Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Film Developers & A Legend

When I contemplate a film-developer combination that I haven't already tried, I think of Geoffrey W. Crawley. Mr. Crawley passed away last year, but his legacy of photographic contributions will live on for a very long time. He spent a very large part of his life devoted to formulating film developers that would optimize different emulsions with predictable results. He worked with all the different types, or groups, of developers that we have today. He was largely known for his different FX type developers, but there were many others he touched and improved upon. For his work and devotion to film I am personally grateful as developing film still holds a unique pleasure for me that I cannot imagine living without.

What's the relevance between Mr. Crawley and what I do? Simple. It seems that I am never content with the film-developer combinations that I have tried over the years, and I continue to tinker with new combinations. No, I am not the formulary genius that Mr. Crawley was, but I do enjoy seeing what variations I can reach. Sure, I have already established a nice collection of favorite combinations, but sometimes the pleasure is in the journey of something new.

What drives me to try new combinations is simply the "look" that each one gives different than the next. One film emulsion can look completely different in two different developers. For example Tri-X developed in high concentrations of Rodinal (1+25) will have massive grain. That same Tri-X developed in HC-110 in the very dilute F-G will have very tame and unnoticeable grain.

Another good example of getting two uniquely different "looks" from the same emulsion is Fomapan 400. I really love Foma films, and feel their emulsions are very good. With their Fomapan 400 speed emulsion, that film leans toward a natural high noticeable grain. In Rodinal it has very large grain and that doesn't seem to matter which dilution is used either. Now, if you take that same film and develop it in Microphen, there is a whole new world to this film. All the sudden the grain is just gone, and perceived sharpness is very high.

How this all ties together with Mr. Crawley is that he promoted individuals learning to mix and use a wide variety of developers. With an understanding of how the different types of developers work on an emulsion, and with some basic chemistry equipment a person can mix from scratch their own formulas custom suited to their needs. I like this idea. Not only can developers be mixed from scratch, but the cost significantly drops when doing so.

So recently I set out on a venture to do some night photography and I used some Fomapan 400 film. When I picked Fomapan 400 for my project it was mainly because I have a gross hoard of the stuff that I just haven't been shooting. After the first night roll of Fomapan I experimented with developing it in HC-110 at 1+100 semi-stand. That experiment worked pretty well. The grain of that film was significantly reduced, but it did lose some speed. This got me thinking again about what I was doing, and why. After a while I decided to get back to my favorite developer for that film which is Ilfords Microphen. The problem with that is cost. Microphen comes in a powder mix for 1 litre of stock developer and the cost is about $7 plus shipping. Hummm. So if I develop at 1+1 dilutions I will get a whopping six 120 rolls per litre. That's over a buck a roll for developer. Sure, that doesn't seem bad, but multiplied by some 80 rolls of the stuff and the cost is noticeable.

The solution? Mix my own equivalent formula to Microphen. Buying the bulk chemicals -which are readily available- I am able to mix 1 litre of stock formula for $2.32 That translates to a more palatable .39 cents for developer per roll of 120 film. Suddenly the smile comes back to my face, and off I go looking for ways to use up some 80 rolls of a film I love in a developer that makes it shine.

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