Which densitometer?

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I'm just out of school and am about to build my own darkroom. A densitometer is essential I feel if I'm going to be using the zone system. I see them ranging on Ebay from ten to a thousand dollars. I don't need one for color or computer hookups, just calibrating my developing times with zones. Can you give me any suggestions on which densitometer will give me consistent results at a price tag around $100? Joe

-- Joe Freeman (joefreemanjr@yahoo.com), February 25, 2002



Save your money for film. Go to the library and get Fred Picker's "Zone VI Workshop" or look on E Bay for it ($15-20), read it, do what it sys and you will not need a densitometer.

A hundred bucks spent on film and making pictures will do a lot more for your craft than a densitometer.

Betcha Ansel Adams (for teh first 30 years of his career anyway - he never mentions using one) or Elliot Porter didn't have one and neither did Weston. The ONLY thing a practical photog would need one for is determining 0.1 over base density + fog, and that can easily be done by comparing densities in the books.

Kodak makes a comparison reflective densitometer - a card with a range of densities from pure white to full black, also for about 10 bucks. You look at the print thru a hole in the card, at the same density, then read off the density. Comparitively, our eyes are as sensitive as any densitometer, or close, but we can not measure the differences. The card does that.

Thirty - my god- more like 40 years ago I thought the same thing and wasted a lot of time. If you really must play with one, go to a Pro lab and beg to use theirs for a few minutes to mesure Zone I - BDPF, then go take pictures.

Good luck and much patience.

R Cheers

-- RICHARD ILOMAKI (richardjx@hotmail.com), February 25, 2002.

I got an X-rite densitometer on ebay for $150. It is for reading black and white. It works great and has helped me a lot with the zone system.

-- William Marderness (wmarderness@hotmail.com), February 25, 2002.

I remember an old engineering axiom - "The answer can only be as accurate as the least accurate variable"

Spending $100-$150 for a densitometer if you want to utilize the zone system and sensitometry is an inexpensive way to perfect your craft. There are many X Rite or older Kodak models that will work fine within your budget. Be patient and get calibration scales and a manual if at all possible.

-- Michael Kadillak (m.kadillak@attbi.com), February 25, 2002.

I bought an old Kodak dens.-primative by today's standards- but within .01 of high priced digital models. Ebay-$60. George

-- George Nedleman (gnln@thegrid.net), February 25, 2002.

I have mixed feelings about densitometers. What helped my processing the most was to stop doing the same things over and over, and make a serious decision to calibrate in an orderly fashion. The densitometer teaches you things like what 0.1 over b+f looks like, and after using one for a while, you discover you don't really need it. But until you get to that point, it increases the confidence level tremendously. What you *do* need is a 21 step tablet for understanding paper response, visually or by plotting it. If you can find a used X-Rite, they're very good. Avoid the old MacBeths, as service and calibration is difficult. Also, get a unit that does both transmission and reflection.

-- Conrad Hoffman (choffman@rpa.net), February 25, 2002.

get an x rite 810 at e bay, if you are lucky you can get one for 150 USD. You can do color also in case you decide to use pyro or catechol as developers. Since the stain interferes with the measurement using the blue channel is more accurate. In any case for 150 I think a densitometer is definetly a good investment. Those who think you should save your money because AA or Weston did not use one to make their negatives seem rather silly to me. It is like saying dont buy a new car, a ford model t will take you there just the same. Of course the masters did not use a densitometer, but anything that helps me control the process to diagnose errors etc, I welcome it with arms wide open.

-- Jorge Gasteazoro (rossorabbit@hotmail.com), February 25, 2002.

Ironically, while densitometers have become electronic with digital readouts, and probably laden with other nifty features, they still claim about the same accuracy as those in the 70's.

I purchased an old Macbeth Quantilog densitometer off EBay for $100, and it works great. It's plenty accurate for my purposes.

-- neil poulsen (neil.fg@att.net), February 26, 2002.

Most, maybe all, color densitometers can be used for black and white. You'll likely find more used color densitometers out there than black and white because pro labs used color densitometers and they're going digital. FWIW, I too thought I needed a densitometer and bought a very nice used Macbeth for $200. However, I very rarely use it. It's wonderful for zone system testing but how often do you think you'll be running tests? Unless you bounce around with different films all the time (which isn't a very good practice) you'll most likely test one or two films, get your EI and development times, and after that the densitometer will sit on the shelf for a year or two. Darkroom Innovations (now known as The View Camera Store) will do complete zone system testing for you and send you all sorts of nice computer generated charts showing your film speeds and development times, for about $30. Much less expensive than a densitometer and probably better than you could do yourself.

-- Brian Ellis (bellis60@earthlink.net), February 26, 2002.

I liked my Quantalog, too--accurate and simple to use--until a capacitor exploded and smoke started pouring out of it a couple of weeks ago. I think I'm going solid state on the next one.

-- David Goldfarb (dgoldfarb@barnard.edu), February 26, 2002.

Exploded? Hmmm.

-- neil poulsen (neil.fg@att.net), February 27, 2002.

As Fred said "don't buy one". I own a macbeth td-504, I use it every couple of years. for film speed tests. If you care to send your film speed test negatives to me I'll test them for you at no charge, just return postage.

-- Vince Pulvirenti (zone7@massnet1.net), April 20, 2002.

Every hospital that does mammograms is required by Federal guidelines to perform daily film developing QA that includes densitometry. So they all have transmission densitometers. If you know anyone that works in a hospital or large radiology office you could probably bum time on the densitometer (as I do).

-- Don Karon (kc6d@arrl.net), May 09, 2002.

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