Xtol vs. D-76 for Tri-X, and Delta 400

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I had an unavoidable absence from being active in darkroom stuff for a while (couple of years)and now I'm back.

Not too long ago I read that the combination of Xtol and Delta 400 gave dynamite sharp resolution. I'd never heard of Xtol, and didn't even know who made it. Then I read that Kodak had improved their D-76 rather than try to improve their films, and that Xtol had replaced D-76 for all practical purposes.

What's going on here? When I left, D-76 was king; I used it for Tri-X (1:1) and T-Max (straight) with happy results.

So my questions are: does any right thinking person now use D-76 instead of Xtol and if so when and why? Does any right thinking person now use Xtol instead of D-76 and if so when and why? Are there any warnings or cautions for using Xtol instead of D-76 for Tri-X and T-Max? And does using Xtol with Delta 400 really produce outstandingly sharp images?

BTW, I shoot both 35mm and 2 1/4.


--Paul Arnold

-- Paul Arnold (osprey@bmt.net), July 07, 1999


Paul - I have limited experience with XTOL. (And I can't speak to the Delta 400 question, although I know people who do get outstanding results with this combination.) I've only started using it recently, and so far only for Minox film. For my specific purpose - getter finer grain and softening the inherently high contrast in T-Max 100 - it seems to work quite well. (I have had to adjust Kodak's suggested development and agitation times for doing Minox film in the Minox Daylight Tank, but after a couple of experiments I'm getting very good results.)

But don't get swayed by XTOL's new-kid-on-the-block hype, which is so epidemic to the large component of photographers who are modern equipment and materials snobs: D-76 is STILL one of the all-time great developers! As ever, it represents nearly the best possible compromise between grain, sharpness, contrast, gradation, etc. For general purpose use, it's a wonderful developer. My father (a pro for over 50 years) still uses D-76 for everything that comes his way except sheet film (which goes into DK-50), and it works just fine, thank you.

With 35mm (or larger) Plus-X, Tri-X, T-Max, Agfapan, FP4, HP5, etc., it's an excellent choice. I've recently used it at 1:1 dilution with all those films, in 35mm (and some in Minox and 120 too) with very good results. Nice punchy negatives, a tad more grain that with stuff like Microdol-X (but MicX also gives you dull, flat negatives that require harder papers or VC filters to get equivalent prints), but with excellent sharpness, etc. And apart from blowing up the teeny Minox negs, that "tad more grain" is still nothing to worry about until you go above 8x10 with the old-tech 400-speed films, or 11x14 with the finer-grain films.

XTOL hasn't "replaced" D-76 any more than T-Max 100 "replaced" Plus-X and T-Max 400 "replaced" Tri-X. The older films and chemistry still produce magnificent results. This is not to say that XTOL isn't a fine product, it does seem to be a remarkable new developer with a lot of good points (normal temperture mixing, wide range of usable dilutions and temperatures, environmentally friendly, long keeping times after mixing, etc.) But, as far as I - and I suspect many other folks - am concerned, D-76 is STILL king!

After all, many (most?) of the greatest b/w photographs of all time were done decades ago on films like Panatomic-X, Super-XX, and Plus-X souped in D-76. It's really all about vision and skill, not equipment and materials... And the newer-is-better crowd have so bought into the wonders of modern technology that this little truth often gets lost in the shuffle. - MSG

-- Michael Goldfarb (mgoldfar@mobius-inc.com), July 08, 1999.

Xtol gives slightly higher acutance, about 1/3 stop more speed, and slightly more apparent grain than D-76, plus it mixes at room temperature. Nice developer, but it's not radically better than D-76. The differences are pretty subtle.

-- John Hicks / John's Camera Shop (jbh@magicnet.net), July 08, 1999.

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