AZO isn't For Everyone...

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bmac

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Now that it is getting dark earlier in the evening, I've had a chance to do a little printing in my makeshift garage darkroom. I've been doing some tests with different materials.



I brought in three prints from the same negative to work today to see what my non photographer coworkers thought of them. I didn’t label the prints in any way, and I quickly mounted them to plain white matte boards.



I decided to do some non scientific tests to see which version of the print normal people are drawn to. I understand that to do a truly scientific test I would have to develop a negative especially for the tonal scale of each paper, and this could be a major flaw in the "test".



Print #1 was AZO gr 2 Dev in Smith's Amidol



Print #2 was Ilford MGRC @Gr2 Pearl Finish developed in generic Dektol



Print #3 was Forte Polywarmtone @Gr2 in Neutol WA 1+7



The majority of people were drawn to the Ilford RC print, saying they liked the tones it captured, the finish of the paper, and the way the scene looked "natural"



2nd most liked was the AZO print. Those who liked it were drawn to the 3 dimensional look of the print. A couple people said the print looked moodier, or colder.



One person liked the Polywarmtone print saying it looked cool that I printed in brown and white. :smile:



I'm not sure which print I like best yet, but it is making me rethink my approach a little.



Any thoughts or comments?

 

Alex Hawley

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bmac said:
I decided to do some non scientific tests to see which version of the print normal people are drawn to. I understand that to do a truly scientific test I would have to develop a negative especially for the tonal scale of each paper, and this could be a major flaw in the "test".

Brian, would your viewers know that the tonal scales were matched? I kinda doubt it. The viewers are only concerned about what looks best to them in respect to each individual's personal taste. That is also a valid "testing" method as long as you feel you did the best you could with each print, in my opinion.
 

Donald Miller

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Brian,

You've already identified a problem in your test. The question that I would have is what grade did you use on the Ilford and the PW?

That having been said, I have often been public in my opinion that I can produce equal or better prints on papers other then Azo. The thing that I recognize, though, is that I haven't reached the potential of Azo as a material. I could see that was true when I actually saw some of Michael Smith's and Paula Chamlee's prints.

There have been others like Jim Shanesy who has told me that he has made some really good prints on other papers.

I think that part of the equation is the SuperXX film that Michael and Paula use. That film, according to the published H and D curve that I saw is almost linear in it's ability to build contrast. It seems almost to not shoulder. It would be nice if we had it available today. But that is not to be. I think that Michael Smith may have known something when he bought $85,000 worth of SuperXX film
 

Francesco

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Another thing to consider is whether the same negative would print better on Grade 3 AZO. It is very difficult to get a negative to print well on "new" Grade 2. However, with the new Grade 3 sometimes a negative is just right. In any case, AZO is not the easiest of paper to work with because it is all in the negative.
 
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bmac

bmac

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Don, All prints were done at basically Gr 2 using ilford filters.

Francesco. I plan on doing just that, trying a few on Gr 3

Jdef, The point in my exercise was to see what the general public preferred, what they thought looked best. I find that non photographer feedback is very valuable.

Would you decide to use the most popular material
I am not making any decissions on materials at this point, but I do find it interesting that they lean toward the look of the ilford print.

The point thus far is (in my limited survey) that paper selection does matter, and there are other choices for contact printing than AZO.

I am not giving up on AZO, I have several negatives that print beautifully on it. This was just a survey for (shits n' giggles)
 

Aggie

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To throw out another varible, try Per Volquartz's method too. He uses what would be the same as J&C classic paper. He uses the fine art Gylcin paper developer. I'm sure there would be a close match to this in the darkroom cookbook.

I trust Per's assumption on this. He says (and he has taken Michael and Paula's class) that he can get just as good if not better results using this combination. I don't know, I haven't tried it yet.
 
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bmac

bmac

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jdef said:
"I find that non photographer feedback is very valuable."

In what sense?
Feedback in general helps me with refining my vision, etc. I sometimes find that photographer's get too caught up in technical matters, whereis non photographers focus more on the content of the image.

I am sensing that the point of your question might be who am I making photos for, the public, or myself. The answer my friend is both :wink: I am happy when I make a technically correct print for myself, but get much more joy when someone purchases one of my prints because they "like it".
 

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bmac said:
I am happy when I make a technically correct print for myself, but get much more joy when someone purchases one of my prints because they "like it".

I agree Brian. Nothing more (extra) fulfilling than someone telling you that the print they purchased from you is hanging on their wall.
 

Tom Duffy

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Brian,
For large and medium format, I standardize on Tri-x 320 in Pyrocat. I use three papers primarily. Bergger VCCB, Ilford Warm Tone FB, AZO - in that order. I most like the warm, romantic feeling of the Bergger. Nothing touches the deep blacks and highlight differentiation of the AZO and the Ilford is a very nice compromise between the two. If I had to stop using any of these papers, the AZO would be the first to go, followed by the Ilford.
You're right, non photographer feedback is very important.
 

mark

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Brian, I agree that non-photographers are sometimes very helpful. SOmetimes it is good to have a pair of eyes that are not clouded by all of the testing, all of the brands and styles and proceedures. I find the honesty refreshing.
 

