Wednesday, August 14, 2019


Leica M6, 90mm f/2.8 Elmarit, Agfapan APX 25, Agfa Rodinal 1:100

From time to time I have inserted some of my own black and white photographs in articles and more often than not readers have asked what films and developers I use.  To answer that question let’s look at films and developers in general first.

Any film emulsion uses silver halides as the light sensitive agent.  The larger the silver halides, the more sensitive the film is to light.  When film is developed, the image is formed by clumps of silver halides which show up as grain when enlarged.  Since faster, more light sensitive films start out with larger silver halides, the resulting grain clumps are larger as well.

Considering that it is the grain clumps which make up the image and its inherent detail, it stand to reason that a fine grain film should be used to obtain as much detail (sharpness) as possible, which means using a film as slow as possible under the light conditions where the photographs are taken.

Since the grain clumps are formed during the developing process, it should be obvious that developers will make a definite difference as well.  To make the grain smaller, some developers use a silver solvent.  While this results in smaller grain, this also results in softer edges of the grain clumps which will lead to the appearance of less sharpness.

An extreme example of high acutance over small grain detail  

To avoid this, some developers are formulated for high acutance.  While this will lead to a slight increase in grain size, it also increases the edge sharpness of the grain substantially with the result of much sharper appearing images.

It sounds like a contradiction to use a developer with high acutance (increasing the grain size), if we want to obtain the sharpest images possible.  However, when combining a high acutance developer with a fine grain emulsion, the results can be amazing.

One such developer is Agfa Rodinal or one of its resurrections, ADOX  Adonal/Rodinal.  In the late 60ies the original ADOX factories were sold to DuPont. They later sold it to Agfa. With the closure of Agfa´s consumer imaging branch in Leverkusen 2005 ADOX became engaged in manufacturing again trying to save as much knowledge as possible and transfer it to a smaller level of production.  ADOX successfully brought back Agfa’s MCP, MCC, APX (Silvermax) and the entire Agfa B/W chemical line.

Scan of the full negative
Leica M6, 50mm f/2 Dual Range Summicron 
Agfapan APX 25, Agfa Rodinal 1:100

Cropped section of the same negative

Further crop of the same negative

Final crop from the same negative
The last two examples show detail that is too small to see in the full image

My favorite films were the Agfapan APX 25 and APX 100.  They disappeared from the market with the demise of the Agfa consumer imaging division.  But they have been resurrected under the ADOX Silvermax label.

Since these are very fine grained films to start with, a high acutance developer like ADOX Adonal/Rodinal presents no problem.  You will still end up with amazingly fine grain and with the added advantage of high acutance, meaning very fine grain, very sharp negatives.  In addition, the ADOX Adonal/Rodinal must be used with a high dilution, which makes the developer very economical as well.

Most recommendations are to use a dilution of 1:50, developing with constant agitation for 30 to 60 seconds and 5 to 10 seconds for every 30 or 60 seconds thereafter.  For myself I used a modified developing process starting out with a dilution of 1:100.  Instead of manual agitation, I used a Jobo film developing drum on a Beseler motor base with continuous agitation for 15 minutes.  This gives the assurance of completely even agitation because the base reverses direction approximately every 2.5 rotations.  In addition it gently rocks the developing drum from side to side.  Another advantage is that one does not need to stare at a timer for 15 minutes.

Leica M6, 135mm f/2.8 Elmarit, Agfapan APX 25, Agfa Rodinal 1:100
Take on a studio stand

Enlarging the negatives with a Leitz V35 enlarger has given me results that rival enlargements made from medium format negatives.

Ideally, all photographs should be taken with a tripod to hold the camera as steady as possible, however, this is a rather cumbersome preposition.  I rarely use ta tripod, and all the photographs in this article were handheld with one exception.  This is marked accordingly.  To avoid using too slow a shutter speed, which would lead to unsharp photographs because of camera movement, I apply an old rule of thumb which as served me well over the years.  As the slowest shutter speed is use an exposure time with the equivalemt of the focal length of the lens used.  For instance, with a 50mm lens that would be 1/50 sec or, with a 500mm lens, 1/500 sec.  Those a minimum settings and it is advisable to use faster speeds if possible.

For the most part, digital photography has replaced analog photography with the majority of photographers and some of the choices we had to make in the past are no longer necessary.  Film has been replaced by digital sensors, eliminating the choice of films as have been developers.

Thus it stands to reason to use a camera with a high quality sensor.  But just as important, if not more so, is the choice of lenses.  Luckily that is nothing to worry about if we use Leica equipment.

One aspect that can deteriorate the image is noise.  This is usually the result of using too high a sensitivity setting.  Obviously, some cameras are better capable of dealing with that problem than others, but as long as we are mindful of this, a digital image can be just as rewarding as one taken on film.

Leica Digilux 2

My first digital Leica was a Leica Digilux 2.  Its 5 megapixel sensor does appear as somewhat of an anachronism in these days of high resolution cameras.  Yet when used properly, the Digilux 2 was capable of rendering amazingly sharp, high quality images, primarily because of the incredibly well preforming Leica Vario-Summicron lens.

Leica M8, 50mm f/2 Summicron

Leica M8, 28mm f/2.8 Elmarit

Leica M8, 28mm f/2.8 Elmarit

My first digital M camera was the M8 which by now has been replaced with a Leica M240.  The high resolution of the M240 obviously makes it a better camera that its predecessors, along with a slew of other improvements, but to this day I don’t shy away from using the Digilux 2, when ultimate performance is of lesser importance.

Leica M240, 28mm f/2.8 Elmarit

Leica M240, 28mm f/2.8 Elmarit

Leica M240, 90mm f/2.8 Elmarit

Even extreme cropping can yield very good results
Leica M240, 28mm f/2.8 Elmarit 


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