Film Photography, Photography

Family Christmas photographs

I shot my family’s 2020 Christmas celebration on film. I decided to do it when I stumbled across a roll of Kodak T-Max P3200 I forgot I had. I shot it in my Nikon N90s with the 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6G AF Nikkor lens attached. I developed it in LegacyPro L110, Dilution B, but I misread the Massive Dev Chart and developed it for a few minutes less time than specified. The negatives looked plenty dense, but when I scanned them on my flatbed, the grain was pronounced.

I decided to print them. I don’t have a darkroom; I just sent the scans to my nearby CVS pharmacy’s photo department. The paper they use in their machines is thin, nowhere near as sturdy as the stuff they used as recently as 10 years ago. But the prints looked all right. I laid them on the dining table with the Christmas tablecloth still on and photographed a few of them with my Canon PowerShot S95. Even rendered this way, you can see the huge, ugly grain in these photos.

These scans are straight off the scanner. No amount of Photoshopping made them look any better, so I quickly gave up. I did tweak VueScan’s settings to bring out shadow detail, however.

When that roll was done I wanted to keep going, but I was out of P3200. Then it hit me: I develop my own film now and can easily push process it. I had some Ilford Delta 400 in the freezer, so I thawed a roll, loaded it into the N90s, mounted my 50mm f/1.8 AF Nikkor lens, and set the camera to ISO 1600. I knew this stuff would push well because fellow photoblogger Alyssa Chiarello did it recently and got great results.

Ilford still prints developing instructions inside their film boxes. They listed a developing time in Ilfotec HC (their HC-110 equivalent, also equivalent to the L110 I use) for the film at 1600! I followed their instructions and got gorgeous negatives and the best scans my flatbed can deliver (which still aren’t great). They look better than the P3200 photos — the grain is smaller and much more pleasing. Delta 400 is a darn sight less expensive than T-Max P3200, too. I think I need never buy P3200 again — I’ll push an ISO 400 black-and-white film to 1600 instead. I had CVS print these scans, too.

This was fun, but I don’t see this experience leading me to print my work more often. I get it that a photograph is meant to be printed, a physical object. But I’m an online kind of guy and that’s the way I show 99% of my work. My wife prints family photographs all the time, and I figured she’d like to add these to her collection, so I gave them to her.

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28 thoughts on “Family Christmas photographs

  1. Andy Umbo says:

    Yeah, when it comes to “too much grain”, over exposure and over-processing both contribute to it, but my experience over the years is that over-processing is the worst of it all! Using HC-110 variants can mean a few minutes more, and you’re in trouble, it’s a high energy developer! Still a lot of old school people shooting Tri-X at about ASA 280, and pulling the processing about 20%, and getting a very long scale and reduced grain, but I’ve never gotten comfortable with negs when I do that!

    Interesting about P-3200. I have no use for high-speed stuff, as a commercial pro it’s always been: “…want less grain? Shoot a bigger format! Not enough speed? Bring more lighting!” But, I remember trying a roll once and thinking that it was grainier than just pushing Tri-X, and also seemed less sharp? Another one of those Kodak things of answering a question no one asked.

    Recently when I was checking into buying the chemistry to start processing again, I was appalled at the cost, so it’s harder and more expensive to try variants, but, I remember shooting Tri-X for a bunch of my early years at ASA1200 and processing it in Acufine, it gave great looking negatives, but the real “plus” was super-sharp grain! I remember first processing with it and hanging my negs up and it being noticeable at how sharp the negs looked! 20 bucks for a gallon can, tho, and no replenisher, you just have to use and discard, or use, pour it back in, and they give a chart for extending the next time.

    • HC-110 is so convenient for me. It keeps for a long time, and it can develop anything. I use it one shot so I don’t have to worry about exhaustion.

      The P3200 was great when I used to send my film to a commercial lab. But now that I process my own and get good results pushing ISO 400 films, I don’t think I need P3200 anymore!

      What’s your favorite developer?

