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

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Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Ilford FP4+ in Panthermic 777

Last week, I shot a roll of Ilford HP5+ and developed it in 777. I wasn’t expecting much. I don’t know of anyone who uses 777 developer, and I cannot even buy it in the USA. It is available at Frugal Photographer in Canada, and I ordered two bags of it on a lark. I wouldn’t have even known that 777 existed had I not mentioned on the Leica Users Group forum that I’m trying to recreate the look of black and white photography from the mid-20th century. The three suggestions I got were (1) use 50-year-old lenses, (2) use old style film (such as the films still made in Slavic countries using 50-year-old machinery and formulas), and (3) use older formulas of developers that have fallen out of favor. I did delve into pyro developers (with good results) and decided to use 777 based on its popularity with photojournalists back in the mid-20th century. The results I got from Ilford HP5+ and 777 were pleasant. They were also the best results I have ever gotten from HP5+. These days, it takes a lot to get me excited. Having a developer work much better than I expected does get my attention.

Ilford FP4+ is one of my favorite films for pyro developers, so I decided to see what it would look like developed in 777. I have used fine grain developers with fine grain film in the past, and the results were always mushy. Thus, I didn’t hold much hope for this combination. Panatomic X developed in Microdol X looked like crap when I tried it back in the 70’s. If FP4+ in 777 turned out to be a similar disaster, I could scratch 777 off my list of developers and simplify my life. It didn’t turn out that way.

The screen shots of the images don’t do this combination justice. You really need to see the print to see the excellent scale, the rich grays, and the luminosity. Zones I-X are all there, all in their correct places. I’m afraid that I have to put D-76 away for the moment. I won’t pour it down the sink; I’ll keep it in its completely filled amber bottle, under the sink. Perhaps I’m having a hormonal imbalance here. This 777 developer looks like a chemist's mistake. It has flecks of black garbage suspended in it. It couldn’t care less which temperature you use. It prefers 75F, but you can use it warm or cold and it still works. It lasts forever as long as you remember to replenish it with a jigger or so of unused 777. The look is not as retro as I get with PMK Pyro, but I do like the effect. It is perhaps most similar to Kodak’s D-23 formula, the favorite of Zone System devotees. And it scans well.

And it is supposed to get better and better with age. Well, I guess Foma 200, Forte 200, or Bergger 200 will be my next film for 777. Stay tuned for results.

This is just a grab shot at the zoo of a distant white tiger taking a snooze.

Below it is an enlargement of the tiger portion of the photo to show detail.
FP4+ in 777 yields minimal grain while still retaining good detail. Actual enlargements from these scans look far better than the screen shots.