Pyro for low grain : LUSENET : B&W Photo - Film & Processing : One Thread

The person at the Formulary recommended Pyro for low grain. She said people are loving it, especially for Ilford films. I use Ilford HP5+ often. They did say results with older films, such as TRI-X 400 were not as good. Any comments from people who have used this. Thanks carol

-- carol maurin (, March 28, 2000


I found it to give somewhat more graininess and lower acutance than D-76 1:1 or Xtol 1:1 with HP5+.

Although it has definite advantages for those who are into alt printing and for "heroic measures" contractions when printing on VC paper, imho it has more disadvantages than advantages.

So, I recommend D-76 1:1. Yes there are other fine-grain developers such as Microdol-X, Perceptol and D-25 but there's such a speed loss that rather than using them you'd be better off to just shoot Delta 100 and develop it in D-76 or Xtol.

-- John Hicks (, March 28, 2000.

As far as I know Pyro masks grain rather that actually reducing the size of the silver particles. I have used it off and on for a while now and only really see the benefit when I want the absolute best tonal separation in my highlights. But the effect is minimal particularly when using 4x5 or larger. When I use Pyro I shoot Ilford FP4+.

-- Bian Jefferis (, March 28, 2000.

If I may quote, "Pyro produces stronger and more consistent edge effects than any other known developer. Edge effects give a print a delicate "etched" look that has a tactile three-dimensional feel". Book of Pyro pp.10, if you get this book and read it you will understand a lot more about pyro than most of the photographer's out there. There are a few of us who work with it and love it, the others just like to talk about what they think it does. Regards, Pat

-- pat j. krentz (, March 28, 2000.

My mainstay combo is Technical Pan in PMK. From my own experience, TP in Technidol is a little finer-grained. Pyro is not meant to be a 'grainless' developer (pat is right about the book; it is an incredible read, not just for pryo users...). It it used to bring out beautiful tone. I guess the masking effect is wierd: sometimes I seem to end up with similar grain, given an emulsion and a developer other than PMK, and other times I end up with a bit MORE grain with pyro. I don't think pyro ever got me less grain than any standard developer.

One thing I have noticed, is that pyro does more to ADD grain with underexposure than some developers...

-- shawn gibson (, March 29, 2000.

Pyro is not a "fine grain" developer, which means it does not contain large quantities of sulfite which will reduce the size of the silver grains in the emulsion. Whatever inherent grain structure the film possesses is what you will get with PMK. On the other hand, as some of the other commentators have noted above, its stain will mask grain to some extent, the edge effects it produces will give much greater apparent sharpness, and the high values it produces will have much more detail than you can get with other developers.

-- (, March 29, 2000.

"I found it to give somewhat more graininess and lower acutance than D-76 1:1 or Xtol 1:1 with HP5+."

I find it very hard to believe that someone that wrote this statement has actually used PMK. I've found the exact opposite over the years I've been using pyro.

I don't look at grain through a microscope I only care how it prints and I never see grain in 6x7 negs printed to 11 x 14. As for supposedly having lower acutence, you've got to be kidding


-- Mark Bau (, April 09, 2000.

Believe it.

After reading about pyro for years I gave it a try with HP5+, compared with D-76H 1:1 and 1:3, 35mm, using the same camera, lens etc, shooting both test strips and my standard test subject, a white stucco house across the street.

First of all, it "worked" fine with plenty of stain but not much overall stain. Although it's difficult to read a pyro neg with a densitometer, I followed Phil Davis' suggestion that the printing density on VC paper would be about halfway between the white-light reading and the blue-filter reading.

In printing, the stain did its thing; I got lots of highlight compression on VC paper but not so much that the light tones blocked. There was sufficient tonal differentation.

I can see how it'd be wonderful for alt printing in which a high- (printing) contrast neg is needed.

However, I found less apparent sharpness than with HP5+ in D-76H 1:1 or 1:3, and about the same or very slightly more apparent graininesss than 1:3. The differences are rather subtle and probably wouldn't be visible at all with bigger negs.

Why test with 35mm? Because it present the worst case.

I wouldn't hesitate to use pyro with large format if I want that sort of highlight compression, which can at times be very useful. But I get a much straighter curve shape with D-76H 1:3 with a reduced development time for those "heroic measures" occasions.

Certainly there's a period of "getting to know" new materials or procedures, but for me the new material or procedure must show something worthwhile; pyro shows a very easy way to handle those very-high-contrast scenes, especially those with lots of highlight contrast, but at the cost of reduced apparent sharpness and slightly more grain.

So pyro is going into my bag of tricks, but not as a standard developer.

Your mileage may vary, of course.

-- John Hicks (, April 09, 2000.

