Pyro development, can I have your opinions please

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Les McLean

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I've read quite a bit about Pyro development but only used it a couple of times having recently purchased a kit in the UK. I have to admit to having had a degree of scepticism when it began to gain popularity a few years back. However, having printed a few pyro negatives for clients and on workshops and printing demonstrations during the past year or so I have been impressed with the results. I would like to ask a few questions of those who use pyro. I have ordered Hutchings Book of Pyro.

I understand that there are different types of pyro dev, if so what are the differences.

I shoot a lot of 35mm in my documentary photography and have to deal with extremes in lighting and contrast. I know of pyro's ability to control contrast but have heard that it can increase grain.

Would you share your reasons for using it and your formula if you mix your own.

Thank you.
 

David A. Goldfarb

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Les,

My contribution in the traveling portfolio is from a Tri-X/PMK neg. Let us know when it arrives!

I like the look of Tri-X in pyro. Right now I'm using PMK for negs to be enlarged (4x5 and smaller) and ABC in Michael Smith's dilution for negs to be contact printed (8x10" and larger). PMK produces more background stain, which has something of a grain masking effect, while ABC is pretty grainy, but that's not so important for contact prints. With both, the image stain is proportional to the silver density of the negative, so it extends the scale somewhat. With PMK, there is a contrast control effect on VC paper, due to the yellow masking, that Hutchings discusses in the _Book of Pyro_.

I haven't decided whether I like it better than Delta 400 in Perceptol, which, like Tri-X/PMK, is good at rendering delicate highlights and has a nice scale, but Delta 400 is only available in 35mm and medium format, and I'd rather stick to fewer film/developer combos than more, just for greater tonal consistency across formats.
 

Donald Miller

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I develop 4X5 and 8X10 negatives with ABC pyro. I tray develop by inspection (with green lensed safelight) in the same manner that Edward Weston among others did. I have found that the negatives developed with this developer have better tonality then those which I developed with other developers such as HC110. I purchase my chemicals in the individual componants and mix these myself. Pyro should be handled with precautions it is easily absorbed through both the skin and the lungs. I wear a respirator when mixing it and I always wear latex gloves when developing. I would imagine that the PMK variation would better serve the needs of the roll film user. ABC does not exhibit the strong overall stain that PMK does unless the Bisulfite gets some age to it. The overall stain can actually reduce the contrast range on the negative. I have not found the grain to be a problem...in fact some have stated that the stain will actually mask grain. I hope that this is some help to you in your considerations. Good luck and have fun.
 

Jorge

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Les, I moved this topic from the Color to the B&W forum.

PMK as the name implies uses metol in conjuntion with pyro to develop the film and take advantage of the supperadditivity properties of these developers. Other pyro formulations, like ABC use only pyrogallol as the main developing ingredient. As such their qualities and problems are different, IMO ABC pyro yields a greater tonal scale than PMK and the stain is somewhat different than that produced by PMK. OTOH PMK has the good quality of being capable of film expansion by time instead of having to add extra activating solution (Carbonate) to produce greater contrast as you have to do with ABC.

ABC oxidizes much faster both in the bottle and when developing, thus when used in developing strenght it can cause uneven staining (this is peculiar to most of the formulas which use pyro only as the main developer). With PMK this is not a problem as the solution does not oxidize as easily.

PMK lasts in the bottle a good six months, most pyro only formulas do not, I would say 3 months would be the max. PMK is much cheaper to use, you mix the stock solution and use it in1:100 ratio, while ABC and others are used in a 1:7 to 1:20 ratio.

As stated by Donald, PMK is a great developer for enlarging, and ABC and others are mostly better for contact printing. Your fellow countryman Barry Thorton has a very interesting formula based on pyrocatechol, another staining developer, but he has chosen to make his formula proprietary and frankly is way too expensive. If you have more interest in these formulas, look up the formulas Ed Buffaloe has compiled in his site unblinkingeye (there is a link for it on our home page) there you will find formulas based on both pyrogallol and pyrocatechol as well as many variations of the most commonly used formulations.
 

David Hall

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Wow,

Jorge, that was the most comprehensive overview of pyro developers I have seen. As we know, Gordon is all about PMK as Michael Smith is all about ABC, so it's hard to see both compared.

This is fascinating; what else can you share? And Aggie, what more can you share from the Hutchings workshop? (And Aggie, I just went to the Smith workshop, so we should REALLY compare notes and get into a fisticuffs!)

dgh
 
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Les McLean

Les McLean

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Jorge

I was given a sample of Diaxtol by Barry Thornton but the results were appalling and I followed the instructions to the letter. I know of other photographers who had the same experience. However and in fairness I have spoken to photographers who swear by it.

