Development by Inspection : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Perhaps this has been discussed in a previous thread, though I have not come across it. I would be interested to hear opinions on development by inspection -- both from its practitioners and detractors. What are the tricks? Does it work better with some film/developer combinations than with others (I assume it does). Just how accurately can one monitor densities, etc.

Thanks, Paul

-- Paul Giblin (, July 25, 2001


Development by inspection is the only wat to go. See my article from View Camera on our web site at under "Writings". this from someone (Bruce Turner) who e-mailed me:

I want to thank you again for that ABC formula. Just wonderful negs!!! I look forward to developing these days. Before I was using PMK--and the results were just too flat and not contrasty enough. I talked to Patrick Jablonski about that, and he use to have the same troubles. So, he doubles the amount of recommended A and B, keeping the water amount the same. Works for him--but, alas, he does not inspect. How can anyone not want to inspect!!????!

Michael A. Smith

-- Michael A. Smith (, July 25, 2001.

FWIW, Galloping Caveats, IMHO yadda yadda yadda.

There are as many approaches to photography as there are roads to Valhalla, Grasshopper. Personally, I think D.B.I. is the only way to go, but then I have a more "cook-book" approach than some. A pinch of this, a smidgen of that, and season to taste. My most expensive lens cost me $400.00 and the most recently manufactured one cost me $25.00.

Read here:

and here:

and that covers most of it. In short, if you don't like the idea of standing (or sitting) in the dark with your hands (maybe gloved) in chemistry, shuffling your film, counting the seconds as the metronome clicks them off, then maybe you should invest in a JOBO or a Besseler color drum. Seriously though, it is easy! If I can do it, anyone can. Whether it's to your liking or not.....

All film/developer combos work well, but the staining developers have the advantage of making the film less sensitive to light faster than your standard D-76/Rodinal, etc. etc. developers. I would recommend using a 15 watt bulb instead of the little 7.5 watt one I started out with - that was too dim. Also, it'd be nice if I had a sink in my darkroom, but I don't, so developer drips down my arms, onto my shoes, the floor, etc. when I hold the film up to inspect.

You write: "Just how accurately can one monitor densities, etc."

This strikes me as the wrong attitude entirely. It's more like how you cook your steak, or bake a cake. How can you tell when they are done? Al Dente! Anywho, good luck. I can scan and e-mail you some articles on the topic from some more arcane sources if you like

-- Sean Yates (, July 25, 2001.

p.s. Aaron Siskind, Wynn Bullock, Andrea Modica, Douglas Busch and Harry (not Dirty) Callahan, as well as the Westons, all D.B.I.'d

Anyone can name any others?

-- Sean Yates (, July 25, 2001.

I would not go with inspection development. I have fine-tuned my developing (not by inspection) with a bunch of tests and a densitometer. Now, when I run a test and check the density with a densitometer, I find my results remain consistent. It seems to me that developing by inspection is the lazy-man's way to practice zone-system developing. Do the testing!

-- William Marderness (, July 25, 2001.

Why? To appease your puritan work ethic? If D.B.I. works, and it does, and it's easier, why make "a bunch of tests"? You have to re- test your system continuoosly to make sure it stays in calibration, no? With D.B.I. you can make adjustments "as you go" in the second most important part of the entire process - the film development. You are not held to one time and can compensate for any changes or variations. Have you tried D.B.I. Mr Marderness?

-- Sean Yates (, July 25, 2001.

sorry, I just don't buy the notion that dbi is very accurate. Your (no one in particular) idea of accurate may be very different than mine. I would have to see it to believe it. and don't show me with a film you have used for years, show me by picking up a film you only know the asa for and do it with that---only then would it be true dbi.

oh my god! testing once rather than sweat over every single developing session to try to see densities by a dim green light? how silly-- better yet how about when I do multiple time development for normal/n+ /n-

since when did anybody get more accurate than a densitometer?

please don't throw names at me, it means nothing...

the end....thanks for coming to my show :)

-- mark lindsey (, July 25, 2001.


I also can "make adjustments as I go".

-- mark lindsey (, July 25, 2001.

