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

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Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

Saturday, June 24, 2006

777 Developer - II

I didn’t have a good feeling about how the first roll of HP5+ would fare in a newly-mixed batch of 777 developer. Those familiar with the developer say that the mixture gets better with time and use, and not to expect success with the first few rolls. It fared better than I expected. I decided to try people as subjects. Portraits would really put the film and developer to the test. Two of the test shots were indoors and one was outdoors in the noon brightness. My assessment?
  • Low contrast, or long scale. I’m not quite sure which descriptor applies, but I like it. HP5+ always seemed too high in contrast and darkly muddy, especially with portraits. In 777, there seems to be better representation of zones III through VII.
  • Fine grain. This was no surprise. With all of the sulfite in this developer, along with the caveat that the reused developer would be sludgy with silver, I expected a lot of grain solvent activity.
  • Smoothness. Old-timers refer to a glow in 777-developed film. It looks like a softening of hard edges in these images.
  • Nostalgic look. This developer was a favorite of photojournalists beginning in the 1940’s, including Life magazine photographers and Magnum photographers, including Henri Cartier Bresson. Not surprisingly, the prints (more so than the screen shots) are reminiscent of black and white photographs of that era.

All of these characteristics bring me to the conclusion that this is a good developer for black and white work, and particularly good for people pictures. The fine grain, low contrast, long scale, and smooth lines remove the harshness of unfavorable lighting, wrinkles, old age spots, and pores.

Portrait number 1 is photographer Chris Williams. This was shot in a restaurant with Chris facing a large window with bright noon light. The highlights in the negative (i.e., Chris’s face) were a bit blown out. Before Photoshop work, his skin was closer to Zone IX than Zone VI. I blame the developer being a bit overactive. Still, the portrait was salvageable.

[Click on the photo for a larger version]

Portrait number 2 is Tom Gruber, a 65-year-old ex-football coach turned teacher and now administrator. Years of standing at the sidelines soaking up sun have taken a toll on his skin, but 777 has smoothed things out a bit.

[Click on the photo for a larger version]

Portrait number 3 is Tom’s cousin, Billy Gruber, the owner and operator of Liuzza’s Restaurant near the New Orleans fairgrounds. He wasn’t too keen on getting his picture taken (which is good…he has some expression). The picture was shot in bright shade at 11:30 AM on a cloudless day.

[Click on the photo for a larger version]

I’ve got a dozen or so rolls of HP5+. Given the encouraging results here, I think I’ll use them all up in the next few weeks and see if I can tame the developer’s activity with a little use.