Film Developer Combinations : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

At risk of the same (very polite) approbation that befell the last person to ask about shortcuts to zone system calibration can anyone advise me on a good film developer combination to start with? After all, if Im going to commit to using one combination for a year Id like to make a good choice at the outset.

My priorities are sharpness (Im aiming for tack sharp, never having got past pin sharp with 35mm) and tonal gradation.

The field at present is FP4/ID-11 or Delta 100/ID-11. Ive heard some good things about Tmax 100 and like the sound of XTOL, but havent tried this out myself yet.

How significant is the format? Will 5x4 and roll film behave the same with N-1, N+1 manipulations (taking account of the core development time differences)?

Thanks in advance Nick

-- Nick Thornton (, March 18, 1999


Delta 100 in Xtol 1:1 or 1:2. Delta emulsions are the same in all formats.

-- John Hicks / John's Camera Shop (, March 18, 1999.

T-Max 100 in Photographer's Formulary BW-2 developer.

See what we meant when we said you'd have to test for yourself? We all have our favorite combinations and techniques. The key is to get to know your tools, in this case the film/developer combination, so you can refine your technique and predict what you'll see on paper before you trip the shutter.

One of my favorite black-and-white negatives I printed last year was on T-Max 100 developed in HC-110. Beautiful highlight separation, rich detail in the blacks, smooth grays through the mid tones. Ah, but my absolute favorite was T-Max 100 in BW-2. That's why I'm sticking with it.

I tried Delta 100 and didn't like the results. That does not mean John is giving you bad advice. It just means we have different techniques and use different tools to reach a similar goal. I like the results I get with T-Max 100, and I'd be willing to bet a few dollars that I'd like the results John gets with Delta 100.

Pick a film/developer combination from of the newer emulsions and developers, then go forth and shoot. You'll have fun and learn a few things along the way. Don't stress about mistakes, they're part of the process.

-- Darron Spohn (, March 18, 1999.

Darron is correct, I could tell you I like tri-x plates in tmax but would have to give 500 words on the agitation alone much less what specific lighting condition m I don't think it's necessary to burn 100 sheets of delta to find your film speed although I know several teachers who would disagree. You can abbreviate your testing by keeping detailed logs and sticking to one developer and one film until you found a your normal and percentages for expansion and contraction. I like using developers at full strength and in my part of the country the lighting conditions almost always exceed the spread capabilities of the film. These requirements significantly reduce my options for a "universal" developer. In this case Tmax developers won't work undiluted. So I shift to a developer that has a very long dev time at full strength so I can contract. Think before you leap and you'll save your money, sanity and love for photography. Good luck.

-- Trib (, March 18, 1999.

Here's some advice from a klutz: 1. I find liquid developers are easier to mix accurately. 2. I think one shot developers are (opinions differ on this point) easier to mix accurately and trust for testing purposes (isn't BW-2 a replenished developer? I can't remember.) 3. TMax is a hell of a lot harder to use than Tri-X.

So being a klutz with less than ideal equipment (slightly cranky light meter, antique shutters, etc.) I eventually found myself frustrated with Tmax & D76 and used Tri-X with HC110. Shortly after that I ran out of money, having spent it all on tests, and began using exclusively Arista 125 film (nearly half the price) and Rodinal, and winging it. I'm delighted with the results. I guess what I'm trying to say is that the rigidity of the "try one combination for a year" advice sounds pretty good but I think you need to allow yourself some wiggle room at the beginning. I just plain don't like Tmax, but forced myself to use it for quite a while anyway, on the basis of advice that I knew was arbitrary but since I was just embarking on this cursed endeavour one combination was just as good as another. When I stumbled onto Tri-X I liked it a great deal and I would use it still but I am happy enough with the cheaper emulsion (37.00/100 sheets) to stick with it.

If you have quite a bit of experience with 35 mm maybe you should stick with the emulsions you preferred in that format.

-- Erik Ryberg (, March 18, 1999.

It might be just me, but I find that there is less difference between different 5x4 films than between 35mm films. I suppose this is because I enlarge 5x4 much less than I enlarge 35mm, and grain just doesn't show. For example, there is a big difference between HP5+ and Delta 400 in 35mm, but (for me) far less difference in 5x4.

In 5x4, I use Delta 100 and Delta 400, developed in Paterson FX39. As implied by the other responses, what works well for me may not work for you.

-- Alan Gibson (, March 19, 1999.

Try Delta 100 & 400 in PMK Pyro (nominal starting time 10 minutes @ 70F), or Tri-X 4164 in Rodinal 1:50 (nominal starting time 9 minutes @ 70F). Incidentally, both of these combinations work well with N- minus development. (The Rodinal can be diluted to 1:100 for even more control.)

I dislike T-Max intensely. Not only is the development finicky, not only does it take forever to fix, not only does it exhaust the fixer prematurely, but the emulsion is extremely soft and prone to scratching. And it has absolutely nothing to offer over the films I mentioned above.

-- Peter Hughes (, March 19, 1999.

Yes, there is one and only one combination that is far superior to all those mentioned-unfortunately the guy who discovered it lost the formula & didn't leave any notes to give us a clue as to what it was.

