Compare Kodak and Other Developers for Sheet Films : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I am starting this thread looking for vigorous discussion about the underlying merits and/or problems with the various developers for sheet films, such as D-76, HC-110, T-Max, XTOL, and the non-Kodak products.

There are many contributers to these fora who have done detailed testing of the various film and developer combinations. I am curious for discussion about the "why" behind one developer being preferred over another, and why a developer is more suited for a particular task. Comments from users of non-Kodak developers are encouraged.

Agreed, this will be entirely subjective like the "best looking girlfriend" concept, but everyone will gain something from it.

-- Bruce Gavin (, June 03, 2000


Well, I use Rodinal because it's very cheap, you can use it at extreme dilutions, I like the look it gives, and it doesn't take up much space in my tiny darkroom which my girlfriend thinks is our bedroom closet. Also it lasts forever, doesn't require mixing of powdered chemicals, and is consistent from batch to batch. My brief attempts at XTOL were complete failures, I think because one part of the mixture had caked in the package and I had to scrape it out. This happened with every one of my XTOL packages and I assumed it was just the way they were supposed to be. After a bunch of ruined or so-so negatives I went back to Rodinal.

-- Erik Ryberg (, June 03, 2000.

So many experienced people on this forum have reported problems with XTOL that I'm not even going to try it. I've found that all Ilford films do best in the specific soup recommended by the manufacturer. TMax 400 and 3200 do best in TMax developer. TMax 100 and all Agfa films do best in Rodinal 1+50. I like PlusX in Microdol-X at reduced EI. TechPan in Technidol at EI25. Fuji Neopan1600 is beautiful in TMax but good shadow detail is missing. One could probably develop TriX in used dishwater and get good results, Kodak certainly came up with a winner there. Although I've never tried Pyro, the rumors are that, like Technidol, it's difficult to get consistant results. If I had to pick just one developer, it would certainly be Rodinal.

-- Bill Mitchell (, June 03, 2000.

I'm with Bill on this one. The Kodak Plus-X and Tri-X films work well with just about all the Kodak developers...and I particularly like the Plus-X/Microdol-X combination.

I tried T-max 100 film and microdol-X developer for a while, and it was like trying to stuff a wildcat into a burlap sack!

But my favorite was the Panatomic-X film in microdol-X.

-- Dave Richhart (, June 03, 2000.

First of all, I'm not in favor of T-max film or developer... this being said, I like the older emulsions... after extensively testing t-grains (both Ilford and Kodak) they lack the luster of the older emulsions like Ektapan (4x5), Ilford HP5+, FP4+, TriX Pro, and PlusX. Getting the tones I like with the system I prefer (cold light), I find that split bath developers are great. These are Diafine, Divided D-76 (whether you do the home brew or the commercial version or the Seagul AB (which I'm not as fond as this one). The split bath developers are a compensating, fine grain, high acutance developers with no highligh blockups because they develop out only so far with the highlights and have great shadow detail also. I have tested many film/developer combos and these are the ones that I find the most pleasing. Cheers, Scott

-- Scott Walton (, June 03, 2000.

Here are my results with HP-5+ in a Jobo processor.

XTOL - inconsistent, avoid. D-76 1:1 - good, straight-line curve. Microphen 1:1 - 2/3rd stop speed increase, somewhat grainy. D-23 1:1 - good, 1/3 stop speed decrease, short toe, has a shoulder, good for high-contrast landscapes. D-25 - 1 stop speed decrease, physical development, good for portraits.

-- William Marderness (, June 03, 2000.

My choice for printing on my cold light enlarger is Tri-X developed in HC-110, first, and D-76 second. HC-110 gets about all one would want from Tri-X, is good for plus or minus development, and it gives a great Makie line at sharp tone breaks. Also, the developing time is shorter than many developers, which I like since I ain't real crazy about sitting in the dark. For HP-5+ , my favorite is ID-11. That combination gives some of the best looking negs I have seen in a while. I haven't been using this combination but a few months, but so far I am well pleased. Doug.

-- Doug Paramore (, June 04, 2000.

Bruce, I've tried a few developer/film combinations recently and here's my few pennies/cents worth!! FP4+ in PMK (Pyro) standard dilution with an N time of 9 minutes at 20 degrees. HP5+ in PMK standard dilution (again). Agfa APX 25 (roll film), and APX 100 roll and 5x4 in Rodinal, although I am experimenting further with these "modern technology" films in PMK (so far with excellent results!!)I used Rodinal 1+50 religiously until I "discovered" PMK. I now use this dev as my standard. I have only ever had one problem with a film in this soup - filling the tank too deep!! but have now solved this problem (thanks to a posting on this site!!). I am waiting to try DiXactol (a 2 bath developer using a catechol/glycin formula)with FP4+ and the Agfa films mentioned. Biggest disappointment??...Bergger 200, too grainy for my taste!! Regards Paul.