      • Andy Umbo says:

        I’ve tried everything, but have to say I standardized on “straight” D-76 or the Ilford variant, ID-11 for almost everything, with the replenisher, so which ever of those is still making replenisher. I don’t process enough now, so a gallon used straight would probably last a while. I did research the variants, and I’d probably try the Photographers Formulary version of D-76 because I believe they still make replenisher; so if I was doing volume, that’s what I would use….

        When you shoot big negs like I do, I’m more interested in full tone “juicey” negs, than eking the last sharpness out of the film. D-76 always delivers, AND it has longer processing times than a lot of high-energy developers, so less likely to get neg variations or over development, altho “wet” time was always said to enhance grain, I doubt that’s a problem at the times I’m looking at, and the more modern film hardening.

        I will say I processed a lot of large format negs in HC-110, dilution B, and it was pretty common practice to mix 1 ounce to 31 ounces right out of the bottle, but it’s a huge mistake. You should rarely if ever use a developer freshly mixed, it’s too “hot”. It’s almost practically impossible for even a careful darkroom worker with the right graduated cylinders, to get exactly 1 ounce! A hair more and you’re WAY to “HOT”. HC-110 used to have directions for mixing to a “stock” solution, and then directions to mix it to dilution “B”, which was 3 to 1 or 4 to or something. The stock solution lasts a long time, and that’s what I would do today, and ALWAYS in distilled water! You should mix the stock a couple of days ahead, but it’s OK to mix the actual “B” from that when you want to use it. I can go way more into my D-76 mixing process and use, but it sounds like you’re stuck on liquid, so I’ll skip it!

        • I appreciate you sharing your experience!

          I am using up a bottle of LegacyPro L110 right now, an HC-110 clone. I generally mix it straight to Dilution B and it’s working okay enough. The advice I’ve gotten is that the undiluted developer keeps very well, for months or maybe years, but less long if you premix to a stock solution. But frankly this stuff is so inexpensive that maybe I ought to experiment with mixing to stock. You’re right, it’s hard to get 1+31 exactly right at the volume needed for one roll of film, which is what I always do.

          I bought some ID-11 when I got it on a good sale, and when I use up the L110 I’ll mix the ID-11 and give ‘er a go. I’m looking forward to trying it. Most labs I’ve used develop in Clayton F-76, which is supposedly an equivalent, and as a result this is the b/w “look” I’m most familiar with. I plan to use the stuff one shot rather than try to replenish. Anyway, if you have wisdom to share on ID-11/D-76 and have time to share, I’d be grateful to hear it!

        • tbm3fan says:

          I have always used D-76 since 1974 and only once varied from it which was a roll last year in CC-110 at 1:31. The film was Tri-X and used the time specified for the ratio. Thought the negatives looked fine until I scanned them and saw the pronounced grain. Ugh! HC-110 put away and back to mixing D-76 and all is well.

        • TBM3FAN, I started with liquid developers for ease while I got the process down. Now that I have the process down I’m willing to branch out, which is why I’ll soon try ID-11. Looking forward to it.

  2. I still haven’t found that balance between print and digital. I love the idea of having printed photographs, having them on the wall, and even more so having albums full of family photos. But the physicality is also the down side, where to put hundreds of photos etc. In reality the few photo albums we do have rarely come out of a drawer. Whereas with (family) photos (and videos) I have in Google Photos, we look back over them at least a few times a month, usually on an iPad.

    • I don’t know where my wife keeps all the prints she makes. In a portal to the fourth dimension? But I never see them again after she picks them up from the place she uses to print them.

      Yet I also seldom go back and look at my digital photos, either. I sometimes wonder what the point is. But I keep making the photos.

  3. Andy Umbo says:

    Jim, here’s my story on D-76 / ID-11. The mixing is slightly different because I believe D-76 comes in one part of powder, and ID-11 comes in two parts powder, to be mixed A first and B second, but I’ll cover the main parts with D – 76.

    Both need to be mixed “hot”, around 100 degrees F (40 degrees C); so there’s an easy way to accomplish this. Since I use distilled water, ALWAYS, I have to boil the water. I never used a microwave, altho I suppose you could, I went to the Dollar Tree and bought a little tea kettle to just use with distilled water for chem mixing!