The beautiful, long-scale negatives and prints of Michael Smith, Paula Chamlee, Edward and Brett Weston, Sean Yates, and others are proof in themselves how effective the DBI technique is when applied by a skilled practicioner. For myself, however, learning photography in the Kodachrome days when exposure must be exact within 1/3 stop, and years toiling in physics and chemisty laboratories, I am satisfied with standardised time/temperature/agitation proceedures. I time exposures with TTL metering, including a Horseman film plane meter for my Technika, which even compensates exactly for filter factors and the uncertain diaphragm setting of all five Dr. Stable Polyplast convertible lens combinations. Like EW, if the meter doesn't agree with my innards, I either ignore the meter, or make two negatives. And yes, I do my fair share of dodging and burning.

-- Wilhelm (, July 25, 2001.

Hi Paul, I think a good way to get some DBI experience is to shoot a box of Ilford Ortho Plus. Being ortho, you can develop it under a red light. Just put your developer in a tray, and watch the image develop. After 25 you'll have a feel for the inspection method. Chose a contrasty scene. Expose for the shadows. Note where you expect to see the highlights come through. After development is over 1/2 through, the highlights will start to come up, and you don't want to let them get too dark. I mean, you will still have to do some testing, you have to know approximately where your development process is at, the inspection is a fine tuning thing. Caution, don't let your red light shine directly on the film, even ortho can be fogged. I don't know if DBI is the "best" way to go, but it can become a habit. And plenty of people have gotten just fine results using it. Best, David

-- david clark (, July 25, 2001.

"Before you jump right in and develop valuable negatives by inspection, you might want to run a test. ", this is from the above mentioned article. judging from this and comments made here by other posters there is just as much testing (if not more involved) than with non-inspection.

again I am still waiting for someone to tell me what, if any, are the advantages to this method?

-- mark lindsey (, July 26, 2001.

I don't even recommend developing prints by inspection. That print looks great under the safelight, but when you turn the white light on; whoa! Disaster.
The light levels needed to develop negs by inspection are just too low for the naked eye to be a reliable judge, IMHO, and you'll ruin quite a few negs in the process of 'getting your eye in'.
Most of those great photographers mentioned that used DBI are now history, as is the slow orthochromatic film or plate that they used. For each great neg developed by inspection, I bet there are 1,000 equally great ones developed reliably, in the dark, by time and temp.
Just my twopenn'orth.

-- Pete Andrews (, July 26, 2001.

Okay here goes. The advantages of DBI. It eliminates temperature variation of development. It allows simultaneous development of differing exposure levels of negatives whether Zone system, intuitive, (or accidental). One learned, it allows proper development of differing emulsions and/or developers under non-standardized conditions without having to test, test, test. It is fun to do. It allows practitioners to feel that they have more control over the photogrphic process. AA thought it was arcane. EW used it successfully for 40 years in dozens of often make-shift darkrooms. Basically it is one more tool for the accomplished photographer to use; whether he does is more a matter of personal style than being the only way to go. We should hear from Michael A. Smith on this.

-- Wilhelm (, July 26, 2001.

I'll betcha "Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico" would have been easier to print if Adams had developed it by inspection.

-- Sean Yates (, July 26, 2001.

Well, as long as you get the results you want, its all a black art anyway, even tossing things into a black box and watching it turn for 7'32". I develop by inspection - I got into it after developing some 8x10 lith film. For me, it is one final check to make sure the neg looks ok before tossing it into the fix. I agree that it takes a bit of time to develop an eye to estimate densities but it really is surprising how quick your eye is to develop a sensitivity to the densities. Its also genuinely surprising how easy DBI is. And I do own a densitometer and I do run step wedges under it from time to time. And yet DBI appeals... go figure! I do think its worth a try, folks. Its saved at least a couple of negatives for me.

And this may not be something that appeals to everyone, but I do think there is something to the idea of reducing instrumentation that could come between you and the subject/process/whatever. I noticed some time ago that I was so dependent on the exposure meter that I was not being sensitive or attentive to what I was seeing. OK, I haven't thrown away my spotmeter but I estimate exposure these days before pulling out the meter and it is surprising how close I can get. And, at least for me, it allows me to be more sensitive to the subject.

FWIW, IMHO, YMMY, yadda yadda yadda..... DJ

-- N Dhananjay (, July 26, 2001.

Yes - DBI is probably the lazy man's answer to precise Zone system testing and calibration, but then, I'm a lazy man. After less than 5 negs developed by inspection, I could see a marked improvement in my prints, and I'm now a devotee of the method.

Part of the reason I use my LF camera in preference to my 35mm gear is the control that I have wrested back from the electronic fiend who resides within the small camera. DBI extends this control to the development of my film. I've got the flexibility in the process that I wish for, and I am not tied to densitomer readings but aesthetics (this is partly my stubborness and mostly my stinginess - I don't want to buy a densitometer!).