-- paul owen (, June 04, 2000.

I should have mentioned that if you are considering PMK then Gordon Hutchings' "Book of Pyro" is a must !! Regards Paul

-- paul owen (, June 04, 2000.

Bruce, After trying many films I now use Ilford's Delta 100 both roll(120) and 4x5. I dev. the roll films in Filmplus Pyro which gives me superb negatives, very sharp and smothed toned. I've just started developing the 45 in pyro but I'm not quite getting the same results as I do with roll film, the odd uneven dev. occurs. My normal dev. for 45 is either Ilford's LC29 dil.1:29(very similar to HC110 with excellent keeping properties even in part used bottles) or their DDX both give good sharp evenly developed negs. The films I've yet to try are FP4+, HP5+, Bergger 200. Regards, Trevor.

-- Trevor Crone (, June 04, 2000.

What I am gathering is that higher level of dilution (Rodinal 1:50, HC-110 at 1:31, etc) tend to increase sharpness and also increase grain. I have used D-76 for 30 years as 1:1 single-shot with inversion processing and have been entirely satisfied with the results.

The idea of mixing up my single shots from concentrate is more appealing the mixing a stock solution. I have a gut feel that the direct-from-concentrate method will return more repeatable results, as the stock solution has a tendency to age in the bottle. I saw something in one of these posts about D-76 changing its activity level after sitting on the shelf for awhile, and the Ilford equivalent does not. Rodinal and HC-110, and others evidently can be used in the direct from concentrate method. I figure I will put some glass marbles in the concentrate bottle to keep the fluid level up to the cap and keep the air out.

What is not yet evident, is the difference in tonality, sharpness, or ?? between lesser and more diluted developers. For example, D-76 straight vs D-76 1:1, or Rodinal at 1:25, or HC-110 A dilution. It appears that some active developers are diluted simply to increase their developing times above 5 minutes to prevent streaking and erratic development.

So much bad press here has convinced me to forsake XTOL for something else. I want to shoot and enjoy it, rather than test myself to death, and wind up frustrated from a finicky developer.

Dave, I used Panatomic-X and Microdol for years with 35mm and it worked well. It was never razor sharp, but I attributed that to 16x20 prints and non-tripod exposures.

Scott is not in favor of T-Max paper or chemicals, but didn't specify why. I am working with 200 sheets of T-Max, a box of each speed. I ordered the T-Max developer without reading the fine print: "not for sheet films." Darn. Now I have (3) bottles I can use for roll film projects... I bought a jug of HC-110 and am going to soup the T-Max in that to get my feet wet.

William, it appears you have tested quite a bit, plus dedicated the funds to a Jobo processor. I am looking to learn from (read: steal) the results of everybodys testing as a starting point. A Jobo isn't in my near future because I don't have any more room in my house for more toys.

Doug, I too have a cold light head for my Beseler 45MX rig. I am going to have to figure out what CC filtes are required to balance that colder temperature with Polycontrast paper.

Paul and Trevor, PMK is probably great, but not for me. I don't want the toxicity exposure, nor the California eco-buzzards flying over my house.

To all: please mention "tonality" and the perceived smoothness of skin tones, etc, or other subjective items you believe are associated with your favorite developers. If somebody has experience that D-76 straight produces smoother skin tones than D-76 1:1, please pass it along. Ditto for HC-110, etc. Thanks to everybody who has particpated so far.

In the next few days, I will get around to souping my first T-Max 100 negs in HC-110 "B" and see how they come out. It will done in a 4x5 Nikor inversion tank that I have used for so many years. My technique is consistent and repeatable with this tank. I use enough developer so I shouldn't be having exhaustion issues by using a partial load of negs instead of the full 12 the tank will hold.

-- Bruce Gavin (, June 04, 2000.


Let me encourage you to try at least a few sheets in the T-Max developer. I just finished a session printing some 120 TMX negatives, which I'd developed in T-Max, on Polymax Fine Art paper. It is the best match I've found in recent years. Some earlier TMX negatives developed by a lab in T-Max RS did not exhibit the extremely linear scale which works so well with this paper. I will be experimenting with some 4x5 TMX in a Jobo using T-Max myself, but not for a number of months, and would love to know whether you can avoid the dreaded dichroic fog. I'm hoping that very fresh film and developer combined with vigorous agitation will do the trick.