Nige

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from the comments the postcards and prints that wing their way past my desk, non-photo people don't give a rats what paper qualities or technicalities a print possess... they look at the picture. Which explains why someone looks at 'family' shots and as long as their face is somewhat recognisable, it doesn't matter that it's fuzzy, the colour is wrong, they only take up half the available area and there's a tree growing out of their head, it's a 'good shot' to them. In fact, if it hasn't got a person in the pic, they don't even finish their first look at it!
 

John McCallum

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True point Nige. I've done similar tests for the same reasons Brian (which incidently found very helpful for me btw) and I did notice a pattern involving the contrast of a print.

If two similar prints were shown side by side, with one having noticeably higher contrast than the other; invariably the higher contrast print was more popular. Even noticed this for prints that I would have considered technically inferior to the lesser contrast version. (perhaps a different result from photographers of course).

May not be relevant for you, but just a thought.
 
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One thing you might want to consider is trying to match the contrast of the three papers. One paper's "grade 2" is often another papers "grade 3". I'd use a stouffer 31 step step wedge, make prints on each of the papers, and then adjust the contrast of the other two papers to AZO; and then make your comparison prints with the adjusted contrast values. Show them to whoever, and see if this makes a difference.
 

Tom Duffy

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Nige,
I disagree with your point about family pictures - respectfully, of course! :smile: Non photographers are often better at picking out the picture which captures A. the essence of the person rather than B: the technical or compositional elements of the picture. Whenever I pick B and they pick A, I know they're right. Of course, A + B is the best of all possible worlds, but A is better than B.
 

Andy Tymon

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Brian I have always found that there never is a one tonality fits all. Some of the negs I find "look" better on a cold toned paper others on a warm, I think matching the print colour to a specific image is a good way to go.

I think John hit on something when he mentioned that people seemed to like the contrastier image. People like drama! Ansel knew this, I always found it funny that he said to make negs to print on grade 2 paper then he goes off and makes them on higher grades- to get the drama. Have a look at the work of Roman Loranc or Michael kenna as two examples of what I mean.
Andy
 

Donald Miller

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I think that there is one thing that applies as much to Azo as it does to any other paper. That is that it takes local contrast to make a print glow. Now what Ansel Adams spoke about was overall contrast and he failed, in my opinion, to deal with local contrast.

So even though grade two Azo will handle a negative density range of 1.65 in my testing and grade three will handle a negative density range of 1.35 again in my testing, this doesn't acknowledge the issue of local contrast.

So how does this apply to local contrast and Azo? It means to me that in order to gain the local contrast that we need to build a density range above those that my tests show. How then does one handle this excess overall density range? It is, I believe, through Amidol and water bath development. I would think that a negative of 1.80 for grade two Azo and water bath developed would have incredible tonality and also local contrast.

The thing that I gathered from Brians post and reply is that I am not at all surprised that when the Ilford and PW both printed at grade two would be preferable to Azo. The reason is that the negative more closely matched the characteristics of an enlarging paper then of Azo.

A normal density range for diffusion enlarging (1.25) would still not match grade three Azo.

As I said earlier I haven't gotten to the point of utilizing all of Azo's potential. But I do recognize, I think, what needs to happen for me to do so.
 

Francesco

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Another consideration is the choice of film. In my work I can never really get Classic 400 to print well on new AZO G2 - too flat, no glow. On Grade 3 with some water bath a Classic 400 neg is a perfect match. Nevertheless, with Efke PL100 I can get the density and contrast to work with new G2 and the print beats any G3 print I have - local contrast is there in spades!
 
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bmac

bmac

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All three prints were what I would consider beautiful. (Its hard to talk about my own work like this). And myself, as a photographer and someone who has spent a lot of time looking at truly great photos by the masters can tell the difference between the AZO print and the others. The Azo one had darker blacks, and more highlight separation than the other two, and had better apparent sharpness. This was most likely due to better local contrast.

The point of my post, if there even was one was that to the small group of people I showed the prints to, they basically liked the Ilford one best. Saying it looked most natural, etc.

How am I going to use this information? I’m not. I am going to continue using whatever materials I want. I’m just throwing this out there as a random observation, and people should choose to do with it what they want.

I’d be happy to hang any of the three prints in my own home, as I consider all three of them “fine prints”.
 

Mateo

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bmac said:
How am I going to use this information? I’m not. I am going to continue using whatever materials I want. I’m just throwing this out there as a random observation, and people should choose to do with it what they want.
Wise move. It's always garranteed that friends and family will like a work print better than the real thing.
 

photomc

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Mateo said:
Wise move. It's always garranteed that friends and family will like a work print better than the real thing.


Interesting comment, have to admit I consider all of prints 'work prints' - because I know that I should always be able to make them better. BMAC, think I understand what you were doing, sounds like you just wanted feedback on all three and that is what you got. Really nothing more complicated than that...Right?
 

WarEaglemtn

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"I think that part of the equation is the SuperXX film that Michael and Paula use. That film, according to the published H and D curve that I saw is almost linear in it's ability to build contrast. It seems almost to not shoulder. It would be nice if we had it available today."

Take a look at the curves of TMax 100. If you can get past the UV blocking base it is as straight a line as one can find anywhere. Push, pull, expand or contract... this film can be moved almost at will.
 
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