Monday, January 28, 2013

Real-world test of high dilutions of T-Max RS and TMX film (35mm)

I was off work today so I went out to Langdale Park to shoot a roll of 135. This was my first test shooting natural light and using very high dilutions of T-Max RS developer with TMX film.

I really like TMX film. It's a very high-resolution film, it reacts well with a variety of developers, and when you get the development right, the tonality is beautiful. Now that last one is important. TMX is a very tricky film to shoot, especially when you use Kodak's specially-formulated developer made for it. I use the "RS" version since I mostly use sheet film, so from here on out I'll refer to it simply as RS.

Supposedly, TMX is optimized for use with RS, or the regular T-Max developer. The problem is that you have to be very exacting with the time, temperature, and agitation. The problem of course is that no one agitates the same way, so even if you have a nice system to maintain temperature and are very exact with the time, you might have too much or too little contrast due to your agitation.

Through testing and shooting a lot, I got close to a generalized development strategy for TMX 4x5 sheets. I was still having trouble though - either my agitation was varying or I simply wasn't dead-on with my exposures (I found TMX to also not be very forgiving like most other b&w films). So I eventually switched to using Rodinal, which seemed to be a lot more forgiving in all aspects.

However Rodinal doesn't quite cut it for smaller formats for me. The grain is a little clumpy, and with the higher magnifications it becomes pretty apparent. So I started my quest for a better way to use RS, as you might have read in the previous post.

Today I shot my Nikon F2 and various lenses. I set the ASA to 64, and stand developed the roll of TMX for one hour in RS diluted 1:32. This is midway between my previous experiments at 1:19 and 1:39, but I'm still having problems with highlights. It seems that the developer just doesn't exhaust itself - it keeps going and going, despite the extremely high dilution (this is probably why RS is a very fast-acting developer at the standard dilutions of 1:4 or 1:9).

That said, I'm still getting very nice negatives, especially in high-contrast light. The shadows are nice and open, and the midtones are just beautiful. It's much different looking than what I used to get at the regular 1:4 dilution. However there is still work to do. As I mentioned, the developer was continuing to develop the higher values and many of the shots had some burned-out highlights. Surprisingly, the negatives aren't exactly dense - but the higher zones are simply too high. To combat this, I've used curves and virtual GND filters to help balance the negatives better.

For my next roll I am going to try an even more dilute solution of 1:50, which may or may not be enough to rein in those higher values, and an EI of 50. The shadows were plenty open, but I'm thinking that another 1/3 of a stop of exposure might help with such a dilution. It also might help exhaust the developer.

My hope is that once I have this process dialed in, I can get excellent negatives in mixed lighting conditions on the same roll. There are of course developers that may be more suited to this - Pyrocat HD comes to mind. But I also like the challenge of trying new things and making up my very own development recipe.

Keep an eye out for my continued tests! Also, I hope you enjoyed the photos interspersed in all this rambling...

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