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, July 09, 2006

Ilford Delta 3200 in PMK Pyro

It is not enough for a film and developer combination to be good, or even excellent. It has to fill a niche, a need. If one already has that niche filled, it has to be better in some way (add a new dimension, be cheaper, be more readily available, etc.). I know some street photographers who use TRI-X with D-76 or HC110 and nothing else. The combination they settled on works as good as they want it to work. Why go elsewhere unless you are attempting to displace what already fills your needs?

With D-76, XTOL, and HC110 so popular, I was surprised to find that PMK Pyro gave me such good results. It is an old style developer that has a reputation of being loved by a few and hated by everyone else. I have pontificated on the virtues of PMK Pyro elsewhere. Here, I just need to point out that PMK Pyro works very well with some slow films, some medium-speed films, some fast films, and some very fast films, making it an excellent all-around developer for me as long as I use the films that react well to it.

I have always avoided very fast films because I don’t like coarse grain and because I don’t like shooting at f/22 and 1/1000 outdoors. But when I read that PMK Pyro worked well with Ilford Delta 3200 I thought I might as well give it a try, at least in subdued light. Maybe it could fill a niche. To combat the inevitable grain, I decided to go with medium format for this test.

The recommended E.I. of Delta 3200 in PMK Pyro is 1600. Well, I just lost one stop of film speed. Developing films with pyro usually takes about 12 minutes at 68oF. With Delta 3200, the recommended time on the Massive Dev Chart is a whopping 18 minutes at 75oF. Developing the film that long and at that temperature suggests to me that a more appropriate exposure index might be 800, not 1600.

I loaded a roll of Delta 3200 in a Mamiya 7II and set the ISO at 1600. I was more interested in how it performed under subdued light, so I took it to breakfast last week. The setting was a very brightly-lit café with large picture windows. With the Mamiya 80/4 lens wide open, I had to shoot at 1/60.

Ernie Fitzgerald is a septuagenarian ex-marine who still runs 3 miles every morning before dawn. In the diffuse light of the café and with the lens wide open, the results were actually sharper than I expected. The grain was well controlled by the staining action of the pyro.

Now, does this film (in medium format) and developer fill a niche? Not really, at least not with the equipment I currently use and the latitude where I do most of my shooting. The problem is that, even at the slower E.I. of 1600, the film is too fast to use outdoors. I couldn’t get an outdoor shot with the Mamiya at anything other than f/22 and 1/500 unless I went into the shade. I’m just too close to the equator to use Delta 3200 outdoors under most conditions. Indoors, I was at the other extreme. Even with a relatively bright indoor environment, I was shooting wide open at 1/60. It is too fast to use outdoors, and too slow to use indoors. If I had been shooting 35mm and a fast lens, it would have been good indoors. But then there’s that grain with small negatives. Before I write off Ilford Delta 3200, I’m going to try some 35mm indoors with a 50/1.4 Summilux. If the pyro stain can reduce the appearance of grain, then Delta 3200 in PMK Pyro would be filling a niche. That said, if I lived in Sweden and wanted to shoot medium format outdoors, this might be a fabulous film/developer combination.