C41 or Traditional B&W developing?

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I don't take enough photos to warrant setting up my own darkroom (although I've always been interested in doing it), so I have to rely on the "Hit & Miss" send-out variety shops.

Anyway, I've always been a little skeptical of using the C41 B&W because I suspected the contrast would not be as desired. Does anyone have any comments/opinions on this matter? (Remember, I'm sending them out at a Commercial Camera shop, not developing at home)

While we're at it, does anyone have any thoughts on what would be the best film given my circumstance? I've been using the Kodak Tri-X 400 for years, and was considering switching to the TMAX for a little better contrast and enlargement capabilities. What do you think?

Thanks in advance for your input. Great forum, BTW!

-- Tiger Harris (hillbilly@nc.rr.com), August 15, 2001


Presuming that you are using 35mm or 120, the film with the finest grain, sharpest images, longest scale, and highest speed is Ilford XP- 2 Plus. It is especially good to use if you're having it developed commercially, as the machines running C-41 are designed to process color film, which is a great more precise than you are likely to get in all but the best commercial B&W labs. One you find a lab which will give you clean, scratch-free negatives, and B&W prints, you need look no farther. While the early chromogenic film, XP-1, may have had a slight problem with macro contrast, the latest stuff is as good or better than conventional films such as Plus-X, Tri-X, etc. (PS, I like to expose it at ISO 250 for better shadow detail and minimum grain).

-- Bill Mitchell (bmitch@home.com), August 15, 2001.

The best idea might be to try the C41 films and see if you like the results. My wife has been using Ilford XP-2 on a project. I do the darkroom work for her and got tired of making small prints because she couldn't tell enough about 35mm contact sheets. I had her expose it a 250 and was really suprised at the quality of the prints. It seems to hold the highlights very well.

I have had a little trouble with scratches. I think someone on this forum mentioned that that was a problem with XP-2.

-- Joe Miller (jmmiller@poka.com), August 15, 2001.

C-41 films like XP-2 Plus are good for your situation, but the best prints must be made on a real B&W paper by a printer who knows the idiosyncrasies of the films. Having your color lab print on what they have on hand is probably not the best way.

If you need to maximize image resolution, I recommend T-MAX 100 or Delta 100. APX 25 is no longer produced, and it requires more careful attention in exposing and processing. Ilford Pan F Plus has grain about comparable to or more visible than TMX, and offers slightly less resolution. TMX is not too forgiving but because it's at least widely used, so many decent lab worker should know how to do it right.

On the "sharpest" argument. Chromogenic films use dye, and because dye particles spread and overlap, they result in lower granularity (not grain - there is no grain in processed C-41 films to begin with) at the cost of lower resolution because of this exact reason. Even Ektar 25 offered comparable resolution to T-MAX 100. Konica Impresa 50 doesn't offer anything like TMX in terms of resolution. These things are apparent on their specs, and consistent with my experience. In my understanding, Ilford does not publish their nominal resolving power on their film spec sheets. Regardless of any marketing hype that Ilford may or may not have made, XP-2 Plus is not the sharpest film, at least in terms of resolving power.

Someone might want to comment on the "longest tonal scale" argument.

However, I think XP-2 Plus is a really nice film. Sharpness and grain are not the only factors that determine the image quality. But, I just don't use XP-2 Plus.

-- Ryuji Suzuki (rsuzuki@rs.cncdsl.com), August 15, 2001.

Another thought.

Setting up an infrequent film processing darkroom is not that difficult. In terms of chemical steps, it can be cut down to developer, fixer, and wash, at no cost on image quality, if developer and fixer are properly designed. I have developed such formulae, and now testing them. There is also monobath option, which imposes a lot of cost in terms of image quality.

You need a tank, a thermometer, film drying clips, but that's it. You can get Acer ScanWit (assuming 35mm format) or something for proofing and casual printing.

After all, if you are happy with having to use chromogenic films, paying your local lab a few bucks is definitely the easiest way, but since you said you have been interested, I am saying it is not as burdensome to set up as high volume labs. One problem is that I don't see many articles that explain how low-volume infrequent darkroom can be set up. If this is indeed the case, and if several people are interested, I might write my own with my formulae included.

-- Ryuji Suzuki (rsuzuki@rs.cncdsl.com), August 15, 2001.

I've used T400CN for some portraiture and wedding work, and while I've had good results, I have found that I greatly prefer the look of traditional B&W film. On the other hand, you may find that the convenience and consistency of C-41 processing outweighs the film's limitations. I would encourage you to try some and see if it works for you.

You might find this thread helpful: http://hv.greenspun.com/bboard/q- and-a-fetch-msg.tcl?msg_id=001FTy

-- Charles Ruberto (charles_ruberto@attglobal.net), August 15, 2001.

Each maker says the same thing: properly processed silver negatives will outlast C41 by a large margin.

If having the negatives for a long, long time is important then use silver based B&W film. If you don't mind the image fading off the backing through the next 10 or more years then it doesn't matter.

-- Dan Smith (shooter@brigham.net), August 16, 2001.

That's not fair, Dan. I have lots of XP-1 negatives which are now about 20 years old, and I can't tell they've degenerated at all. XP- 2 Plus should be even better, given the knowledge that it might be a problem and the time they've had to work on it.

-- Bill Mitchell (bmitch@home.com), August 16, 2001.

I have had many students using the b&W C-41 film and have yet to see a print made that looks like B&W. Large variety of color shifts seem to occur as the printers are using a computer to run the prints. If you can find a custom house and like the way the prints look go with your needs.

-- Ann C lancy (clancya@mediaone.net), August 16, 2001.

I enlarge my own, Ann, using the commercial 4x6s only as proofs to decide what is worth printing. If you would like to see what a good print from an XP-1 negative looks like, I will be pleased to send you a good one. Email me your mailing address directly, please.

-- Bill Mitchell (bmitch@home.com), August 16, 2001.

I shoot weddings with TCN & found that its sharp & easy for me to work with, with alot of prints & films,I prefer the Lab. But for my privert work I say: only in the DARK

-- Avi B (bloombi@hotmail.com), August 18, 2001.

Hi there! I have fooled around a little bit with C-41 B&W films. This is what I have found:

Kodak T400CN - lab prints come back sepia toned. If your photofinisher can adjust the filtering correctly, they might come out without a color cast. Also, you might be able to ask them to use a B&W paper in the machine. You can take the negatives and print them in the traditional wet darkroom.

Ilford XP2 Super - Pretty much the same deal as T400CN. Sepia machine prints, usable negatives for the wet darkroom.

Kodak Select B&W+ - An ok consumer grade film. Balanced to give no color cast when machine printed. Negatives cannot be printed in the wet darkroom.

Kodak PORTA B&W - Nice pro grade film. Like its consumer cousin, it gives no color cast when machine printed but cannot be printed in the wet darkroom. Aimed at pros that want to shoot B&W for clients without the muss and fuss of a wet darkroom.

It all depends upon what you want. If you don't have a setup at home to develop negatives (or don't want one), C-41 films might be a good option to getting B&W prints. If you want to print negatives in the darkroom, go with XP2 or T400CN. If you are happy with just having a lab do your developing and printing, go with B&W+ or PORTA B&W.

-- Johnny Motown (johnny.motown@att.net), August 22, 2001.

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