Suggestion for beginners: start with D76, skip the monobath

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KayL Regular Member • Posts: 477
Suggestion for beginners: start with D76, skip the monobath
12

Admittedly I'm an old crusty, and I've been out of the loop with what the kids are doing these days in their darkrooms.  Since joining this film forum I've been baffled by the handful of questions that a few people are asking about monobath developers - namely CineStill DF96.

I was left wondering why these enthusiastic beginners entering the world of darkroom are starting with such a monstrous brew? Perhaps it's a combination of beginner's anxiety, fear of the unknown, whispers of a magical potion, and the echo chamber quality of the internet.

Then I googled the price of a litre of DF96. Yikes, it's six times the price of a packet of D76! (In Australia, anyway.) "Three to six minutes development" - how on earth does one prevent uneven processing?

It saves one step. Honestly, just one step. Maybe one and a half, if you're not the sort of person to tip fixer in straight after you drained the developer.

What I'd like to do is encourage anyone who is keen to try processing their first roll of black and white film:

It's not that scary. B&W processing is really hard to screw up. Don't be afraid of separate developer and fixer. It's worth doing it properly.

Just get two litre/quart bottles; fill one with Kodak D76, and the other with rapid fixer. The fixer won't go off, it has excellent shelf life. Some water rinse between both steps will help. The D76 is cheap enough to not worry about tossing out if you didn't finish it in a month's time.

Once you've processed a few rolls with D76, you'll have an excellent reference point to compare any other future variations in your processing.

Best wishes and good luck!

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Roger Senior Member • Posts: 2,578
Re: Suggestion for beginners: start with D76, skip the monobath
2

Greetings Kelvin

Kelvin L wrote:

Admittedly I'm an old crusty,

So am I

and I've been out of the loop with what the kids are doing these days in their darkrooms.

Me as well

Since joining this film forum I've been baffled by the handful of questions that a few people are asking about monobath developers - namely CineStill DF96.

Never heard of it.

I was left wondering why these enthusiastic beginners entering the world of darkroom are starting with such a monstrous brew? Perhaps it's a combination of beginner's anxiety, fear of the unknown, whispers of a magical potion, and the echo chamber quality of the internet.

I have zero idea on this one

Then I googled the price of a litre of DF96. Yikes, it's six times the price of a packet of D76! (In Australia, anyway.) "Three to six minutes development" - how on earth does one prevent uneven processing?

I don't think they can, they're in it for the speed. 10-12 minutes in D76 at 68 degrees F will get you a printable negative but my steps are:

Developer, water rinse (distilled) stop bath 3 minutes with agatation , water rinse, fixer 5-10 minutes wash for 10 minutes all temps are 68 degrees F

It saves one step. Honestly, just one step. Maybe one and a half, if you're not the sort of person to tip fixer in straight after you drained the developer.

What I'd like to do is encourage anyone who is keen to try processing their first roll of black and white film:

It's not that scary. B&W processing is really hard to screw up. Don't be afraid of separate developer and fixer. It's worth doing it properly.

Just get two litre/quart bottles; fill one with Kodak D76, and the other with rapid fixer. The fixer won't go off, it has excellent shelf life. Some water rinse between both steps will help. The D76 is cheap enough to not worry about tossing out if you didn't finish it in a month's time.

Once you've processed a few rolls with D76, you'll have an excellent reference point to compare any other future variations in your processing.

Best wishes and good luck!

Your right

Enjoy

Roger J.

Steven Seven
Steven Seven Regular Member • Posts: 362
Question from a beginner
1

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. According to this article , Xtol is strictly superior in both grain and sharpness so why are HC-110 and D76 still in production?

I have given up and tried two developers: Xtol from Kodak and DD-X from Ilford. I don't see any difference in my negatives and I'm giving up and standardizing on DD-X. The mystery lives on.

OP KayL Regular Member • Posts: 477
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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Photobygms
Photobygms Regular Member • Posts: 145
Re: Suggestion for beginners: start with D76, skip the monobath

Well not being a real beginner, Started developing again after about 30 years.

Back then I used Ilford Microphen, It was the main dev. at the newspaper darkroom I had access to. When I decided to start developing again a few years back , decided to take a different approach. I went for Caffenol.

Black and White Film are now only developed with a Caffenol-C-L recipe With  a baseline set a 55 minutes at 21c and some agitation at about 20 and 40 minutes

(And for color I use Cinestill Cs41, and do experiment with temperatures and expired film for fun)

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D Cox Forum Pro • Posts: 27,092
Re: Suggestion for beginners: start with D76, skip the monobath
1

D76 or ID11 are probably best for beginners, but Rodinal is another possibility. It comes as a liquid, and it keeps well in the bottle.

