Friday, 17 July 2015

A case of the wrong paper?

FG 1.  Ilford Multigrade RC developed in
Ilford multigrade developer

FG 2.  Foma variant RC developed in
I was in the darkroom the other day doing some printing, when I noticed I had produced a print that did not match the test strip. This lead to a bit of head scratching. Then it occurred to me that the paper that was left from the last session in the test strip box was a different make. I had assumed it was Ilford, a logical thought, as it is the paper I use often.

I usually cut the paper I'm going to use into test strips at the beginning of each session. Only in this case I looked in the box and saw there were strips ready to go and just got on with printing. By strips I mean 8x10 paper cut in half.

I know that different makes of paper have different characteristics and levels of contrast. But I was not expecting such a big difference.

Lets set the scene: the negative is a 120 format Fomapan ISO 100. I had set the enlarger to F11 and grade 2.5 - a good place to start due to the negatives contrast. The test strip indicated a 7 seconds exposure would provide an acceptable first print.

When I pulled the paper from the soup it did not look right even with the red light on. It lacked contrast almost flat in appearance. (fig 1 Ilford paper). I opened a box of Foma and exposed it at the same settings (fig 2 Fomatone), again it looks soft with a cooler tone to it. Finally I put a sheet of Kentmere (fig 3 ) in the easel and exposed it at the same setting. Found it! - this matched the test strip. What a difference! - it suggests a grade or two more contrast! 
FG 3.  Kentmere RC developed in Multigrade

I was surprised at the contrast between the Kentmere and the others was so striking. The paper developer I used was Ilfords Multigrade it has been in the processor for about a month. I note the time it takes for the first sign of the print to show - in this case 15 seconds - this gives me an idea of how exhausted the developer is. Also as the developer exhausts so the prints show signs of warmth. Once it reaches 30 seconds I tend to add fresh developer or change it.

 I did not intend to compare these papers - I was side tracked by my test strip. What I would suggest is that if your negatives are a bit on the soft side that maybe if you use Kentmere paper it may boost their contrast giving them more punch or should I say presence. I am not suggesting that you should change to Kentmere paper instead of setting the appropriate grade for the negative you are working with. It is something to keep in mind for those very thin and or flat negatives that do not respond very well when you cannot find a grade that works.