Friday, 3 February 2017


Not the outer-space kind of contact, more the dark-space kind. I did a few contact prints the other day, to see if it might help my analysis of rubbishy negs which are hard to print.  Here we go then...

A set of negs from 2014, everything a tad murky, not much sparkle to them

I picked out a couple to investigate: 4th row, first image (my mate Dr C).  With my enlarger exposure probe the contrast came out a disappointing 0.31 and an ideal grade of nearly 8!  Hmm.  The next neg, to his right (bridge), didn't fare much better.  Contrast 0.53, grade 5.7.   Never going to happen...

2015 - a bit more life to them, but exposure all over the place here
Probing the first neg on row 3 above, we have contrast of 0.87, predicted grade 3.4 - better!  Last neg on row 4 (yours truly and my wife in Eastbourne), contrast 0.77, grade 4.2.  First neg, last row: contrast 0.5, ideal grade 6.  So, as is obvious from the contact print, a very inconsistent set of negs here.

2016 - consistent, at least!

Looking at this set of negs from last summer, the contact print is a little dark but the negs seem a little more consistent.  Probing the second neg on row 2 gave a contrast of 0.72, grade 4.5.  Fifth neg on row 3 (the two girls): contrast 0.79 at grade 4.  Fourth neg on the last row (cottages): contrast 0.71, grade 4.5.  So as expected from the look of the contact print, the negs are all pretty similar in contrast.  But, all still a bit on the soft side, hence the rather high grade of paper required to get anything half decent from them.

So where does this leave me?  Up the proverbial creek, methinks, but perhaps I've got a paddle and so maybe things aren't completely hopeless.  No, it's definitely been a worthwhile exercise and has confirmed my thoughts about my workflow.  This hybrid thing, scanning the negs and previewing the scanned images in software just isn't giving me the sort of feedback I need in order to have an easier time in the darkroom.  And that's fine by me - having spent most of my working life in front of a computer I'm happy to leave that to others and to spend my time pottering about in the warm glow of an Ilford safelight with a 902 orange filter.


  1. Seems like you found three quite different films to chat and twist your brain around here, Michael.
    I understand you got fancy instruments to measure contrast and stuff with, which probably is a handy thing to own. At least you get things out in numbers, which would be helpful at times.
    But I'm still a bit puzzled about the values, having nothing else than my eyes and brain to compare things to here.
    I think, at least for the last film, that this one looks way more contrasty than your fine instrument is telling me, or is it just the old eyes playing tricks on me again? I would easily go for something around normal contrast for the majority of those negs, at least by the looks of the contact sheet.
    The number two is all over the place, as we both see, but there's still negs that would be printable. Probably something printable on the first one as well, even though it looks a bit dull from here. Have you tried to give them a go on grade 5 just to see what you got out of them?
    Looks like there might be a few for the wall in there, somewhere :))

    1. I know what you're saying Roy and I'm not sure I believe all the numbers the probe pushes out either. You need to trust your eyes more, as you rightly say :)

      I've printed from all these films and can get something half-decent from the second and third films without too much problem. Using grade 5 is fine, if that's what it takes, but I'd rather be printing around grade 3 or 3.5 if I can, since that leaves a little more wriggle-room for turning the contrast up in parts of the scene, if required. Most times I like a straight print - maybe a little tweak here or there but it's easy to get carried away (as you know) and then you end up pretty much back where you started, several hours later and none the wiser ;)

    2. I absolutely agree to that, Michael. Printing a neg. with a bit higher contrast is usually easier as you then got more room in both ends for adjustments and all. What do you think is the root of the issues? Is it the development or the moment of exposure? Both the first and the last of your contact sheets seems to have been fairly evenly exposed, but still they are two very different sheets if you compare the contrast between them. What I do notice is that the first one is FP4 and the last one is HP5. Two quite different films, and as for the FP4 I have had a few issues myself as well with contrast.
      Go check your FP4 files and HP5 files and see if this might be a constant issue, then throw a roll of FP4 inside some camera, shoot and develop it with a twist. At least that helped me a lot after some trouble with a completely different film, the Fomapan 200 thing. I'm not having any data in front of me for development of the FP4 right now, but you might come out with better contrast in the other end giving your FP4 some 15% longer time in the developer.
      IF, there seems to be an issue on all your FP4 films, of course. If it's a one time thing, obviously you will have to look elsewhere :))
      And it's just an idea... as you probably understand. And maybe you have checked this already, for all I know...

    3. That's a good spot Roy - the FP4/HP5 thing - and I must admit I hadn't noticed that. I'm kind of addicted to HP5 right now but I reckon I have a few meters of FP4 in a loader somewhere so I will take your suggestion and see what gives. You might have just written some great words there, my friend and it has got me thinking. I shall report back via the usual channel once experiments have been completed :)

    4. Sounds great! I'll have the popcorn ready :))