What's My Lab Doing?

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I am having difficulty in determining what my local lab is doing lately with my b&w processing. Up until a few weeks ago, my prints were coming back with nice contrasting blacks and whites. Since then, they come back with a brownish tone to them. They are sharp, but have the appearance of proofs. I have been given several explanations by the lab (some contradictory), but none seem to make sense to me. I have used a variety of film makes and speeds, and I have not changed anything in my technique. The print paper is a Kodak Professional type, but I do not know which one. I think it has to be the paper. The lab says a lot of professionals like the matt finish, and when I asked if the paper was a color paper, the answer was "no". It is a small lab, and I think it does not do enough b&w processing to be all things to all people. Do you think the lab is using this particular type paper primarily for the wedding professionals who use the prints as proofs? I cannot do much about it, I suppose, but I would at least like to know what the probable reason is for the change in appearance. Thanks for your ideas.

-- Max Wall (mtwall@earthlink.net), April 09, 2002


Take control. do your own processing of B&W. Its: 1)easy, 2) cheap, 3) fulfilling to your soul. not to mention you can control EVERY ASPECT of it, pushing/pulling/zone system etc. All you need is a tank, chems, the time, and a loading bag, or (dark room?). you will never regret it, NEVER!

-- mike (thearea19@aol.com), April 09, 2002.

Mike, Do you mean just develop the negatives, without a darkroom? Jack

-- Jack Belen (jbelen@aol.com), April 09, 2002.


I'm doing a roll of B&W film now for less than 0.75. And that's using Ilford DDX (equivalent of microphen) NOT ID-11 or D-76. Those other fine grain developers are what generic labs use and they still charge you over $15 per roll with contact sheet (roller transport, more if they have to push) or an exorbident $20 per roll (dip'n dunk). You can do your own dip'n dunk for 0.75 or less. You'll be less inhibited in your shooting when you can afford to f**k up more shots per roll since development costs are minimized.

Hard water is the only beef I have with the process... but then I steal ddW from the lab ;-)

-- John (ouroboros_2001@yahoo.com), April 10, 2002.

Sounds to me like the lab is using color paper to print your black and white prints. A "brownish" tone sounds like the balance is off on the machine. If it is color paper(this can be fun-some "black and white" paper for labs can look brown or sepia, or even magenta looking.), the machine needs to be balanced for your b&w film. Most labs can do a good job at balancing b&w negs on color paper, but the prints really should just be considered "proofs". Kodak had a black and white paper for labs a few years ago that turned magenta after a few months after development.

-- chris a williams (LeicaChris@worldnet.att.net), April 10, 2002.

Mike is giving quite strong support to own developing. But I must agree. Developing b/w is very easy and there is little that can go wrong if you follow simple instructions. And a lot of benefits in time, cost and flexibility.

However, just developing your films is unlikely to solve your problem since you still need to go to the lab to get the prints done. Nowadays most labs seem to use color paper for b/w and it is much more limiting. But it is usually also cheaper. Good 8x10 real b/w print can cost 2-3 times as much as a same size machine print on colour paper.


-- Ilkka (ikuu65@hotmail.com), April 10, 2002.

Max, it's been said many times before but the ONLY way to get good b&w prints is to do it yourself at home or pay a professional lab/printer who will take the necessary time (and charge you!) and effort required. Machine prints for b&w just do not work.

Printing at home is easy, you can set up a darkroom for US$150 and with very little practise produce fantastic work - and it's fun! It will also improve your composition/exposure etc.

I use XP2 - which means any C41 lab can process your films (the tricky/critical bit) leaving you to enlarge the best prints at home.

-- Giles Poilu (giles@monpoilu.icom43.net), April 10, 2002.

Chris is correct. None of Kodaks 'real' B&W papers have backmarking, so if it says Kodak Professional on the back it is either color paper, or a special B&W paper Kodak makes that goes through RA-4 color chemistry. Either way it sounds like the lab person who is now doing your printing does not know how to balance for a neutral tone. But do consider (as others have mentioned) that this process has a relatively short lifespan (something around 7 years before you can expect fading) and should just be used for proofing.

-- Bob Todrick (bobtodrick@yahoo.com), April 10, 2002.

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