Reason to change developers

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As a keen amateur I just don't have time to experiment in a systematic way between different film/developer combinations. I believe I get good negatives with a nice tonal scale using FX39(1+9)for Delta 100 and for Tech Pan (as a compensating developer@1+20 - one tenth the cost of Technidol!and no uneven development)and DD-X for Delta 3200. Is there really anything to gain from staining developers (which are pretty toxic)like Pyro and/or two bath/divided development? Am I right in thinking the only real benefit is a sort of contrast mask over the highlights, reducing the need for burning/shading at the printing stage?

-- Nigel Craig (Nigel_Craig@btinternet.com), January 24, 2001

Answers

PMK is claimed to benefit delicate high values, and mid-tone separation, such as encountered with fog and misty situations. I've only begun experimenting so I can't give you authoritative info. The effect is more than just contrast control.

If you are seriously interested in pyro, get Gordon Hutching's Book of Pyro. Virtually all chemicals we use are toxic. Treat pyro as it should be, and it's no more a hazard (perhaps less so) than: hardwood sawdust, drain cleaner, dishwasher detergent, gasoline, acetic acid, chlorine bleach, fluorescent tube phosphors... All the chemicals we use should be treated properly.

Pyro probably requires some time devoted to mastering it, and may not be worth it for you. If you are happy whith your prints now, stick with what you are doing. It's when you can't get things the way you want that you should seek alternatives.

Divided developers are a different story. They minimize the potential for mistakes. You can't overdevelop. You'd have to work hard to underdevelop. They let you mix different films in the same batch. Temperature is not too critical. They provide some compensation to allow a longer tonal scale to be captured. They offer long life, and they can be reused without compromising your results. They don't require any work to master. For an easy trial, get some Diafine, if you don't want to mix from scratch.

-- Charlie Strack (charlie_strack@sti.com), January 24, 2001.


I've not used all the combinations of film and developers you mention above, but I think you will agree that each emulsion/developer combination has subtle but different final print characteristics. PMKPyro, when used with a stain receptive emulsion, can produce a print with a unique characteristic. The caveat is, not all emulsions stain equally, in fact some don’t stain at all, or the same emulsion can stain differently between 120 and sheet film.

PMKPyro takes some getting used to, lots of experimentation (for me), and lots of patience and reading and careful thought. Personally, I really like it for my large format fine art landscape work … and I also use it on my Holga 120 negs – but more out of convenience.

BTW: PMKPyro A and B parts hold my dark room record for stability. I was off photography for about 1 ˝ years. When I reopened it, I had these two crusty part A and B dark amber half full bottles of PMKPyro that were 2 years old to the month. I mixed them and processed film and got the same great results as the day I originally mixed it. But I wouldn’t try this on a regular basis, that is don’t take that much time off from photography :-) But it means you can mix a big batch of develper and use it for months without fear of it losing it effectness.

-- doug mcfarland (Junquemail222@yahoo.com), January 24, 2001.


If you get results you like with what you use now... why change? Reality with B&W is that almost anything will work if you take the time to learn it well. Friends use combinations I would flush down the toilet, yet their images look good & they are pleased with them. If you think it is working for you, it probably is. Concentrate on excellence in your images rather than experimenting. There will always be another combination to try, no matter how long you test. If you just like testing, do so. But don't expect miracles right away. Use what has been working unless there is a specific reason to change. If there isn't a solid reason to change, leave things be. Whether the darkroom is fun or sheer drudgery, people look at the pictures, not all the work that went into them. Do what is needed to get good pictures, and that is usually using something you find success with and gradually refining it as you go along.

-- Dan Smith (shooter@brigham.net), January 24, 2001.

You're using developers for Delta 100 and 3200 widely considered to be among the best in overall characteristics for those films; for TP it's more a case of "whatever works."

If you're curious, by all means try other developers; otoh, using what works fine and getting intimately familiar with it will most likely give you far superior results compared to using new materials all the time.

Developer characteristics always involve tradeoffs. For example, Rodinal 1:50 may give higher acutance than FX-39 but will also give bigger grain, while ID-11 1:1 will give finer grain than FX-39 but lower acutance. So you see that if you want to emphasize one characteristic another developer may be a better choice, but you'll be giving up something else in exchange.

Specific to pyro, the stain gives a self-masking effect in the lighter tones when printing on VC paper because the yellow-green stain acts as a low-contrast filter and it's proportional to the silver density. One person's "delicate highlights" is another person's "grey muck."

The tradeoff is increased graininess and lower acutance. Whether that's of any importance depends on what format you're using; it may be of no consequence in 4x5 and be vitally important with 35mm.

As for divided developers, if part A is close to a neutral pH no development occurs and the emulsion just soaks up the developer. Part B contains the alkaline accelerators. The idea is that if appropriate developing agents and accelerators are used, the negs are developed just enough but cannot be overdeveloped, and since development is self-limiting it'll work at a wide temperature range with no time compensation.

My experience with divided developers is that they work wonderfully in limiting contrast, but otoh the contrast is usually lower than "normal" contrast, as is film speed. If a more powerful accelerator is used, say Kodalk rather than borax, "normal" contrast can be obtained but at the expense of increased graininess compared to a standard developer.

Also there's some speculation that divided developers often don't work as well as expected with modern thin-emulsion films as they did in the old days simply because the emulsion can't soak up as much developer.

At any rate, divided developers don't provide the "follow the instructions and all is wonderful" solution; some experimentation involving divided developer types and dilutions is needed in order to obtain good results.

So the important question is; do you like your results? If so, be happy and make real photos, not experiments.

-- John Hicks (jbh@magicnet.net), January 24, 2001.


John, I think what Charlie means by 'Divided developers' is developers that are made up from varying quantities of part 'A' and part 'B'. Not two-bath developers that have only the developing agent in the first bath, and the activator/alkali in a second separate bath.

One of the best developers I ever came across was an obscure two part Italian concoction. (At least, the label and instructions were in Italian with just a photocopied piece of paper giving a bad English translation)
It was amazing stuff with, IMHO, an ideal balance of grain, film speed, and tonal range, but when I went back to the supplier there was no more to be had, and I've never seen or heard of it since.;-(
This was 20 years ago, and I'm beginning to think I might have dreamed the whole thing.

-- Pete Andrews (p.l.andrews@bham.ac.uk), January 26, 2001.



> developers that are made up from varying quantities of part 'A' and part 'B'.

Hmm..I'd call that a split-stock developer; one modern example is TFX-2.

I gathered from Charlie's writing and recommendation of Diafine that he's referrinmg to true two-bath developers.

That Italian stuff...something from Ferrania maybe?

-- John Hicks (jbh@magicnet.net), January 26, 2001.


I was referring to 2-bath developers. Develop in part A, Empty, Develop in part B.

These have been called divided developers by the people who publish the formulas and sell kits for them. Sorry for any confusion.

-- Charlie Strack (charlie_strack@sti.com), January 29, 2001.


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