My advice (as always) is to TRY IT! If you don't like it, all you've lost is the cost of a safelight filter and any negs that you may have ruined (there won't be many - as I said, one or two sessions and you'll be comfortable with it).


-- Graeme Hird (, July 26, 2001.

I learned inspection development from Paula Chamlee, an excellent teacher. I have since used it and taught others. I have a nice JOBO setup with the expert drums that now goes unused as a result. I also have a bunch of testing that goes undone and the time saving in the darkroom is welcome. I don't use a clock at all and a thermometer is used mainly to make sure the chemistry in each tray is close. No more obsessing over half degree differences and the damnable clock. Turn off the lights & put in the film & relax... gently shuffling the sheets of film while listening to the radio or tape player. Then, as it 'feels right', I push a foot timer (a $1.00 darkroom timer bought at a swap meet) & look at the negs under the green safelight. A few times through the stack tells me for sure which are 'ripe for plucking' and which need a bit more time. It has also helped me when I accidently overexposed negs as I can watch them come up faster & put them into the stop when they need it rather than finding out after opening the developing tank. I get a usable neg this way even if not a really good one. Yes, I own a densitometer and can use it when and if I want. I find it is like the torque wrench I own. Only used when I really think I need to. Most of the time I can see the results on film just as I can tighten a bolt til it is snug so both seldom get used. Then, just as a check against specs. Inspection development isn't for everyone. Nothing is, except death. If you like time & temp & densitometers, be my guest. As long as your results in the final print work... why care? If you try inspection and don't like it then don't use it. The reasons both for and against are as valid as why one likes Meg Ryan and another likes Madonna, simply personal preference. We are after great prints and if your system gets you there then use it. I find inspection development works for me and like it. Friends who have learned both like & dislike it. Some obsess over the minutae in everything and they don't like the idea of making decisions based on nothing more than experience & the feeling one gets looking at the negatives from light reflected on the base side from a green safelight. Others like the process & idea of seeing the negs come up as they watch. One even went so far as to get infrared goggles so he can watch the whole time. It works for them all. I won't even go into the sad life of those interminable, damnable constant testers who live to write down everything all the time. Inspection is not for them and maybe someday one of them will actually produce a photograph. Just as some would die if they had to go into the field & photograph without a light meter, some don't want to develop by inspection. That is fine by me. As long as it works and your final images are of high quality, why worry about what others do. I like inspection development while others don't. My prints pass muster and so do those of a great many who rely on time/temp and testing or constant monitoring. After all, some who come into my darkroom would have a heart attack at my developing film to Willie Nelson, Lefty Frizzell, Blues Traveler, Charlie Parker, the Beatles, John Philip Sousa and Bach. It works for me and the prints look good from the negatives and one more worry about accuracy is out of my life and that makes it more enjoyable. As long as I get enough exposure on the negative & have shadow detail I can work with I am happy. And, in direct testing I find the Azo paper for contact printing for a great number of my negs works better than anything else out there & is a perfect complement to the developing. I also use Forte Polygrade V. Not a contact printing paper but the tone works for some images.

At any rate, if it works for you then use it. Just like religion, development involves faith and has just as many paths to the final goal. Apparently it also has its preachers, proponents, charlatans, false prophets, messiahs and true believers.

-- Dan Smith (, July 26, 2001.

Sean: I can name another: Pere Atget. The greatest of them all.... A practical point: I too started with developing Ilford Otho+ by inspection under deep red light (15W bulb). It is a nice way to go. By the time most film/developer combos are getting cooked, your eyes have adjusted and you can see really well. Bit different with pan film: You use the deep green filter and you don't turn it on till you're around 2/3 of the guessed-at time (see Michael Smith's article in VC, etc.). I pop it right in front of my EK "bullet" safelight at that point, though. Keep in mind that the eye is more sensitive to green light than to red.... I want to broach a connected and implicit issue here: Notice the above polarization of time and temp guys and inspection guys. The time and temp guys' argument is, "Precision is good." The inspection guys reply, "Yeah, but inspection is PRETTY CLOSE and it's more flexible and more fun" etc. As an inspection guy, I want to take this up a notch: We don't hang negatives in our galleries and living rooms. We hang photographic prints. Every good print process (from Azo to platinum) tolerates some range of negative types very well indeed. The increment of precision made possible by the MOST sophisticated use of time and temp and densitometer never made a good image into a great one. Moreover, neither Edward Weston's Spartan set-up nor Atget's preposterously rickety and archaic equipment and procedures prevented either from creating great art. It's about seeing. As a matter of mere handicraft, it's about printing. -jeff buckels (albuq nm)

-- Jeff Buckels (, July 26, 2001.

