xtol, is it worth it?

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I am about to do some film testing to tune things up for the spring "campaign" and I am considering testing Xtol. My current primary film is TMX in 4x5 processed in HC110. I use a Jobo Atl 1000. I am very happy with what I am getting, and the quick route would be to work out some times for TMX 120 and just go out and shoot, but the idea that something better might be out there sometimes eats at me and I wonder. Should I try Xtol? I have followed the threads on Xtol and I am at once encouraged and repulsed. This is like bringing another player into training camp just to push a veteran, but I don't want to waste time either. Any advice?

-- Erik Gould (egould@risd.edu), March 09, 2001


You will probably get more no's than yes's...but it sounds like Xtol is always going to be bouncing around in your brain till you try it. You only live once....try it amd see.

-- Don Sparks (Harleyman7@aol.com), March 09, 2001.

Ansel Adams mentioned in The Negative, something along the lines of, perhaps the differences in developers is not as significant as we sometimes make it seem.

Anchell in Troop said, of 2-bath or divided developers, these are ideal for people who want quality negatives but don't want to obsess about developers.

If you have a process you are happy with, stick with it.

If you want to play around just for the fun of it, try Xtol. It's cheap, and you can see for yourself. Just test it out before you use it on important work.

Me, I tried it, but decided to stick to 2-bath for now. It solves a problem I am prone to: over developing and over agitating.

-- Charlie Strack (charlie_strack@sti.com), March 09, 2001.

Xtol is a very nice developer, IF you can live with the idea that one of these days you will pull your negatives from the developer to find them with no image on them. It may not happen soon, but with so many having had 'the dreaded Xtol failure', your chances of it happening one day are pretty good. If that isn't a worry, go ahead & use it.

-- Dan Smith (shooter@brigham.net), March 09, 2001.

... one of these days you will pull your negatives from the developer to find them with no image on them... If that isn't a worry... If that isn't a worry!!? what am i taking pictures for? I think I already have plenty of options for failure without adding another one. Is that dreaded failure for real? and what is the cause? Thanks for the input, you are really helping me make up my mind. I need a system that I can count on. Maybe I'll test one of the oldest developers (rodinal) instead of one of the newest.

-- Erik Gould (egould@risd.edu), March 09, 2001.

As one poster responded in another thread, whats wrong with putting the film leader in a beaker and trying the developer out?

I have decided to head down the XTOL path; (I currently have an xtol question up in Photonet to discover more about it before proceeding) From reading everything I can find, it seems the trouble is worth it. Low toxicity, excellent imaging capabilities, long shelf life. I recieved a response over in the film and developing forum to another post, and the guy said he uses it as 75F and never had a problem. Go Figure. The one thing I'm trying to find out is the sensitivity to agitation and the apparent need for more than 100ml of undiluted developer, although some use a litle over a 100ml with a increase in developing time. With the responses I've read to how good it is with Tmax films, what would it hurt to try it with some back yard shots?

-- Wayne Crider (waynec@apt.net), March 09, 2001.

I used Xtol off an on for a while at various dilutions, often at 75F but sometimes lower, with never a single problem. The only reason I stopped using it is that imho other developers work better with the films I use.

I always mixed it with distilled water, decanted it into measured amounts into smaller containers for dump-it-in dilution, and stored those in a refrigerator.

All that aside...I presume you shoot two sheets of each shot? If not, perhaps you should just to avoid that giant hair that always shows up on the most important neg. And if you do that, if you encounter the "dreaded Xtol failure" you'll have a second neg to develop in something else.

-- John Hicks (jbh@magicnet.net), March 09, 2001.


I use xtol when I don't feel like dealing with PMK. I have run into the "dreaded Xtol failure" on a couple occasions: when I accidently used a package that had been caked, when the stock was too old, and when using a too dilute solution. Kodak has changed their recommondations on dilution and I suspect that overdilution led to a lot of the complaints especially with T grain films. All my problems were with TMY and APX 100. Use it 1+3 on FP4 and its fantastic, use it 1+3 on TMY and its a dog. Someone above stated that it was sensitive to agitation. I couldn't agree more. Sometimes I forget that I can't agitate it like PMK and I get something that would work better as a shingle than a negative. If you're looking for something different to try Rodinal and TMAX is pretty sweet.