    The next thing to do is go to a Big Box hardware store like Lowes, or Home Depot, In the paint section, they have semi-clear 5 Quart mixing bucket. Buy one, they’re about 2 dollars. Take it home and with your professional measure, make sure the “One Gallon” (4 quart) lines on the bucket are correct. If they are, you’re good to go, otherwise mark the “real” one gallon on the exterior with a Sharpie. Also mark it as a Developer bucket, so you’ll always use it for that.

    Heat up some distilled water, about a half to a little more, of a gallon. Pour it in the bucket, and using your thermometer, pour enough of the room temperature distilled water in to drop the temp to about 100 degrees. You have to end up with less than a gallon, tho, because the powder will take up volume! If you’re using a microwave, you can probably keep checking the water and getting it exactly to 100, so you could warm a little over 3/4’s of a gallon to the right temp.

    Slowly pour in the powder while mixing (D-76 only has one), with ID-11, A first, then B next when A is fully dissolved. KEEP STIRRING! When both powders are in, you can just top up to the gallon mark with more distilled and keep stirring! When you’re sure it’s pretty well dissolved, just put it in a jug, mark the date on it, and give it about 24 hours before you use it, and the temp drops.

    Now, as I said before, never use “fresh” developer. In the old days, when I was using a replenisher and replenishing my main gallon due to high volume; I would take about 6 ounces of “old” developer from the original gallon, hold it out before I dumped the old stuff, and then pour it in to the newly mixed developer, just to take the “edge” off! Then I would start replenishing after the first batch of processing in the new stuff. If I had no “old” developer, I would actually “kill” a fresh roll of 120, by unwrapping it, unrolling it, putting it in a quart measuring cup, and filling it with the new developer, I would swish it around until the film turned black, and just pour the developer back into the jug, again not replenishing until the next batch! This was back when a roll of 120 was 2-4 dollars! I’d try and find cheap, expired film to do this with now! But, maybe just mixing it and waiting half a week would be enough, especially for “one shot” use…

    This sounds very complicated, especially compared to liquid, but I can tell you the negs look fantastic! I always used full strength too. For years, I tried to use D-76 1:1, and followed all the timings, but for the life of me, the intermediate tones always looked weak, never got the “juice” of a Full Strength D-76! Even now, I’d probably use it “one shot” full strength, now that I’m not doing volume, you’d still get 8 rolls of 120 out of a gallon; I haven’t shot that in a year! I’d keep a gallon in multiple quart bottles to keep the air out, probably last 3-4 months! Or save up the film to process and make a day of it!

    You know I’d still use HC-110 if I was tray processing sheet film, but I would always mix it down to stock and then mix what was needed from there! The 1 ounce to 31 ounces is too “iffy”. It’s also easier to read a plastic graduated cylinder than a glass one, as I don’t think they have the meniscus problem! Read:

    • tbm3fan says:

      Better to use a syringe to measure out 29.5 ml than trying to use any graduated cylinder. That is what I used on my only try with HC-110 and was the reason I bought it for that and to try Rodinal of which I have an old unopened Agfa bottle.

    • Thank you for this Andy! I’ll review this before I mix up my ID-11. My plan is to use ID-11 full strength, one shot.

      I remember how to read a graduated cylinder from school so I’m more or less okay there. I’ve been using a syringe for L110 when I mix it 1+31 at develop time and that works better. I am interested to see how my negs look if I let L110 rest for a while before I use it, as I always mix and use.

    • Andy Umbo says:

      You know, a quick aside, Kodak always “said” that HC-110 was the liquid D-76 in terms of results, altho many of us did not think it looked the same, so we weren’t buying it. In addition, HC-110 was really terrible with some films like Plus-X, really not very good results. You mentioned Clayton F-76, which Clayton themselves refer to as “D-76 like”, but it’s really HC-110 “like”, since it’s a phenol based developer, the same as HC-110, not “metol / elon” based, like D-76. So what a lot of those labs are using, is really HC-110.

