Developer: Better than Microdol-X??

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NPortocarrero
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Developer: Better than Microdol-X??

Post by NPortocarrero » Sun Feb 11, 2018 3:11 pm

After many years of digital photography, I happened to come across Lee Friedlander’s book “Letters from the People”.

I love his satin, grainless images with smooth, tonal gradations. They reinvigorated me to start shooting film again.

I did some research and found that he used Plus-X, in conjunction with Microdol-X. (later, he switched to FP4)

I have been away from analogue photography for over 25 years, and was hoping to find a developer I could use, with FP4, that will give me all the technical qualities I love about Friedlander images.

I plan to scan the images with an IMACON, and am under the impression that I can use modern "sharpening algorithms” to somewhat compensate for the reduced “acutance” of fine-grain, “solvent” developers.

I’m also hoping, that, in the last 25 years, a developer has been formulated which is superior to Microdol-X, or PERCEPTOL, and can give me the fine grain, along with great tonality.

(Improved speed would also be a welcome addition!)

If so, would you kindly suggest a developer you think I should try?

Thank you very much in advance,

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sanchell
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Re: Developer: Better than Microdol-X??

Post by sanchell » Wed Feb 14, 2018 10:28 am

This is a very interesting question and one that I am often asked: How can I replicate a particular photographer's "look?"

The simple answer is: You can't. Films made before 1960 are not the same as films made during the period between 1960 and the introduction of flat grain technology, and even flat grain has progressed. And, yes there are many formulas introduced in the last 25 years that are superior to Microdol-X and Perceptol with one caveat: what do you, as an artist/photographer/worker in the dark, consider superior? Finer grain? Higher acutance? Longer gray scale? Smoother gray scale?

The more complex answer is you can try. So, let's discuss Plus-X and Microdol (later Microdol-X) as it was in Lee Freidlander's day, pre-flat grain. For one thing, Plus-X then was known as a medium grain film that was intended as a compromise between the slow, fine grain Panatomic-X and the fast, coarse grain Tri-X. The problem was that as a film Plus-X was not as sharp when compared to pre-flat grain Agfapan 100 or Ilford FP4. This could be improved through the use of high acutance developers, but made worse with fine grain solvent developers such as Microdol-X.

However, when developed in a highly dilute solvent developer such as Microdl-X 1:3, Plus-X did have a smooth gray scale that was substantially longer than Panatomic-X.

Note: when developed in Microdol-X undiluted Plus-X tended to gain too much contrast. This is because the high sulfite content prevented the developing agent from exhausting in the highlights.

As you have correctly identified, Plus-X and Microdol-X 1:3 made a good combination, with a smooth gray scale and finer grain. As long as your images were being reproduced in magazines and prints no larger than about 11x14 the images looked great. Even with greater enlargement images were pleasing to view, if you stood at the proper distance, several feet away.

Okay, the problem at hand. Fine grain, smooth tonal scale. Fine grain won't be a problem as all films today incorporate some proportion of flat-grain crystals. The problem is that many are too fine grain, resulting in an homogeneous look that have little or no unique characteristics. Tri-X is the epitome of this. We loved pre-flat grain Tri-X for the gritty grain, long tonal scale, and sharpness that could be achieved with high acutance developers. In the name of "improving" the film, Kodak stripped the unique characteristics out of Tri-X by pumping it full of flat-grain crystals (which cost less to make) and incorporating dye technology to replace silver grains. In fact, except for speed, there is not much difference between Tri-X and discontinued Plus-X - probably why Kodak discontinued Plus-X. Of course, Kodak doesn't care if the film is what photographers want - it still sells well due to its reputation.

The Ilford films still have some unique qualities. I particularly like HP5+ as it can be manipulated through choice of developer and times to be slow or fast, and exhibit fine or medium grain, while maintaining a high degree of sharpness.

Using either FP4+ or HP5+ I recommend you start with a dilute moderately solvent developer, something as simple as D-76H 1:3. Another choice would be FX 15 1:3 (Acutol S), and finally Xtol 1:3. Make certain to extend your development times - this will require testing. The reason for the high dilution is to prevent the highlights from blowing out, a problem with many solvent developers that contain large amounts of sulfite.

Note that according to photo chemist Bill Troop, "Xtol is the current state of the art in solvent developers." Microdol-X was the state of the art in its day.

Give the above a try then get back to me with your results.
Do it in the Dark,

Steve Anchell

NPortocarrero
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Re: Developer: Better than Microdol-X??

Post by NPortocarrero » Wed Feb 14, 2018 10:43 am

Steve

Thank you so much for that very thorough response.

I will definitely get to work and give you some feedback.

By the way, any comments regarding these ultra-fine-grain developers?

1) ADOX Atomal
2) Rollei Supergrain
3) SPUR SD 2525
4) SPUR HRX

Thanks again,

Nestor

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sanchell
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Re: Developer: Better than Microdol-X??

Post by sanchell » Wed Feb 14, 2018 11:04 am

I have not used any of these developers. The best thing is to pick one and test it with your film of choice.
Do it in the Dark,

Steve Anchell

Bill Troop
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Re: Developer: Better than Microdol-X??

Post by Bill Troop » Wed Jun 06, 2018 7:52 am

I think Steve's ideas on this are good. More simply, I would use Xtol 1:3 (but with the paper test first!), and I would use Tri-X, HP5 downrated a full stop, or I would use FP4 downrated by a third stop. Downrating speed means more developing centers, and lower micro contrast (or, to put it differently, smoother gradation in small detailed areas). In working out a 'personal best' you might try several dilutions, anywhere from undiluted to 1:3. With Xtol (or Xtol-type) developers, always use the Covington paper test or clip just before developing, here: http://www.covingtoninnovations.com/xtol/

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