Thanks for all your responses. I had a feeling that there would be strong feelings about this. As suggested, I think I will give it a try and see for myself.

Thanks, Paul

-- Paul G. (, July 26, 2001.

I'll pass on the arguments about the merits of DBI and just give you a couple tips. First, I have seen it used only with 8x10 negatives. I would think it would be more difficult as you go to smaller negatives. The whole idea is to find a highlight in the negative. You judge the development time by how that highlight looks. Consequently, I think it's easier to use the method with a large negative. Second, you need to hook your green safelight up to a foot switch because both hands will be occupied by holding the negative to inspect it so you'll want to be able to turn the light on and off with your foot. I haven't been able to find a foot switch that could be rigged up to the safe light. I'm sure they're out there, I just haven't been able to find one in a limited amount of searching time. The company that makes the one that Michael and Paula use is no longer in existence. Finally, since the whole idea is to judge development time from the look of a highlight, you should make some kind of note when exposing each negative as to where an important highlight is located on the negative, so that you'll know where to look when inspecting the film. You don't have enough time under the green light to be searching all over the negative trying to find a highlight.

-- Brian Ellis (, July 26, 2001.

Just as a matter of interest. How many of you DBI enthusiasts use a desensitising bath?

-- Pete Andrews (, July 27, 2001.

Hi Pete, I've DBI'd with a desensitizing bath (Pinakryptol yellow), although I do not use it routinely. Even with the desensitizer, I don't keep the safelight on because I prefer saving my dark vision. I also have to add that when I first started DBI, I didn't have a green safelight, so I actually used the green light from my Timex (this was sans desensitizer). I was curious and read the base + fog density on the densitometer - it was normal. Extended exposure to the light (read as about one third - half of the developing time) did increase b+f by about 0.1. Not to suggest you should do things that way but the method does seem to be fairly robust. Cheers, DJ.

-- N Dhananjay (, July 27, 2001.

DBI sounds great. There is a superb alternative: check out the outstanding paper on this site on Two Bath Divided Development (Stoeckler) that seems that gotten little or no attention. The unblingeye site also has some great materials on divided development.

-- David Stein (, July 27, 2001.

first off let me say that I indeed have no problem with anyone using this method, however, when I see statements like,

"Development by inspection is the only wat to go",


Works for him--but, alas, he does not inspect. How can anyone not want to inspect,


"Why? To appease your puritan work ethic? If D.B.I. works, and it does, and it's easier, why make "a bunch of tests"? You have to re- test your system continuoosly to make sure it stays in calibration, no?"

I just have to respond!!

there are plenty of people, famous or not, who don't dbi--throwing names around is a waste of time.

its a myth that all zone system practioners do nothing but test---I've used tmax for 10 plus years and have tested it twice, when I first started using it, and when I recently changed my choice of dev.. when I see any type of change or drift occuring I simply adjust my dev. times. retest for such a small change? absurd.


dbi may eliminate temp variation,but it also eliminates total control- --I use a thermometer and get temp control and total control.

I also can do simultaneous development of different exposures of film.

this method may make people "feel" as if they have more control, but in reality it is a myth.

I would be willing to bet that A Adams negs were generally much easier to print than Westons, allowing him more time to go out and shoot! 40,000+ negs does make a statement.

Sean, the issue with moonrise was an underexposure problem, not an underdevelopment problem, and if Adams had the same view as weston on control in the darkroom, he would have never even gotten the shot.but I guess you would use one out of 40,000+ negs to justify your point of view--seem alittle desperate?

I am somewhat stumped by those that claim it is so much easier to inspect than use a timer/temp method--Dan says that he doesn't have to use the timer anymore, but still uses the thermometer, then while he goes through all the motions that he describes to dbi, I am simply sitting there watching my timer waiting to pull my negs---and I do more work in the darkroom????????? this fad will probably fall to the wayside just as that jobo and the 30 sec. fix---eh Dan?

