Unsolicited editorials on cameras, lenses, film, developer, and black and white photography in general.

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Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

Thursday, June 22, 2006

777 Developer - I

So, what is 777 developer? It seems to be the same as Harold Harvey’s Panthermic 777 Developer and, consequently, may be identified in one of many ways, all of which have 777 in the title. The bag that I bought was labeled “Panthermic 777 Developer” by BPi Industries, Inc. If they are an actual industry, they might think about upgrading their printed materials (which are dated March of 1980 and look like they were created on a badly functioning mimeograph machine). The instructions appear to have been translated to English (e.g., “Dissolve Part A [by the way, there is no labeling of the parts in the package] in small quantity of hot boiling water, 140oF.” Okay, what is it? Should the water be 140oF or 72 degrees hotter at 212oF? And which packet of chemicals is Part A? Well, reading further, they indicate that it is normal for Part A to be brownish in color. We’re off to a shaky start.

A review of the available documentation on the Internet (minus the forum posts) gleaned this:

  • It works well at a broad range of temperatures (60oF to 90oF), the best temperature being a nice room temperature 75oF. This latitude in developing temperature accounts for the name Panthermic (though you do have to adjust the developing time for any specific temperature). This certainly would have made it useful in tropical and subtropical climates.
  • You can use it over and over again, with replenishment, using additional 777 developer as the replenisher.
  • It works best in large tanks (for one roll of 35mm, it is recommended to include an empty reel and use a larger developing tank).
  • Using fresh 777 on a roll of 35mm film is likely to give unpredictable results. In fact, using fresh 777 on anything seems to be asking for trouble. You have to use it up a bit, with replenishment, before it gives you acceptable, repeatable results. It is best to work the developer a while and then start replenishing it. The new developer added to the old developer then strikes a happy medium.
  • The developer contains glycin (not to be confused with glycine), and accounts, in part, to the cloudiness of the solution and the “glow” of the resulting prints.
  • The printing characteristics of the negatives are similar to that yielded by Pyro developers.
  • The formula for 777 is a closely guarded secret, but Ed Buffaloe feels that it is a fine grain developer of known composition containing 7g metol, 7g, paraphenylene diamine, and 7g glycin, along with 70g sodium sulfite and 700 ml water. That’s a tempting hypothesis, but seems a bit James Bondish to me.
  • It becomes cloudy to sludgy after repeated use (but can be filtered). Apparently the sludge is, in part, silver from the film’s emulsion. This implies to me that it is a fine-grain developer with a grain solvent that might be best suited for conventional fast (ISO 400) films. It is purported to yield very smooth, fine grain with long scale.

According to one of the sources, this developer was used by Life Magazine and a number of photographic agencies such as Magnum as early as the 1940’s, and that some very prominent names in B&W photojournalism used 777.

The best “discussion” on this developer (although it has some speculative parts in it) is on the unblinkingeye site. They mention that the appearance of the developer doesn’t inspire confidence. That’s putting it mildly. After mixing the stuff up 5 days ago, I decanted (carefully, like an aged port wine) 600 ml of developer into a mason jar. Out with it came a lot of suspended black flakes, an appearance reminiscent of some Japanese soup I had a few years ago. But this didn’t have seaweed in it. I took the liberty of filtering out the black stuff with a Melitta coffee filter. The pros say that you should use some unimportant film for the first few rolls. That would describe any images on HP5+, even if they were of the Loch Ness monster. I’ve never been able to get Ilford HP5+ to look good with any developer. Using 777 on it would either provide me with a miracle or give me a good way to get rid of the rest of that film. Suspecting that the freshly-made developer might be a bit too lively, I went for the minimum developing time of 9 minutes at 73oF. My results? Tomorrow. The film is still drying and I won’t have the negatives scanned until late this evening.