FP4 vs Tri-X

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View Camera magazine is my National Geographic. Back issues lie on the shelves for years. I reread them from time to time. This week I read a May/June 2001 View Camera issue at p. 62 where Steve Simmons wrote that when doing N-1 or N-2 development, he much prefers Tri-X or HP5, with PMK, saying that all other films are too flat in the mid-tones. This is the first time I had ever read of a reason for preferring Tri-X or HP5 other than increased film speed. For years I have been using only FP4, virtually all developed with PMK. Shaken, not stirred, in a small tank. Negatives prewashed. Every 30 seconds, agitation. Seven to nine minutes development at 68 degrees. I have not tried HP5 or Tri-X. I know that I when make long exposures, either with FP4 rated 80 or 40, or Zone III placed on Zone IV or Zone V, using light green filtration, of ferns, rocks, water, and foliage, and then process N-1 or N-2, my prints have a flat, TMAX-100 look, when printed on variable contrast paper. There is better contrast when I use graded fiber base paper at grades II or III. I use the minus development to counter the effects on the highlights associated wth prolonged exposure. Is the flatness on variable contrast polyster paper due mostly or solely to my zone placement and minus development, choice of variable contrast polyester paper rather than fiberbase paper, or should I switch to Tri-X/HP5? Would the use of some developer other than PMK further enhance the local contrast and help avoid the flatness that I find objectionable? Perhaps from your experience you have found the optimum mixture of these variables and I would appreciate your advice. I checked this website for advice on Tri-X and HP5 and did not find anything addressing this issue. Ditto the web. In Sexton's book, Listening to the Trees, he has an image of a burnt log in a grove at Yosemite, taken with Tri-X, showing the local contrast that I desire. He states that the image was printed on polycontrast paper. That is my goal................

-- David Caldwell (caldw@aol.com), January 29, 2002


Just one comment: I use FP4+ and I develop it in pyro (previously PMK, now the WD2D forumula) for printing on platinum and palladium. The midtone and highlight separation are, I believe, excellent. The characteristic curve is long and straight. Many feel that FP4+ is one of the two or three best films -- if not the best -- for platinum and palladium printing WHEN IT IS DEVELOPED IN PYRO.... -jeff buckels

-- jeff buckels (jeffbuck@swcp.com), January 29, 2002.

David: I use both Tri-X and HP-5, with more experience using Tri-X. I develop in HC-110, and the midtones are excellent with good contrast. It's probably just my own bias, but I haven't found another film which will beat those two for brilliant prints and for "life" in the low to mid tones. I can't speak for these two films in PMK, but they sing in HC-110.


-- Doug Paramore (Dougmary@alaweb.com), January 29, 2002.

I used to have the same problem, I have been using FP4 with PMK for years as well and I used to have it rated at 32 with 6-7 minutes in PMK. This used to give me somewhat flat negatives. I have since increased my EI to 80 with a higher processing time and it has improved my contrast. However, I also needed to increase the aggressiveness of my agitation a little bit to give me better seperation.

With regards to printing, I use polycontrast paper, both FB and RC and have found it to be incredibly flexible for printing. I can stretch my contrast anyway that I want, especially with applied dodging and burning and mix of filters. As for your flat prints, I believe that alot if this lies in your printing technique. Over the years I have begun to realize how much I have totally underestimated the importance of expressively printing my negative. I have spent WAAAYYYY too much time trying to attain my perfect negatives and basically having them printed as straight prints with some dodging and burning here and there. I now view the printing step of my photography as the most important and thoughtful part of my process (after producing a good negative with alot to work with). I feel totally free now:)

-- Dave (daveanton@shaw.ca), January 29, 2002.

David - Maybe the film isn't the problem. Perhaps you are too often sacrificing local contrast in order to preserve an overall range of contrast within the negative. You might try to exclude discreet areas of excessive brightness from your metering considerations, and keep your developing times more normal. This should help you get more shadow detail and sparkle in the mid-tones, but will sometimes create problem hightlights.

If you look again at the technical notees in "Listen to the Trees", you'll notice that many of the negatives were given N+ development. I'll bet this is done to give that wonderful local contrast you're striving for. John Sexton's printing example in that book is of a negative given plus development, and the printing employed ample dodging, burning and flashing to control the brightness of highlight areas.

-- Henry Friedman (friedlew@worldnet.att.net), January 30, 2002.

David - You've gotten some good advice so far. Much has already been said about the films you mention (FP4, HP5, Tri-X) so all I'll say about them is that good, punchy, crisp prints can be made using any of them. As someone already mentioned, a LOT of this lies in the printing process. Again, if you're geting prints you like with graded papers, there's no reason you can't do as well (or better) with variable contrast papers. Don't be afraid to do some serious dodging and burning, and don't shy away from jacking up the contrast if that's what it takes. (A.A. used to basically say that you have to go too far to know when you've gone far enough, so take big steps!) It's a mistake to think every negative should be able to be printed straight (no dodge/burn/etc.) on grade 2 paper. Look at some of the "printing workshop" articles in the magazines - almost invariable the final print is much manipulated (and improved) over the straight print.

Having said that, I also think it's frequently a mistake to automatically reduce development to compensate for long exposures. Most long exposures are actually made in low contrast lighting (i.e. not typical "sun & shade" lighting). Next time you make a long exposure, develop normally and I'll bet you'll like the resulting neg better. I know I usually do.


-- Mark Parsons (polar@thegrid.net), January 30, 2002.


Along with the other great input you have received, consider this. At a John Sexton printing workshop a few years ago, we discussed having problems fighting with highlights and trying to achieve the "snap" we were looking for in our prints. He suggested a real safelight test. By a "real" test, he suggested following the procedure outlined by Kodak in a technical bulletin on its website. He said that safelight filters should be changed periodically because over time they become unsafe. He also said that if you have a low quality safelight you can have the same problems. I told my wife about this, and she bought me a new Kodak "bullet" safelight as a birthday gift. Instantly, I saw quite a difference in my prints.

The quality and age of my old safelight were impacting on my prints, making me work too hard in the darkroom for less than satisfying results. The change in the quality of my prints was well worth the price of the new safelight.

This is a slow, almost imperceptible process that probably affects many photographers. This suggestion has nothing to do with developers and film, but it may be of some help.

-- Dave Karp (davekarp@ix.netcom.com), January 30, 2002.

Do an experiment. Keep everything the same but change one variable. Then see what happens. I would suggest that you try 10 seconds agitation every minute, as stated in Ilford's technical information sheet on FP4+. Then test each of the ideas that others have listed here. Sexton used compensation development on some of his negatives in that book you mention, rather than minus development. Give that a try if you are trying for N-2 equivalence.

-- Dean Jackson (djackson@333law.com), January 30, 2002.

I thank you all. I liked all of your suggestions. ..................

-- David (caldw@aol.com), February 04, 2002.

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