I wonder about how really loyal you all are to this method when I see statements that say that anyone who doesn't use this method are constant testers who always write everything down and never actually produce a photograph.---when you can justify a method without attacking another you may convince me.


no I don't hang negatives on the wall either, nor do I like to relive a mistake everytime I print, so I try to come up with the best negative I can without resorting to "good enough".

Like I said earlier, if you like to do it, more power to you, but please don't tell me its easier or better, or as/more accurate, because then you are fooling only yourselves.

-- mark lindsey (, July 28, 2001.

Mr. Lindsey, you seem to have confused my explanation of the benefits of DBI (which is what the original poster requested) with an endorsement of it. I think that it is a valid technique for those who want to use it, as is the Zone System. Personally, I use neither. These days, I just set the camera on "P" and drop off the XP-2+ at my local one-hour lab, and print on Multicontrast RC paper with good old Ansco 130. I get stunning prints. No big deal.

-- Wilhelm (, July 28, 2001.

No Sean. Moonrise wasn't developed improperly as much as it was exposed improperly. From AA's own records. "It's amazing how close my guesses on exposure are to my metered values." I'll stick with a meter. It's amazing how acurate a meter is and how inacurate our eyes are depending on our emotions and the time of day. DBI is only one of many methods to an end. Try it. It may work for you. Michael and Paula are using a very slow film. Super XX if I'm not mistaken. Nice and slow to respond to any light falling on it. Their images speak for themselves. But remember it is not the only method. Until AA and his zealots came along, tested materials endlessly, and wrote down the results for all of us to see, many photographers used whatever method they were taught or processed by the seat of their pants. I have seen Dan's work and ask him, what is the difference between your pre DBI prints and the prints you make now? Not much I'll wager. And you pre-IBD prints were gorgeous. So why did you change a thing? After trying pretty much all the different types and styles of development of both negs and prints, I went with the rotory drum method as the one that gave me the best consistency with the least exposure to chemicals. I really find the internal contrast to be far superior to most other methods. I gave up on tray processing right off the bat after gouging almost every neg I tried. And I'm pretty dextrous. And I hate wet itchy hands. I love hangers. If done properly they afford wonderful control. And large batches of film can be done this way. Now I use pyro when needing N- developing or wanting a special look to my neg. I suggest you try them all. Find out what works for you. I'm a zonie though I don't endlessly test every batch of film and paper. I like the precision. I find the film has very little variation to it so I just test once and the negs always come out right on the money.

-- james (, July 29, 2001.

Well, this has become quite a lively discussion. Some of the answers defending DBI are so good that I have only a little to add.

I just read all of the responses and I hope I remember to answer all the points that were raised.

As Sean Yates mentioned, a green safelight is used because our eyes are more sensitive to green than to other colors. After 5 minutes or more in total darkness a 15-watt bulb behind a dark green safelight will be bright indeed. There is no "straining" to look at the negative. Unless you are color-blind to green. That would be a problem.

Foot switch: I developed negatives by inspection for years without a foot switch, but they are nice. I cannot understand Brian's finding them so difficult to find. They are available in almost any decent hardware store. You can get them with an off/on button or a "momentary on" button, which will be on only as long as your foot is on the switch. That is better, because if leave the off/on type on "on" (how's that for confusion) when you have the negative in the stop bath and fixer (useful for determining how long to fix--twice the time the film takes to clear) and then turn the roon light on, you might acidentaly leave it on when taking the next batch of negatives out and you don't want to do that--it will fog the film. (When the roon lights are on you can barely see that the dark green safelight is on and just after you turn them out it can take a few minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark and you may not notice that the dark green safelight is on.

Of course it does not matter how one develops film. It is the prints that count. I do it because it is easier and, I believe, more accurate. (Yes, I've done tests, but not for many years, now). Ansel Adams, for all the hype surrounding his zone system and the precision of getting the "correct" negative, dodged and burned more than any other photographer that I can think of except for Gene Smith. For a large format photographer who supposedly made correct negatives, he did far more dodging and burning than Edward or Brett Weston ever did. His negatives were much harder to print than were Weston's. Re: Moonrise: If Adams had been developing by inspection he would have seen that it was underexposed and needed more development--and he could have done it right there! Now that would have been easier wouldn't it?

DBI can be so accurate that Edward often had Brett develop his film when he was traveling on his Guggenheim Fellowship. From on the road Edward would send it back to Brett.

Also, Adams did sometimes need to intensify his negatives in selenium, didn't he? if he had developed by inspection he probably would not have needed to.

