Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 1999/02/16

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Subject: Re: [Leica] B&W film (long)
From: Bill Welch <>
Date: Wed, 17 Feb 1999 00:13:48 -0500

We've seen some silly things on this list over the time I've been on it,
but suggesting that black-and-white is dead or dying because a few
successful commercial photographers work in color just about takes the
cake. I'm going to assume it wasn't serious.

A number of well-taken points have been made in this discussion that I'm
just catching up with. I want to comment on a few that hit home with me:

_ Why Tri-X? Because of its beautiful tonality and smooth gradation,
mainly. And then the ease and familiarity of use. It is a wonderful film,
and yes, Kodak has updated it over the years. Others are good too, notably
HP5+. For Medium Format, I like Verichrome Pan too, an old-fashioned film
that Kodak seems to scarcely market.

_ Why D-76? Because it is capable of wonderful results, and its
characteristics can change with dilution. And above all, because it is the
industry standard. Virtually every film on the market today, at least from
Kodak and Ilford, was optimised for development in D-76 or its equivalent.
And this includes the Tmax films. I have found, and I believe many others
agree, that Tmax films are much easier to handle in D-76 or other
alternatives than in Tmax developer.  Chosing that name for its developer
was one of Kodak's many mistakes, in my opinion, because it encouraged a
suboptimal film-developer match. (All that said, there are some reliability
issues involved with stored stock solutions of D-76 because of rising
alkalinity and thus activity that casual users should become aware of.)

_ I use a variety of films depending on the need, as do most of us. But my
standard is Tri-X in D-76 1:1 dilution. I know what it will do, and what I
can do with it, reliably. You may pick a different standard combination,
but it is important that you have one if you are serious about your results.

_ Someone wrote that their problem with black and white is that their
negatives are too contrasty. That simply means they are overdeveloping.
That is probably the most common development error. Cut back on your
development times, reduce agitation, or both. You may have to adjust your
EI to compensate. Experiment.

_ Tmax p3200 is the most useful of the Tmax films, for me. It too was
optimised for D-76 development, and does quite well in it. Tmax developer
tends to produce blocked up highlights. Despite what Kodak says, if you
develop p3200 in Tmax, I suggest you try reducing agitation greatly -- say
every two or three minutes, and then only gently. This will reduce
development of highlights. And develop it warm, 80 degrees, or at least 75,
to reduce development time. Many like to use it at a higher dilution, such
as 1:7 instead of 1:4.
   I suggest instead using D-76, or Ilford's Microphen, or Xtol, for this
film. Any of these will permit easier control of highlights. You need to
test for speed yourself, of course.
   Suggestions such as shooting this film at EI 800 or 1000 are well
intentioned, and are correct in identifying the true speed of this film.
But really they are useless, to my thinking. You use this film because you
need maximum speed. If you can shoot at 800, or perhaps even 1600, Tri-X or
HP5+ or another film probably will give you better results, more cheaply
and more easily. This film's value is as a pushed film. That's why Kodak
named it p3200. 
   Yes, you'll get grain. But grain isn't everything. 
    I've just begun experimenting with the new Delta 3200. My initial
impression is that I like it a lot at speeds up to 6400. Ilford suggests
good results are possible at even higher speeds. Xtol may be a good match.

For those who are interested in this subject, I recommend a newly released
book: The Film Developing Cookbook,, by Stephen G. Anchell and Bill Troop,
Focal Press, 1998. This is not the same book as the previous Darkroom
Cookbook or similar title by Anchell. It is in fact the book I was looking
for when I bought the first one. It is a most intelligent and
understandable discussion of the various types of developers and film
development characteristics.  

Here are a few key points Troop and Anchell make that I found interesting
and perhaps are relevant to this Leica discussion:

One is that the new technology tabular grain films, Tmaxes and Deltas, use
about 30% less silver than traditional emulsions. This may be why Kodak has
pushed Tmax so relentlessly. They point out that while these films are
finer grained than their traditional counterparts, they may be less capable
of the smooth gradation of detail that have made traditional emulsions so
popular. That is not to say the Tmax or Delta films aren't capable of fine
results.  But like everything else in photography, you make trade-offs with
your choices.

A second is that Xtol is the current state of the art in black and white
film developers and can be thought of as a radical modernization of D-76.
Sodium isoacorbate, a vitamin C derivative, replaces  hydroquinone, and a
derivative of Phenidone replaces metol. Like D-76, Xtol is a solvent
developer; that is, it has a lot of sodium sulfite. (Other developers that
use Phenidone or its derivatives include HC110 and FG7, both of which are
non-solvent developers, and Microphen and Acufine.)

Troop and Anchell say that with Xtol, Kodak has disbanded further research
into black and white silver-based film developers.