Actually, choose almost any combination & start from there. A help is to look at the work of photographers you really admire & see what they use. If a number of excellent shooters use some of the same films/developers it is a good indication that it may work pretty well. Not that it will be perfect for you, but that it does give good results & as such is in the running. The more esoteric the combination the harder it will be to get much feedback if you hit the little hurdles we all run into. If you are careful & creative almost anything will work. But, working with what many others have found successful can't hurt. With todays films & chemistry it is hard to fine a really bad combination, though I am sure it can be done.

-- Dan Smith (, March 19, 1999.

In LF: APX100 in Rodinal, that's special and TriX in HC110 for predictable results. In 35mm TriX in HC110 for available light or FUJI Neopan in HC110 for less available light and Delta100 in Xtol (is close to FX39 but cheaper) in summer.

-- Lot (, March 20, 1999.

I'm another fan of the Delta 100 & 400 with Xtol 1:2 combination -IF- you are using tubes or some kind of rotary processor. Dilute Xtol requires a lot of agitation--my results using it for sheet film in a small tank were terrible.

-- Mike Dixon (, March 20, 1999.

> is a big difference between HP5+ and Delta 400 in 35mm, but (for me) > far less difference in 5x4.

The big difference I see between the two films is in spectral sensitivity; Delta 400 has somewhat less red sensitivity than HP5+, which makes for darker skin tones. Although this may actually be more accurate, I'm used to old-fashioned-film skin tones so it bothers me a little. BTW, as for developing, I'm doing all 4x5 and 8x10 sheet film in Unicolor print drums on a Uniroller. Works great!

-- John Hicks / John's Camera Shop (, March 24, 1999.

I have used TMX with D-76, XTOL, HC110, and PYRO. I ran my initial film test using PYRO (really dangerous chemical with must be handled with extreme care). I did not know at that time that the yellowish green stain would cause me a small problem when using a Dichro enlarging light source. What problem you might ask. Variable contrast paper has two layers (hard and soft). The yellowish green tone of a PYRO negative acts like a low contrast #0 or #1 filter. This must be overcome by dialing in additional magenta to achieve a particular contrast (example: a non-pyro negative might only require a magenta setting of 30. That same negative developed in pyro could possibly require 60 units of magenta to achieve the same print contrast). Needless to speak of the Health concerns related with pyro.

The D-76 and XTOL for me did not give the latitude I needed with respect to dilutions (for N plus and N minus development) while trying to maintain a constant development time.

I have since settled on HC110 and TMX and TMY. HC110 is sold in concentrated form which must be diluted to make a stock solution. I make all of my dilutions from stock solution. It has a wide dilution latitude. My objective was to find a particular development time and keep that particular time throughout the N-4 to N+4 Zone Scale System. HC110 will allow you to do just that. I have used it as strong as 1:2 for N plus development and as weak as 1:20 for N minus development. In other words, I have altered developer dilution to achieve a constant development time

My standard dilution for a normal negative in my corner of the world is: TMX ASA 50 - HC110 diluted 1:10 from stock solution, developed for Seven minutes at 74 degrees (my tap water in the summer time is between 73-76 degrees) in Paterson 8x10 trays. Total solution amount is 550mL (Never use less than this amount in an 8x10 tray because it will not give adequate coverage of a 4x5 negative) (Factors to consider that may alter the above information slightly; water pH, Lens contrast, stability of electrical current etc.,)

My tests were conducted using a TEN ZONE test target constructed of cardboard and .3, .6 and .9 neutral density material. This was placed over a vertical light table and read with a 1 degree spot meter. The film was exposed, developed, then read by a densitometer and plotted. Here is the trick, once you have established what appear to be correct densities under your controlled conditions, SHOOT WITH THE SAME DATA IN THE REAL WORLD. IT WILL ULTIMALEY CAUSE YOU TO ALTER YOUR DEVELOPMENT TIME OR DILUTION.

HC110 is relatively inexpensive when compared to the cost of TMAX developer and the number of negatives a particular amount will develop. I do not like to stand over my darkroom sink for long periods of time trying to achieve an N+2 or N+3. The activity level of this developer is such that I can have short development times for all N Plus situations. You must treat HC110 with great respect. If you do not, you will end up with bulletproof negatives that are either difficult to print or non-printable.

I wear a rubber glove on the hand that will be in contact with the developer (the 1:10 dilution can cause skin irritation, just think what 1:2 will do, but still slightly more safe than pyro relatively speaking)

My Recommendation. Test your desired printing paper first to establish its Contrast Index or Contrast Range (actually you are testing the contrast of your light source and lens with respect to the paper of choice) and then match your film response to match that of the paper. It makes life very easy when trying to print.

Also take notice of the NEW RECIPROCITY LAWS with respect to TMX. I do not add any additional time for meter readings over ONE SECOND. I expose the film exactly as the meter reads it (this system works for me, try it ) Overall, HC110 is a very good developer. If you like the look of a printed HC110 negative, then hopefully the above information should motivate you to use it. Good Luck!!

-- William Jones (, April 01, 1999.

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