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, July 15, 2006

Agfa APX 400 in PMK Pyro

My recent discovery of PMK Pyro developer has turned my way of thinking about film and developer 180o . In years past, I might try a different film, find the results pleasing, buy a brick of it, and then look for a developer that seemed to work well with it. Ultimately that developer would be HC110, D-76, or XTOL. Why does every film seem to develop well in these developers? One hypothesis is that film manufacturers deliberately design their films to work well in D-76 et al. because of the immense popularity of these developers. Other developers seem to work well on some films but not others. Rodinal comes to mind as a developer that works very well on slower, fine-grained films but doesn’t fare as well with faster films due to the obvious grain. PMK Pyro doesn’t seem to follow these rules. The most common way to gauge the suitability of PMK Pyro for a film is by characterizing the film’s tendency to pick up stain from the developer. Part of the appeal of pyro developer is that it stains the exposed areas (a rather bilious green), the degree of staining being proportional to the amount of exposed silver halide in the emulsion. The green stain seems to suppress the granular appears of some films. Some films pick up the stain well and others don’t. Even more specifically, some 120 films pick up the stain well but their 35mm counterparts don’t, and vice versa. Where this leaves me is with a developer I like very much and the task of finding films that develops well with it. My initial tests seemed to indicate that PMK Pyro's staining action masks grain very well. Well, that isn’t always the case.

This past week, I shot a roll of Agfa APX 400 and developed it in PMK Pyro. I didn’t have much to go on regarding the exposure index or developing times to use. The Massive Dev Chart has no data for APX 400 developed in PMK Pyro. That means one of two things...either nobody has ever tried this combination, or the combination is not recommended. The latter is certainly true.

PMK Pyro does an excellent job on medium speed films, particularly Ilford FP4+. With APX 400, the negatives were quite thin. There are four ways to address thin (poorly stained) negatives.

  • Reduce the E.I. and over-expose the film.
  • Over-develop the film a bit by increasing the developing time (most of my PMK times are around 10-13 minutes, but some films require 18 minutes) and/or the temperature of the developer.
  • Decrease the dilution of the PMK Pyro from 1+2+100 to 1+2+50.
  • Use another film.

I used the nominal ISO of 400 and the nominal dilution of 1+2+100. To ensure that there was enough developer in the tank, I used 600 ml developer for one roll of 35mm film (twice what I usually use). It wasn’t enough to increase staining to an acceptable level.

What is the result of scanning underexposed/underdeveloped APX in PMK Pyro? Too much grain. The kind of grain one would expect if shooting pushed TRI-X in a Minox subminiature spy camera.

This image is of my neighbor’s dog (an extremely intelligent and faithful beast who sat on my porch with me during the 3 days after Katrina left town). The lighting was fairly good, and this frame is the best of the lot.

The next image is of a nail boutique/pager store on Magazine Street. At low magnification, the grain seems acceptable. An enlarged area of the negative shows the gritty result of using this combination.

Will I try other developing times for APX 400 in PMK Pyro? No. I might revisit the two together again if I ever decide to produce a photo essay of coal miners. APX 400 does well in other developers, so I’ll give it a try next in 777 or Divided D-76. There are other films that I would like to try in PMK Pyro. To date, the films that work best with it have been Ilford FP4+ (ISO 125) and Fomapan 200 Creative (ISO 200). I would like to find a good 400 ISO film for use with PMK Pyro. There are a lot out there, and I’ve just eliminated one of them.