Development test

This article is about something I should have done long, long ago. I regularly use Ilford FP4+ as my “standard” film but I don’t really know exactly how it behaves in different developers. It behaves nicely in all Ilford developers but for my purposes (mostly landscape photography) I would usually pull by about one stop and shoot it at EI 50.

My “standard” developer for some time now has been Ilford Microphen which is not suited to pulling films. I only use it because I was given ten litres of it! I decided to buy some Ilford ID-11 and at about the same time I was also given some Kodak T-Max developer. As I now have three film developers in stock, I thought I should try a side-by-side test.

I shot an entire 120 roll of film of the same frame in my trusty RB67, metered using a spot meter to yield an exposure of 1/125 at f/11. For those who are unfamiliar with the RB67, it is quite laborious to repeatedly shoot – there are three distinct and awkward movements to advance the film, cock the shutter and fire the shutter on this 4kg camera. It feels a bit like firing a musket.

Mamiya RB67 Professional
Mamiya RB67 Professional

Incidentally, I use an excellent app called Film Tracks to log my exposures so I know what settings I used, where and when. It also makes these Zone System diagrams. Strongly recommended for all film photographers!

Zones
Zones

After shooting the film, I cut it into three pieces and developed each separately:

Developer Time Temperature
Ilford ID-11 6:00 21°C
Ilford Microphen 8:00 21°C
Kodak T-Max (1+4) 4:00 21°C

My method of calculating development times is slightly complicated:

  • I use The Massive Dev Chart to calculate development times for various combinations of film and developer. However, neither Microphen nor T-Max have times for FP4+ exposed at EI 50, so I followed the traditional rule of thumb by reducing the time by 1/3.
  • You must compensate for the temperature of the developer, if it is not 20°C. Fortunately, The Massive Dev Chart handles that for you.
  • On top of that, you have to allow extra time for the number of times the developer has been used previously.

Taking account of all these lengthenings and shortenings, the three times came out surprisingly close to 6, 8 and 4 minutes respectively so I rounded them to the nearest ten seconds.

Coming out of the tank, all three films had decent and roughly similar density, so that’s something. The strip developed in Microphen had a little bit more density but the ones developed in ID-11 and T-Max are more-or-less indistinguishable on the light-box. These images were scanned directly from the negatives using the scanner’s auto-exposure so they should appear the same brightness as each other, but no other editing has been done.

ID-11
ID-11
Microphen
Microphen
T-Max
T-Max

The ID-11 seems to have the least contrast. Look at the dark tufts of grass – they are darker in the Microphen and T-Max frames. The sky is also a bit darker in the ID-11 frame, indicating lower contrast.

Lower contrast in this context is probably a good thing, because it means there is more information available in the negative to be used when making a fine print (or when scanning it properly and doing some post-processing).

Aside from knowing that Microphen is not ideal for pulling negatives, this experiment doesn’t really help me decide on the best developer. I am going to continue using ID-11 as my “regular” developer, Microphen as my push developer (e.g. interior shots of cathedrals, a favourite subject of mine) and T-Max for when I treat myself and use T-grain emulsions, like Ilford’s Delta range.

2 Comments

  1. Allan
    September 22, 2014
    Reply

    After your tests, did you find a different in grain, sharpness or tones, etc.? Or did all the developers yield very similar results. Allan

    • September 23, 2014
      Reply

      As far as I could tell, the three developers yielded very similar tonality and contrast. The Microphen had slightly higher grain but they were all very good.

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