Different film speeds in different developers

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I am trying to decide what developer to use for Ilford Delta 400 Pro (new version). I have noticed that development times are given for a variety of speeds in a variety of developers (as usual). However, in some developers, no information is given for ISO 400 - the slowest speed shown for these developers being ISO 500. Any idea why this is? The film is effectively faster when used with these developers? If so, will the grain be any bigger as a result?

-- Ed Hurst (BullMoo@hotmail.com), March 10, 2001



Some developers optimize a film's degree of sensitivity better than do other developers. I always like to say that its not that some developers give more film speed, but, rather, that some give less film speed. The basic speed rating of a film is determined by the film's emulsion formula. Quite a few of the basic developers (ID11 or D76) have a hard time managing to coax even the basic speed rating out of a film. Some of the developers available will cause the film to lose as much as a stop worth of speed (Microdol X is a fine example here). A few developers claim to increase film speeds, but that is questionable. Xtol claims to give an increase in speed of about 1/3 stop (that's not enough justify bragging about).

With most developers, if there is a gain in one area, there will be an equivalent or greater loss in another area. Those that give highest acutance (edge sharpness) usually also have the most apparent grain (HC110, Ilfoted HC, or Rodinal). Those that give the least noticable grain usually suffer from a loss in edge sharpness and film speed (Microdol X is a fine example here). Developers like D76 or ID11 try to achieve a happy compromise of sharpness and apparent grain. Xtol claims to have achieved the D76/ID11 compromise while actually obtaining full film speed.

I would recommend starting with Delta 400 rated at its nominal film speed. Use one of the basic developers like ID11 or D76 and get your film exposure/development worked out so that you get the best negs you feel you can. If more shadow detail is necessary, lower the speed rating you use, and adjust your development times to give negatives that have the appropriate contrast for easy printing. Then, once you have established a good base for comparison, feel free to try the others and see what they have to offer.

-- Ken Burns (kenburns@twave.net), March 13, 2001.

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