I begin to today with a comparison of two film shots.
Both shots are on Ilford’s FP4+ film. The first is developed in Ilfotec LC29; the second Perceptol, a developer that begins life as a powder. The studio setups were identical in each, at least as far as I could make them. The stones are stuck to a sheet of perspex, making the exercise potentially repeatable.
I have some observations, although these alone aren’t the purpose of this post, as I shall elaborate in a moment. Frankly, I expected the tones of Perceptol to be more different from LC29 than they are. Personally (and subjectively), I see this as ‘win’ for LC29, as Perceptol is a personal favourite and in my mental map of film tonally very distinct. (I should really say, for completeness, that this notion is actually built on my use of HP5+ film.) I can see that the grain is pushed back in the Perceptol version. Grain is still there, but it is very smooth. The highlights are a tiny bit ‘longer’ in the Perceptol version, at least to my eye. Naturally, as I provide images, the reader is invited to make his or her own conclusions.
Now, notwithstanding the special alchemy that happens when different photographers put the same films (and developer) to use in differing circumstances, thus leading to unfathomably different results (and this is a huge factor), I think the idea of trialling different film and developer combinations in a (sort of) standardised setup* has intriguing potential, and, furthermore, may be of genuine use to a film-using community. Maybe this is the geek and obsessive in me rather than the artist, but my mind races with what I might learn as I compare films in this way. How might Delta 100 compare to FP4+ in LC29 (some of you could make a good guess, I’m sure)? In Perceptol, to itself in LC29 and FP4+? What about HP5+? Or DD-X?
You will see where I am going with this. As I’m keen to reiterate, you won’t necessarily get the same results as me; yet with my standardised pebble shot, some legitimate practical comparisons can still be made. I think this could be good knowledge to take into the field. I could spend a long time shooting different films and subjects without being able to make such sound comparisons.
So I end with a modest plan. I will run this as a series of occasional blog postings reporting on different films and developers. If the results build up as I anticipate they will, I should get to a position where I can share an additional summary post (or even article). I envisage maybe four weeks between postings, to give me time to produce the results and write short instalments, although due to my other commitments this may vary somewhat. Feel free to comment or email me with your thoughts (see the ‘contact’ link above), or you can contact me through Twitter (@richard_pickup).
*A brief note on the method behind the samples, and a caveat.
The studio setup is identical in each shot (position of light, light power setting, reflector placement, tripod position). The same camera and lens have been used, along with the same exposure settings. The chosen focus point on the pebbles is the same. Due to the time between the shots (and the necessary time between any shots I may make for the series in future), the framing of the pebbles varied slightly. After processing the film to the times and temperatures stated, both negatives were scanned on a dedicated Nikon film scanner and imported into Lightroom. I made no adjustments to exposure, nor did I sharpen the images. Images were cropped for neatness.
I think it’s worth making this declaration, because with such tests anomalies creep in, and one has to be aware of possible variables. For instance, focussing is prone to small differences and may impact on perceptions of sharpness. Who is to say that the camera was not subject to small vibrations in one of the shots. (Naturally, I’ve been very careful, but we should not entirely rule such things out.) Any conclusions drawn should therefore be taken with a small pinch of salt. As I say above, they should have useful validity but they shouldn’t be taken as gospel. I’ve done these tests in my spare time, out of curiosity and in the spirit of exploration.
Thanks must go to Jevon Tooth for the idea using a collection of stones in a test shot of film tonality.