-- Sal Santamaura (, June 05, 2000.

Bill, I tried Tri-X in used dishwater the other night and they came out a bit thin for my liking. Maybe my EI was too high

-- Wayne (, June 05, 2000.

Wayne, you probably didn't agitate enough. The Maytag should be set on Cycle 2. If you're still using the KitchenAid you might try Presoak, which is what we used to use on Super XX in the old days. Bill

-- Bill Mitchell (, June 05, 2000.


With D-76 or any solvent developer (one that contains about 100g of sodium sulfite per liter), sharpness and grain increase with dilution. You may also get a small speed increase with dilution. With non-solvent developers like HC-110, dilution will not change much except the time. You may get highlight compensation with greater dilution if you don't agitate much. Since I use a Jobo, I have not tested this. D-23 provides plenty of highlight compensation even in my Jobo.

Using liquid concentrates is not the best way to get consistency. Mixing your own developer from scratch just before processing is. This is easier than it sounds. All you need is a scale and a few chemicals. This way, the manufacturer cannot change the formula without tell you. Kodak has a habit of changing the formula of HC-110 while telling no one.

-- William Marderness (, June 05, 2000.


I have used Xtol, T-max RS and HC-110 recently on both Tri-X and T-max 4x5 film. Tri-X looks good in all of it, but I did not like anything I was shooting on T-max film until I started to develope it in HC-110. I like T-max roll film devloped in T-max developer at 75 F, but it just doesn't work for me in 4x5 for some reason.

-- Paul Mongillo (, June 05, 2000.

Both TMAX 100 and 400 are incredible in HC-110. I use it at 1:10 to help lengthen the times out to around 9 minutes for the 100, 7.5 for the 400. I chop both speeds in half. I have had die hard traditional users see my prints, ask me what process, and proclaim them the best Tmax they have ever seen. That is because mine are on the gallery wall, while their's languish in a sea of testing. I started B&W with Tmax, so I had to find the way to make the prints I wanted with it, instead of turning my back on it.

-- E.L. (, June 06, 2000.

My personal preference is FP4 in HC-110 (dil B). The results of this combination are beautiful, predictable, and easy to manipulate. The two compliment each other very well for zone system work. Not long ago I tried some FP4 in Rodinol 1+50 and I was impressed to say the least. I may have to experiment some more with it.

Just a thought...

-- Dave Munson (, June 06, 2000.

Hve you tried a sodium sulphite and rodinal combo? i think it is as follows 30g sod. sulphitemixed in 500ml water, and 30ml or was it 5ml of rodinal. Developing times are on the lengthy side, you need to agitate 4 times a minute, but it gives fine negatives so long as you do not leave in the fixer too long. However the tests I've seen seem to favour the older emulsions, and I've only tried it with fp4.

-- David Kirk (, June 07, 2000.

Know Thy Developer/Know Thy Film. Most of the major developers will work with most of the major films. It is a matter of following mfgs instructions at first, getting some consistent normal results, and then do a lot expirementing with dev/film variations to get the sort of negs you want. Pick a developer and a film and then try everything; push, pull, overexpose, underexpose. I use Ilford Delta 400 or 100 and HC110 developer. I normally follow the rule of overexposing the negs and underdeveloping. This gives me high contrast, saturated negs with a wide tonal range, which is what I need since I use a cold light head for printing. Sometimes I underexpose and overdevelop to drop out the midtones to get a hard edged look in the print. The point is through a lot expirementing I know now exactly what I will get with whatever dev/film variation I use. I could have picked another dev/film combination and done the same thing.

-- John Laragh (, June 07, 2000.

Sounds like everyone has a different answer, so here's mine. I'm still in school so I try to get the most bang for the buck. I've been a religious Tri-x user for a while (probably the curse of school on me), but I'll need a pretty good reason to change anything, including my film. Anyway, I use HC-110 at 1:31 (dil B), I shoot all my film at N-1 (unless really low light situation) and the developing time is only 4 min 24 sec (great bonus) and it's cheap! I get fantastic results, good contrast, high flexibility, and fabulous highlight detail. I've tried alot of different things and I really don't see a dramatic difference, except rodinal, yikes watch out for the grain! All this tech stuff is good and well, just remember one needs to combine the craft with the art because it's the subject that really counts, not all the crap.

-- Jason O (, June 09, 2000.

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