It would be interesting to find literature from the 30's when several new developers were issued and see how well they were received. I also wonder if Ansel would have used HC110 if he didn't get it free from Kodak.

Happy experimenting

-- Kevin Kemner (kkemner@tatesnyderkimsey.com), March 10, 2001.

I don't shoot two sheets of film on each subject most of the time so holding one back 'just in case my developer dies' isn't an option. Even if it is, working with a product that can fail at any time without warning is a lot like having a prostitute for a girlfriend...one day you will have a very unpleasant surprise. Too many have had 'the dreaded Xtol failure' for it to be ignored. many are careful workers with good darkroom habits. It 'just happens'... no warning and no reason. It is not with old developer, at least not in my darkroom. I process enough film that a gallon of developer is never on the shelf for more than two weeks at the most. If I come back from a trip, I dump the old and mix new & then process the next day. I have never met anyone who has had the same experience with Rodinol, HC110, D76 or other developers commonly in use. Steve Anchell in his 'cookbooks' recommends 250mm or more stock for each 8x10 film unit each time you use it. If you want to try Xtol... fine. It is a very nice developer. In head to head testing using 8x10 Delta 400 and FP4plus, Xtol gave a bit more shadow detail than ID11 or Rodinol, using all three at stock, 1:1 and 1:3. But no matter how good it looks, I can't use a product that may give clear negatives with absolutely NO warning.

My theory, and I emphasize that it is only a personal theory, is that some of the ingredients present in very small quantities are not mixed in completely and are missing or in very low percentage in some of the one and five litre packages. (I have used mainly the 5 litre packages).

This, coupled with Xtols' sensitivity to iron, calcium, hard water and chorine make it a poor choice when using the more dilute concentrations, even when sufficient stock is used for the negatives being developed. As for those who have never had Xtol failure. I have never been bitten by a rattlesnake... but that doesn't mean it does not happen.

-- Dan Smith (shooter@brigham.net), March 10, 2001.

I just don't understand all the fears and apprehension about Xtol. I have used it exclusively for over three years and processed in excess of 1000 rolls with it. I have only had one failure and it was my fault. I have had to take several 1 liter packages back to the dealer. I just can't imagine using anything else with 35mm. It is magic with Ilford Delta films. I mix the stock solution with distilled water, dilute with distilled water and use distilled water for the stop bath. Practice using distilled water, mainain at least 100ml of stock solution for each roll of film developed and discard after use and you will be shocked at the quality negatives that you get. There is no risk here.

-- Bob Bedwell (rlb@triad.rr.com), March 10, 2001.

I am intrigued by the lure of Xtol. Over the past week I have helped my son with a school project in "product evaluation". With a little nudge on my part I talked my son into evaluating negative developers. So we bought the smallest sizes of Rodinal, Ilford Ilfosol S, Ilford Perceptol, and Kodak Xtol. We then went on a Saturday shoot and made four duplicate negatives of two different scenes. We followed up by developing each pair of negatives, which were HP5 Plus (by strictly following the manufactures directions) in a different developer. I use a Unicolor 8x10 drum to do this.

The results are quite dramatic. Rodinal (my previous favorite) easily surpassed Ilfosol S and Perceptol in both shadow density and ease of printing. Much to my surprise though is that Xtol was even substantially better that Rodinal for shadow detail and also printed out quite easily to about a Grade 2 paper.

I now feel like I did years ago with my first girlfriend. I really want to go down to the rink and play hockey with the guys (Rodinal) but am now being constantly lured to the movies by my new girlfriend (Xtol).

Would it be possible to set up a survey and find out how many people have had the Xtol failure versus those who have not ? Also perhaps somebody might actually know of what causes the failure and help us to avoid the problem

Tempted but cautious !


