparison sake let's say I'd like to be able enlarge 35mm negs to 11x14 and not see/be distracted by grain. OK at least 8x10.
    [...]
    It'd be nice if the film was available for all the cameras I own or am building: 35mm, 4x5 and 8x10 (under construction).
    You are asking for too much.

  3. #3
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    Re: Film, Paper, Developers for reliably getting started in analog photography

    I think what it boils down to is that there are no "magic" film/developer combinations that are necessarily superior to all the rest. You can get excellent results from many different combinations; it's more a matter of diving in and finding out from experience what suits you.

    On a few of the specific points you raise: Manufacturer speed ratings can be presumed to all be reliable *in the context of their measurement criteria and procedures*. The problem is that you may have different criteria and procedures that better suit your picture-making. Just as an example, I'm happier with the results from exposing almost every film more than the manufacturer says is needed. That doesn't mean their ISO speed ratings are wrong, only that we have different criteria for image character. I had to figure that out for myself. Similarly with reciprocity data and development charts - the manufacturers supply them, but your results may vary. On all of these points there is no good substitute for running your own tests.

    Also: T-Max film and developer were *not* made for each other. IIRC the primary developer used during the R&D that brought the T-Max films to market was actually D-76. T-Max developer was created to fill a specific niche for a convenient liquid-concentrate developer, but T-Max film does not require it nor even necessarily do best in it. In fact, Kodak specifically warns against using regular T-Max developer with T-Max and other sheet films, because of the risk of dichroic fog. They created T-Max RS to fix that.

    Which paper is "best" depends on which film/developer combination you end up preferring and what sort of tonal scale you're after, because each paper and each film/developer combination delivers its own distinct characteristic curve, and the tonal scale of the print is determined by the interaction between the two. So it's not possible to give a universally valid specific recommendation about that either.

  4. #4
    Pastafarian supremo Rick A's Avatar
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    Re: Film, Paper, Developers for reliably getting started in analog photography

    I will recommend one film, available in all formats, Arista EDU Ultra 100, which is rebadged Fomapan 100. The Arista brand is available from Freestyle Photo Supply via mail order, Fomapan is available (usually)from Adorama and B&H. VC/RC paper, order the cheapest you can find for now, then try to settle in on one brand you like. Chems, it's hard to beat Kodak D-76 for film, acid stop is optional, I prefer a neutral or alkaline fix for reduced washing time. Paper developer, I will stand by Ethol LPD, it costs more up front, but is more versatile and lasts longer than any other I've tried in the last 50+ years. Don't even consider Photo-flo(Kodak), waste of money, I will say tha Edwal LFN is superior, more expensive, but one bottle will last probably your life time. Mix all your chems to stock strength with distilled water, then to working dilution with ordinary tap, EXCEPT final rinse--only use distilled for final rinse of film(with one drop LFN/pint).
    Rick Allen

    Argentum Aevum

    practicing Pastafarian

  5. #5

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    Re: Film, Paper, Developers for reliably getting started in analog photography

    In threads like this, there's a tendency for forum members to simply chime-in with their recommendations: they don't read anyone else's posts, but simply toss theirs onto the pile. We might call this "anecdotal evidence" since they rarely show any comparison tests which back up their assertions.

    You can save yourself considerable time if you (1) Determine a small number of photographers whose work you admire. (2) Take a workshop with them or find out what methods and materials they use. (3) Branch out from there at your convenience.

  6. #6

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    Re: Film, Paper, Developers for reliably getting started in analog photography

    Film = TMY
    Developer = Pyrocat HD (available from Photographer's Formulary mixed in Propylene Glycol. Perhaps Bostick & Sullivan as well)
    I don't use RC papers so can't help you there, but it's hard to beat TMY in Pyrocat for your tonality/grain requirements.

    Good luck!

  7. #7
    Tim Meisburger's Avatar
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    Re: Film, Paper, Developers for reliably getting started in analog photography

    Film - Arista or FP4
    Developer - D-23 mixed one shot as needed
    Fixer - Plain hypo mixed as needed
    Print developer - D-72 mixed as needed
    Paper - Ilford

  8. #8
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    Re: Film, Paper, Developers for reliably getting started in analog photography

    Quote Originally Posted by John Bowen View Post
    Film = TMY
    Developer = Pyrocat HD (available from Photographer's Formulary mixed in Propylene Glycol. Perhaps Bostick & Sullivan as well)
    I don't use RC papers so can't help you there, but it's hard to beat TMY in Pyrocat for your tonality/grain requirements.

    Good luck!
    If you want something for all sizes with minimal grain, Tmax 400 is it, and it's good. A little expensive in the larger sizes if you like to use lots of it. I use it 120,4x5,8x10. For larger film, FP4+ is also good and a great value, but I'm not thrilled with it in 120 format and Kodak 120 film is cheaper and finer grain.

    Pyrocat hd, water rinse, tf4 or tf5 fixer for the film.
    For paper, Ilford or Seagull, dektol, water, tf5 fixer.

    If you like cyanotypes, you can bleach+tone them to have non-blue results as well. Something like pyrocat hd will get you negatives that print well to both silver and cyanotypes as the stain improves UV contrast.

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