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Thread: Which Densitometer to Purchase?

  1. #1

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    Which Densitometer to Purchase?

    With another stimulus check coming, I'm thinking of purchasing a densitometer. I have a Tobias that I bought inexpensively years ago. While it's "accurate" within a range of densities, I value it mostly for comparative measurements only.

    What is a good, accurate, used, transmission densitometer to purchase for use with black and white film? (Not color.) Perusing EBay, XRite 301 models seem to stand out. Another is the 810 series, which were used with so many of the mom and pop. retail film and print processing units.

    Are there any sellers or retailers that are known for selling reliable equipment? Of course, any that I purchase will be checked with a recent, Stouffer's test strip.

    Among darkroom equipment, having a good, functioning densitometer is right up there in importance with my enlarger. It's an essential tool for achieving the kind of black and white results that I like.

  2. #2

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    Re: Which Densitometer to Purchase?

    Neil

    I bought one years ago, it was a Nuclear Associates clamshell densitometer. Same units are also labeled Fluke. Runs off batteries or plugs in. I believe it was originally for x-ray techs to use calibrating things. I then purchased the manufacturer's calibration strip. It is highly accurate, small and portable, and they are often on that auction site for cheap. One of the test strip densities is what most people look for in trying to hit Zone I the traditional way. I also have a Macbeth I'd love to get up and running and calibrated. The guy who claims to work on this has ignored all calls and and emails so it isn't usable for me. The clamshell ones are on that auction side for less than $100.

  3. #3

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    Re: Which Densitometer to Purchase?

    Neil, I hope my questions here are not an inappropriate broadening of your basic question about which used densitometer to shop for. A couple of years ago I went ahead and purchased a Heiland TRD-2 densitometer, and have used it with John Sexton's film speed test method (we were given by JS in 2017) to determine my personal EI for each of my B&W film and developer combinations (when using my JOBO processor and 3010 Expert Drums). I then used my Stouffer 21-Step Wedge to determine how many steps (or what latitude) my favorite VC papers and developer combinations will allow at varying contrast filter levels in my darkroom.

    All that was helpful, but other than those tests I would be curious if you or others here could list and/or explain what other testing I could/should be doing with my densitometer in relation for my usage of B&W films and papers? My thanks in advance for any help offered.
    ... JMOwens (Mt. Pleasant, Wisc. USA)

    "If people only knew how hard I work to gain my mastery, it wouldn't seem so wonderful at all." ...Michelangelo

  4. #4
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Which Densitometer to Purchase?

    I've used an XRite 331 for many years. Reliable and highly accurate, yet affordable.

  5. #5

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    Re: Which Densitometer to Purchase?

    I have the same Heiland unit.

    Unless you are regularly plotting characteristic curves for films/developers and papers, there really isn't much densitometry to do. Plotting curves is useful if you are doing things such as

    1. Formulating a developer
    2a. Learning about sensitometry
    2b. Figuring out what is/isn't really going on with certain techniques etc. and/or debunking myths

    That's about it, really. It's mostly "fun to know" kind of stuff. You don't need densitometry to make excellent prints. In fact if you learn a little about sensitometry/exposure theory, it turns out you don't even need to do "personal EI" tests (unless of course you are using extreme techniques and or bad products/materials).

    Quote Originally Posted by JMO View Post
    Neil, I hope my questions here are not an inappropriate broadening of your basic question about which used densitometer to shop for. A couple of years ago I went ahead and purchased a Heiland TRD-2 densitometer, and have used it with John Sexton's film speed test method (we were given by JS in 2017) to determine my personal EI for each of my B&W film and developer combinations (when using my JOBO processor and 3010 Expert Drums). I then used my Stouffer 21-Step Wedge to determine how many steps (or what latitude) my favorite VC papers and developer combinations will allow at varying contrast filter levels in my darkroom.

    All that was helpful, but other than those tests I would be curious if you or others here could list and/or explain what other testing I could/should be doing with my densitometer in relation for my usage of B&W films and papers? My thanks in advance for any help offered.

  6. #6
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Which Densitometer to Purchase?

    Well, I was hesitant to say it myself. I use a basic transmission densitometer a great deal in relation to color printing controls which necessarily involve highly predictable pan film masks or color separations, etc., also for basic diagnostic work with films (plotting curves), along with a fancier rare projection densitometer. I've done a lot of that. But for simply learning black and white printing ... Jumping through all kinds of hoops up front is, in my opinion, a counterproductive experience. You don't even need to own a densitometer to do superb black and white printing. Yes, they can help in terms of telling you where first base is, versus home plate density, etc. But just visually comparing values on your negative atop a light box to the steps on a basic calibrated 21-step wedge is plenty accurate. Later on, studying sensitometry might help. I just don't know why people like to make things so damn complicated up front unless they're trying to sell another how-to book. I could write my own damn book, but I'm too lazy for that.

  7. #7

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    Re: Which Densitometer to Purchase?

    To me the best bang for the buck in a transmission densitometer is Ihara, either their T5 or T500. Ihara still supports them and they're very reasonable on repairs. The only X-Rite that X-Rite will support is the 301. Their repairs are much more expensive than Ihara. I have both and get the same readings from both on the same transmission standard.

  8. #8

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    Re: Which Densitometer to Purchase?

    All questions are welcome in this thread.

    For black and white, I use a densitometer for determining film speed and for determining different development times. I also plot development curves, plotting density as a function of development time. I plot one for each of the different zones of exposure. (For Zone 5 exposure, for Zone 6 exposure, . . . , for Zone 10 exposure.) Plotting a curve enables one to interpolate and target a specific density. For example, through testing, I target 1.35 as Zone 7 as a normal "N" development time.

    For me, good black and white photography is more about having a good negative, versus having good printing skills. Though, both are useful.

  9. #9

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    Re: Which Densitometer to Purchase?

    Thanks, Neil, and your last sentence re obtaining a good negative is my primary goal with the densitometer. But I think it's good to know how much latitude your papers and films can provide within your processes.
    Last edited by JMO; 18-Mar-2021 at 19:12.
    ... JMOwens (Mt. Pleasant, Wisc. USA)

    "If people only knew how hard I work to gain my mastery, it wouldn't seem so wonderful at all." ...Michelangelo

  10. #10
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Which Densitometer to Purchase?

    It's important to build versatility into the negative itself to begin with. Papers change. The predominance of VC papers today, versus past graded papers, certainly makes life easier. But there's no substitute for getting the scene range you're after onto the portion of the film curve which counts. Not all films are the same; therefore, any kind of generic "one shoe fits all" advice concerning zone placement, ideal densities, even how many alleged Zone pigeonholes there are, blah, blah, is simply bad advice. Learning how to densitometer plot your own specific film and developer variables does help with respect to any consequent meditative visualization of what is actually going on with the exposure itself. But don't get hung up with it. Plenty of expert technicians turn out to be lousy photographers themselves. The whole point in understanding the specifics is so that you can intuitively feel them down the line, respond spontaneously, and not get tangled up in mere numbers. Any chosen film should become a familiar friend you don't need to argue with.

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