Highly dilute developers

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I use Tri-X in 4x5 sheets, and I am interested in exploring the use of highly dilute developers (Rodinal, or HC110, probably), to maximise tonality and highlight compression in longscale subjects. Otherwise known as compensating development! Has anyone tried this, and is willing to share their knowledge and experience? Is there a major grain disadvantage that appears with very long development times? Have people found a reliable method(s), for a longscale subject, to compress the highlights towards a curve similar to that for a normal scale subject, and still maintain good local contrast/tonal separation?

-- fw (finneganswake@altavista.net), November 22, 1999


The compensating effects of Rodinal at higher dilutions are well known. I review them in my article on Appreciating Rodinal in the Articles section of my site at http://unblinkingeye.com. Rodinal does not have any solvent action on film grain, so whatever grain structure the film has will be retained, but the overall effect is one of high acutance, particularly with large format. I recommend starting with a dilution of 1:100.

Another popular solution among fine art photographers is Gordon Hutchings' PMK pyro formula, which I cover in my article on mixing developers. Because pyro developers produce some of their density with stain, the highlights typically remain transparent and can therefore be printed, producing a remarkably luminous quality in the print. Gordon Hutchings' THE BOOK OF PYRO is definitive, and he gives times for N+ and N- developments for most popular films.

-- Ed Buffaloe (edbuffaloe@unblinkingeye.com), November 22, 1999.


This can be a complex and involved topic, probably a bit too involved to discuss it fully in such a limited format as this.

The previous poster's articles should answer a lot of your questions. Just a few, brief personal observations.

For very high contrast scenes, I have used highly dilute HC110 with 4x5 Tri-X, as a "compensating" developer, with very good success, as per Adams' suggestions from his book "The Negative". I also have used the water bath technique with highly dilute HC110 in the past, but without as much success. Naturally, extremely long development times are the rule.

There was also a good article in last month's issue of "View Camera Magazine" by a photographer (I cannot recall his name, sorry!) using Rodinal in very high dilutions (1:150, or so). He discussed his technique using highly dilute Rodinal with modern films, in lieu of the traditional zone system controls (N-1, N-2, etc.) with very high contrast scenes. He made some very good points, which I intend to try out in the future.

I also strongly suggest looking at "The Film Developing Cookbook", by Stephen Anchell and Bill Troop. This book has lots of very good, detailed info and tips on the whole subject, fully discussing the pros and cons of highly dilute developers (increased grain, etc) The book also provides extensive development charts for all films and developer/dilution combinations. It's really a must-read basic text for all film development questions.

Just a brief quote from the Cookbook: "Compensation and Gradation....Virtually all high definition developers are compensating developers which produce a longer tonal scale due to reduced highlight contrast. In sensitometric terms, the shoulder is reached sooner, and its slope is more gentle than with normal development. Compensating developers are especially useful for high contrast scenes." I could go on quoting passages from this book, but.......

Hope this helps. Good luck, Sergio.

-- Sergio Ortega (s.ortega@worldnet.att.net), November 23, 1999.

Thanks, Ed and Sergio, for your extremely helpful replies, and also to Steve Nicholls, who e-mailed me separately. I am going to do some experimenting with Rodinal and HC-110, and will let you know how I get on. Thanks again for your input.

-- fw (finneganswake@altavista.net), November 23, 1999.

When the developer is very diluted, variations in water quality will affect the result more than with developer that is less diluted. In other words, distilled water should always be used when having high dilutions.

-- Peter Olsson (peter.olsson@lulebo.se), November 24, 1999.

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