N+ vs. N w/ higher contrast filter

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We all know that by using the Zone System with N+ and N- controls we can squeeze or expand a given scene's tonal values to suit our visualization or place those tones within the practical limits of a given film. Now, clearly, with N- processing this is a very useful tool, and I have successfully used as much as N-5 in extreme situations, where normal processing would have produced a hidious result.

However, with the exception of extremely flat scenes, where great expansion is desired, do any of you bother with N+1 or N+2? From my experience it's a lot easier to simply develop normally and use a higher filter number. Naturally, if one needed to exceed N+2 or N+3, extended processing might be necessary. But for uses within the range of, say, N+2 what advantage is there to extended processing for increasing contrast?

Obviously, with extended processing there is a loss of sharpness and resolution of fine detail and grain tends to clump and soften. So why not simply develop "N" and use a higher contrast filter when printing. Grain will increase with a higher contrast filter, true, but not with the attendent loss of image quality that push processing imposes. Would AA have used N+2 if he had a #5 filter available?

-- Ted Kaufman (writercrmp@aol.com), February 12, 2002


ah, but what if the shot required a higher speed film than you actually had loaded, then it's good to increase development (at least for me), maybe that's just "pushing" and not n+1 or n+2 but in my mind there's really no difference......


-- Joe Holcombe (joedat@bellsouth.net), February 12, 2002.

Hi Ted,

I use medium format, and with the ability to change backs, can practice both N- and N+, but I have found that N- works great most of the time - very minimal grain, nice middle values, shadows always preserved, and a soft look. Even in low contrast situations, I still prefer N-, and then, as you state, I simply use a higher grade paper of filter when printing. I usually expose at N-1.5 or N-2, so my development times are short, about 3 minutes.

You wrote that extended processing causes a loss of sharpness, but in my experience I find that it increases sharpness , which is probably a reason some people use N+. People wanting a very grainy look to their prints will also want to process at N+.

When you are exposing at N-5, what developer do you use? It must have a very long immersion time, because you would have to decrease your development by about 10 minutes.

-- James Webb (jwebb66@yahoo.com), February 12, 2002.

It's true that overdevelopment will sometimes yield an apparent increase in sharpness, but if you look closely, you will see fine detail is actually softened. Edge acutance, at a glace, may seem better, but that is an illusion, too. Increasing the contrast by development or increasing print filter number deteriorates image resolution.

For N-5 processing I used a catechol developer I formulated; I use 50% the normal amount of reducing agent and 40% of alkaline (activator), this coupled with greatly reduced agatation: 1 minute to start, then 15 seconds every 2 mins for the first 4 minutes, then 3 minute intervals, then 4, then 5 minutes for a total time of 32 minutes. Normal processing time for this film and developer is 11 minutes with normal agitation.

-- Ted Kaufman (writercrmp@aol.com), February 12, 2002.


I think that the answer to your question is in the fact that changing development is used to increase the quality of your negative while changing print filtration is used to increase the quality of your print. Printing with a higher contrast filter does not help you retain (or gain) any detail that was lost due to the processing of your negative. Having said that, I have heard/read that modern films do not respond to altered development as strongly as films in the past did. This may be why you do not see much difference until you make large changes.

As far as what Adams would have done: He always described negative as the score and the print as the performance. I don't think that he would have been satisfied by not developing the best score he could and then letting the orchestra make up for the short comings.

-- Ed Farmer (photography2k@hotmail.com), February 13, 2002.

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