Suggestion for beginners: start with D76, skip the monobath

Started 7 months ago | Discussions thread
OP Kelvin L Regular Member • Posts: 431
Re: Question from a beginner
5

Steven Seven wrote:

A real beginner here. I've never heard of CineStill DF96. Honestly, the biggest mystery to me is the existence of multiple developers from a single manufacturer. I would expect them to have at most two: one liquid and one powder.

The descriptions make zero sense, take Ilford's explanations for example:

  • ID-11 - This developer gives a best overall performance for all our film products - it is economic, versatile, enables fine grain, good sharpness, good tonal rendition, and does not result in any speed loss.

Alright, looks like the best overall developer! But then we get:

  • Perceptol - This developer enables extra fine grain to be attained.

So... ID-11 which, as I just read, also enables fine grain, isn't really "best overall" then?

  • DD-X - This developer gives a best overall performance for all our film products. It enables fine grain, good speed (no loss) and has a smooth transition with tonal range from shadow detail through to bright highlight detail.

Looks like ID-11 and Perceptol do not provide a smooth transition from shadows to highlights? Why the hell did they name ID-11 as "best overall" above?

  • Ilfosol-3 - This developer enables fine grain and excellent sharpness.

What? I thought that Perceptol does that, but also DD-X and ID-11 are both "best", so which one is the "bestest"?

Basically W-T-F is going on here. Kodak's the same with their D76, HC-110, T-Max and Xtol.

Hi Steven, yes it's always been confusing for beginners due to obfuscation by the marketing speak. I'll try and condense it into a digestible memo.

  1. Kodak D-76 and Ilford ID-11 are essentially the same thing. The formulation became a defacto standard in defining ISO sensitivity, contrast, and grain during the late 20th century. It is sold in powdered form only, which led to...
  2. Liquid concentrate developer varieties that are more convenient for some. Kodak HC-110 and, to some degree Ilford Ilfosol, are 'mimics' of D76/ID11 with the convenience of liquid. They are not 100% identical, but close enough.
  3. 'Fine grain' developers that sacrifice film sensitivity (i.e. ISO speed) for finer grain and higher resolution, through differences in activity. Microdol and Perceptol fall into this category.
  4. 'Speed enhancing' developers that enhance sensitivity, at the expense of coarser grain. Microphen is a classic example.
  5. Compensating developers that slow down the build up of density in highlight exposures, thus reducing image contrast. You can actually achieve this by using standard D76 or HC-110 in high dilution.
  6. New generation developers. A bunch of new emulsions came out in the 1980s with weird silver crystal shapes that offered higher sensitivity and lower grain than older films - these were Kodak T-Max and Ilford Delta. They didn't work that well with good old D76, so Kodak came out with T-Max and X-tol developer, whilst Ilford had Ilfotec / DD-X developer. They claim  to offer better shadow detail and less grain with push processing.

As you can see, it's already starting to get complex - and it gets even more esoteric from here. My suggestion to start with D-76 or ID-11 as a beginner is to give you a good anchor point, and then you can explore all the other brews from there.

The reason why I think Monobath is an unhelpful distraction is that it takes your attention away from learning about all these intricacies.

Ansel Adams made a lifetime career out of exploring this stuff. Definitely check out his book series "The Camera", "The Negative", and "The Print" when you are ready to be left on a desert island.

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