About Black and White Development

Ilford film developed in Kodak D23

 

This post was prompted by a friend and long term client, Lee Wild. We was talking about different developers and their pros and cons etc.  During my time developing both for myself and for clients (13 years!) I've gone through a host of developers. 

I finally settled on two:

  • Kodak D23
  • 510 Pyro

In this post I am going to talk about the two and why we use them at Hatter Editions to develop your film. 

Kodak D23

Kodak D23 has been a go to developer for me since 2016. This developer produces a very nice dense negative. It has that 'classic' black and white look and it is super simple (although a little time consuming) to make up for raw chemistry, with only two ingredients. Also it is semi-compensating, meaning that it will not easily block up the highlights! 

Farmland shot on Ilford FP4 and developed in Kodak D23

I have over the years become a little hesitant to use if for 35mm, it produces a soft grain, images that are sharp and in focus and still sharp and in focus, but the grain is exaggerated and mushy and doesn't lend itself to big enlargements. I would print up to 12x8, any bigger and the grain becomes questionable (unless of course, that is what you after! in which case- sorted).

Ilford FP4 developed in Kodak D23

 

I now use it for large format tray development, this is where, I think, it really shines... good density, easy to push and pull development, brilliant shadow detail, highlights don't block up and midtones are good. As your contact printing at 10x8 and 5x7 the grain doesn't really come into play! If your enlarging from 5x4 then you can get prints up to 20x16 without the grain becoming over baring.

 

A scan of a silver gelatine print from negative developed in kodak D23

I have even used Kodak D23 to develop negatives for Alternative Photographic printing and Historical printing methods such as salt & albumen printing, kallitype and platinum & palladium printing... All to good effect. 

 

Summary of pros and cons

Pros:

  • nice dense & clean negatives with a good contrast range
  • semi-compensating developer
  • good shadow details when exposed and developed correctly
  • easy to make up with only two raw chemical ingredients
  • can be altered with amount of each ingredient to achieve different results
  • excellent choice for 120 or large format
  • can make negatives suitable for alternative processes
  • classic black and white look and feel

Cons:

  • once made up it doesn't last well and should ideally be used within same day of making up (we use it as soon as its come down to temperature) to avoid oxidisation
  • acceptable for 35mm but not as good as it is for 120 and large format
  • cannot make dual purpose negative (we will talk about this below)
  • cannot make the biggest enlargements 
  • made with metol which can lead to dermatitis

 

510 Pyro

I came across pyro staining developers while looking in to Edward Weston; a photographic hero of mine… dubious at first as there is so much mystique surrounding them; I bit the bullet and fell in love! I was using PMK & Pyrocat HD for a while then decided to switch to 510 Pyro about a year ago. 

510 Pyro gives excellent tonal separation throughout the entire negative! Highlights are always luminous and shadows have a wealth of detail.

Waterfall shot on Lomo Babylon 13 and developed in 510 pyro by hatter editions

The stain from the Pyro actually acts as a mask giving a wider contrast range than meets the eye! The stain also hides grain making the negatives relatively grain free or at least more appealing ( Ilford Delta 3200 for example still has grain but it’s more uniform and appealing).

Depending on what development techniques are used it can be a compensating developer- this means that it allows the midtones and shadows to build up density while the highlights aren’t being blocked up… we always employ it this way with nearly every film! 

It’s excellent for 35mm through to 10x8 negatives! Due to the stain any large format negatives are known as ‘dual purpose’ which means they can be used for traditional printing on silver gelatine & for a hybrid workflow IE scanning but they can also be use for alternative processes like kallitype, argyrotype and platinum and palladium… all with the same negative! Magical? Yes! 

A kallitype print from negative

 

Negatives are tac sharp too with excellent acuteness… it’s not a magic bullet and requires a lot of trails and testing… which we do, so you can throw any film at us and we’ll have a way to develop it! 

Summary of pros and cons

Pros:

  • Excellent sharpness, tonal rendition and contrast range
  • Dual purpose negatives for traditional printing, scanning & Alternative process photography
  • Used in small dilutions 1:100-1:400 (for some films we do use 1:50)
  • Compensating & semi compensating developer
  • Fine grain
  • Looks cool because its brownish! 
  • Lasts years in solution
  • Can work well with any format

Cons:

  • Expensive raw materials
  • Heavily involved process to make the developer
  • Can lead to long developing times depending on emulsion
  • Tons trailing and testing ( this isn't really a con as we absolutely adore this side of the job!)
  • It is really hard for us to come up with cons- This developer is amazing and the one we use as default! 

 

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