Old Kodak Polycontrast vs. Ilford Contrast Filters

Discussion in 'Enlarging' started by dabsond, Nov 3, 2018.

  1. dabsond

    dabsond Subscriber
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    I am in the process of setting up my first darkroom. I have acquired a Beseler 45 enlarger and Lenses. Currently on the "major auction site" there are several sets of Kodak Model A Polycontrast filters. How do these compare to the Ilford sets. Advice from experienced printers is appreciated. Thanks.
     
  2. David Brown

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    There's a reason so many of those sets are for sale. :wink:

    Do yourself a favor and get the Ilford filters if you are going to use Ilford Multigrade paper.
     
  3. Bill Burk

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    I use the Kodak filters with Ilford paper.

    They range from yellow to magenta, so they're the right color.

    My enlarger light source is a greenish Aristo grid (Zone VI compensating unit).

    That said, I am so frustrated by the results that I use graded paper as much as I can.

    So I cannot talk from "much" experience. One time I think I went from 2 to 2 1/2 and I couldn't tell there was any difference. I didn't think I got much contrast from 4.

    My gut tells me that my light source is to blame.

    The biggest issue I expect you would find is inconsistent spacing and exposure variations, two things the Ilford brand filters would be engineered to be better at.
     
  4. voceumana

    voceumana Member

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    The original Polycontrast filters (such as on the Beseler sets) are of different color than the Polycontrast II filters, so it's best to avoid the original set. The original set extended to a very deep purple, so they are definitely a different color range. I suppose if you wanted to use them just for the frames and attach new filters to those they might be adaptable. But unless you have a large supply of the old Polycontrast or Polycontrast Rapid paper, stick to the new series.
     
  5. Patrick Robert James

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    The best thing to do would be to buy a variable contrast head for the Beseler. I am not familiar with Beseler enlargers but I'd be surprised if there wasn't one made for it.

    If you want control it is better to split print. One exposure for the highlights through a soft filter and one exposure for the shadows through a hard filter. I use a blue 47 and a green 58. You can put the filters below the lens if you have a holder, or remove the red filter and use the frame.
     
  6. MattKing

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    I have several sets of Kodak variable contrast filters including a set of the latest and last version of the Kodak filters - the PolyMax ones - and I use them from time to time when circumstances require that I supplement my Multigrade 400 light source.
    They work fine with Ilford Multigrade paper. But they work slightly differently than the Ilford ones do.
    That difference wouldn't matter a lot, if they were still being made. But they aren't. So there is no way to replace them with identical filters when they get older.
    The important thing to understand is that replaceable variable contrast filters fade over time. So old filters don't work the same as new ones. If you want consistent results, you need to be prepared to replace your filters every few years with current ones.
    If you buy old Polycontrast filters, they may be too faded to work properly, and even if they work well initially, you won't be able to match them with replacements when they do.
    Buy some new Ilford filters - they are worth it.
     
  7. Ronald Moravec

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    There is not enough blue in those heads. A filter only subtracts light, it can not add a color that is not there. Blue activates the higher contrast part of the emulsion.

    Yellow & magenta or blues / green will get a proper grade on any VC paper. They will not be speed matched like the Ilford ones and steps between grades may be off. I used to print with green/blue filters normally used stage lighting. Rosco gels. I just put them on top of 4x5 negatives. My diffusion source was the model with green and blue light. Worked just fine.
     
