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Thread: Why do so many LFers use slow films?

  1. #1
    Resident Heretic Bruce Watson's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    USA, North Carolina

    Why do so many LFers use slow films?

    I'm just curious. I feel like I'm missing something here, and don't know what it is. It's not the first time, and it surely won't be the last, but...

    Why do so many LFers use low speed films (ASA 100 or lower)? Put another way, why aren't you using higher speed films (ASA 400 or higher)?

    I for one want all the speed I can reasonably get. Tri-X in XTOL 1:3 gives me an EI of 400, and I use every bit of it hanging around waiting for the wind to die out for a 1/8 second exposure that I would love to be taking at 1/60 or better. Two stops slower would drive me beyond the bend.

    Oh, wait. I'm willing to hike 8 miles up a trail with 30 pounds of LF gear - I must already be crazy ;-)

    I'm not making any judgements here. I'm not saying anyone is right or wrong. I'm just curious. So tell me: Why do you use FP4+ when you have HP5+ available?

    Bruce Watson

  2. #2

    Why do so many LFers use slow films?

    Why not? LF photography isn't a fast process and long exposures are frequently the norm. Using a film that's one or two stops faster won't usually make any difference. So why hurry if you still have to wait for the light?

    (well beyond the bend)

  3. #3

    Why do so many LFers use slow films?

    I have wondered the same. Besides the frequent mentions of slow films on LF forums, there are some additional indications that slow films are more popular. For example, Ilford dropped Delta 400 in sheet sizes but still makes Delta 100. Kodak sells only Tmax-100 in Readyloads. Presumedly these decisions are based on sales experience.

    I too generally use a 400 speed B+W film. The extra speed is valuable when one doesn't want the effect of motion blur in leaves or branches.

    Perhaps the predilection for slower films is because most of use started in smaller formats and needed slower films in those formats to obtain the results that we wanted. The mindset that slow films are best sometimes isn't reevaluated when people move to larger formats. Or perhaps people want films that will allow very large enlargements without grain.

  4. #4

    Join Date
    Sep 2003

    Why do so many LFers use slow films?

    I get far better shadow separation with the slower speed films than the faster emulsions. HP5 was pretty flat after using FP4 all those years.Grain isn't a problem ever, even with 4x5 its a minor issue with 8x10 even less so. Its the contrast the film has built into it that I like.

    CP Goerz

  5. #5

    Why do so many LFers use slow films?

    Slower films often put shutter speeds in the range where "hat-exposure" is possible. I have at least one barrel lens I use on my 8x10 that becomes useless in many situations without slow film. For that reason, it wouldn't surprise me a bit if there were a bias for slow films in sizes 5x7+ while faster films hold their own in 4x5.

  6. #6

    Why do so many LFers use slow films?

    FP-4+ is my standard film, and I use HP-5+ only when I really need the extra speed. Why? Because I do platinum printing, and FP-4+ is much better suited for this. It has low fog, compared to HP-5+'s high fog. FP-4+ can be developed to the high contrast needed for platinum. I cannot get more than N development for platinum out of HP-5+ no matter what developer I use. I even tried developing HP-5+ in straight D-19, but could not get the contrast up. Past N development, the overall density increases, giving a true push or speed increase, but not more contrast. Another problem with HP-5+ is that it is very grainy when developed to high contrast. The grain shows up as gritty highlights in contact prints. Sullivan and Weese report this, and I have also noticed it. I would prefer to use a 400 speed film if it were easily developed to high contrast, had low fog, unnoticeable grain in contact prints (when the film is developed to high contrast), and were readily available in ULF sizes.

  7. #7

    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Seattle, Washington

    Why do so many LFers use slow films?

    I shoot portraits, and usually need all the speed I can get. I shoot HP5+ in 8x10 (rated @ei 100)unless I'm using my Verito lens in its studio shutter, in which case the wide apertures and long exposures conspire against a fast film. William, I develop my HP5+ by inspection in ABC pyro to a c.i. of about 1.6-1.8. How dense are your negs for Pt printing? At this c.i. my contact prints are grainless.

  8. #8

    Why do so many LFers use slow films?

    Dear Jay,

    I target a density range of 1.7, like you. I use straight DK-50 to get the contrast. I know with pyro, one can get greater contrast from HP-5+, but I would rather use FP-4+ with conventional developers, than push HP-5+ to its limit. Also, HP-5+ has a shoulder when developed to high contrast, but pyro may help this, too.

  9. #9
    Whatever David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2000
    Honolulu, Hawai'i

    Why do so many LFers use slow films?

    My own preference is Tri-X, but one attraction of T-Max 100 is its excellent reciprocity performance, which makes it faster than Tri-X or HP5+ for long exposures.

  10. #10
    Ted Harris's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2000
    New Hampshire

    Why do so many LFers use slow films?

    My standard black & white films of choice are Fuji Neopan ACROS 100 (which I often shoot at 80 or 50) and efke 25. I use a wider variety of color emulsions but seldom any that are faster than ISO 100 and I frequently rate them slower. For example I generally shoot ASTIA at ISO 80. There are a number of reasons for these choices but the primary ones relate to grain, resolution and acutance. Films in this ‘speed’ range tend to have a finer grain structure, more pleasing grain structure and alignment and higher resolution than ‘faster’ films. For the black and white films I feel they also have a more pleasing tonal scale.

    There are many reasons to choose LF over MF or 35 mm and the ability to reach, or come closer to reaching, ultimate image clarity is one of the more important ones for many. The film, not the lens, is often the limiting factor in terms of maximum achievable resolution. The resolution limitations of the film become more of a factor as you move toward the ‘faster’ emulsions. For example, the manufacturer’s specifications for Provia 400 and Provia 100 describe the 400 film as about twice as ‘grainy’ (RMS of 15 v. 8) and with significantly lower resolution (40 l/mm v. 60 l/mm). Similar comparisons hold with all films that I can think of. This is not meant to be a deep technical discussion of the characteristics of one emulsion v. another but just to point out the different characteristics.

    Couple the above with the comments made by earlier posters about the lack of need for fast shutter speeds in MOST situations and I can only think of a few reasons where you would want to use the ‘faster’ emulsions. High wind where you want all the help you can get to maintain image clarity and some portrait situations (although I prefer to control the resolution with the lens not the film) are the two that come most readily to mind.

    Call me a Luddite but I still mourn the long-ago demise of Panatomic X and the ISO 25 color emulsions. In those situations, generally portrait or landscape, where few if any movements are required, the indefinable “thing” that sets LF images apart from all the rest is the depth of the final print; depth that is achieved by our ability to come so much closer to the ideal of what the human eye sees because of the capability of the larger film. So, why compromise this image in any way?

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