With the tests that I ran with pyro and several different film types, I came up with almost the same results and opinion as John. If I had an extreme contrast situation and was using large negative material I might use the Pyro. But for a standard use developer Pyro would not be my first choice because of the sharpness and grain issues already mentioned. Photographers that I know that use Pyro on a regular basis seem more entranced with their negatives (which can look beautiful) then their prints.Let me also add another set of developers into the fray ( if you can get your hands on any) - Tetanol's Neo-Fin Red and Neo-fin Blue. Both show extremely high accutence without blocking up highlights.

-- jim megargee (, April 09, 2000.

Maybe we photograpgh very different types of subject! I believe that the "edge effects" that occur with pyro give a greater impression of acutence than any other developer I've used.It seems to be particularly apparent when a background is severely out of focus. In this case the edge effects seem to make the subject pop out of the picture. These same edge effects do things for clouds that I've never seen any other deveper do.

What has always frustrated me however is that mid tone separation sometimes suffers with pyro and that gives an impression of reduced sharpness. But I've never had "sharp" clouds with anything but pyro!



-- Mark Bau (, April 10, 2000.

> make the subject pop out of the picture

I know what you mean; it's the sort of effect I get with high-dilution Rodinal, of course with lots more grain.

-- John Hicks (, April 10, 2000.

For a good example of PMK ehancing effective accutance against a blurred background, see

I don't see how anyone can claim to evaluate PMK's effect on actual or perceived accutance using 35mm exposures. Hutchings says rather clearly, as I recall, that the effects of pyro are rather negligible in the tone spectrum of a 35mm neg. IIRC, he says that PMK is the only pyro developer yielding a noticeable effect in 35mm.

-- Bill Baker (, April 15, 2000.

I almost hesitate to write this, but I think someone has to and because I've grown accustomed to being flamed, it may as well be me.

It seems from the postings on this and other darkroom forums, that those who dislike pyro, or at least, find no benefits, are 'followers' of the Phil Davis 'Beyond The Zone System.' I've studied the writings and methods of Phil Davis for years, begining with the first edition of his BTZS book and including the 'interview' in View Camera where he and Gordon Hutchings discussed film developers. In that interview, Davis admitted that he finds little difference between film developers and, even more telling, he no longer takes pictures, preferring to make endless measurements instead.

It is my belief that the BTZS method is an agonizingly complex and tedious system just to use an incident meter. 'Wonder Wheels' and a 'densitometer' kluged together with a spot meter and cardboard are a colosal waste of time and energy! The Zone System is just not that complicated.

In my personal experience, of the few BTZS adherents I've known, few ever actually take pictures, and NONE ever produced a photograph that anyone would pony up cash to buy!

So, anyone who is curious and adventurous enough to try PMK, I say "Pay attention to those, like Ed Buffalo and Mark, who have success with pyro. Ignore the 'advice' of those who have negative comments on it." They have either tried it and failed, or have never tried it, just read about it.

-- Michael D Fraser (, April 16, 2000.

> Ignore the 'advice' of those who have negative comments on it.

Righto. Ignore negative opinions, go with only positive ones. That makes a lot of sense....

But in fact I do agree with the pyromaniacs. _Try it_. You might like it. Horses for courses etc.

I wonder, though, why so many people who use pyro resort to attacks on those who don't like it. It really shouldn't be a religion.

-- John Hicks (, April 17, 2000.

Well, all of the above is the correct answer, I think. I am a long-time D76 1:1 user who has switched to PMK for the past year.

PMK does what it is advertised to do: appears very sharp due to edge effects and holds fabulous detail in highlights. There is some change in the rendering of mid-tones, I find. The combination of effects seems to produce that have what another writer called a "scorched look". It's a good description. I find it a bit disconcerting to look at.

D76 gives me very pleasing dark and mid-tones but the highlights often require burning in. I find it takes me more work to get to the final, favorite print with a D76 neg, BUT...

(you knew this was coming) I find that almost all of my favorite prints came from D76 negs. This is a personal preference, obviously. I prefer the greater tonal separation in the midrange and still haven't gotten used to the appearance of the PMK prints.

I plan to continue using PMK for a while longer, 'though. My tastes may change. B&W images are more abstract than color, which is what I like about them. The PMK look is (to me) more alien than D76. (You may be thinking, "What is this guy smoking?" Nothing, but I've been thinking about these differences quite a bit during the past year.)

I can't comment on grain size with much authority. My subjective impression is that the PMK dye masks grain. I shoot 6x7 cm and generally make 8x10's or, rarely, 11x14's, so grain isn't very apparent, unless you're much closer than normal viewing distance, with either D76 or PMK negs.

-- Don Karon (, April 23, 2000.

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