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bonesetter Regular Member • Posts: 432
Re: Suggestion for beginners: start with D76, skip the monobath
1

I've recently bought a bottle of monobath, as 3 mins in and out and you have pictures appealed

I watched a fair few YT videos and they were all positive, saying the monobath performs the same as the old school method

The monobath has been around for a few years now which means it's had plenty of time to be evaluated - really, what's not to like?

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justinwonnacott Senior Member • Posts: 1,073
Re: Suggestion for beginners: start with D76, skip the monobath
5

The best advice I ever got as a new photographer was from my employer..

"to get consistent negatives and know your film speed learn to use one film and developer well and only change things for special situations"

This advice was offered after I spent most of a year trying different films and developer combinations without ever mastering one. In short order I was getting high quality negs that made consistently good prints.

I settled on d76 1:1 with water for tri x exposed at 200 iso for sunlight. We used diffusion head enlargers, condensers needed a thinner negative. One shot. Developer is cheap.

That year I probably shot and processed more than 500 rolls with reliable results.

The only folks I knew using monobaths were  newsies (and hc 110 syrup) who were always in a hurry and damn the torpedoes.

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elmo Senior Member • Posts: 2,872
Re: Suggestion for beginners: start with D76, skip the monobath
4

bonesetter wrote:

I've recently bought a bottle of monobath, as 3 mins in and out and you have pictures appealed

I watched a fair few YT videos and they were all positive, saying the monobath performs the same as the old school method

The monobath has been around for a few years now which means it's had plenty of time to be evaluated - really, what's not to like?

Primarily, 3-minute development time, is what's not to like. With such a short time, any variation in agitation, or temperature, or the way you pour into and out of your tank, or, if a bubble clings to onto your neg for 30 seconds, etc... becomes much more significant, than with longer times. I like 8 to 10 minute times. For example, that 30-second bubble-cling of developer starvation would be 16% of 3-minute total time. But, it would only be 6% of an 8-minute development.

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bonesetter Regular Member • Posts: 432
Re: Suggestion for beginners: start with D76, skip the monobath
1

elmo wrote:

bonesetter wrote:

I've recently bought a bottle of monobath, as 3 mins in and out and you have pictures appealed

I watched a fair few YT videos and they were all positive, saying the monobath performs the same as the old school method

The monobath has been around for a few years now which means it's had plenty of time to be evaluated - really, what's not to like?

Primarily, 3-minute development time, is what's not to like. With such a short time, any variation in agitation, or temperature, or the way you pour into and out of your tank, or, if a bubble clings to onto your neg for 30 seconds, etc... becomes much more significant, than with longer times. I like 8 to 10 minute times. For example, that 30-second bubble-cling of developer starvation would be 16% of 3-minute total time. But, it would only be 6% of an 8-minute development.

Fair comment, and I have to say, makes sense to me

I've not seen one single negative comment about this system though, and if buble clings were an issue folk would be talking about them

I've a bottle sitting on my table so I'm gonna use it

I'm really not sure about the whole film thing. I enjoy the colour results and some B&W's have been really nice, but there's a lot more misses than hits

I'll give it the summer and revaluate

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OP KayL Regular Member • Posts: 477
Re: Suggestion for beginners: start with D76, skip the monobath

bonesetter wrote:

Fair comment, and I have to say, makes sense to me

I've not seen one single negative comment about this system though, and if buble clings were an issue folk would be talking about them

I've a bottle sitting on my table so I'm gonna use it

I'm really not sure about the whole film thing. I enjoy the colour results and some B&W's have been really nice, but there's a lot more misses than hits

I'll give it the summer and revaluate

Yes definitely give it a go if you already have the chemicals. It would be great to hear how it went - real knowledge involves finding out for yourself And if you get the chance, do another roll in conventional developer and see if you can find any differences.

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Steven Seven
Steven Seven Regular Member • Posts: 362
Thank you

I copy-pasted your entire response into a document to be stored forever on my computer.

Steven Seven
Steven Seven Regular Member • Posts: 362
Re: Suggestion for beginners: start with D76, skip the monobath

D76 or ID11 are probably best for beginners

Why? What is so special about them to be "best for beginners". Why not Xtol or DD-X or HC-110?

Steven Seven
Steven Seven Regular Member • Posts: 362
Why?
4

"to get consistent negatives and know your film speed learn to use one film and developer well and only change things for special situations"

Sorry but as a newbie can I ask for some clarification? What do you mean by "learn to use one developer"? The instructions for all of them (well... I only used Xtol and DD-X) are simpler than any cooking recipe: Mix up with water at 20C, 9 mins, four inversions every minute, done.

I've only done 8 rolls and they're all identical in quality. Yet people talk about advantages/disadvantages of HC-110 vs D76 vs ID-11. Am I missing something?