  8. darkroommike

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    The older filter sets have several issues.
    • The older sets were optimized for papers that no longer exist, those papers had a shorter range of contrast available than newer papers.
    • Older filter sets are ofter either incomplete or scratched all to heck.
    • The older filter sets were not "exposure balanced". Newer Kodak and Ilford filter sets were exposure balanced so that medium gray would print about the same, no matter which filter was used. This was usually implemented so that all the lower contrast grades to about grade 3.5 print with the same base exposure and all the higher contrast print at just twice base exposure. If you used no filter for your test any low filter exposure was twice "no filter" exposure and the higher filters were 4x "no filter" exposure. Every original Polycontrast filter has it's own unique exposure factor, Kodak Black and White Data Guides published an exposure compensation guide and as I foggily recall you could buy a fudge factor wheel for exposure adjustments.
    • Exposures with the original No. 4 filter, as I recall, were brutally long and the No. 4 contrast from original Polycontrast paper with this filter was only a real 3.5-3.75 compared to the graded papers back in the day.
    If you have a nice boxed set of original Polycontrast filters, good for you! Put it on the shelf with you other collectible oddities and go buy a set of modern filters.
     
  9. RalphLambrecht

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    the most flexible choice is using a color head, otherwise, I'd chose the Ilford set over the Kodak because for me it works better with more papers.
     
  10. darkroommike

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    Most of the VC papers available today work are optimized to work best with modern Ilford filter sets, some color heads lack enough Magenta filtration to get all the way to a grade 5 but the filtration can always be supplemented with a stronger filter in the filter drawer of under the lens. I rarely need that much oomph when printing my own negatives but it's nice once in a while for special effects printing or rescue attempts on other folks underexposed negative.
     
  11. Bill Burk

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    I’d have to check the color of the light. The light definitely lacks red, but there should be enough blue.



    dabsond... I recommend Ilford filters for the reasons below...

    You wouldn’t probably have the light color problem. But the other two issues will come your way.

    The frustration involved with not being speed matched is... you will have to do another test strip to find the right printing time if you change grade filter.

    The frustration involved with not being evenly spaced is similar but frustrating because you can’t be sure how much of a difference the filter change made.

    While these two frustrations will not keep you from getting the exact print you want, they will have you questioning your own abilities.

    Now a determined do-it-yourself’er will enjoy working through these issues but I “threw my hands up” and decided to use graded paper so that I would never have the problem again.
     
  12. darkroommike

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    Bill with so many of the higher grades of paper being discontinued how is that whole graded paper thing working out? I used a lot of the original Ilfobrom and Ilfospeed RC (loved it) and Kodabromide (also OK) but quit using graded papers. I found I was printing the heck out of grades 2 and 3 but rarely using the other grades and I think others had the same issue, over the years fewer and fewer papers were offered in all five grades.
     
  13. Bill Burk

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    I use Galerie grade 2 and 3, and I use MG for grade 4 when I need it.
     
  14. RalphLambrecht

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    You assume graded papers are speed-matched? If so, at what paper density?
     
  15. Arklatexian

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    Get new Ilford filters. Filters can and do fade over the years. Why take a chance. Buy new ones and let your filters grow old with you. Maybe every twenty or thirty years, buy a new set........Save money somewhere else. Those filters are important. I speak from experience........Regards!
     
  16. RalphLambrecht

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    +1
     
  17. Bill Burk

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    Well that’s a rough match anyway. If I’m looking at around 40 seconds grade 2, I’ll still look at making a test strip around 40 seconds grade 3. But it’s always a test strip for me.
     
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    dabsond

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    Thanks for all the info. I have a new set of Ilford filters on the way. Hopefully I will be making my first test prints this weekend.
     
  19. choiliefan

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    You made the right choice.
    I have several sets of old filters and none of them are interchangeable color-wise.
    They've degraded, faded out and rendered unusable by the variables of passing time.
     
  20. darkroommike

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    They usually are speed matched to some sort of mid-tone but I never found it any more convenient, you still need to test, it's more hype that reality. It will kind of, sort of, maybe get you in the right ball park, but that's it. (Just like VC paper speed matches, I'm rarely worried about mid-tones if I switch paper grades.)
     
  21. darkroommike

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    Yup, if you aren't making test strips you're just goofing off. I see my students waste sheet after sheet of paper to save the time it would take to make one test strip. I now require them to turn in a test strip with every print they submit for grade.
     
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