Negative size: 4x5 negatives are just as easy to see as 8x10s. No difference at all in any way. Easier in fact--you can hold them up with one hand.

DBI is quicker, too, than using a JOBO processor or any other way than in a tray. We'll come back from a trip with hundreds of negatives and develop them 8 - 12 at a time. If we were only able to do a few, it would take us forever.

Hope some of this has helped someone, if even a little.

Someone wrote something like we should hear from me (MAS) on this. If anyone ever feels he or she would like my response to an ongoing thread, send me a direct e-mail and suggest that I look at that particular thread. Sometimes I am unable to get to this wonderful site for months on end. (Like September and October when we will be away photographing.) But we will get e-mails from time to time. And it will make me take a look.

-- Michael A. Smith (, August 01, 2001.

good answers defending dbi?

sorry, I haven't seen any, all I have seen are comments that not only blast through the myths of dbi but also uncover the silly viewpoints dbi'ers have of those of us who oppose it.

I am sure that weston and adams both had unruly negatives, the big difference was that adams strived to perfect his prints, and it shows.Adams printed to achieve prints that met his high standards,not the standards of someone who counts how many dodges and burns he might make.

Moonrise--have you ever read the amazing amount of knowledge, intuitiveness and speed it took him to produce this image, to simplify all of this by saying that if he had dbi his problems would be solved is an insult to all concerned. the man was in control of the negative from the beginning, the one concern he had was the amount of light falling on the foreground crosses, he states that if he had known the crosses were of such low value, he would have given them another half stop of exposure and then would have controlled the values of the moon with development---so just giving more development would have maybe given him more highlights in the crosses, but it would have given him a burnt out moon--so much for that theory...later he selenium intensified the area to make printing a bit easier. Adams shot over 40,000 negs, is this the only one you can use to make your point (which was not made)

"develop 8-12 at a time"...

so what, I do that all the time with 4x5 in trays and used to do it with 8x10, and no, I don't have damage problems.

like I said before, do it if you like it, but don't b.s. those of us who know its not as accurate, etc., etc.,and still again, can't you defend your methods without attacking the methods of others?

-- mark lindsey (, August 02, 2001.

Mr. Smith, I just returned from your website and I read your article on printing, I wonder why you don't take as much precautions with your negatives as you do with your prints?

which is easier to do over if unusable?

You use a metronome for prints, why on earth would you not print by inspection , surely it would be easier to do for prints rather than negatives?

it seems to me that this so called simplification of neg. dev. has only shifted more complications to your printing sessions.

-- mark lindsey (, August 02, 2001.

I think Michael's use of a metronome is for timing print exposure, not print development. I suspect folks are looking at this as a DBI vs time/temp argument, which I don't think is really accurate. I think we are talking about combining the two - you still need some idea about time to decide when to inspect. If nothing else, inspection allows you to take one last look at the negative before the point of no return i.e., dropping it into the fix.

The point is it costs you nothing. If you used only time/temp, you would just move from the dev to stop and fix. With DBI, you could drop the film into a water bath stop, inspect to ensure everything is OK and then move onto the fix. If some more development is called for, you move back to the dev. (Sidebar: I suspect all those 'blasted XTOL failures could have been salvaged if the folks DBI'd - again, not an argument for using outdated chemicals etc etc etc - just a precaution and acknowledgement that we live in a world teeming with hobgoblins, gremlins and trolls). As you get more comfortable with the technique, you can always check at about the 2/3 point in time to make sure the process seems to be on track. And for those who appear to insist that this is somehow less precise, how can it be? You're using it on top of time/temp. And if it is base+fog you're worried about - I've tested this under a densitometer and found no statistically significant increase in base+fog, except when using continuous inspection (Caveats: this did not test all film-developer combos, and while pyro tans and reduces the sensitivity of the emulsion further and therefore is often preferred by DBI'ers, I checked a tanning dev as well as D23). I'm not for a minute suggesting that DBI is the only way to go, but to imply that it is somehow less precise is mis-stating the case. Also, from a tongue in cheek philosophy of science perspective, if no evidence has been presented for the advantages of DBI, no evidence has been presented for its disadvantages either... :-)

Like I said, give it a try, folks. You may decide it adds nothing to the way you are doing stuff now. Then again, you may decide otherwise.... Cheers, DJ

-- N Dhananjay (, August 02, 2001.

