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Thread: Large Format B&W Film Characteristics?

  1. #1

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    Large Format B&W Film Characteristics?

    Hi, is there a resource online anywhere that has information on the characteristics of the current large format B&W sheet films?

    I know that some of the characteristics may be subjective based on the person describing. It doesn't appear to me that the manufacturers really do much in the way of describing the visual characteristics of their films, unless I am missing something. I know they have charts/curves in the data sheets, but that seems to be about as close as I could get.

    I want to do some basic research on the current films as a starting place just to get an idea of what to expect and then buy a box of each and do my own exploring.


    Thank You!

  2. #2

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    Re: Large Format B&W Film Characteristics?

    Knowing how to read characteristic curves and other data provided by manufacturers will help you know the visual characteristics. Of course they usually only give these as related to one developer. If you use a different developer these will likely change.

  3. #3

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    Re: Large Format B&W Film Characteristics?

    The selection of film for a specific job requires knowledge and understanding of how the film responds to exposure variables and processing variables. I will leave to those having experience with current film types to give advice on selection for specific conditions. All the common large format films have been designed for pictorial representation and give similar results.
    The amount of information published by manufacturers varies. Probably the fundamental characteristic is the curve for exposure versus density, which is sometimes given for a single condition and sometimes there are curve families for various development conditions, variations of contrast with time, agitation, developer formula etc. To the best of my knowledge the only other visual qualities that are quantified in published data are granularity (grain) which also varies with exposure and development conditions, and data is also published for spectral sensitivity. Regarding the theory my advice is to begin study of exposure+film+developer combinations starting with the words "toe" "shoulder" "Dmax" "straight line" "exposure latitude" and "contrast". One of the reference sources that may be helpful is text books, the book "Exposure Manual" by Dunn and Wakefield might be one.

  4. #4
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Large Format B&W Film Characteristics?

    Ideally, large format film needs to be relatively stiff sheet film that won't easily sag in a holder. Some people use thinner lith film for sake of economy, but it's not an ideal practice. Otherwise, there's quite a selection to choose from. One shoe does not fit all. Characteristic curves can vary somewhat by developer choice, strength, degree of development, long exposure characteristics, and even color of filter if it is deep enough. But in other ways, you can study their published characteristic curves, and if you learn how to actually interpret these graphs, understand why some films respond to scene contrast and range much differently than others. But even doing that correctly requires a degree of hands-on experience first. There are obviously also differences in film speed and grain. But I sure don't recommend buying a "box of each" unless you are rich and have a lot of time on your hands. You'd equally need a "bottle of each" kind of developer, and a box of each kind of paper. It's more effective, when first starting out, to take your best guess, ideally based upon the advice of experienced people like on this forum, and then learn the potential of that one specific film before opening an entire casket of confusing options. A lot depends on your intended subject matter and how you intend to print it. I'd start with a versatile forgiving sheet film like
    FP4, unless you know you need something faster. But there are a variety of excellent choices out there. Don't overthink it.
    Get to first base first.

  5. #5
    Jac@stafford.net's Avatar
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    Re: Large Format B&W Film Characteristics?

    It helps to know the spectral (color) sensitivity of B&W film.

  6. #6

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    Re: Large Format B&W Film Characteristics?

    Hi Jim, that is a good point. I don't believe I feel confident in my ability to do that. Is there a good resource to learn how to do that correctly?


    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Noel View Post
    Knowing how to read characteristic curves and other data provided by manufacturers will help you know the visual characteristics. Of course they usually only give these as related to one developer. If you use a different developer these will likely change.

  7. #7

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    Re: Large Format B&W Film Characteristics?

    Hi Ted, that is very helpful and insightful. I appreciate the advice.