Here's a typical neg. I'm getting:

Delta 100 in DD-X , the instructions from Ilford's web site

justinwonnacott Senior Member • Posts: 1,073
Re: Why?
1

Steven Seven wrote:

"to get consistent negatives and know your film speed learn to use one film and developer well and only change things for special situations"

Sorry but as a newbie can I ask for some clarification? What do you mean by "learn to use one developer"? The instructions for all of them (well... I only used Xtol and DD-X) are simpler than any cooking recipe: Mix up with water at 20C, 9 mins, four inversions every minute, done.

I've only done 8 rolls and they're all identical in quality. Yet people talk about advantages/disadvantages of HC-110 vs D76 vs ID-11. Am I missing something?

Here's a typical neg. I'm getting:

Delta 100 in DD-X , the instructions from Ilford's web site

D76 can be used for push processing and in varying dilutions for softer lower gamma negatives. The iso for optimal results varies according to dilution time and temperature. The Kodak manual recommendations are for typical uses and are not necessarily the best. D76 and trix are tolerant of processing errors which is a good thing. Other film and developer combinations can be trickier. In my case I had one routine for pushing to 1600 iso another for harsh light using soft development and exposing for the shadows and underdeloping to keep the highlights from blocking up....and so on. For quick and dirty I would soup stock d76 and trix at 600 iso in fresh one shot developer. Condenser enlarger  for that. Monobaths are not so flexible. Delta or tmax emulsions required different development and d76 results were dodgy and precise exposure and development was needed.

In a nutshell I learned to get the best out of a film dev combination...it was versatile and consistent.

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justinwonnacott Senior Member • Posts: 1,073
Re: Why?
1

Steven Seven wrote:

"to get consistent negatives and know your film speed learn to use one film and developer well and only change things for special situations"

Sorry but as a newbie can I ask for some clarification? What do you mean by "learn to use one developer"? The instructions for all of them (well... I only used Xtol and DD-X) are simpler than any cooking recipe: Mix up with water at 20C, 9 mins, four inversions every minute, done.

I've only done 8 rolls and they're all identical in quality. Yet people talk about advantages/disadvantages of HC-110 vs D76 vs ID-11. Am I missing something?

Here's a typical neg. I'm getting:

Delta 100 in DD-X , the instructions from Ilford's web site

That print? Looks pretty contrasty land the shadows look a bit underexposed a softer result would probably look better. Expose for the shadows and develop to retain highlight detail. Ie give a full exposure probably more than it says on the box and underdevelop to keeps highlights from blowing out. If I was printing that shot on graded paper I would reduce the paper one grade.

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Steven Seven
Steven Seven Regular Member • Posts: 362
Re: Why?
1

Thank you, your explanations in the post above were helpful. The neg I posted above actually has a ton of details in both shadows and highlights, they were clipped intentionally in post-processing because I like the contrasty look. Delta 100 is amazing.

Basically my interpretation of what you're saying is this: "using conventional emulsions and developers like D76 one can play with tonality & contrast of negatives by manipulating dilution, temperature and development time"

And since I never wet-print, I only scan. So I can do the same thing with standard "on-the-bottle" processing routine and use the curves tool in CaptureOne instead. Delta films (and Tri-X) are amazing for this. Not so with HP5+ that thing just gives me a bunch of nearly identical grey, I will try it again in other developers. I really want to like it (because of it's cult following) but it's really hard... This is my typical HP5+ scan:

Even after a ton of curve tweaking, it's basically pitch-black plus a bunch of grey. I hate this look:

HP5+ in DD-X stock

elmo Senior Member • Posts: 2,872
Re: Why?
2

I think the tones in that image are just about ideal. Nice work.

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Gesture Veteran Member • Posts: 7,381
Re: Question from a beginner

Good notes and suggestions.

There is so much you can do with D-76 or equivalent.  Full strength, 1:1 or I would dilute 1:2 for films like Plus-X.

justinwonnacott Senior Member • Posts: 1,073
Re: Why?
1

Steven Seven wrote:

Thank you, your explanations in the post above were helpful. The neg I posted above actually has a ton of details in both shadows and highlights, they were clipped intentionally in post-processing because I like the contrasty look. Delta 100 is amazing.

Basically my interpretation of what you're saying is this: "using conventional emulsions and developers like D76 one can play with tonality & contrast of negatives by manipulating dilution, temperature and development time"

And since I never wet-print, I only scan. So I can do the same thing with standard "on-the-bottle" processing routine and use the curves tool in CaptureOne instead. Delta films (and Tri-X) are amazing for this. Not so with HP5+ that thing just gives me a bunch of nearly identical grey, I will try it again in other developers. I really want to like it (because of it's cult following) but it's really hard... This is my typical HP5+ scan:

Even after a ton of curve tweaking, it's basically pitch-black plus a bunch of grey. I hate this look:

HP5+ in DD-X stock

Even scans and curves adjustments cannot correct completely for poor exposure and development....a good scan needs a good neg.

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