-- GreyWolf (grey_wolf@telusplanet.net), March 10, 2001.

I did four 8x10 Tri-x with XTOL in the JOBO today (at 68 degrees), then a 35mm roll of HP4+ by hand with the same stuff; Got the usual beatiful results as I have for over three years of using exclusively XTOL. Use good water (my city water seems to agree with it), make sure it is mixed thoroughly and completely dissolved before use. The negs should be dry by now, think I'll go print.

-- Dan Montgomery (dgmont@hitter.net), March 10, 2001.

Xtol seems to be quite a topic for conversation. I have a basic question: When it works as it's supposed to, what is the advantage of it over tried and true products? I have been happy with TRIX and HC110 for 20 years. What does Xtol deliver when all goes according to plan? Finer grain? Smoother gradation? Enhanced film speed? Something else? Some people seem very enthusiastic about it, I was just wondering why before I get more curious about it and possibly try it.

-- Kevin Crisp (krcrisp@aol.com), March 11, 2001.

Reported benefits: higher film speed (1/2 to 2/3 stop) and slightly finer grain; lower toxcicity, less environmental impact.

-- Charlie Strack (charlie_strack@sti.com), March 11, 2001.

I'd like to thank everyone for their input, it's great to have such a resource out there to draw upon. Also I'd like to report that I spent the weekend answering my own question by running some tests. I tested TMX (120 format) in HC 110 (1:50), xtol (1:1), and rodinal (1:75). I made some prints and I found some interesting things. The xtol does give more film speed, looks to be about a 1/2 stop. Xtol does give a finer grained image, a good bit better than the other two. It also gives better shadow and midtone seperation, very nice looking I think. Much better than HC 110. Rodinal does seem to have the edge on highlight seperation. The Rodinal images show the most grain, however, but not really so much more than HC 110. I also noticed the brown color of the silver image on the Xtol negs that was reported in previous threads. I doubt that has any effect on printing. Reminds me of lith film developed in Dektol, sort of warm in color. Over all I found that xtol and rodinal make excellent negs that can produce very handsome prints. I am less happy about the negs produced in my old standby HC 110. It is interesting how much you can learn by comparing images of the same subject produced in different ways. So, so far, yes it is worth it. I will take the warnings to heart and procede with caution. thanks again for all of your reponses!

-- Erik Gould (egould@risd.edu), March 12, 2001.

Interesting. No one who compared a bunch of developers used the universal standard: D-76 1:1. Hmmm.....

-- Bill (bmitch@home.com), March 12, 2001.

Hasn't anyone had a "failure" with another type of developer?

BTW, I use XTOL at 25C. Mainly because liquids left standing out in my apartment tend to be around 23C so my Jobo can maintain 25C without the the temp running away. Had been using 1:1, but development times are going to get short for contracted development, so have begun characterizing 1:2 (just about the time someone pointed out that Kodak removed 1:2 from their literature!). We'll see what happens.

-- John H. Henderson (jhende03@harris.com), March 13, 2001.

I have had 3 Xtol failures over about 3 years - possibly all of them in the last year and a half. I liked Xtol. I don't like playing Russian Roulette with my film. I have gone back to an old standby, Ilford ID-11 @ 1:1. The results have been excellent. Are they better than Xtol? I can't say for sure. Am I happy with them? You bet, and I'm not worried about a failure. Agitation is not such an issue as it is with Xtol either. To those who've never had a problem with Xtol - great. But there seems to be enough of us who have that I just can't accept that there's nothing to it.

-- Bill Lester (wlester@lesterconstruction.com), March 13, 2001.

I too experienced the XTol failure (1 litre package,was caked, but I didn't knew about the consequeces of that at the time). I find myself using the "ancient" stuff more and more, not only developers (Rodinal, D76), but films too (Plus-X,FP4,HP5,Tri-X). When you're shooting LF, you can enjoy the wonderful tonality and processing tolerance these products offer,without noticing the larger grain.

-- Stefan Geysen (stefan_geysen@hotmail.com), April 04, 2001.

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