    Quote Originally Posted by Ted R View Post
    The selection of film for a specific job requires knowledge and understanding of how the film responds to exposure variables and processing variables. I will leave to those having experience with current film types to give advice on selection for specific conditions. All the common large format films have been designed for pictorial representation and give similar results.
    The amount of information published by manufacturers varies. Probably the fundamental characteristic is the curve for exposure versus density, which is sometimes given for a single condition and sometimes there are curve families for various development conditions, variations of contrast with time, agitation, developer formula etc. To the best of my knowledge the only other visual qualities that are quantified in published data are granularity (grain) which also varies with exposure and development conditions, and data is also published for spectral sensitivity. Regarding the theory my advice is to begin study of exposure+film+developer combinations starting with the words "toe" "shoulder" "Dmax" "straight line" "exposure latitude" and "contrast". One of the reference sources that may be helpful is text books, the book "Exposure Manual" by Dunn and Wakefield might be one.

  8. #8

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    Re: Large Format B&W Film Characteristics?

    Thanks Drew. My goal is pretty simple actually. I wanted to try and understand what to expect from current b/w films and then experience each of the films with a single developer, which would be D-76 in my case. There really aren't that many films available any more, so it really isn't that long of a list. I was thinking about trying the mainstream films like FP4+ HP5+, Delta 100, T-Max 100, T-Max 400, Tri-X. One box of each of those films isn't going to break the bank.

    I am of course only interested in all this for my style of photography which is landscapes. I am retired and have the ability to travel and spend as much time as I want at a location for a couple of exposures. I've always wanted to understand the differences of the films and how it impacts my prints, so now is my time to dig in and just explore and enjoy it. The goal is to then settle on one film with D-76 and call it a day. Thanks again for your advice.


    Quote Originally Posted by Drew Wiley View Post
    Ideally, large format film needs to be relatively stiff sheet film that won't easily sag in a holder. Some people use thinner lith film for sake of economy, but it's not an ideal practice. Otherwise, there's quite a selection to choose from. One shoe does not fit all. Characteristic curves can vary somewhat by developer choice, strength, degree of development, long exposure characteristics, and even color of filter if it is deep enough. But in other ways, you can study their published characteristic curves, and if you learn how to actually interpret these graphs, understand why some films respond to scene contrast and range much differently than others. But even doing that correctly requires a degree of hands-on experience first. There are obviously also differences in film speed and grain. But I sure don't recommend buying a "box of each" unless you are rich and have a lot of time on your hands. You'd equally need a "bottle of each" kind of developer, and a box of each kind of paper. It's more effective, when first starting out, to take your best guess, ideally based upon the advice of experienced people like on this forum, and then learn the potential of that one specific film before opening an entire casket of confusing options. A lot depends on your intended subject matter and how you intend to print it. I'd start with a versatile forgiving sheet film like
    FP4, unless you know you need something faster. But there are a variety of excellent choices out there. Don't overthink it.
    Get to first base first.

  9. #9
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Large Format B&W Film Characteristics?

    Well, those are some of the most popular choices of sheet film, widely available, yet with distinct differences. I don't know your format. HP5 and Tri-X will come out grainy on 4X5 with D76 on moderate enlargements, less so with 8x10 film. You might or might not like the look. The others are finer grained. The two T-Max options will handle a greater range of contrast, especially in terms of crisp shadow separation, than the Ilford choices, but are a bit fussier in terms of correct exposure. D76 has its own idiosyncrasy, because you either have to standardize upon using it freshly mixed, or let it reach equilibrium in sealed bottles for about a week until it expires, or you'll get inconsistent results. These different films also have different filter factors. They are all panchromatic, but slightly differ in green and blue sensitivity, enough to warrant testing first with your chosen filters on affordable roll film, which will give comparable results. Again, don't overthink filters. A few, like a basic yellow, green, and red or deep orange, will go a long ways. Take it a step at a time and have fun !

  10. #10
    Jac@stafford.net's Avatar
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    Re: Large Format B&W Film Characteristics?

    Quote Originally Posted by LFLarry View Post
    I was thinking about trying the mainstream films like FP4+ HP5+, Delta 100, T-Max 100, T-Max 400, Tri-X
    Stick to Tri-X.

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