I'm getting lots of good and encouraging replies in this forum and it seems as though PMK is coming out tops. I'll give it a try when I get the chemistry. Thanks for the tip about Ed's web site.
 

lee

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I have used PMK for about 3 years now. I try to leave and go to a different combo but I keep coming back. I do get full flim speed from PMK. It might be too grainy in 35. I don't shoot that format so I don't know. ONe other thing, start the mix at the ratio of 1:2:100 I usually do 1 ml 2 ml and 100 ml. I mix them all together as the last thing I do before the lights go off. I used to resoak for 2 minutes in spent PMK but don't do that anymore. You will see the stain get more intense in the wash water. One last thing, just wash the film for 20 minutes or so. The hypo clear will reduce the amount of stain at least that is the common theory. One less step so I just do it that way. The negs might be a little on the thin side but according to Gordon that is ok just print them. Densitometers without a blue channel will have a hard time reading the densities because of the stain.

good luck,

lee\c
 

Jorge

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</span><table border='0' align='center' width='95%' cellpadding='3' cellspacing='1'><tr><td>QUOTE (Les McLean @ Jan 30 2003, 05:58 PM)</td></tr><tr><td id='QUOTE'>
I was given a sample of Diaxtol by Barry Thornton but the results were appalling and I followed the instructions to the letter. I know of other photographers who had the same experience. However and in fairness I have spoken to photographers who swear by it.

I'm getting lots of good and encouraging replies in this forum and it seems as though PMK is coming out tops. I'll give it a try when I get the chemistry. Thanks for the tip about Ed's web site. </td></tr></table><span class='postcolor'>
Les, was this the two step or the one step procedure you tried? I have heard the two step is very unreliable and that most people just went and settled for the one step. I have not tried it, and at the prices the stuff is selling for I probably never will.

David, There really is not much more to it, as with most developers you have to experiment a little to get the results you wish. After most of the experimenting is done I find I am back to the same original stuff I was using. One thing is for sure I never would go back to a "regular" developer for my films.
 

David Hall

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lee,

Do you do the spent-developer thing after the fix with the PMK, or just rely on the wash to intensify the stain?

I found that the spent-developer thing increases ALL the stain, not just the image stain, so I can't determine whether it's worth it or not. I do, however, use an alkaline fixer (f-4 from Formulary) so that I don't have to use hypo clear and erase stain. Works great.

dgh
 

lee

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not anymore. I use Kodak Rapid fix without the hardner and have never had a problem. I think you are correct with that statement about overall stain opposed to the image stain.

lee\c
 

David A. Goldfarb

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One issue, if you use PMK with 35mm at 1:2:100, you'll want to use 16 oz. of developer per roll (twice as much as you would normally use), or it might be exhausted before development is complete. You might be able to use the normal volume at 1:2:50, but I haven't tried it.
 

David Hall

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I did an interesting little thing last night.

I looked at an ABC negative Michael Smith made for me next to a PMK (rollo) negative I made of the same subject, and an Xtol negative I made of a similar subject a few years ago. All were HP5. Differences...

1) The ABC negative is GRAINY. It's like looking at 1600 asa film. BUT, because it is only to be contact printed, the grain doesn't matter. It was also contrastier and held much more detail in highlights and shadows than the other two. Really amazing, except for the grain.

2) The PMK negative...same film, same exposure...was less grainy and appeared to have much less contrast and range, although I think the green stain makes this hard to determine.

3) The XTOL negative was correctly exposed and developed and looked thin compared to the other two. There was a pretty remarkable difference in the areas where negative density would begin to block up compared to the other two. In other words, the PMK and especially the ABC had much more detail holding in much more density, etc.

I have to print these to really see, of course, but I think I will end up concluding that ABC really is best for contact printing, PMK really does hide grain while still outperforming Xtol and will be best for enlarging, and Xtol may be best for someone else.

For what it's worth..
dgh
 
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Don't jump to any conclusions without making prints first David. After all, the print is the final product and not the negative, right?
I've developed many HP5 negs in ABC, PMK, and Split D23. Interestingly enough, the split D23 negs appeared thin by comparision, but, when making enlargements from 120 roll film as well as some of my 8X10" contacts, those thin looking negs produced wonderful prints.
 

David Hall

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William,

ABSOLUTELY I will make prints before really coming to conclusions. I was intending only to reference grain, not much of anything else. Honestly I have never been good at reading negatives, and pyro stains make that worse.