Forgot to add. Re an advantage of DBI (for me, at any rate), I find that regardless of all the testing that I do, I will always eventually run into a subject where my prior testing does not give me a direct answer. Whether this is because I want to change curve shape by varying agitation and/or dilution etc etc etc is moot. DBI affords me some control in novel situations (OK, so maybe its an illusion but what isn't?), and dare I suggest that one should strive to encounter novel situations.... OK, I'm really off my soap box now. Cheers, DJ

-- N Dhananjay (, August 02, 2001.

I have said it before and will reiterate: if it works for you then use it. Inspection development works for me & I use it. All the "control" in the world won't help much if a shutter sticks a bit during the esposure. If the meter gets bumped in the field & is a bit off. If any of a myriad of things happen to throw off your carefully metered scene which can and does happen. Nothing is wrong with controlling the process and working for accurate and repeatable results. But though we see the photo process as 'scientific' it is often little more than an act of faith as our gear, film and process are far from controlled. If, and it is a big IF, all were tightly controlled then there might be a case for time/temp only. There is not, just as there is not for inspection development... nothing for each other than personal preference based on what works for each of us. My very first foray into inspection after learning from Paula Chamlee included a negative 5 stops overexposed as a result of answering a question from a passerby as I shot while forgetting to stop down the lens. I saw this when I first turned on the safelight & pulled the neg immediately. It was 'usable' though not too good. I could get a print out of it rather than sticking to a time that would have assured a sun filter or trash can candidate. I don't suggest rationalizing inspection to make up for mistakes, but it can be used to spot them and compensate at times. Dreaded Xtol failure, mentioned above, happened to me with one batch of 8x10 negs and I was able to see it under the green safelight... about 20 minutes into the development & still NO action on the film. I reached up on the shelf in the dark & grabbed a bottle of Rodinal & dumped it into the tray, mixed by hand quickly & put the negs back & suddenly I start getting density as witnessed under the green safelight when I looked in about 5 minutes. So in this case inspection development helped avoid a major problem. LF photography has a 'slop factor' most of us realize even if we don't like admitting it. Shutter speeds, metering accuracy, film variations for whatever reason and so on at each step of the process. Total accuracy is a myth at best. We can come close and if this is your approach and you agonize over it and test & re-test and it works for you then use it. Just don't worry too much about those who don't see the need. Excellent images are made by those who use both methods and even a combination.

Mark Lindsay wrote: "all I have seen are comments that not only blast through the myths of dbi but also uncover the silly viewpoints dbi'ers have of those of us who oppose it.

I am sure that weston and adams both had unruly negatives, the big difference was that adams strived to perfect his prints, and it shows.Adams printed to achieve prints that met his high standards,not the standards of someone who counts how many dodges and burns he might make.

Mark Lindsay wrote: "Moonrise--have you ever read the amazing amount of knowledge, intuitiveness and speed it took him to produce this image, to simplify all of this by saying that if he had dbi his problems would be solved is an insult to all concerned. the man was in control of the negative from the beginning..."

Yes Mark, most of us have read this. Many also know how to meter based on experience and develop accordingly. Some photograph without a meter, relying on experience. It works well. This example isn't one of technical control but only shows there may be a different approach to answering the same question. Again, if it works for you then use it. Just don't expect everyone else to do so.

Edward Weston was not the same photographer as Ansel Adams was. Nor was Eugene Smith or Michael A. Smith. All produced and produce excellent work using whatever techniques and prejudices they have. All can make it appear difficult to anyone who doggedly subscribes to another view as to "The Right Way". There is always another way and when Edward & Ansel discussed "to zone or not to zone", each came up with what worked for them but only Ansel became an evangelist for his view as being "the right way". Both produced nice work with the edge in sheer numbers going possibly to Ansel and the edge in sheer numbers of excellent images going to Weston. Similar gear and different working methods and good images from both. One was not right and the other wrong just as an oil painter is not right or wrong if he doesn't hold his brushes like he was taught by an art teacher or squeezes the tubes in the middle or end. If it works, use it. Personal prejudices, misinformation and stubbornness can get in the way of us all. It is the final images that count and how you get there makes for some lively debate, such as this one. But it is really as simple as Michael A. Smith says. Or as complicated as Ansel made it. Or as simple as Weston's darkroom with a lightbulb, contact printing frame & trays while printing at night with the windows open to get the breeze & night sounds from the ocean. Or as damnably hard as Eugene Smith could make it.