      Photographers Formulary has a version of D-76, that mixes the same way, so I’m sure it’s metol / elon based, called TD-16, description as follows:

      Formulary’s TD-16 or Improved D-76 is formulated to duplicate working characteristics of Kodak D-76 precisely. D-76 is probably the most popular black and white developer in the world. It offers optimum balance of speed, fine grain, high sharpness, and good gradation. One important way TD-16 differs from D-76 is consistent results. The pH of D-76 can rise considerably, and contrast is greatly increased. We have worked out a proprietary modification of D-76 that maintains all its desirable working characteristics over a period of six months. To make 2 liters of working replenisher, use Formulary’s Item Number 01-0273.

      • I didn’t know that F-76 is phenol-based like HC-110. Well now my whole mental model is broken. Well, at any rate, when I finish the L110 (should take a while, still have half the bottle left) I’ll mix up the ID-11 and see how it performs.

        • Andy Umbo says:

          There are a lot of wild developers out there, I’ve tried almost all of the stuff in the Photographer’s Formulary catalog at one time or another, including Pyro (which I had to mix out in the backyard with an mask on, and double gloves) but a quick rule rule of thumb is if it’s liquid, it’s probably not going to be metol / elon based… also, I’ve gotten stunning results with a lot of the stuff in the catalog, BUT, not under all circumstances or temps, or film. D-76 just seems infallible!

  4. A very interesting post. I am in the process of setting up a small darkroom, but still haven’t tried developing my own film yet. This year’s project. The pharmacies here have almost all left the photo processing and printing space many years ago. When I need prints I go to one of the electronics and whiteware chains who sell cameras and do a lot of digital printing. They had a special last week printing 6 x 4 prints at 10c each. I had 447 done! Very cost effective if you can wait for the special price!

  5. In general you will get a better range of tones and more shadow detail (and giant grain) with 3200. In the day I used Tri X to 1200 and 2475 and 3200 at 3200 or 6400. The proof sheets almost always looked nicer with the inherently faster films, – but enlargements always revealed the difference in grain.

    • Andy Umbo says:

      Kurt, This is a good reason to use developers formulated for boosted speeds on film, like Acufine, rather than using conventional developers for longer times. They tend to give a full tone negative and not impact the grain as much. When I shot Tri-X at 1200 and processed in Acufine in the olden days, not only were the negs fuller toned than just “pushed” in conventional developers; the grain seemed to be sharper! I remember hanging up my first wet roll of Acufine processed film and visually thinking the film looked “sharper” to the eye.

      • Andy Umbo says:

        I kind of didn’t want to get into this, but from when I had Photo Chem in college: all grain is inherently whatever it is, in conventional films! In other words, Grain is grain, and as much grain that is in a film is the grain that is there! The “illusion” of fine grain developers (like Microdol-X), is really an ingredient in the developer that softens the edge effect of the film through an action of eating away at the edge of the grain. Why we were always admonished in college to forget about using Microdol-X, as it wasn’t a sharp developer! Big grain from over-development is generally not making the grain bigger, it’s clumping smaller grains together, giving the illusion of larger grain (and softer)! Developers like Rodinal are really developers that render all the inherent grain as sharp as it exists in the film, it’s why it has high acutance and “edge effects”. You always try to use a developer that’s in the middle of all this, like D-76! It doesn’t make the film look like a sand storm landed on it, but not so much that it looks soft…

        “T” films are a different horse, of course, they get their “look” (which I don’t like BTW), from using a chemical process to standardize the grain to one particular size, and a tabular shape. It makes it “seem” sharper. Conventional films have irregular grains of all different sizes.

        If you’re going down this rabbit-hole, I can also say I’ve been shown a lot of photos in the past to comment on the sharpness of the “killer” lens someone is using; when the picture is really NOT that sharp-looking! What is sharp, is the grain in the picture from using high-acutance developers and having a great enlarger that’s printing with edge-to-edge sharpness! What’s making the image “look sharp”, is the illusion of sharpness because the sharp grain is all printed perfectly!

        I can’t find my flash-light I had an hour ago, but somehow I’m remembering all this from 50 years ago? Old age!

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