MY comment was a casual, non-scientific, "hmm" kind of comparison with a gifted phtographer who had also just finished the Michael and Paula workshop.

dggh
 

David A. Goldfarb

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It's particularly important to judge from the print with pyro, because the effect of the stain on the paper is quite different from what one is used to looking at on the negative. Pyro negs are often contrastier than they look, and there can be detail that shows up in the print that isn't obvious on the neg.
 

edbuffaloe

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I have been using staining developers of various sorts for over 10 years. PMK is my standard--it is reliable, keeps for a very long time, and I have my times figured out for every film I currently use. I have used ABC in the past with excellent results, but only with Tri-X sheet film in 8x10. I know that Gordon Hutchings has said that PMK negs should look a little thin, but I have gravitated toward very full development of all my negatives. This way I can use them for both historical processes and standard silver-gelatin printing.

I'd like to put in a plug for Pyrocat-HD. I did some cost comparisons 3 years ago and found that Pyrocat-HD is the cheapest developer you can use, costing about half as much as PMK per liter of working solution. The results are hard to distinguish from PMK, when printing on VC papers. With graded papers, a Pyrocat neg will require less exposure than an equivalent PMK neg. Its only failing is that it does not have good keeping qualities compared to PMK, so you have to mix smaller quantities more often.

I friend of mine formulated a metol/glycin/pyrocatechin developer similar to DiXactol, and he swears by it, claiming finer grain and beautiful gradation. But when I tried it the results were not nearly as good as I get with PMK. In my opinion, DiXactol is over-priced. The components are quite cheap, so you are paying a premium for the "secret" formula.
 

lee

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Hi Ed,
Is the Pyrocat-HD the formula that Sandy King uses for his alternative processes i.e., carbon printing?


lee\c
 

edbuffaloe

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Sandy invented the Pyrocat-HD formula because his printing times were too long with PMK. Yes, he does use Pyrocat negatives for printing carbon, as well as Vandyke and Kallitype.
 

Jorge

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I second Ed's plug, I really like pyrocat HD and my printing times are much lower than with ABC. I am getting some unreliable results with ABC here in Mexico. My destiller broke so I am having to use tap water. For some reason the stain with ABC sometimes appears and sometimes not, same for most pyro formulas I tried. With pyrocat HD I have been getting consistent results and negatives that are much easier to print than those with pyro.
 

fhovie

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Being completely sold out to PMK for 4x5, I found DiXactol to be far better for smaller formats. The confusion is which configuration to use. I measured the 2 bath use as N-2. Good for some things but not as universal as the monobath use. I mix 1.6mL A to 11.6mL of B in 500cc water at 68F for all my 6x6 use. It can do N, N+1 and N+2 just fine. Fon N- i use the 2 bath. I use Split D-23 for 35 & 16mm film. Bath A is 6.25g Metol, 85g Sodium Sulfite in 1 L water, Bath B is 24g Sodium Metaborate in 1L water. 4 minutes each bath 68 to 75F. Great results on cute little films. - Frank
 

sanking

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Just a comment on Ed Buffaloe's message in which he stated that the only failing (of Pyrocat-HD) is that it does not have good keeping qualities compared to PMK.

Ed is correct but the comment must be taken in perspective. As we know, the keeping quality of PMK concentrate sotck solutions is about as good as it gets. Several years ago I mixed a working dilution of PMK from stock concentrates that were over two years old, and the results were as good as one would expect form freshly mixed stock.

On the other hand the keeping quality of Pyrocat-HD, which is on the order of up to six months in partially full bottles, is really quite good when compared to other developers. I would never, for example, trust 6 month old D76 or Xtol but I have developed quite a lot of negatives mixed from Pyrocate-HD stock concentrates that were 4-6 months old.

Some people have substituted metol for phenidone (at about 10X the amount of phenidone) in the Pyrocat-HD formula and in theory this should provide even greater stqbility. However, although my original Pyrocat formula contained metol rather than phenidone, I don't recommend the substitution at this time as the phenidone version gives slightly greater effective film speed and also slightly lower b+f.

Sandy King
 

Eric Rose

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Sandy I just got back from the darkroom and printed my first pyrocat-hd negs. They seemed thin to me when I developed them but everyone told me that was normal. Now when I print them they seem to lack contrast. Is there something special in the printing I should be doing? The exposure time was 10 sec when the negs of the same scene developed in HC110 were 30 sec. I will be out again tomorrow and will try it again. Probably screwed up something on my end. On the plus side there was virtually zero grain. I figure if I printed them at grade 3.5 they might look ok.

Eric
 
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