Look at the prints and you will see the system works in spite of our prejudices and ideas. This is not science, it is art. To reduce it to science is comforting to those who need it and stifling to those who don't think that way. Photography is not a formula, but a path some follow. Scientific principles apply but the indefinable is always with us. If we are comfortable shuffling negatives in the dark while viewing them by a weak green safelight, what is the harm? If that still causes some to piss & moan you can come visit & I will show you my nice JOBO as well and you can feel better knowing I have the scientific method in hand even as I stumble in the dark with wet hands, fumbling around looking for the green light reflected off the negatives. For me, the time spent with the negs is a comfortable part of the process, not just another mechanical step. And NO, it is not as precise as time temp in a perfect world. But we don't live in a perfect world.

-- Dan Smith (, August 02, 2001.

I will only respond to the new points made, as it is getting tiring to repeat my claims and opinions and only get canned answers and denials without factual basis in return.

In my opinion Adams wins by far on number of images and quality of images. A matter of opinion is difficult to use as a "fact" to defend your case.

Zone system complicated? I don't think so, works fine for me.

I have never read anything by Adams that says that he claimed his way was the "only" way or the "right" way, please direct me to these statements or would this only be another attack used as a defense?

Yes Dan, this is art, but the creation of the negative and the print involve craftsmanship, and without complete control of my craft what is my end result? A product of my personal vision or just a happy accident?

I have no doubt that you can print wonderfull prints from dbi negs, but why complicate the process? If you want to simplfy your way of working why stop at contact printing like weston? At one time Adams was using an enlarger that used sunlight as its light source, go for it!

Why are we, as photographers, so afraid to use even simple technology to help achieve our vision or goals? Does anyone here think that artists of other mediums are this overwrought about this type of subject?

This one thing I will exhaustively state again is that I never stated that anyone shouldn't use this method, just don't tell me that it is more accurate, or less work. And please please don't tell me that just because you got rid of the use of a thermometer of a timer that this brings you any closer to the "art" of what you are doing. It's a bit over the edge dramatically and romantically.

-- mark lindsey (, August 03, 2001.

OK one more quick note.....

Its Lindsey not Lindsay, I am the photographer not the musician!

Why would you test any new developer with important negatives?

NO Dan I don't want to see the Jobo, I have no use for them because I feel that they complicate the process as well, and I see no real benefit coming from their use.

I don't really see the benefit of overdeveloping a neg. that was 5 stops underexposed in the first place.

No this isn't a perfect world, so this is a good reason to strive for less?

Ok, I'm done

-- mark lindsey (, August 03, 2001.

According to Mary Alinder, Ansel did actually perform DBI on Moonrise. After he did the D-23/waterbath thing, he determined the end point by inspection under a green safelight. So much for THAT theory!

-- Wilhelm (, August 08, 2001.

In Adams' book "Examples, The Making of Forty Photographs" he spends about 2 1/2 pages of text explaining how Moonrise was made. Adams used 10 sequences of a water bath development with D-23 (30 seconds D- 23 and 2 minutes water for each sequence). He doesn't say anything about inspection in this book, but that doesn't mean that he did not do it.

Adams had to guess at the exposure because he couldn't find his meter and the scene was rapidly disappearing. He actually used his knowledge of luminance of moon to make the exposure. By the time he set up for another exposure the light was gone. After development he determined that the foreground was underexposed by a half-stop, and used intensifier (on the foreground only) to make printing a little easier.

-- Michael Feldman (, August 08, 2001.

Considering AA's superb darkroom knowledge and technique, and that he knew he had an extraordinary negative which required really special developing, it would be surprising if he HADN'T used inspection to help determine the extremely nebulous end point.

-- Wilhelm (, August 08, 2001.


moonrise with dbi makes no sense whatsoever, Adams KNEW the luminance of the highlights, it was the shadows that he was worried about. Determining the length of development affects the highlights, and the area he was concerned about needed more exposure. In all of his references to Moonrise, I have never seen mention of using dbi or wishing he did, I do not consider Alinder to, in any way, to be an expert on photographic technique in any way, and I take that statement with a huge grain of salt based on the evidence that I have seen. (not to mention that it makes no sense).

so much for THAT theory!

also, because Adams had superb darkroom and techical knowledge was the exact reason he didn't need to do dbi.

like I said before, trying to use one out of 40,000 + images to say Adams needed dbi is pretty weak and desperate. even worse, the theory doesn't hold water.

-- mark lindsey (, August 13, 2001.

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